Moving on to the next part of Kalashnikov correct nomenclature. We already discussed the AK and the AKM assault rifles and now it’s time to change calibers.
In late 1960s early 1970s the Soviet Defence Ministry received a number of captured M16 assault rifles. What came with them was the 5.56×45 ammunition. The Russian designers though sceptic about the performance of the NATO 5mm round quickly acknowledged its potential. Work had begun on creating a 5mm round that would surpass the .223 Rem / 5.56 NATO, while maintaining all it’s key advantages over a 7mm:
– reduced cartridge weigh which could allow a soldier to carry more ammunition and reduced storage space,
– reduced recoil providing better control of the weapon in rapid fire,
– greater lethality on soft targets,
– a significantly flatter flight pattern allowing for better accuracy and less adjustments to point of aim in regards to range.
Soon the 5.45×39 round was born and with it a new rifle to complete the package. Although the contest for the new rifle saw a number of very successful designs it was the name of its designer rather than the characteristics of the rifle that set the final score. Mikhail Kalashnikov submitted his AKM rifle re-chambered for the 5.45×39. The new rifle also included several cosmetic changes compared to the AKM and an addition of a flash hider/compensator.
The new rifle was swiftly adopted by the Soviet Red Army and was given an official designation of AK-74 while the ammunition for the rifle received the M74 code. As with the AK and AKM rifles the AK-74 was introduced in two variants:
AK-74 – fixed wooden butt stock.
AKS-74 – triangular stamped steel left side folding butt stock. This butt stock was superior to that of the AKS and AKMS which were under-folding what lead to a number of difficulties in operating the weapon.
The rifle has gradually substituted the AK and AKM rifles as the primary issue weapon of Soviet troops. The beginning of the Soviet invasion of Aghanistan in 1979 created an increased need for these new weapons. It also led to the development of several “modernized versions of the AK-74”.
AKS-74U – Commonly known as the “Suchka”. This variant of the AK-74 featured a buttstock that of the AKS-74 and a barrel reduced to just 8″ in length. This weapon was primarily to be issued to tank crews and air personnel given the limited space for personal weapon storage in tanks, APC’s and aircraft. The weapon itself was a return to the concept of the AKSU rifle that never went into production as the 7.62×39 round significantly underperformed when fired out of an 8″ barrel. The Suchka’s were not especially favoured by their users as the short barrel made it extremely difficult to use such a weapon in vast open terrain of Afghanistan. The gun however received a second chance in the XXI century as its length has been recognised by various counter-terrorism units that are usually engaged in close quarters combat. There are versions of the rifle with or without a side optics mounting rail yet there is no special name to indicate the difference, they are both AKS-74U.
AK-74N – This is a version of the AK-74 rifle with a side optics mounting rail. This was primarily used for night vision optics like the NSPU and NSP-3 but later magnification optics and colimator sights were also adopted.
AKS-74N – This is a version of the AKS-74 rifle with a side optics mounting rail.
In the late 1980’s a version of the AK-74 and AKS-74 with plum colour synthetic furniture was created but it does not have its own name as this was just a cosmetic change for production optimization.
Although the AK and AKM are revered worldwide as the true and most stereotypic Kalashnikov assault rifles, it is actually the AK-74 and its variants that are most widespread personal firearms in the Russian Army.
In the later years development begun on a series of new firearms which led to the creation of the modern Kalashnikov assault rifle family also called the AK-100 series. This will be the topic of the next episode of Kalashnikov the correct nomenclature.