Weapons and Kit

Heard Of The AK47? What About Russia’s AK74?

Stand aside AK47 ... the 1970s brought with it a new Soviet assault rifle

The name Kalashnikov transcends the topic of weapons technology

You could stop a person in the street and ask them if the word means anything to them, and even those who have zero interest in weaponry would most likely be able to tell you that the man was the most famous gun designer the world has ever seen. And they would be correct. 

Mikhail Kalashnikov's most famous invention was the AK47 – named after him and the year it was designed – a rifle that often steals the show when anybody talks about Soviet weaponry.

But in the shadows, perhaps unfairly, is the Soviet General's successor to that most famous weapon, which is often also written as AK-47 or AK 47. And that was called the AK74. 

Here, we take a close look at the classic 1970s-designed, Cold War-era assault weapon, of which over 5 million units were manufactured in Russia.

This is all the gen on the AK74.

A Russian Naval Infantry junior sergeant provides cover for his counterparts from Denmark, Lithuania, Poland and United States during an exercise at Ustka, Poland as part of Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2003. Credit: US Navy

What Are The Specifications Of The AK74? 

Weight: 3.07 kg (3.4 kg – AK74M)

Length: 943 mm – stock extended

Ammo type: 5.45 mm

Rate of fire: 600 – 650 rounds per minute (practical rate of fire – 100 rounds automatic, 40 semi-automatic)

Effective range: 500 m point target, 800 m area target

Max range: 3,150 m

Muzzle velocity: 900 m/s

Feed: 30 round magazine

Other Information

Name: Автомат Калашникова образца 1974 года (translating into English as Kalashnikov automatic rifle model 1974)

Origin: Moscow, Soviet Union

Year of introduction: 1974

Manufacturer: Izhevsk Machine-Building Plant

Variants: AK74, AK74M, AK74 MR UUK, AKS74B, AKS74UB

Used by: In-service – Russia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, North Korea, Romania, Ukraine. Formally used – East Germany. Has also been seen in ISIS propaganda videos on the internet.

Conflicts: The Soviet-Afghan War, Sri Lankan Civil War, Gulf War, The Troubles, First Chechen War, Afghanistan (2001), Iraq War, Saudi-Yemeni Border Conflict.

Cost per unit: $400 - $800

Number of units made: 5 million (but could be up to 18 million worldwide)

Why Is There No AK48 or AK49?

This commonly asked question might seem pretty obvious to those interested in weapons tech, but it remains a frequent question on the internet where AK47s and AK74s are concerned. 

Simply, the number designation is in reference to the year the weapons were first introduced into Soviet military service. They are not model numbers in the classic sense of continuation. 

Why Was The AK74 Invented?

The primary purpose in the design and introduction of the 1974 Kalashnikov assault rifle was to improve accuracy rates over the earlier AK47 and AKM weapon systems.

To do this, Mikhail Kalashnikov and his weapons' designers overhauled the riffle, which included bringing the ammo type down from the larger 7.62 mm cartridge to a new 5.45 mm small arms round.

Although the weapon system was significantly changed, not least in terms of the type of ammunition it took, the rifle shared a commonality parts rate of 50% with the earlier introduced AKM.

Officially, it is said that five million AK74s were produced. Yet, some reports say that there are as many as 18 million units in circulation worldwide*.

*source: The National Interest, January 15, 2019.

AK-74 Assault Rifle Found Hidden In Bushes In South London
In 2016, an AK-74 assault rifle was found hidden in a bush in south London. Credit: Met Police

The AK74 Had The West Worried

Designed and introduced into the Soviet Union's vast military at the height of the Cold War, the improved standard Russian assault rifle gave cause for concern among politicians in the west.

According to the Pakistani Intelligence Service, in 1979, the CIA paid $5,000 to the Mujahedeen for the first AK74 captured during the Soviet-Afghan War. This was so American weapons experts could fully understand the AK74's improvements in terms of battlefield effectiveness.

Russian Schoolchildren Learn How To Use The AK74

Yes, you did read that correctly.

According to a 2019 article in National Interest, children in the Soviet Union were taught how to "fieldstrip" and assemble AK74s as part of their school curriculum. The article said:

"It was mandatory for many Soviet schoolchildren to fieldstrip and assemble AK74's within a certain timespan. In homage to this tradition, schools across Russia continue to hold that exercise in the form of competitions."

5.45mm assualt rifle AK74 1974 model with GP-25 grenade launcher. Credit: VITALY KUZMIN

Kalashnikov Had Dreams Of Doing Something Altogether Different

Mikhail Kalashnikov was born into a peasant family in November 1919 – smack bang in the middle of the Bolshevik seizure of power.  

However, as a boy, the future world-famous weapons inventor had desires of being something altogether quite different.

According to a 2009 online news story by the BBC, the AK47 inventor initially dreamed of being a poet.

While making a speech while collecting the Hero of Russia Award after turning 90 that year, the BBC reported that Kalashnikov said he'd written poetry in his youth. Kalashnikov said:

"There are many bad poets out there without me. I went along a different path."

However, during the same speech, the ageing "Hero of Russia" laid blame on the doors of politicians for the weapons he designed being used "where [they] shouldn't have been." He said:

"I created a weapon to defend the fatherland's borders. It's not my fault that it was sometimes used where it shouldn't have been. This is the fault of politicians."

Is The AK74 Any Good?

Commentators are unified in their overall respect towards any weapon with the name Kalashnikov attached to it.

The weapon system is durable, generally reliable, and thanks to the work of Kalashnikov's team in the early 1970s, it is more accurate than the former models of AK47 and AKM.

In describing the reliability and all-round use of the weapon, it is worth pointing out that Kalashnikov's original inspiration to design his hugely successful AK47 came about after he picked up an injury while fighting in the Second World War.

During the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941, the tank commander was wounded in combat and was later recovering in hospital when he overheard fellow Russian soldiers complaining about the reliability of their rifles in battle. As soon as he was discharged, he began designing what would become the world's most popular rifle – the AK47. 

The AK74 (and from 1991, the upgraded AK74M) is the natural evolution of that idea which was borne on a battlefield in Russia during World War Two.