I realized I was empty. Without delay I dropped the empty magazine out of the rifle and pulled a bright-orange Bakelite replacement loaded with 30 deadly 7.62×39 rounds out of my chest rig and slapped it into my AR. That’s right, AR. I didn’t suddenly go senile and stick the wrong mag into the gun, nor have I accidentally mistyped an “R” instead of a “K” in “AK.” Nope. No mistake here. I was testing Rock River Arms’ new LAR-47.
But the idea of chambering an AR in the harder-hitting 7.62×39 is hardly a new one.
AK or AR?
Neverending Internet battles over what caliber is better make for an interesting sidelight of the eternal AK vs. AR argument. Most likely it will never end as long as both platforms exist. Among the opposing parties there are those who base their opinion on real-life experience, but more often than not it’s mere perception. I love the lack of recoil in a 5.56. However, when combat ranges are drastically shortened and exceptional accuracy at longer distances isn’t required, the increased knockdown power of the 7.62×39 can really pay off.
As a result, several manufacturers have produced ARs in “Russian Short .30” caliber. That’s not a big deal when it comes down to just swapping the upper receiver. The tricky part, however, lies with the lower receiver and the mag well in particular. A new 30-round magazine had to be devised to accommodate tapered 7.62×39. And, to be polite, the result was somewhat less than perfect. The mag has to be transitioned from severe curvature to straight to fit into an AR mag well. This type of magazine presented several problems. A minor one would be the magazines not fitting into existing web gear. A major problem? Unreliable feeding in a sensitive AR.
The AK, on the other hand, was originally designed to fire the 7.62×39 cartridge and had a near-perfect magazine developed for it. In fact, the magazine design is so good that I’ll come right out and say it’s the best design for a combat rifle. Everything from the feeding lips to the mag-retention system is outstanding.
Having said that, I’m not trying to idealize an AK as the perfect battle rifle. It has its advantages but also lacks things, especially from the viewpoint of American shooters. I happen to be a big subcaliber fan, based on time spent as a member of a fighting unit in Afghanistan during the Soviet campaign in the 1980s. Naturally, you can conclude that my weapon of choice is an AK74 chambered in 5.45×39. But I had plenty of experience with its older .30-caliber sibling as well and have seen what both are capable of firsthand.
Moving to the States at the end of the ’80s, I quickly immersed myself in the wonderful gun culture that this country has to offer. As soon as I was able, I got my hands on an AR. Always drawn to the coolness of the rifle, I just had to have one. As soon as I got my own, I learned to appreciate the AR for the superb rifle that it is. Its accuracy, ergonomics and balance made me an instant fan. Even today one of my go-to rifles is Bravo Company’s BCM-4. But I did not totally swear off the AK. I like both rifles and over the years learned to appreciate the good features and work around the “bad” ones that—most definitely—both designs possess. Today I not only get to use ARs on a regular basis for work, I also get to observe these rifle in action at our school, where we teach both DMR and Fighting Carbine classes.
The Crucial Factor
Now, the prospect of an AR firing the familiar 7.62×39 round from an AK magazine was downright intriguing. But I did have a couple of reservations. (1) Would firing a larger projectile resulting in harsher recoil be detrimental to accuracy? (2) How would it feed a tapered round out of the “wrong” magazine? Magazine design is crucial to any feeding system. More often than not, perfectly innocent rifles get a bum rap for being unreliable because of badly designed or poorly made magazines. ARs are no exception (in fact, they’re most likely a leader in that department).
Though I was cautious, I also knew that the AK magazine design was robust and reliable. To see how it worked in the AR was something that I had to see for myself. If it worked, it would open a whole world of possibilities. From a military point of view, the ability to replenish your ammo at your enemy’s expense is a great asset for small units operating behind enemy lines, as I’ve learned. The ability to pick up loaded mags off a dead enemy during a firefight is indispensable.
For an average civilian shooter who, for years, has been shooting AKs due to the economical aspects of the rifles themselves, as well as the attractively priced ammo, having the ability to use the same already-paid-for mags and cheap ammo will make for an easy transition to an AR platform.
So, after a few phone calls with my editor I had a new Rock River Arms’s LAR-47 on its way to me.
The LAR-47 Arrives
The rifle arrived in its hardcase accompanied by two plastic 30-round magazines made by Master Molder of Wilson, N.C. It looked like your average AR except maybe for the weird mag well. The only other things suggesting it was something else were the two black plastic 30-round AK magazines that were included. Closer examination of the magazines revealed great attention to detail. I proceeded to take apart the LAR-47. It came apart as any AR should and revealed no hidden surprises. As I continued to play with the gun, I immediately noticed that it came with no rear sight—pretty common for new ARs these days. Granted, there’s no shortage of rear sight options. I had Midwest Industries’ SPLP folding sight handy that I quickly installed.
Next, since the LAR-47 came with standard CAR-15 handguards, I decided to install Midwest Industries’ SS-series drop-in handguards in case I felt like installing any accessories. I added a TangoDown front vertical grip, and with that I was done. One thing I should mention: Just as on any AK, the precise placement of the grip is dictated by the curvature of the magazine. The LAR is not an exception.
The rest of the gun was in line with any other AR. It was equipped with a standard M4 collapsible stock and regular pistol grip. The triggerguard is unique—it had to be changed to accommodate the magazine release latch that is cleverly designed to be operated by the trigger finger or, more conventionally, with the thumb by either right- or left-handed shooters. I shouldered the gun a few times and noticed that it was extremely comfortable and, strangely, somewhat reminiscent of an AK. This is probably due to the rifle’s weight distribution. The LAR-47 sports a much heavier barrel than its 5.56 compatriots. Also, a fully loaded AK magazine substantially outweighs that of the standard AR, placing more weight toward the front of the gun. That put a smile on my face, as I felt a familiar feeling coming over me. Other than that, the LAR-47 bears little resemblance to the AK both visually and operationally. The rifle’s action, incidentally, was as smooth as you would expect from Rock River.
Feeding the Rifle
Next, without any hesitation I inserted the plastic magazine into the rifle’s mag well and clicked it in place. It went in like butter. A few words about the LAR-47’s mag well: It is basically an AR mag well that is cut roughly in half diagonally. It also serves as a guide for the magazine. After inserting the mag that was provided with the gun and taking it out, I examined the magazines closely. They seemed to be well made out of hard plastic and, without a doubt, would serve their intended purpose on the range. But it’s doubtful that they will be as robust as the original AK mags that are made out of steel entirely (or at least are reinforced with steel). No worries. I had a full line of various AK magazine at my disposal, and I immediately wanted to see which of them would fit the LAR. And that is where I encountered my first disappointment. Note that when I say “disappointment,” I mean for me personally and in no way due to the gun design and its intended use. When this gun was on its way, I was already imagining how I would slap the Russian 75-round drum into it and blast away at targets with extreme prejudice.
Well, all of my dreams vanished as soon as the drum mag failed to insert into the mag well. Disappointing, but not the end of the world, as I also had several 40-rounders that fit like a glove. The rest of the mags went in without a hitch except for early Soviet aluminum ones (due to the magazine’s guide ribs) and a Polish military black polymer mag. However, the ones that did fit latched in tight and did not display any of the play or wobble that is common in any AK.
The only one thing that was left pertaining to the magazine retention was the dreaded AK “magazine pushup.” Well, I inserted the Soviet steel magazine into the LAR, stock into the ground, balanced myself on the gun and performed the pushup. The gun and the mag held. One thing worth noting is that although the mag-release latch is design to be operated with the trigger finger, when it is depressed the magazine does not drop down and has to be removed with the other hand. Once again, not a big deal because I would prefer to swap my mags using my thumb anyway.
At the Range
In preparation for the range trip, I wanted to make sure I had several different magazines, as I wanted to see if the new gun fed well from most commonly available AK mags. One also can assume that I wasn’t going to just put the new LAR rifle through its paces, but I was going to run it side-by-side with the rifles that were initially designed to fire the 7.62×39 cartridge. So I also had two of my personal 7.62×39 AKs ready—a standard AKML (the railed version of standard AKM rifle) and an AK-103 (the most recent model of the 7.62×39 AK). Both were equipped with side-mount rails so I could test all rifles with the same red dot and optical sights.
To make things pretty equal, I chose standard, similarly priced red dot units—Valdada’s RDS Edge and Vortex’s StrikeFire. I also picked the Hi-Lux CMR 1-4×24 scope, which I consider pretty close to ideal for any carbine. The ammo I used was the commonly available and inexpensive Wolf 122-grain FMJ steel-case stuff.
I was all set for a fun day of frolicking and debauchery at the range, though my initial excitement quickly subsided once I heard the forecast. It was going to be an absolute scorcher. However, duty calls, and after a short drive I was setting up at the 100-yard range. I saw no need to get any closer since I had laser bore-sighted the new LAR-47 and all the scopes I was going to use.
First I wanted to check the LAR’s functionality. I wanted to know if the new rifle would feed out of all the magazines that fit in it. I loaded a Master Molder mag with Wolf ammo and shoved it into the gun, pulled the charging handle and got ready behind my iron sights. With much anticipation I pulled a trigger and—nothing! A quick look into the ejection window revealed a double feed. I quickly cleared it, recharged the LAR, pulled the trigger and the gun went bang. That hiccup would be the only one for the entire day with the Master Molder magazines.
The rest of the magazines functioned as they should except for a Romanian steel mag that had two misfeeds, which underlines the importance of testing magazine function.
Next was accuracy. If I was going to run the new LAR-47 rifle against anything, it had to be the AKs. First I got behind a good old wood-clad AKML and produced four-inch groups. My AK-103 did slightly better and scored three-inch groups with open sights.
Then I slapped a magazine into the LAR-47 and went to work. I have to admit I struggled a bit with getting on target at first due to the original gun not having the rear sight. Luckily, the Midwest Industries’ folding SPLP sight had windage adjustments and I had a front sight adjustment tool. I quickly adjusted the sights and, once on paper, fine-tuned things. Results were more than satisfactory, with solid three-inch groups. Next I shot the rifles with red dot sights and was able to tighten my groups somewhat, with the AKML scoring three inches, the AK-103 2½ inches and the LAR-47 producing a 2¼-inch winner. Not bad considering that most of the red dot scopes have two- to three-MOA dots. The Hi-Lux scope helped to tighten my groups even further only marginally.
Needless to say, I was pretty impressed with performance of the Rock River gun. Though the LAR-47 did produce the best groups, they were only slightly better than my other guns and not enough to declare it a clear winner. It did, however, outperform the AKs in other areas such as felt recoil and ergonomics. Shooting the LAR was very much like shooting any other AR—it felt well balanced. The large AR buffer spring and heavy barrel reduce felt recoil enough to make it really easy to keep the gun on target. By the time I left the range, I felt that I would have to have an LAR-47 of my own.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the somewhat inadequate performance of the 5.56 round. Though for the most part such opinions are usually simply based on perception, in some cases they are not without merit. Naturally, common sense tells us with all things being equal, the heavier .30-caliber bullet will generate more energy. But all things are not always equal.
In ballistics, there are several factors that affect bullet performance, but the main things remain the effective range and terminal velocity. Within the constraints of an intermediate cartridge, that’s where twist rate comes into play. I can discuss twist rates and terminal velocities all day, but really it all comes down to one thing: To achieve the stability of a heavier bullet, a lighter one must spin at a higher rate. Hence the 1:7 twist rate for .223 round and 1:8 for the Russian 5.45×39, whereas the 7.62×39 AKs have a 1:9.45 twist. The LAR-47’s twist of 1:10 comes pretty close to the .30-caliber AKs in that regard. Though faster, smaller bullets perform exceptionally well, at distances past 600 yards a regular 5.56 round runs out of breath. At that distance it will no longer knock down the LaRue Tactical resetting sniper targets, whereas the 7.62×39 continues to carry enough energy to take down those targets even past 1,000 yards.
Although average gunfight contact distances have closed drastically in recent years (rarely reaching past 400 to 600 yards), the prospect of having an accurate carbine that can sling a heavy bullet with precision at distances up to 600 yards is still a good one. And that’s where the LAR-47 comes in.
Black rifle shooters often refer to themselves as being an AR or AK man and can cite the advantages of each platform. The same people often highlight the shortcomings of the opposing rifle. Many AR sympathizers wish they had a harder-hitting AR, and many AK lovers wish they had improved ergonomics. Well, now you have both with the LAR-47. It should appeal to shooters across the “AK vs. AR” battleground.