Modernizing the AK Platform
Accessorizing your AK pattern rifle can be as problematic as being a firearms journalist working at Facebook. This is because AK-pattern rifles have a noticeable lack of standardization….what works in a Serbian AK likely won’t work in a Romanian, Chinese, or Russian manufactured rifle. It gets even stranger when you get into specific make and models. Numerous AK enthusiasts have spent hundreds of dollars in trial-and-error to find something that works with their specific set-up.
I own several AK’s and the new Zastava M70 ZPAP is my favorite but I wanted to modernize the hand-guard to accommodate an angled vertical grip and provide some more rail space for mounting a flamethrower….or at least a 1,000-lumen weapon-light (can I live?).
Finding compatible accessories was incredibly difficult. Midwest Industries offers a compatible MLOK hand-guard but it’s never in stock. Fit and finish had some questionable reviews, some users stating that they had to Dremel their rifle sling down to fit the Midwest Industries hand-guard. This is a common approach to modifying the AK platform and one I specifically wanted to avoid. Just as I was ready to give up on my quest, a certain subreddit pointed me to SLR Rifleworks.
I purchased the SLR Rifleworks’ ION 11.5″ Lite MLOK – M70 for $195. I also opted to buy the matching railed gas tube as well putting me at $295 for this set-up. Buy once, cry once. Especially considering I wanted to avoid potentially spending even more finding a compatible hand-guard for the Zastava.
Well GunsAmerica, I’m happy to report that the SLR Rifleworks ION hand-guard is a true drop-in solution for upgrading arguably the most popular rifle of 2020. It’s so easy, even a Gun-Grabber could do it.
Out of the box, the ION hand-guard comes with:
- The 11.5″ lower hand-guard made from 7075 Aircraft-grade aluminum
- Railed Gas tube (additional $99), you can still use the factory gas tube instead
- 2 hex-screws for marrying these two pieces together
I unboxed the parts, field stripped the Zastava and within 5 minutes I had a modern AK pattern rifle.
Now, I’m sure someone is going to comment “Wood furniture or GFY” so let me address that first: I have an AK with wood furniture. I want to eventually mount my Thermal Scope to this Zastava and use it on some hog hunts. Wood furniture is pretty to look at sure but it’s not the most modular or even ergonomic option so here we are.
AKs are notorious for heating up fast. I’ve personally burnt myself on hot barrels on several occasions. I was specifically interested in how the SLR Rifleworks ION hand-guard handled heat dissipation. Admittedly, I tested the ION in the midst of a Texas snowstorm so I had the below-freezing ambient temperature working in my favor. However, after doing 3 consecutive 30 round mag-dumps, the ION hand-guard was still comfortable to the touch.
While I’m sure the ION will get hot faster in 110 degree Texas summers, keep in mind my intended purpose is using this as a hog rifle. I won’t be dropping 90 rounds into a sounder in 30 seconds even if I wanted to. The heat dissipation was a noticeable improvement even over the factory polymer hand-guard that came with the Zastava.
Keep in mind, this is 2021, and ammo availability and prices have gotten worse. 7.62×39 is going for about .50 cents per round now. Those mag-dumps were painful but consider a gesture of love from me to GunsAmerica readers.
All in all, I burned through close to 200 rounds testing this hand-guard and I can confidently say, if you’re looking for an easy solution to modernizing your Zastava, look no further. I’ve already recommended this hand-guard to 3 of my friends who are looking for something similar.
Now not every review can be perfect. While the hand-guard truly is a drop-in solution and the ION hand-guard is close to perfect, I’m an elder millennial so of course, I’ve got some complaints.
First, the ION hand-guard is a little heavy. This should be expected. You’re adding an 11.5″ chunk of metal to an already heavy rifle. This doesn’t bother me all that much because I used to hunt with an AR-10 but I know this is a big deal for a lot of people so it’s worth calling out.
Secondly, the railed gas tube isn’t as tight as Zastava’s factory gas tube. This results in gases escaping the gas tube rail and getting on your hands. Again, this isn’t a big deal to me but it’s something worth calling out. Easy fix: don’t put your fingers in your mouth while shooting.
I’m incredibly happy with the ION hand-guard from SLR. It does what I need it to do, the installation was a cakewalk and it opens up a lot of modularity for Zastava m70 ZPAP owners. My two criticisms are pretty minor and I wholeheartedly recommend SLR Rifleworks. I’ll be looking at a few of their other hand-guards for future projects.