To regular Modern Rifleman readers and followers it should really be little surprise to hear that I love AKs. They’re some of my favorite rifles to shoot and are without question my top choice to collect. However, they haven’t always been too friendly to me – mainly due to their mediocre iron sights and my less-than-perfect eyes.
I’ve spent years bemoaning the fact that I do not shoot my AKs well, but have largely done nothing about it. As a traditionalist, I was hesitant to add Western optics to my rifles, but I also had little faith in the Soviet and ex-Soviet options out there. While I was out testing my Arsenal SLR-104FR, I finally realized something had to give. The rifle was clearly capable of respectable accuracy, but the sights simply weren’t doing it for me. After a little research, I settled on the PK-01VS from BelOMO. I found a brand new example on eBay for around $340 shipped from Belarus and had the red dot in hand in around two weeks.
The PK-01VS is one of a few different AK-specific red dots currently issued by military forces around the world. It is the product of a lengthy development effort by BelOMO to offer a lighter, lower-sitting, center-mounted red dot with improved battery life over the PK-A and PK-01V/VI series optics. As you’ll see, it does a solid job of hitting all of these points.
The ‘VS arrived in a camouflage pouch with cleaning tools and a Cyrillic manual that I have no intention of ever reading. A far cry from some of the flashy packaging of Western optics, BelOMO’s approach is utilitarian and to the point. Frankly, I doubt I’ll use any of the included items, save for the pouch on occasion.
Let’s get something out of the way right now. The PK-01VS is relatively heavy. According to my postal scale, it weighs a whopping 16.6 ounces with a battery installed. It’s also 5.25 inches long. The red dot may be BelOMO’s answer to the Aimpoint, but it’s quite a lot larger than even the 30mm Aimpoint offerings. As someone who usually finds AKs light-ish and relatively handy, adding the PK-01VS takes some getting used to. It noticeably affects the balance of the rifle and adds bulk. Fortunately, it isn’t enough to be a turn-off and really, most optics will make the rifle noticeably heavier.
The most important size-related note is that the PK-01VS is a vast improvement over past tube-style dots from BelOMO. The PK-01V, PK-A, and PK-A Venezuela are all roughly 30% heavier than the PK-01VS. So while the ‘VS might not compare favorably to Aimpoints, it absolutely bests it’s AK-specific brothers. Being somewhat heavy does have its upsides. The PK-01VS is a rugged optic. It is made almost entirely of aluminum, but the sight’s tube is a little thicker than other 30mm red dots, or at least it seems to be. Finally, the exterior of the optic is finished in a textured black paint.
The size of the PK-01VS will cause trouble if you plan to use it on an AKS-74U or other “Krinkov” type rifle. Because the rear sight sits on the dustcover of the ‘74U, the PK-01VS is too long to fit. The front portion of the optic and backside of the rear iron sight interfere with one another. If you own a Krink, chances are good that you’ll have to look elsewhere for a red dot, perhaps to something like the Kobra.
One thing the Russians (and Belarussians by extension) have had right for decades is optics mounting. No, the AK’s side-mounted rail isn’t ideal from really any perspective, but the latching system itself is surprisingly solid and repeatable. It’s also conceptually similar to quick detach (QD) systems loved by shooters here in the US. Basically, attaching the universal mount on the PK-01VS to a rifle requires simply sliding the mount over the optics rail (with the locking arm pointing rightward). Line up the mount’s pivot drum with the complementary recess in the sight rail. Finally, rotate the mount’s locking arm 180-degrees from right to left and lock the optic in place. It’s likely that the red dot will wobble some when first mounted up. If that’s the case, there’s an adjustment process, one that’s not well suited for a written explanation. For that reason, below is a video that I found helpful when setting up my PK-01VS.
Once properly adjusted, the mount works just like any quality QD system. By that I mean that it can be removed and reattached with little to no shift in point of impact (POI). In my range testing, I have repeatedly mounted and removed the red dot to see if doing so had any effect on where my aimed shots would land. If any shift was present, it was less than 1 minute of arc (MOA). The ability to easily attach and unmount optics like the PK-01VS is especially important considering the prevalence of left-side folding stocks on AKs. Not only does the sight and mount add quite a lot of lateral thickness to the rifle, it also prevents military-spec sidefolders like the type found on my SLR-104FR from folding. Removal, in this case, is necessary and it is critical that the optic retain zero when remounted.
In the past, most Soviet optics mounts placed the scope or red dot offset to the left side of the bore line. This led to some interesting cheek weld challenges and made precise zeroing rather challenging. Recent designs now typically mount up with the optic above the dust cover. Such is the case with the PK-01VS. The sight sits right above receiver and in line with the barrel. In fact, it sits so low that standard AK iron sights cowitness through the PK’s tube, but just barely. I definitely won’t call it a lower 1/3rd cowitness. It’s more like a lower 1/6th. In other words, just barely usable.
The PK-01VS is adjustable for windage and elevation using turrets on the top and left side of the optic tube. Other than the serial number, this is the only place where you’ll find Latin characters on the sight. In the photos, you’ll see that the windage turret reads “MPI RIGHT” and the elevation, “MPI UP”. The MPI abbreviation means “Move Point of Impact”, or at least it appears to. This labeling makes adjustments very, very easy. Each click on the turrets corresponds with 1/2 MOA of movement, which is sufficiently precise for the red dot’s intended use.
Soviet and ex-Soviet optics aren’t exactly known for their electronics, but the PK-01VS isn’t a slouch in this regard. It runs off a single AA cell and according to testing performed by RussianOptics.net, is capable of delivering over 3,600 hours of use at the highest brightness setting. To be honest, I haven’t tested that part myself, but RussianOptics.net is a reliable source on this matter. If the rechargeable AA in my example dies in an unreasonably or unexpectedly short time, I’ll update this review. As of now, it’s holding strong. The beauty of the PK-01VS’s battery situation is that AA cells are easy and cheap to source.
Unlike the popular Kobra reflex red dot, the PK-01VS sports only a single dot reticle. I’m okay with that because other reticles often make for a cluttered sight picture and offer few tangible advantages. The dot’s size is listed at 1 MOA, which is probably a reasonably true measurement. I am a fan of smaller dots, primarily because they work best with my eyes. I also don’t see a whole lot of point in using a larger dot on a rifle. The 1 MOA aiming point isn’t difficult to acquire and even if it does pose a challenge, simply turning up the brightness makes it easier to spot.
The sight comes with 8 brightness settings, which can be selected using a dial at the rear of the battery tube. The levels are identified with numbers 0 through 7 and then a final “K” setting. This eighth (ninth if you count 0) position serves two purposes. First, it’s the brightest of the bunch. Second, it can be used to test the battery. If the dot is not visible when the dial is set to “K”, the battery is nearing the end of its charge. On the other end of the spectrum, settings 1 through 3 are intended for use with night vision. They’re barely visible to the naked eye, even in a dark room.
At the moment, I have only one major complaint with the PK-01VS. For me, there seems to be no ideal brightness setting. Depending on lighting conditions, I usually opt for either setting 6 or 7. Obviously, cloudier days call for the dimmer setting while sunnier ones require that I step up the illumination. In truth, I could really use something in-between.
More so than other brightness increments, the step from 6 to 7 seems to be a major leap, the sort that might be two or three levels on most quality red dots. It’s a shame, because I really like everything else about the optic. I still think the PK-01VS is a superb red dot, particularly as far as AK-specific options are concerned, but the brightness inconsistency is unfortunate and noteworthy.
The sight’s optical clarity is respectable, but perhaps not quite as good as Aimpoint’s. I haven’t had the opportunity to use an Aimpoint PRO yet, which I am told has similar glass to the ‘VS, but the Comp M4 definitely bests the BelOMO optic by a small margin. the PK-01VS’s glass has somewhat of a blue hue. I don’t think the color is distracting. It is however, present.
I have repeatedly tested the PK-01VS for parallax inside of and I’m quite comfortable saying that the optic is “parallax free” at least as close as 50 yards. At around that distance, I have noticed that if you have the dot positioned at the extreme edges of the tube, it will wander ever so slightly. Because the center 95% of the sight picture presents no parallax challenges at all, I see this as a non-issue. Any shooter who maintains even modestly consistent cheek weld will have no trouble with this red dot.
By now, it’s probably obvious that I don’t at all regret purchasing the PK-01VS. Prior to receiving this red dot, AKs were mostly novelty rifles for me. Sure, I loved collecting them, but the iron sights simply did not work with my eyes and my shooting results were abysmal. As soon as I mounted the ‘VS up, things changed – drastically.
The experience hasn’t been perfect, though. The brightness adjustments could use more granularity and the red dot is still heavy, even if it is much lighter than other AK options. Otherwise, the PK-01VS doesn’t leave me with much to complain about. The 1 MOA dot is sharp, the glass is reasonably clear, and the use of AA batteries means spares are almost always available.
If you’re an AK fan who is looking to squeeze some additional capabilities out of your rifle, the PK-01VS is a solid upgrade and well worth the ~$350 asking price.