July 19, 2021
Who makes the best AK rifle? Sounds like a straightforward and rather simple question, but it’s not so easy to answer. A number of manufacturers in different countries around the world have attempted to refine and improve the basic Kalashnikov design. Changes include improving ergonomics, long-term reliability, accuracy, ability to accept modern mission essential accessories and adapting the platform to new cartridges. The best known of these is, of course, the Israeli Galil. Not so well known here in the US though are the Finnish military variants that actually served as the foundation for the Galil. Of these, the 7.62x39mm Rynnakkokivaari 95 TP is without a doubt the best of the breed. Standard issue to the Finnish Defense Forces, the Rk 95 TP is an impressive rifle in many ways. With the rising interest in Kalashnikov rifles here in the US, I thought a closer look at this interesting Finnish variation was in order.
A very well-designed and manufactured piece, it's every bit as rugged as the land it protects. Its lineage can be traced back to 1954-55 when the Finnish Defense Forces (FDF) began looking for a modern combat rifle. Following their defeat at the hands of the Soviet Union's Red Army during the Continuation War, Finland had to pay heavy war reparations and their military was limited. When the FDF was able to begin re-equipping one badly needed item was a replacement for their obsolete 7.62x53R Jalkavakikivaari m/39 (Infantry Rifle M1939). Although a good weapon in its day, the Mosin-Nagant-based five-shot bolt-action rifle was badly outclassed by the newly fielded AK47s facing them from across the Soviet border.
At this time the West was concentrating on developing/fielding 7.62x51mm battle rifles while the East based their latest rifles around the intermediate 7.62x39mm M43 cartridge. After carefully considering both concepts the Finnish Defense Forces (FDF) decided the 7.62x39mm round was the most suitable for their needs. With the cartridge chosen, quantities of AK47 rifles were purchased from Poland in 1956 and 1957. Although the Finns liked the AK47s robust and reliable nature, it was not completely suitable for their needs in its standard Combloc configuration. Due to this, the FDF requested both SAKO and Valmet (formerly VKT) to develop a more suitable Kalashnikov-based design.
So work was carried out to redesign the AK47 to make it easier and less expensive to produce and more suitable for use by Finnish troops. Lauri Oksanen performed most of the redesign work for Valmet and this first model, the m/58, was accepted for testing by the FDF. This was followed by the Rk 60 which was utilized for field trials. The Rk 60 evolved into what can best be described as the classic Finnish assault rifle, the Rk 62, which was officially adopted in 1962. Simple, rugged and reliable the Rk 62 was a true improvement over the Soviet design. Beautifully made, it sported dramatically improved sights, simple stock, synthetic furniture and a flash suppressor. Both Valmet and SAKO were contracted to manufacture it and production of this model began in 1963-64. Valmet's production run began with serial number 100,001 while SAKO's production run began with serial number 200,001. The first rifles were delivered in 1965. It served the Finnish Army well throughout the Cold War and remained in production until 1988. Although small improvements were made during production, the nomenclature remained unchanged. It's also interesting to note that the Israeli Galil was based directly upon the Rk 62.
In the late 1980s the FDF began to consider improving the basic Rk 62. Research was conducted in 1986-87 which led to the FDF developing requirements for a new assault rifle design in 1988. As SAKO and Valmet had been merged in 1987, with Valmet eventually disappearing, this work was undertaken by SAKO. In August of 1989 SAKO submitted three different prototypes for evaluation. These were quite different from the Rk 62 in regards to sights, folding stock and furniture design. In addition they had the ability to mount optical sights and launch rifle grenades.
Following field tests two models were selected for trials. The Army then ordered ten rifles, of which five had conventional AK type selectors and five had a thumb-operated selector mounted on the left side of the weapon's receiver. These were known as 7.62 Rk 90 proto I and proto II. Over the next couple of years further testing refined and evolved the design, in some cases back towards the original Rk 62. Two prototypes designated Rk 92 were produced for tests and delivered to the FDF in the spring of 1993. Eventually the design was finalized and adopted as the Rk 95 TP in 1995. Production of the new rifle began in the summer of 1995 with the first rifle bearing serial number 960,001. Manufacture of this model was completed in 1997.
Like the earlier Rk 62, which remains in service, the Rk 95 TP is based upon Mikhail Kalashnikov's basic design. It utilizes his long-stroke gas system and rotating bolt. Like the AK-47, the foundation for this model is a machined steel receiver. This is profiled to provide additional support to the magazine compared to the Rk 62. Mated to this is a 16.5-inch-long hammer-forged barrel with four groove rifling and a 1-9.4 inch twist chambered for 7.62x39mm.
The protected front sight, which is adjustable for windage and elevation, is located on the gas block. The rear sight, which has dual 150m and 300m apertures, is mounted onto the rear of the top cover. Sight radius is 18.3 inches long. In addition to the standard daytime iron sights Tritium night sights are also mounted. Flipping the rear sight to a middle position allows the rear night sight to be viewed. The front night sight is housed at the rear of the front sight block and must be flipped up for use. To ensure there is no loss of zero the top cover is secured to the receiver by not only the traditional Kalashnikov method but also by an additional rotating lever. In addition to the standard iron sights an optics rail is also mounted on the left side of the weapon's receiver. This allows day/night optics to be easily mounted onto the weapon.
To facilitate launching rifle grenades from the weapon a two-position valve (On/Off) was added to the gas system. This is actuated by a cut-off lever mounted onto the right side of the gas block. Rotating this perpendicular with the barrel shuts the flow of gas off to the operating system. To work in conjunction with this feature SAKO also developed a new muzzle brake. The new unit was designed to reduce both muzzle rise and flash while also acting as a launcher for rifle grenades. It also acted as a mount for a sound suppressor and a blank firing device.
Although the Finns evaluated thumb-operated selector levers they eventually returned to the standard Kalashnikov selector design. The top position of this design is Safe, the center position is Full Auto and the bottom position is Semi-Auto. To make charging the weapon with the left hand easier the bolt handle is angled up at approximately 45 degrees. The magazine release is an extended AK-style lever. Feed is from polymer 30-round magazines.
In place of the Rk 62's tubular stock the Rk 95 TP has a solidly locking unit which folds to the right side of the weapon for storage. Although the contour resembles the stock utilized on the Galil the locking mechanism is different. To allow cleaning gear to be carried on the weapon the upper tube of the stock features a storage compartment. With the stock closed the weapon measures only 26.5 inches long. Unfolded the Rk 95 TP is 36.6 inches long. A synthetic pistolgrip and rugged handguards are also fitted. Weight is 8.3 pounds without a magazine.
In the hands the Rk 95 TP feels quite good. It handles and balances well, although the stock may be a bit long with body armor. The sights are simple, robust and well suited for use on a combat rifle. The weapon is easy to operate, but the Kalashnikov selector lever is a draw-back. Cycle rate of fire is 650 rounds per minute. Muzzle velocity of the standard S309 ball round is 2,345 fps. Also issued is a VJ313 tracer load, color coded with a white bullet tip, AP479 armor-piercing load, color coded with a blue tip, blank, identified by a blue-colored wooden bullet and a dummy identified by nickel plating and longitudinal grooves. Standard packing is a 30-round cardboard box. Effective range is listed as 300 meters. Reliability, as to be expected, is outstanding.
As stated previously, the accuracy of this model is quite good. During a previous trip to Finland I had a chance to test fire an Rk 95 TP from a benchrest on Lapua's 600-meter outdoor range. Using high-quality 123-grain Lapua ball ammunition and the iron sights I averaged 1.5-inch five-shot groups at 100 meters. Firing from a sitting position at 300 meters I was able to keep all my shots well inside a silhouette target. Regarding accuracy, I was told by my hosts at the 2006 Lapua Sniper competition about one particularly impressive bit of marksmanship performed with a M92S, the semi-auto version of the Rk 95 TP. At a previous competition one competitor's sniper rifle had gone down during a timed event. His spotter, using a scoped M92S, immediately took over and made first round hits on silhouettes out to 600 meters.
Practical accuracy and controllability of the piece are very good. It is much more user-friendly than an AKM or AK-74. This is thanks to the better sights with a longer sight radius and more comfortable stock/fore-end. Controllability on full auto is typical of a 7.62x39mm weapon. Stay on the trigger and it jumps about. Negatives? The machined receiver is heavy and holds heat, the side-mounted optics sit very high and the standard Kalashnikov selector remains.
I am very impressed by the Finish Defense Force's Rk 95 TP assault rifle. Although the Russians moved away from the 7.62x39mm cartridge decades ago the Finns remain quite happy with it. They feel it offers the best combination of penetration and terminal performance for the terrain they will be fighting on. Mated to the tough Rk 95 TP it makes a combination well suited for fighting in Finland's forests. Although the Rk 95 TP is now out of production it will remain in service for well into the future. Is it the best of the AKs? It is growing a bit dated when it comes to mounting accessories and optics, but even so it remains one of the best AK designs fielded.
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Rk 95 TP Specifications
- Caliber: 7.62x39mm
- Operation: Kalashnikov long stroke gas with rotating bolt
- Barrel: 16.5 inches long with four groove rifling and a 1-9.4 inch twist
- Feed: 30 round detachable box magazine
- Sights: Protected front post, dual 150/300 meter rear apertures. Also Tritium night sights.
- Overall Length: 36.6 inches, 26.5 inches with stock folded
- Weight: 8.8 pounds without magazine
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,345 fps
- Cyclic Rate: 650 rpm
- Manufacturer: SAKO Oy
- Status: Out of production but still in front line service with Finnish Defense Forces
About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.