CIA RI2222N PAP M90MP AK 5.56 — A Good AK in 5.56mm

Century International Arms M90MP rifle

Looking over my experience with the AK-type rifle, I can say I have not been a fan. I’ve owned a few, but the AR-15 has been my rifle, and I’ve spent my time mastering it. The AK seemed the rougher of the two—and that’s its appeal to many. The AK-47 was designed for reliability and low maintenance. If you believe the AK never jams, we’re going to a different church, but the rifle is usually reliable. There have been any numbers of rather poor incarnations that simply do not live up to the promise. There are also several well-built, reliable rifles. The one covered in this review is one of these.

Century International Arms M90MP rifle
The Century rifle showed good fit and finish and excellent reliability.

Lately, I’ve strongly considered the AK as an answer to the need for a reliable, but affordable, rifle that most can use well. The AK-47’s origin is in street fighting at Stalingrad and later Berlin as the Russians pushed back the Germans and ultimately marched to Berlin. The Nagant rifle wasn’t well suited to dynamic house clearing. The Soviet “burb gun” was a great close-quarters weapon but lacked the range and power of a rifle. The Soviets developed a short-range rifle cartridge with enough power to do the business and the versatility to replace both the full-power rifle and the submachine gun. This is a very simple description of a complex history, but the AK-47 was exactly what was needed.

AK-style rifle sight
The AK-style sights are good for most uses inside of 100 yards.

The Soviet narrative of the war was different from our own. The United States fought in North Africa and the mountains of Italy, where the Garand was a great rifle. The Soviets fought at long range as well, but the house-to-house fighting and rapid movement behind armor were also part of their war. By the time we were involved in Vietnam, the need for a jungle fighter produced the AR-15, and the rest is history.

As development in either rifle progressed, a steady goal has been to improve the accuracy of the type. The AR-15 is wonderfully accurate, and I don’t think that reliability has been compromised in the best examples. My Colt HBAR, Colt SOCOM and the Daniel Defense have never malfunctioned, but then I haven’t marched in the Sandbox. The Israelis captured tens of thousands of AK rifles and ammunition, but they seem disdainful to use them and favor the M16 types, although they built a homegrown AK variant. The Galil is a mix of AK features and the 5.56mm chambering.

Sometimes conceptions are at variance with observations, and I wanted to test and evaluate one of the newest production AK variants and make up my own mind on the rifle. The Century International Arms PAP M90 caught my eye. It is manufactured by Zastava, whose products I’ve enjoyed excellent results with in the past. The rifle seems well made of good material. The furniture is plastic. The forend and stock are a good fit—though the stock had an angle that worked on my cheek when I used the proper cheekweld. Since the recoil is light, it wasn’t going to jar my molars loose, but it certainly was noticeable. My brother also fired the rifle, but he didn’t notice the angle on the stock. I adapted.

AR-15 magazine on AK rifle
Modifications necessary to use the AR-15 magazine came out well.

The rifle sports standard AK-type sights. The trigger action isn’t overly heavy, at 6.5 pounds, and it’s clean enough for decent work. Like most AK variants, the bolt doesn’t lock open on the last shot. However, it can be locked open with the safety, which is simply a lever on the side of the receiver. When applied, it locks the bolt shut. This safety was stiff at first but worked in. In all cases, when parts have been stiff at first they have worked in and performed well. Having them be too loose leads to problems.

The big news is that the rifle is chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge. There have been 5.56 AKs before, but they took specific magazines that were sometimes difficult to obtain. This Zastava features a hard plastic addition to the receiver that accepts AR-15 magazines that are cheap and plentiful. If you favor the 7.62x39mm cartridge, this isn’t your rifle. If you like the simplicity and ruggedness of the AK but prefer the easy availability of the AR magazine and ammunition, this is your rifle. I tested a number of both aluminum and polymer magazines including the aluminum NHMTG and Colt, and the polymer Troy and Magpul. All worked well without any problems. This is interesting, as the much more expensive Beretta ARX did not accept all AR-15 magazines.

The sights of the AK-type rifle are rugged and useful. It was not difficult to adjust them for close quarters combat range—25 yards—and also adjust the sight for elevation at a long 100 yards. While the receiver features a device for mounting an optic, I think most of us will be better served with iron sights. The AK is a rugged; go anywhere, do anything rifle, and while accuracy potential is increased by a quality optic, the rifle is useful as it is issued.

Gas exiting AK rifle
This is typical AK gas blowing.

I fired the rifle with more than 200 rounds at the first range outing, and it was enjoyable to fire and use. Allowing it to cool between loading magazines, there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. I began with Winchester’s USA 55-grain FMJ, firing quickly, offhand, engaging targets quickly. Cases are ejected smartly. However, it wasn’t long before the receiver picked up the characteristic brass mark from cases hitting the receiver. It would not be an AK without this.

I also fired a full box of Hornady’s Steel Match loads. This is about the most affordable quality load available. I did not expect an AK to have any problem with steel-case loads. During this firing program, I practiced quickly changing magazines. The push-button magazine release works fine. The limiting factor is that the bolt doesn’t hold open on the last shot. The rifle isn’t as fast to reload as an AR, but it’s superior to the original AK system.

I also fired a number of loads that are definitely not something the AK was intended for. Fiocchi’s 40-grain V-MAX is a blistering-fast number intended to vaporize varmints at long range. At 3,600 fps, it’s is a great load. Part of the reason the AK is so reliable is that the over-the-barrel gas piston has a bit of tolerance for different loads. In any case, the V-MAX ran right through a magazine without complaint. I blasted dirt clods and clay birds at the 100-yard line with this load with good results.

Silhouette target with 7 bullet holes
At a long 100 yards, sighting on the chin, the author fired this group with the AK 5.56 rifle. With a little sight adjustment, it was on the money, but this effort was good for an iron-sighted rifle.

Next was a heavyweight. Fiocchi also offers a 69-grain load that is gilt-edged accurate in the right rifle. This one breaks about 2,700 fps. The results were good, with 20 rounds through the PMAG in no time and good accuracy in informal shooting.

Absolute accuracy was tested by firing at 100 yards. With iron sights, this type of shooting is just as much about muscle control and a good firing position as sight alignment and sight picture, but all of it is important. I fired the Winchester USA 55-grain FMJ, Hornady 55-grain Steel Match, and Fiocchi 69-grain Extrema in groups of five shots. Surprisingly, the rifle fired to the same point of aim, more or less, with all three loads. Accuracy was consistent, with most groups just under 4 inches. I managed one 3.5-inch group. This is a little better than most 7.62x39mm rifles. I bumped and adjusted the sights and was able to get good results in offhand fire as well. The bottom line is that this is a shooter. It’s accurate enough, reliable, and clearly a good-to-go rifle for alarms and excursions.

What’s your take on AKs shooting 5.56? Have you shot or own a Century International Arms PAP M90? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. I’ve owned the Zastava in 5.56 pistol version for a couple of years, never had a single failure. I mounted a laser on the side of the front grip. Although I enjoy shooting my Carbon 15, I prefer the AK for home defense. I find their iron sights not so good.

  2. I agree with Mikial that the AR platform is better suited for the 5.56/223 caliber. However, for those wanting something a little different, it’s nice to know there’s one out there that works right. Thanks for the informative article.

  3. To make a long story short, I sold my Colt AR after shooting the Norinco in 5.56 back in the 80’s. Still have two of them. You can’t have them either!

    Also, to keep the brass in good shape, find a deflector made for the Valmets. It clips to the cover and puts the brass in a nice neat pile! No damage….

    Just bought a M85 PAP and replaced the flash hider, foregrip, grip and have a stock adapter[new version] coming and will get a Shockwave Blade….

  4. I’m glad I got one of the PAP M85’s before they put the plastic adapter on them. I’d buy the M90MP without the adapter in a heartbeat. If you’ve seen a Yugo 5.56 mag you’d know why, they are perfect.

  5. I already own 2 AK’s, and I recently decided to get back into AR-15’s by buying a Ruger AR556, so I can’t really wrap myself around buying a gun like the one shown here. I’m enjoying the improved accuracy that comes with shooting an AR-15, and am ready to order a 60 round magazine that’s very compact.

    But I do have my eye on that Zastava PAP M77 that Damian posted about, when I can find one in stock somewhere. A .308 AK pattern rifle, especially a Zastava, seems much cooler to me.

  6. “My Colt HBAR, Colt SOCOM and the Daniel Defense have never malfunctioned, but then I haven’t marched in the Sandbox.”

    I have marched in the sandbox, and my Colt never failed me under the worst conditions. Here in the states, my M&P hasn’t either, something I can’t say about DPMS.

    But, on to the AK.

    Aks are . . . AKs. I carried one for a few months on my first contract in Iraq, including making the “Desert Dash” from the Jordanian border into Baghdad, and they can most definitely jam and fail in every way. They’re fine for what they are, and I enjoy my WASR when I take it out.

    A 5.56 AK? Why? I bought an AK because I wanted the 7.62X39 round in a robust platform. If I want to shoot 5.56, I have several AR pattern guns that will shoot it, and to me at least, are more fun to shoot.

    You are very correct about the magazine insertion issues with an AK. Yeah, you can get really good at it with practice but given that the gun was supposed to be for the masses, the awkward magazine insertion doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    1. “A 5.56 AK? Why?”

      Sometimes you like the platform but not its “standard” caliber for whatever reason. A 1911 in 9mm Luger is another good example of this.

    2. I understand what you’re saying, but for me the 5.56 is a precision round and the AR is the best platform. For that matter, if i want a 9mm 1911, I will just but a Browning High Power. Not quite a 1911, but to me, a 1911 is a .45.

  7. Talking as a retired foreign weapons instructor, the AK is a ‘spray weapon’ that is an excellent weapon out to about 150 meters although it may be accurate under the right conditions to 250 meters. However take an AK, drop it in a mud puddle, then drop 50 lbs of sand in said puddle before picking up the weapon and shaking off the sludge, load it and fire. You’ll find that it still works. i’d seriously like to see you try this with ANY Ar-15 or M16! I have two AR-15s: one in 5.45 x 39 and one in 6.5 Grendel. After firing an M16 for 24 of my 26 ‘good’years, you can have the 5.56! I also have two Galils: one in 5.45 x 39 and one in 7.62 x 51…both better rounds than the 5.56. If you are planning on killing people, the 5.45 round beats the 5.56 any day of the week and twice on Sunday due to the fact that it yaws twice after hitting soft tissue. I’m not a murderous individual, i just like the round; besides it used to be much cheaper tp purchase.

    1. I know what you’re saying about the AK’s reliability, but I’ve carried one in harms way and had it fail. I also had an entire spadeful of dirt accidentally dropped into the action of my M16 while digging a fighting position, Quickly dumped it out and then had the M16 operate flawlessly. So I think a lot of it is situational and dependent on the individual situation and weapon.

      Pretty much any weapon can fail.

      Except a Glock. 😉

  8. I have the M99 and the M77 .308 win cal zastava AK’S i have scoped the M77 .308 AK with the chi-com battle /sniper scope and i have a simmons 6×24 powered for extra long range .Iuse the stabilizing brace on the M99 it shoots very well with a red dot sight from the shoulder and hip ,the M77 will shoot as far as i want with right handloads or factory match ammo i can easily put my 25 round modified M1A mag to fit the M77 and shoot 1 moa at 400 to 500 meters with it the pistol version M99 is a great SHTF truck rifle and will accept all AK mags including a 75 round drum mag both have the tapco trigger system both are very accurate out to 100 yrds the M77 will shoot as far as the shooter has the knowledge to shoot it at with no probs i will prolly never part with either rifle and the M77 is more accurate out to much longer range than any M16,M4 or any other 5.56 .223 rifle i have went up against in semi auto .Zastava makes very good firearms and are money well spent especially on the M77 .308 WIN CAL VERSION.Great accuracy at any range you need it to be within normal shooting conditions abd abilities of the shooter .I hated my M4 over in Iraq and have not cared for 1 since .

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