• SDM AKS-74 and AKS-103: a tale of two AKs

SDM AKS-74 and AKS-103: a tale of two AKs

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SDM AKS-74 and AKS-103: a tale of two AKs

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Manufactured in China by the Sino Defense Manufacturing brand, the AKS-74 and AKS-103 semi-automatic rifles are baseline, entry-level AKM modern sporting rifles chambered for the two most popular calibers for this kind of platform

SDM AKS-74 (top) and SDM AKS-103 (bottom)

SDM AKS-74 (top) and SDM AKS-103 (bottom)

The EU Firearms Directive has been approved, and despite the fears, European shooters can once again plan future new purchases. Last, but not least, going the "American way" and purchasing guns in this time of uncertainty is likely to send a powerful messages to gun control fanatics in Brussels and within the national governments of the Member States.

If you were considering to purchase an entry-level AKM derivative for range shooting or to use as a basis for custom works, the SDM - Sino Defense Manufacturing line of AK clones may very well be the good-priced baseline AKs you're looking for.

Manufactured in the People's Republic of China, the SDM AK-type rifles are quite ruggedly built for the canons of modern AK clones, but they're also mechanically reliable, solid in construction, and low-priced enough.

Their technical and mechanical layout is fairly standard – exception made for some modifications found in certain models which are more aesthetic than functional in nature, and are mainly meant to make those Chinese-made AKM clones to look more like some of the most recent Kalashnikov rifle variants of Russian manufacture.

The variants we'll look at here – specifically the AKS-74 and AKS-103 rifles – feature a mix of quintessentially Chinese and Russian features that is almost unique in the field of AK-based modern sporting rifles available for civilian sales in Europe.

Chambered for the two most popular modern sporting rifle calibers, the AKS-74 and AKS-103 rifles are an ideal choice for first-time gun owners or first-time AK buyers looking for a rifle that will withstand rough and intense treatment, or in-depth custom modifications... or both.

S.D.M. AKS-74 in caliber 5,56x45mm

The Sino Defense Manufacturing (SDM) AK-74, chamebered for the 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Remiintgon)

The Sino Defense Manufacturing (SDM) AK-74, chamebered for the 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Remiintgon)

Given the low popularity of the 5,45x39mm caliber in western Europe – particularly if compared to the increasing popularity of the same caliber in north America – the AK-74 line rifles offered under the Sino Defense Manufacturing brand are chambered for the 5,56x45mm caliber, and can handle both .223 Remington low-pressure civilian loads and NATO-standard loads.

The AKS-74 is a fairly standard AK build, basically a 5,56mm/.223 version of the classic AKMS rifle – complete with a stamped sheet underfolding stock.

The S.D.M. AKS-74 semi-automatic rifle is built around a 100% stamped receiver, as typical with most export-grade Chinese-made AKs, although the S.D.M. receivers are somewhat thicker than many others.

The S.D.M. AKs are purely civilian-oriented and built from the ground up as semi-automatic, civilian firearms. As such, their receivers are of the "Two-Pin" type; the selector switch has two positions and works only as a manual safety; and they are incompatible with components that would enable selective fire or full-automatic operation.

The S.D.M. AKS-74 is classic from top to bottom: the handguard and pistol grip are laminated wood; the adjustable front sight is hooded, a typical feature of Chinese AKs, and the rear leaf sight can be adjusted to engage targets up to the very optimistic range of 800 metres.

All outer metal surfaces sport a matte black finish, and specifically on the AKS-74, the typical S.D.M. white markings are less prominent than on many other models of the same brand.

The receiver is built to use a classic MP40-derivative underfolding stamped sheet stock; as such, the gun does not feature a standard side-mounted optics bracket.

The S.D.M. AKS-74 semi-automatic rifle is a classic long-stroke piston-driven system, and just like all AKs, it's a breeze to disassemble. The AKS-74 comes with a classic 45-degree gas block.

Right side of the SDM AK-74

Right side of the SDM AK-74

Left side of the SDM AK-74

Left side of the SDM AK-74

The 420mm / 16" long barrel is cold-hammer forged and chrome-lined, with a matte black outer finish. The rifling pattern is standard for 5.56mm/.223 caliber: six right-handed pitch with a 1:7" twist. The muzzle is threaded and comes fit from factory with an AK74-style flash hider.

The magazines issued from factory for the S.D.M. AKS-74 are fairly standard for a .223-caliber AK derivative, and manufactured out of sheet metal. Their capacity can range from five to thirty rounds depending from local laws and regulations; restrictions to ammunition capacity depending from the type of gun license apply in many European Countries. Capacity limitation is achieved through the installation of a metal pin.

The AKS-74 is however compatible with the vast majority of AK .223 caliber magazines available on the market; a STANAG magazine adapter for 5.56mm/.223 caliber AKM variants can also be installed to allow the use of AR-15 compatible magazines.

S.D.M. AKS-74 – Technical specs

Manufacturer

S.D.M. - Sino Defense Manufacturing

Distributor

For Europe:
Prima Armi S.r.l.

Model

AKS-74

Typology

Semi-automatic rifle

Caliber

.223 Remington / 5.56x45mm

Action

Semi-automatic, long-stroke piston system, 45° gas block

Trigger system

Single action, internal hammer

Safeties

AK-type manual safety lever located on the right side of the frame

Capacity

5 or 30 rounds in .223 AK-type magazines

Barrel

420 mm / 16.53"
Six grooves, RH, 1 turn in 7", AK-74 style flash hider

Sights

Adjustable front sight, rear sight leaf adjustable for ranging

Overall length

700 mm / 27.55" (stock underfolded)
940 mm / 37" (stock unfolded)

Materials / Finishes

Matte black finished steel sheet metal receiver and top cover
Matte black finished, cold-hammer forged, chrome-lined steel barrel
Wooden pistol grip and handguard, steel sheet underfolding stock

Price

€ 599,00

The mechanical design is the AK traditional one

The mechanical design is the AK traditional one

The SDM AKS-74 and AKS-103 are chambered respectively for the 5,56mm NATO (.223 Remington) and the 7,62x39mm Russian

The SDM AKS-74 and AKS-103 are chambered respectively for the 5,56mm NATO (.223 Remington) and the 7,62x39mm Russian

The rear sight is the same on both models

The rear sight is the same on both models

Muzzle view of the SDM AK-74

Muzzle view of the SDM AK-74

Muzzle view of the AKS-103

Muzzle view of the AKS-103

The SDM AK-74 folding stock

The SDM AK-74 folding stock

Positioning and shape of the magazine release latch is the same for both models

Positioning and shape of the magazine release latch is the same for both models

The SDM AKS-103 folding stock

The SDM AKS-103 folding stock

S.D.M. AKS-103 7,62x39mm semi-automatic rifle

The Sino Defense Manufacturing (SDM) AKS-103, chambered for the traditional 7,62x39mm Russian caliber

The Sino Defense Manufacturing (SDM) AKS-103, chambered for the traditional 7,62x39mm Russian caliber

The S.D.M. AKS-103 is not less classic than the previously discussed AKS-74. Despite its namesake, the Chinese-made AKS-103 does without many of the technical and manufacturing innovations that tell the Russian-built AK100 series apart from all other AK clones – and that's exactly the reason why this Chinese rifle is technically simple and cheap enough to be a viable entry level modern sporting rifle.

If there's one feature that associates the Chinese S.D.M. AKS-103 with the Izhmash/Concern Kalashnikov AK100 series of rifles, that's the 90-degree gas block.

Otherwise, and for the vast majority of technical and manufacturing features, the AKS-103 is a fairly standard AKM variant that differs very little from the AKS-74 we discussed above.

The S.D.M. AKS-103 semi-automatic rifle is chambered for the classic 7,62x39mm M43 Russian cartridge, and will accept any AKM-compatible magazine of any make, material, and capacity.

The barrel is 420 mm / 16.5" long, it's cold-hammer forged and chrome lined, comes with a matte black outer finish, and with an AK74-style flash hider.

The barrel rifling is the same as found on a standard AKMS: four right-handed grooves, one twist in 9.45".

The S.D.M. AKS-103 rifle features a grey polymer pistol grip, a lacquered laminated wood handguard, a side-folding stamped sheet stock, and an AKM standard side-mounted optics bracket.

Right side of the SDM AKS-103

Right side of the SDM AKS-103

Left side of the SDM AKS-103

Left side of the SDM AKS-103

The typical S.D.M. factory markings are painted in white on both sides of the receivers and very prominent. Basically nothing else but the features discussed here tells the AKS-103 and the AKS-74 apart.

A technically identical counterpart, dubbed the S.D.M. AK-103 rifle, also exists; featuring a black polymer handguard, pistol grip and folding stock, this version is much more similar in aesthetics to the Russian AK100 rifles.

S.D.M. AKS-103 – Technical specs

Manufacturer

S.D.M. - Sino Defense Manufacturing

Distributor

For Europe:
Prima Armi S.r.l.

Model

AKS-103

Typology

Semi-automatic rifle

Caliber

7,62x39mm

Action

Semi-automatic, long-stroke piston system, 90° gas block

Trigger system

Single action, internal hammer

Safeties

AK-type manual safety lever located on the right side of the frame

Capacity

AK/AKM magazines of any make and capacity

Barrel

420 mm / 16.53"
Four grooves, RH, 1 turn in 9.45", AK-74 style flash hider

Sights

Adjustable front sight, rear sight leaf adjustable for ranging
Scope mount on left side of the receiver

Overall length

700 mm / 27.55" (stock folded)
940 mm / 37" (stock unfolded)

Materials / Finishes

Matte black finished steel sheet metal receiver and top cover
Matte black finished, cold-hammer forged, chrome-lined steel barrel
Wooden handguard, polymer pistol grip, steel sheet sidefolding stock

Price

€ 635,00

Conclusions

Our range tests and the feedback from many shooters who purchased the S.D.M. AKS-74 and AKS-103 rifles in Italy show that the inherent accuracy of both rifles if more than acceptable for this kind of gun.

Let us be clear: they will not provide Bench-Rest grade accuracy, nor will they provide IPSC/3-Gun grade out-of-the-box accuracy – you'll need extensive tuning and custom works for that – but neither the manufacturer nor the distributor want to trick shooters in thinking so.

The S.D.M. AKS-74 and AKS-103 are straightforward baseline, entry-level AKM clones for range shooting, tactical shooting training, leisure shooting or collection. In these roles they will perform just as they are intended to do, and if this is what you are looking for, all you need to do is to choose which of the two suits you better.