When I was in Russia almost 15 years ago, I had contact with some Russian special police units. One thing I quickly noticed was that you could tell how hardcore the police units were by whether they had 5.45x39mm AKS-74Us. The standard militia (police) weapon at that time was the Makarov PM. Those assigned to traffic duty, static posts and other relatively low-threat assignments carried a Makarov in the standard holster with one spare magazine on their belt. Often, I did not see anything else on the belt—no handcuff case or anything else for that matter. The patrol officers with whom I had contact worked high-crime areas or anti-organized-crime patrols. They also had Makarovs but were augmented by AKS-74Us, much as U.S. patrol officers carry a shotgun or carbine to deal with armed felons.
I didn’t get a chance to shoot the AKS-74U on that trip, although one of the ex-Spetsnaz guys put me through some of their training exercises with the Makarov. I had actually gotten a chance to shoot the AKS-74U and its big brother, the AKS-74, quite a bit in Brussels a decade earlier. While having lunch with one of the team leaders for a EEC security team, I was introduced to a former KGB Ninth Directorate bodyguard who was working for an arms merchant selling Russian weapons. The Russian had actually read some of my articles in the day, and we had a conversation during which he asked me if I had ever gotten a chance to fire an AK-74. I replied that I had not. We arranged to meet the next morning (a Sunday) at a large indoor range.
He brought not just an AK-74 and an AKS-74 (folding stock), but also an AKS-74U, the ultra-compact version of the AK-74. Even better, he brought a case of 5.45x39mm ammunition and told me to feel free to shoot it all. He did not have to tell me twice. I fired all three weapons, but put the most rounds through the AKS-74U. The one he had brought along did not have the Russian collimator sight that FSB Alpha (Russian national counterterrorist unit) and other spec-ops units used on the AKS-74U and some other weapons. Still, I found that the compact carbine, or rifle-caliber SMG if you will, fit me very well. It was quite controllable on bursts of three to five rounds and the sights were good enough that I could do headshots at 15 meters with short bursts and could do center-of-mass bursts at 25 meters. I became an instant fan of the AKS-74U and remain so to this day.
The “U” stands for the Russian word ukorochennyj, which means shortened, thus the AKS-74U is a shortened assault rifle. That is really more correct than calling it a submachine gun (SMG) since, by definition, an SMG fires a pistol-caliber cartridge. I’ll admit that for simplicity I have called the AKS-74U an SMG in the past. Developed a few years after the introduction of the AKS-74, the AKS-74U was intended for use by artillerymen, tank crews, helicopter pilots and special operations personnel.
The AKS-74U offered the compactness and handiness of an SMG but was chambered for the standard 5.45x39mm rifle cartridge and took standard AK-74 magazines. It also gave its users more striking power than a pistol-caliber weapon. In many ways, the AKS-74U filled the same niche as the HK53, Sig 552 or Colt Commando did in the West.
The starting point for the AKS-74U was the full-sized AKS-74 rifle. However, the shortened barrel required the gas chamber be moved rearward and the gas piston rod be cut down. Since so little barrel protruded past the gas port, a special muzzle device was created which functioned as a gas expansion chamber to ensure reliable operation and also as a flash suppressor. One very clever aspect of the flash suppressor is that it is slotted so that it can be used as a wire cutter by sticking the wire through the two slots and firing a round. Watching where one’s foot is located during this is highly recommended.
Unlike a standard AKS-74, which allows removal of the receiver cover, the one on the AKS-74U is hinged to allow it to flip up as the rear sight assembly is located atop the cover. The AKS-74U’s front sight is lower, with ears, and the rear sight is a flip-up-type marked for 200 and 400 meters, the latter being optimistic in the extreme. The same folding stock used on the AKS-74 rifle is used for the AKS-74U, which allows it to fit the shoulder better and gives a reasonably good cheekweld.
I’ve already mentioned that the Spetsnaz sometimes mounted a collimator red-dot sight on their AKS-74Us. Those with the side mounts for the red-dot or night-vision scopes were designated AKS-74UN. Also available for Spetsnaz use were AKS-74Us that could take a quick detach suppressor or a 30mm suppressed grenade launcher (the BS-1). Weight of the AKS-74U with the suppressor and suppressed grenade launcher mounted is almost 12 pounds.
By the way, none of my Russian contacts ever referred to the AKS-74U as the “Krinkov.” The nickname they used was the Ksyukha, a girl’s name. They seemed to like designating deadly devices with female nomenclature, as the very heavy-duty switchblades my Russian friends carried were called ladya, which means lady. Reportedly, “Krinkov,” the name often heard in the U.S. for the AKS-74U, may have been used by the mujahideen for the weapon during the Russian/Afghan War. This would make sense as the first examples to enter the U.S. for ordnance intelligence evaluation came from the mujahideen.
AKS-74Us have been popular in the Middle East. Perhaps the most famous one was that carried by Osama bin Laden. In an attempt to portray himself as a real fighter and harken back to his time with the mujahideen, bin Laden was often photographed holding an AKS-74U with a 45-round magazine inserted. AKS-74Us are also used by some Middle Eastern bodyguards. A friend who was doing a contract protective job in Jerusalem told me a few years ago that he saw Palestinian security teams armed with the AKS-74U. Some former Soviet republics still use the AKS-74U, and it may still turn up among insurgent groups formerly supported by the Soviets. As far as I know, the AKS-74U is no longer produced in Russia, having been replaced by some newer models, such as the AK-105, which is also in 5.45x39mm caliber, but has a 12.3-inch barrel and a side-folding stock that gives an overall length of 23 inches when folded. Bulgaria has also manufactured a copy of the AKS-74U.
Although some AKS-74Us have been imported into the U.S. for class-III sales to law enforcement agencies, I doubt many agencies have chosen to arm themselves with a 5.45x39mm short carbine when they can purchase M4s readily. Some are in U.S. military hands and are used for foreign weapons training and perhaps to supply sterile weapons for some missions.
There are, however, a number of registered short-barreled rifle (SBR) ver-
sions of the AKS-74U that have been built using a parts kit on a legal, pre-ban receiver or a U.S.-made one and incorporating enough U.S.-made compliance parts. Other than lacking select-fire capability, these allow American shooters to experience the handling of the AKS-74U. The one I used for shooting in this article is just such a registered SBR a friend had built. I ask him to bring it to the range a couple of times a year, and I bring along a couple of hundred rounds of 5.45x39mm ammunition so I can stay familiar with the short carbine. Staying familiar is actually fairly easy, as the safety/selector is the same but without the full-auto setting and the magazine release is the same. So is deployment and collapsing of the stock. I have in the past used the SBR version to practice deployment from within a vehicle and to remain familiar with handling it in tactical situations. I usually shoot it at 25- and 50-yard plates and am more concerned with quickly acquiring targets than shooting at longer range.
These days, though, I have to admit that I mostly shoot the AKS-74U for nostalgia when I get the chance. It reminds me of blasting away on a range in Brussels with my newfound, post-Cold War friend from the Ninth Directorate or of my Russian special-police friends showing me how they approached a stopped vehicle with their AKS-74U slung and ready for action. In fact, they practiced hosing a vehicle one-handed should that prove necessary. Now that’s a felony car stop! Good times—when my hair was blacker and my knees worked better.
I have to admit, too, that one reason I like the AKS-74U is that is just looks so deadly. It looks like a weapon that could clear a room of enemies pretty well and like a weapon that would be carried by someone capable of carrying that out!