The AK-74 is a 5.45mm assault rifle developed in the early 1970s in the Soviet Union. It was developed from the earlier AKM (itself a refined version of the AK-47) and was introduced in 1974.The rifle first saw service with Soviet forces engaged in the Afghanistan conflict. Presently, the rifle continues to be used by the majority of countriesof the former USSR. Additionally, unlicensed copies were produced in Bulgaria (AK-74 and AKS-74U), China (Type 88), the former East Germany (MPi-AK-74N, MPi-AKS-74N, MPi-AKS-74NK) and Romania (PA md. 86).
The idea of the reduced caliber ammunition for military shoulder arms was played with for a very long time. Each time the technology leaped forward, the standard calibers were reduced - from the 0.45 - 0.50 inch (11.4 - 12.7mm) of the mid-1800 to the .30 of the mid-1900s. The idea of further reduction of the caliber down to 6.5 - 5.6 mm (.240 - .220 inch) was also considered in many countries since the beginning of the XX century, but it was not until the 1960s when the idea of the low impulse, small-caliber, high velocity round came up to something real. When US Army adopted the M16 rifle in the mid-1960s, everybody else eyed Americans with interest. And as soon as the idea of small caliber rifle was found worthwhile, the total rearming began.
Soviet army started the development of its own small-caliber ammunition in the early 1960s. After some years of development, a new round was created. This round featured a bottlenecked, tapered case 39mm long made of steel, loaded with slim, relatively long bullet with nominal caliber of 5.45mm (actual bullet diameter is 5.62 mm). The bullet featured a combined steel and lead core with the hollow nose, muzzle velocity from the 415mm barrel was about 900 m/s. It must be noted that the new 5.45mm ammunition featured a new case of smaller diameter (compared to 7.62x39 M43 cartridges); this allowed for lighter round and also solved the problem of loading of the 7.62mm ammunition into the 5.45mm weapon by mistake (which other
wwise might result in a catastrophical failure of the weapon). As soon as the new ammunition was available and accepted by the Soviet Military, it was decided to develop a new family of small arms around this cartridge, and an official requirements for new family of small arms were issued to all development organizations in 1966. Trials of new weapons commenced in 1968, and it must be note that most rifles, submitted for trials, were of highly advanced designs, as the main goal of the new weapon was to significantly improve hits probability (compared to 7.62mm AKM rifles). Most weapons were build using so called "balanced action", in which additional mass is added to the action to counter-recoil synchronously with the bolt group, to minimize its effect on the gun stability. About the only weapon of the more or less conventional design was the entry by Kalashnikov team - this was more or less the old AKM rifle, adapted for new 5.45mm ammunition.
After extensive and torturing tests two weapons were put forward for extended troop trials - the conventional A-3 assault rifle by Kalashnikov and 'balanced action' SA-006 rifle by Konstantinov. During field trials the latter was found to be much more accurate (and thus more combat-effective), especially in the hands of the average trained soldiers, while being adequately reliable. Despite that, trials commission have recommended the Kalashnikov entry for adoption, as its design was already familiar to both industry and troops, and possibility of teething problems during production and use was relatively low, compared with entirely new design by Konstantinov. New Kalashnikov rifle also was simpler in design, lighter and somewhat cheaper to manufacture.
Following the decision of trials commission, Kalashnikov 5.45mm assault rifle was officially adopted by Soviet army early in 1974 as" 5.45mm Avtomat Kalashnikova, obraztsa 1974 goda (AK-74)". Basically, it was the same old AKM weapon, adapted to smaller 5.45mm ammunition and fitted with relatively large muzzle brake. Another distinguishing feature was found on the buttstock, in the form of two lightening oval cuts on either side. 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 more rigid and robust side-folding metallic buttstock, which folded to the left side of the gun.Early production guns featured polymer pistol grips and wooden buttstocks and handguards. Later in production all furniture was made from polymer The "Night" version, known as AK-74N, was manufactured with the night /IR scope rail added to the left side of the receiver. The latest variation of the AK-74 family was introduced circa 1991 and replaced in production both AK-74 and AKS-74. It was the AK-74M rifle, which is still in production and currently is a standard issue rifle of the Russian army. The AK-74M externally differs from the AK-74 of late 1980s production by having the side-folding, solid black plastic buttstock and the scope rail, mounted on the left receiver as a standard. Some minor improvements also were made in the production process and external finish of the new rifle. AK-74M retained almost all advantages and disadvantages of the earlier Kalashnikov designs, including reliability, simplicity of operations and maintenance, and less than ideal "human engineering" and ergonomics. At the present time the AK-74M, along with earlier AK-74/AKS-74 is the standard shoulder arm 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 is (and most probably will be) issued only certain "elite" units of the Russian Army, police and the Internal Affairs Ministry troops. The AK-74 type, 5.45mm assault rifles also were manufactured in the East Germany, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. Most of these designs after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact were converted to the 5.56mm NATO ammunition.
The countries that used or still uses the AK-74 and its variants are displayed here:
- Bulgaria: Bulgarian modification manufactured by Arsenal J.S.Co as the 7.62x39mm AR-M1
- East Germany: Manufactured locally.
- Poland: Manufactured locally.
- Romania: Manufactured locally.
- Russia: AK-74M is currently the main service rifle in the Russian Army.
- Soviet Union: First used in battle in Afghanistan in the early 1980s.
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