Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 8/2/2016):
In addition to the new cartridge, the weapon brought about use of a new bolt component and chrome-lined barrel assembly as well as a new 30-round plastic-and-steel construction detachable box magazine. Though was given to muzzle climb on full automatic by way of a muzzle compensator/brake - making for a more stable gunnery platform than previously seen. All other components were largely carried over from the AKM - a 1959 revision of the original AK-47 of 1949. The weapon weighed in at 3.3 kilograms with a 37 inch length (barrel of 16.3 inches long) and featured a gas-operated system with rotating bolt action (same as found on the AKM). Rate-of-fire was approximately 650 rounds per minute with a 2,950 feet-per-second muzzle velocity. Effective firing ranges reached out to 1,000 meters with sighting handled through an adjustable rear notch and front post arrangement. The AK-74 could also mount the GP-25 series 40mm Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) to broaden the tactical value of the standard infantryman.
The primary, initial variant of the line was the AK-74 noted for its solid wood buttstock. The AKS-74 was a variant given a side-folding skeletal metal stock for compactness, primarily serving specialized troops such as airborne. The AKS-74U became an automatic carbine form of contained proportions to also serve specialists not requiring the facilities of a full-length service rifle. The AKS-74UB was a special silenced version of the AKS-74U chambered for the 5.45x39mm subsonic cartridge. The AK-74M was a modernized version of 1991 with support for new generation UBGLs since introduced into the Russian military and various optics. This version became the new standard Russian service rifle.
Several full-length variants, modified for night operations with specialized optics, were given "N" designations to signify their roles including the AK-74N, the AKS-74N and the AKS-74UN.
The AK-74M was eventually evolved into a more modern fighting form (with increased use of plastics) as the AK-100 family line to include the AK-101 rifle and the AK-102 assault carbine all way to the AK-108 rifle chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO.
Operators of the AK-74 (beyond the Soviets/Russians) became Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Jordan, North Korea, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine (among others - see operators listing for full mention). The AK-74 remains the standard service rifle of Armenia. Azerbaijan locally-produces the weapon as does Bulgaria (as the AR-M1), North Korea (as the Type 88/Type 98-1) and Romania (as the PA md. 86). Syrian airborne forces continue its wide scale use. The Polish wz. 1988 "Tantal" was a localized version of the AK-74, though since removed from frontline service from 2005 onwards. United States special forces have used the AK-74, this under the local "M1974" designation.
The AK-74 has seen fighting action since the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989 and has been encountered during the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994), the Georgian Civil War (1991-1993), the First Chechen War (1994-1996), the Second Chechen War (1999-2000), the South Ossetia War (2008) and many lesser, regional conflicts. Additionally, it is consistently seen in the ongoing War in Afghanistan (2001-Present).