The classic police shotgun, once considered a mainstay of law enforcement, has been increasingly supplanted by the patrol rifle. Department issued or officer owned/department approved rifles are becoming more common with today’s progressive police departments than shotguns.
The patrol rifle is not intended as an entry/raid weapon or rapid response carbine. These weapons often utilize a much shorter barrel for “cutting the pie” around corners. The patrol rifle is also not meant as a scoped sniper rifle, which characteristically uses a long, highly accurate barrel and a light trigger pull.
Instead, the patrol rifle is the modern interpretation of the long barreled lever action rifle, kept close at hand in a saddle scabbard by lawmen on horseback. While the duty pistol on your hip is geared toward quickly evolving defensive situations, the patrol rifle is an offensive weapon. If a police officer knows ahead of time that an armed encounter is likely, the patrol rifle is available to engage a more distant threat with offensive fire.
Today’s patrol rifle is generally secured in a squad car under lock and key, ready to be called upon when needed. It fires a rifle caliber cartridge from a standard barrel length (usually around 16” to 20”) and is equipped with iron sights or possibly an electronic red dot sight. It also features a high capacity magazine for cover fire if needed.
While the AR-15 has become the preferred platform for patrol rifles, other choices exist beyond the abundant number of manufacturers producing AR-15s. One such choice is the Century International Arms Centurion 39 rifle. It offers the advantages of power, accuracy, ambidextrous handling, reliability, and cost effectiveness.
Century International Arms
The new Centurion 39 patrol rifle is a semi-automatic patrol rifle—a 100 percent, USA-made version of the AK-47 designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov. It’s chambered for the 7.62x39 cartridge, a .30 caliber round that’s been in service since just after WWII. The rifle’s gas tube above the barrel bleeds off pressure created by the fired bullet and this pressure pushes a gas piston to the rear, which in turn drives back the bolt and cycles the action.
Century International Arms imports numerous variations of the standard military AK-47 rifle built all over the world. The Imported Parts Law of 1990 (18 USC 944R) is a rather confusing list of parts that requires any version of this rifle sold in the US to contain at least 10 major parts made here in the States. Century imports foreign made rifles and then swaps out US made parts to be compliant with the law. However, because the Centurion 39 is made entirely here in the US, it has no issue with 944R compliance.
A .30 Caliber Patrol Rifle
While many view the 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington cartridge as adequate for law enforcement needs, others prefer a larger caliber with a bullet heavier than the .22 caliber round with its 55 grain bullet, common in the AR-15 platform. The desire for a harder hitting round has led to the development of new cartridges such as the 6.5 Grendel and the 6.8 SPC.
The .308 Winchester (7.62x51 NATO) has been the .30 caliber standard since 1952, but AR-10 (the common name for the AR-15 chambered for the .308 round) style rifles in this caliber are notoriously expensive. Upgrading from the 5.56 NATO to any of these cartridges mandates a costly rifle and similarly costly ammunition.
Ammo cost is where the benefits of the 7.62x39 round become apparent. The cartridge’s standard .30 caliber bullet weighs 122 grains and heavier bullets around 154 grains are available with soft point bullets. The Russian round is wider and heavier than the 5.56 NATO. The cost for quality, brass cased rounds from Hornady, Winchester, Remington, and others is about the same as other cartridges.
However, practice ammunition from Herters, Wolf, and other Russian makers is very inexpensive. 7.62x39 may actually be the least expensive centerfire rifle cartridge on the market today, due to the importation of steel cased ammunition. Because of its popularity, the 7.62x39 cartridge is now chambered in the Sig Sauer 556R, Ruger Mini-14 and several AR-15s.
Inexpensive practice ammunition and quality carry ammo is readily available to an individual law enforcement officer authorized to deploy a personally owned rifle in 7.62x39. To upgrade from a 5.56 NATO AR-15 up to a larger .308 caliber rifle usually means at least a couple thousand dollars. The suggested retail price of the Centurion 39 is $1,100 and actual selling prices are under $900.
Quality Fit, Finish, and Features
The Centurion 39 is not a cheap, slapped together, stamped steel, foreign made, inaccurate weapon. That means it’s completely opposite from most other versions of this proven rifle design.
The Centurion 39 has an American flag neatly engraved its receiver, just to the left of manufacturer’s Georgia, Vermont address. Upon first hefting the gun, you immediately come to realize this is no stamped steel gun, quickly and cheaply tack welded together like most of its foreign made cousins.
The Centurion 39’s receiver is milled and machined from a solid 11 pound block of 4140 ordnance steel. The rifle weighs 8.2 pounds unloaded, which is heavier than a standard AR-15 since the AR usually has an aluminum alloy receiver.
The rifle’s metal surfaces are well finished in matte black that matches the fixed polymer stock and quad Picatinny rail forearm. Shouldering the weapon was comfortable, due to the stock’s proper length of pull. The plastic pistol grip was also comfortable, although the finger grooves didn’t fit my big hands very well. When I welded my cheek to the stock, the factory sights lined up naturally and the subjective balance of the rifle was excellent.
The Centurions 39’s rear sight is secured to the rear of the barrel, which is more forward than we’re used to on standard rifles. However, the reduced sight radius didn’t hurt accuracy at distances up to 50 yards. The rear sight is much like a pistol’s in that it has a similarly squared notch. The battle sight can be raised for elevation change by squeezing the spring loaded adjuster and pushing the sight forward on its angled base.
It’s also adjustable for windage (a feature not usually found on an AK-47) by loosening an Allen screw and then moving the sight left or right. The front sight is made of high visibility red plastic and is protected by steel wings. The front site is simply screwed up or down for additional elevation adjustment.
The 16-1/2 inch barrel has a 1:10 twist ratio and sports Century’s own proprietary design “Chevron” compensator. The compensator directs expended gas upward upon firing, which helps reduce muzzle climb. The compensator screws off easily for cleaning by depressing a spring loaded retainer button.
The impact resistant quad rail forearm worked well when mounting a tactical flashlight and a vertical foregrip (a stubby version works best so it doesn’t interfere with the curved 30 round magazine). However, the top Picatinny rail is attached to the gas tube above the barrel and there is a bit of wobble inherent in the design. At relatively close distances of 25 to 50 yards, I tried an electronic red dot and it worked excellently. But at 100 yards, I would prefer a more stable and solid mount.
The Tapco trigger was a little gritty with a bit of take up, but it let off at 5 pounds, 5 ounces. Once the trigger let the internal hammer fall, there was no further over travel. It isn’t meant to be a target trigger and it worked fine for its intended purpose.
Tapco also supplied the two 30 round magazines (although I could only get 28 rounds in them) included with the Centurion 39. The tough, polymer magazines are ribbed for strength and feature a steel floorplate. Inserting a magazine at an angle and then rocking it backward into place was fast and provided both a tactile and audible click.
There’s no need to tug on the magazine to be sure it’s properly seated; once it’s in, you know it’s in. The oversize military style release lever pivots forward, just like a Heckler & Koch MP5, to free a magazine for exchange. This thumb activated magazine release is ambidextrous for easy use by left handed officers.
The safety lever is located on the right side of the receiver. Its downward position means the weapon is ready to fire. Lifting the lever up prevents the bolt from moving all the way to the rear and also locks the trigger.
The Centurion 39’s bolt handle is also on the right side and is drawn to the rear just like many other military rifles, such as the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and numerous civilian rifles like the Ruger Mini-14 and 10/22. Working the bolt (which does not stay back after the last shot is fired) or moving the safety requires a right handed shooter to let go of the rifle’s pistol grip.
A lefty has no problem working the bolt with their offhand, but the safety can be troublesome. I found the manual of arms very natural and intuitive, but I’m also used to shooting rifles with bolts on their right side, which are similar in operation to the Centurion 39.
The AR-15 system has the advantage of allowing its operator to utilize the left hand to slap the bolt release. The safety can be manipulated without taking the strong hand off the pistol grip. These are advantages for entry team and rapid response tactics because quick safety activation (on and off) and fast magazine changes may be required.
Nevertheless, a patrol rifle does not necessarily require fast magazine changes (especially with 30 round magazines) or placing a weapon on and off safe repeatedly. We’re only talking a few seconds difference between the two systems. The patrol rifle provides an officer with an offensive weapon capable of shooting accurately at a distance. It allows an officer to “one up” an offender with a handgun, by engaging the offender from a greater distance.
Customizing: Options Galore
I swapped out the Centurion 39’s pistol grip for a rubber Hogue Monogrip. This was accomplished by simply removing and then reinstalling a single bolt. The Hogue grip is comfortable, secure, and provided perfect hand alignment in relationship with the rifle’s trigger.
I also purchased a Tapco M4 style, collapsible, six position stock. The polymer M4 stock can be swiftly shortened for use with a bullet resistant vest and its length of pull can be adjusted to match an officer’s size. The factory lower attachment tang protruded underneath the M4 stock, but instead of bending or cutting it off, I used the tang to attach a single point sling.
Virtually any optional equipment an officer could desire on an AR-15 will also work on the Centurion 39, thanks to the miracle of the mil-spec Picatinny rail. However, securing a scope to the rifle is a challenge because the aluminum dust cover does not provide for a secure rail mount. The most solid method is to drill holes in the left side of the receiver and then attach a side mount for a rail system that can be properly fastened to mount a scope.
Since I didn’t want to add holes to the test rifle, I instead purchased a Poly Technologies Tri-Rail that attached to the rear sight and then made use of the screw that locks the stock to the frame. This system allowed my Leupold 3-9x40 scope to be mounted securely on the rifle.
Accuracy at 200 yards
The Centurion 39’s factory iron sights gave cloverleaf groups at 25 yards and 1” groups at 50 yards. At 100 yards, hits on man sized targets were easy, but I wanted to know how well the rifle would group if my eyes were assisted by magnified optics. I believed that the machined steel receiver and quality barrel would provide better than average performance from Kalishnikov’s design.
My best five shot group at 100 yards off a sandbag rest measured 2 ¼”. I called a low flier, so the remaining 4 shot grouping measured just 1 ½”. That small group was with Herters 122 grain ammo that cost only $4 for a box of 20 rounds. That’s very good accuracy for an “out of the box” military style semi-automatic rifle, fired with cheap ammo. I was even more impressed when I was able to keep 9 out of 10 shots in the black of a bullseye target at 200 yards.
In addition to its accuracy, the Centurion 39 proved to be reliable as well. No failures to feed or eject occurred during testing with two types of Remington ammo, two types from Herters, two types of Sellier & Bellot, and Wolf ammunition.
Recoil from the .30 caliber round was very mild. There’s no absorbent pad on the butt of the gun because none is needed. My fourteen year old daughter fired the rifle with no ill effects to her shoulder, so any police officer can fire the Centurion 39 without a problem. The proprietary Chevron muzzle brake proved itself by reducing muzzle flip as it directed expanding gas upward.
Viable Patrol Rifle Choice
Compared to other 7.62x39 rifles on the market, the Century International Arms version of the AK-47 is a high quality, accurate, reliable, and relatively inexpensive rifle. It is an option for those looking for more than the .223/5.56 NATO round offers.
The Centurion 39 provides law enforcement with a .30 caliber bullet weighing more than twice as much as a .223 round. The rifle is reliable and accurate out to 200 yards, which is more than a uniformed officer should ever need from a patrol rifle. This well-made AK-47 pattern rifle has a favorable price point and its ammunition is inexpensive and readily available in both practice and duty versions.
While it may appear contradictory to have the American flag stamped on an AK-47, the flag’s symbol of freedom reminds us that a gun is just a tool. Regardless of who designed it or what countries have issued it, a quality firearm can be put to good use by law enforcement to guard those we have sworn to protect. The fact that the Centurion 39 is made in the USA makes it that much more attractive and appropriate as an option for police patrol use in the United States.
Steve Tracy is a 22-year police veteran with 20 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.