RUSSIA — Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died Monday, the Kremlin announced on its website.
He was 94.
Kalashnikov designed his first machine gun in 1942 after suffering injuries as a tank commander for the Soviet Union’s Red Army during World War II, but it wasn’t until 1947 — after years of tweaks — that the AK-47 was introduced for Soviet military service.
The weapon, recognizable by its banana-shaped ammunition magazine, became known for its simple effectiveness. It was easy to use and maintain, and it was reliable in extreme conditions, be they hot, cold, wet or sandy.
From the early 1950s, it became the standard weapon for Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries, according to IHS Jane’s. The gun also proved popular with paramilitary groups: It was so successful in Mozambique’s successful rebel movement of the 1960s and 1970s that its image appears in the national flag.
Russia stopped producing AK-47 models in the late 1960s, but production of variants continued there and in other countries.
The Guinness World Records book recognized the AK-47 — AK being a Russian acronym for “Kalashnikov’s machine gun” and 47 standing for its debut year — as the world’s most common machine gun.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday “expressed his deepest condolences to the family of Mikhail Kalashnikov in connection with his death,” a post on the Kremlin’s website read.
In 2009, Kalashnikov told CNN that two main qualities described the AK-47: simplicity and reliability.
“It is very important because a soldier doesn’t have university degrees,” he said. “He needs a simple and reliable weapon. Just as an academic, for that matter, in a combat situation. There’s simply no time to figure how to operate a complicated weapon and press many buttons when the enemy is advancing on you.”
He said the question he hated most was whether he felt sorry about the hundreds of thousands of people that were killed as a result of his invention. He had a standard answer:
“I’ve designed my weapon to defend the borders of our Fatherland, and let it continue to serve this purpose.”
In 2011, Izhmash, the Russian manufacturer of the AK-47 family of weapons, said it was abandoning the design in favor of a new one for its next-generation assault rifles.
Kalashnikov’s 90th birthday, in November 2009, was celebrated in Russia nearly like a national holiday. In a televised Kremlin ceremony, then-President Dmitry Medvedev decorated him with the country’s highest order, the Hero of Russia.