Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Radom Archer AK (Polish Beryl by Fabryka Broni)

 The Radom Archer AK (Polish Beryl by Fabryka Broni)

History & Development:
Really to grasp what the WZ.96 Beryl is, one needs to go back to the days of communism and the Cold War. Soviet Russia developed and adopted the 5.45x39mm M74 cartridge in direct response to the United States' use of the .223 round in Vietnam. Many in the USSR at that time felt that the Americans were technologically ahead when it came to smallarms. They felt that if they had a small caliber, intermediate rifle round; that Russia too must have a small caliber, intermediate round. Thus the AKM was redesigned to fire a scaled down cartridge. 7.62x39mm turned into 5.45x39mm.
The new rifle and round started to be fielded in the USSR around 1977 and first saw extensive combat use in Afghanistan in 1979. Seeing an oppertunity to force greater standardization within the Warsaw Pact, Russia put pressure on its 'allies' to fall in step and also adopt the AK74 platform. Bulgaria and East Germany did just that, first buying rifles and ammunition from the USSR, and later producing close domestic copies. Romania and Poland however, decided to be a bit more independent. Both did adopt the 5.45x39mm round, afterall they did not have much choice, but they insisted on creating their own rifles to go along with it.
Romania's efforts resulted in the PA.86 assault rifle, and Poland's yielded the WZ.88 Tantal. Both were based on the AKM as both nations had all of the tooling and experience from two decades of producing their own domestic copies using original Soviet blueprints.
The Tantal had a long, and at times rocky development process. Work began in 1981 and the final version was not ready until 1988, by which time the political climate in Poland was starting to change. The reason for this protracted design period was that the communist government over estimated the abilities of its firearms designers and under estimated just how much work goes into a new design. Yes, the Tantal was based on the AKM, but the Polish military requested several new features, such as the ability to launch new types of rifle grenades and to have 3 round burst capability. The design underwent several revisions throughout the 1980s. In the end, Radom did deliver a solid assault rifle. More importantly though, its designers and workers learned a lot about firearms manufacturing. They also created a short 'carbine' version named the Onyks, though it was never built in large numbers.
The final Tantal prototype was ready by 1988 and was officially adopted into military service the following year as the KBK WZ.88. However, by that time, communism was on its way out in Poland after a June 1989, election went against the party. Lasting change rarely happens overnight and it took some time for Democracy to take root. Also, there were still nearly 400,000 Soviet Russian troops stationed within Polish boarders. So that nation adopted an outward stance of neutrality; trying to distance itself from the Communist East but not yet ready (or able) to openly ally itself with the Democratic West.
In 1990, it was estimated that Radom could produce 70,000 assault rifles per month. AFter a decade of investing in the Tantal, the military did begin to issue it in numbers in 1991, but really no one by that time wanted it. Actually, what they didn't want was its 5.45x39mm caliber, which was viewed as something forced upon them by their former masters in Moscow. The Polish government purchased only about 25,000 Tantals from 1989 through 1992, a tiny fraction of Radom's total capable output. So what was the factory to do to keep itself in business?
A solution was hit upon by the factories leaders, who were just beginning to realise the possibilities of the free market. Radom would reinvent itself as a supplier of high quality but affordable smallarms to the 3rd World (and whoever else was interested and paid with hard cash). To this end, the WZ.88 Tantal was reworked to fire the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge and designated as the WZ.91. This was done as it was believed the NATO round would appeal to more buyers. The 5.45x39mm never obtained the same popularity as the older 7.62x39mm, especially in non-communist nations. It was a step in the right direction for Radom and soon there after, the WZ.89 Onyks was also reworked to fire the NATO caliber; receiving the designation of WZ.92.
Meanwhile in politics, the Warsaw Pact slowly fell apart throughout the Spring and Summer of 1991. In August of that year, Boris Yelsin was coming to power in the USSR, which would fall apart itself and cease to be by the New Year. After securing his position as Russia's new Democratically elected leader, Yelsin began pulling former Soviet troops out of other East European nations, including Poland. After half a century of what was essentially occupation, the last Russian soldier left Polish soil in September of 1993. Now the nation was truely free to chart its own path and decide its own future.
A lot happened naturally, but I am trying to focus on what is most relevant to the story of the Beryl. Basically, after the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of Communism in Russia, NATO began to invite former member states to join its organization. Poland was interested and in 1994, it committed itself to a path where in it would become a NATO member state by the end of the decade.
This meant that its military needed to meet several requirements, so it could work with other NATO members, including standardization of calibers and equipment. With great joy, the Polish declared the 5.45x39mm cartridge obsolete and designated 7.62x39mm as a substitute standard to be used for training and reservists. 5.56x45mm SS109 was to be the new general issue small rifle round, and a new rifle was needed to fire it. Other requirements were that the new platform needed to be able to fire standard 22mm NATO rifle grenades, have 3 round burst in addition to full-auto, be no longer than 944mm when stored, and that it had to more easily be able to mount scopes, sights, and other optical devices. The military wanted both a standard rifle and a carbine version in the new weapons family. In early 1995, Radom promised to have a working prototype ready in just 9 months. It just had to decide what it should be and how to build it.
The starting point was the short-lived WZ91. It showed promise, but it was clear that it was a rush job and a conversion; not a ground-up design. Still, Radom had decades of experience building AK rifles, not to mention tooling and trained workers. It was decided then that the new rifle would continue to be based on the AK platform. The new project was given the codename of Beryl. Radom went over its allotted 9 months, but not by much. By December of the same year, it had a few prototypes ready for military evaluation.
In the following January, the military gave the factory a list of changes it would like to see made to the new design. All were rather minor and Radom found them easy enough to make. In May, it was announced that the new rifle was acceptable and was scheduled for adoption. At the end of the summer, an agreement was reached inwhich Radom promised to deliver a second prototype batch of rifles and carbines. This batch was delivered for testing in January of 1997, and two months later the Beryl was officially adopted into Polish military service as the KBS WZ.1996. The carbine became the KBK WZ.1996 Mini Beryl.
The new assault rifle quickly replaced nearly all of the older WZ.88 Tantals in military stores, though several AKM and AKMS rifles in 7.62x39mm were kept for a few years. The WZ.96 underwent nearly continuous upgrades and revisions over the next decade. Many changes were made based upon feedback given by actual soldiers who were issued the rifle. Unlike the WZ.88 Tantal, the Beryl saw extensive use in real combat. In March of 2002, as part of NATO, Poland sent troops to fight in Afghanistan. Then in May of 2003, it also sent soldiers to assist in Iraq. It was this tour of duety that would really shape and hone the rifle into the one we see today.
Despite several successes in the 1990s, the old communist era leaders still weren't quite able to make the Radom factory financially profitable. As a result in 2002, it was declared bankrupt, but its doors would not remain closed for long. The old communist ran Zaklady Mechaniczne Lucznik Radom firm would be reorganized and reopened under its original pre-World War II name of Fabryka Broni w Radomiu. The old 11 in a circle factory code used by ZM Radom, would also be replaced by an FB in a triangle. After the reorganization, funding was put into updating and modernizing the factory itself. New tooling and machinery were purchased, and workers have been retrained with 21st century techniques. Today, FB Radom continues to build rifles and pistols for the Polish military, the civilian shooting market, and for export sales. It seems to be doing quite well, but only time will tell how successful it will become. The Beryl itself also seems to be a success. It was estimated in 2011, that the Polish military had 45,000 of the firearm, which was half of its total inventory. So already it has surpassed the Tantal.

The Beryl Assault Rifle:
For sometime now, it has been a tradition with Radom to nickname their firearms based on names from the Periotic Table. Thus the Beryl is named for the element of beryllium. Based on the older WZ.88 and WZ.91 designs, the WZ.96 is an AK, using a standard long-stroke gas piston system, with a 2 lug rotating bolt. The Fire Control Group is very similar to the one found in the Tantal. There is a normal AK pattern lever on the right side, but it only works as a safety. The lever located on the left side of the receiver is used to set the weapon for either semi-auto, 3 round burst, or full-auto. The Beryl has a 18" long chromelined barrel, with a 1 in 9 twist rate. Radom selected this twist so the firearm could handle both modern SS109 and older M193 ammunition types. Somewhat unique among AKs, the muzzle brake isn't screwed onto the barrel. Rather it is pressed and pinned on, in a similar manner to how the front sight and gas blocks are attached. The device also can launch standard NATO 22mm rifle grenades and accept a bayonet ring. The weapon's receiver is made of 1.0mm stamped steel and is the same as that of the WZ.88, except it has a 3rd rivit in the rear trunion to provide for a bit more strength.
The Beryl takes the same pattern of furniture as the WZ.88 too, including handguards and buttstock. That said, Radom designed a new forearm made of ribbed black polymer for it. A new right side folding tubular stock was also developed. It seems to have been inspired by the one found on the Israeli Galil. It is made of steel, which is coated in plastic shrinkwrap, and with a rubber buttplate. It fits into the standard AKM rear trunion, same as the older 'fire poker' wirefolder of the Tantal.
Probably the single biggest design feature of the rifle is its ability to accept the Podstawa Optycznych Przyrzadow Celowniczych (Optical Sight Mounting Interface, or POPC for short). This system mounts a rail over the center line of the dustcover, so that sights and scopes can easily be installed. It is secured to the firearm by two anchor points; one cut into the rear sight base and the other ontop of the rear trunion. The POPC system is easily removed for cleaning and is supposed to return to zero when reinstalled.
The WZ.96 is commonly issued with 4 magazines in a nylon pouch, along with a bipod, bayonet, rollup cleaning kit, sling, and 2 piece sectional cleaning rod (which is kept in the mag pouch).
The Beryl first adopted in 1997, is not the same Beryl commonly seen in the hands of Polish soldiers today. Radom has worked hard to modernize and improve the design. For example in 1999, the Tantal style manual dustcover latch, intended to keep the cover on when firing rifle grenades, was replaced with a new pattern of automatic latch. This latch locks itself if not pressed down. It does complicate dis/reassembly however. In 2002, the left side fire mode selector was redesigned. Originally, it was the same as the one found on the Tantal, and Radom improved it by developing a new spring detent system and adding a second arm. These changes make the selector easier to reach and use, and make it less likely that it will be accidently bumped to a different setting. Soon after this change, the magazine release catch was enlarged and the right side safety lever received a finger shelf. Both changes were aimed at making the Beryl more ergonomic. In 2004, using recommendations from soldiers serving in Iraq, a new forearm was introduced for the rifle. It is a modified piece with a removable vertical foregrip and polymer side rail sections, for attaching lights or lasers. Finally, the following year, the Galil style sidefolding stock was replaced with one inspired by the collapsing stock of Colt's M4 carbine. Radom's collapsing stock has a slim metal squared off tube, which supports a heavy duety polymer stock with large rubber buttplate. The stock has a total of 4 positions, a CAR15 style sling bar, and does not fold. Along with the new stock, an ambidextrous sling loop appeared on the handguard retainer.
The magazine of the WZ.96 has also been improved over time. Originally, the rifle was issued with 30 round black polymer mags, which were very similar to late production 5.45x39mm mags from Radom. These mags were solid and reliable, but the 21st century trend is towards clear mags, so the ammunition level can easily be discovered. Radom, wanting to keep up with modernity, began shipping clear polymer mags with their rifles. These mags prooved to be brittle and unreliable. The polymer mix just wasn't that strong and the mags would easily develop spider web cracks. Arsenal in Bulgaria has had a similar problem with its own clear 5.56mm AK mags, it should be added. Anyway, so now the Beryl is being issued with a third mag variation. This one is made of an updated polymer mix, which is translucent green in appearance. It seems to be holding up much better, but since it does not have metal reinforced locking tabs, it is still not as durable as other AK mags.
Less we forget, the POPC system too has undergone several updates since it was first introduced in the late 1990s. The original POPC was a long rail mounted over the entire dustcover, however it used a proprietary mounting system for optics. Sights had to be specifically made to fit it and could not fit rails on other firearms. This was obviously a poor decision by the designers, so the second generation rail was weaver compatable. However, this rail was shorter and only mounted to the rear sight base by the use of a set screw. It was not as stable and gave only limited sighting options. The POPC generation 3 rail returned to the original long pattern which anchored in both the front and back, and this time it was weaver compatable. This meant it could mount a wide range of devices and was solidly attached to the firearm. Its only major drawbacks were that it blocked the iron sights and a small group of optics still wouldn't fit it properly. The current generation 4 rail system addresses really all earlier shortcomings. It is fully Picatinny compatable, so all standard devices will easily fit it. It even allows for the use of the Beryl's traditional iron sights as they are visible through a trawf running under the rail. It is lighter and more durable than earlier models too. This version of the POPC has been out for a number of years now, and seems to be the one that Radom and the Polish military are happy with.
As you can see, the WZ.96 Beryl has changed quite a bit over a relatively short period of time. In fact, it is different enough now, that newer models are receiving the designation of WZ.2004. Generally speaking the WZ.2004 has the newer style of handguard with vertical grip and has one of the more recent POPCs on it, usually a Gen 3 or Gen 4. Most have the collapsing buttstock, and a few have received a new pattern of pistol grip, designed to be more ergonomic.
The Mini Beryl is also seeing limited use by both Polish military units and police officers. It is very similar to its parent design and took inspiration from the compact WZ.89 Onyks. The Mini Beryl's barrel is nearly half as long as that of the Beryl, at 9.3". It has a shortened gas system, redesigned handguards, and alternative flash hider. It is sometimes used with a 20 round magazine. The Mini has received most of the same updates as the standard Beryl.

The Archer Sporting Carbine:
The Archer-01 is the first civilian legal, semi-automatic version of the WZ.96 to be imported into the USA, at least in any real numbers. It is built by FB Radom in Poland, and carries over many of its full-auto cousin's features. It is chambered for 5.56mm NATO and has a 18" chromelined barrel, with a 1 in 9 twist rate. It takes standard WZ.96 furniture, including handguards, pistol grips, and buttstocks. Probably most importantly, it comes from the factory ready to mount the POPC rail system. It also has the enlarged mag catch release, extended shelf safety, ambidextrous forward sling loops, and standard iron sights.
Of course the Archer is different from the Beryl in a number of ways too, to make it acceptable to the American government. The receiver is made in Radom as a single-stack only, meaning it feeds from low-cap 10 round magazines. Naturally, this receiver lacks the 3rd axis pin hole, so it is not legally select-fire. The left side fire mode selector is omited for this reason too. Since Radom never expects anyone to use the Archer to launch grenades, it has only 2 rivits in the rear trunion, rather than 3; however the trunion itself could accept the 3rd rivit if desired. It also does not have the automatic dustcover latch found on the military WZ.96; which is actually probably a good thing based on how unpopular that feature seems to be with Polish troops. Finally, the Archer's bolt carrier is milled so it can not trip an auto-sear. This is done on other imported AKs such as the Romanian Cugir WASR10, Arsenal SLR, and Russian FIME SGL series. Also like other imported AKs, the Archer ships from Poland with a sporting legal thumbhole buttstock.
The rifle is imported into the USA by Royal Tiger down in Florida. Once on American soil, the Archer is modified to make it more marketable. The single stack magwell is opened up to allow it to feed from standard 20 and 30 round Beryl magazines. Next, the thumbhole stock is replaced with a military stock and pistol grip. Then to give the rifle enough 922(r) parts, the Polish semi-auto trigger group is replaced with a US made G2 group from Tapco. One contraversial feature of the Archer is its manual bolt hold back safety lever. The lever has a cutout which can hold the charging handle back, but it has to be done manually. Most people say that RT cuts on the safety in the USA, but I've read from a few sources that actually Radom does the work in Poland, on request from RT. The notch does seem to work fine, at least on the 4 or 5 Archers I myself have handled. RT claims this is the first AK rifle to have a BHO, but Century has been importing several firearms with the same notched safety from Zastava in Serbia. These include the PAP M70, NPAP M70, M85PV, and M92PV.
Archers have come in a few different configurations over the past year. The original ones had a screwed on muzzle brake, not unlike that found on the Tantal. They also sported fixed clubfoot polymer stocks, and did not come with any scope rail system. People complained, especially about the incorrect barrel profile, so the second batch of rifles, known as v2s by collectors, addressed their concerns. V2 rifles have a proper Beryl profile barrel, which is to say unthreaded. They came with a small muzzle brake, which is supposed to be pressed and pinned onto the muzzle. This brake is Polish, but sent to Royal Tiger by Radom separate from the rifles. RT installs it, but doesn't seem to pin it. I am not sure how they attach it in place. Both hilarious and sad, some of the earlier v2s had their muzzle brakes installed by RT upside down! In all other ways, v2s are the same rifles as the original v1s. They do not include the POPC system and come with the same clubfoot fixed buttstock. However, starting this year, RT began shipping them with an original Radom WZ.2004 collapsing buttstock loose in the box, which the buyer could install if desired. Originally, rifles shipped with 2 30 round Green Beryl mags, military sling, and cleaning kit. After a couple months though, RT started sending only 1 Beryl mag instead. Just recently, RT changed things up again. Now, Archers are beginning to ship with the collapsing buttstock already installed from the factory, and the muzzle brake put on correctly. Most importantly though, the latest Archers are coming with the current generation POPC rail system on them. There is a price for these upgrades of course. Rifles ship with 1 American made black waffle mag from Pro-Mag and nothing else.
As to pricing, the rifles have slowly but steadily come down a bit. When they first came out, they were $1,400+ and did not have the correct stock or rail. Over several months, prices dipped down to as low as $1,200, and once RT had a $1,000 blowout sale on them. Now that they are coming with the right stock and rail, Archers are back up to around $1,300 but at least they are pretty much good to go out of the box. Though I'd recommend finding some decent magazines to use in them true.

(Archer w/o Rail)

(And with current generation rail system.)

(And with an Eotech 552 installed.)

(My Tantal kit built on a Nodak receiver, just for fun.)

Converting an Archer Into a Beryl Clone:
Actually, with the latest Archer-01 version, there isn't a ton to do. It already comes with a Polish buttstock, handguards, and rail. It has the proper barrel profile, with Polish made brake. This brake has the same port arrangement as the one on the WZ.96 and even the cutout for the grenade ring. The only thing it is missing is the internal threading to accept a blank fire adapter. Also, if one wanted to be a purest, they could also drill it and the barrel, and pin it in place like Radom does on their military contract rifles. Both the front sight block and gas block have the spots for the bayonet and accessory lugs, just they haven't been milled out. It wouldn't be much work for a skilled machinist to finish out the lugs and add a bit of touchup to the parkerization. This is a far better idea than milling off the bayonet lug wings, like Cugir does to the WASR10. The gas block does have the cutout to allow the Beryl bipod to fit onto it. The only thing missing here is the small rod which prevents the bipod from being rotated 360 degrees. This rod could be fabricated if needed as its the same size as a Tantal cleaning rod.
Moving down the rifle, it has true Radom made handguards. These are the horizontal type used on earlier WZ.96 models, and they even still have the little cutouts for the grenade launcher on the bottum. Its easy to swap out Beryl/Archer handguards, so if someone wants the current type with vertical grip and rails, no problem. RTG has two types at the moment; one made of polymer and one of metal alloy. The Archer's sights and dustcover are the same as on the military rifle, as are the mag catch, safety selector, and front trunion. The BHO notch in the safety bugs some and they like to remove the piece and replace it with one that isn't cut out. This is easy to do and doesn't even require 3 hands or tools. On the left side of the receiver, there is no fire mode selector. Radom (and the Polish gov't for that matter) consider this part as the key to making a full-auto, so it is not installed on civilian rifles. However, it can easily be put onto an Archer. All that needs to be done is to remove the bar that the safety rides on, and replace it with the selector assembly. Since the Archer has no 3rd axis pin or auto-sear, the left selector doesn't do a thing, except look military. A person can link it to the safety lever on the right side, to make it into an ambidextrous safety if they want to. This is what Century did in their Tantal Sporters, and it is completely legal and safe. The only downside is the left selector switch tends to be rather stiff.
At the rear of the rifle, we only have a couple things we could do, to make it look more like the Beryl. It already has the current issue collapsing buttstock, but the older Galil style sidefolder will drop right in instead, if the owner prefers that look. The collapsing stock even comes complete with the internal reinforcing plate/bracket, so no corner cut there. The pistol grip is clearly US made and not much like the one Radom uses. Polish military grips are everywhere and easy to install. The Tantal used various coloured grips from brown to orange to black, but the Beryl seems to always have a black grip. As i said earlier, the Archer doesn't have the automatic lockout latch found on the military WZ.96. This latch is to keep the dustcover from flying off when a rifle grenade is fired. It is only successful at doing this 'most' of the time. It is however successful in complicating dis/reassembly all of the time. Our semi-auto has the standard, normal AKM takedown push button. It could be replaced with the auto latch if one were found. The last thing we can do is to install a 3rd rivit in the rear trunion. The trunion itself has the hole for it but the receiver does not. This would require some skill and the nerve to rivit on a factory receiver. Still it is doable if one really must have a correct clone rifle.

KBS WZ.1996 Beryl
Weight: 3.35 kg (7.39 lb) (without magazine)
Length: 943 mm (37.1 in) stock extended / 742 mm (29.2 in) stock folded)
Length: 980 mm (38.5 in) stock fully extended / 900 mm (36.0 in) stock fully collapsed)
Barrel: 457 mm (18.0 in)
RPM: 700
Muzzle Velocity: 920 m/s (3,018 ft/s)
Effective Range: out to 600 meters (sights calibrated out to 1,000)

KBK WZ.1996 Mini Beryl
weight: 3.0 kg (6.61 lb) (without magazine)
length: 730 mm (28.7 in) stock extended / 525 mm (20.7 in) stock folded
barrel: 235 mm (9.3 in)
RPM: 900
Muzzle Velocity: 770 m/s (2,526 ft/s)
Effective Range: out to 300 meters

My Opinion:
Initially, i was reluctant to get an Archer. Some of you know how i feel about .223 AKs in general, and that is still the case most of the time. On the otherhand, I've always liked the fact it is a true Polish built AK; not too many of those available to us in the USA. Then again, when the Archer came out, it was much more expensive than an Arsenal in .223 and it didn't come with enough original features to really excite me.
Well now it is a bit cheaper and more importantly, it is coming from Royal Tiger setup very close to a real Beryl. These facts, combined with continually good reviews from those who own them, finally convinced me to order one and give it a chance. Plus honestly I was a bit bored and wanting something new to mess around with.
So the Archer-01 came in and i was favourably disposed towards its fit and finish, and overall feel. Then we took it shooting and....

...and it was a blast. Everyone loved shooting it and more rounds went through it that day than did through the AUG and Tavor combined. The Archer was easy to handle, comfortable, had good sighting, and above all was dead reliable. It ate the Tula 62g stuff that choked both of the bullpups we had out. I myself can't attest to Radom's claims of 1-MOA accuracy, but Fell did say it was pretty much dead-on and he was easily hitting what he was aiming at. It definitely seems to have accuracy a cut above your normal AK at least.
I am making an exception to my no .223 AK rule, and designating the Archer as a keeper. Yes, it isn't cheap, but really it isn't any more than a good AR15 and to me far more unique and interesting.

What Sets It Apart From Other AKs:
> Built by a well respected factory, from new production parts.
> Designed from the beginning to fire both M193 and SS109 ammunition types.
> Designed to be as accurate as an AK can be with a top quality 18" barrel, and close attention to tolerances and fitting of parts.
> Still as reliable and durable as any other AK.
> Has gone through extensive military testing, Radom product improvements, and has seen actual combat.
> For an AK, ergonomics are good with oversized controls and an adjustable LOP buttstock.
> Has arguably the best rail mounting solution developed for the AK platform yet.
> Uses good reliable magazines, which are pretty easy to find here in the USA.
> Cool and interesting factory markings, combined with a descrete importer's stamp.
> Its just damn enjoyable to shoot!

Summary - The Archer combines the reliability of the AK, with accuracy on par with many production ARs. Its only real detraction is its pricetag.

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