Mikhail Kalashnikov’s PKM machine gun is a weapon that undoubtedly does a fantastic job of emulating the AK rifle’s global reach. So much so that the PK family of weapons have been copied the world over in many diverse forms.
From North Korea to the United States and everywhere in-between, adaptations of the PKM have been manufactured far and wide. Some iterations maintain much of the PKM, while others add some pretty wild touches.
But how did the PKM machine gun come to be, and what is the history behind this revered weapon? Let’s start with some backstory first so that you have a better understanding of this versatile firearm.
1. Soviet Beginnings
What began as a Soviet Army weapon in 1961, the PKM machine gun has since been an enduring presence around the world. Nearly as popular as the AK rifle in terms of global use, the PKM can be observed throughout history, being used by the likes of both Libyan rebels and Soviets.
But, of course, it didn’t just start out this way. As World War II was coming to a close, the United States military was looking to find a suitable replacement for the Browning automatic rifle, as well as the M1919 machine gun.
The idea was to transition to a weapon on a single platform, and lo and behold; the Soviets were looking to do the same. Thus, Russian weapons expert, Mikhail Kalashnikov, started work on his own version of the AK rifle. At the time, he and his team were attempting to rework the AK into its successor, the AKM.
Using design ideas from Grigory Nikitin, Kalashnikov sought to refine parts from various weaponry to make the ultimate machine gun.
So, at the same time, Kalashnikov submitted the PKM machine gun to Soviet officials, and it was immediately picked up due to its being ready before all others. In testing, the PKM was more reliable thanks to its gas-controlled regulator.
Another chief reason that the PKM was heralded was due to its compatibility with widely used cartridge belts – belts that the Soviets had available in the thousands. This was a clear money-saving advantage that bode well for the Soviets.
2. PKM Machine Gun Specifications
The PKM machine gun, or Pulemyot-Kalashnikov machine gun, is actually chambered to use the M1908 7.62x54mm round. This is a full-power cartridge that was first used in the Mosin Nagant M1891 rifle just prior to World War I.
It is the equivalent to the 7.62x51mm NATO round. And yet, what sets the PKM apart from its rivals is its much lighter weight. At just 19.8 pounds, the PKM is some three pounds lighter than the cherished M60, which weighs in at 22.93 pounds.
Further variations that would eventually follow slimmed down the design even more so, losing more than three pounds. This was made possible thanks to a skeleton stock, a lack of a heat shield, and a shorter receiver block.
The PKM machine gun differs slightly from modern machine guns. Whereas the latter feeds belts in from the left side, the PKM does so on the right. Thus, used cases get ejected on the left side. There are certain conveniences for this design, but it’s also a potential hazard.
You see, when the non-disintegrating belt is fed through, it can result in the gunner tripping over it if they aren’t paying attention at all times. In combat, you likely don’t have the time or wherewithal to check your feet to ensure that the belt isn’t in the way.
What’s more, firing the PKM from a standing position could result in hot casings hitting your support arm. This is especially true if you’re right-handed or firing from a right-handed shooting position.
Since there isn’t a foregrip, gunners will sometimes compensate by grabbing a hold of the barrel or bipod legs. This seems to help avoid interference while in a standing position. However, the prone position is where the PKM machine gun really shines.
The Proof Is in Prone
If you fire the PKM machine gun in a prone position using the attached bipod, you can get accurate shots up to 1,500 meters. That’s some impressive firepower. You will need to be securing the stock against your shoulder to help deliver this accuracy, so it pays to ensure that you are practicing the correct shooting protocol.
The PKM has a rate of fire of 650 rounds a minute, making it easier to conserve ammunition compared to something like the M1919A4 Browning machine gun. Comparatively, the latter fires only 450 rounds a minute, thus getting smoked by the PKM machine gun in terms of firing rate.
Bottom line – if you want to get the best performance from the PKM, you would be wise to stick to the prone position while firing.
With that being said, firing the PKM off of the ground severely limits its accuracy and range. This is largely because of the subsequent recoil felt when firing from this position. It’s more than enough to interfere with the incredible precision that the PKM is known for.
To remedy this, a sandbag or similar support is necessary. You will find that some form of support compensates for the recoil and helps to stabilize your weapon. This makes all the difference in the end result.
Another possible issue lies with the gas regulator. Designed to cycle the PKM, getting the gas regulator dirty could cause it to become jammed. If this happens, the additional settings could force the gun to fire at higher rates than intended.
3. Modified Versions
The PKM machine gun would see various modifications throughout its lifetime. The very first version of the PK was designated as PKS. The “S” was short for stankoviy, meaning “heavy.” This version was equipped with a tripod that allowed the PK to be fired from fixed positions for sustained firing.
In 1962, the PKT emerged, a coaxial machine gun that lost the top grip. Furthermore, it lacked a bipod and stock. In addition, its barrel was extended in an attempt to avoid having to change the main gun sights, as they were calibrated specifically for the SGMT.
Since this version was designed for vehicular use, it was often fired from remote positions, thus making it one of the more versatile variations to come down the pike. Moreover, the PKT was equipped with an emergency trigger that allowed the gunner to employ direct manual shooting in the event that electricity was out.
The PKB was another version that was intended to be used on armored vehicles, such as the BTR-60PA or BTR-50P. As such, the PKB is likely the least known variation of the PK to be produced. You see, the aforementioned vehicles were replaced shortly after the PKB’s release, thus significantly limiting its reach and exposure.
Changes From Within
Most small arms throughout Russian commonly undergo a major change for product improvement. This is where the “M” comes into play. It’s short for a Russian word that means “modern” or “modernized.”
These changes impacted the PK in the capacity that it was reduced by a considerable amount of weight. Furthermore, this version saw the addition of a smooth barrel, shorter flash hider, and its shoulder flap became hinged.
Thus, the PKM machine gun was born. This gun also saw the added benefit of a lighter, more versatile tripod. With less mass to haul around, the PKM quickly became a fan favorite.
Much easier to maneuver and deploy for firing, the PKM saw great success after release. Its ammunition is equally impressive, as it is supplied in belt rounds that range from 100 to 250. What’s more, the PKM machine gun could be outfitted with an ammunition box of 100 rounds for a light assault role.
This box is clipped to the bracket near the trigger group. This is interesting, as most PKMs feed their ammunition through a 250-round box that’s attached to a tripod leg. But regardless of which box is being used, both sport a handy canvas handle for improved portability.
This is a nice touch that helped to make the PKM an easier weapon to transport. And when you need to service the gun, convenient cleaning tools are hidden within the weapon itself for on-the-go maintenance.
We’ve seen other weapons that hold cleaning supplies, but it’s always good to see them spring up, regardless of the weapon type. Gunners likely used these tools a lot during combat. After all, a muddy PKM machine gun can cause big headaches.
Having the ability to clean it on the spot likely came in handy many times in the field. The specific locations of the PKM’s supplies are on the skeleton stock’s lower rung and the right bipod leg. One location is for cleaning gear, while the other is for a swabbing rod.
It’s interesting to note that, to this day, Russian tanks continue to feed coaxials through a 250-round box – the same used on the PKM machine gun.
4. The PKM in Combat
Non-state guerrilla movements have been recorded as using the PKM machine gun, just as many national armies did. The history of bloodshed at the hands of the PKM is too much to detail. With that being said, there are many accounts of conflicting sides using the PKM machine gun against one another.
Soviets trained heavily with the PKM as they prepared for a potential war against NATO. Some years later, United States military troops would train the Afghan Army with the PKM machine gun, among others. During that time, Taliban fighters used the PKM for their purposes, as well.
Russian soldiers would even use the PKM machine gun in the Chechen Wars between 1994 and 2009 when the war ended. We’ve even seen ISIL using the PKM to varying degrees over the years.
The reach of the PKM machine gun cannot be overstated. What began as an attempt to simply improve on an established weapon turned into a hugely popular, superior firearm that has been used far and wide throughout history.
It’s a testament to the quality of the weapon, sure. But the praise belongs to Mikhail Kalashnikov, his team, and Grigory Nikitin. Together, they are responsible for one of the most notable machine guns used in recent times.
5. Changes Ensue
Over the years, multiple Soviet client states have tried their hands at building their own versions of the PK, some with and others without licenses. Looking at these models, it’s plain to see that various characteristics shine forth throughout each state.
Take the Zastava M84, for example. This former Yugoslavian weapon has a solid stock and is combined with the smooth barrel of the PKM. It also sports the original PK’s longer flash hider.
The Arsenal AD, hailing from Bulgaria, offers both the MG and MG-M1. It is the same 7.62x54mm as the original, although the MG-M2 is now chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. The left-side feeding action is still present in this version.
Perhaps one of the weirder versions to make its presence known comes from North Korea. Known as the Type 73, this version features a muzzle adapter from a grenade discharger and sports a dual-feed system. This is for the top-loading box magazines and belt.
Here in the States, private military contractors have been working with Iraq to acquire replacement parts. This has allowed for customizations not yet seen on the Russian models, such as replacement barrels and upgraded receivers from VLTOR, as well as a rail-mounted foregrip from Blackheart International’s PKM SOPMOD.
This is a big improvement that serves to solve the common issue of the PMK’s poor forearm. Now, hip firing can be accomplished comfortably and safely.
As you can see, all of these variations from assorted nations is further evidence of the popularity of the PKM machine gun. Its reach seems to know no bounds, making it one of the most beloved weapons currently available.
Although the PKM was designed to be a company-level machine gun for the Soviets, it has since been displaced among infantry squads. That said, recent Russian improvements have led to the PKM being gradually replaced with PKP Pecheneg.
Heat is no longer the issue that it was in previous PKM models. The PKP sports cooling ribs that work to draw air into an insulating sleeve, forcing it toward the muzzle of the gun. There is still the issue present of a lack of a decent forearm.
What’s more, there is the issue of the bipod being mounted inconveniently, making it nearly impossible to shoot from a hip position. Still, it’s a unique advancement in other areas that hopefully continue to improve over time.
It is unlikely that the PKM machine gun will go away altogether. With so many other nations making regular use of the weapon, it’s safe to assume that we will be seeing much of the PKM for years to come.
6. The PKM Machine Gun and the NFA
Being a machine gun, the PKM falls under the National Firearms Act. Thus, you will need to follow the proper guideline and go through the right channels if you wish to own and possess a PKM machine gun.
It is crucial to adhere to these regulations, as it is illegal to possess an NFA item otherwise. In order to lawfully own such items, you will first need to fill out the correct ATF form and send it in for approval.
After the ATF has received your paperwork, there will likely be a long wait time between when they get your documents and finally receiving approval. This is typical, so don’t get discouraged if yours takes several months.
You can ensure a faster approval process by making sure that everything is filled out correctly on your forms and that you have included all of the requested information. Failure to submit accurate documentation will only serve to delay your approval.
After you have submitted your paperwork, you can begin establishing an NFA gun trust. Although you’ll have to wait for approval from the ATF to complete your gun trust, you can still get the ball rolling.
We encourage you to get started filling out the necessary forms for your gun trust, so you will be ready when your approval finally comes in. To begin, simply head to Gun Trust NFA.
An NFA gun trust provides protection and benefits for your NFA weapons. This includes a PKM machine gun, so you’re going to want to protect your investment. As a regulated firearm, only you are legally allowed to possess and carry your weapon.
With an NFA gun trust, however, you can name trustees to have special privileges, such as using your NFA items. What’s more, if something happens to you where you can no longer care for your arsenal, your gun trust gives you the opportunity to let someone you trust to take ownership of your collection.
With these safeguards in place, you needn’t worry about legal troubles arising. Many gun owners have lost their firearms because they didn’t have sufficient protection in place. An NFA gun trust gives you this protection and more.
As you can see, there is a lot involved with the PKM machine gun. They are extremely impressive weapons, and if you ever do get your hands on one to shoot, we suspect you’ll greatly enjoy it.