Russia’s central arms testing body started trials on Friday of the AK-12, the latest incarnation of the 65-year-old Kalashnikov assault rifle, its maker Izhmash said.
The new weapon will be tested for its effectiveness when exposed to freezing cold, desert heat, humidity, dust and impacts.
Izhmash’s chief designer, Vladimir Zlobin, had previously said state trials of the weapon would begin in 2013 and be complete by July that year. Serial production of the weapon is due to start by the end of 2013.
Zlobin claims Russian armed units are interested in the weapon and also foreign customers. The company also plans to produce civilian derivatives of the rifle, as no large-scale sales are initially expected by military clients.
In January, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Sukhorukov said the Russian Army would not be buying the AK-12 as it already had millions of AK-74 rifles in its arsenal, and because of concerns over the financial state of Izhmash.
Development of the AK-12 began in mid-2011. The new weapon retains the overall layout and features of the AK-74, in service with the Russian Army since the 1970s, but has minor modifications and ergonomic changes.
The rifle will have Picatinny rails for additional equipment like special sights to be fitted, ambidextrous grips and an adjustable stock. It also features a lower recoil, giving tighter firing groups.
A range of other weapons will be produced based on the AK-12, including a machine-pistol, assault rifle, handguns and special forces weapons.
Izhmash is currently experiencing difficult times. In October, Izhmash employees, including the legendary Mikhail Kalashnikov, who designed the original AK-47, sent a letter to the Kremlin complaining about falling production volumes and low wages.
They claimed bad management has led to the loss of a number of export contracts and resulted in the failure to fulfill a government order.
“Irreversible changes may take place at the enterprise, leading to its disappearance, and to the vanishing of brands such as Kalashnikov, Dragunov and Nikonov,” the letter said.
Production fell 50 percent in September, leading to wage cuts and dismissals.
Controlled by Russian state-run corporation Russian Technologies (Rostekhnologii), Izhmash produces over 70 types of weaponry, including firearms, aircraft guns, precision artillery rounds, as well as a variety of sporting and hunting weapons.