By Todd Burgreen
Not all weapons need rails and an array of accessories to be considered viable. While reliability should never be compromised in terms of cost/performance ratios, other items considered a must for some may not be high priority or worth it for others. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) methodology can pay dividends in terms of budget and allowing for concentration on other priorities such as, for example, training. A case in point for this argument is the Century International Arms Zastava N PAP AK.
It cannot be ignored the growing number of people that are seriously contemplating “the end of the world as we know it” scenarios involving economic meltdown, plague, and natural or man-made disasters. What advice would be given if someone mentions wanting to get a rifle for a little insurance if these predictions take shape even in minor form? Certain characteristics would be essential such as reliability, portability, ruggedness, ease of replenishment (i.e. ammunition, parts, and magazines) and lastly effective firepower for all situations likely to be encountered. Most in the U.S. would first consider an AR type of weapon. The AR is not a bad choice; however it is not the only choice. Another candidate that is worthy of consideration is the ubiquitous AK family of weapons. The AK is gaining ground in popularity in the U.S., in terms of available aftermarket parts and accessories, not to mention the number of different manufacturers and versions available.
The Kalashnikov long-stroke gas-piston operating system is the benchmark in terms of reliability no matter the conditions encountered. A key component in the AK design is looser tolerances in its moving parts. This gives it more latitude to function when dirty from field conditions or hot and grimy after firing numerous rounds over extended amounts of time. This translates into reduced sensitivity to debris in the action and ultimately lower maintenance requirements to keep it functioning. From a survival point of view this is extremely important as only rudimentary cleaning supplies will be available – if any at all. Century International Arms has long been at the forefront of the rising AK popularity in the U.S. due to its multitude of AK products offered. The Century model singled out as a good example of a base AK47 worthy of consideration for this article is the Zastava N PAP chambered in 7.62×39.
The Serbian based manufacturer Zastava Arms has gone through its own turbulent and controversial periods in its history that dates back to 1853. Zastava’s initial offerings were in the form of canons. As we know, the Balkans have always been a source of strife with so many ethnicities struggling to form their own independent entities. The dissolution of the Yugoslavian state in the early 1990’s brought this to the world’s attention yet again. Zastava Arms was crippled by a UN arms embargo due to the civil wars being fought in the area. In 2004, the U.S. began allowing arms imports again with the return of normal trade relation between the U.S. and Serbia and Century international Arms became the exclusive distributor of Zastava Arms’ products in the US.
The Century Zastava N PAP is derived from the Zastava M70 AK rifle. The Zastava M70 assault rifle is a modified copy of the Soviet AK47 series of assault rifles with a few tweaks. The Zastava designs are easily distinguished from other AK makes by the design of pistol grip and handguard, which is longer and made out of different wood type with three cooling vents instead of two on other AK models. The different wood and cooling vents controls the amount of heat transfer from barrel and gas piston into a user’s hand during long strings of fire. The Century N PAP uses a stamped receiver patterned off the Yugo M70 AK variant. The non-chromed lined barrel is 16.25 inches long with a 1:10 twist rate. Overall length of the rifle is slightly over 36 inches with a weight of 8 pounds. The Zastava stamped receiver adds a little weight to the N PAP versus other AK47 rifles due to extra thickness; the con is a heavier rifle, but the pro is reduced felt recoil allowing for more controllability during rapid strings of fire. Lastly, the side rail found on the N PAP is another of its unique aspects. The rail is the same one used on their Serbian AKM service rifles. It is a hybrid type in that it is neither pure AK nor SVD/PSL and in theory both AK and SVD/PSL rail types should work. Experience for this article found that of the various AK and PSL mounts on hand, the PSL side rail mounts worked and the AK types did not. This is one of the peculiarities with the AK rifle world where little is standardized in terms of technical specifications.
A new addition to the 7.62×39 ammunition realm was accessed for testing with the Century N PAP. This is Century’s Red Army Standard brand. Red Army Standard 7.62×39 ammunition will be offered in handy Range Packs (180 rounds) as well as 30 round boxes. This packaging allows the consumer to purchase multiple boxes of ammunition in a convenient, easy to carry and use format. Red Army Standard is manufactured by the same factories that produced billions of rounds of ammunition for the Soviet Red Army and Warsaw Pact nations. Markings on the Range Pack boxes indicated Romanian and Ukrainian manufacturing. Century’s Red Army Standard will be available in many popular Warsaw Pact rifle calibers such as 7.62x39mm (123 grain FMJ), 7.62x54R (148 grain FMJ) and 5.45x39mm (69 grain FMJ).
After a quick verification of 25 yard sight zero, range evaluation commenced with a function test firing several magazines in rapid succession at various steel man targets and vehicles that Echo Valley Training Center has scattered along its stepped berm system. The 1/4 scale Tacstrike steel targets provide instant feedback of rounds smacking metal. This makes evaluations simpler versus firing at paper at distance and then viewing results later. While not unique, this is a good way to establish a baseline for reliability. If an AK-type weapon does not have pristine reliability, its major attribute is nullified.
Range evaluation was enhanced by the use of various products from US Palm and Magpul for the AK. The recently introduced Magpul PMAG 30 AK/AKM MOE polymer magazine was the primary magazine used with the N PAP. The U.S. made PMAG 30 AK magazine features a removable floor plate, constant curve geometry, and a high-reliability/low-friction follower. Aggressive texturing front and rear offer positive tactile feel while the waffle pattern on the sides aid in extraction from magazine pouches. The PMAG AK magazine was complimented by two US Palm products – the AK Attack Rack and Defender Series chest rigs. The AK Attack Rack and Defender accept both the AK47 and AK74 profile magazines. The Defender chest rig is designed to concentrate essentials into one piece of equipment. The Defender can be configured to carry your handgun, spare rifle and pistol magazines, flashlight, cell phone, all the while providing front ballistic protection from handgun threats. The Defender provides level 3 soft armor protection in the front panel. A second soft armor panel for the rear panel is available as an accessory for additional protection. The Defender also functions as a plate carrier designed to hold rifle level protection plates in both the front and rear if desired by the end user. Another chest rig offered by US Palm is the AK Attack Rack. It is a low profile secure platform for four AK magazines and four pistol magazines. The AK Attack Rack chest rig can be worn over hard or soft body armor and is built to military specifications out of 500d Cordura nylon for durability and minimal weight. Individuals will have to judge how best to outfit themselves in terms of chest rigs or body armor in terms of weight as well as cost.
Team Tactic exercises involving moving to and from a designated target area using cover while either changing magazines or engaging targets while partner is reloading are good weapon evaluation drills. One gets a good sense of the way a weapon handles along with reliability due to the sum of ammunition expended in short time frames characteristic of these Team Tactic drills. Strings of fire with the Century N PAP ranged from 15 rounds to 85 rounds with target distances measured in feet out to a couple of hundred yards. This was followed by dynamic exercises and fluid assault style training evolutions consisting of moving around and through barricades while engaging randomly placed targets consisting of steel and paper. The US Palm chest rigs performed as advertised keeping Magpul PMAG AK magazines secure until needed for reloading.
The rifle performed without any reliability issues though a couple observations are in order related to the Century N PAP. To say the safety lever was difficult to manipulate when the N PAP was initially handled would be an understatement. This was remedied by typical AK practicality by bending it outward from the receiver. Problem solved. The Yugo pattern buttstock used on the N PAP is of a different configuration than most other AK. The difference lays both in the trunnion connection for the buttstock as well as higher comb style. This translates into not being a simple matter of changing out buttstock on the N PAP. This point segues into the other portion of the N PAP’s buttstock difference. A shooter is forced to squeeze one’s cheek down on the buttstock to access the N PAP’s iron sights. Many will find the resultant recoil transferred higher into your face as onerous compared to other AK’s on the market. You could move forward closer to the receiver. However, 7.62×39 recoil is stouter than a .22 caliber weapon like an AR or AK 74; while not harsh, a nose against the N PAP receiver would not be comfortable during rearward impulse when firing.
Mikhail Kalashnikov’s conception and construction methods focused on “hell and back” reliability for the AK design. In all honesty, during survival type situations, 4 inch groups and iron sights work just fine as long as the rifle is not a prima donna requiring constant maintenance when other priorities are taking day to day precedence. What is needed is a stalwart weapon capable of handling threats albeit man or beast. This is where opinions will vary as to which AK, based on caliber, will best serve an individual’s needs. Some would advocate the AK47 based on .30 caliber power. This is one area the AK47 trumps the AK74. In a survival situation, it is not only men, but also animals that must be contended with either in terms of protection against or killing for sustenance. Anecdotal comparisons of the AK47 7.62×39 cartridge translates into 30-30 power equivalent, which U.S. sportsmen are intimately familiar with. In many jurisdictions, the .22 cal. AR-15 (and AK74) is only legal for varmints. This is not saying that the AK74 is not effective for its design intent as an infantry weapon; just not ideal for all around survival situations. Recoil management is much easier with the AK74 pattern rifles. While the AK74 may be superior against human adversaries, based on flatter trajectory and amount of rounds carried per equivalent load weight, the AK47 is perhaps the wiser choice when having to account for any imaginable scenario. Further support for the AK47 7.62×39 comes from its earlier establishment in the U.S. compared to the AK74 5.45×39. There has to be hundreds of thousands if not millions of 7.62×39 rounds in circulation in the U.S. The same line of thinking is applicable to magazines and other ancillary gear as well. As with most things firearms related, personal preference and opinions will vary with decisions made on what satisfies each individual’s needs.
The Century International N PAP AK featured in this article performed as AKs are prone to do – with utmost reliability. There are higher end AKs available that cost significantly more than the Century N PAP. This is no different than in the AR world where entry level ARs cost $800, while other ARs costing three times as much have no problem attracting customers. It is about personal resource allotment. Once proofed, as any weapon should be before committing to serious use, the Century N PAP AK will serve well no matter the situation encountered.
Sites of Interest
Century International Arms
430 South Congress Ave. Suite 1
Delray Beach, FL 33445
2438 Valley Ave
Winchester, VA 22601
14860 N. Northsight Blvd
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Echo Valley Training Center
251 C Prosperity Drive
Winchester, VA 22602
Magpul Industries Corp
P.O. Box 17697
Boulder, CO 80308
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V18N5 (October 2014)|