The AK-47 has the distinction of being one of the most widely used rifles in the world. Officially know as the Avtomat Kalashnikova, it is commonly referred to as the AK, or Kalashnikov. Design work began on the rifle in 1945, with the rifle being introduced to the Russian military in 1947, giving it the '47' designation. After its adoption by Russian forces, it quickly proliferated to most Warsaw Pact countries as well.
The hallmark of the AK was its simplicity and reliability. It was designed to be robust, easy to maintain, and was hailed for its reliability in extreme conditions. Chambered in 7.62 x 39mm, it was considered to be an intermediate cartridge that provided excellent penetration and stopping power.
The design was so successful, that the rifle was manufactured under license in over 30 countries with nearly 100 million of them made.
While there were a variety of modifications and improvements, the AK-47 remained largely unchanged until the introduction of the AK-74 in the early 1970s. While functionally identical to the AK-47, the AK-74 was chambered in 5.45 x 39mm, the Soviet version of the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge favored by NATO forces.
In a 2009 CNN interview Kalashnikov, then 90, talked about the reasons he designed to rifle to be simple and reliable. "It is very important because a soldier doesn't have a university degree. He needs a simple and reliable weapon. Just as an academic for that matter, in a combat situation. There's simply no time to figure out how to operate a complicated weapon and press many buttons when the enemy is advancing on you."
Kalashnikov held the honorary rank of General in the Russian army and was celebrated in Russia and many of the former Soviet republics. He spent most of his later life in the city of Izhevsk, in the Ural Mountains of Russia. The Kalashnikov museum in the same city dedicated to his namesake rifle has over 10,000 visitors each month.
Until his death, he was loyal to what he referred to as Socialist ideals and felt that his invention was an essential component of the Russian military. When asked about his invention, he often stated, "I've designed my weapon to defend the border of our Fatherland, and let it continue to serve this purpose."
With its ubiquity, Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47 will be a part of military history for a very long time to come.