The Type 81 assault rifle was the principal automatic rifle used by the Chinese People's Liberation Army from the mid-1980s until 1995. It incorporates elements of the Dragunov Sniper Rifle, SKS, and AK-47 series rifles. The rifle is cosmetically based on the AK-47, but with some significantly different design and improvements to reduce the recoil and muzzle jump, giving better firing accuracy. The Type 81 rifle also made some changes in its external design to make it more user friendly than the original Type 56/AK-47.
Although it is externally similar to the Type 56/AK-47, the Type 81 differs from it significantly. The most easily distinguishable feature is an exposed muzzle part of the barrel. The foresight moved back for a modification to fire rifle grenades from the barrel. There is a significant gap between the trigger guard and the magazine on Type 81 rifles, while on the Type 56/AK-47 series the magazine is adjacent to the front of the trigger guard. The Type 81 rifle is a floating-piston gas-operated design, while the Type 56/AK-47 are fixed-piston designs. On Type 81 rifles the non-detachable spike-shaped bayonet was also replaced with a detachable knife-bayonet. The Type 81 can be fed from the older Type 56 Kalashnikov 30-round magazines, or from 75-round drums intended for the Type 81 light machine gun.
The Type 81 was replaced in PLA frontline service by the QBZ-95, a bullpup rifle chambered for the 5.8x42mm DBP87 cartridge, in 1995 and is now reserved for secondary forces.
The weapon was introduced into PLA service in 1981 but did not become widely distributed until the late 1980s. It replaced the Chinese Type 56 Assault Rifle. Its first combat use came during the Sino-Vietnamese War/Border conflicts of the mid 1980s.
Unlike its predecessors, the Type 81 is a series of weapons. The Type 81 and Type 81-1 are assault rifles and the heavier Type 81 squad machine gun is used in the squad automatic weapon role.
The Type 81-1 is similar to the Type 81 but has a foldable stock. The Type 81 squad machine gun is heavier (5.15 kg), has a longer barrel, slightly higher rate of fire (700 rounds per minute), and fires from either the standard 30 round magazine or a 75 round drum. According to PLA soldiers and foreign users, the accuracy of the Type 81 is better than that of the AK-47 and close to that of the M-16 rifle, while the reliability is equal to that of the AK-47. The Type 81 has been exported to various countries, primarily Asian and African. It has a reputation for being rather rough in finish, but overall has a rugged quality.
A prototype called the Type 87 was introduced in the late 1980s. It served as a development platform for the next generation of PLA small arms, being used as a test-bed for the then new 5.8x42mm DBP87 ammunition. It never went into full-scale production but has been in service with PLA special forces.
The PLA is in the process of replacing the Type 81 with the QBZ-95 snd Type 03 series of weapons, but full conversion is not expected until the mid-2010s.
- Type 81 (7.62 mm assault rifle with a fixed butt)
- Type 81-I (7.62 mm assault rifle with a foldable butt)
- Type 81 LMG 7.62 mm squad machine gun
- Type 81S (late production export version with fixed butt)
- Type 87-1 (5.8x42mm experimental assault rifle, used to develop and test 5.8 mm DBP87 cartridge for QBZ-95 rifle)
- Type 87 5.8 mm squad machine gun (prototype)
- People's Republic of China
- Bangladesh: Under license by the Bangladesh Ordnance Facility as BD-08 Assault Rifle (Bangladesh-2008)
- Sri Lanka