The arrival of the PK (Pulemyot Kalashnikova) machine gun in 1961 marked the first entry of a true General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) into Soviet Army service. GPMGs receive their name from their ability to fulfill a variety of much-needed battlefield roles such as fire support and enemy troop through bipod-, tripod-, vehicle- or aircraft-mounted installations. These weapons also fire full-power rifle caliber cartridges which give them excellent penetration value at range as well as increased engagement ranges when compared to assault rifles.
The PK succeeded the post-World War 2-era RP-46 machine gun (detailed elsewhere on this site) series in circulation. The newer weapon went on to see considerable combat service under a multitude of national banners - from the Vietnam War (1955-1975) to the present-day engagements making up the Syrian Civil War, the War in Donbass and the Yemeni Civil War. Over 1 million units have been produced both domestically and foreign.
The PK is chambered for the proven 7.62x54mmR rifle cartridge and fires through a Kalashnikov-style open-bolt, gas-operated system that has shown considerable reliability over many decades of use. Feeding is through a non-disintegrating link belt in 100-, 200- and 250-round counts. The gun system weights 19.85lb as a whole with the typical bipod assembly in place and showcases an overall length of 47.5 inches. The barrel measures 23.8 inches long.
Rate-of-fire reaches 650 rounds per minute and ranges are out to 1,095 yards. Maximum range is 4,155 yards. Sighting is through tangent iron sights though optics are supported (including night vision and thermal types).
In practice, the PK has been officially issued as a support weapon at the company level. Its heavy-duty design allows it to fire a much more powerful cartridge when compared to traditional service rifles and even Light Machine Guns. The barrel can be changed out to compensate for overheating which can lead to deforming or fracturing of the barrel assembly and render the weapon useless in a firefight. Its reliability and flexibility have made it a Soviet-era classic - a well-respected and received weapon.
The PKS, PKM, PKMN, PKMS, PKMSN and PKT are all offspring of the base PK design. The PKP "Pecheneg" (detailed elsewhere on this site) is a newer PK series weapon influenced by the original and features a fixed heavy barrel and forced-air cooling.
Despite its origins in the 1960s, the PK series has managed an active existence into the new millennium. Tens of thousands of copies have emerged from foreign factories as well adding to an already-impressive production total. The availability of the Soviet 7.62mm cartridge has also helped its reach beyond Soviet-Russian borders and many ex-Soviet states and supported allies rely on the product.