GEAR & TECH

Comparing the Soviet SKS rifle to the American M1 carbine

Whenever you compare the merits of two firearms against one another, there will be a huge row. Just ask fans of the M1911, designed by John Moses Browning — which served in the American military as the primary sidearm for seven decades — what they think of the M9 Beretta.

But let's take a look at two semi-automatic carbines that were in service about 70 years ago: The Russian SKS and the American M1 carbine.


Both were in service in World War II (prototypes of the SKS saw action against the Nazis) and both saw action in Korea and Vietnam. However, they're very different.

A Marine covers personnel during the first flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.

(USMC photo by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery)

The M1 carbine, first introduced in 1942, fires a special .30-caliber round that's about an inch-and-a-third long (as opposed to the roughly two-and-a-half-inch length of the .30-06 round). It's semi-automatic and can use a 15 or 30-round detachable magazine. It weighs about five pounds unloaded. Today's troops carrying a lot of stuff — that light weight can be a back-saver. The 110-grain .30 carbine round could go 1,990 feet per second.

Malian troops stand at attention with SKS rifles.

(US Army photo by Staff Sergeant Samuel Bendet)

The SKS rifle introduced the 7.62x39mm cartridge to the world. It uses an internal 10-round magazine that is reloaded using stripper clips. In a way, this is much like how just about every modern (post-1898) military rifle prior to the M1 Garand was reloaded. The 7.62x39mm round propels a 123-grain bullet at 1,653 feet per second. The SKS weighs in at roughly eight pounds.

So, which of these rifles is better? Let's be honest: Both have passed the longevity test. The M1 Carbine is still in service with Israel and Nicaragua, among other countries, and the SKS still sees action in places like Mali. But assuming all other things, like training and competency, are equal, a soldier with the M1 carbine would have a slight edge — at least at close range —due to the increased magazine capacity and the rifle's lighter weight.