AK-9 and the 9×39 Cartridge

Russia’s newest entry in the AK line up of rifles is a suppressed CQB rifle firing armor defeating subsonic ammunition. Meet the AK-9, Russia’s latest and greatest, and perhaps deadliest, assault rifle. And that’s saying a mouthful. The AK-9 was sorta unveiled in 2007, well almost. It still remains an enigma. A variant of the AKS-74, it’s chambered for subsonic 9x39mm, is virtually silent, and defeats most body armor. It’s black, light – at 8 1/2 pounds it is lighter than earlier AK models – and packs a whisper-quiet silencer. Wow! The Russians claim the new and improved AK-9 was designed for their law enforcement and anti-terror units. Can you say Russian SWAT? That may be true. I can see Comrade Boris sneaking up on a Russian school held hostage, crawling to within shooting range of Chechnyan insurgents, and silently and efficiently neutralizing the threats.

I can also see a more sinister mission for the AK-9 – as the assault weapon of Russia’s future. In 2006, the Izhmash factory was contracted to design a rifle for the Russian special forces. Alexei Dragunov helped to design the AK-9 and commented about it saying “It shoots virtually without a sound and it can go through a bullet-proof vest.” The AK-9 was designed around the 9×39 subsonic rifle cartridge. Like previous AK variants, the 9×39 was designed around the 7.62×39 to maintain parts compatibility with the AK action and receiver. The purpose of the 9×39 was to be a silent subsonic round with the penetrating capabilities of a rifle round. To achieve this, the designers made a long heavy bullet, weighing in at a whopping 250 grains, twice as heavy as the 7.62×39 bullet. The length and weight of the bullet give it a much higher ballistic coefficient than similar caliber handgun cartridges. The effective range of the 9×39 is limited to 400 meters.

Three versions of the 9×39 were developed. The SP-6 model is an AP (armor piercing) round with a steel penetrator capable of punching through 3.5mm of steel at 400 meters, and a whopping 6mm (0.25 in) of steel at 200 meters. At closer ranges of 100 meters or less it can blast through 8mm of steel and still have enough power to neutralize any soft target beyond the armor. The SP-6 proved expensive to produce, so a budget model, the PAB-9 was developed. Unfortunately, the PAB-9 sacrificed far too much in the way of performance, and so the model was dropped. The SP-5 variant is a more typical lead bullet in an accurized full metal jacket configuration.

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