The Kalashnikov AK-74 assault rifle was officially adopted by the Soviet army in 1974. However, its development traces its roots to 1960, when Soviet experts learned about the newest American developments concerning small caliber, high-velocity military rifles such as the Armalite AR-15 (future M16).
Before 1963, Soviet experts considered three possible calibers smaller than the then-current 7,62mm, namely the 4.5mm, 5.6mm, and 6.5mm. The smallest of the three calibers was rejected due to insufficient lethality and range, and the biggest one (which was roughly equivalent to the present-day 6.5mm Grendel cartridge) was rejected due to insufficient advantages it offered over the 7.62x39mm round. Early 5.6mm experimental cartridges were built using 7.62x39mm cases necked down, but circa 1966 a new, smaller diameter case was developed for the new round.
This new round featured a bottlenecked, tapered case 39mm long made of steel. It was loaded with a slim, relatively long bullet with a nominal caliber of 5.45mm (the actual bullet diameter is 5.62 mm). The bullet featured combined steel and lead core with a hollow nose. Muzzle velocity from a 415mm barrel was about 900 m/s. As a side note, this new round and its caliber were listed in Soviet documents as ‘5.6mm’ until around 1973, when it was renamed to ‘5.45mm’ to conform to the old-time Russian tradition of naming the caliber by the bore diameter, measured across the lands of the rifling.
It must be noted that the new 5.45mm ammunition featured a case of smaller diameter (compared to 7.62×39 M43 cartridges); this allowed for a lighter round. It also solved the problem of attempting to load 7.62mm ammunition into the 5.45mm weapon by mistake (which might result in a catastrophic failure of the weapon).
With the ammunition design established, in 1966 Soviet military issued its requirements for a new small arms system, and the first trials commenced in 1968. There were numerous contenders, but two undisputed leaders were the A-3 rifle, developed by the Kalashnikov team at IZHMASH, and the SA-006 rifle, developed by the Konstantinov team at KMZ in Kovrov. The A-3 rifle was based on the highly successful Kalashnikov AKM rifle and proved to be more reliable, better suited to harsh military use, and less expensive. The SA-006 rifle, which used the balanced action system, while slightly more effective, was noticeably more complex and required much more everyday maintenance to keep it in working conditions. As a result, in 1973 the Kalashnikov A-3 rifle was recommended for adoption by the Soviet Armed forces.
Following the decision of the trials commission, the Kalashnikov 5.45mm assault rifle was officially adopted by the Soviet Army early in 1974 as the ‘5.45mm Avtomat Kalashnikova, obraztsa 1974 goda (AK-74)’. Basically, it was the same old AKM weapon, adapted to the smaller 5.45mm ammunition and fitted with a relatively large muzzle brake. Another distinguishing feature was found on the buttstock, in the form of two oval cuts on either side made to reduce weight. The AK-74 received the official GRAU index 6P20 (6П20).
The folding butt version, known as AKS-74, which was intended for airborne troops, also featured a new type of folding buttstock. Instead of the earlier pattern of underfolding stock, found on 7.62mm AKMS rifles, the AKS-74 featured a more rigid and robust side-folding metallic buttstock, which folded to the left side of the gun. The AKS-74 has a GRAU index 6P21 (6П21).
Early production guns feature polymer pistol grips and wooden buttstocks and handguards. On late production models, all furniture is made of polymer. During the 1980s polyamide-based polymer used for furniture and magazines was of characteristic plum color, and in early 1990s it was changed to the black color. The “Night” version, known as AK74N, was manufactured with a night /IR scope rail added to the left side of the receiver.
Initial production orders for the AK-74 rifles were issued to factories in the Izhevsk (IZHMASH) and Tula (TOZ). However, soon after the adoption of the shorter AKS-74U rifle, circa 1981 its production was exclusively assigned to the TOZ factory in Tula, and the bulk of the full-size AK-74 and AKS-74 rifles were produced by IZHMASH.
The latest variation of the AK-74 family was introduced circa 1991 and replaced both AK-74 and AKS-74 in production. It was the AK-74M rifle, which is still in production and currently the standard issue rifle of the Russian Army. The plans of replacing it with the widely advertised Nikonov AN-94 assault rifle were not carried out to any significant extent – the AN-94 was issued only to certain “elite” units of the Russian Army, police, and the Internal Affairs Ministry troops. An interesting and somewhat unorthodox weapon, it was quite complex and expensive to manufacture. The GRAU index for the Kalashnikov AK-74M rifle is 6P34 (6П34).
The Kalashnikov AK-74M differs externally from the AK-74 of late 1980’s production by having the side-folding, solid black plastic buttstock, and scope rail mounted on the left receiver as standard. Some minor improvements were also made in the production process of the new rifle. The AK-74M retained almost all the advantages and disadvantages of the earlier Kalashnikov designs, including undisputed reliability, simplicity of operation and maintenance, and familiar, if somewhat outdated “human engineering” and ergonomics. It also served as a base for the so-called ‘hundred’ series of Kalashnikov rifles, the AK-101 to AK-105.
Starting from 2017, a number of older AK-74 and AK-74M rifles still in service with the Russian army were upgraded with the so-called KM-AK modernization kit. This upgrade improves ergonomics and handling with the introduction of the adjustable length stock, and permits the use of modern sights thanks to the new railed top cover, hinged to the rear sight base. Starting in 2018, many older AK-74 type rifles in the front-line units of the Russian army are being replaced by the most modern weapon in this family, the Kalashnikov AK-12 assault rifle.
The AK74 type, 5.45mm assault rifles were also manufactured in East Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania. Most of these designs after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact were converted to 5.56mm NATO ammunition.
For a detailed technical description of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, please refer to the Kalashnikov AKM description on this site.
|Action||Gasoperated, rotating bolt with 2 lugs|
|Weight, empty||3.07 kg||2.97 kg||3.4 kg|
|Length:||940 mm||940 / 700 mm||942 / 704 mm|
|Rate of fire||600- 650 rounds per minute|
|Magazine capacity||30rounds standard|