Succeeding the Type 56 Assault Rifle in Chinese Army service was the Type 81. With design beginning in 1971 and introduction not occurring until 1983, the new weapon took some time to gain traction in the PLA inventory and has since been superseded as a standard-issue infantry assault weapon for the PLA by the bullpup-arranged QBZ-95 series (detailed elsewhere on this site). Several variants of the Type 81 weapon appeared built upon the weapon's basic framework.
Due to the Soviet military influence experienced by China during the Cold War years, the Type 81 received its form and function from the storied Kalashnikov AK-47 family of weapons. It was chambered primarily for the Soviet 7.62x39mm cartridge and relied on a short-stroke, gas-operated piston and rotating bolt action. Overall length was 955mm with a barrel measuring 445mm long. Weight was listed at 7.5lb.
The weapon produced a rate-of-fire of up to 720 rounds-per-minute and featured a muzzle velocity of 2,460 feet-per-second. Effective range was out to 280 meters with a maximum firing range of 520 meters possible. Feeding was by way of a standard, curved 30-round detachable box magazine or a 75-round drum and iron sights were fitted for ranged fire and were made adjustable.
As in other Kalashnikov-based systems, the Type 81 sported a rectangular, nearly featureless, receiver with the charging handle set to the right side (as was the ejection port). The shoulder stock came in a solid or skeletal form (the latter of a folding design) and a two-piece handguard was featured at the barrel / gas cylinder section just ahead of the receiver. The barrel sat under the gas cylinder in true Kalashnikov fashion. Bayonet support was retained from the Type 51 series but revised and other distinguishing qualities went on to include a broader gap between trigger area and magazine well, a revised stock form, modified internal action, and relocated front sighting device.
The primary Type 81 model showcased a fixed buttstock while the Type 81-1 variant introduced a folding skeletal stock for compactness. There was a Light Machine Gun (LMG) form as well for squad-level fire suppression and the Type 81S was brought along as a semi-automatic fire only model for the U.S. civilian market but very few were seen before 1989 - its European counterpart became the NR-81S. The Type 87-1 was born as an offshoot of the Type 81 family and chambered for the 5.8x42mm cartridge - this served in an experimental role to test the cartridge for the upcoming QBZ-95 rifle design. A squad support weapon version was also developed though only as a prototype. The Type 81 Tactical became a specialized variant for Chinese special police units and the NAR-10 was a tactically-minded version intended for export. The CS/LR14 has been seen as a modernized Type 81 with broadened accessories support by way of included rail sections and a tactical foregrip has been added for improved two-hand use.
Bangladesh has produced a more advanced, local Type 81 product as the "BD08MK2" featuring an updated internal action and improved sighting support. Myanmar has produced the Type 81 as the "M23" with changes to suit local requirements - this in the Kachin K09, K010, and K011 models.
Other notable operators of the Type 81 has included Algeria, Djibouti, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tanzania. It has seen combat service in the Sino-Vietnamese clashes, the Sri Lankan Civil War, and in insurgencies across Myanmar.