The AK-74 is basically an AKM rechambered and rebored to fire a 5.45-mm cartridge. Externally, it has the same general appearance as the AKM, with two noticable differences. It has a distinctive, two-port muzzle brake, giving it a slightly greater overall length than the AKM. It also has a smooth plastic magazine which is slightly shorter and is curved to a lesser extent than the grooved metal AKM magazine. It uses the same type of bayonet as the AK-series weapons.
There is also a folding stock version, designated AKS-74, which has a Y-shaped tubular stock. The stock has an extremely narrow buttplate, as opposed to the T-shaped, stamped-metal buttstock of the AKMS.
The AK-74 fires 5.45 x 39-mm ball, ball-tracer, and incendiary-tracer rounds. The 5.45-mm round of the AK-74 has a considerably higher muzzle velocity than the 7.62-mm round of the AKM; this eliminates the range-limiting drawback of it predecessor. Like the AKM, the AK-74 has a maximum sight setting of 1,000 meters, but the effective range is 500 meters (versus 300 meters for the AKM).
The muzzle brake of the AK-74 a fluidic device to minimize recoil and muzzle climb. Although the AK-74 is somewhat heavier than the AKM when empty, its loaded weight is slightly less than that of the AKM; this is due primarily to the plastic magazine and its smaller-caliber ammunition. Like the AK and the AKM, the AK-74 can mount a grenade launcher and a passive image intensifier night sight.
The gas cylinder, like the cylinders on the AK and AKM, is in a valunerable position; if dented, it may cause weapon mulfunction. The reddish-brown or orange color of the plastic magazine does not lend itself to camouflage.
The Soviets fielded the AK-74 in 1974, as indicated by the weapon's designation. The folding-stock AKS-74 was first seen with Soviet airborne troops in November 1977. The Ak-74 is also the basis for other 5.45-mm small arms, including the AKSU-74 submachine gun and the RPK-74 light machine gun.