SKS Flickr.jpg
SKS Carbine
Type Semi-automatic rifle
Place of origin  Soviet Union
Service history
In service See Users
Production history
Designer Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov
Designed 1944
Number built 15,000,000[1]
Variants Chinese Type 56; Yugoslavian PAP; Romanian SKS; Albanian SKS; East German SKS; (North) Vietnamese SKS; North Korean SKS
Weight 3.85 kg (8 lb 8 oz)
Length 1,021 millimetres (40.2 in), M59/66 length 1,117 millimetres (44.0 in)
Barrel length 521 millimetres (20.5 in), M59/66 558.8 millimetres (22.00 in)

Cartridge 7.62×39mm
Action Short stroke gas piston, tilting bolt, self-loading
Rate of fire Semi-automatic
Muzzle velocity 715 m/s
Effective range 500 metres (550 yd)
Feed system 10-round internal box magazine, 10-round stripper clip-fed or individual round loading
Sights Hooded post front sight, tangent notch rear sight graduated from 100 to 1,000 meters

The SKS is a Soviet semi-automatic rifle chambered for the 7.62x39mm round, designed in 1945 by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov. SKS is an acronym for Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova, 1945 (Russian: Самозарядный карабин системы Симонова, 1945; Self-loading Carbine of (the) Simonov system, 1945), or SKS 45. The Soviets rather quickly phased the SKS carbine out of front-line service, replacing it with the AK-47, but it remained in second-line service for decades. It remains a ceremonial arm today. It was widely exported and produced by the former Eastern Bloc nations, as well as China, where it was designated the "Type 56", East Germany as the "Karabiner S" and in North Korea as the "Type 63". It is today popular on the civilian surplus market in many countries. The SKS was one of the first weapons chambered for the 7.62x39mm M43 round later used in the AK-47 and RPD.


Technical specifications

Yugoslavian SKS M59/66 with a rifle grenade launcher and folding bayonet

The SKS has a conventional carbine layout, with a wooden stock and no pistol grip. Most versions are fitted with an integral folding bayonet which hinges down from the end of the barrel, and some versions, such as the Yugoslavian-made M59/66 variant, are equipped with a grenade launching attachment. As with the American M1 carbine, the SKS is shorter and less powerful than the semi-automatic rifles which preceded it—most notably, the Soviet SVT series and the American M1 Garand. Contrary to popular belief, the SKS is a carbine and not a modern assault rifle, because it does not meet all the criteria for such a weapon. The basic design lacks both selective fire capability, and a detachable magazine. Some selective-fire variants were produced in the PRC, and many SKS's have been modified in various ways to accept detachable magazines; however, the basic design of the SKS is semi-automatic and fixed-magazine in nature. The carbine's ten-round box magazine is fed from a stripper clip (see below), and rounds stored in the magazine can be removed by depressing a magazine catch (thus opening the "floor" of the magazine and allowing the rounds to fall out) located forward of the trigger guard.


A standard SKS is semi-automatic and has a fixed/hinged 10 round internal magazine which is loaded from the top of the rifle either by manually inserting the ammunition one round at a time or with a 10-round stripper clip. In typical military use the stripper clips are disposable. If necessary they can be reloaded multiple times and reused. The SKS is a gas-operated weapon that has a spring-loaded operating rod and a gas piston rod that work the action via gas pressure pushing against them. Also, it has a "tilting bolt" action locking system. Some variants of the SKS have been modified, with limited success, to accept AK-47 detachable magazines (military rifles designed with fixed magazines often experience feed jams when modified to accept detachable magazines, and the SKS is no exception). Norinco had, at one point, manufactured the SKS-M, SKS-D, and MC-5D models which were engineered from the factory to accept AKM magazines without problems (though the wood stock must be relieved to accept drum magazines). The SKS also has a slightly longer barrel than AK-series rifles, with a fractionally higher muzzle velocity.

The SKS can be quickly reloaded using disposable 10-round stripper clips.

While early Russian models had spring-loaded firing pins, most variants of the SKS have a free floating firing pin within the bolt. Because of this design, care must be taken during cleaning (especially after long storage) to ensure that the firing pin does not stick in the forward position within the bolt. SKS firing pins that are stuck in the forward position have been known to cause accidental "slamfires" (uncontrolled automatic fire that empties the magazine, starting when the bolt is released). This behavior is less likely with the hard primer military-spec ammo for which the SKS was designed, but as with any rifle users should properly maintain their firearms. For collectors, slamfires are more likely when the bolt still has remnants of cosmoline embedded in it. The firing pin is triangular in cross section, and slamfires can also result if the firing pin is inserted upside down. Third party kits are available that can put old-style spring-loaded firing pins in SKS's that did not come with them, increasing the reliability and reducing the chance of slamfires.

In most variants (pre-1970 Yugoslav models being the most notable exception), the barrel is chrome-lined for increased wear and heat tolerance from sustained fire and to resist corrosion from chlorate primed corrosive ammunition, as well as to facilitate cleaning. Chrome bore lining is common in military rifles. Although it can diminish practical accuracy, this is not a real limit on field grade accuracy in a weapon of this type.

All military SKSs have a bayonet attached to the underside of the barrel, which is extended and retracted via a spring-loaded hinge (some are removable whereas some are permanent). Both blade and spike bayonets were produced. The SKS is easily field stripped and reassembled with no tools. The rifle has a cleaning kit stored in a trapdoor in the buttstock, with a cleaning rod running under the barrel, in the same style as the AK-47. In common with some other Soviet-era designs, the SKS trades some accuracy for ruggedness, reliability, ease of maintenance, ease of use, and low manufacturing cost. The SKS is a simple design that is highly effective and rugged.


An AK-47 without its magazine (top) and an SKS

During World War II, many countries realized that existing rifles, such as the Mosin-Nagant, were too long and heavy and fired powerful cartridges that were effective in medium machineguns with a range in excess of 2000 meters, creating excessive recoil. These cartridges, such as the 7.92x57mm Mauser, .303 British, .30-06 Springfield, and 7.62x54mmR were effective in rifles to ranges of up to 1,000 meters (1,100 yd); however, it was noted that most firefights took place at maximum ranges of between 100 meters (110 yd) and 300 meters (330 yd). Only a highly-trained specialist, such as a sniper, could employ the full-power rifle cartridge to its true potential. Both the Soviet Union and Germany realized this and designed new weapons for smaller, intermediate-power cartridges. The US fielded an intermediate round in the .30 US, now known as the .30 Carbine, and M1 carbines were fielded in large numbers.

The German approach was the production of a series of intermediate cartridges and rifles in the interwar period, eventually developing the Maschinenkarabiner, or machine-carbine, which later evolved into the Sturmgewehr 44 Sturmgewehr, or "assault rifle", which was produced during the war, chambered in the 7.92x33mm Kurz intermediate round.

The Soviet Union type qualified a new intermediate round in 1943. A small number of SKS rifles were tested on the front line in early 1945 against the Germans in World War II.[2]

Design-wise, the SKS relies on the AVS-36 (developed by same the designer, Simonov) to a point that some consider it a shortened AVS-36, stripped of select-fire capability and rechambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge.[3][4] It also owes a debt to the SVT-40 and Mosin-Nagant rifles that it replaced, incorporating both the semi-automatic firepower of the SVT (albeit in a more manageable cartridge) and the small size and integral bayonet of the bolt-action carbine.

In 1949, the SKS was officially adopted into the Soviet Army, produced at the Tula Armory from 1949 until 1955 and the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant in 1953 and 1954. Although the quality of Russian SKS rifles manufactured at these state-run arsenals was quite high, its design was already obsolete compared to the Kalashnikov which was selective-fire, lighter, had three times the magazine capacity, and had the potential to be less labor-intensive to manufacture. Gradually over the next few years, AK-47 production increased until the extant SKS carbines in service were relegated primarily to non-infantry and to second-line troops. They remained in service in this fashion even as late as the 1980s, and possibly the early 1990s. To this day, the SKS carbine is used by some ceremonial Russian honor guards, much the same way the M1 Garand is within the United States; it is far less ubiquitous than the AK-47 but both original Russian SKS rifles and copies can still be found today in civilian hands as well as in the hands of third-world militias and insurgent groups.

The SKS was to be a gap-filling firearm produced using the proven operating mechanism design of the PTRS and using proven milled forging manufacturing techniques. This was to provide a fallback for the radically new and experimental design of the AK-47, in the event that the AK proved to be a failure. In fact, the original stamped receiver AK-47 had to be quickly redesigned to use a milled receiver which delayed production, and extended the SKS rifles' service life.


1968, A Viet Cong soldier crouches in an underground tunnel with an SKS rifle.

The SKS fell out of service amongst its client nations during the 1960s and 1970s, although Vietnam still has military police units armed with the SKS. Many surplus SKS rifles were disposed of in the 1990s, and photographs and stories exist of SKS rifles used by guerilla fighters in Bosnia, Somalia and throughout Africa and South-East Asia[5] during the 1990s and 2000s. Several African, Asian, and Middle Eastern armies still use the SKS.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union shared the design and manufacturing details with its allies, and as a result, many variants of the SKS exist. Some variants use a 30-round AK-47 style magazine (Chinese Type 63), gas port controls, flip-up night sights, and prominent, muzzle-mounted grenade launchers (Yugoslav M59/66, possibly North Korean Type 63). In total, SKS rifles were manufactured by the Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia, Albania, North Korea, Vietnam, and East Germany (Kar. S) with limited pilot production (Model 56) in Romania and Poland (Wz49). Physically, all are very similar, although the NATO-specification 22 mm grenade launcher of the Yugoslav version, and the more encompassing stock of the Albanian version are visually distinctive. Early versions of Chinese Type 56s (produced 1965–71) used a spike bayonet, whereas the majority use a vertically aligned blade. Many smaller parts, most notably the sights and charging handles, were unique to different national production runs. A small quantity of SKS carbines manufactured in 1955–56 were produced in China with Russian parts, presumably as part of a technology sharing arrangement. Many Yugoslav M59/66 series rifles were exported to Uruguay and Mozambique[citation needed]; the Mozambique versions having teakwood stocks, the wood supplied by that nation. The vast majority of Yugoslav M59 and M59/66s have elm, walnut and beech stocks. Russian SKS's had stocks of Arctic Birch (or "Russian Birch"), and the Chinese were of Catalpa wood ("Chu wood").[6] SKS carbines have also made appearances in recent conflicts in Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Today the SKS is in service with Cambodia, China, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam, as well as many other countries in Africa.

Nations that utilized the SKS but did not receive manufacturing rights included Afghanistan, Congo, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Mongolia, Morocco, the United Arab Republic (Egypt), and the Yemen People's Democratic Republic.


Yugoslavian M59/66 with the muzzle formed into a spigot-type grenade launcher and a folding ladder grenade sight behind the front sight.
Chinese Type 56 semi-automatic carbine (Chinese SKS).
SKS with the magazine closed (top) and open. The magazine release is circled.
A blade-type bayonet in its closed and open positions

After World War II, the SKS design was licensed or sold to a number of the Soviet Union's allies, including China, Yugoslavia, Albania, North Korea, Vietnam, East Germany, Romania and Poland. Most of these nations produced nearly identical variants, with the most common modifications being differing styles of bayonets and the 22 mm rifle grenade launcher commonly seen on Yugoslavian models.

Differences from the "baseline" late Russian Tula Armory/Izhevsk Armory SKS:

  • Russian (1949–1956): Early (1949–1951) Spike-style bayonet (1949) instead of blade-style. Squared-off gas block (1949 to early 1950) instead of the rounded one more commonly seen. Spring-return firing pin on early models (1949-early 1951). The gas block had 3 changes: (Squared-off) is the 90-degree angle, that's First stage production, 1949 to early 1950. Second gas block production type: (1950–1951) cut at 45-degree angle. Third gas block production type: (1952-55/56) Rounded inward or Cut Curved inward.
  • Soviet Honor Guard: All-chrome metal parts, with a lighter-colored wood stock.
  • Chinese Type 56 (1956-): Numerous minor tweaks, including lack of milling on the bolt carrier, partially or fully stamped (as opposed to milled) receivers, and differing types of thumb rest on the takedown lever. The Chinese continually revised the SKS manufacturing process, so variation can be seen even between two examples from the same factory. All of the Type 56 carbine rifles have been removed from military service, except a few being used for ceremonial purposes and by local Chinese Militias. Type 56 carbines with serial numbers below 9,000,000 have the Russian-style blade-type folding bayonet, while those 9,000,000 and higher have a "spike" type folding bayonet. Some early examples are known as "Sino-Soviet", meaning they were produced by China, but with cooperation from Russian "advisers" who helped regulate the factories and provided the design specifications.[4]
  • Chinese Honor Guard: Mostly, but not all, chromed metal parts. Does not generally have the lighter-colored stock as the Soviet Honor Guard variant.
  • Chinese Type 63, 68, 73, 81, 84: Only a close relative to the SKS, these rifles shared features from several east-bloc rifles (SKS, AK-47, Dragunov). AK-47 style rotary bolt and detachable magazine. The Type 68 featured a stamped sheet-steel receiver. The 81 is an upgraded Type 68 with a three-round burst capability, some of which (Type 81-1) have a folding stock. The Type 84 (known as an SKK) returns to semi-auto fire only, is modified to accept AK-47 magazines, and has a shorter 16" paratrooper barrel.
  • Chinese commercial production: Blonde wood ("Chu wood"/"Qiu wood" = Catalpa wood)[7] stock instead of dark wood, spike bayonet instead of blade, bayonet retaining bolt replaced with a rivet. Sub-variants include the M21, "Cowboy's Companion", Hunter, Models D/M, Paratrooper, Sharpshooter, and Sporter. Model D rifles used military style stocks and had bayonet lugs (although some were imported minus bayonet, and a small few minus the lug in order to meet changing US import restrictions). Model M rifles had no bayonet lug and used either a thumbhole or Monte Carlo–style stock. Both model D and M used AK-47 magazines and as a result had no bolt hold open feature on the rifle.
  • Romanian: Typically nearly identical to the late Russian model.
  • Polish SKS: Refurbished Soviet rifles. Polish laminated stocks lack storage area in back of stock for cleaning kit. A few hundred SKS's were given to Poland by the Soviet Union around 1954, SKS rifles still in use in ceremonial units of the Polish Army, Air Force, Navy where they replaced AWT rifles. Honour guards of the Polish Police and Border Guard also use SKS rifles. SKS rifles were never adopted by combat units. In Polish service they are known as ksS which stands for karabin samopowtarzalny Simonowa, Simonov's semi-automatic rifle.
  • Yugoslavian PAP M59: Barrel is not chrome-lined. PAP means "Polu-automatska puška" (Semi-automatic rifle) and the rifle was nicknamed "Papovka". Otherwise this rifle is nearly identical to the Russian version.
  • Yugoslavian PAP M59/66: Added 22 mm grenade launcher which appears visually like a flash suppressor or muzzle brake on the end of the barrel. Front sight has a fold-up "ladder" for use in grenade sighting (main sights on the A1 version have flip up phosphorus or tritium night sights). When the grenade sight is raised, the gas system is automatically blocked and the action must be manually cycled—rifle grenades must be fired with blank cartridges for safety, and this feature helps ensure that a live round is not loaded from the magazine. The gas system is not automatically unblocked when the sight is folded, however, and must be manually opened to again allow semi-automatic operation.[8] Barrel was not chrome-lined before about 1970. Both the grenade launcher and grenade sight are NATO spec. Stock is typically made from beech wood.
  • Albanian "July 10 Rifle": Longer stock and handguard on the gas tube, and AK-47 style charging handle. The magazine is slightly different in the shape visible from the outside. The stock has two compartments with two corresponding holes in the buttplate for cleaning implements instead of the single cleaning kit pocket. Like the Chinese Type 56 carbine, the Albanian version also features a spike bayonet permanently fixed onto the muzzle.
  • East German Karabiner-S: Extremely rare. Slot cut into back of stock for pull-through sling, similar to the slot in a Karabiner 98k . No storage area in back of stock or storage for cleaning rod under barrel.
  • North Korean Type 63: Extremely rare. At least three separate models were made. One "standard" model with blade bayonet, and a second with a gas shutoff and a grenade launcher, similar to the M59/66. The North Korean grenade launcher was detachable from the muzzle and the gas shutoff was different from the Yugoslavian model, however.[9] A third model appears to have side-swinging bayonet.[10]
  • Vietnamese Type 1: Extremely rare. Nearly identical to both the Russian and Sino-Soviet SKS. These are identified by a small star on the receiver with a 1 in the center. The barrel is chromed, as are many of the internal parts. It is unknown currently whether there are spiked bayonets or only bladed. The stock work is identical to more common SKS variants such as the Russian and Chinese. These appear to have been either converted Russian or Sino-Soviet models, or simply cloned from these rifles.

There is some debate as to the relative manufacturing quality of each nation's SKS production. The quality of Chinese SKSs varied significantly even among new rifles with some having screwed in barrels, milled trigger groups and bolt carriers with lightening reliefs cut into them being at the top end and cheaper rifles having pinned barrels, stamped trigger groups and slab-sided bolt carriers. Yugoslav types are generally considered to be better made than Chinese, yet the Chinese types typically have chrome lined barrels while the Yugoslav versions manufactured prior to 1970 do not, resulting in some Yugoslavian rifles having bores in considerably worse condition than even the cheapest Chinese SKSs. East German, Russian, and Albanian SKSs bring a higher price than those of other countries, the stock on the Albanian versions being of a slightly different manufacture and being rarer due to low production numbers. There were approximately 18,000 Albanian SKSs manufactured during the late 1960s until 1978, and of those, approximately half were destroyed. Most of the remaining East German SKSs had been sold/transferred to Croatia in the early 1990s. The interchangeability of many parts has resulted in rifles on the market that are a mixture of different parts of varying quality, sometimes including parts from different countries. Such rifles are usually referred to as "parts guns".


PLAN sailors at Qingdao, North Sea Fleet HQ, parading with Chinese Type 56 carbines.

Civilian use

Chinese Norinco SKS with bayonet removed

The SKS is popular on the civilian surplus market, especially in Canada and the United States. Because of their historic and novel nature, Russian and European SKS rifles are classified by the BATF as "Curio & Relic" items under US law, allowing them to be sold with features that might otherwise be restricted. Chinese manufactured rifles, even the rare early "Sino-Soviet" examples, are not so classified. Because of the massive size of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, over 8 million Chinese SKS rifles were produced during their 20 years of use making the Chinese SKS one of the most mass produced military rifles of all time.

In Australia, the Chinese SKS rifle (along with the Russian SKS rifle) was very popular with recreational hunters and target shooters during the 1980s and early 1990s before semi-automatic rifles were banned from legal ownership in 1996. Since the introduction of the 1996 gun bans in Australia, the Mosin-Nagant series of bolt-action rifles and carbines have now filled the void created when the SKS was banned from legal ownership.

A sporterised SKS carbine fitted with an aftermarket composite stock and scope rail.

In the early 1990s, the Chinese SKS rapidly became the "poor man's deer rifle" in some Southern areas of the United States due to its low price, lower even than such old favorites in that role as the Marlin 336. Importation of the Chinese SKS into the USA was banned in 1994.

Due to its relatively low cost and widespread availability and usage, the SKS has spawned a growing market for both replacement parts and accessories. Many aftermarket parts are available to modify the rifle—sometimes so considerably that it bears little resemblance to the original firearm. This may include items such as synthetic stocks, pistol grips, higher capacity magazines, replacement receiver covers (to allow the mounting of scopes, lasers, etc.), different muzzle brakes, recoil buffers, bipods, and more.

Legal issues

The carbine's integral 10-round magazine is not an issue in those states and nations which prohibit higher-capacity magazines, except Canada,[16] where it must be pinned to 5 rounds or the rifles must be retrofitted with 5 shot magazines. Where higher capacity magazines are legally permitted, there are a number of secondary market vendors that sell higher capacity magazines of up to 30 rounds (or more). These secondary market magazines may be installed by first removing the fixed OEM magazine (a process that involves the removal of the trigger group assembly with a pin punch, screwdriver, bullet-tip, or similar device). However, although the 7.62x39mm round is generally compared to the American Winchester .30-30, many states have laws against hunting rifles with magazines of more than 5 rounds. Magazine plugs limiting the magazine to 5 rounds must be used for hunting in these states.

While aftermarket detachable magazines may be simple to install, doing so may be illegal under certain circumstances or even in some vicinities. SKS rifles with detachable magazines are banned in the US states of California and New Jersey. They are also banned in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago and many suburbs.

An often overlooked law in the US, with regards to the modifications of the SKS is U.S.C. 922 (r), which regulates imported rifles with certain features the BATFE defines as not being suitable for sporting purposes. This law requires a certain number of "compliance parts" of US manufacture to be installed on any modified SKS.


  1. ^ a b c d e Hogg, Ian (2002). Jane's Guns Recognition Guide. Jane's Information Group. ISBN 0-00-712760-X.
  2. ^ "Modern Firearms - Rifle - SKS carbine". Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  3. ^ OP-SKS Article
  4. ^ a b Collecting and Shooting the SKS Carbine
  5. ^ "Refugees 'forced to become guerillas'". The Sydney Morning Herald. January 25, 2003. 
  6. ^ "Yooper John's SKS - Battle rifle of many nations". Retrieved June 30,2011. 
  7. ^ Yooper John's SKS - Battle rifle of many nations
  8. ^
  9. ^ Pictures of North Korean SKSs (middle of page)
  10. ^ Picture of North Korean SKSs (side swinging bayonet at bottom)
  11. ^ a b c d Miller, David (2001). The Illustrated Directory of 20th Century Guns. Salamander Books Ltd. ISBN 1-84065-245-4.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Jones, Richard D. Jane's Infantry Weapons 2009/2010. Jane's Information Group; 35 edition (January 27, 2009). ISBN 978-0710628695.
  13. ^ images of Cuban honor guardsmen with SKS carbines on the page.
  14. ^ images of Polish honor guardsmen with SKS carbines on the page.
  15. ^ The Polish Use of the SKS on
  16. ^ Canada firearm regulations pertaining to magazine capacity

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