Few firearms are as iconic and legendary as the sturdy, heavy, and reliable AK platform. First developed in the Soviet Union beginning in 1946, the AK has come to be a world-dominating workhorse for virtually every rifleman on the planet. However, not all AKs are created equally, and not all of them necessarily have to be Russian-made in order to be quality – this especially applies to AKs chambered in 5.56 NATO. Rotating Bolt Industries (RBI) is a boutique gun shop specializing in built-to-order 5.56 AKs that incorporate modern features and a handful of options that can be selected by the customer to make it more suitable for them. Rotating Bolt Industries and American Steppe have partnered up to make the first run of these rifles and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive the very first copy of the RB-01, rifle serial number 001 to test out. Today we’ll go over my experiences and see how well this American-made 5.56 AK rifle held up.
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TFB Review: The Rotating Bolt Industries RB-01 5.56 AK
The RB-01 rifles are being made from unserialized Polish parts (for 922 compliance). The base rifle features a Wytwórnia Broni Jacek Popiński (WBP) Polish parts kit and came along with the following parts:
- 5.56 Black Nitrided US 4150 Steel 16″ Barrel *AKM Config 23mm* made by Rosco Mfg
- 5.56/.223 WBP AKM – Standard Parts Kit
- Khyber Customs M-Lok handguard
- AK74 AK103 Style Gas Block – 90-degree Gas Port
- Midwest Industries Two-Chamber Muzzle Brake 5.56mm 1/2″-28 Thread Steel Black
- Polish Single Finger Safety
- Polish Stamping AK74 Receiver
- Ultimak Optic Mount
- AKML-K Lower Handguard
- AKS-T Buffer Tube
- ERG Pistol Grip – Black
- Magpul CTR buttstock
As configured, the RB-01 that was sent to me costs around $2,200 – a fairly steep price to pay but not nearly as expensive as other custom AKs out there. According to American Steppe and Rotating Bolt Industries, a base rifle should cost around $1,600 and can still be had for under $2,000 even with some optional accessories from the shop.
I am not typically an AK guy but my entry into the 2023 Finnish Brutality match changed that pretty quick since I was planning on running a clone of an RK 62 rifle. My last AK I had sold off in 2016 and since then I have had very little time to practice with an AK-style rifle. Luckily, RBI and American Steppe showed up at just the right time and I was able to start practicing with something similar to the RK 62 while getting to put a lot of rounds through this rifle starting in June.
While RBI sent me about 500 rounds of mixed ammunition, I also put an additional 1,500 rounds through the rifle over the course of the last 6 months. I can’t recall a single malfunction with any of the ammunition I used which included Wolf Steel Case, Winchester White Box, AAC 77gr OTM, PMC X-Tac, and a handful of odds and ends I had lying around in my ammo box. Suffice it to say, the RB-01 eats ammunition just like any other AK and runs flawlessly regardless of the type of ammunition fed to it. I occasionally checked underneath the dust cover to look for any undue wear and tear on the internals and observed none.
Running an AK was something that I needed to get more accustomed to in the lead-up to the competition in Finland, as part of that I had to sort of re-learn how to run an AK and handle the quirks that AKs have. The Midwest Industries two-chamber muzzle brake included with the rifle did an amazing job at mitigating the recoil impulse and allowed for fast follow-up shots – something that can be time-critical at a Brutality Match.
One thing I did notice because of the type of handguard installed and the placement of my vertical foregrip is that the rifle tended to heat up pretty quickly while running back-to-back drills. The all-metal handguard, optic mount, and vertical foregrip are largely to blame for this since they conduct heat much better than a traditional wood or polymer handguard – this is something to keep in mind if you plan on doing high-volume shooting with this rifle – be prepared to bring gloves.
While fixed stock AKs offer little in the way of LOP adjustment for different shooters, the RB-01 comes equipped with an M4 style buffer tube adapter which means that you can take advantage of the AR-15 platform’s extensive list of adjustable buttstock if you don’t like the Magpul CTR stock.
The two best groups I was able to produce out of the rifle were shot with the AAC 77grain OTM, and my 55gr Nosler handloads. I’d give a slight advantage to my handloads which netted me a 1.03″ group at 50 yards (roughly 2 MOA), while the factory AAC 77gr OTM ammunition worked out to a 1.27″ group at the same distance (roughly 2.5 MOA). For an AK I’d call this pretty impressive, however, both of these types of ammunition are pretty expensive and/or time-consuming to make.
Slightly larger groups ranging anywhere from 3 MOA to 5 MOA were also observed during my accuracy testing phase of the review. Overall, I’d say that this particular AK is pretty above average in the accuracy department when paired with the right ammo, but is probably more or less going to shoot how you’d expect with lower-quality ammunition. Since I was training for a competition and didn’t plan on taking any shots beyond 100 yards, I felt like reliability was a far more important metric than accuracy, and the RB-01 handles both pretty well even with cheap ammunition.
I think the RB-01 is quite an impressive rifle from a more or less unknown company producing custom firearms. It rocks in the reliability department, does decently in the accuracy department, and it’s honestly quite fun to shoot an AK that has just a tad bit less recoil. I would really love to see American Steppe and Rotating Bolt Industries maintain this level of quality, reliability, and accuracy with their subsequent rifles as this particular sample really knocked it out of the park.
I’d say the RB-01 is probably priced about right according to what you can usually find 5.56 AKs for on the web. The Zastava M90, which is a more budget-conscious option can set you back about $1,300 online while the more expensive Arsenal SAM5 comes at a starting premium of $2,000. So depending on what you’re after in a 5.56 AK, the Rotating Bolt Industries RB-01 rifle is at least worth considering, especially if you’re looking for a more modernized AK rifle that’s customized right from the shop.