Saturday 6 February 2021

Made in Armenia: Turkmenistan operates the K6-92 SMG

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

The Republic of Armenia isn't particularly well known for its military industry, and its arms exports have hitherto remained undocumented. Despite being the host of a promising arms R&D scene throughout much of the 1990s, a lack of funding and orders halted further development before it ever had the chance to really take off. Although offshoots of its designs would later become popular in Chechnya and with criminals throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), this is where the exploits of Armenia's small arms industry were thought to have ended. 
That is until several examples of an Armenian-designed submachine gun (SMG) made a surprise appearance in Turkmenistan. The weapon is question is the K6-92 SMG (92 stands for the year it was first produced in: 1992), a simple blowback submachine gun designed in 1991 as a cheap and easy-to-build weapon in the anticipation of an all-out war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karbakh that was looming at the time. The K6-92's most notable aspect is perhaps its distinctive crude finish, which almost gives it the appearance of an improvised firearm.

Looks aside, the K6-92 is quite an effective SMG and by virtue of its influence also the most successful Armenian arms design. In fact, some of our readers might already have noticed the similarity between the K6-92 and the Chechen 'Borz' (Wolf) SMG, a designation given to a whole range of improvised SMGs hailing mostly from Chechnya that were originally patterned after the K6-92's design, but in later iterations had little in common except for their outward appearance.

Upon modern Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country almost immediately set out to establish an indigenous small arms industry to complement the AK(M) and AK-74 rifles, PK(M) machine guns and SVD marksman rifles it had just inherited. One of the first attempts at producing a firearm was made by Vahan S. Manasian, who also lend his name to the design of the assault rifle (Vahan). Chambered in 5.45x39mm, the Vahan was an interesting albeit dated attempt at designing an assault rifle, and was never seriously considered for adoption by the Armenian Army.
The Vahan may have been lacking in innovative features, Armenia's next attempt at designing an assault rifle more than made than up for it. The 5.45x39mm K3 bullpup assault rifle is the most advanced design coming out of Armenia. Nonetheless, it appears that production ceased shortly after its inception in 1996, likely due to an absence of any actual orders. Although it is sometimes speculated that the small numbers produced found their way to select units of Armenia's special forces, these reports appear to stem entirely from the sighting of K-3 rifles in the hands of a segment of special forces during Armenia's 2006 independence day parade. Never seen in (operational) use again, this appears to have been a one-off publicity stunt.

During the same period, Armenian arms manufacturer Garni-ler also set out to design a series of marksman rifles known as the K11. Bearing outward resemblance to a hunting rifle or even an eleborate toy gun, the project doesn't appear to have advanced beyond prototype status. Attempts to develop the K2 semi-automatic pistol, V1 SMG and the 12.7mm K15 anti-materiel rifle all appear to have met a similar fate. The continued acquisition of foreign weaponry and more recently the license production of the Russian AK-103 assault rifle appear to have put an end to the possibility of future Armenian arms designs entering service. [1] Of course, production of the proven AK-103 assault rifle is no small feat, and will almost certainly benefit Armenia (and its small arms industry) more than any indigenous design could.

And so it happened that Armenia's first and arguably least ambitious attempt at designing a firearm also became its most successful one. The K6-92 submachine gun is a simple weapon capable of single-shot or fully-automatic firing. Chambered in 9x18mm Makarov, the weapon uses a 24-round detachable box magazine, although a 16-round magazine also exists. The latter is entirely insufficient for sustained fully-automatic firing, but does allow the weapon to be more easily concealed under a coat or in a bag.
Somewhere during the 1990s, an improved version of the design was introduced, which would become known as the K6M. Aside from a higher rate of fire, the selector switch was relocated and the length of the SMG was appreciably shortened. While the K6-92 would enter service with the Armenian Army and police forces in small numbers, neither the K6M nor the aforementioned V-1 SMG appear to have entered service (although at least one K6M appears to have made it to Syria). Still, several variations of each K6 design exist. Most notably, some 'K6Ms' are in fact shortened K6-92s rather than true K6Ms, while others carry variations in the type of top-folding stock. A comparison between the K6-92 (top), short K6-92 (middle) and K6M (bottom) can be seen in the image below.

Undoubtedly owing to the simplicity of its construction, the K6-92 became a popular choice for gunsmiths in conflict-stricken Chechnya. How Chechnya acquired its K6-92s is still a matter of debate, with some arguing that a production line for them was set up in the capital Grozny. Alternatively, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria imported small batches of the K6-92 directly from Armenia before the First Chechen War in 1994. In any case, the design clearly became the inspiration for a host of improvised submachine guns (as seen below). As the war progressed and materiels became more scarce, the commonality with the original K6-92 decreased considerably.

While Chechen gunsmiths were still working overtime to provide embattled fighters with all kinds of DIY contraptions, it appears that Armenia had already secured its second export deal for the K6-92. As the observant reader may be able to deduce at this point, the deal in question concerned the delivery of SMGs to Turkmenistan. Although it's unknown when precisely Turkmenistan acquired the SMG, the fact that they took delivery of the K6-92 rather than of the K6M hints at a delivery in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Nonetheless, it would take until 2019 before they were first seen during an exercise of the State Border Service of Turkmenistan and Internal Troops in 2019. Here they were a surprising sight amongst heaps of modern weaponry like the ARX-160 and TAR-21 assault rifles and MP5 and X95 SMGs. Despite such large-scale small arms procurements the K6-92 clearly has not been decommissioned or put in storage. That the K6-92 still sees service next to these modern competitors is a testimony to the robustness of its design.

Though its legacy remains modest, the K6-92 nowadays serves as a testament to a time when Armenia was still designing its own small arms, and a reminder of the unpredictable impact of even the most obscure weaponry. Armament no matter how limited its production run always winds up appearing in surprising corners of the world, in the process often laying bare some interesting facet of the international arms trade that was hitherto unknown. To the analyst, there is perhaps no topic more fascinating than this pursuit of the small, in the search for a bigger picture.