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AKS-74 - the true choice of the Soviet Soldier in Afghanistan

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

The AKS-74 is the pinnacle of Soviet small arms design. As well as the most common weapon of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. This is one of the final articles for our list of handheld armaments used by the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. After finishing the list, we will announce and move on to our next project and book on the topic, Subscribe for the announcements! Click the linked text to check the Soviet Infantry Weapons of the Afghan War book.


A brief history of the adoption of the AKS-74

The AKS-74, the last genuine member of the original Soviet Kalashnikov family, stands as a symbol of Soviet engineering prowess and military innovation. Designed in the 1970s, this assault rifle brought significant improvements in terms of firepower, ergonomics, and accuracy, making it a mainstay of the Soviet forces and almost all countries that were created after the collapse.

There exists a prevalent misperception regarding the initiation of Soviet efforts to build a novel AK variant of reduced caliber subsequent to the adoption of the M-16 by the United States Army, with the acquisition of some of these firearms during the Vietnam conflict. The initiation of a novel rifle's development coincided with the adoption and subsequent commencement of large-scale manufacture of the M-16 rifle, transpiring in the years 1964-1965. It is plausible that the adoption of M-16-type rifles expedited the progression of small weapons development within the Soviet Union.


However, the concept of reducing caliber size was already being contemplated on a global scale throughout the early 1960s. The initiation of the new rifle's development involved the installation of a 5.6mm barrel onto the preexisting AKM platform, undertaken by the team led by M.T. Kalashnikov. The development of this cartridge was specifically intended for the civilian market, with a focus on its application in hunting and recreational activities. However, the concept aligned precisely with the requirements of military manufacturers: a projectile derived from 7.62x39mm brass that had been narrowed at the neck.

Regarding the development process, there were six teams competing for the adoption of the new weapon. As is customary, the side led by Kalashnikov has emerged victorious. Towards the end of the 1960s, the A3 rifle exhibited a striking resemblance to the contemporary AK-74. Following a series of tests and trials, it was deemed advisable to implement the proposed solution in the latter part of 1972, with the understanding that more refinements would be necessary in subsequent iterations. The Ministry of Defence made a request for the development of the folding stock AKS-74 rifle in 1973, which was subsequently developed in the following years.


AKS-74 in Afghanistan

The AKS-74 was absolutely the most popular rifle for the Soviet side during the Soviet-Afghan War. While it was initially designed for the Airborne troops and to equip the vehicle crews, in Afghanistan it was issued on a large scale to all forces. This was done gradually. During the first years of the Afghan war, while airborne and special forces were already armed with AKS-74, most others were still fighting with AKM or AK-74 wooden stock variants. By 1981, the older caliber of 7.62x39 was generally pushed out of service in the Soviet Army in general. Afghanistan was not an exception - the majority of AKM and AKMS rifles were phased out by the 5.45 platform the same year.


What seems strange is the scale of the issue of folding stock AKS-74 rifles. Unlike most infantry regiments on the mainland, a lot of motor-rifles units stationed in Afghanistan were supplied with the folding stock AKS-74. The practical reasons for that are obvious - unlike the previous folding stocks in the Soviet Army, this one was actually good and comfortable when used. And, of course, it was way more comfortable to bring a folding stock weapon in any Soviet military transport, since the space inside was very limited. In terms of use, this was, by far, the most common rifle. As soldiers liked to say "AKS-74 with a GP-25 grenade launcher was the bare minimum of what was considered a weapon back in Afghanistan". Just like almost any other Soviet AK rifle, the AKS-74 proved to be an excellent weapon for the given conditions.

Impact and Legacy

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the AKS-74 was adopted as the primary firearm for Soviet military personnel. The extensive implementation of this technology demonstrated the Soviet Union's dedication to modernizing its military forces and enhancing the operational efficiency of its infantry units. Moreover, the AKS-74 gained a reputation for its significant combat effectiveness due to the fragmentation effect of the 5.45x39mm cartridge upon impact, which resulted in severe wounds.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in an excess supply of AKS-74 rifles, which subsequently became available in the international arms trade. The AKS-74 was widely embraced by numerous nations, insurgent factions, and militias mostly because of its dependable performance and cost-effectiveness.


The AKS-74 has attained an iconic status in popular culture as a symbol of the military prowess of the Soviet Union and Russia. The firearm in question has been prominently featured in numerous cinematic productions, interactive digital entertainment, and various other media formats, thereby establishing its enduring significance as one of the most widely recognized weapons in global history.

The AKS-74, which emerged during the Cold War period, serves as a monument to the prowess of Soviet engineering and the lasting impact of the Kalashnikov family of rifles. The enhancements made in terms of caliber, ergonomics, and firing control have had a lasting impact on the ongoing evolution of contemporary assault rifle design. The AKS-74 is widely regarded as an enduring symbol of Soviet military prowess, respected for its exceptional reliability and innovative design. It has garnered recognition as an iconic handgun within the global guns community.


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