By Todd Burgreen
If you thought nothing more could be written about the semi-auto AK47, this article will force re-evaluation of that opinion. The true hallmark of the AK-series of rifles gaining acceptance in the US is the rise of gunsmiths starting to cater to their clientele along with the growing amount of accessories intended for the AK. Along these lines, an emerging leader in producing firearms intended for serious application is TSD Combat Systems. An earlier article in SAR on the Advanced Combat Glock highlighted one of TSD’s first contributions to the marketplace. TSD is a unique blend of manufacturing married to practical application of the product; TSD is driving the concept of the AK rifle both in theory and application producing an AK fit for the 21st Century. The main reason for this is Gabe Suarez. Gabe is the force behind both TSD Combat Systems and Suarez International--a worldwide training organization. Suarez International is recognized as one of the earliest proponents of the AK in the US market. Suarez International is an innovator of AK training techniques with hundreds of classes conducted over the years both here in the US and overseas—many in former Soviet bloc nations. This experience leads to many industry manufacturers’ turning to Gabe for input on AK products. While Mr. Suarez is a controversial figure within certain circles for various reasons, one can be sure that any ideas presented by Mr. Suarez and then backed up with products are well thought out. Everything is proofed during numerous training cycles/personal applications in the field under the most rigorous conditions. TSD’s recently introduced AK rifle is an excellent example of this. The TSD AK47 is a fighting rifle with all improvements focused on making it excel as such. All business, with no wasted effort is the TSD goal.
Anyone looking for a hard-hitting, high capacity carbine would do well not overlooking the AK 47. This stems from the AK’s well earned reputation for ruggedness and reliability combined with 7.62x39 cartridge. Lessons rediscovered in Iraq and Afghanistan about terminal effect reinforces 7.62x39 credentials. Loads range from 122g-154gr FMJ, HP, and SP all performing very similar to the 30-30 ballistically. The greatest knock against the AK is its assumed inherent inaccuracy combined with lack of refinement in terms of ergonomics and inability to adapt to user missions. Loose manufacturing tolerances in the numerous locales AKs are produced combined with similar patterns in bulk/surplus ammunition often used in the AK all contribute to this perception. Along these same lines crude battle sights and triggers also negatively contribute to the AK accuracy equation. The inability to mount optics on the AK over the receiver via Picatinny rail a la flat top AR further turns off US shooters to the AK; not to mention inhibiting maximizing the AK’s true field accuracy. The lack of a quality adjustable stock for individual length of pull and cheek weld is another AK trait often bemoaned. Lastly, a quality railed quad fore end was the missing piece for many users wanting to set up a rifle to their needs. TSD has addressed these issues.
TSD Combat Systems’ goal was to integrate the best of both Eastern design and Western shooting methods without sacrificing the inherent AK characteristics such as reliability and ruggedness. TSD begins their AK build with brand new unfired Saiga rifles that are handpicked. Though the Russian Izhmash manufactured Saiga rifles enjoy a solid reputation, TSD performs quality checks on common AK items that may need tweaked. While more prevalent with lower end variants than the Saiga, these items are canted gas blocks, trigger assembly, and internal safety lever operation. Though modified to meet import requirements via sporter stock with no pistol grip and confined to limited capacity magazines, the heart of the Saiga rifle is an AK operating system. The process to modify Saiga rifles back into the more familiar high-capacity AK is well known and relatively straight forward process. TSD takes this to another level with the TSD AK as benefitting its close association with one of the leading AK training entities--Suarez International.
A simple performance enhancement for the AK platform would be a way to create a “flat-top” upper receiver with a Picatinny rail for mounting optics or other aiming devices. Recent trends in fighting rifles would indicate the mounting of low powered magnified optic or red dot as the primary sighting tool is the norm. TSD has turned to the Texas Weapons System’s (TWS) Dog Leg Scope Rail with integral dust cover as its means to mount optics on the AK. The TWS top cover enables AK users to enhance their weapons capabilities with minimal fuss without sacrificing hallmark AK reliability and handling. The TWS Dog Leg replaces the AK’s standard dust cover providing a MIL-STD-1913 rail mounting surface. In effect, it turns the AK into a flat top receiver with all the advantages associated with mounting magnified scopes, red dots and other optic options. The TWS dust cover hinges similar to the dust cover found on Krinkov AK models allowing for weapon cleaning and other maintenance chores. The key aspect of the TWS offering is that it does not disturb a mounted sights zero. Suarez International has been both a proponent and test bed for the TWS rail over the last couple of years. This experience was rolled over to the TSD AK.
The TSD rifle used for this T&E is Gabe’s personal rifle and arrived with a Trijicon 3x ACOG TA 33A-13 mounted. This reinforced prior opinion that a TWS rail equipped AK would be best served by a Trijicon ACOG or Leupold Mk 4 CQ/T type of device. What makes the Trijicon 3x ACOG TA 33A-13 model unique is its red horseshoe reticle calibrated for the 7.62x39 cartridge. Another option for the TSD AK user would be one of the low powered variable scopes storming the market. Good examples of these low powered variable optics are the Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x20mm (30MM tube) with illuminated Firedot SPR reticle and Hi-Lux/Leatherwood CMR of similar magnification range. Both of these scopes offer illuminated reticles designed for instinctive, close-range/low-magnification situations, yet allow shooters to engage targets with greater precision at longer ranges than generally possible with non-magnified red optic optics by dialing up magnification to 4x. The major advantage of the Leupold and Hi-Lux/Leatherwood CMR scope types finding their way onto ARs and now AKs is the ability to engage multiple targets in rapid sequence comparable to open sights at close distance, while at same time providing adequate magnification for making accurate shots out past a couple hundred yards. The Hi-Lux/Leatherwood and Leupold reticles superimpose an aim point on the target while not totally obscuring the target due to the center dots not being that large. As many “maturing” shooters can attest to, the single focus plane reticle is easier to shoot accurately than coordinating front and rear sights. The Trijicon ACOG sight is also capable of engaging targets at close distances with its red reticle easy to pick up rapidly, yet still offers 3x magnification for longer shots.
TSD uses a Magpul adjustable CTR buttstock attached via Ace Ltd hinge mounted on the AK’s rear trunnion. The Ace Ltd hinge provides for folding the stock to the left side of the rifle shrinking its footprint for transport or vehicle operations. A raised cheek piece riser is attached to the CTR stock facilitating better eye to optic alignment. The adjustable length of pull stock and cheek riser serve to address multiple ergonomic quandaries of the AK. A US Palm pistol grip is also used. The US Palm grip is fuller in size compared to eastern bloc variants thus better suited to US hands aligning finger properly with trigger. The chosen buttstock reinforces the TSD goal of making the AK more “shootable” and accurate by providing for both a solid cheekweld, and an adjustable length of pull. The shooter is no longer required to struggle with an eastern-bloc style stock that has short length of pull and offers nothing in the way of cheekweld, especially when utilizing an optic. There are various options of stocks available to the customer from TSD if the CTR does not fit one’s personal preference. TSD chose to go with a Red Star Arms trigger. The trigger yields a short and light, yet totally safe trigger break. The importance of trigger pull is often under rated by users in its effect of positively influencing accuracy potential. The Red Star trigger is further proof of the TSD commitment to enhancing the AK as a whole in terms of accuracy and increased lethality range.
The long anticipated Hornady 123gr SST bullet mated to steel cases are starting to arrive on dealers’ shelves and was the primary test ammunition with the TSD AK rifle. The Hornady 123gr SST 7.62x39 round’s trajectory is conducive to making hits out to 300 yards without having to resort to excessive hold over; 3 inches high at 100 yards produces a 200 yard zero with -14 inches at 300 yards. Seems that the original Hornady 7.62x39 loads that featured the V-Max bullet are being replaced with the SST bullet type which represents a more controlled expansion with its bullet construction in lieu of the more varmint style V-Max construction. The Hornady loads kept rounds in 2.5 inches at 100 yards with the Trijicon ACOG providing a crisp image. Other 7.62x39 ammunition tested kept rounds under 4 inches at 100 yards.
Gabe’s rifle tested herein shows a further break from standard AK-fashion by eliminating factory handguard and going with a railed forend. Along these same lines, TSD chose not to go with short railed handguards, but rather opted for Midwest Industries’ extended length lower rail model combined with standard top rail. TSD’s field experience finds that a slightly longer handguard allows a more flexible hand placement in field shooting positions encountered outside a range environment. The existence of multiple rails is beneficial for those who need to add mission essential gear to the rifles. TSD allows for user choice of handguard when specifying their individual projects. Finally, the TSD AK’s 16 inch barrel is given a careful match crown and a high end flash hider or muzzle break is added. Gabe’s rifle arrived with a Surefire flash hider attached. Overall length of the rifle measured 40 1/2 inches with stock extended, 36 ¾ inches collapsed, and 28 ½ inches with stock folded. Weight of the rifle is estimated as being in the 8.5-9 pound range without magazine.
Range T&E for the TSD AK followed an established protocol for combat rifles. Being Gabe’s personal rifle, the ACOG optic came already zeroed. Evaluation commenced with a function test involving firing several magazines in rapid succession at various TacStrike steel man targets and vehicles that dot the range. Let’s face it; if an AK-type weapon does not have pristine reliability, its major attribute is nullified. The TSD AK was evaluated at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). The private facility has multiple 100yd enclosed bays and 360 degree “drive-in” range all capable of handling numerous students conducting “square” range drills or more dynamic/fluid types of training. In conjunction with the individual training bays, Echo Valley Training Center features multi-stepped target berms that are strewn with reactive steel targets from TacStrike, fluid drained automobiles, and moving targets at ranges varying from 150yds out to 350yds. Unlike many AKs tested over the years, the longer range shooting was what interested evaluators the most considering the effort put into the TSD AK to make it more effective past CQB-100 yard distances.
While Hornady 123gr SST 7.62x39 loads were the focus, brass cased Egyptian and Yugoslavian 7.62x39 surplus ammunition acquired from Century International Arms was used for the bulk of the testing with Wolf Ammunition Polyformance 122 gr and Military Classic 124 gr loads also used. One downside to most surplus ammunition is that it does utilize corrosive primers. Something the Russians and other ex-Soviet bloc states or clients insisted on using due to concerns with cold weather ignition and the long-term storage capabilities offered by corrosive primers. The Egyptian ammunition is labeled as non-corrosive, but was handled as if it was corrosive to take no chances. Corrosive ammunition is not the destroyer of rifles many will lead you to believe as long as proper cleaning methods are followed to remove elements left over from the primer residue. During several range visits, the TSD AK fired several hundred rounds downrange. The weapon was cleaned between range visits due to the use of corrosive ammunition.
Further range testing of the TSD AK consisted of repeating numerous drills and exercises experienced via training with Suarez International, Redback One, and Norone Corp. Firing while moving as well as behind cover, reloading drills, transitions between shoulders depending on cover orientation, and engaging multiple targets arranged around “no-shoot” targets all helped put the TSD AK through its paces. While not as subtle or tame as an AR15 or AK74, the .30cal TSD AK’s muzzle blast and recoil was not prohibitive allowing for fast double and triple taps on selected targets, especially at CQB distances. The Red Star trigger had an almost AR feel to it. The Trijicon ACOG assisted in engaging targets at close distances with the red reticle easy to pick up rapidly, while at same time allowing for more than enough accuracy out to a couple hundred yards due to the reticle design superimposing an aim point on the target while not totally obscuring the target due to the dot not being oversized.
Shannon Campbell, co-founder of Norone Corporate, was on hand for some of the TSD AK evaluation. Norone Corporate is a weapons and security applications training entity that began as a collaboration of former FED contractors, USMIL, and active competitors who gathered a vast amount tactical experience to bring to bare and share to specific clientele. Norone provides tactical weapons training for protection teams of FED contractors and LEO as well as for some of the largest global security providers but today Norone has narrowed its focus to stay at mid-level and provide specific training to enhance individual skill development making any team member an asset to any team for any environment. Shannon was already appreciative of AK reliability after several sojourns overseas as a private security contractor. The modifications made by TSD to the AK were viewed in a very positive light. What sets apart the TSD Combat Systems effort with the AK is the amount of product development, field trials, and cross over support it receives from its sister Suarez companies. For example, One Source Tactical already offers a plethora of AK related products ready to kit up the TSD AK. This is far different compared to other manufacturer’s more limited experimentation with the concept. TSD offers various packages to further cater to customer needs and budgets with the AK. There are many pages written in magazines and on various internet forums about what it would take to turn the 7.62x39 AK into more of a general purpose rifle. The hold-up to more effective use of the AK at ranges past 100 yards revolves around solid optic mounting, quality trigger, and shooter interface with a buttstock that fits. (An added caveat to this would be to use higher grade ammunition than general surplus variety.) The TSD AK solves this conundrum; the TSD AK is what many AK connoisseurs have been waiting for and instinctually knew was possible—just had never seen before in one package.
SITES OF INTEREST
TSD Combat Systems
1616 Iron Springs Road
Prescott, AZ 86305
Echo Valley Training Center
49385 Shafer Ave
Wixom, MI 48393
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