Taliban upgrading to the AK-74?!?!

With the poor condition that captured AK-47s are found, you could be forgiven for thinking the Afghans do not pay much attention to their rifles. Apparently they are very much into the “latest” gear and AK-74 are very much in demand, despite that they cost 2.5x as much as a Chinese AK-47 clone. The Guardian reports:

“The fortunes are to be made in weapons,” he said. “Prices are doing very well. If you bring in $20,000-worth over a month, you can make a profit of $5,000.”

Kalashnikovs, I presumed.

“No, Kalashnikovs are very cheap. They cost only $400. Sometimes the Tajiks buy them from us and we get them from the Chinese. But it’s the Kalakov everyone wants.” Kalakov is the Afghan name for a new model of Kalashnikov that is lighter and uses smaller bullets.

They seem to be under the impression that the 5.42x39mm round has some magical armor piercing capability! While the bullet the Russian currently use has improved penetration, compared to the original, I doubt it is any better than the 5.56mm NATO. I very much doubt that the Taliban are getting recently manufactured ammunition or the AP version of the 5.45mm.

“The Taliban like it because it pierces body armour.” Hekmat tapped at his chest to demonstrate and showed me a small bullet. “They cost $700 in Dushanbe and we sell them for $1,100. There is an extra charge of $150 if you want the weapons delivered in the south.”

This is good news for the coalition forces, better that they spend their money on weapons that they think will give them armor piercing capabilities, rather than weapons that could do real damage. I hope they do not catch on that the Dragunov SVD rifles they seem to love are not near accurate enough to be considered a real sniper rifle, nor can the 20 year old surplus Chinese 7.62x54mm be considered an accurate round for a sniper.

Hat Tip: Danger Room

UPDATE: I was emailed to say that vets report that AK-74 are not uncommon in Afghanistan. The Guardian’s source is a random smuggler that a reporter happened to talk to. I think this is pretty much a non-story.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Sven Ortmann

    The NORINCO Kalashnikovs have a reputation for poor quality and poor accuracy dispersion.

    A switch in assault rifle choice could still mean an improvement even though the basic design isn’t much of an improvement.

  • SpudGun

    I know we consider the Taliban to be just a bunch of goat herders running around screaming ‘Allah’! But every battle report I’ve seen from Afghanistan rates them as stalwart, resouceful and stubborn fighters.

    All of the Coalition Forces are wearing body armor, so it would stand to reason after 5+ years of heavy conflict, even the ‘backwards’ Taliban would cotton on to buying some AP rounds. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to believe they are getting their hands on such ammunition.

    After all, the previous Mujahadeen were toting state of the art Stinger Missile systems and they cost a lot more and were harder to get hold off then a few thousand AP rounds.

    Nonetheless, however they upgrade on a squad level, it doesn’t overally worry me. The continuing threat from IEDs is still the biggest killer of our troops over there.

    I just wish our boys and girls weren’t over there propping up a corrupt government. But that is a different argument altogether.

    • SpudGun, they were given stinger missiles by the CIA, they did not buy them.

      AP ammo is a niche round and expensive. It would be produced in limited quantities by a maybe one or a very small number of factories. Some of the US AP rounds are still classified.

  • SpudGun

    Steve, I know they were given Stinger Missiles by the CIA and didn’t walk into Best Buy and slap their Discover card on the counter 🙂 But the fact of the matter is that they did get them.

    As for AK-74 clones and AP ammo, it’s probably being manufactured from scratch within Pakistan itself. You’d be amazed at the ‘cloning’ that goes on with weaponary and ammuntion in that part of the world.

    The Taliban are earning major bucks from the international drugs trade, so could easily pay over the odds for AP rounds from any number of breakaway old Soviet republics. If not, they could easily afford to set up their own arms factories within Pakistan.

    Even if what I’ve stated above turns out to be some sort of fantasy meandering, the real fact of the matter is that the Taliban are changing weaponry for a reason. And my bet is that has more to do with battlefield practicality then with mere rumour that the AK-74 is superior to an AK-47 in armor penetration.

    In short, we should be suspicious of this change and assess the new threat rather then dismiss it out of hand as ‘those wacky Taliban and their crazy gun fads’.

  • Fred

    The one “sniper” that took a pot shot at me over there missed by about 50 yards… no idea what he was shooting with though, but I can tell you they can’t make an 800+ yard shot.

  • Vitor

    According to Wikipedia on the russian 5.45mm:

    “Early ballistics tests done demonstrated a pronounced tumbling effect with high speed cameras.[2] Some Western authorities believed this bullet was designed to tumble in flesh to increase wounding potential. At the time, it was believed that yawing and cavitation of projectiles was primarily responsible for tissue damage. Martin Fackler conducted a study using live pigs and ballistic gelatin demonstrating that the 5.45 mm round does not reliably fragment or cause unusual amounts of tissue disruption. [3] Most organs and tissue were too flexible to be severely damaged by the temporary cavity effect caused by yaw and cavitation of a projectile. With the 5.45 mm bullet, tumbling produced a temporary cavity twice, at depths of 100 and 400 mm. This is comparable to modern 7.62x39mm ammunition and to (non-fragmenting) 5.56 mm ammunition. The average width of a human torso is 400 mm.”

    So, if the 5.56mm lacks “stopping power” against the Talibans in those long distances of Afghanistan, the russian equivalent will be even worse against big healthy americans with body armor.

  • Bill Walsh

    What’s wrong with the Taliban’s Dragunovs? It’s old technology that’s not in the league of our new stuff, but it’s pretty damn effective if its sighted right and used by someone who knows what he’s doing. Are theirs just superannuated and improperly maintained? Is the ammo crappy? Are the shooters bad? (Because the Pashtun love to shoot and are good at it…or at least they used to.)

    Just curious.

  • Whatever


    A photojournalist’s experience in Afghanistan being embedded with the British forces. I found it very interesting.

    The 5.45mm round when first used in Afghanistan used a bullet that may have been illegal with regard to the Hague Conventions and is no longer used. It was designed to tumble when it hit its target. From what I’ve heard, the Afghan fighters back then feared that round for the damage it would do, maybe the memory of that round is why they want AKs chambered in 5.45x39mm.

  • jdun1911

    I am not sure if the reporting is accurate or not. To me it seems piss poor at best.

    My understanding that Stinger missiles can’t target Nato vehicles with friends or foe device.

    The 7.62x54R is a very good round. It’s over 100 years old and still in use. It is an accurate and hard hitting round. It is the prefer round for non-western marksmen going back to its inception. It has proven itself as an outstanding caliber.

    In capable hands the Dragunov can score hits at 600+ yards. Don’t discount it.

    The 5.45×39 AP or 7.62x54R AP will not penetrate US ceramic body armor. Not in the first hit anyway. The 5.45×39 is an accurate round compare to 7.62×39.

    NORINCO makes good AK and 1911.

    Dragunov 7.62x54R AP round Vs. Pfc. Stephen Tschiderer’s ceramic body armor, Iraq.

  • jdun1911

    The 5.45×39 is not illegal. The Hague Conventions deals with bullet expansion not tumble or fragmentation. Most countries didn’t sign off on it and those that did don’t exist anymore.

    The USA did not sign off.

    • Hague Convention should be ignored anyway. It should be nothing more than a historical curiosity.

  • Junkball

    Steve, why do you say that?

    • Junkball, pretty much what komrad said. It is a convention from the 19th century. War has changed since then. Police use expanding bullets on their fellow citizens and hunters on game … why is it do bad that soldiers use them on the enemy?

  • komrad

    If expanding bullets were heinous then why would many locals and even entire countries ban using noexpanding ammo on deer. Hague was created in the late 1800s when the technology was new and frightening. Expanding bullets produce cleaner kills and reduce the possibility of overpenetration.

  • Michael

    While you’re correct that russian 5.45 generally won’t ESAPI plate body armor, is is still pretty effective at penetrating soft kevlar. One of the fundamental differences between Iraq and Afghanistan is that in Iraq, most foot patrols were of very limited duration and are primarily vehicle bourn. In A-stan, patrols are far longer, over worse terrain, and troops are (even still) less likely to encounter IEDs. As a result, many units have adapted by dramatically reducing the standard armor compared to an Iraq load out. Hence, even the 5.45 can be effective.
    That said, the original article from the Guardian involves an entire one source. I wouldn’t think that the AK-74 is all that new of a trend in AfPak, but the story is simply a result of one guy surprised to learn that the Soviets upgraded the AK 30 years ago.


  • Simon_The_Brit

    “Apparently they are very much into the “latest” gear” in that case all the West has to do is persuade the Taliban terrorists that Airsoft is the latest and greatest gear to have.

  • subby

    The kevlar portions of body armour in Iraq could never stop the 5.45, 5.62 and much less the 7.62mm round. Only the ceramic plates could stop those rounds, being conveniently rated for the 7.62mm round. The kevlar armour is mainly for protection from shrapnel from IEDs, since that is not as a serious of a problem in Afghanistan, the can reduce their armour. Which is great cause they’ll be doing alot more foot patrols.

    As for AK74, it will make the taliban able to carry more ammo, probably increase their accuracy and increase their speed for followup shots. All of which is bad news for our soldiers.

    I also have no doubt they are outfitting themselvs with quality optic binoculars and longer range communication equipment. Increasing their effectiveness greatly.

  • rootman

    AK-74 penetration is superior due to steel core.


  • jdun1911

    I can assure you that our boys in Afghanistan are wearing ceramic armor in patrol. They are carrying well over 80 lbs on their back in some cases.

  • subby

    Considering the only real difference seperating soldiers from the taliban now, is 2 plates of ceramic armour and better shooting skill, that sucks. Airstrikes are becoming more and more discouraged due to civilian casualties and its practically a mano a mano fight out there.

  • Sven Ortmann

    “So, if the 5.56mm lacks “stopping power” against the Talibans in those long distances of Afghanistan, the russian equivalent will be even worse against big healthy americans …”

    A bigger guy being hit means that the tumbling has greater effect. The tumbling isn’t instant, so it does often begin too late (deep) as to do much damage to a skinny guy.

  • jdun1911

    That’s neat rootman. That Japanese made their version of the box of truth with a better production value.

    You can’t compare steel core to lead core bullets. Steel core bullets will penetrate better then lead bullets. That is a given. A fair comparison would be steel core for both cartridge.

    The 5.56 does come in steel core, m855 (green tip)/ss-109.

  • Karlos

    The Russian made AK’s are much better made than the chinese variants, the metal used is also better quality. Most of the AK’s and SVD’s in Afghanistan have now been there since the mid 70’s so they have usualy had over 30 years of abuse, although they will work without ever being cleaned the accuracy is effected.
    The 5.56X45 NATO carrys around 250ftlb more muzzle energy than the 5.45X39, although the 5.56 does not penetrate anything well it tumbles almost on impact, the 5.45 was designed to penetrate more than the 5.56 and still tumble after impact, where as the 7.62X39 begins to tumble after leaving what would be a human sized target.
    And as for the SVD using Russian made 7N14 ammo in the hands of a well trained sniper, new and clean, they will shoot 1MOA, and will easily hit human targets at 800m, remember the taliban are using a poorly maintained SVD that may have not been cleaned for decades, with scopes that have been abused and using general purpose 7.62X54R ammo intended for light machineguns.

  • destroyer

    AK74’s have always been in afghanistan…because the soviets left!!! this article is nothing but sensationalism…

  • spud gun we that is the U.S. Gov. gave them the stingers to fight the Russians with.

  • beentheredonethat

    The biggest threat to the NATO troops in Afghanistan are not anything other than roadside IEDs, SVIED, VIEDs…meaning really big explosions. Homemade explosives are the biggest threat that the troops talk about there. Small arms don’t keep guys up at night. RPGs don’t even keep guys up at night. The Mortar rounds they fire at the camps don’t keep the guys up at night. So ya enough talk about this small little issue of what type of rifle they use cause it doesn’t matter.

  • Dave


    When you say that 5.45×39 AP can’t penetrated ceramic armour, are you talking about the 7N10, 7N22, or 7N24? 7N24 has a tungsten core like the M995. M995 can penetrate most Lv4 armour. Although there is very little data on the 5.45mm 7N24, due to having a similar core to M995 and if its velocity is high like that of M995, then it may be possible for 7N24 to penetrate Lv4 armour.

  • Dave


    The 5.45mm 7N10 steel core bullet has better armor penetration than 7.62x39mm mild steel core ammo. 5.45mm 7N10 should have similar armor penetration to 5.56mm M855.

  • I actually stick with the initial premiss of Steve’s post…

    That by adhering to the ‘AK74 myth’ that it’s hugely superior for penetrating NATO body armour they (the Taliban) are actually wasting much needed cash!

    You guys are obviously far more in touch with the science of the ballistics involved, but time after time I see photos on the British MoD News site showing Taliban rounds which have failed to pierce ether Osprey body armour or the Mk 6 (much less the new Mk 7) helmet!

    I say leave well alone and let them continue to believe the AK74 is a good buy! 🙂

    (Also – isn’t their mixing in the AK74 into their inventory another good thing for us? Not only do they have the additional logistic nightmare of sourcing another calibre of round, their footsoldiers no longer have the ability to swap magazines between the mixture of AK/AKM and AK74 users.)

    Just a thought.

  • charles222

    It wouldn’t matter if they’re toting around phased-plasma pulse rifles, given that your average Taliban is a horrible shot.

    The Mujahideen in the 80s who got Stingers were by no means all-inclusive; they were typically picked based on who was doing well lobbing RPG and SA-7 missiles at Hinds. In other words, a distinct minority.

    Most of the Russian weapons and equipment I encountered in my Afghanistan deployment was distinctly in bad shape-generally uncared for, broken sights, missing buttstocks, etc. The Russians left alot of hardware there, but it’s been sitting in the desert for the last twenty years with no spare parts and no qualified people to repair them.

  • Anton

    Maybe we should develop a variant on the AK that shoots back at the shooter, and then put them on the market in Afghanistan.

  • Ajb

    The 5.45×39 ammo is much more accurate than the 7.62×39 ammo. It’s bullet performs better than the 5.56, because it’s a new design, but the 5.56 casing is 6mm longer, so it makes the 5.56 bullet more accurate at slightly longer distances.

    Just means the Taliban will be making more accurate shots, than the old ak47, with less recoil than our own 5.56, and better terminal ballistics, with comparable velocity.

  • GarryB

    Find it very amusing some are suggesting the 5.45mm round is somehow inferior to the 5.56.

    Have heard of plenty of complaints about the lethality of the 5.56, especially beyond 300m, and its inconsistent performance within 300m.

    Very simply the 5.45mm standard round is tail heavy and will tumble on impact by design.

    The Hague convention bans ammunition designed to deform on impact like soft nose ammo, which is why military forces use full metal jacket ammo.

    The 5.56mm standard round was designed to fragment and when it does fragment inside the target it is effective, when it does not, it is not.

    The west could not complain about the 5.45mm round tumbling on impact when they use a round designed to fragment inside the target.

    The 5.45mm round remains in one piece but tends to turn inside the body 90 degrees after initially tumbling, which often makes finding the exit hole difficult and the internal damage extensive.

    The lower recoil and longer slimmer bullet design makes the 5.45mm round much more efficient than the original short stubby 5.56mm.

    BTW there is no such thing as accurate or inaccurate rounds. A round is consistent or it is inconsistent.

    The length of the shell case has nothing at all to do with the consistency of a round.

    The 7.62 x 39mm round was the basis via the Russian .220 for the 6mm PPC, and .22 PPC bench rest rounds considered to be the most accurate currently available.

  • robert

    i served in sadr city on 07-09. we saw a few dragunov out there,they have excellent stopping power . those “terrorist” know basics of markmanship. note, multiple rounds can and will penetrate ceramic plates eventually. on ak vs ak74 , the 74 is more accurate and lighter, and has less recoil. i own one personally admire the design . if those “terrorist” were better trained it would be bad. after my tour i can say the poor freedom fighters have won. people who fight for freedom don’t lose. i am ashamed of this country for invading another, in reality WE are “terrorist” . if china did to us what we have done to the middle east u would fight just like ,.,them i would. we r no better than the taliban in my opinion. i admire and respect the middle east more than i did before. if they held out this long who really won?

  • a man

    5.45mm has terrible penetration worse than both 5.56mm and the 7.62×39 it replaced.

  • Vivek

    Actually ak 47 is a lot better,powerful,reliable gun than the m4 or m16.