Many of the people who are deeply involved into reenacting Soviet-Afghan conflict, as well as the ones who collect military equipment from the era ask the question if the plastic furniture works for the time period. The short answer is Yes, but there are nuances. In this article we will look at how plastic furniture was introduced into the Soviet Army. To find more info on Soviet weapons of the Afghan war, please check out our directory. If you are really into the weapons of the period, check out our book - Soviet infantry weapons of the Afghan War.
History of plastic furniture for the AK
The development history of such concept has started way before late 1980s and even before the AK-74 altogether. Some of the first work on the introduction of plastics for the AK assault rifle was carried out in parallel with the development of the modernized AKM. Tests of such experimental products have shown the possibility of replacing wooden parts of the rifle with plastic ones without deteriorating performance. Only the plastic butt, which had significantly less strength, performed unsatisfactorily - and this problem will haunt the AK producer until the very end of the Soviet Union.
But the firearms industry never managed to apply plastic technology to all parts of the weapon, for various economical and technological reasons. So, instead, all parts were developed and introduced gradually. By late 1960s certain parts of the AKM and AKMS were swapped with plastic substitutes - 6x4 bayonet, orange magazine and pistol handle.
But the rest of the furniture was never introduced to the last Soviet 7.62mm weapon. It was only used on very unique examples of firearms - namely the PV Border Guard green AKM and wartime AKM. Neither of those saw mass production.
AK-74 type 3
With the introduction of the new caliber and therefore complete rearmament of the Soviet Army it was the most obvious thing to swap all the wooden parts for the plastic ones.
In 1973, Izhmash produced a batch of 50 A3 assault rifles using plastic parts. Half of them were made of AG-4S material in the usual yellow color, and the second half was green. However, all these were attempts to find at least some use for modern technologies, which were hampered by the impregnable Soviet military machine.
The main reason the Army was not satisfied with the plastic furniture was insufficient strength. This problem was only fully solved in the second half of the 1980s. This is when the common plum furniture finally started to get into place.
Use of the plum furniture in Afghanistan
The plastic furniture started to appear on AK-74 rifles in big numbers in 1986. And at first it were only the plastic handguards - the stock on the AK-74 would stay wooden.
Such full stock AK-74 rifles never made their way into Afghanistan, same as full plastic full stock AK-74. At least I have not seen any photos and believe me - I saw a lot of them. It is not clear why full stock plastic AK-74 were not shipped to Afghanistan. But the most prominent explanations states that the AKS-74, which was initially intended mainly for airborne, seemed like a much better choice for the ongoing conflict and all retired AK-74 in infantry and support units were replaced with folding stock variants.
But the folding stock AKS-74 with plum handguards started to appear in Afghanistan even earlier than 1986. The earliest one I remember seeing on the phot was dated 1984. It is very likely that these ones seen on photo were actually experimental pre-production models, sent out to Afghanistan to test them in new conditions.
Overall, even after 1986, troops in Afghanistan were not flooded with plastic handguards. The main reason for that seems the durability of AK system, there was simply no need to replace the whole rifle. The handguards could also come to the 40th Army as part of repair kit. But again, it would take some effort to damage the wooden handguard beyond the point of repair where it had to be replaced.
Using AK-74 plastic handguard for reenactment
The plastic plum handguard was more of an exception, as stated in previous paragraph. And so the regular rule applies for reenactment - do not make impressions of the exceptions. This, of course, is a general guidance for how to look good on reenactment. If you are making some very specific impression, based on the exact photo, the correct details should be used. After all, the plastic handguard for AKS is still not too expensive and it does not hurt to have both - as they are so easy to swap.