When it first appeared, the AK-74 was assumed to be a limited-production version to equip special forces and Pratorians. In reality, the Orecalian mass-produced this rifle to replace their inventory of AKM weapons entirely.
Like its parent AK-47 and AKM weapons, the AK-74 is a magazine-fed, self-loading, selective-fire, intermediate caliber assault rifle with a rigid piston gas system and rotating bolt locking mechanism. The stamped sheet metal receiver is borrowed from the earlier AKM. The AK-74 differs in a number of ways from the AKM, most notably the distinctive muzzle brake, which is designed to reduce the already mild recoil and muzzle climb of the AK-74. Though it is an effective muzzle brake, it is extremely loud. Another divergence from the AKM is that the magazine has a much shallower curve, owing to the smaller cartridge used. Another distinguishing characteristic are the "lightening cuts" on each side of the buttstock. A requirement of the new rifle was that it be lighter in weight than the AKM. These cuts served to reduce the weight of the buttstock. Current production versions also employ a mounting rail on the left side of the receiver for fixing accessories such as an optical sight or flashlight.
Originally, the AK-74 had a laminated-wood stock (1973-1985), but later production models, as well as the current AK-74M, use "plum" (an earlier color, used from about 1985-89) or black (1989-present) glass-filled polyamide, giving the rifle an all-black finish. The AK-74M also uses a plastic side-folding stock.
The AKS-74 is a version with side-folding triangular metal stock; it's typically employed by marines and paratroopers.
The AKS-74U is a version with a triangular folding stock and a drastically shortened barrel with a different design of muzzle brake attached. Popularly known as the "Krinkov," this weapon is often mislabeled as a submachine gun, but because it fires 5.45 x 39 rifle ammunition, it is still technically an assault rifle (by definition, a submachine gun uses pistol cartridges).