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SKS

Semi-automatic rifle

SKS rifle

The venerable SKS was the first operational rifle chambered in the 7.62x39 mm round, and it is still used by some militaries and paramilitaries throughout the world

 
 
Country of origin Soviet Union
Entered service 1949
Caliber 7.62 x 39 mm
Weight (empty) 3.85 kg
Length 1 020 mm
Barrel length 520 mm
Muzzle velocity 735 m/s
Maximum rate of fire ~ 400 rpm
Practical rate of fire 40 rpm
Magazine capacity 10 rounds
Sighting range 1 000 m
Range of effective fire 600 ~ 800 m

 

   The Samozaryadnyj Karabin Simonova (meaning Simonov's Self-loading Carbine), or SKS, is a military semi-automatic rifle manufactured by the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s, and produced by many other nations since then. It was developed to replace the Mosin-Nagant series of bolt-action rifles, the AVS-36 (another Simonov design) self-loading rifle, and the SVT-40 self-loading rifle. Though a dated design compared to modern assault rifles, the SKS is still widely employed in military capacities throughout the world.

   Development of the SKS began in 1943, when Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov was assigned to design a self-loading rifle to fire the new M43 7.62x39 mm cartridge, as a complement to the RPD light machine gun chambered in the same round. The M43 was shorter than the 7.62x54 mmR cartridge then used in all Soviet service rifles, and was developed in response to recent combat statistics that indicated most infantry firefights occurred within 300 m to 700 m, rather than the widely anticipated ranges of beyond 1 000 m. Simonov based the new rifle off the action used in his earlier AVS-36 battle rifle and PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle (though both had been regarded by the Soviet Army as inadequate), and it could almost be said that he simply built a "scaled-down" AVS-36 to fire the new round. Work on the new weapon proceeded relatively quickly, and relatively large quantities of pre-production examples of the resulting SKS-45 were issued to the Soviet Army in 1944.

   Although the SKS-45 arrived soon enough to see combat against the Axis in the closing days of World War 2 on the First Belorussian Front, only very small quantities reached the front lines, and reports from the formations that tested the new rifle indicated that further development was required. However, further development of the SKS-45 was slow during the rest of the 1940s, as the Soviet Union's industrial priorities put reconstruction ahead of rifle development. Full-scale production and the Soviet Army's official adoption of the rifle finally occurred in 1949, by which time the "-45" suffix had been dropped from the improved weapon.

   However, another setback soon befell the SKS; the Soviet armed forces opted to adopt an assault rifle similar to the German StG-44 of World War 2, ultimately selecting Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47 design for the role. Though just as with the SKS, the AK-47's development was prolonged, and the fully-developed SKS served as a stop-gap. And while the AK-47 was also officially adopted in 1949, it did not achieve widespread service until 1954. Production at this point was passed-on to several other Communist nations from that year onward.

   The SKS has a decidedly eclectic appearance compared to modern firearms. It is identifiable by its straight-through wooden furniture; a receiver section with a pronounced Browning Stop; a ventilated wraparound wooden handguard (like that of many other rifles of the 1940s); a sloped magazine extension; a gas tube and barrel protruding well forward of the furniture and bracketed very close together; a tall hooded sight near the muzzle; and a bayonet that recesses into the foregrip when not in use.

   The metallic portions of the weapon's construction are all steel, and while the AK-47 is known for its stamped receiver, the receiver on the SKS is forged; an expensive and arguably extravagant feature, which was one of the reasons why SKS production was phased-out. Every SKS was produced with wooden furniture, though exactly which type of wood was used depends on the manufacturer. While all Russian SKS rifles used Russian Birch, while Chinese variants have Catalpa furniture, and Yugoslavian M59-series SKS rifles have Elm, Beech, or Walnut furniture. M59s exported to Mozambique have locally-produced furniture made from Teak, while examples produced in Egypt, North Vietnam, North Korea, Iraq, and other second-line nations use unknown types of wood. Numerous examples on the civilian market have had their wooden furniture replaced by modern composites, though it is unclear if any military has ever used these in an operational capacity.

   While its designation implies the SKS is a carbine, the proper classification this class of weapon is a long gun no greater in length than 30 inches (762 mm). All military SKS variants are much longer (typically 40 inches, or 1 020 mm), effectively making them rifles, as they are only "short" compared to rifles such as the M14 or Lee-Enfield Mk.III. At 880 mm, even the AK-47 --- officially a full-length "rifle" --- is shorter than the SKS!

   The SKS may bear some cosmetic resemblance to the AK-47, but its operating system is markedly different. It is gas-operated with a short-stroke gas piston, but employs a tilting bolt locking system (rather than the more familiar rotating bolt), though like the AK it also fires from a closed bolt. The charging handle is on the right side of the receiver, and recoils with it when the weapon is fired. The receiver cover houses both the receiver and a powerful spring, and also contains a bolt-catching device that allows the action to be held open for reloading and clearing stoppages.

   Ammunition is fed into the weapon via a fixed internal box magazine. This magazine cannot be removed unless the weapon is stripped, and is charged through the ejection port with the action locked in its open position. The magazine may be charged by hand one round at a time, or fully-charge almost instantly using a 10-round clip. A guide notch on the front of the receiver holds the clip in place while the ammunition is pushed down into the magazine, whereupon the clip is removed and discarded. Unlike some other firearms that use this reloading method, the clip itself is not loaded into the weapon. The magazine release switch is located in front of the magazine, and opens it on a hinge for unloading and cleaning. Some variants of the SKS (and many privately-owned weapons) have had the fixed magazine deleted, and replaced by a magazine well. These rifles accept AK-style magazines, though some rifles will only accept proprietary magazines.

   The sights consist of a hooded front post and a rear notch. The sighting range is adjustable via a ladder system from 100 m to 1 000 m, in 100 m increments. The default "battle" range setting (marked with the Cyrillic letter "П") is for 300 m.

   All military model SKS rifles are equipped with a built-in folding bayonet. SKS-45s and early Chinese variants have spike bayonets, much like those used in the Mosin-Nagant rifle, while most other models have blades. The bayonet is hinged on a block located near the muzzle, and locked in a 180 degree angle when not in use, the blade recessed into the furniture. The bayonet is unlocked by pulling the spring-loaded hilt toward the blade, allowing it to be rotated forward, and is fixed by grabbing a catch at the front of the hinge, and clamping onto the muzzle. Unfixing the bayonet is achieved by pulling the hilt toward the blade once again, then rotating it 180 degree back into its folded position; the user must take care to avoid holding forward portion of the weapon while folding the bayonet, as the blade might cause injuries when it snaps back into the folded position. The bayonet mount is sometimes deleted from rifles marked for sale on the civilian market, though in hindsight, this is a mistake; the operation of the weapon is very sensitive to its overall longitudinal balance, and removing the bayonet affects accuracy.

   The Yugoslav M59/66 variant also has provisions for launching rifle grenades. These include a muzzle grenade crown, a ladder-type grenade sight, and a gas tube shut-off valve (to enable the full pressure from a blank cartridge to fire the grenade); the switch that releases the grenade sight also closes the shut-off valve. It is unclear if the M59/66 may safely launch "bullet trap" grenades, which a standard round is used to fire instead of a blank.

   As with many better-known rifles, such as the FAL, AK-47, M14, and CETME, the SKS is reliable to a fault, and will fire normally in conditions that would cause many other weapons to jam. Even if dirt, sand, mud, or water enters the action, or if the weapon becomes heavily-fouled after extensive use, it will continue to chamber, fire, and cycle ammunition normally. The SKS does require regular maintenance and cleaning when fired, however; more than a few careless users have discovered that the unchecked corrosive properties of the powder and primers in military surplus 7.62x39 mm ammunition can completely destroy any weapon from the inside out, if the weapon is left uncleaned for even a few weeks.

   The SKS is not without its problems, however. Most notably, it has a tendency to "slam-fire" --- meaning that it can accidentally produce uncontrollable fully automatic fire, until the magazine is discharged or a stoppage occurs. Slam-fires do not occur in correctly maintained SKS rifles, but a firing pin either installed upside-down (the pin and its channel have a triangular cross-section) or excessively dirty can get stuck in its forward position.

   Full-scale production of the SKS in the Soviet Union was quite brief, running from 1949 to 1958, though millions of them were produced during this timeframe. Many additional SKS rifles and sub-variants were produced abroad well into the 1960s, though exactly when all SKS production ended is unclear, and it is believed that well over 15 million have been manufactured.

   The first conflict that the mass-production SKS was employed in was the Korean War. It was used extensively by PLA soldiers, but their sheer numbers made it impossible to issue the SKS in large numbers, and the KPA received relatively few. Most Chinese soldiers used Mosin-Nagant or PPsH-41 variants instead, and KPA soldiers armed with the SKS were seldom encountered. The SKS was also out of its element in this conflict, as while it performed well in long-range aimed fire than the AK-47, it was no match for the M1 Garand on the vast, wide-open spaces of the Korean countryside.

   The SKS was also used to good effect by the Viet Minh during the French Indochina War, and later by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, though it lacked the firepower of the M14 or the handling of the M16 in the latter conflict. They also saw extensive use in Cold War other conflicts throughout Africa, Asia, and Central America, and were a common sight in the hands of any forces supplied by the Soviet Union. Conversely, they were also used heavily against Soviet forces during the Soviet-Afghan War.

   Licensed foreign manufacturers of the SKS include Albania, China, East Germany, North Korea, North Vietnam, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia, while unlicensed manufacturers are known to include Afghanistan, Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Mongolia, Morocco, and South Yemen.

   The number of nations which have operated the SKS is staggering. It includes --- but is probably not limited to --- Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cape Verde, People's Republic of China, Comoros, Croatia, Cuba, East Germany, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Libya, Macedonia, Mali, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, North Korea, Oman, Palestine, Poland, Rhodesia, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Yemen, the Soviet Union, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

   Though overshadowed by the ubiquitous AK-47 through most of its existence, the SKS has nonetheless fulfilled many niche roles for with more powerful assault rifles proved inadequate. For example, the Soviet Army found the AK-47 too short for rifle drills, and less suitable for arming guards in public places, while the PLA favored the SKS over the AK-47 for many years due to the emphasis on accurate long-range rifle fire in their infantry doctrine. It is also still used for ceremonial purposes in the armed forces and/or police forces of most of the aforementioned nations, and it still sees military use throughout the Developing World.

   The SKS still continues to appear in firefights throughout the world, including recent conflicts such as the Afghan War, the Iraq War, the Syrian Civil War, the Ukrainian War, and the Mexican Drug War. There are also a larger number of them in circulation around the world than the full production runs of most contemporary assault rifles will ever reach. Being an easy and effective rifle to use that is widely available in quantity, they are also popular among non-state militant groups, such as Hamas and ISIS. As such, the SKS remains a regular fixture of major conflicts across the world, and will likely continue to appear on the battlefield for some time.

   There has been no new-build production of the SKS for several decades, and there is little incentive to revive production. Used examples of good quality typically sell for about US $400 on the civilian market, making them an extremely popular alternative to new self-loading rifles for hunters, sports shooters, and plinkers, though rifles in military stockpiles are often sold to other military users for even less.

 

Variants

 

   SKS-45: Initial production model. These saw some use in World War 2, but further improvements were called-for before full production was authorized.

   SKS: Definitive production model, introduced in 1949. Examples produced by Tula were marked with an arrow inside a star, while those manufactured by Izhevsk are marked with an arrow inside a circle and triangle.

   OP-SKS: Surplus SKS rifles re-manufactured for the civilian market by the "Molot" factory in Vyatskiye Polyany. Production ran into the 2000s.

   KSS: Polish variant of the SKS, converted from standard examples imported from the Soviet Union. This model is distinguished by laminated wood furniture, and omission of the cleaning kit compartment from the stock.

   PAP M59: Produced by Zastava in Yugoslavia, the M59 was sort of a "budget" SKS, with a variety of different woods used for the furniture, and no chrome lining in the barrel. They were nonetheless relatively good quality rifles, and still quite accurate.

   PAP M59/66: This version of the M59 added a rifle grenade launcher, a gas shut-off valve (to allow blanks to be fired at full pressure through the muzzle, needed to fire grenades at their proper trajectories), and a flip-up ladder sight for grenades. It is the longest and heaviest production SKS variant, and most M59/66s have beech furniture.

   PAP M59/66A1: Added tritium night sights to the M59/66 design, but is otherwise unchanged.

   Examples of the M59/66 re-sold as surplus on the civilian market have sometimes had their grenade crowns deleted (as this feature is illegal in some regions), and sometimes replaced by a muzzle brake.

   July 10 Rifle: This is the Albanian version of the SKS, with longer furniture, an AK-style charging handle, a cleaning kit compartment in the buttstock, and a spike bayonet. They are relatively refined and rare by SKS standards, and command higher prices on the surplus rifle market.

   Karabiner-S: The Karabiner-S is the East German model, characterized by a groove cut into the stock for the sling and swivel, and no provisions for carrying a cleaning kit or rod. As with the July 10 Rifle, these are uncommon, exceptionally well-built, and sold for higher prices than most other SKS models.

   Type 56: This was a licensed copy of the SKS built in China by NORINCO. As with the Soviet SKS, early Type 56s had spike bayonets, while later models had knife bayonets.

   Type 63: The NORINCO Type 63 is a hybrid of the SKS and the AK-47, employing the AK-47's magazine well and rotating bolt operation, and is a selective-fire rifle. A series of additional rifles were developed from the Type 63, including Types 68, 73, 81, and 84, with many design variations between them. It is the only production SKS variant capable of automatic fire.

   Type 63: Not to be confused with the NORINCO Type 63, this Type 63 is the North Korean variant of the SKS. Three models are known; one basically identical to the standard SKS, one with a grenade launching system similar to that on the M59/66, and one with a unique side-swinging bayonet.

   Type 1: SKS built under license in North Vietnam. They are identical in configuration to late Soviet examples.

   M56: SKS built under license in Romania. These are also identical in configuration to late Soviet examples.

 

Similar Weapons

 

   MAS-49: Similar self-loading service rifle manufactured in France, though the MAS-49 employs a direct impingement gas operation, loads from a detachable box magazine, and fires the much more powerful 7.5x54 mm French cartridge.

   Vz.52: Self-loading service rifle produced in Czechoslovakia by Ceska Zbrojovka. It is the most similar in design to the competing SKS, though it fires the different 7.62x45 mm cartridge, and has an operating system based on the tilting block action of the German StG-44 assault rifle of World War 2. The Vz.52 is a more obscure design, but did achieve some commercial success. It was superseded in production by the Vz.52, which is essentially the same rifle re-chambered in 7.62x39 mm.

   Rasheed Carbine: Self-loading service carbine manufactured in Egypt. It is basically a miniaturized version of the Hakim Rifle (which in turn is a variant of the Husqvarna AG-42 Ljungman made in Sweden), re-chambered in 7.62x39 mm. Though unlike the SKS, the Rasheed Carbine feeds from a 10-round detachable box magazine, and employs a direct impingement gas operation. Only some 8 000 Rasheed Carbines were made, making them scarce in later years on the civilian surplus rifle market.

   Saiga: Russian civilian semi-automatic rifle produced by Izhmash, based on the Kalashnikov AK-47. The Saiga rifle was initially a commercial failure upon its introduction in the 1970s, but a more refined version of the design achieved great success in the 1990s. These were chambered in many different military and civilian calibers, including 7.62x39 mm.

   M1 Carbine: Self-loading US service carbine produced by many manufacturers across the world. It was one of the first operational firearms to use an intermediate-power cartridge, though its results in combat were mixed. It sees little military use today, but is extremely popular among firearms collectors.

   M2 Carbine: Selective-fire version of the M1 Carbine. It proved wanting in combat during the Korean War, and had to be heavily supplemented by Thompson M1 submachine guns during that conflict. The M2 Carbine was gradually replaced by the Springfield Armory M14 from 1957 onward, but saw extensive additional combat in its twilight years during the Vietnam War.

   M3 Carbine: The M3 Carbine is basically an M2 Carbine with a low-light telescopic sight. The M3 was one of the first weapons to employ this type of sight, though it is crude and bulky by modern standards.

   Cristobal Model 1962: Dominican carbine based on Hungary's Danuvia 43M submachine gun, but re-chambered in the .30 carbine round (there were also 9x19 mm Parabellum versions). It is sometimes classified as an assault rifle, or even just a submachine gun. Unlike the SKS, it is fed by a 30-round detachable box magazine, employs a lever-delayed blowback operation, and has a selective fire capability.

   Mini-14: Civilian self-loading rifle produced by Ruger, so named due to a close resemblance to the Springfield Armory M14 (though the Mini-14's operation is closer to that of the M1 Garand). It was also offered later in 7.62x39 mm, as the Mini-30 --- along with surplus SKS' and AKMs, the Mini-30 has made the 7.62x39 mm round extremely popular on the civilian firearms market.

   AC-556: Selective-fire version of the Mini-14, for military, police, and security use. It is frequently confused by news outlets with the Mini-14.

 

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