Brad Thor on AKs

posted on August 17, 2015
As someone who sets his thrillers in the global worlds of espionage and special operations, it’s imperative that I get the arms, gear and tactics in my books spot-on. In fact, next to “Where do you get the ideas for your novels?” one of the questions I am most often asked is “How do you research and select all of the equipment your characters use?”

I am fortunate to have built a network of impressive people who have been charged with executing some of our nation’s most dangerous business, as well as a host of folks who outfit and support them. All of these Americans are the epitome of the “quiet professional.” Most of their endeavors will never be made public. Some of their operations, though, have made headlines worldwide.

It’s a fascinating well of talent and knowledge for me to be able to draw from, especially when it comes to guns and gear. I want my books to be as real as possible. That’s why I call my books “faction.” Facts are the bedrock of a great thriller. If you blow those, you won’t keep the knowledgeable, discerning reader turning the pages—especially not the type of reader who reads Shooting Illustrated.

So, right from page one of my new thriller, “Code of Conduct,” I reached out to some of the most knowledgeable people I could find.

The novel opens in Africa, and I was fortunate enough to have recently been introduced to an amazing Special Forces operator with extensive experience in (among other places) Somalia, Kenya and Congo. The first thing I learned from him was that the rifles I had been preparing to write about weren’t necessarily wrong, but they weren’t necessarily right, either.

My main character was flying into Congo on a civilian aircraft. Bringing in his own firearms from the United States was out of the question. He had engaged a local team of private contractors—four Brits, formerly SAS.

Because I am used to writing about high-end units, I am used to kitting them out with the absolute best, high-end equipment, especially when it comes to long guns. “Keep it simple,” my source said, referring to the private contractors and their rifles. “Make it AK-47s.”

He was right, of course. My desire to equip the Brits with FN FALs wouldn’t have been wrong, especially in a place like Congo, but it also wouldn’t have been the absolute right fit, which is what I strive for. The AK-47 was the correct rifle for this mission.

Billed as “the most popular and widely used” battle rifle on the planet with more than 100 million produced, I had not seen the AK-47 in action until I travelled to Afghanistan in 2008 to research my thriller “The Apostle.” Up to that point, I had looked down my nose at the gun, classifying it as the rifle of choice for terrorists and the Soviet military. The more I learned about it, though, the more my respect for the AK-47 grew.

What really tipped me over the edge was how robust the platform is. It is capable of taking an amazing beating on the battlefield under any kind of weather conditions. When (or even if) its owner chooses to clean it, the AK only has a handful of moving parts and can be rapidly fieldstripped and reassembled. I heard stories of Afghans in the field doing nothing more than tying knots in their bootlaces and running them through their barrels in order to keep their AKs functioning.

Thanks to its robust gas piston, ample margins between moving parts and the tapered cartridge case of its 7.62x39 mm ammunition, the AK-47 is able to continue to cycle even in the presence of sand, mud and other debris. But there’s a trade-off: accuracy. (No doubt, this plays into the undisciplined “spray and pray” method sometimes demonstrated by foreign fighters when discharging their AKs.)

Finally, in researching the AK-47, I learned two interesting tidbits that didn’t make it into my new book. In Mexico, the AK-47 is also known by gangsters as a cuernos de chivo, or “horn of the goat” because of its curved magazine. In some parts of Africa, Kalash is a popular boy’s name derived from the AK-47’s full name, Avtomat Kalashnikova taken from the name of its inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Of course, AKs are far from the only firearms and associated gear making an appearance in “Code of Conduct.” In the world of clandestine operations, suppressors play a very important role and have been featured prominently in my novels, and this one is no exception, even the chapters set in Congo.

Part of being a successful operator is being able to improvise. That’s why the first suppressor I introduce in the novel is a DIY piece cobbled together in Congo using a particular type of fuel filter. The idea for it came from a buddy of mine in the intelligence community, and let’s just say it fit the bill perfectly.

The other two suppressors I chose were a SureFire SOCOM and a Knight’s Armament Company (KAC) H&K USP-T model. The SureFire SOCOM was suggested by Mark LaRue when I asked him to help me design the perfect sniper package based upon LaRue Tactical’s exceptional PredatOBR rifle. One look into the suppressor’s background, and I understood why.

This suppressor underwent the most rigorous testing the United States Special Operations Command ever conducted. It is incredibly compact, lightweight and attaches and detaches in the blink of an eye. In addition to providing outstanding reduction in sound and dust signatures, it has been combat-proven under some of the harshest conditions on the planet.

There are a host of other technical features that make this suppressor so superior, including the virtual elimination of first-round flash and reduced backpressure that lowers the suppressed cyclic rate and gas blowback toward the action. For my purposes as an author, the fact that this is the most advanced rifle suppressor in the world and is chosen by our most elite warriors sealed the deal for me, and got it included in the new book.

KAC has had a long relationship with the U.S. Navy SEALs. I wanted to pay homage to that relationship by putting one of the company’s renowned suppressors on the Heckler & Koch 45 Compact Tactical pistol carried by my main character, also a SEAL, at the end of the book. As the character is going into a marine environment, I wanted him to have equipment that would not only stand up to the elements, but that he had experience using and knew wouldn’t fail. And, as I always have an eye toward the movie version of my novels, I know that the iconic, dimpled KAC can will pop on the big screen— especially for those who know their suppressors.

Something else that always pops on the big screen is Heckler & Koch’s most iconic submachine gun, the MP5. With more than 100 variants, it is suited to a host of tactical applications and has become a staple in real-world and fictional counterterrorism scenarios.

In “Code of Conduct,” I include the suppressed version of the MP5, the 9 mm MP5SD. I had a picture of it on my wall when I was writing my very first novel more than a decade ago. In a word, it’s sexy—very sexy. It’s also incredibly accurate. The MP5’s most valuable features in my mind, though, are that it doesn’t require special subsonic ammunition and is perfect for low-light/nighttime operations, because its muzzle flash is so well suppressed.

But as much as I love the MP5, my favorite H&K product I have in the new book is the MP7A2. It is more compact, lighter in weight and virtually recoil-free. Chambered for the 4.6x30 mm cartridge, its penetration and terminal effects are several times that of 9 mm. It can penetrate 1.6 mm of Titanium and 20 layers of Kevlar, even out to 200 meters, all with the risk of over-penetration kept to a minimum. Comprising such a small package, the ways in which the MP7A2 can be carried are endless—it can even be worn in a holster like a pistol.

From a compact personal-defense weapon meant for working up close, to another product meant to help reach out and touch people much farther away, I included an awe-inspiring, extended-long-range thermal weapon sight known as the HISS-XLR. Designed for long-range sniper operations, target acquisition, reconnaissance or remote surveillance, the HISS-XLR was another part of the package I asked Mark LaRue to help me put together for the book. It allows the user to see targets in total darkness, through smoke, fog and most obscurants. In other words, don’t even bother to run because you can’t hide.

The HISS XLR weighs less than 4 pounds, has a 240 mm focal length and is compatible with scopes up to 25X. It comes with a built-in DVR and removable SD card, can be immersed in 3 feet of water for two hours and provides for the engagement of targets from 1,500 to 2,000 meters. And, as a note to my wife, it also now sits atop my Christmas wish list.

Also on that Christmas list and featured prominently in “Code of Conduct” is an Iridium GO! Being able to communicate, whether you’re on a clandestine operation or in a grid-down scenario is critical. Even if you’re just camping, sailing, hiking or exploring off-grid, it’s nice to know you can summon help if necessary, or just stay in touch with news/weather/events and the people back home. Built to military-grade standards, the Iridium GO! is a tiny, ruggedized device that provides satellite connectivity for your smartphone, laptop and tablet—up to five different devices at once. It’s smaller than a 50-round box of 9 mm and is like carrying your own cell tower right in your pocket.

Rounding out my favorite gear from “Code of Conduct” are two items from CRKT. Ever since being introduced to the knives of famed knifemaker and martial artist James Williams, I have become a big fan. If you read my Shooting Illustrated article about the weapons and gear in my previous novel, “Act of War,” you’ll recall that I included one of Williams’ tactical folders called the “Otanashi noh Ken.” This time, I included his remarkable fixed-blade created for Special Forces operators called the “Shinbu.” I could write an entire article on how cool this knife is. In fact, in all fairness, “knife” really doesn’t seem like the proper term. At almost 15 inches long, it’s more like a short-sword—a really badass short-sword.

With a long, tapered tip, the 9.25-inch blade is designed for maximum slashing and penetration capability. It is meant to be part of an operator’s toolbox, specifically for when a firearm may not be available or practical. It has a cord-wrapped handle, ray skin underlay and comes complete with a custom-fitted Kydex sheath that can be mounted in a multitude of fashions.

The second CRKT product I included is an ingenious and practical device no Soldier or outdoor enthusiast will want to be without. I have more gear and pieces of clothing with hook-and-loop closures than I know what to do with. Until now, I used my car keys or the tip of my knife (both bad ideas) to clean out the dirt and debris from the material. Trip Felton and I have a mutual friend who introduced me to Felton’s new Hook and Loop Tool. It also comes with a boot pick, which works much better than a rock or a stick when you need to clean caked-up mud from your boots. This makes a terrific (and thoughtful) gift for anyone on your list who gets dirty for a living or just for the fun of it.

I’m always on the lookout for solid guns and gear to include in my writing, and I always strive to get the details correct. If you have any weapons or gear you think I should include in a future book or for an upcoming Shooting Illustrated article, please visit me on Facebook: /BradThorOfficial or Twitter: @BradThor


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