By Charles Q. Cutshaw
Tula Instrument Design Bureau (Tula KBP) of Russia delivered a real surprise in January 1998 when it showed literature on a new bullpup assault rifle designated the A-91M. Tula representatives were reluctant to discuss details of the rifle with the author other than to state that it is not yet in full production. The A-91M, despite its designation, bears little resemblance to the A-91 compact assault rifle also manufactured by Tula KBP. It is not simply a bullpup version of the earlier rifle. Moreover, while the A-91M is similar in appearance to the Kalashnikov family, it is not a Kalashnikov or one of its derivatives with bullpup furniture, as are the Armenian K-3, the Chinese Type 86, the Tula OTs-14 “Groza,” and the recently announced South African CR-21.
Despite being manufactured by the same Russian firm that produces the OTs-14, which is truly a Kalashnikov – derived bullpup, the A-91M is apparently quite different. One indication that the A-91M is different is the lack of an obvious ejection port. The sole opening in the upper receiver is a small oval hole just to the right of and beneath the rifle’s carrying handle. This small aperture is the ejection port; spent casings are ejected straight forward, not to the side or downwards as is the case with most other rifles. When the bolt is forward and the magazine inserted, the rifle’s receiver is completely closed, thereby minimizing the opportunity for entry of dust and foreign matter into the rifle’s operating parts. Even with the bolt to the rear, the ejection port is so small that the receiver of the A-91M is still virtually a closed system as long as a magazine is in place. The gas system of the A-91M appears somewhat different than that of Kalashnikov derived weapons. The gas block itself is completely different, but whether the A-91M uses a Kalashnikov-type bolt carrier and operating rod as do most other Russian designed gas – operated rifles remains to be seem. All furniture is polymer. The non-reciprocating charging handle is located at the left front of the carrying handle and can be pivoted up or down at the shooter’s discretion. The barrel of the A-91M appears to be located below the line of recoil forces, which will probably make it highly controllable in fully automatic mode by minimizing muzzle rise. The flash suppressor is a western -style “birdcage, “ rather than a typical Russian suppressor. The selector lever is similar in shape and function to that of Kalashnikov weapons, but is in a different location. Since Tula claims that the A-91M is intended to be fully ambidextrous, there is probably a mirror image selector on the left side of the receiver. The only Kalashnikov component that appears to be shared by the A-91M is the magazine, which may be either steel or polymer.
Although the designation of the A-91M would indicate that it is derived from the A-91 compact assault rifle, this is open to question, given the functioning and overall design of the A-91M, which appears to be significantly different than the A-91. If the A-91M was, indeed, derived from the A-91, it has been extensively modified. The A-91 is a very conventional small, gas-operated assault rifle that ejects to the right from a Kalashnikov-type ejection port. (See drawing.)
The A-91M mounts a new 40mm grenade launcher above the barrel designated the GP-97. The rear mount of the GP-97 mates to a large boss at the base of the front sight post. The grenade launcher’s forward mount probably clamps to the barrel at the enlarged portion midway between the forearm and flash suppressor. In available photos, the GP-97 appears to be offset slightly to the right with its trigger located against the forward pistol grip where it can easily be manipulated by either right or left handed shooters. The GP-97 appears to be essentially an inverted GP-95 grenade launcher with the trigger mechanism and mounting system relocated for positioning above, rather than beneath, the rifle barrel. The GP-97 fires standard VOG-25 and VOG-25P 40mm grenades to a range of 400 meters. The A-91M also can fire muzzle launched projected grenades. Whether the flash suppressor is standard NATO configuration is not known, but it appears to be very close dimensionally to the 22mm NATO standard.
Because the A-91M only recently became known in the west and none have been made available for evaluation, technical details of this new rifle are lacking. Why Tula chose to chamber the rifle only in 7.62x39mm is a mystery. The OTs-14 Groza for military use is chambered in this caliber rather than 5.45x39mm, so the A-91M may be intended for use by special army units. Nonetheless, any rifle chambered in 7.62x39mm can easily be redesigned to fire 5.45x39mm, 9x39mm, or 5.56x45mm. If Tula is serious about marketing the A-91M outside Russia, they will soon introduce it in alternative calibers. On the whole, from what can be deduced from available photos and the little information provided by Tula personnel, the A-91M appears to be a generally well-designed and executed bullpup rifle. Whether or not it will be viable in the world’s highly competitive small arms market remains to be seen.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N10 (July 1998)|