The Finnish-built 7.62 KvKK 62 machine-gun has recently received a hail of criticism apparently coming from a short article in the Swedish version of YLE News. This bills the machine gun as both unreliable and dangerous, and questions why the Finnish Defence Forces continues to use this dangerous weapon.
It is true that the weapon has a reputation of being unreliable. In part this comes from flaws in the dated design, the weapon is based on the pre-war Czechoslovakian LK vz. 26 (Kulsprutegevär m/39 in Swedish use) via the vz. 52, but a large part of this reputation also stems from the fact that many exercises use blanks as opposed to live rounds, with the blanks having a considerably lower gas pressure than the ammunition the KvKK is designed for. The weapon does also fire from an open bolt, which means that it is susceptible to dirt entering the chamber. The open bolt mechanism could also potentially cause the gun to “run away”, meaning it will continue its cycle of fire until running out of ammunition. This is especially true for older weapons, were use and excessive cleaning have caused a large amount of wear over the years (the open bolt does however offer the advantage of not having a round chambered with the firing pin in position, which in turn diminishes the risk for accidental firings).
The KvKK employs some design decisions that seems good on paper, but has proved less than stellar in practice. It uses the same 7.62×39 mm cartridge as the AK-series of assault rifles, meaning that ammunition is interchangeable between the squad riflemen and their supporting weapon. However, this also means that it fails to provide a longer reach and/or heavier punch compared to the assault rifles. The weapon lacks a trigger guard, to allow for the operation with heavy gloves on during the winter, but this also increases the danger of a branch or similar getting caught in the trigger firing the weapon. To keep the part count down, the weapon also lacks a quick-release barrel, lowering the amount of sustained fire that can be achieved by the weapon. The simple truth is that the KvKK has never been anything but an adequate weapon at most, which is somewhat strange given that its “brothers” in the form of the Finnish AK-clones were widely seen as some of the best assault rifles in the world during their heydays.
In many ways, while it is billed a light machine gun and employed as such, it is closer in design to a pure squad automatic weapon. The fact that it is currently being replaced with the PKM is interesting in this light, as the latter is a pure general purpose machine gun, firing a full powered cartridge in the form of the venerable 7.62x54R. The PKM is in all respects a far more formidable weapon, which greatly adds to the fire power of the Finnish infantrymen. The problem, however, is the price tag, which has slowed down procurements.
So, is the KvKK a dangerous weapon that should be banned as soon as possible? Keeping in mind that I am no dedicated small-arms expert, I’d say the answer is ‘no’. Certain weapons are apparently worn out, and as with all old equipment they need to be checked carefully before being issued to conscripts. Still, the sheer number of weapons needed to train fire support dictates that it has to remain in service for some years to come (and probably for issue to 2nd line troops during wartime for quite some time in the future). My personal experience is that the absolute majority of firearms related accidents happens when people neglect the basic safety rules of always remembering where the barrel is pointed, not touching the trigger when not meaning to fire, and all in all never messing around with the weapon unnecessarily. Field exercises will always be a high-risk environment, and accidents such as the one described by YLE should always be investigated thoroughly to avoid similar tragedies in the future. However, the sad truth is that most accidental discharges happens for no other cause than simple stupidity, and for that, there is no remedy but even more safety training and observation of the way individual conscripts handle their weapons.