Bulgarian AK History, Arsenal Factory 10
Bulgaria, the once renowned arms supplier of the Soviet Union has gained a lot of notoriety because of its weapon manufacturing capabilities, especially the Kalashnikov variants. From massive world powers like India, to rebels and terrorist organizations all over the world, Bulgarian Kalashnikov variants have made their way into some of the most influential conflicts since its inception. Let's take a look at the history and impact of the Bulgarian Kalashnikov variants on the world and the US consumer firearms market.
In the 1950s, when the Soviet Union was at its peak, the Bulgarian People's Army primarily used Soviet AK-47's. By the early 1960s however, Bulgaria started to develop its own AK rifles domestically.
The original Artillery Arsenal was established in 1878 in Ruse Bulgaria and relocated in 1891 to Sofia, and finally to Kazanlak in 1924. The Kazanlak facility was named the State Military Factory and was responsible for building and repairing nearly all weaponry and equipment related to the military and security services in Bulgaria. In 1948, the Industry branch of the Bulgarian government assumed responsibility of the facility and it was renamed to "Factory 10".
Around 1956, the state-run arsenal in Kazanlak, Factory 10, started production and assembly of Kalashnikov rifles. The early production AK's from Factory 10 were from Soviet parts imported as a member of the Warsaw Pact, and under license of the Soviet Union. By the mid-1960s, Factory 10 had the expertise and necessary infrastructure to start the licensed production of Kalashnikov rifles with their own parts. The number 10 inside concentric circles ((10)), or "double circle 10" logo can be found on the front trunnion of Bulgarian AK rifles from Factory 10. The rifles manufactured by the Bulgarian Kazanlak facility were designated as AKK.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the People's Republic of Bulgaria in the early 1990s, the environment for Weapons manufacturing in Bulgaria started to change. By this time, Bulgarian factories had made a lot of weapons, and had become quite good at it. With less of military need and seeing the commercial potential, they started focusing more on the Export of their AK-47 and AK-74 variants.
In 1991, Factory 10, Kazanlak Bulgaria, became a joint-stock company and was named Arsenal JSco, commonly known today as Arsenal AD. Today, Arsenal is a private company engaged in international arms trade in both military and civilian sectors offering several modernized versions of the AKK and sporting versions of the AK-47 platform. Arsenal AD designates rifles intended for Military use with the "AR" prefix, and civilian export versions with the prefix "SA".
Many countries have used and still use Bulgarian AK variants. One of the most prominent of which is India. The AR-M and AR-F variants are in use with the Indian Army, and hundreds of thousands of AR-M1F41 and AR-M5F41 are in use with paramilitary forces like the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Central Reserve Police Force of India. Other countries like Iraq, Libya, UAE, Yemen, Sudan, Serbia, Honduras, and Egypt also use the Bulgarian AR series AKK made by the Arsenal weapons manufacturing company.
Bulgarian AK's have been common among rebels in Afghanistan and had a presence in the Iraq war as well. They were also used in the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008, the Syrian and Libyan Civil war, and are still in use in conflict zones like the ongoing Yemen Civil War.
The Arsenal Factory in Bulgaria also started developing civilian rifles after the fall of the Soviet Union, though it isn't clear when exactly the development started, it was mostly around the early 1990s. The first Bulgarian Arsenal AK to make it to the US, was the SA-93. There were no "preban" Bulgarian AK rifles.
The SA stands for Semi-Automatic, and 93 was the year it was designed. The SA-93 was stripped of its military roots and marketed as a sporting rifle. It was a milled receiver AK, but had a thumbhole stock with no pistol grip, no bayonet lug, and no threading on the barrel as was typical of the ban era imports.
These rifles became available in the US around 1994, and several US companies imported them including Dominion Investment Group, which later continued its business with Intrac and together became the Intrac/Dominion importing group. Dunav international trading, based in Lynnwood, WA, and Sentinel Arms based in Detroit, MI were also popular importers of the rifle between 1993 and 1994. When these rifles were first introduced, they sold for around $380, however, these days they can be worth well over $1000 and are sought-after by AK enthusiasts and collectors despite their ban era "sporting configuration".
The SA-93 was imported for a short time, but was soon phased out as Arsenal started to develop a hunting line. The Self-Loading Hunting Rifles or SLR series, particularly the SLR-95 and SLR-96 rifles were imported into the US from 1994 to 1998. These rifles had improved features influenced from the AK-74, like a 90 degree Gas Block and a non-vented Gas Tube, however, they still had the unpopular thumbhole stock. The difference between the two was simply that the SLR-95 had a synthetic thumbhole stock, and the SLR-96 had a wooden thumbhole stock. Both AK variants were constructed with milled receivers.
Around this time, Arsenal Inc. (based in Las Vegas, Nevada) started importing SLR's. They imported a single stack magazine version and named it the SLR-101. They made several variants of this rifle and sold it as the SLR-101 series. Arsenal eventually took a break from importing Bulgarian AKs for awhile, before picking back up again around 2012. This time however, they were no longer in the ban era configuration, and instead had standard stocks, pistol grips, threaded barrels, double-stack magazines, and bayonet lugs.
In 2013, Arsenal Inc. released the SAM7 series of rifles, which were also built on milled receivers and essentially the same rifle as the SLR-101 series. It has been rumored that they were renamed to sell in some "anti-gun" states where the SLR series were banned. This has created confusion over the years on whether these rifles were actually made in Bulgaria or not. More confusing yet, Arsenal released another series of rifles named the SA M-7 series, which was different from the SAM7 series. The SAM7 rifles were made in Arsenal Bulgaria and then shipped to Arsenal Inc (Las Vegas), where they were modified for 922r compliance. On the other hand, Arsenal SA M-7 rifles were imported as Bulgarian Parts Kits and completed in the US.
Arsenal Inc. has offered many configurations and variants over the years since including the popular SLR107 series which are stamped receiver AKM models.
Bulgarian AK's are popular among Kalashnikov enthusiasts for their rich history and proven quality. Of all the countries to manufacture the AK, Bulgaria has arguably put the most focus on the AK-74 variants, as well as milled receiver models where most factories moved on after refining the stamped receiver process. Other traits that have become synonymous with Bulgarian AK's among todays collectors are their muzzle breaks, side folding stocks, and of course their 90 degree gas block! Couple this with the rich aforementioned history of the Bulgarian AK and the iconic overall history and culture of the Kalashnikov weapons system and its no wonder why Bulgarian AK's are so popular!