FAQ Section 1 : Small arms == (To be completed)

Contributor : ArmenT
The author also maintains an excellent blog on firearms which can be found at

Q 1.1
Why is INSAS a semi-auto rifle only?

This only applies to the Indian version of the INSAS assault rifle, as the INSAS Light Machine Gun (LMG) is capable of firing in fully-automatic mode. The INSAS assault rifle in Indian military service is only capable of single shot and three round burst mode of firing. Why? Because the Indian Army wanted it that way. This isn't the only rifle in the world that does this. The older 1A1 (the FN FAL clone) that was in service in India before the INSAS was also only capable of semi-auto mode, as was the UK version of the FN FAL which the 1A1 was based off of. The US M16A1 is capable of single shot and full-auto firing modes, but was later replaced by the M16-A2 which removed the full-auto mode and replaced it with a 3 round burst mode instead. So you can see that it isn't just the INSAS that works like this.

So why do so many military forces in the world supply their regular troops with weapons not capable of full-auto firing? That's because of the US experience in Vietnam. They noted that less experienced soldiers generally tended to hold the trigger down and spray the bushes when they came under attack. As a result, many of them ended up using all their ammunition within a couple of minutes. To prevent this situation from occurring, regular troops were supplied with weapons incapable of fully-automatic fire and fully-auto weapons were only supplied to special forces units, who are well trained to use fire discipline.

The Indian military came to similar conclusions as the US military, based on their own experiences in Sri Lanka. This is why they specified that the INSAS assault rifle designed for the common Indian soldier, should only have single-shot and three-round burst firing modes. It was felt that this combination gives the soldier better controllability of the weapon and conservation of ammunition, while still retaining enough firepower. Note that while the Indian INSAS assault rifle only has single and three-round burst fire modes, the INSAS Light Machine Gun (LMG) in Indian army service is capable of fully automatic mode of fire, because the Indian military wanted that feature in the LMG. Also, the INSAS assault rifle models that are supplied to the Nepalese goverment are capable of fully-automatic fire because the Nepalese wanted that feature in their assault rifles. The reader should be reminded of the Golden Rule here: "He who has the gold, makes the rules!". The Indian military didn't want a fully-automatic mode for their INSAS assault rifles, whereas the Nepalese did. So each got what they paid for.

Q 1.2
Why Indian army uses AK-47 in COIN, but not INSAS

First, not everyone carries an AK in COIN operations. Quite a few of the troops are equipped with INSAS or Tavors. Also, since real AK-47s are rare (as mentioned in the FAQ on AK family of arms later in this post), they are mostly carrying AKMs or type-56s. As to why they like them, the reasons are:
1. AKs require less maintenance and therefore suit the "grab your firearm and head out at odd times" nature of COIN ops.
2. While the INSAS has better accuracy, AK has better stopping power and automatic firing mode. Since most COIN ops happen at closer ranges, accuracy isn't as important.
3. AKs are capable of firing in full-auto mode which helps keep enemy heads down during COIN ops.
3. INSAS is the official rifle of Indian military and if one gets damaged during ops, the soldier has to fill up paperwork and explain the damage. AKs are recovered from terrorists and are considered as "unoffical weapons", so the soldier doesn't need to fill out the paperwork if one gets damaged.

Q 1.3
5.56 mm. vs. <your larger caliber here>

This is a question that there are a lot of arguments about. First we will start with some history. After World War II, Soviets unveiled a new firearm for soldier, the AK-47, which was designed to use 7.62x39 mm. bullets. This caliber was heavily influenced by developments of bullets of similar size in Germany. Meanwhile, NATO forces were using 7.62x51 mm. bullets, based on designs made by the US. Both these bullets pack a punch and have pretty good range. As it happens though, they also produce a good amount of recoil (especially the NATO rounds) and make a gun harder to control in automatic fire mode. One more factor to consider is that most people can't hit anything farther than 400 meters or so and therefore, giving them ammunition capable of firing well past this distance is not useful because they can't effectively use it. Additionally, the US military did some experiments in the late 1950s/early 1960s and determined that high rate of fire was the most important factor in infantry combat. To produce a high rate of fire means that a soldier needs to carry more ammunition. Therefore, the US military settled on a 5.56x45 mm. bullet, based on a .223 Remington cartridge that already existed. The 5.56x45 mm. NATO ammunition is close to half the weight of the 7.62x51 mm. ammo, therefore a soldier can carry twice as much.

As a side benefit, some people claimed that 5.56 is more likely to wound someone and therefore takes more than one person out of the fight because others have to tend to the wounded person's wounds and transport them to get medical attention. This was however NOT the reason why the 5.56x45 mm. was chosen, the main reason was because they could carry more of them. And, the 5.56x45 mm. is deadly at shorter ranges as well.

While the smaller bullet is fairly effective at shorter ranges, it loses some of its effectiveness at longer ranges. This is why some people argue that an intermediate bullet of 6.8x43 mm. might be a better compromise. It has effectiveness up to 500 meters or so and as it delivers about 50% more energy than 5.56x45 mm. at 100-300 meter ranges. However, it doesn't recoil as much as 7.62x51 mm. ammunition and provides better controllability. Also, since it isn't as heavy as 7.62x51 mm. ammo, a soldier can carry a good amount of them around.

Q 1.4
Which is better: M-16, AK-47, INSAS, Steyr etc.

Depends on who you ask. Rifle design is the art of striking a balance between various factors (e.g.) cost, accuracy, reliability, power, weight etc. and each country designs their rifle to their particular military's requirements.

For example, an AK-47 or other member of the AK family, such as AKM, AK-74 etc. are known for their reliability and ability to work in harsh conditions around the world, with very little maintenance. The Soviet military had a design competition where they specified that they wanted an assault rifle that should primarily be reliable in snow and muddy conditions, easy to manufacture with minimum factory requirements and also should be a simple mechanism which can be easily maintained by uneducated conscripts. These requirements were based on Soviet experience in World War II, where much combat happened in winter and muddy conditions and many soldiers were hastily conscripted from the ranks of poorly-educated peasants. Three different designers submitted their entries and while the other entries were better than the AK-47 in many other respects (lighter, cheaper, easier to control etc.), the AK-47 was more reliable and durable than the other two and that is why the Soviet military adopted it. This reason for the AK reliability is because of the wider tolerances between some moving parts and its long-stroke gas piston mechanism. This is why it is more tolerant to dirt, slush, dust etc. However, the very same features that make it more reliable also make it lose some accuracy and controllability in full automatic mode. The AK-47 and AKM also use a 7.62x39 mm. cartridge which is relatively larger and therefore packs a bigger punch.

Other rifles, such as the M-16, Steyr AUG, INSAS etc. are built to tighter specifications, which means they have better accuracy as the cost of some reliability. The assumption here is that the soldiers who use such rifles are trained professional soldiers and not hastily conscripted peasants and they will spend more time in doing proper rifle maintenance, which solves the reliability issue. They are also built to use a lighter 5.56x45 mm. NATO cartridge because the earlier NATO cartridge (7.62x51 mm.) was deemed too powerful for use by ordinary soldiers (i.e. hard to control the rifle because of excess recoil from a bigger cartridge and many people can't shoot accurately beyond 400 yards with iron sights, so why give them an over-powered cartridge). So while the smaller cartridge has a correspondingly smaller punch, it is also lighter in weight and therefore the soldier can carry many more of them. At ranges below 500 meters or so, the smaller cartridge is still pretty deadly. One more requirement for the US military was a higher rate of fire and the M-16 certainly shoots a good 15-35% faster than an AK-47 in full automatic mode. By the M16A2 version though, the US military decreed that automatic fire mode should be taken out of the M16 because too many fresh soldiers were wasting ammunition unnecessarily and hence the M16A2 is only capable of single-shot or three-round burst mode.

INSAS was also built to take 5.56x45 mm. NATO cartridges and was originally designed as a weapons system where a carbine, a standard rifle and a LMG could all be chambered to use the same ammunition and interchange many parts. INSAS assault rifle was designed from the very beginning to have single shot mode and three-round burst fire mode only (just like M16A2 and unlike AK-47) because that's what the Indian military's specifications were (i.e. they didn't want soldiers to waste ammunition unnecessarily). INSAS's basic gas-operating mechanism has many features in common with the AK-47, with some features similar to FN-FAL (which was the basis of India's previous standard rifle) and some features influenced by Heckler & Koch's G3 rifle. It is also built to fire NATO standard rifle grenades. It doesn't have the firing rate of the M16, but is slightly higher than AK-47.

Steyr AUG was also built as a weapons system family: i.e. carbine, rifle, LMG where many common parts are shared. Like the M16, it was also designed to use the smaller 5.56x45 mm. NATO cartridge. The AUG family is unusual in that these rifles use a bullpup layout, which makes the firearms smaller and lighter to use. It has a translucent plastic magazine, a feature that the INSAS also has, so that the user can quickly tell how many bullets are left. It is also more expensive than the other rifles, but is used by a number of countries around the globe.

Q 1.5
What is the difference between AK-47, AK-56, AKM, AK-74, AK-101 etc.?

The AK-47 was the original assault rifle of the AK family of assault rifles. The design and development process started in 1946, but it was cleared for limited production in 1947 (hence, the designation 47 at the end of the name "AK-47"). They fired 7.62x39 mm. ammunition. The original AK-47 models were not really geared towards mass production. In particular, the receiver took a long time to make. The Soviets had originally tried making a stamped metal receiver made from sheet steel, but didn't have the technology then to make it properly and led to a large number of rejects. So they switched to a receiver made from forged steel which was milled into the final shape through various machining operations and hence it took longer time to manufacture. Early AK-47 (type-1) also didn't have chrome plated barrels or receivers, which were added later in AK-47(type-2) to increase resistance to corrosion

The AKM was an upgrade to the AK-47 and featured several improvements. The M in AKM stands for "Modernizirovanniy" (Russian word for "Modernized"). Design started in the 1950s and it was cleared for full production in 1959. The Soviets had acquired some mass production technologies from captured German engineers and these went into the AKM. The receiver on the AKM is made from a stamped steel sheet and like the AK-47 (type2), it has a chrome plated barrel and receiver. It also fires the same ammunition as AK-47. A number of improvements to the design contributed to better reliability and also capability of being mass produced. The weight was also reduced by 1kg and a simple muzzle brake (the slanted tip of the barrel) was added to counter the tendency of the muzzle to climb under automatic fire. Because of the ease of production, the AKM was exported to all the Warsaw Pact countries and several Asian and African countries and is very widespread.

AK-56 is the Chinese produced model in the AK family. It originally started being produced in China in 1956, as a direct copy of the AK-47 (type 1) model, but the Chinese gradually incorporated some of the improvements of the AKM (in particular, the stamped sheet metal receiver), as well as adding some of their own improvements. The official name of this is "type-56", but many people refer to this as the "AK-56". This is the most produced AK model around and the Chinese exported millions of these to various communist rebel movements around the world.

AK-74 is the model adopted by Soviet military in 1974 and still remains the rifle of the Russian military. This features use of plastic for some parts, in order to reduce weight and increase durability. One more big difference is that this fires 5.45x39 mm. ammunition instead of 7.62x39 mm. of its predecessors, as the Soviet military decreed this to be the new cartridge to be used by them. Because of this change of ammunition, a lot of the other parts are also changed to accommodate this new cartridge (e.g.) barrel, receiver, magazine, firing mechanism etc. Stock is changed to use laminated wood and later, polymer plastic.

AK-101 uses more plastic than AK-74. This is designed for export market and hence chambered to fire the NATO standard 5.56x45 mm. ammunition, which means the other parts are also modified to accommodate this ammunition. The AK-101 also has attachments to attach many telescopic sight models that are common in Europe and Russia.

Many times, when the news media refers to "AK-47s", they are most likely to be either AKMs or type-56 model, as true AK-47 models are actually very rare.

See: for more details.

Q 1.6
What's with the slant barrel tip often seen on AKs being used by Indian forces? Are they wearing the barrels out or is it poor maintenance?

Neither actually. That slant on the barrel is deliberate. It is actually a simple device called a slant compensator. Basically, when a firearm is discharged, the barrel tends to rise upwards, due to the forces acting about the center of gravity of the weapon. The effect is more pronounced when the firearm in question is capable of automatic fire (like AKs are). To help keep the firearm on target, AKMs came with a compensator device. If you notice, the slant is pointed upwards and a bit to the right, because that's how AKs tend to move when fired, With the compensator in place, the exhaust gases leaving the rifle are directed upwards and to the right, thereby pushing the front of the barrel down and to the left, allowing the rifleman to more easily keep it pointed towards the target.

This simple device first appeared on AKM rifles and was backported to AK-47s as well, as the device is simply screwed on to the tip of the barrel.

See this discussion for more details: '


'''What's the deal with the INSAS carbine?

When the INSAS concept was initially conceived, the original plan was to have a family of small arms, a Light Machine Gun (LMG), Assault rifle and a carbine, all utilizing many parts in common and all using the same ammunition. This concept was partially realized in practice, as the INSAS LMG and assault rifle both use 5.56x45 mm. ammunition and can interchange magazines. However, there were problems with the INSAS carbine model. For one thing, the carbine experienced severe flash and recoil problems. The issue was that the 5.56x45 mm. ammunition's propellant was not burning fast enough inside the carbine's barrel and the unburnt propellant would burn outside the muzzle and thus create the huge flash. After trying out various things, DRDO settled on using a different smaller cartridge for the INSAS carbine version, a 5.56x30 mm. cartridge. This solved the flash and recoil issues, although its ammunition is not compatible with the assault rifle and LMG. The new carbine was called MINSAS and was essentially the INSAS carbine re-chambered for the shorter round. For various reasons, the Indian military has not accepted the MINSAS yet. The latest carbine variant is called the MSMC (modern submachine gun carbine), which uses the same 5.56x30 mm. cartridge, but has a completely different layout, which makes it look similar to an Uzi. This makes it more shorter and more maneuverable in confined spaces than the MINSAS carbine. As of 2010, the MSMC has passed two phases of trials in the Indian army and was undergoing the third round of evaluation.