AKS-74U: A shortened version of AK-47

Spetsnaz operators with AK-74U assault rifles
Spetsnaz operators with AK-74U assault rifles (Photo: Vk)

The AKS-74U is a specialized shortened version of the world’s most famous assault rifle. When the Soviets adopted the Kalashnikov 7.62 mm rifle, they abandoned their submachine guns, but in later years realized that they had been a little too hasty and needed a more compact weapon for occupants of vehicles.


The AK-74U is a straightforward Kalashnikov rifle. However, it uses the Small Caliber, High Velocity (SCHV) concept first put to a trial by fire by the M16 in Southeast Asia (not just in Vietnam – the British also used them in Borneo). It could be felt like a Personal Defense Weapon (PDW). Those types of guns can quickly spray bullets in close combat which makes them especially useful. The AKS-74U fires a little 5.45mm cartridge, which makes the bullet easier to fire and gun control better.

The AKS-74U is a carbine (a mix between rifle and SMG). It was designed for close-range combat. If it was chambered with more powerful rounds, it would over-penetrate. The shorter barrel is for good close-range combat. A barrel that is longer will slow down the bullet through friction but is essential for gun control.


Their first attempt was to shorten the AK-47 rifle, but this proved to be almost uncontrollable at the automatic fire. At about this time they adopted 5.45 mm caliber for a new generation of Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns and shortly afterward set about making a compact model in a new caliber. The result was the AKS-74U, which was first revealed to the West in 1982 when a specimen was captured in Afghanistan.

AKS-74U submachine gun and M4 Commando
AKS-74U and M4 Commando (Photo: XY Guns)


The AKS-74U retains the basic method of the operation of the familiar AK-47 rifle, using a gas piston and a rotating bolt, but the shortening of the barrel introduced several complications. The 5.45 mm cartridge was designed to be fired in a long-barrelled rifle, and the gas system of the Kalashnikov taps its gas from a position about two-thirds of the way up the barrel.

Since the AKS-74U barrel is so short, all the gas generated in the cartridge would not have time to expend its energy and there would be a prominent muzzle flame and considerable blast. Therefore, a bulbous muzzle attachment can be seen, which acts as an expansion chamber for the emerging gas and muffles the flash and blast. It also helps to balance the internal pressure so that it is possible to tap off the gas for the gas system closer to the breach than in other weapons.

Skeleton butt

AKS-74U submachine gun has a skeleton butt that is fitted. It folds to the left side of the weapon, reducing the overall length to about 16.5 inches. The magazine is similar to that used with an AK47 rifle, but has strengthening ribs molded into its front edge and is made of a lamination of sheet steel and plastic material. The receiver top cover is hinged to the gas block and lifts to permit stripping the weapon; this differs from all other Kalashnikov designs, in which the top cover lifts off completely.

AKS-74U submachine gun - a shortened AK-47 assault rifle
AKS-74U submachine gun produced by Kalashnikov Concern (Photo: Kalashnikov Concern)

The AKS-74U is an ingenious design but in many eyes somewhat over-powerful for the self-defense role for which it is intended. However, it does mean that the design and operation are already familiar to any soldier who knows the AK series of rifles – which was every Soviet soldier – and, unlike submachine guns, it does not require its own particular type of ammunition, happily firing the standard rifle cartridges.


The AKS-74U submachine gun was the weapon of choice for Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces). It was largely because it was invented to bridge the tactical deployment gap between a submachine gun and an assault rifle. It was also widely used with airborne infantry, rear-echelon support units, helicopter, and armored vehicle crews because of its length.

Spetsnaz SOBR during the training exercise
Spetsnaz SOBR during the training exercise (Photo: XY)

The AKS-74U submachine gun has been augmented and replaced by various other weapons, and the less compact AK-105 carbine in Russian military service. Today, it is commonly used by law enforcement; for example, each urban police foot patrol is issued at least one. The AKS-74U has proved a good and reliable service weapon popular among the users.

Technical specification: AKS-74U submachine gun

Manufacturer: Kalashnikov Concern, State Rifle Factory, Izhevsk, Russia
Type: Gas-operated, selective fire
Caliber: 5.45 mm
Barrel: 7.87 in (200 mm)
Weight: Ca. 6.5 lbs (3 kg)
Magazine capacity: 20-, 30-round AK-74, 45-round RPK-74 detachable box magazine or 60-round casket magazine
Cyclic rate of fire: 800 rounds/minute
Effective firing range: 300–400 m (330–440 yd)
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