The Zastava M70 was a conventional infantry assault rifle born in during the Cold War with the line still seeing notable service today. Its design began in the late 1960s to which the Yugoslavian Zastava Arms plant was charged with its serial production. The weapon has since gone on to see combat actions in a variety of high-profile conflicts including the 1991 Gulf War, the Yugoslavian Wars, the Kosovo War and - more recently - in actions surrounding events of both the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters. The weapon was also known to have been used in the bloody 2011 Libyan Civil War. Beyond its operational use by Yugoslavia (now including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia), the M70 has existed in its varied forms with armies and foreign fighters throughout Afghanistan, Cyprus, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia.
Falling under the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War, Yugoslavia naturally stocked its military inventories with Soviet-inspired equipment of all sorts. Within time, local production of the famous Soviet Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle was arranged through state-run factories. The original AK-47 was produced as a near-exact copy of the Soviet design to become the Yugoslavian M64 (or "Rifle Model 64"). This included the M64A and M64B (featuring a folding metal stock) production models and were noted for their support of an underslung grenade launcher (with applicable sighting device fitted ahead of the gas cylinder). In 1968, design work began on a more modern version of this weapon and resulted in the "M70".
The Zastava M70 was more in line with the modernized Soviet version of the fabled AK-47, designated in the Red Army inventory as the "AKM", and itself appeared in 1959. With the exception of a few subtle variations in its construction and arrangement, the M70 was more or less another Yugoslavian copy of a tried-and-true performer. It went on to be accepted as the standard-issue assault rifle of the Yugoslavian Army. The base M70 production model became the fixed-stock "M70" while a version with a folding metal stock (this assembly folding under the receiver) became the "M70A". The M70 line, as a whole, continued support of the optional underslung grenade launcher. Original production models were also completed with a milled receiver but this eventually gave way to a stamped process for budgetary reasons. Other economic changes were instituted during production to help promote a cheaper, though still viable, end-product. One key feature that was noticeable was the finger grooves of the original M64 grips were dropped in favor of less-ergonomic united in the M70.
Both externally and internally, the M70 shared just about everything from the Kalashnikov pattern. The receiver was rectangular in its general shape with the left side being relatively featureless and right side containing the charging handle and ejection port. A firing selector was present. The pistol grip was set to the lower receiver rear with the trigger group just ahead. The magazine well was fitted ahead of the trigger unit while a magazine release catch could clearly be identified between them. The magazine consisted of a spring-loaded curved detachable box containing 30 cartridges. The forend was made up of an upper and lower wooden furniture region, these covering the base ends of the gas cylinder and barrel. As with other Kalashnikov systems, the gas cylinder sat atop the barrel while the barrel ran longer than the cylinder, capped by the usual tall front post sight and a slanted muzzle compensator. The rear sight was adjustable and found aft of the wooden forend. All told, the M70 was actually very difficult to distinguish from the Soviet Kalashnikovs as any changes were both subtle and limited. The primary identifying feature of the M70 became the three slots located along the wood furniture forend as Soviet versions typically featured just two.
Due to its Kalashnikov pedigree, the M70 was naturally chambered for the Soviet 7.62x39mm rifle cartridge. Listed rate-of-fire was a modest 620 rounds-per-minute while muzzle velocity was in the vicinity of 2,361 feet per second. Effective range was out to approximately 1,300 feet though this was not an exact limit - optics (if equipped) could expand the tactical role and usefulness of the M70 to some extent. The weapon's overall unloaded weight was in the vicinity of 8lbs.
The M70 has been evolved into various forms beyond the original fixed stock "M70" production version, varying mainly in its receiver manufacturing process and its form of stock. The M70A was completed with a metal folding stock while the M70A1 was very similar though finished with an optics mount. The M70B1 featured a stamped-process receiver and a fixed stock. The M70AB2 was also seen with a stamped receiver though this version included the metal folding stock. The M70B1N was also stamped, featured a fixed stock and included optics mounts. The M70ABN2N was stamped, sported the folding metal stock and included optics mounts. The M70AB3 also made use of the stamped receiver, was given a folding metal stock and integrated a mount for an underslung, breech-loaded grenade launcher. All versions with the folding stock saw their stocks fold from under the receiver (as opposed to over it).
The Zastava M70 was also be known by the names of "Yugo M70" and "Yugo AK" for rather obvious reasons. The M70 served as the basis for the "M76" sniper rifle detailed elsewhere on this site - though, interestingly, this weapon was chambered for the 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge and not the traditional Soviet/Russian 7.62mm rifle cartridge.