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AK-47 vs AK-74 - which one makes more sense on a modern battlefield?

This internet argument is almost as old as a classical AK vs M-16. Though the latter one is slowly fading into history, both of these will be reassessed in the future. The reason is simple - there are more wars coming up and there are, essentially, no new weapons. Everything we see on the market now is either an Ar-15 or an AK platform, although usually slightly modified to fill the modern narrative.

So, there are good chances that one day you might be facing the dilemma of using either 5.45 or 7.62 AK system weapon. In this article we will try to analyze the question and see how it was assessed by soldiers in Afghanistan. The article is kind of a part of a bigger list of weapons, both of the Afghan and Atomic age. The question will probably be also raised in one of the potential books which we are thinking about - featuring modern russian weapons, captured by the Ukrainian troops.

General considerations on AK-47 vs AK-74 choice

The decision between the AK-47 and AK-74 on a modern battlefield hinges on various factors, taking into account the specific requirements of the military or security forces and the operational conditions they anticipate. The AK-47 is known for firing the 7.62x39mm cartridge, boasting a larger caliber that provides increased stopping power compared to the AK-74. The 7.62x39mm round has earned a reputation for effectiveness against soft targets and barriers, making it potentially advantageous in specific combat scenarios. Moreover, the widespread availability of 7.62x39mm ammunition may be a practical consideration in regions where this caliber is prevalent.

On the other hand, the AK-74 fires the 5.45x39mm cartridge, featuring a smaller caliber but offering better accuracy and reduced recoil compared to the 7.62x39mm round. The lower recoil of the 5.45x39mm round enables improved control during sustained fire, contributing to enhanced accuracy, particularly in full-auto or burst modes. Additionally, the 5.45x39mm ammunition is lighter, allowing soldiers to carry more rounds for the same weight, potentially increasing overall ammunition capacity.

Several considerations come into play when choosing between these rifles. The range and expected engagement distances are crucial factors, with the 5.45x39mm round potentially having an advantage at longer ranges, while the 7.62x39mm round may perform better in medium-range engagements. Logistics, encompassing ammunition supply, maintenance, and parts compatibility with existing systems, may influence the decision. In modern warfare, where body armor is prevalent, the ability of the 5.45x39mm round to penetrate armor could also be a significant factor.

However, all these should be taken with a grain of salt. The ability to penetrate body armor better is only better with specific type of 5.45mm ammunition, which is quite rare. Then again, what one should care most about is the target neutralization at the super short ranges, when the foe can retaliate. Not killing an enemy at 400 yards would hardly effect you personally.


AK-47 vs AK-74 in Afghanistan - Soviet perspective

If we are talking about an average Soviet grunt, he did not have the luxury of choosing a weapon system for himself - it was dictated by his specialization. At least this is how it was dictated by the book. In reality there were ways around it, though it would be the officers who would care about weapons used by their units. As was described in AKMS and AKM articles, some units would completely rearm to an older 7.62 rifles, usually just for the sake of it.

Otherwise, 5.45mm weapons were much more prevalent in Afghanistan. The answer is simple - at the time the whole Soviet Army was rearmed with AK-74 family of weapons. On top of that, the regular firefight distances were rarely less than 200 meters, meaning it was much simpler to engage enemies. What is interesting, however, is that many officers and even some soldiers used captured 7.62 rifles. But this is a big topic for yet another article.


AK-47 vs AK-74 in Afghanistan - Mujahedeen perspective

For the Afghan fighters the situation was pretty much opposite. The older 7.62 weapons were widely available at the time - almost every country outside of NATO used AK in some form or another. The 5.45mm rifles were a complete novelty, however, so the ammunition resupply could only be obtained from captured weapons. But these were rare situations on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Mujahadeens had to destroy the whole Soviet unit to be able to pick up their weapons and equipment.


Conclusion

Ultimately, the choice between the AK-47 and AK-74 depends on the surrounding realities and ammunition availability. Both rifles have their advantages and disadvantages for specific tasks, just like almost any other two weapon systems. However, if you were to choose a weapon to rely your own life on, in close quarter trenches, for example, the 7.62 version would probably make more sense. The stopping power is higher and the malfunctions are rare.

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