The Russian special operations in Ukraine have provided an opportunity for global assessment of the strengths and weaknesses inherent in Russian and Western weaponry. This assertion holds particular significance in the context of Ukraine, where there existed a craving for NATO-standard weapons before the outbreak of the war.
Andrey Marochko, the representative of the People’s Militia (NM) of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), which is not yet recognised by most of the world, stated recently that Ukrainians hold Soviet equipment in high regard. Extremely delicate Western equipment cannot tolerate the climate, grime, or debris. Russian weapons continue to function despite using fuels and lubricants of dubious quality.
According to Andrey, the Ukrainians prefer Soviet-era equipment and Russian small arms, which are substantially more reliable than their Western counterparts. He stated that the Ukrainians discard their M16 assault rifles with a trouble-free Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Unsurprisingly, the Kalashnikov rifle (AK) is one of the most popular weapons in both factions. The Russian Armed Forces and Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Militias are armed with AK-74 rifles, the more advanced AK-74M with a collapsible stock and a side rail for mounting additional optics, and the new AK-12.
According to publicly available information, the Ukrainian side primarily employs AK-74s with a calibre of 5.45 millimetres. The UAF uses significant foreign weaponry, notably American carbines such as the M16M4. Additionally, the UAF utilises Ukrop UAR10 and UAR15 carbines, which are derived from the ArmaLite platform and manufactured by the Ukrainian company’s subsidiary, “Zbroyar.” These carbines are chambered in calibres of 7.62 and 5.56, respectively. East European mercenaries, who are aligned with the Ukrainian side and the UAF, employ Czech Bren2 rifles and Polish MSBS Grot rifles, both of which have design resemblances to the Belgian FN SCAR.
The latest videos of the 47th Separate Mechanised Brigade “Magura” reveal that Ukrainian soldiers have recently received M16A4 rifles with ACOG optics, M203 grenade launchers, and Belgian FN FNC rifles. In addition, some personnel are equipped with standard AK-74 rifles.
The AK-74M is a simple, dependable weapon with a collimator sight and folding stock. With a collimator, one can shoot more efficiently for an extra hour each morning and evening, as per an expert quoted by the EA Daily. One will fire at flashes during dusk, aiming in that general direction. Typically, soldiers place a white elastic band between the front and rear sights to aim along the band in the dark. This is enough for most common battlefield tasks. Adjustable stocks, Picatinny-rail handguards for mounting lights and sights, and situational grips are all great for special forces but make for clumsy foot soldiers.
Although there is a lack of explicit statements from the Ukrainian military regarding the performance of either rifle during the war, it is plausible that the government has withheld this information to prevent the disclosure of strategic insights to the enemy. However, a recent historical reference alludes to the performance of both rifles.
An attempt to produce the M16 in Ukraine
In 2017, Ukraine chose to make its version of the famous American M16 rifle. At the time, the country’s military training was moving closer and closer to NATO standards. The domestic media reported that Ukroboronprom would produce the WAC-47 assault rifle.
The Ukrainian iteration of the M16 WAC47, a modified version of the M4 rifle designed to enhance precision, used conventional 7.6239 mm AK-47 magazines. The rifle’s design would also allow for a barrel conversion to the standard Alliance calibre of 5.56mm. When the Soviet ammunition stockpile is depleted, the NATO-standard cartridges would be acquired by importing them at global prices or producing them domestically.
The M16 is the second most common assault rifle in the world after the Kalashnikov. It has been used in battle in Vietnam, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. It can mount various optics, including rangefinders, laser sights, and flashlights.
For unknown reasons, Ukroboronprom signed a contract with the American company “Aeroscraft,” which had been producing airships until then. Aeroscraft had already implemented the “AEROS” project along the Donbas coastline of the Azov Sea (now under Russian control) to establish a system for early detection, warning, and target identification. In addition, Ukraine received the first production license in just three weeks, as per the Ukrainian media Apostrophe. At that time, it was uncertain if the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) had ordered it, but it was known that supplying the Ukrainian soldiers with American M16 rifles would not alter the frontline situation in Ukraine’s favour. The M16 was considered inferior to the Kalashnikov rifle in terms of efficacy, and there are an estimated 500,000 Soviet rifles with UAF.
To get insight into the historical context, it is worth noting that Ukraine used ammunition of Soviet origin during that period. It is important to highlight that such ammunition proved inadequate in terms of its ability to penetrate contemporary Russian body armour. Accordingly, Ukraine required newer model rifles and ammunition. Similarly, the standard NATO ammunition for this calibre lacked the required penetrating capabilities for UAF. Despite this, small armaments were not a priority for the UAF then.
Denis Sharapov, the company’s former deputy director, defended the move by arguing that all Ukrainian law enforcement organisations use Kalashnikov assault rifles in variants ranging from the AK-47 to the AK-74, which are both physically and morally obsolete. Additionally, he emphasised that Ukraine’s use of a weapon whose production base is in Russia “is unacceptable hazardous.”
Another issue that Ukroboronprom noted was standardisation with NATO equipment which poses the logistics issue. According to the company, Polish soldiers in the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade use the Beryl assault rifle, calibre 5.56 45, while Ukrainian soldiers use the AKM or AKMS assault rifle, calibre 7.62 39. Ukrainian sappers encountered similar obstacles while participating in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Lithuanian combatants transferred German G36 assault rifles to Ukrainian forces to solve the problem posed by the disparity in weapon standards.
The commencement of M-4 manufacture in Ukraine was intended to follow a predetermined organisational structure, starting with manufacturing a preliminary batch of small weapons. This batch would undergo compulsory testing and operational procedures as relevant departments require. Subsequently, the Ministry of Defence and other relevant entities will deliberate on the potential procurement of the M-4. According to Denis Sharapov, the corporation assumed there might not be a viable substitute for the M-4 at that particular time.
In response to a query by the local media about ammunition for the M-4, Sharapova confirmed the importance of Ukraine organising its small arms and ammunition production. He claimed that he saw immense opportunities for internal cooperation among gunsmiths in the organisation of M-4 production. He said the peculiarity of the gun was its interchangeable barrel -both the 7.62×39 standard cartridge and the NATO 5.56×45 standard could be used. He said the upcoming test firings the company would organise could corroborate or refute this possibility.
Subsequently, the production of M16 Rifles did not take place in Ukraine.