Few weapons have be so shrouded in secrecy as the "Abakan" program in the former Soviet Union. Still in the midst of the Cold War, the Soviets began a search for a weapon to replace their revered Kalashnikov series rifles for a more modern rifle. The AK74 has served well up until this point. However, very few would have expected it to still be with the Russians today. But even though type classified as the AN94 as a replacement for the AK74, it never happened.
Adopted in 1974, the 5.45x39mm AK74 rifle first saw action in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The decision to convert over from the 7.62x39mm to a smaller caliber high velocity cartridge was due to the success of the 5.56mm round in Vietnam. The Soviets did not want to lag behind. Kalashnikov was adamantly opposed to going to the smaller 5.45x39mm round but irregardless the decision was made. All there was to do was salute, say "yes sir" and get to work on the round and rifle.
The AKM was basically scaled down to fire the 5.45x39mm cartridge. New bolt, barrel and magazine were the primary changes. Many AKM components were compatible. Obviously the rear sight was changed to accommodate the flatter shooting projectile. The muzzle brake was added which made the AK74 perhaps the lightest recoiling military rifle in service anywhere in the world. It was easy for a conscript soldier to transfer from the AKM to the AK74. The entire manual of arms remained the same. The AK74 increased accuracy significantly as well as full auto controlability.
The AK74 would go on to be modernized from 1974 to 2017. Beginning rifles would have a lighter rear stock, as well as the most popular version, would be the AKS-74. This rifle sported a side folding skeleton stock. It was also the introduction of the plum colored polymer furniture and a fixed polymer stock. The AK74M would be introduced with several updates including a side folding polymer stock, smooth dust cover, solid piston, as well as, a new method of retaining the front sight base and gas block. It would use a punch to move metal instead of drilling and pinning.
The rifle continued to serve with distinction, gaining a reputation for its lethality in Afghanistan. The rifle would be used in other Warsaw Pact countries including Poland, East Germany, North Korea, and Romania, to name a few, but it never saw adoption in other parts of the world. They remained with the 7.62x39mm.
The Soviets were looking for an updated rifle; one with greater range, controlability and easier to shoot. The caliber would remain the 5.45x39mm and utilize the AK74 magazine. Kalashnikov's design bureau did submit a rifle, as well as another designer named Gennadiy Nikonov.
Nikonov designed a rather unique rifle. In fact, I would say he developed the first new operating mechanism since the invention of Stoners direct gas impingement barrel extension designed AR10. Unlike a conventional internal or external piston rifle commonly seen on modern military rifles, he came up with a combination of gas and recoil operation called "blow back shifted pulse". The bolt mechanism would be a locked breech external long stroke piston similar to the AK74 with the addition of recoil operation.
The purpose of this design was to fire off two cartridges and the shooter to feel only one impulse, which was: putting both rounds on target. The upper receiver sat in a lower chassis where the recoil operation operated separately from the gas operation. As the rifle fired its first round, both the barrel and bolt were actuated. After the first round is completely cycled through the mechanism the barrel is at its halfway point in its rearward movement. Then the second round is fired and cycle is completed by the time the rifle barrel is in full rearward motion. The rate of fire is an extremely high 1800 rounds a minute for the first two rounds. When firing automatic, the first two shots are at 1800 rounds a minute, and after that, 600 rounds a minute until the trigger is released. After the first two rounds, the recoil of the barrel slows to one round per complete recoil of the barrel, giving it the slower rate of fire.
When looking at the rifle you will see that the magazine is canted. This is for a reason. As previously stated, the barrel and bolt groups move separately from each other. The bolt does not over reach the rear of the magazine to strip a round. It can't due to the fact the rifle fires with the barrel/bolt in two separate locations. To make this work there is a cable and pulley mechanism that operates the pre-loading mechanism.
Once the gas pushes rearward on the piston, and the bolt starts to move rearward, the bolt carrier reverses the pulley, the cable moves the pre-feed mechanism to strip a round off the magazine. It then moves it into position on the pre-feed locations, so that when the bolt moves fully rearward, the bolt can pick up the round regardless of what location the barrel is recoiling. Rather than use a conventional hammer mechanism, the AN94 uses a striker similar to that of a Glock pistol. The selector has a semi, 2 shot burst and Automatic setting, with a separate safety lever in front of the trigger.
The stock folds to the right similar to that of the AK74. There was a muzzle brake that had two chambers. This muzzle brake had to be installed for the rifle to cycle properly. It weighs 8.5 pounds and the only parts common with the AK74 is the stock, magazine and pistol grip. The chassis is basically all polymer. The designer claims that this rifle is just as, if not more, reliable than the AK74. It seems a little hard to believe that with, not only the cable pulley mechanism, but the barrel rides on a track connected to the lower that appears if dirt got in that track it could cause malfunctions.
Regardless the rifle was officially adopted in 1994 by the Soviet Army. However it would see little service for two main reasons. With the fall of the Soviet Union the money went away. Russia could not afford it. Also it was very complex. The rifle was used by SPETZNAZ on a limited basis and I am not aware of any foreign sales. It was only in production from 1994 to 2006. You do see them occasionally at defense trade shows in the Izhmash booth. The AK74M went in production in 1991 and remains in production as of now.
This is a truly fascinating rifle. Perhaps the most advanced the industry has yet to see. It never really got a combat reputation. Its failures were economic and perhaps it being as complex as it was rendered it useless to the masses. There are only a couple in the US so few have had the chance to even fire one. I got a close look at one of these a couple time but never had the opportunity to fire one. The way it operates is fascinating. The entire concept is really the opposite of Kalashnikov's philosophy. He believe in simplicity as the key to reliability. Nikonov believed more so in technology and complex engineering.