The AA-81 (Avtomat Alexandrova - 1981) is an assault rifle that was manufactured by the Alexandrov Design Bureau. It is the successor to the AA-55, and competed against the VH-87, a similar, innovative assault rifle.
The AA-55 was Alexandrov's primary assault rifle manufactured during the late 1950's until the late 1970's. By then, the AA-55 had become largely outdated, as the Soviet Army had switched their primary rifle cartridge from 7.62x39mm to the new high-velocity 5.45x39mm. Gennady Alexandrov, the founder and lead designer of ADB, had planned to make a successor to the AA-55 since the mid-1970's, which eventually resulted in the AA-81. First introduced in 1984, the AA-81 featured numerous improvements over the AA-55, such as the ability to be chambered in the new 5.45 round, a new selector switch that could be activated by the user's thumb while holding the pistol grip, and (most importantly), the use of a BARS (counterbalance recoil) system, which uses two operating rods that move in opposite directions when firing the rifle, allowing for a softer-shooting rifle. In 1986, a carbine version of the AA-81, known as the AAU-81, was unveiled and tested by Spetsnaz forces.
In terms of military usage, the AA-81 was first tested by the Soviet Army in 1985, the year the AA-81 was revealed to the public, during missions in the Soviet War in Afghanistan. During its first combat operations, the AA-81 gained a positive reputation among soldiers who wielded the new rifle; they claimed that the counterbalance system provides a much softer shooting experience when compared to their AK-74 rifles, which allowed for greater shots on target. However, while the rifle was reliable, the AA-81 was much more complex to field strip when compared to the AK-74, and also gathered minor complaints such as the lack of a fixed stock. Despite its problems, the AA-81 was likely seen as a potential future service rifle for the Soviet military, and was one of the rifles selected as part of Project Abakan. In 1994, the AA-81 was selected as one of the winners of the program, alongside Gennady Nikonov's AN-94, which featured a much more complex recoil mitigation system. After Project Abakan, the AA-81 was first used as an officially adopted weapon during the 1995 Battle of Grozny during the First Chechen War, where it was mostly used by Russian special forces. However by this point, the new AK-74M posed a threat to the AA-81, and the 74M eventually replaced it altogether as the preferred rifle, as it was the new service rifle of the Russian military. Since then, the AA-81 has largely been forgotten, and in 2009, was replaced by the more modern AA-08 assault rifle.
- Barrel is 16.5 inches long (10.5 or 13.5 inches long for AAU-81).
- Chambered for either 5.45x39mm or 7.62x39mm, and is fed via standard AK magazines.
- Designed in 1981, produced from 1984 to 2009.
- Effective range is around 500 meters.
- On the selector switch, the three red triangles mean full-auto, the single red triangle means semi-auto, and the single white triangle means safe.
- Rate of fire: 845 RPM
- Weighs 7.4 pounds (unloaded), 8 pounds (loaded)