Take a U.S.-made milled re­ceiver, add a gen­er­ous por­tion of Bul­gar­ian RPK74 parts, and what do you get? The Arse­nal RPK-3R

Gun World - - Contents - By Todd Bur­green

The affin­ity of many shoot­ers for AK plat­forms started with the af­ford­able AKs ar­riv­ing in the 1980s—be­fore the 1994 As­sault Weapons Ban went into ef­fect. The AK’s as­so­ci­a­tion as the “en­emy’s weapon” has not de­terred its pop­u­lar­ity in the United States. This stems from many fac­tors: rugged­ness, re­li­a­bil­ity, price point, plen­ti­ful sur­plus am­mu­ni­tion, ap­pre­ci­a­tion of 7.62x39 and 5.45x39 ter­mi­nal bal­lis­tics, and the ever-in­creas­ing qual­ity and quan­tity of af­ter­mar­ket parts.

A sub-sec­tion of AK ri­fles I have al­ways been drawn to comprises the RPK clone semiauto vari­ants. Even more rare in this genre is the 5.45x39 RPK74 vari­ant.

The RPK74 ap­peared in the Soviet ar­mory in 1974 in con­junc­tion with the AK74 as­sault ri­fle. Its role is to as­sist a squad or pla­toon in ad­vanc­ing to­ward an ob­jec­tive or de­fend­ing from an at­tack us­ing in­creased fire­power.

To make the RPK-3R, Arse­nal uses a U.S.-made, milled re­ceiver mated to a Bul­gar­ian RPK74 parts kit to cre­ate the civil­ian-le­gal RPK74 clone. Th­ese are lim­ited-run pro­duc­tion items that are quickly snatched up by AK afi­ciona­dos. I was for­tu­nate to get the first right-of-re­fusal for an un­fired Arse­nal RPK74 via a friend who knew I had al­ways cov­eted it.

In my opinion, th­ese types of ri­fles of­fer the civil­ian a level of fire­power su­pe­rior to most other avail­able op­tions. The RPK, orig­i­nally cham­bered in 7.62x39, uti­lizes the same gas-op­er­ated, long-stroke ro­tat­ing bolt op­er­at­ing mech­a­nism made fa­mous in the AK47. The RPK74 de­rives from the AK74 ri­fle, with mod­i­fi­ca­tions that mir­ror those made to the AKM to cre­ate the RPK.

The RPK dif­fers from the typ­i­cal AK/AKM as a re­sult of a num­ber of de­sign tweaks in­tended to fa­cil­i­tate its role as a light ma­chine gun. The RPK74 uses a longer and heav­ier 23.2-inch chrome-plated bar­rel, along with a dif­fer­ent style of gas block with a chan­nel at a 90-de­gree an­gle to the bore axis. The en­hanced bar­rel im­proves heat tol­er­ance dur­ing ex­tended fire ses­sions. An­other ben­e­fit of this bar­rel is a longer sight ra­dius

for im­proved down­range ac­cu­racy, as well as an in­crease in ve­loc­ity, com­pared to 14.5- or 16-inch bar­rels.

The bar­rel is mated to a re­in­forced re­ceiver hous­ing—re­flec­tive of its sus­tained-fire role and the pun­ish­ment this en­tails for a weapon. The muz­zle is 14mmx1-threaded for a flash suppressor.

The RPK74 is also equipped with a dif­fer­ent front sight tower. The rear sight is out­fit­ted with a slid­ing windage mech­a­nism to im­prove fire ac­cu­racy and ease of ad­justa­bil­ity. The RPK74 also comes with an in­te­gral bi­pod that folds un­der­neath the bar­rel un­til de­ployed to of­fer in­creased sta­bil­ity when fir­ing from the prone po­si­tion.

RPKs typ­i­cally fea­ture a “club foot” rear stock, de­signed to al­low the user to fire from the prone po­si­tion more com­fort­ably; this fea­ture dates back to the RPK’s pre­de­ces­sor—the Degt­yarov RPD light ma­chine gun.

The orig­i­nal RPK used 40-round box and 75-round drum mag­a­zines to im­prove its com­bat vol­ume of fire. It can also use stan­dard 30-round AK mag­a­zines. As for the RPK74: While pro­to­types of 95- or 100-round AK74 drums and 60-round quad-stack box mag­a­zines ex­ist, th­ese have not reached high pro­duc­tion lev­els. How­ever, a 45-round mag­a­zine was cre­ated for use with it. The 45-round AK74 mag­a­zines (when avail­able) can fetch $100, so the 30-round AK74 mag­a­zine works just fine.


The RPK74’s lin­eage to the AK as­sault ri­fle is ob­vi­ous and ben­e­fi­cial in many re­spects. How­ever, as with most weapons adapted to suit a role be­yond their orig­i­nal de­sign in­tent, the RPK74 has some draw­backs: The com­bi­na­tion of fir­ing from a closed bolt and fixed bar­rel trans­lates into the op­er­a­tor hav­ing to use good fire dis­ci­pline … or the RPK will over­heat and fail.

Op­ti­mal sus­tained fire is around 60 to 80 rounds per minute. If overused/over­heated, cham­bered rounds will “cook off” and will also cause bar­rel dam­age. The fixed bar­rel, com­bined with the in­abil­ity to fire via belt-fed am­mu­ni­tion, causes many peo­ple to ques­tion the RPK’s util­ity as a light ma­chine gun. Given the low sus­tained rate of fire, the semi­au­to­matic Arse­nal RPK-3R ver­sion fea­tured in this ar­ti­cle is not that much of a com­pro­mise, com­pared to the au­to­matic mil­i­tary-grade RPK light ma­chine guns.

Com­par­isons to the U.S. B.A.R. (Brown­ing Au­to­matic Ri­fle) are com­mon—although not nec­es­sar­ily ac­cu­rate, con­sid­er­ing the dif­fer­ent cartridges used. This in­cludes their dif­fer­ent op­er­at­ing de­signs: closed bolt for the RPK; open bolt for the B.A.R.

RPK devel­op­ment com­menced in the late 1950s, was fi­nal­ized by the Red Army in 1961 and en­tered widespread ser­vice in 1964. Each in­fantry squad was is­sued one RPK, along with a 75-round drum mag­a­zine. The RPK con­tin­ues in use with numer­ous com­mu­nist-bloc coun­tries to this day, with hun­dreds of thou­sands pro­duced. The 5.45x39-cal­iber RPK74 con­tin­ues to serve in the cur­rent Rus­sian Army.

The great­est ben­e­fit to Kalash­nikov’s gas-pis­ton op­er­at­ing sys­tem is its re­li­a­bil­ity in harsh en­vi­ron­ments. This re­li­a­bil­ity is mostly due to looser tol­er­ances in the mov­ing parts, thereby giv­ing it more lat­i­tude to func­tion when dirty from field con­di­tions or not cleaned af­ter fir­ing hun­dreds of rounds. Arse­nal AKs are of­ten touted as the clos­est to a com-bloc weapon a civil­ian can get in Amer­ica with­out fill­ing out an ATF Form 4.

The most sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of the Arse­nal RPK-3R eval­u­ated here is the U.S.-made milled re­ceiver—un­like most AKs found in the United States, which fea­ture stamped re­ceivers. The re­ceiver is cre­ated from a chunk of ord­nance-qual­ity steel and adds about a pound of weight, com­pared to a sim­i­larly con­fig­ured stamped AK. The draw­back is that the RPK-3R is a heav­ier ri­fle; how­ever, the ben­e­fit is re­duced felt re­coil, which al­lows for more con­trol­la­bil­ity dur­ing rapid strings of fire— the mis­sion state­ment for an RPK-type ri­fle.


Echo Val­ley Train­ing Cen­ter (EVTC) has in­stalled two per­ma­nent “fox­holes” by turn­ing large-di­am­e­ter con­crete cul­vert pipes end-wise into the ground, com­plete with a fir­ing step in the bot­tom. The pro­tected fir­ing po­si­tions were per­fect for eval­u­at­ing the RPK74 clone in its in­tended fire sup­port

role. The cen­ter also fea­tures multi-stepped tar­get berms that are strewn with re­ac­tive steel tar­gets and fluid-drained au­to­mo­biles vary­ing in dis­tances from 150 to 350 yards.

While it is cer­tainly not com­pa­ra­ble to a belt-fed ma­chine gun with swap-out bar­rels, a rel­a­tively large vol­ume of fire was pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially when used with a 45-round mag­a­zine.

It proved very pos­si­ble to hit steel tar­gets placed at 100, 200 and 300 yards along EVTC’s Range #1, which fea­tures a mul­ti­stepped berm. Gilt-edge ac­cu­racy is not the goal with any RPK; it is a fight­ing ri­fle mea­sured by a dif­fer­ent set of pa­ram­e­ters.

Af­ter ori­en­ta­tion with the in­te­gral iron sights, a TruGlo Tru-Tec red-dot sight was added via the side-mount­ing bracket. It was a big en­hance­ment in ac­cu­rately plac­ing rounds on tar­get.

A range car placed 200 yards away could not with­stand the RPK-3R’s with­er­ing fire. Rounds pen­e­trated sheet metal and seats, along with any­thing else in its path as the 5.45x39 eas­ily passed through the car. Only the wheel rims and en­gine block provided a mod­icum of re­sis­tance.

Af­ter a few hun­dred rounds on Range #1 smack­ing steel and chewing up cars, I moved to the Jun­gle Walk range, which al­lows for random tar­get place­ments. The shooter can take ad­van­tage of cover and other ter­rain fea­tures while ad­vanc­ing down the wind­ing, un­du­lat­ing path.



A pos­i­tive point with the RPK-3R is porta­bil­ity. The 10.5-pound weight com­pares fa­vor­ably with the U.S. coun­ter­part M249 SAW that weighs nearly 20 pounds. This be­came very ev­i­dent when test­ing it from stand­ing and kneel­ing off-hand po­si­tions.

In­di­vid­ual and team ex­er­cises are based on real-world sce­nar­ios re­layed to EVTC staff from the wide cross-sec­tion of stu­dents who visit this train­ing cen­ter. The Arse­nal RPK-3R had no prob­lems dur­ing the var­i­ous runs on the Jun­gle Walk. Each con­sisted of mul­ti­ple mag­a­zines and en­gag­ing tar­gets from 15 yards out to 215 yards. This is a good way to get an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of a ri­fle’s porta­bil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity un­der the pres­sure of field con­di­tions.

Nearly 750 rounds of 5.45x39 were ex­pended over a cou­ple days of sce­nario-based test­ing. The smooth, min­i­mal im­pulse of the 5.45x39-cham­bered RPK-3R has to be ex­pe­ri­enced first hand to be fully ap­pre­ci­ated.

Although risk­ing “ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion” by 7.62x39 AK users (who are the clear ma­jor­ity in the United States), the 5.45x39 has a lot to of­fer. There is a rea­son the Sovi­ets switched to it for their ser­vice ri­fle. Many of the same themes are echoed in Rus­sia from when the United States moved to the 5.56x45mm: the abil­ity to carry more am­mu­ni­tion for the same weight, lower re­coil and muz­zle climb, higher ve­loc­ity/ flat­ter tra­jec­tory and so on. With the RPK-3R’s 23-inch bar­rel, 5.45x39 muz­zle ve­loc­i­ties ap­proach 3,200 feet per sec­ond. This trans­lates to a flat shoot­ing round. For ex­am­ple, a 250-yard zero has only a 16-inch drop at 400 yards.

Some will be at­tracted to the RPK-3R for its proven po­ten­tial as a weapon—it’s ex­tremely re­li­able and rugged, and the vol­ume of fire avail­able from the RPK74 clone is hard to du­pli­cate out of any­thing less than a belt-fed weapon. Oth­ers will want it be­cause it is the clos­est op­por­tu­nity they will have to own­ing a work­ing replica of a proven Rus­sian light ma­chine gun.

Ei­ther way, the 5.45x39 RPK-3R proved en­joy­able to shoot at the range and was amaz­ingly ef­fec­tive in sup­ply­ing down­range fire­power. GW



The RPK74 is a modified AK74 in­tended to ful­fill a role as a squad-level light ma­chine gun fed from 30- and 45-round AK74 mag­a­zines.

The AK side rail op­tics mount was used to at­tach a Le­upold Mk4 3.5-10x scope to bet­ter re­al­ize the ac­cu­racy po­ten­tial of the Arse­nal RPK74 semiauto clone.

Arse­nal uses a milled re­ceiver on the RPK-3R. Here, to bet­ter con­form to its in­tended role, a TruGlo Tru-Tec red-dot sight is at­tached to the side rail op­tics mount. The red dot was a huge en­hance­ment in po­tency and ac­cu­racy plac­ing rounds on tar­get.

The RPK-3R front sight block has bi­pod legs at­tached be­hind it and a 14x1mm LH threaded muz­zle with re­mov­able flash hider af­fixed in front of it.

Echo Val­ley Train­ing Cen­ter’s pre­pared dug-in fir­ing po­si­tions were tai­lor made to eval­u­ate weapons such as the RPK74.

The RPK’s longer and heav­ier pro­file bar­rel, com­pared to a stan­dard AK74, pro­vides for im­proved heatre­sis­tance dur­ing long strings of fire.


Echo Val­ley Train­ing Cen­ter’s stepped tar­get berms al­lowed for the RPK74 to en­gage mul­ti­ple tar­gets-ofop­por­tu­nity across var­i­ous ranges. The de­ci­sion to mount the TruGlo Tru-Tec red-dot to the RPK74 proved to be a good one.

The long and short of the AK 5.45x39 world: the RPK-3R (RPK74 clone) and AKS-74U Krinkov

All the am­mu­ni­tion tested pro­duced ac­cept­able ac­cu­racy re­sults, but the Hor­nady 5.45x39mm 60-grain V-Max re­ally shined.


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