The AK-47 assault rifle was developed by Russian national Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947. Kalashnikov was a soldier in World War II and as a result of his first-hand experience in battle with the Nazis, who were well-equipped with submachine guns, he determined to create a firearm that would guarantee Soviet superiority in war.
By refining and combining elements of existing automatic weapons and assault rifles, Kalashnikov created a weapon that was simply designed, lightweight and easy for even poorly trained soldiers to aim, without any sacrifice of a machine gun's lethal power. These qualities have made the AK-47 an effective weapon for use by paramilitaries and in urban warfare.
The Soviet Army adopted AK-47s in 1949. During the Cold War, AK-47s (and the next generation of Kalashnikovs, AKMs) were used by communist armies throughout the world. The Soviets also distributed to them to leftist guerrilla armies or militant groups who served or supported Soviet interests.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, "30-50 million copies and variations of the AK-47 have been produced globally, making it the most widely used rifle in the world." They continue to be sought after by terrorist groups and paramilitaries, as well as gangs and drug dealers.
Information in this entry comes, in part, from Larry Kahaner's AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War.