Country of origin
7.62 x 39 mm
1 020 mm
Maximum rate of fire
~ 400 rpm
Practical rate of fire
1 000 m
Range of effective fire
600 ~ 800 m
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Initial production model. These saw some use in World War 2, but
further improvements were called-for before full production was
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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 by the Vz.52/57,
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
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
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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