Two Former Rangers Wanted to Combine the Best Parts of the AK-47 and AR-15. This Is What They Created

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Joe Stenzel, Founder of Stenzel Industries and creator of "America's AK" -- the AK-21 alongside Jared Potter, CEO (Courtesy of Jared Potter)

A Ranger finally may have settled the debate between fans of the AK-47 and adherents of the AR-15.

Joe Stenzel and Jared Potter, veterans of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, met while serving in the Army. During their deployments to Afghanistan, Stenzel noticed the shortcomings of each platform.

After leaving the military, Stenzel decided that addressing those shortcomings might be the best post-military career for both of them, and it may help create manufacturing jobs in the United States.

The result is an upgraded version of the AK-47 rifle, the AK-21. It’s the first aluminum platform AK to hit the market, and it’s as reliable in the field as the AK -- but has the user-friendly features and manufacturability of the AR-15 family.

With some of the rifle's aspects still patent-pending, Stenzel Industries has only released CAD images of the weapon. (Stenzel Industries)

“There’s always been a debate about which gun performs better,” said Potter, now CEO of Stenzel Industries. “But we realized there were things about the AK that could be improved upon.”

The AK rifle isn’t as ergonomically friendly as the AR family, and it’s not as easily modified, Potter said. During their deployments in Afghanistan, he and Stenzel saw a huge need for a weapon that had those ergonomic and modular features while using AK magazines.

Stenzel Industries’ AK-21 can do that, Potter said.

“What we’ve created is a platform that is as modular, as compact and has the speed of an AR-15, but if you get into a situation where you need to pick up an enemy magazine, you can do that,” he said.

Jared Potter during a deployment to Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Jared Potter)

Maintaining the reliability of the AK model required retooling the methods of building one. Potter said producing an AK model is very labor intensive, estimating it takes around 40 hours to produce a single weapon. But that process guarantees the famous reliability of the weapon.

“There's really nothing that you can improve on the AR, other than making the parts,” Potter said. “Making them cheaper to manufacture or making more high-quality parts. Joe tooled it down to the basics and built our platform around that.”

Joe Stenzel, founder of Stenzel Industries and the creator of the AK-21, designed the rifle’s parts so that they were easier and cheaper to manufacture. Parts for the AK-21 don’t require a firearm-specific machine shop, which means they can manufacture the parts anywhere in the country.

Joe Stenzel during a deployment to Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Jared Potter)

“With our design, it's a simple milling of aluminum, which is easier on machines and tooling,’’ Potter said. “With how simplistic we've made the design, we can also do high quantities. Making it out of aluminum cuts down on cost and on the weight carried by a soldier, while cutting down on waste and the time spent producing them.”

The AK-21 includes features conceived and incorporated by the Army Ranger in combat:

  • Billet aluminum receiver: The world's first billet aluminum AK receiver provides a lighter design and cost-effective manufacture.
  • Short-stroke piston system: This keeps the breaching area and internals of the platform significantly cleaner than the traditional AK.
  • Last-round bolt hold open feature: Similar to the AR-15, after the last round in the magazine is ejected, the bolt locks to the rear and stays locked open until the bolt is released.
  • Ambidextrous bolt release: Similar to some AR-15s, the AK-21 has a bolt release on both sides of the platform, putting the weapon back into service faster.
  • Left side non-reciprocating charging handle: The charging handle on the correct side of the platform.
  • Ambidextrous fire selector: The AK-21 utilizes a SAW249-style fire/safe selector.
  • Ambidextrous magazine release.
  • Multi-caliber interchangeability: The design allows for multiple calibers to be used by changing out the bolt and barrel.

Potter knows from experience that the AR and AK platform are great weapons systems, but having a reliable, ergonomic weapon that can fire the 7.62 round is something that the military and other federal agencies will have a need for today and into the future.

Stenzel Industries’ AK-21 is made in Elk River, Minnesota, and will be available on the civilian market. The retail cost for one of these rifles will be $3,999 and will be available for preorder in late 2021.

To learn more about “America’s AK,” visit the Stenzel Industries website or its Facebook page.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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