After years of being among the most recognizable symbols of death and destruction the world over, the Soviet-made Kalashnikov assault rifles (the most famous of which is the AK-47) are being rebranded to get in line with our fancy, fashionable, modern era.
Since the days of the Cold War, the Soviet equivalent to the American M16 has found itself in the hands of child soldiers in Africa, Gaddafi, the Taliban—hell, it even has a Chinese knockoff. Few can deny that its rugged durability withstands the tests of war: Bury it in an Iraqi desert for 20 years and it'll still fire when you dig it up.
For those of you who've never fired an AK-47 before, the sand-resistant rifle is not perfect. Its rounds are larger and harder to control when an operator fires at the fully automatic setting, so there's a reason Western soldiers still use lighter, more precise assault rifles. But the fact remains that the Kalashnikov may just be the most impactful engineering feat of the former Soviet empire.
But now, with Russia brazenly trying to reassert its place as a militaristic superpower, the Kalashnikov company is also rebranding. According to Sputnik News, the Russian state media agency, Kalashnikov Concern (the official title of Russia's largest small arms producer) is outlining a new corporate strategy that will last through 2020.
Based on this RT report, Kalashnikov Concern paid over £242,000 to gussy up its brand image. The result: a revamping of its military, civilian, and sports brands, and a new line of survival wear and hunting knives.
Already the top assault rifle producer in the country, Kalashnikov said not all of its new weapons line would share the same visual brand we've come to recognise in the AK-47, AK-74, and AKM assault rifles. The new military/police weapons line will have a new logo that integrates the iconic curved clip of an AK-47 into a red K.
"It is impossible to compete with global arms industry leaders without a strong, recognisable brand," said the company.
Part of the Kalashnikov rebranding strategy also includes a new slogan commonly translated as "Protecting Peace." However, the Russian slogan reads either "Weapons of Peace" or "Weapons of the World"—depending on the reader's interpretation of the Russian word mir. This may suggest that Kalashnikov takes pride in how ubiquitous its firearms have become.
Let's face it: whatever your favourite AK variation is, the Russian assault rifle enjoys a dominant place in pop culture as the emblem of anti-American forces. It seems whatever new conflict zone US forces find themselves in, the enemy always wields an AK.
And as Kalashnikov maintains on its website, in over 60 years, 100 million of its assault rifles have been manufactured—not to mention the knockoffs available in illegal arms bazaars all over the world.
As it stands, few military experts will argue against the effectiveness of the machine. Moreover, in a media unveiling of the new plan, the company claims it will sport a new face of "peace" across the world, in a move measured to help resuscitate its image in the face of Western weapons sanctions against Russia. This rebranding looks to legitimise the company's reputation and expand its markets both domestically and internationally.
The question is, why mess with a good thing? What other weapons contractor can boast the same track record of success? The answer might be just that: The Russian arms manufacturer could be moving toward upgrading its weapons systems to force potential buyers into a new purchase.
Whether or not this rebranding means the end of the classic AK-47 as we know it remains to be seen. But it's certain that it's cultural impact and notoriety will live on forever. After all, in the roughly Google translated words of Mikhail Kalashnikov, father of all AK assault rifles: "A firearm must be beautiful like a woman, it must fit your hands perfectly and make you want to take it!"