by J.M. Ramos
The 1980s signalled the beginning of a new era in firearms designs and innovations. Hi-tech firearms started arriving in the North American market by storm. The cold war between US allies and ComBloc nations had reached its boiling point with both superpowers spending billions of dollars developing advanced weapon systems for their military forces. The sudden popularity of military-type sporting guns in the US market was no doubt fuelled by fear of communist invasion and the possibility of a third world war, not to mention the rise of survivalism among doomsday believers. The Arms Corporation of the Philippines (Armscor), having exported their wares in many parts of the world for decades, was very much aware of this ongoing focus, which ultimately initiated a new wave of commercial arms known as “exotic weaponry.” The popularity of the famous Russian-made assault rifle, the AK47, in the west proved to be a major selling point for a new product and was the inspiration behind the making of Armscor’s AK-4722 later to be know simply as the AK-22 for the standard model and AK-22F for the compact folding stock variant. In order to produce a new model in its series of battle rifle clones chambered for .22 LR without going through extensive re-tooling, the company once again made good use of their well-proven Model 20 self-loader. Armscor’s rimfire AK was introduced in the early part of the 1980s. To achieve the exterior configuration of the AK rifle, Armscor utilized a cast alloy clamshell to enclose the M-20 receiver and trigger housing. Below the exterior casing was another cast extension containing the stamped trigger guard. When the clamshell was fully assembled to the M-20 action, the bottom extension containing the trigger guard was connected below the clamshell by a large screw to the front and by the pistol grip connecting screw at the rear. The usual buttstock is attached to the rear of the clamshell by a long screw. While the technique employed in creating this AK-22 rifle variant was quite clever, I would have preferred a one-piece casing that connected from the bottom of the action and a stamped sheet metal cover in the AK pattern mounted at the top. This would have been more realistic looking and created a lighter rifle that would not have required a screwdriver for disassembly.
A non-functional gas tube was mounted above the barrel via the top front end of the clamshell exterior housing. A cast alloy AK-style front sight base connected both barrel and fake gas tube at the front. An authentic-looking functional one-piece cleaning rod was attached below the barrel in the AK manner. Both rear and front sights were patterned after the assault rifle it emulated, but much simpler and less sturdy. The magazine and magazine catch arrangement were similar to the one previously incorporated to the earlier Baby Armalikes. The lower half of the regular 15-round magazine was enclosed by a wide cast alloy curved exterior casing to simulate the look of a full bore AK. The magazine activator was mounted at the rear of the exterior casing. When depressed, the top end of the activator would push the lower end of the normal magazine catch, thereby releasing its connection with the magazine. The AK-22 featured Philippine mahogany for its buttstock, forearm and matching foregrip. The rifle was somewhat heavier and bulkier and less proportioned in size than the real AK. For this reason Filipino gunsmiths preferred to lighten up the gun by slotting the buttstock and trimming the forearm where it was out of proportion, resulting in a lighter, much streamlined and better-looking AK look-alike. This procedure was also applied to the M-16R (telescoping stock model) which was wider on both sides than the standard fixed stock version that required the extra thickness to accommodate the dual metal rods which telescoped inside the side-mounted twin tubes containing the springs that automatically deployed the stock into firing position when the push button latch was activated.
As the exotic gun market peaked out by the mid 1980s, the company introduced their compact version of the AK-22 called the AK-22F. The AK-22F was basically identical to the standard model but with a side folding stock patterned after the FAL Para design but in a much-simplified form. A push button latch to operate the side folder was mounted at the rear of the clamshell exterior housing. This model is introduced primarily to compete with more sophisticated clones from Italy, France and Germany. The compact AK-22F also found much favour among the local security agencies and wealthy rural landowners who maintained their own perimeter security workers. In the later part of the 1980s, the company introduced yet another look-alike, the Model 50S, a PPSh41 submachine gun look-alike made famous by the Russians during World War II.. The M-50S is basically the old Model 20 with a full-length ventilated barrel shroud added. Unlike its original Italian-made counterpart, the Bingham PPS-50, the Philippine version is not designed to accommodate a drum magazine. However, Armscor produced a long 20-shot magazine, which they offered as an optional accessory for this new model. The 20-shot magazine was highly prized among the underground workshops that utilized it for their popular invention, the “Sanvik” machine pistol, an Ingram M11 machine pistol clone. This rimfire machine pistol was very much in demand in the black market, primarily in the city of Manila. While externally resembling the M11, the Sanvik’s internal mechanism was different.
FULL AUTO CONVERSIONS OF THE AK-22 AND M-50S
As noted in Part One, full-auto modifications for the Squibman or Armscor self loaders and look-alikes have long been undertaken by local gunsmiths in the Philippines since the introduction of the first Model 20 back in the 1960s. The earliest and most common modifications to provide full-auto operation were the open-bolt fixed-firing pin system. These early attempts were not reliable and were soon superseded by better conversions, such as the two-piece bolt arrangement from the same underground workshops that had been building full-auto shotguns long before the US military embarked with their Close Assault Weapons Shotgun (CAWS) program. These gunsmiths created their product line from actual battle experiences provided by their clients.
While there are numerous selective fire M-1622’s and AK-22’s floating around in the Philippines, that are legally owned or black market specials, it was not until about the early 1970s that reliable Squibman full autos start coming out from the famous Paltik town of Danao in the Visayas islands. These weapons were mostly offered to highest bidders in the black market. Armscor only sold their product line through authorized dealers. However, few of these weapons eventually ended up in the wrong hands. In a country full of corruption and bribery, this should come as no surprise.
The two-piece bolt conversion for the Armscor rifles were a remarkable improvement over the early open-bolt fixed-firing pin design. Unlike the original problematic fixed-firing pin system, the later two-piece bolt arrangement proved highly successful. The modification technique involved cutting the original bolt in a half past the cocking handle. The front of the rear end of the bolt contained a small spring-loaded plunger just below the striker assembly groove. The function of the small plunger was to force the front end of the bolt to partly retract so that the firing pin was not sticking out of the breechface during the loading process to allow for smooth unimpeded feeding. In the early open-bolt conversions, the protruding tip of the fixed firing pin in the breechface restricted the upward movement of the rim, resulting in a stoppage.
To work with the two-piece bolt arrangement, the striker was also modified. A new re-positioned elongated notch in the striker was cut to clear the cocking handle, which controlled the slight retraction of the two-piece bolt. The replacement cocking handle was no longer retained by the striker, but by the receiver recoil travel slot. The thick flat striker held the alignment of the two-piece bolt inside the receiver as controlled by the cocking handle. A new sear with an extended rear end was fabricated. A matching new trip connected at the front of the trigger utilized a bottom front end extension (toe) to act as a disconnector acting against the fire selector pin when it was set at semiautomatic. The fire selector is in the form of a pivoting lever assembled at the left side of the gun. When the lever is rotated to the rear, the solid portion of the pin will be engage by the trip toe at the last stage of the trigger pull. As the trip toe hits the selector pin at the end of the pull, its front hook will pivot rearward forcing it to disengage its connection with the sear, allowing the sear to bounce back to its normal position ready to catch the bolt on its forward recoil. To fire the next round, the trigger pull must be released first to allow the trip hook to re-connect with the sear.
To fire the gun in full-auto, rotate the selector forward. In this position, the trip toe is now facing the pin’s deep notch and will not make any contact with it when the trigger is pulled. Disengagement between the trip hook and sear is avoided; resulting in full-auto fire while pressure on the trigger is maintained. In this conversion, the original sliding type safety functioned the same. The weapon fired an average of 1,200-1,300 rpm on full-auto. The slightly slower rate than normal (1,500 rpm) can be attributed to the slight delay in closing between the two-piece bolt arrangement. Ignition only takes place after the rear halve of the bolt, which controls the striker joins the front end piece, which functions solely as a cartridge loader to the chamber. By the time the rear half of the bolt hits the back of the front half, the cartridge has fully chambered. The firing pin tip will only protrude in the breech face to fire the loaded cartridge after the two halves have joined as one unit when the resistance of the small spring loaded plunger positioned in between is overcome by both the recoil and striker springs pushing the rear of the bolt. As the bolt starts its forward recoil, the small spring-loaded plunger will force the two-piece bolt to once again retract in order to prevent the firing pin from interfering with the loading process. The system proved highly reliable and was widely copied. The two-piece bolt modification can be adapted to all rimfire self loaders produced by the company, from the earliest Squibman Model 20 to the latest Armscor rimfire military-type clones. Although enthusiasm for exotic type weaponry in the North American market has long waned, sales of the Armscor exotic ..22’s remained very strong in the local market. This can be attributed to the Philippine government allowing civilian ownership of firearms once again after being banned for over twenty years by previous martial law regime. The Armscor look-alikes are definitely a good choice in this part of the world where commercial arms are highly revered by both licensed and unlicensed individuals.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V7N7 (April 2004)