A couple years ago, in UN12’s inaugural Issue 001, the magazine’s cover story showcased a special pair of AR-15 rifles—the Battle Arms Development (BAD, BattleArms) “Paratrooper” and “Tanker” limited-run models. These two SBRs were in turn based on the one-off “Woody” AR that BAD founder and principal George Huang, collaborating with Weapons Armament Research founder Anibal Salinas, put together for SHOT Show.
The original Woody was created to showcase BAD’s receivers, stocks, and other parts, but in short order, and understandably so, became a conversation piece in and of itself. This was in large part because it used custom-built wood furniture and a carefully curated color scheme to evoke the feel and nostalgia of a WWII-era service rifle on the more modern Armalite design. As the Woody’s popularity spread virally through social media, BAD decided to offer a pair of low-volume production models for sale to discerning customers and collectors—hence the Paratrooper and Tanker.
The firearm pictured here, called the T-34 Tanker, is a sort of kindred spirit to those first two AR builds—but one that’s been applied to a completely different platform: the Kalashnikov AK.
The T-34 designation is not merely incidental. Though he is best known as the inventor of the AK-47 and several of its successive variants (among many other small-arms designs), Mikhail Kalashnikov was a tank mechanic and later a tank commander who served in World War II. Kalashnikov was embedded with a Soviet T-34 division, the T-34 being one of the more influential pieces of weaponry on the war’s Eastern Front that would influence tank design for years to come.
When the T-34 Tanker concept began to take shape, Battle Arms Development was already well-known in the AR market, but less so when it came to an AK platform. So the company teamed with an established player in the AK arena, Rifle Dynamics (RD), to help bring this project to fruition.
The T-34 Tanker is built out from a Rifle Dynamics milled AK receiver from the company’s 704 pistol series. It hosts an 11.5-inch 4150CM barrel chambered for—what else?—7.62x39mm. The barrel features a 1:10 twist and a ½”x28 TPI thread at the end, to which a BattleArms Thumper compensator is affixed.
Like the receiver, the internal action components—including the recoil spring, bolt, bolt carrier, and gas rod assembly—as well as the receiver cover were supplied by Rifle Dynamics from the 704 series. The trigger group is also from Rifle Dynamics. True to its throwback, minimalist nature, the T-34 Tanker is fitted with analog optics—an RD-spec post-and-drum in the forward position on the gas block and an RD Fuller V2 riding on the rear sight block. In between the two, an RD Ultimak Picatinny rail interface encloses the gas tube and lends the weapon a bit of attachment utility.
To keep the T-34 Tanker out of NFA jurisdiction and ensure the gun’s pistol classification, BAD outfitted it with a brace system centered around the company’s own Sabertube receiver extension. The Sabertube is a product developed for an AR pistol platform that in this instance is adapted to the RD 704 AK receiver with a SIG folding block, which is in turn attached to the receiver via an integrated milled steel rear trunnion with a Picatinny rail adapter. The block also allows the extension assembly to fold around against the firearm’s body. A Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 1 pistol brace is attached to the Sabertube to complete the rear setup.
One of the things that really gives this build flavor and nostalgic visual stimulus is the WWII-inspired finish. George Huang explains: “Typically for that period the firearms are all steel and parkerized like the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine… Over time you get the dark green patina, and of course everyone is familiar with the red/orange color Cosmoline that usually covers that period of firearms for storage. Our unique mixture of the ‘Parkerized Green Steel’ look and the coating of ‘Cosmoline’ residue is that WWII-themed look we went for. Our AR Tanker takes after the U.S. Sherman tank, while the AK Tanker takes after the Russian T-34.”
He goes on: “When we did the Tanker AK, we started with the same green concept for the base color but the shade on the AK is a bit different. We were trying for more of a communist/Soviet green finish and we didn’t use any Cosmoline-type colors.”
BAD, an NIC certified applicator for both Cerakote and KG Gunkote, formulated the scheme in-house. It’s a special KG recipe that may also be applied to other firearms through the company’s custom shop if a customer so desires. BAD also performed the laser brand engraving on the various T-34 Tanker components, like the BAD circle logo on the receiver, the BattleArms script across the rear sight block, and the RD logo etched into the block’s opposite side.
Along with the KG coating, the wood-colored accents are really what tie this AK build, visually and spiritually, to BAD’s earlier AR Woody-inspired designs. The forend (or handguard if you prefer) is crafted from a block of Bulgarian wood. The pistol grip, while complementing the overall look, is not actually wood but Bakelite, a synthetic plastic compound that itself has a prominent place in WWII lore, being used in grips and buttstocks on different weapons of that era.
The pictured firearm is the BattleArms mockup that was designed for SHOT Show 2020, so there may be slight visual differences, as far as the paint stenciling and laser etching, in what you see here compared to a production T-34 Tanker. The production unit will be sold in a limited run of 50 examples through BattleArms’ exclusive distributor, RSR Group. As of this writing, ten T-34 Tankers have been assembled and shipped, with the balance of 40 to be issued in the coming months.
Each T-34 Tanker ships with two 20-round steel magazines, also done up in the WWII green coating and emblazoned with a red star. The entire package comes cased in a custom wood crate that is stenciled, like the firearm, with the BAD and RD logos and T-34 markings.
And just as the wood-furnished AR Woody led to the Paratrooper and Tanker ARs, the T-34 Tanker is also a harbinger of things to come for Battle Arms Development. According to George Huang, his company will be taking this opportunity to branch out to support the AK platform, and plans are in motion to offer customers everything from parts to complete firearms.
And so history repeats.
Battle Arms Development T-34 Tanker AK Pistol
Overall Length: 31 3/8 in. (extended), 23 in. (folded)
Weight Unloaded: 6.8 lbs
Receiver: Rifle Dynamics 704 Pistol Series
Barrel: Rifle Dynamics 11.5” 4150CM w/1:10 twist
Coating: Custom KG Gunkote by Battle Arms Development
Trigger: RD-tuned TAPCO
Optics: RD post & drum (forward), RD Fuller V2 (rear)
Handguard: Bulgarian wood
Muzzle Device: BattleArms Thumper compensator
Brace: BattleArms Sabertube, Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 1, SIG folding block
About the Builder
Battle Arms Development
Social: Facebook @BattleArms, IG @battlearms
Full Circle: MK, AK & T-34
Mikhail Kalashnikov was born in 1919 in Kurya, Russia. He and his family were among the peasants relocated under Stalin’s regime and they were sent to live in exile in a village on the southwestern Siberian plain. To help sustain the family his father was an active hunter, and the younger Kalashnikov became well versed in the practice and the tools that helped get it done. He showed an early aptitude for mechanical tinkering—and somewhat incongruously for writing poetry, which he continued to do throughout his life.
Kalashnikov eventually returned to Kurya where he found work as a tractor mechanic, and he was later conscripted into the Red Army in 1938. He was assigned as a tank mechanic serving on T-34s in the Soviet military’s 24th Tank Regiment, 108th Tank Division.
For its part, the T-34 was an extremely influential machine on the Eastern Front. Certain features, such as its 60-degree sloped armor and Christie suspension derived from the American M1928, enhanced its operational success. It was so effective in battle that after encountering it some German commanders openly acknowledged its superiority to their own hardware, one of them going so far as to call it “the finest tank in the world.”
Kalashnikov was seriously wounded in October 1941 and was hospitalized for the next several months. Legend has it that during his convalescence he was able to catalog his fellow soldiers’ criticisms of their existing weapons and became versed in their various flaws and shortcomings. Upon being discharged he set out to devise a superior design.
Kalashnikov’s first submachine rifle was rejected for official use, but it got him noticed as a designer. In 1944 he began work on a new design influenced by an M1 Garand. This evolved into an entry for a 1946 rifle design competition, which in turn became the basis for a new family of weapons that culminated in the AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947). The AK-47 was officially adopted as the Soviet Army’s standard-issue battle rifle in 1949, and Mikhail Kalashnikov’s legacy was crystallized in the annals of firearms lore.
Even today, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call the AK-47 and its progeny the most ubiquitous weapon system in the world. By one scholar’s reckoning, of an estimated 500 million firearms on the planet (itself probably a very conservative number), one-fifth of those are Kalashnikov variants, and three quarters of that fifth are AK-47s.
Text by Roland Wilkes images by Roberto Flores.