Mikhail Kalashnikov, Inventor Of The AK-47, Dead At 94

The inventor of the iconic AK-47 automatic rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has died. Kalashnikov's simple, durable and easily maintained gun became the world's most popular rifle, with more than 100 million in circulation. Kalashnikov was modest about his invention, saying he created it solely for the defense of the motherland. Some analysts say his domination of Soviet and Russia weapons design actually kept the country from entering the modern age of small arms.

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The man who invented one of the most deadly weapons of modern warfare has died. Mikhail Kalashnikov was 94. Variants of the automatic rifle that bears his name are still used throughout the world. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports on the inventor's career.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: This has become one of the characteristic sounds of war.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

FLINTOFF: It's the AK-47, which stands for Automatic Kalashnikov, together with the year it was first produced, in 1947. There are estimated to be more than 100 million Kalashnikov-type rifles in circulation around the globe. Mikhail Kalashnikov said he first thought about developing such a gun when he was lying wounded in a military hospital during the Second World War and he heard fellow soldiers complaining about their weapons.

MIKHAIL KALASHNIKOV: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Kalashnikov said the most important things the Russian soldier needed in a gun were simplicity and reliability, and that's what he produced. The gun was rugged, with loosely fitted components that could shake off mud and dust and keep operating. It was simple to shoot and easy to maintain - not the most accurate weapon, but capable of laying down a deadly hail of fire.

PAVEL FELGENGAUER: A great gun and one of the greatest in the history of firearms. For a peasant army, still the weapon of choice.

FLINTOFF: That's Pavel Felgengauer, a defense analyst for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The gun was designed for the kind of army that the Soviet Union had during World War II, an army of peasant boys, like Kalashnikov himself. And Felgengauer says that Kalashnikov's enormous success proved to be a problem later on.

FELGENGAUER: Because he kind of wiped out the careers and ambitions of almost two generations of firearms designers. Since everything was occupied by the Kalashnikov, by the AK, they couldn't produce the weapons they designed.

FLINTOFF: For all its good qualities, Felgengauer says, the AK-47 became outdated for modern, well-trained armies. The loose assembly that made it resistant to dirt and grit also made it notoriously wobbly and inaccurate in bursts of fire. Kalashnikov made a more modern version of the weapon in 1974, and the AK-74 is still the gun that most Russian soldiers carry today.

But it's considered far inferior to the standard weapons for soldiers in the U.S. and Western European armies. In his later years, Kalashnikov said that it weren't for the war, he would have preferred to design farm machinery to make the lives of peasants easier. But he didn't apologize for his gun.

KALASHNIKOV: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He said the gun was created to protect the borders of the Fatherland, and that neither he nor the weapon were to blame for the uses to which it has been put. That, he said, was the fault of politicians who couldn't solve problems by peaceful means. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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