The Type 81 is the second-generation assault rifle in service with the PLA. It replaced the Type 56 (Chinese copy of the AK-47) to serve as the standard individual assault weapon for PLA infantry troops and other services. Initially deployed in the 1980s Sino-Vietnam border conflicts, the Type 81 rifle is well known for its excellent reliability and accuracy. The Type 81 assault rifle and Type 81 squad machine gun is likely to remain in service with the PLA for at least another decade.
The PLA began studies on the new generation 7.62mm squad weapon family in the 1970s. The project aimed to develop a weapon family that can replace the Type 56 semiautomatic rifle, the Type 56 (AK-47) automatic rifle, and the Type 56-I squad machine gun equipped by the PLA infantry squad. The new weapon family should possess the advantages of both the semiautomatic rifle (e.g. high accuracy) and the automatic rifle (e.g. high firepower), use same type of bullets, and share some exchangeable parts. This has eventually led to the introduction of the Type 81 squad weapon family in 1981.
The Type 81 is the PLA's first squad weapon family, which includes the 7.62mm Type 81 and Type 81-1 automatic assault rifle, and the 7.62 mm Type 81 squad machine gun (Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW). By the end of the 1980s, the Type 81 had replaced the Type 56 semiautomatic rifle, Type 56 automatic rifle, and Type 56-I squad machine gun to become the standard squad weapon family in service with the PLA.
The Type 81 was widely used by the PLA in the Sino-Vietnam border conflicts in the late 1980s. The weapon was given high credits by the PLA. According to the users, the Type 81 has less recoil and muzzle jump compared to the Type 56 (AK-47), which gives higher firing accuracy. In addition, the Type 81 also has a longer barrel life, and is more reliable than the Type 56.
The Type 81 has been serving with the PLA as a standard squad weapon for nearly two decades. Some Type 81s were also exported to the Pakistani Army. The PLA is now planning to replace the Type 81 with the more advanced 5.8 mm Type 95 squad weapon family, but it would be at least another decade until all Type 81s are completely retired from service.
The Type 81 rifle is a lightweight, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed, shoulder- or hip-fired weapon designed for either fully automatic fire (bursts) or semiautomatic fire (single shot) through the use of a selector lever. The Type 81 has a fixed stock, while the Type 81-1 uses a collapsible stock.
The Type 81 has a conventional layout design, which is similar to the Type 56/AK-47. The barrel of the Type 81 is longer than that of the Type 56. In addition to conventional 7.62 mm rifle bullets, the Type 81 can also fire a variety of 60 mm grenades from its muzzle using special rounds.
The Type 81 squad machine gun has a similar design as the Type 81 rifle, and the two weapons share 65 exchangable parts. The Type 81 squad mahcine gun is fed by the 75-round cartridge drum, but can also be fed by the 30-round magazine of the Type 81 rifle. The machien gun can fire in burst or single shot mode.
Gas operated, rotating bolt
7.62x39 mm Soviet M1943
3.5 kg (Type 81); 3.4 kg (Type 81-1); 5.15 kg (SAW)
955 mm (750 mm with butt folded for Type 81-1); 1004 mm (SAW)
20 or 30 rounds; 75 rounds drum (SAW)
Rate of fire:
650 RPM; 700 RPM max, Sustained 120 RPM (SAW)
400 meters; 500 meters (SAW)
750 m/s; 735 m/s (SAW)