The RPK is a light machine gun that was first brought in to service by the Soviet Army in 1959. RPK stands for the “Ruchnoi Pulemet Kalashnikova” or literally “hand machine gun Kalashnikov.” The RPK is based on the AK assault rifle model. It is the Russian equivalent of a squad automatic weapon(SAW) used in the United States military. A counterpart used by the U.S. marines is the M-249 machine gun.

The gun itself looks much like an oversized AK-47. The RPK is usually feed with a banana clip that is substantially longer than that of the AK series due to the massive number of bullets that the RPK ejects. Even so, AK and RPK clips are interchangeable, making Russian squads incredibly versatile. Some parts were strengthened to ensure a longer operational life. The RPK also differs from the AK series in that is has a sheet metal receiver, a longer heavier barrel with a permanently attached bipod, and a windage adjustable sight that can target objects 900 meters away.

Originally produced by the U.S.S.R., there have been variations of the RPK’s produced first by North Vietnam and then by Bulgaria. The Chinese also built a similar SAW on their AKM receiver. In most cases, the RPK’s maximum range is 2,500 meters and its effective range is 800 meters.

Since its introduction, the RPK has become a very popular weapon in virtually all of the world’s conflicts. It often serves alongside its well-known cousin, the AK-47, when more firepower is needed. The weapon has also found a home with terrorists and was used prominently by both the Taleban as well as the Northern Alliance.