In the mid-1950s, the Soviet army started trials for a new infantry weapon system to replace the 7.62 x 39mm SKS carbines, AK-47 assault rifles and RPD light machine guns.  Several designers submitted their designs that included both the assault rifle and the machine gun, basically the same weapon as the companion rifle but with a longer, heavier barrel and with larger capacity, but still with a compatible ammunition magazine.

During 1961, the Soviet army selected the Kalashnikov system, comprising a modified AKM assault rifle and RPK light machine gun.  RPK stands for Ruchnoy Pulemjot Kalashnikova - Kalashnikov hand-held (light) machine gun.  The RPK is a gas operated, magazine fed, air cooled, selective fire weapon.  The basic action using a long-stroke gas piston located above the barrel and a rotating bolt is similar to that of the Kalashnikov assault rifle.  The trigger mechanism and safety are also the same.  The RPK fires from a closed bolt position in both semi-automatic and automatic modes.  The barrel is permanently fixed to the receiver and cannot be replaced in the field.

Ammunition feed is from magazines only.  The magazine interface is same as on the Kalashnikov assault rifle of the same caliber with the RPK and AKM magazines being interchangeable.  However, the standard magazines for RPK are of extended capacity, the most common being the curved box magazine that holds 40 rounds of ammunition.  Early production RPK magazines were made from stamped steel, but later, polymer magazines were introduced.  Steel drum magazines were also produced for the RPK but these magazines were heavy and expensive to produce.  The drum magazine is loaded in the same way as the box magazine, by inserting rounds one by one through the magazine mouth which can be a rather boring procedure, especially if several magazines require filling simultaneously.  The drum magazine held 75 rounds of ammunition.  Standard sights for the RPK are similar to that of the AKM assault rifle having a hooded post front and tangent type rear sight, marked for ranges between 100 and 1000 meters while the rear sight included a windage adjustment mechanism.

The RPK machine gun is fitted with an integral folding bipod made from steel stampings.  The shoulder stock is specially shaped to facilitate a proper hold for the non-firing hand. Airborne troops had a side-folding butt stock.


  • Caliber: 7,62 x 39mm
  • Weight: 4,8 kg empty
  • Length: 1040 mm
  • Length of barrel: 590 mm
  • Feeding box magazine: 40 rounds, drum magazine: 75 rounds
  • Rate of fire: 600 rounds per minute