The Great Debates: AR-15 vs. AK-47

AR-15 rifle on wooden table.

It is an argument that has been around for decades. Which is the better rifle platform, Eugene Stoner’s AR-15/M16 or Mikhail Kalishnikov’s AK-47? Police and military forces around the world use both extensively, and the two platforms have been head-to-head against each other in various military conflicts for nearly 50 years. Still, each seems to shine in its own particular way.

Caliber aside, probably the biggest difference between the two rifles is the built-in tolerances. Manufacturers built the AK-47 to function flawlessly in any condition. And makers built the AR-15 to be incredibly accurate as well as reliable, but the finer tolerances increase the chance for failure. It is also extremely lightweight, with most parts made from high-strength aluminum with a few critical steel components. On the other hand, the AK-47 is almost all steel, making it that much more durable but also significantly heavier.

Iron sights on the AR platform are much better than the AK, with a rear aperture sight and front blade. The AK, by comparison, has only a rudimentary Partridge sight system. Scopes are more difficult to mount on the AK, requiring a forward scout-style mount, a difficult-to-stabilize receiver cover or side-rail mount. AR rifles, by comparison, were designed to have optics securely mounted on the integrated carry handle or attached to the Picatinny rail on later flat-top models.

Ak-47 on cement ground

Each rifle has certain performance requirements. The U.S. military wanted a precision rifle that was lightweight, very accurate and could fire a high-pressure, lightweight projectile. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, wanted a tough and nearly indestructible rifle that performs well under the harshest conditions. Both got what they wanted.

Below, we evaluate the two on a number of parameters, evaluating weight, ballistic performance, ergonomics, and price.

 AK-47AR-15/M16Superior Rifle
Maximum Effective Range400 yards600 yardsAR-15/M16
Weight (empty)9.5 pounds7.8 poundsAR-15/M16
Weight (loaded, 30 round magazine)10.9 pounds8.8 poundsAR-15/M16
Muzzle Energy1,500 foot-pounds1,300 foot-poundsAK-47
Energy at 400 yards462 foot-pounds536 foot-poundsAR-15/M16
Accuracy (16″ barrel)8-12 MOA6-8 MOAAR-15/M16
ReliabilityFunctions under nearly any conditionProne to failure when exposed to dirt, dust, and mudAK-47
ErgonomicsSafety/selector switch is a bit awkward requiring the user to break grip on the rifle; cheek weld is virtually non-existentExcellent cheek weld; safety/selector switch is manipulated easily without losing sight pictureAR-15/M16
RecoilNoticeable but easily managed in semi-automaticEasily controllable, even under rapid fireAR-15/M16

Just looking at the side-by-side comparison, one has to give the nod to the AR-15/M16. It is more accurate and offers superior ballistics at long range. The AK-47 is clearly superior for reliability and short-range ballistics, making it an obvious choice for anyone who needs a short-range tactical rifle. Its traits clearly make it the better choice for close-quarters urban or jungle fighting in which engagements will usually be fewer than 100 yards.

Those ballistic differences disappear when you compare the AK-74, instead of the AK-47, to the AR-15. The AK-74 fires a 5.45x39mm cartridge with similar performance to the NATO 5.56mm standard round. The AR still wins on accuracy, but the ballistics are the same out to 600 yards. What does that mean? Although the effects of a hit on a target at long range are about the same, with the AR-15 you are more likely to actually hit your target at 600 yards than with the AK-74. That primarily is due to differences in bolt design and barrel attachment.

Still, at the end of the day, the customer staring at both rifles has to make a decision. Do you go with fool-proof reliability at a lower cost and choose the AK, or drop the extra cash on the AR-15 (what many call “the Lego System of weapons”) and have an accurate, modular system you can adapt to multiple roles and calibers? If you are like me, you will spend even more and get one of each. Which one you choose ultimately will depend on the role you want it to play. Need the ultimate in reliability and close-range support? Get the AK. More interested in an easily modified modular system that boasts excellent long-range accuracy and ballistics? Get the AR.

Which do you prefer? AK or AR? Tell us in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (54)

  1. I watched videos covering the reliability of both, the AK is astronomically more prone to dirt, dust, and mud failure. This is due to the tolerances of the AR being much tighter so it does not allow mud to enter the gun unless the bolt is locked open and mud or dirt poured in. You can watch this video to get the reference, they did another on the ak if you still are curious

    1. Why do you call BS? The US military tested the AK and could not believe hoe reliable and accurate it was after all they had done to it.

  2. I have both i just like guns … i use my ar as a coyote rifle and my ak as a home defense and range gun

  3. I don’t understand why you need either of these guns. What do you do with them? I hunt deer with at .243 or a .30-.30, squirrel / rabbit with a 12 ga or 16 ga so when do you use an AK or an AR? In a SHTF scenario, do you really want to continue on and if so, for what? Just curious

  4. Being an Australian, reading these comments, it paints a good picture of the issues you all face in the USA in relation to guns.

    So many on here are talking about war / needing one of these to protect yourself, etc. It’s so sad. So much of the spelling and grammar on here is poor too, which is also worrying. No wonder your rates of death by shooting are extraordinary compared to every other modern society. Gun control seems all but non-existent.

    1. Go back to your sand dunes and humping kangaroos. At least we have the freedoms to own weapons for self defense. Meanwhile you are slaves to your Aussie government and basically the British crown. You’ll soon want guns with the amount of muslims flooding into your country

    2. It’s going to take one corrupt government for you Aussies to acutely realize why this freedom is so important. It might be happening now, it might take 100 years to happen, but it will happen and you will be helpless citizens faced with a heavily armed government.

      That’s a false statistic propagated by the gun control crowd. You liberals should get your facts straight and stop being so narrow minded.

  5. 4-8 MOA on an AR15? My PSA budget build shoots MOA (1.22 average of five 3 shot groups with 2 sub MOA at 100 yards) out of the box. Any rifle at 4 MOA is unacceptable.

  6. I have both ARs and AKs and while I enjoy shooting both I’ve found that the AKs are MUCH more reliable and much less choosy about the ammo they’re fed.

  7. I’m a few years late, but holy crap CTD really took a dump with this article.

    Unloaded AKs weigh 9.5 pounds empty? Sure, maybe the original 1940s AK47. Modern AKs? 7.5 lbs empty.

    Cheek weld is NOT “virtually non-existent” on an AK, unless you are using an underfolding stock (which is not what the pictures shows).

    Also, modern AKs as well as ARs have about the same off-the-rack MOA at around 4MOA, unless you’re buying an expensive model and using match ammo. Certainly not the 8-12 MOA that CTD is suggesting.

    A perfect example of an article written by an employee who dug up random internet facts by skimming Wikipedia, who obviously never owned or shot either rifle.

  8. I prefer the AR it is AMERICAN, The AK is an ok 100-200 yd gun but beyond that it is not very accurate. If you use the AR-15 with hollow points at up to 400+ yds it will be very effective. I prefer the AR design in a 308 which will out perform the AR15 and the AK for accuracy and penetration
    The AK is better than nothing but when it comes to protecting your life don’t go cheap, In a SHTF scenario you will find more ammo and parts for the AR 15 its AMERICAN

  9. I have a “Saga” some say it’s one of the best others say it’s O.K. but I could have done better. It seam’s to be very accurate, and very reliable. I all so find that it will shoot good amo, as well as junk, where as the AR-15 for the most part shoots premo, or upper grade. I guess my question is did I make the right choice in your opinion?

  10. My custom built ar (im an amateur, built it using youtube,lol), has never had a missfire,ftf,or fte after 2000+ rounds. I bought a cheap lower, a dpms lower parts kit, a dsa and rguns upper (16in dsa 20in bull barrel rguns), and i have never had one problem. I have not owned an ak, but i had an sks. Stupid gas tube release came loose to often. However, this was my fault, but as for smoothness and user friendliness, ar all the way. People need to realize that, unless you are in combat or a mall ninja, we are NOT in combat. Ak`s kick a$$, but come on, are you really gonna throw your gun down in the mud or run it over with a car? With the ar, just keep the freaking dust cover closed when not in use. BOTH rifles excel and are excellent. 2 different countries, 2 different rifles. Its chevy vs ford. Get what you want and love it for what it is. For me, its my ar with 2 different uppers. However, if i get the cash….and my wife lets me…..ill buy an ak in a heartbeat. Also, an ar is a model, an ak is an old woman. You can, mmmmm, do both, but the ar is more pleasent/fun lol (tighter tolerances)

  11. I love my AR baby girl. What she lacks in stopping power she makes up in accurate at a distance. which a wise man needs to be at I choose the AR. My AR just looks like a sexy slim girl that i want to lick however the AK is a healthy woman that needs no loving and will cook every night. If you need to move fast AR, if you need to wage war AK!

  12. I’ve owned a Colt AR back in the 80’s but in the early 90’s I was forced to sell it; money was really tight. I currently own 2 AK’s, a Romanian and a Hungarian AMD-65. A few weeks ago my shooting buddy let me shoot his AR. I REALLY liked it. Now I really miss my old Colt. I think the lightweight and the ergonomics on the AR a far superior to that of the AK. So, now I’ve been thinking about selling one or both of the AK and getting an AR.

  13. “prone to failure when exposed to dirt dust & mud”; I cannot imagine why I don’t read this kind of real-world statement more often; the M16/AR is an engineering atrocity, & needlessly so; why 7 micro locking-lugs/ recesses, then pump fouling-gas into those recesses, etc; & why isn’t there an accurate AK out there; think: Dragunov! the AK could easily be designed with a free-floating bbl/tappet gas-system etc.

  14. M4s are overused in todays military. The extra 4 inches of barrel the M16 provides is needed for those 400 meter offhand shots. Try that with an AK. The M16 will win that fight every time. The M16 needs tender loving care but anyone in a combat situation should be ready to marry and run off with their rifle. Taking care of her will promote a loving bond you could never get with a AK. Aks are overrated for reliabilty also. I saw AKs jam and they were not even that dirty. I believe the operators were under the impression that AKs don’t even need oil! They do!

  15. M16 effective range: 600 yard?!?!? FAKE!!
    Only you american still use the stoner system, every other country as the germany, the belgium use system evolved from ak, and the newest ak like the ak12 is far superior than your medieval m4, you are obsolete, ar suck, the ak series 100 is better, the chinese obz03 is better, the european rifle like the scar or the g36 is better, all the world nation of the world make weapon more reliable than you cowboy,
    and the only real comparison of ak and ar has this name “vietnam”

    1. SeiUnCoglione,

      So what you’re saying is that the M series won because the Vietnamese casualties from the rifles were much higher than the AK casualties.

    2. Since its obvious that English isn’t your first language (and intelligence isn’t a word in your lexicon anyway) we “medieval” M4 owning and shooting “cowboy” types will gladly take you and yours to the range of your choice and take your lunch money for the gamble. LOL
      If the Stoner platform is so MEDIEVAL” WTF does that make the AK platform, considering it’s style had/has been around longer than the AR rifle.
      Sir, or Ma’am since your gender isn’t specific, you should retreat back to your mud but with smoky fire warming the cauldron of root veggies you place in your warm tummy.
      And as for the AR being such a loser in Vietnam, might I point out to YOU Afghanistan, Angola and a host of other battlefields where the Ruskie-type AK lover shed blood and lives and STILL had their asses to them on a platter served up with a side of AK47 and AK74.
      Shit happens, Dude, and no specific gun will protect you if the opposing side has a round with your name on it. Not an AK OR an AR will save your hide when that day comes.
      Now run home and habe a bottle of Vodka. It will warm you up and allow you clarity of thought. LMAO

  16. What a poorly written article and comparison. First, you mentioned yourself in a objective comparison, so obviously showing bias. Second, you compared the statistics of tests that you wanted, rather than what makes a gun good or bad not to mention, you used a single test twice (weight of the AK-47 is heavier than the AR-15 with an without it loaded, ya think!). Also you introduce a gun that isn’t neither an AK-47 and AR-15 in an Ak-47/Ar-15 test! Research the “scientific method” before doing another test. A quick look at a third grade grammar book wouldn’t hurt either.

  17. To me ARs seem a bit more serious. But when I think of an AK all I see is a ‘serious fun gun’. I sold my boring M4(that I built from scratch), kept my Saiga12 and am working for an AK that I can have some serious fun with. In any country, on any continent in the middle of nowhere I would want an AK hands down.
    Thats in no way a thumbs down to the AR though, its an extremely capable platform. Its interchangeability with barrel lengths and calibers can never be ignored and lets face it we’ll never see a AK varmint rifle with a fat and long target barrel that will outshoot a varmint AR. Just my personal taste leans to the AK and most of its so-called drawbacks can be overcome easily with a little intelligence.

  18. I own a SA-93 AK-47, one of the best production AKs available. I was in the US Army for 9 years and have shot the M4 plenty. I still like the trigger pull of my AK better. Regarding accuaracy, I bought a new top cover with a rail and put on a cheapy 4×32 scope. I can shoot a 40 rd mag of Golden Bear at 150 yds and have 35 or more be within a 2″ circle. Here’s the kicker… I’ve only had/shot the AK for 1 year! Havent shot at 300 yds, yet…

    I also have an MSAR E4 that also has a 4×32 but havent shot it much yet, although I was about 50/50 at 300 yds after getting it sighted in. This also cost ~2.5 times what I paid for the above AK.

    Like most, I like both for different reasons but am liking my AK a bit more. If I can pull off hitting half my 300-yd shots with the AK it will be my new favorite…

  19. I built my current AR15 myself from a stripped bushmaster lower, which I highly recommend to everyone to do, just for the understanding of it alone, I also built the upper from a stripped LARs upper. I installed a long stroke gas piston system(after sometime) replacing the gas impingement system, this alone has reduced the maintenance issue to that of the AK47 as well as its reliability, as I could(I haven’t though)go 1,000 or more RNDS between clean ups. The modularity and after market applications for the AR15 make this weapon system second to none, not to mention the variety in ammo, and its future prospects.

  20. Saiga’s AK is a real Russian firearm and is not a USA knockoff like some of these posts. I seen them up for sale to $440-450 new and they shoot just as accurate as any AR at 100 yards. These are still in use by Russian armory.

  21. I have to say getting a cheap “$350-600” AK-47 is not true deal at all. Most of these hobbled together AK variants are not made by a country that’s known for selling quality Arm’s. Let’s compare apples to apples. An off the shelf $600 AR-15 doesn’t take neutered 10 round magazines or anything goofy, 9 times out of 10 they are USGI spec and just as good as what they issue to troops.

  22. I like what the author says at the end, “buy one of each”. Then you can determine which you prefer and either keep your favorite or sell both to get a highest end version of your choice. Would be nice to have a roundup of all models, lowest to highest end and then a comparison of them. See where the differences become cosmetic amongst the brands ? Finish does count for a lot too though. Better workmanship & finish for bluing.

  23. Have both, and have bought a few AR-15 platforms. Maybe I’ve just had bad luck with my experience with the AR’s in the military and civilian worlds, but they are the undisbuted kings of jamming in my experience. I don’t care how accurate a gun may be, I want to know when I pull the trigger the next round is going to load properly. If that doesn’t happen while in the middle of all hell breaking lose, what you find yourself with is an expensive club.

    1. Amen, Mark. Seems like every time I look at the AK, I find another blemish/flaw/deformity…………….and every time I shoot it, I know I would never trust my life to anything else.

  24. I have an AK-47, American made version. The simplicity of this platform is incredible. This in my mind is a great part of the reason I love it so much. It literally takes minutes to learn the system. Proficiency will come quickly, as a result for most people. Another “advantage to the AK is the fact that it is so universally used throughout the globe. If one were in a foreign land the chances are much higher that parts would be available for the AK. Tapco g2 trigger group and some Tapco polymer mags and you’re good to go.

  25. The AK-47 is by far my most favorite! I currently have the WASR 10 with a accuratly milled magazine well so the mags fit nice and tight (unlike others). I’d prefer to get another, any suggestions on where to look for a deal?

  26. Have you noticed how astronomically the cost of accessories vary on the AK-47? I own several and it’s difficult to tell the difference in what makes some of the upgrades cost so much more than the “so called” cheapos or knock offs. What’s your view on it?

  27. Have you noticed how much the cost of upgrades vary on the AK47? I own many and it’s hard to tell the difference in what makes some of the accessories cost so much more than the “so called” cheapos or knock offs. What’s your view on it?

  28. AK 47 is designed to take a life on 100 yards. The caliber 7.62 is able to penetrate a concrete block, and steel core round can go through 0.5 inch steel plate. A full jacket round can go through 1/8 inch steel plate. This is not the case for caliber 5.45. The round stuck inside a concrete block and smashed in front of 1/8 inch steel plate. This caliber is deadly against people dressed in pajamas, but 7.62×39 hollow point makes a lot of damage, same as 5.45 caliber.
    I bought a Yugoslavian AK 47 with parts of Military Zastava, and receiver produced by Century and assembled in USA. Under folded stock is a must. The slant muzzle brake is for amateurs, and worsens the accuracy. I replaced it with a Bulgarian with 4 side windows; the flash can’t obscure the sight. Added a recoil buffer, and replaced the steel wire with a steel plate at the trigger system. With open sight, front sight at 1, distance 100 yards I group 20 rounds at 4 inches. You have to know how to support the stock, on your shoulder, how to handle your body by bones, not by muscles and more. A have 26 years experience in army with AK 47 and now, I can use the Yugo one, with the same accuracy. No mater, that is only semi auto, the strength of recoil system is for auto, and if you are fast, can fire up to 8 rounds in a second. Tula or Wolf rounds are cheap, but one in 100 rounds misfire. It is a good idea to load the magazine’s, 3 first rounds to fire, with Winchester 7.62×39. AK 47 is not for haunting. AK 47 is a self-defense weapon, to take a life on 3 to 100 yards in self-defense. I hope never to use it, but I prefer to die with my AK 47 in my hands.

  29. Not tolerances, clearances. Clearances are the amount of space between the parts. High clearances, as in an AK, make it more reliable and less accurate. Tolerances are the amount of variation allowed in the part before it gets rejected. High tolerance is all bad, it makes a gun both less reliable and less accurate. A gun made with high tolerances is likely to have high clearance in some spots and low in others. AKs from most countries do not have particularly high tolerances, they are made to about the same tolerances as M16s.

  30. Why is this always a debate on “which to get?” This is America- we can get both. So, get both, shoot both, and be happy.

    It is a poor craftsman that can only use one tool well.

  31. for a rifle you can throw behind the seat of your pickup and know it will work when you pull it out you cant beat an ak. but i have to admit the ars are pretty cool if you have the money.

  32. Get a good copy of both. Train with both. Discover which one you do best with overall and use that as your ‘homeland defense’ rifle (but keep the other one just incase..)

    Don’t spend your time worrying about which one is the most reliable or most accurate or whatever. Train with both and find out for yourself.

    Persoanly for ME I pick the AR (a Bushie ‘M4’ with a fixed stock and 20 round mag pouch on the stock.) And yes, I have the AK to.

    But don’t take my pick as the last say. Find out for yourself.

  33. Since I am not currently fighting a war (and sincerely hope that I never will), I am more concerned with things such as ergonomics, shootability and accuracy. The AR-15 wins hands down in those categories. Now, if I ever do find myself in battle, I will keep my Colt AR-15 and use it as long as possible, and IF and when it does go down, I’ll pick up the closest rifle I can find, be it an AR or an AK. Besides, how many AK’s can you slap a new upper on and go from a lightweight battle rifle to a sub-moa varmit rifle or to a harder hitting caliber like 6.8 SPC.

  34. “Still, at the end of the day, the customer staring at both rifles has to make a decision. ”

    Yes, and buy both of them. I love them both for the very differences they have.

  35. Like the man said, apples & oranges.

    For hunting or range play in an ordered society – spend the extra $$.
    For home defense or survival in less than ideal conditions, definitely
    buy the sledge-hammer.

  36. It’s like comparing the Model A Ford to the 1928 Chevrolet Sedan. They were both good in their time (a half century ago). Both are now completely obsolete and have been surpassed by several generations of newer and better rifles.

  37. I dropped the extra money for the M4 and would not trade it for an ak ever. however I would totally buy an ak 47 or ak74. I currently have an sks that I love to shoot.

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