The AK74U: Russia’s Compact Assault Rifle
The AK 74U is a compact assault rifle developed in the late 1970s by Russian small arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, the creator of the original AK-47. This shortened version of the AK-74 assault rifle provides Russian military and law enforcement units with a highly maneuverable weapon for close quarters combat.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the history, design, features, and usage of the AK-74U. Whether you’re a firearm enthusiast, military buff, or simply interested in understanding Russia’s iconic weapons, read on to learn all about this powerful little rifle.
A Brief History of the AK-74U
The AK-74U was designed as a response to the need for a more compact rifle for vehicle crews, special forces, and VIP security details in the late 1970s. Based on the AK-74 assault rifle, the AK-74U (“U” standing for Ukorochenniy or shortened in Russian) would provide a lighter, handier alternative without sacrificing stopping power or reliability.
The AK-74 Assault Rifle
To understand the AK-74U, it’s important to first look at the base rifle it was derived from. The AK-74 assault rifle entered service with Soviet forces in 1974 as a replacement for the AK-47. Chambered for the 5.45x39mm cartridge, the AK-74 employed a number of innovations, including:
- Lighter weight composite materials
- Improved muzzle brake and recoil compensator
- Side rail for optics
- Smoother and more reliable long stroke gas piston operation
The result was a modernized, lighter, and more accurate assault rifle, though still simple, rugged, and reliable like its AK-47 predecessor.
Demand for a More Compact Variant
By the late 1970s, there was demand within Soviet military and law enforcement for an even more compact version of the new AK-74. Vehicle crews, special forces units, officers, and VIP protection details sought a highly maneuverable weapon that could be operated effectively in tight spaces.
Development and Design of the AK-74U
To produce a smaller AK-74 variant, Kalashnikov engineers got to work trimming the rifle’s barrel, gas piston system, and other components to shrink the overall size while maintaining functionality. Here’s a look at the major design changes and features of the new AK-74U.
Shortened Barrel and Gas System
- Reduced barrel length from 16.3 inches to 8.3 inches
- Shortened gas piston and gas block accordingly
- New flash hider added to help control muzzle flash
- Compact side-folding metal shoulder stock for greater portability and maneuverability
- Empty weight of just 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg)
Simplified Iron Sights
- Rear notch sight and front post sight optimized for short barrel
- Comes standard with 30-round 5.45x39mm magazine
- Able to accept muzzle devices, optics, grips, and underbarrel attachments
The resulting AK-74U rifle achieved a size of just 28.9 inches (735mm) when stock is extended, and under 20 inches when folded. This compact package gave crews and special forces the highly maneuverable AK platform they needed.
Service and Combat Use of the AK-74U
After its introduction in 1979, the AK-74U quickly equipped Soviet vehicle crews, special forces, officers, and VIP units. It also saw service among Warsaw Pact allies. The rifle gained combat experience in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and other conflicts.
Issue to Tank and Armored Vehicle Crews
Being compact and maneuverable for tight spaces, the AK-74U became standard issue for tank and APC crews to provide self-defense and security. The side folding stock allowed it to be stowed away when not in use.
Special Forces Groups
Soviet Spetsnaz special forces units prized the AK-74U for its small size, light weight, and high firepower. It proved well-suited to their covert operations and CQB needs.
Security Details and Vehicle Patrols
Russian federal protective services (like the FSO) found the AK-74U valuable for protecting officials in cars and around government facilities where space was tight. Police vehicle patrols also took advantage of its compactness.
Limited Use by Paratroopers
Some Soviet airborne troops were issued the AK-74U to provide heavier short-range firepower for air assault operations like building seizures. But most paratroopers preferred full-length rifles.
The AK-74U saw combat from Afghanistan in the 1980s to Chechnya and Dagestan in the 1990s and 2000s. It remains in Russian military and law enforcement use today as a versatile, compact assault rifle.
Design Details and Specifications
Let’s take a more technical look at what makes the AK-74U tick as a combat weapon. We’ll examine its standard specifications, operating system, controls, and other design details.
Caliber: 5.45x39mm Soviet
Weight: 5.5 lbs empty
Length: 28.9 in stock extended / 19.7 in folded
Barrel Length: 8.3 in
Magazine: 30-round detachable box
Fire Modes: Semi-automatic
Rate of Fire: 600 rounds/min cyclic
Muzzle Velocity: 2,330 ft/s
Effective Range: 200-300 yds
Gas Operated, Rotating Bolt Action
The AK-74U uses the standard AK long stroke gas piston and rotating bolt system. Gases from firing tap a piston rod to cycle the action. This simple, reliable system handles harsh conditions well.
Controls and Safety
It utilizes the classic AK safety lever, charging handle, bolt hold open, magazine release, and trigger. The safety can be manipulated quietly and is ambidextrous.
Sights and Accessories
The compact iron sights suit its small size. It also can accept muzzle devices, grips, optics, and underbarrel rails and grenade launchers using AK mounting points to customize the weapon.
The AK-74U maintains the AK’s principles of simplicity, reliability, and effectiveness in a much smaller package.
Variants of the AK-74U
The success of the original AK-74U led Kalashnikov Concern and other manufacturers to develop several variants for specialized roles:
- A folding Side-folding Stock added
- Entry model AK-74U for cost savings
- Integrally suppressed variant
- Special barrel, subsonic ammo used
- Night vision capable
- Special side rail for night optics
RFSS AK-74U Kobra
- Russian FSO (federal service) model
- Kobra red dot sight
- Zenit-2 tactical light/laser module
These variants expanded the AK-74U’s capabilities while retaining its compact size.
The AK-74U’s Role in the Russian Military Today
Decades after its introduction, the AK-74U remains a fixture of Russia’s armed forces. It fills several key roles thanks to its enduring qualities.
Russian armored vehicle crews continue to utilize the AK-74U as a primary personal defense weapon due to its compactness and firepower.
Spetsnaz still employ the AK-74U alongside newer specialized firearms to provide potent CQB capability.
It serves as a sidearm for vehicle drivers, assistant gunners, and others who need a handy compact rifle.
Limited Frontline Use
Some regular Russian army units field the AK-74U to provide a CQB capability alongside standard service rifles. But its limited range makes it a niche weapon.
The AK-74U fills the critical role of an easy to wield, high firepower secondary arm for vehicle crews and special forces. It remains a Russian military staple.
Assessing the Qualities and Capabilities
Evaluating a firearm like the AK-74U requires weighing its advantages and disadvantages relative to mission needs. Here’s an assessment of its key qualities:
The ultra-compact size coupled with the folding stock make the AK-74U exceptionally agile and handy in tight spaces. This is its biggest advantage.
It retains the AK’s reliability and resistance to harsh conditions thanks to a simple, proven design. This simplicity makes it easy to operate and maintain.
Firing a full power intermediate rifle cartridge, the AK-74U provides impressive close-quarters firepower in a tiny package.
The extremely short barrel degrades accuracy, limiting effective range. The high-pitched report and bright muzzle flash also give away the shooter’s position.
Submachine guns like the PP-19 Bizon or SP5K provide even better agility and CQB prowess compared to the AK-74U. So for pure close quarters work, they may be superior.
The AK-74U’s strengths in agility, simplicity, and compact firepower make it uniquely well suited to specialized roles despite some limitations.
For over 40 years, the AK-74U has served Russian and Soviet forces as a highly compact and maneuverable assault rifle without sacrificing classic AK reliability or firepower. Its specialized role as a personal defense weapon for vehicle crews, special forces, and security details continues today.
This shortened variant of the AK-74 will likely continue to serve for years to come as a powerful secondary weapon where a very compact size is required. Though limited in some respects, the AK-74U’s strengths in agility and simplistic effectiveness make it a enduring piece of the Russian military small arms arsenal.
Q: What is the effective range of the AK-74U?
A: The AK-74U has an effective range typically between 200-300 yards or meters, much shorter than a standard AK-74 rifle due to its short 8.3 inch barrel. This limits it mainly to close quarters use.
Q: How reliable is the AK-74U?
A: It retains the legendary reliability of the AK platform that has proven effective in all environments. Few jams or stoppages will be experienced as long as basic maintenance and cleaning is performed.
Q: Who typically uses the AK-74U today?
A: In the Russian military, the AK-74U is most commonly issued to vehicle crews, special forces units, and security details that require a very compact but powerful personal defense weapon.
Q: What kind of ammunition does the AK-74U use?
A: It is chambered for the Soviet 5.45x39mm cartridge. This is the standard ammunition for the AK-74 and other weapons in 5.45mm.
Q: How does the AK-74U compare to the AKS-74U?
A: The AKS-74U is simply an AK-74U model with a side folding metal stock rather than fixed stock. This makes the AKS-74U even more compact for storage and transport when folded.