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History of 5.45x39 Ammunition
In 1974, the Soviet Union introduced its 5.45x39mm rifle cartridge for use in the AK-74, which was based on the AK-47. Following in the footsteps of the United States 5.56mm cartridge, which was supposed to replace the 7.62x51 cartridge, the 5.45x39 was designed to replace the 7.62x39. An interesting difference between the Soviet cartridge and the US cartridge is that the Soviet designers only had to modify an existing design (the AK-47) to have a proven rifle that would fire the cartridge; where as the US 5.56x45 was adopted by the US military in a rifle that had not been battle tested.
The key advantages to this change were reduced ammunition weight and a significant reduction in felt recoil over the 7.62x39. Some tests show that the 5.45x39 generates 2.5 foot pounds of recoil when shot from the AK-74. The 7.62x39 cartridge has about 4.5 foot pounds of recoil, depending on the platform. This is less than the 5.56mm which comes in at 4.75 foot pounds of recoil when shot from the M16. This is even more impressive when you consider that the M14 firing the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge, generates just under 15 foot pounds of recoil. Along with the recoil reduction, the cartridge weight is greatly reduced with the 5.45x39. Where a soldier might have carried 180 rounds of 7.62x39mm into battle, now he would be able to carry 270 rounds of 5.45x39mm and have no noticeable increase in weight.
The performance of the 5.45x39mm cartridge is impressive with some loads clocking in at speeds over 3000 feet per second in the 49 grain loads and some loads generating over 1400 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. Downrange performance is very respectable, with 3.5 inch groups being easy to achieve at 300 yards.
Although primarily manufactured in Russia to military specifications, the 5.45x39 is also produced by Hornady in the United States. Hornady uses their polymer tipped V-MAX bullets in a load that offers great accuracy and can be used on small game with excellent effects. Wolf Ammunition Company offers, hollow point, soft point and full metal jacket ammo. Bernaul uses boat tail bullets for their ammunition and claims that it will make a 100 shot group of less than one inch at 100 meters.
Although not wildly popular in America, the 5.45x39 can be found chambered for rifles in the AR-15 platform and in a rifle produced by Saiga. It is not likely that the 5.45x39 will trump the 5.56 NATO cartridge in popularity in the US, but the light recoil and excellent accuracy have likely earned this Warsaw Pact veteran a place in the American ammunition market for a long time to come.
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