First focus on this: Is the AK-47 the first weapon of choice for insurgents and rebels? Which assault rifle would they prefer over it? Probably something more expensive… cost does relate with function. The FN SCAR and HK-416 are some examples of this. The British SA-80, French FAMAS, Chinese QBZ-95, IWI Tavor, Steyr Aug, and M4 are all some options that a client rebel group if it had the luxury of choice.
They all have trending features of the modern times which 1960’s era AKM’s do not; lighter and tougher materials, modularity, a more evolved caliber than the WWII-era designed 7.62x39mm, and their own fundamental design differences from the Kalashnikov. There is a multi-generational gap in technology in what is called “AK-47” and the assault rifles that exist today.
So the answer is no the AK-47 is not seriously a weapon of choice for anybody. Any operator would in the least prefer a more modern derivative of the AK-47; the AK-74, AK-74M, AK-12, or the AK-15. The AK-47 was long phased out of Russian service not only because soldiers are bored with it. The newer assault rifles are better in every way including durability owned to the stronger materials. For an unconventional guerrilla, however, the Kalashnikov remains the clear platform of choice for the following reasons:
Simplicity, ease of use:
Human beings are no more competent in maintaining and operating a combat rifle than they were 70 years ago, which is to say the demand for training has remained the same, and lack of it has the same problems for combat effectiveness. A rebel force is hard-pressed for the funding and facility needed for sufficient training of troops. Therefore the Kalashnikov remains more effective in the hands of a fighting force that has issues with training shortage.
It’s easier and faster to disassemble and reassemble, which has to be done in between each engagement. The Kalashnikov has no small parts which could go missing in a routine field strip, and cannot be improperly reassembled. The chrome lined barrel is not easily damaged due to aggressive cleaning.
Weapon systems like the HK-416 must be cleaned with the best gun cleaning oils specified by H&K supplied manual. The AK-47 and it’s modern examples may be cleaned with petrol, soap or saliva as long as it’s not acidic or corrosive. Using nothing more than cloth tied to shoe strings for cleaning the barrel and gas tube.
Sustained rate of fire:
This quality isn’t unique to guerrillas, sustained rate of fire. This is simply limited by three factors; heat buildup, ammo supply and fouling buildup. The Kalashnikov is legendary for it’s reliability, which is a separate matter, but it’s gas system was also one of the best platforms for working through fouling build up only until recently.
The HK416 and FN SCAR are among two notable assault rifles able to continue firing through considerable carbon fouling buildup. The Austrian Steyr Aug and FN SCAR even feature quick change barrels which allows for a boost in sustained rate of fire.
User skill orientation:
This simply means the particular weapon that a veteran has had the most experience with. If a rebel group was to be supplied by an exotic NATO-designed assault rifle, they won’t be as efficient with it as soldiers of a NATO member military who have trained with it for their entire career.
Rebels tend to be ex soldiers from their country of origin and have received formal training with the Kalashnikov more often than other platforms. Even adjusting from the AKM to the newer variants chambered in 5.45x39mm would take some time for familiarity with it’s ballistics and controllability.
A wealthy rebel group would surely kit it’s army with a few other assault rifle platforms better suited for it’s special uses. For example something with better accuracy and range for it’s special forces units.
For sake of user familiarity, they might consider the Russian AN-94 which is used by Russian special forces, has similar ergonomics to the Kalashnikov. The AN-94 is issued with 1PN93-1 Night Vision scope which also accepts tactical magnified scopes. It has effective range of 700 meters which special forces qualified shooters are capable of.
A field commander’s rifle of choice would be the AKS-74U which combines the same firepower in a smaller and lighter package. They spend more time communicating, observing and issuing orders than actually fighting.
The trade-off with the legendary Kalashnikov is accuracy found in other designs with tighter tolerances and less rambunctious cycling action of short-stroke or direct impingement type. With more accuracy comes greater effective range but assault rifles are naturally used to assault positions. Not much greater emphasis on range is required than that of other firearms types: the machine gun, the sniper rifle or the designated marksman rifle.
Who invented the AK 47 assault rifle?