An AK built in America? What’s next, socialized medicine? Government-run car manufacturers? A cult of personality around our Premier? Maybe an American-made version of the AK should come as no surprise in 2010. But forget about the subliminal message of one of the first commercially available, 100-percent U.S.-made AK-47 variants; the Centurion 39 Sporter from Century International Arms is a firearm worthy of distinction.
For more photos of the Centurion 39 Sporter, click here.
There’s nothing shocking about the gun itself. It is functionally identical to any standard AK-47. That, however, is where the similarities between the Centurion and its commie forbearers end. Just a passing glance informs you it’s an American take on a Kalashnikov. With components previously available only as aftermarket add-ons—like a railed fore-end, polymer stock and a finish that doesn’t scream, “I spent 50 years in a Bulgarian warehouse before Boris decided to ship me abroad”—it speaks to the individuality craved by American shooters and marks a stark departure from the foreboding, yet conformist, styling of traditional AKs.
Century’s Vermont facility has been a popular location for Boris to ship his surplus semi-automatic rifles over the two decades since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe triggered a rush on Warsaw Pact firearms that has yet to wane. From SKSs to Makarovs to AK variants like the fun-to-shoot and affordable WASR-10, Century has been a leader in bringing these guns to the American market. It makes sense that in the midst of the tactical revolution in the U.S. firearm market, Century decided to cut out the middleman on the most-coveted Soviet design. After two years spent working on a manufacturing plan, including designing a proprietary chevron-style compensator and sourcing various parts to other domestic manufacturers, the Centurion was born.
There’s more to this rifle than a simple Kalashnikov clone-job. User-friendly features abound, including a windage-adjustable rear sight, a red front sight post for easy acquisition, a railed fore-end and a longer stock for a more standard length of pull. Since these additions address many complaints from American shooters, the Centurion is sure to win some converts who have as yet avoided an AK-style rifle.
Even the functional bits mimic the AK with greater panache than most imports. The receiver is not stamped like the ubiquitous AKM variants brought in en masse from Eastern Bloc nations, but rather CNC-machined from a solid billet of ordnance-quality 4140 steel. Both it and the barrel are Parkerized for a more finished look than most AKs on the market, which appear to have been buried on a Romanian collective farm for decades.
The Centurion’s trigger is a thing of beauty for a Kalashnikov. It is a single-stage, Tapco G2 model that broke at just more than 6 pounds, an astonishingly crisp and light trigger for an AK-47. Tapco also produces the two, 30-round, polymer magazines that come with the Centurion. While they follow the traditional AK magazine shape, their synthetic construction ensures they won’t get the dings so common on metal surplus variants. They also offer superior purchase, so you can more easily recharge the Centurion without fumbling around in your gear pouch. Practicing the famed AK mag change using this model was a cinch, and the magazines showed no sign of damage after falling onto a hard surface during the procedure.
Century designed the rifle’s railed fore-end, and it will be pleasing to most shooters. Not only is it of the quad-rail style, with accessory mounting points on all four sides, but it also has a nice, textured grip area. What’s more, it won’t heat up to the point of burning after extended rapid-fire like wooden AK handguards. Running 60 or 90 rounds at fast pace through the Centurion won’t render it inoperable by human hands for 15 minutes. The top rail allows for mounting optics without the use of a cumbersome claw mount, though its forward position requires either a scout scope or an unmagnified dot or holographic sight.
Another Century design is the gun’s proprietary chevron compensator. This device directs gas upward at the muzzle, reducing climb and making the Centurion simple to keep on target during shooting.
I found it vastly superior to the slanted muzzle device found on AKMs. It also adds a distinctive look to this unique AK.
The sights are innovative, but not innovative enough for my taste. A red, plastic front sight post is easy to pick up and offers good contrast with most targets. It is also hidden from the sides by curved wings, so it won’t give your position away to an enemy not already covered by the muzzle. Though the rear sight resembles a traditional Kalashnikov notched rear tangent sight, it is adjustable for windage as well as elevation, a nice touch. But, as on conventional AKs, the rear sight is located in front of the chamber. This arrangement results in a very short sight radius, which impedes accuracy. In designing the Centurion, I think Century would have been better served to move the rear sight back to the stern, akin to the sights on a Valmet or Galil. This would provide a longer sight radius and make it easier to shoot to the gun’s full accuracy potential, though it would look less like an AK. Still, with all of the Centurion’s improvements over so many imported Kalashnikovs, the rear sight is one area where greater modification would have been welcome.
For the consumer, the benefits offered by a U.S.-made AK go beyond buying a domestic product. If you want to modify an imported, semi-automatic you have to replace half of its parts with U.S.-made components lest you run afoul of the law. Domestically produced guns require no such hoop jumping. Want to swap the Centurion’s fixed stock for a collapsible or foldable version? No problem. You don’t need to worry about whether your domestic part count meets ATF guidelines.
It is, however, very unlikely that you’ll find much in need of modification on this rifle. The Centurion is a great gun when it comes out of the box. Shooting a variety of 7.62×39 mm ammo, it produced consistent groups superior to any Kalashnikov-style rifle I have fired. It experienced no malfunctions or stoppages, but then again, it’s an AK, and such things are seldom an issue for a system that can see constant use with little or no maintenance for years and still be a formidable firearm.
The original People’s Liberation Rifle may have been made in worker’s paradises like East Germany and the Soviet Union, but the latest version comes from Vermont. At a suggested retail price of nearly $1,100, the Centurion 39 won’t be liberating many peasants. It is a steep price for an AK, but this is no ordinary Kalashnikov. Since it’s made entirely in the United States, your money will help our own workers rather than export the revolution abroad.
Century International Arms may not have reinvented the wheel with the Centurion, but it took a battle-proven foreign design, added many of the improvements requested by American shooters and produced a modern take on the AK. If that’s not the change we’ve been hoping for, what is?
Manufacturer: Century International Arms; (561) 265-4500
Action Type: Gas-operated, semi-automatic
Caliber: 7.62×39 mm
Capacity: 30 rounds
Receiver: CNC-machined 4140 steel, Parkerized
Stock: Synthetic; lengthened AKM-style
Barrel: 16.5 inches, Parkerized
Rifling: 4 grooves; 1:10-inch RH twist
Sights: Red front post; notched rear adjustable for windage and elevation
Trigger Pull Weight: 6 pounds, 2 ounces
Overall Length: 37.25 inches
Weight: 8 pounds, 3 ounces
Accessories: Two Tapco 30-round polymer magazines