The US Army is seeking Russian-made 5.45x39mm AK-74 assault rifles or copies made in other countries, per a recent contract notice released by the service.
The Army Contracting Command-New Jersey (CCNJ) issued the contract notice seeking potential sources to supply AK-74-type Kalashnikov assault rifles and support parts on behalf of the Program Manager for Soldier Lethality (PMSL) and the Combat Capabilities Development Command-Armaments Center (CCDC-AC).
The CCNJ did not specify the reason for the notice. The US military is known to maintain stocks of various foreign-made small arms for use by special operations forces (SOF) in training exercises to arm those replicating the enemy or local partner forces and also for different research and development and test and evaluation purposes.
The contract notice also did not specify the number or estimate of how many Soviet-designed AK-74s the Army might be interested in acquiring.
The AK-74 Assault Rifle
The AK-74 is a Soviet-origin assault rifle designed by small arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1974 and is considered the Soviet answer to the American-made M-16.
Several US-made M-16 assault rifles were captured during the Vietnam War and later examined by the Soviets and tested against the AKM assault rifle, a standard-issue infantry weapon used by the Soviet Army at the time.
The Soviets found that the US-made 5.56×45 mm intermediate ammunition had superior ballistics to the Soviet 7.62×39 mm round. An official requirement was issued in 1966 for developing a new assault rifle and ammunition.
The AK-74 is an air-cooled, magazine-fed, selective-fire assault rifle chambered in 5.45x39mm. It utilizes a long-stroke gas piston and a multi-lug rotating bolt based on the AKM assault rifle.
The weapon consists of stamped sheet metal riveted to steel inserts and is equipped with a single lever-style combined safety and fire mode selector switch, which can be moved to three positions. In the top position, the switch locks the bolt group and the trigger in the “safe” position, while the middle and bottom positions are for automatic fire and single shots, respectively.
The bullets are fed to the rifle from a plastic box-shaped magazine that holds 30 rounds. The AK-74 is also compatible with 45 round magazine of the RPK-74 light machine gun.
The sighting range of the rifle is between 100 to 1000 meters, but its effective range of fire is only up to 500 meters. At a range of 350 meters, the AK-74 penetrates a 5mm steel plate.
The AK-74 is also fitted with a new muzzle brake, which is larger than the AKM and reduces the recoil and flash while firing.
The rifle can also mount a GP-25 or GP-30 40 mm under-barrel grenade launcher. It can also mount a PBS-4 silencer that needs special sub-sonic ammunition.
The contract notice by the CCNJ also specifies what alternative guns are acceptable to the US Army other than the actual Soviet/Russian-produced AK-74s.
“Weapon systems of interest are those that follow the design pattern of rifles from Romania (e.g., md.86), Russia (e.g., AK-74), and East Germany (e.g., MPi AK74). Weapons manufactured elsewhere are also desirable, provided they adhere to the AK-74 pattern,” CCNJ’s notice says. “Conversely, Bulgarian AR-SF and Polish Tantal-pattern rifles are not considered AK-74 pattern weapons for this Sources Sought notice.”
MPi AK74s are direct copies of the AK-74 produced by East Germany under license from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
While the Romanian Pușcă Automată model 1986 is a hybrid of the earlier 7.62x39mm AKM design and the AK-74, it remains unclear why it is acceptable, but the AKM-derived Polish Tantals are not.
US Could Send These AK-74s To Ukraine
As stated earlier, it is not known why the US Army is acquiring the AK-74s. While it could be for training its special operations forces or other R&D and test and evaluation activities, reports suggest these guns could also be transferred to the Ukrainian armed forces.
In the initial weeks of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the Ukrainian forces, particularly the volunteer Territorial Defense Forces units, were often short on small arms.
Also, small arms have been and continue to be a part of foreign military aid packages for Ukraine, including the latest aid package announced by the Pentagon on October 28 that includes, among other items, unspecified small arms and more than 2,750,000 rounds of small arms ammunition.
Notably, this aid is called the ‘draw-down’ assistance package, meaning it comprises items directly drawn from the US military’s existing inventory. However, additional weapons are also being acquired for Ukraine via a separate process called the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).
If these AK-74s are sent to Ukraine, it would be ironic that the US Army would supply the Ukrainians with Russian-made weapons to fight the invading Russian army.