How Many Rifles, and Where Are They?

Nick Jenzen-Jones has a new and interesting working paper at the Small Arms Survey in Geneva (Here’s the Abstract and the PDF). The title of the paper is dry but promising: Global Development and Production of Self-loading Service Rifles 1896 to the Present. 

As always with the Small Arms Survey, this is a publication more aimed at non-proliferation NGOs and quangos than at enthusiasts, but that does not make Nick’s painstaking work any less interesting or useful to us.

Painstaking? It is. He goes deep into the history of semi-automatic and select-fire rifle production over a century and a quarter, and makes a valiant effort to make sense of conflicting numbers that come more from estimates, propaganda, wild guesses, and serial-number sleuthing than they do from any real solid reporting.

Here is a discussion of AK production, probably the toughest nut to crack for those who want to know, “How many?”

AK-type rifles are the most common self-loading service rifle in the world today by a considerable margin, and are thought to constitute in excess of 40 per cent of the total number of self-loading rifles produced up to the present day. Their ubiquity means that they are encountered in almost every modern conflict zone. Nearly 200 variants, copies, and derivatives of the AK rifle have been identified to date.

According to Russian sources, IZHMASH (now Kalashnikov Concern) only patented the weapon’s design in 1997, and in 2006 Russian Federation AK-type rifles accounted for only 10 per cent of the world’s production of this type

The Soviet-era practice was to share their design and engineering widely to encourage production in nearby “fraternal socialist” allies, and to promote industrial development in distant allies. Nations as diverse as India, Iraq, North Korea and Egypt would never have produced AK clones without direct Soviet assistance (the Egyptian plant was even supervised by Soviet engineers, initially, and used every single process of its Soviet prototype).

So the modern Russian inability to issue a concrete figure of AKs produced is an understandable result of previous policies, as well as of Izmash and Amtorg/Rosoboronexport giving up control of the design of the firearm. The AK’s very simplicity led to further proliferation of manufacture, especially after the 1960s change from machined receiver to stamped with machined and stamped parts riveted in place.

But the paper goes far beyond AKs to discuss the entire history of the self-loading rifle.

Here’s a snip of Table 1 from the paper, which should give you an idea just how thorough and historically interesting it is:

Sure, it’s missing some firearms that were produced in the millions, including the M1/2/3 Carbine (~5.5 million in WWII alone, if memory serves), the G/K 43 (perhaps under a million), and the  AG 42 and Hakim. But all of those are obsolete firearms washed away by the tide of ARs, and, especially, AK. And some of them, like the M1 Carbines, are mentioned elsewhere in the report. Sure, you can quibble with the numbers. But the original table includes extensive sourcing and notes. He appears to be, from his notes, excluding firearms produced for civilian markets including non-militarized law enforcement, which means he’s not capturing the bulk of AR production.

Cached weapons, like these Port Said 9mm SMGs (a license-built Carl Gustav M45B ‘Swedish K’) recovered after decades underground, can last a very long time.

Production, of course, is only half of the conundrum, and Nick tries to understand and estimate inventory shrinkage and diversion, demilitarization and destruction, and wear-out. The problem with that, of course, is not only that there are no comprehensive prior numbers to be exploited as found data, but also that rifles are fiendishly durable goods; and are valuable enough that many possessors will take care to maintain and store them properly, if they can and know how. He makes this note:

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan captured several well-worn but functional examples of AK and AKM rifles manufactured in the 1950s (Iannamico, 2015).

In fact, in Afghanistan in 2002, our team captured, along with tons of common AKMs and a mountain of World War II weapons, a quantity of prewar Mauser rifles and ZB-26 machine guns, and very first model AK-47s that were 1940s production with a primarily stamped receiver, that pre-date the familiar machined AK-47 receiver. Along with them, we turned up some real oddities like a Ross. All were functional, although there was no ammunition for the .303 and 7.92mm weapons in the caches.

One can quibble with this aspect or that of what Nick has written is, but the fact is that this is the single most comprehensive look at world service rifle stockpiles. Were the numbers to be graphed, they’d need to have really large confidence-interval indications, like error bars or something, because the data are squirrelly, but that’s not his fault. Indeed, to produce a readable, informative document out of such a primordial chaos of data is a signal achievement. We predict that this paper will be widely cited in future scholarship.

21 thoughts on “How Many Rifles, and Where Are They?

  1. Ray

    As I said before. NO ONE has the slightest idea how many “weapons of military utility” are out there, or who has them. The ONLY way for the left to reach its goal of “total civilian disarmament” it for the people to disarm because they want to. Or for the military to use force to disarm them. But when I tell the grabbers this all they say is” our cause is just so we SHALL prevail”. Tell me Hognose, how many of your buddies are willing to do a “door to door” bug hunt for weapons in the USA? Because that day IS coming.

  2. Kamal Singh

    Small point, India has never manufactured AKs. They bought knockoffs from Poland and Romania. I keep hearing how Kalashnikov will start production in India but nothing seems to have come of it. Yet!

    1. Hognose Post author

      Thank you for the correction, Kamal. Kind of amazing that India insists on its own aircraft industry (and makes some very sophisticated aircraft, like the Dhruv helicopter) but buys its rifles. And according to Jenzen-Jones’s paper, there are more than a million Enfields still in storage in India. It must cost a fortune just to warehouse them.

      1. John M.

        I own an Indian-manufactured Ishapore Enfield. One of the bazillions that were imported before the turn of the century.

        -John M.

      2. Kamal Singh

        I, too find it funny and painful in turns. I am not too sure of these numbers but apparently DRDO spent close to USD 1 billion and over a decade in designing that clunker, INSAS!

        That’s all they do – warehouse those things. They never fire those things. The coppers lug them around like walking sticks!

  3. Docduracoat

    You are correct when you point out that India never manufactured the AK
    India’s disastrous Insas rifle was based on the AK
    India’s procurement wallahs are so inept that they botched manufacturing an AK type rifle!

  4. Keith

    The initial front line wont be Hognose’s fellow soldiers. It will be the civilian police/sheriffs/state highway patrol you see every day. The people who live just down the street from you like the city cop near me does. Who’s kids you see outside on a summer afternoon. Who you see mowing the lawn from time to time. Possibly even the cop you go to church with.

    Only when they start taking serious casualties will “Posse Comattus” (not spelled right I know) set aside like it was in the Civil War, the National Guard be Federalized and the US Army and Marines put on the streets. Then the urban combat veterans from Iraq will be deployed. What then?

    Any of your who are current law enforcement or military look deep inside and ask yourself what you will do if those orders come down? Look at your neighbors and think about the scenes we’ve seen in many overseas locations here. You local gas station in flames from a fire fight. Your local mall commandeered as a military barracks. That softball field you or your kids play games at ringed with concertina and tuned into a ‘temporary’ holding camp. Your friends and neighbors behind that wire. There kids. Your family being threatened with that if you don’t follow orders.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

    1. Haxo Angmark

      the cops will do what they are told to do until the paychecks stop. Then most will go feral. As to the Jenzen-Jones study, it underestimates the total combat rifles at large in the world by several orders of magnitude. AND he forgot to add in the Hognose Collection.

  5. Tom Stone

    Not enough here in California.
    And my fellow inhabitants seem to agree based on last year’s sales…for some reason when the Government becomes grossly corrupt and repressive fewer people tend to trust it.
    Go figure.

    1. Andrew E.

      For what it’s worth, Hognose specifically says in the post, “He appears to be, from his notes, excluding firearms produced for civilian markets including non-militarized law enforcement, which means he’s not capturing the bulk of AR production.”

      So commercial-sale AR production isn’t being counted at all, from the sounds of it. Just government-sale AR types.

  6. BAP45

    The amount of raw data he must have sifted through makes my head spin thinking about it. Quite the tome. And as a side note. A Ross?! That rifle must have a hell of a story if only ot could talk.

  7. Conrad Long

    I’m guessing that “M1 Garand Types” includes the M14, as USGI M1 serial numbers stop in the very low 6 millions. Even then, I believe the 1979 end of production date is off. I can’t think of any other non-commercial Garand types that were still manufactured that late.

  8. HORSE GUNNER

    RE: M1 GARAND TYPES: IF we define this category to include the following three(3) rifles, the Year 1979 End-of-Production date makes sense. Let us include the following: US M1 Garand, Caliber 30.06, produced well into the Korean War (1950-1953); US M14, Caliber 7.62 x 51 NATO, produced circa 1957 to circa 1964; and, Italian Beretta BM-59/-62, Caliber 7.62 x 51 NATO, production beginning circa 1960 (?) and continuing into the 1970s (?).
    The forward-deployed Airborne Battalion in Italy (1st-509th then “regimentalized” and re-flagged 4th-325th on 30 June 1983 and “unit-rotated” to Fort Bragg 30 June 1986, replaced at Vincenza with 3d-325th) trained extensively with the Italian “Folgore” Airborne Brigade. The Italian Airborne had Beretta rifles well into the mid-1980s. Thus, a Year 1979 End-of-Production is plausible.

    1. Conrad Long

      Those are the missing pieces: I’d forgotten about the Italians (and the M21). Shame on me, and thanks.

  9. HORSE GUNNER

    AMENDMENT TO 271931RFEB17 COMMENT RE: M1 GARAND TYPES.
    There is another way to address the cited Year 1979 End-of-Production Date. And this is to further expand the M1 “Family” to include not three (3), but four(4) rifles, as follows:
    1. US M1 Garand, Caliber 30.06
    2. US M14, Caliber 7.62 x 51 NATO
    3. Italian Beretta BM-59, Caliber 7.62 x 51 NATO
    And, 4. US M21 (Sniper Rifle), Caliber 7.62 x 51 NATO
    What was the last production of the M21? At least through the end of the Vietnam War (1973? 1974?)
    QUESTION for HOGNOSE: Do you regard the M21 as a different rifle than the M14? In terms of authorized “First Echelon” (operator/shooter and organizational (company/battalion)) maintenance they are different. And, while M21 can fire 7.62 x 51 NATO FMJ, it designed, of course, to fire National Match FMJ.
    Am I getting too pedantic and hair-splitting and quibbling here?

    1. Hognose Post author

      US M21, like the later US M14 EBR, were all made on original M14 receivers. Just given the national match treatment and as Lestherwood ART II scope. (The 2000s is EBR did not get NM accurization but did get a Sage chassis system).

      I think the manufacture of M21s was done by Rock Island Arsenal, but I’m not sure. SF stopped using them circa 1983/84 as we developed the M24.

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