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PNG images: AK-47

The AK-47, or AK as it is officially known, also known as the Kalashnikov, is a selective-fire (semi-automatic and fully automatic), gas-operated 7.62×39 mm assault rifle, developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov. It is the originating firearm of the Kalashnikov rifle (or "AK") family.

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Design work on the AK-47 began in the last year of World War II (1945). In 1946, the AK-47 was presented for official military trials, and in 1948, the fixed-stock version was introduced into active service with selected units of the Soviet Army. An early development of the design was the AKS (S—Skladnoy or "folding"), which was equipped with an underfolding metal shoulder stock. In the spring of 1949, the AK-47 was officially accepted by the Soviet Armed Forces and used by the majority of the member states of the Warsaw Pact.

Even after almost seven decades, the model and its variants remain the most popular and widely used assault rifles in the world because of their substantial reliability under harsh conditions, low production costs compared to contemporary Western weapons, availability in virtually every geographic region and ease of use. The AK-47 has been manufactured in many countries and has seen service with armed forces as well as irregular forces and insurgencies worldwide, and was the basis for developing many other types of individual, crew-served and specialised firearms. As of 2004, "Of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s".

During World War II, the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle used by German forces made a deep impression on their Soviet counterparts. The select-fire rifle was chambered for a new intermediate cartridge, the 7.92×33mm Kurz, and combined the firepower of a submachine gun with the range and accuracy of a rifle. On 15 July 1943, an earlier model of the Sturmgewehr was demonstrated before the People's Commissariat of Arms of the USSR. The Soviets were impressed with the weapon and immediately set about developing an intermediate caliber fully automatic rifle of their own, to replace the PPSh-41submachine guns and outdated Mosin–Nagant bolt-action rifles that armed most of the Soviet Army.

The Soviets soon developed the 7.62×39mm M43 cartridge, the semi-automatic SKS carbine and the RPD light machine gun. Shortly after World War II, the Soviets developed the AK-47 assault rifle, which would quickly replace the SKS in Soviet service. In the 1960s, the Soviets introduced the RPK light machine gun, an AK-47 type weapon with a stronger receiver, a longer heavy barrel, and a bipod, that would eventually replace the RPD light machine gun.