The AK-74 is really no more than the old AK-47 rechambered for the new 5.45mm ammunition, with a few other minor modifications. The success of the American 5.56mm ammunition prompted a rethink in Russian assault rifle design, resulting in the high velocity 5.45mm round. The new round has much improved penetrative qualities and an increased tendency to tumble inside a soft target, causing maximum injury.
Apart from the change in ammunition, the most important change from the AK-47 is the addition of the large muzzle brake, which decreases the already moderate recoil of the rifle and improves controllability in fully automatic fire. The rear sight is practically the same as on the old model, simply recalibrated for the ballistics of the new round. The wooden stock is raised to bring the shooter’s shoulder more inline with the axis of fire, which decreases muzzle rise when firing and improves the accuracy of sustained fire. The stock is lightened by two oval cuts in either side. The pistol grip is made from plastic, and the fore-end from wood. The stamped steel magazines of the AK-47 have been replaced with the distinctive orange-red plastic magazines.
This rifle is equipped with the GP-30 underbarrel grenade launcher. The launcher uses a variety of 40mm grenade ammunition, chiefly the VOG-25 high explosive and the VOG-25P jumping grenade. The main difference between the two grenades is that the VOG-25P has a small charge in the nose that detonates on impact with the ground, bouncing it to a height of around one metre and then detonating the main charge. The grenades are of caseless design, meaning there is nothing to extract from the weapon after firing. The very short barrel is rifled to impart an accurizing spin on the grenades. The launcher weighs 1.3kg unloaded. The GP-30 has a minimum arming distance of 40 metres and a maximum effective range of up to 150 metres. The effective blast radius of the grenades is about 5 metres. The launcher is equipped with a quadrant sight mounted on the right hand side.
The AK-74 weighs 3.3kg unloaded and is supplied from a 30 round box magazine. The rifle has a rate of fire of 600-650rpm and has an effective range of about 500 metres.