By Miles Vining
The compact Soviet AKS74U is one of the more fascinating and successful developments of the Kalashnikov platform. Conceived for one usage, but actually deployed in another, the AKSU spawned an entire genre of short barreled Kalashnikovs, currently in use all over the world, and especially popular in the United States under the name “Krink” or “Krinkov”. This essay will example the history of the compact assault rifle, actual use in combat, etymology of the moniker, and current interest in the historical reproduction of the platform in the United States.
Conception and Experimentation
This story begins with a submachine gun design that was designated the AO-46, and prototyped in the 1960s. Small arms designer Peter Tkachev headed the project. It featured an over folding stock, curved magazine that served as a pistol grip, and was chambered in the round that was to become the basis for the 5.45x39mm 7N6 service cartridge, the commercial 5.6mm. This design was innovative, but there wasn’t any practical purpose or competition that suited it. However it did prove the usefulness of a compact weapon system chambered in an intermediate cartridge.
Running concurrent with the design and adoption of the new 5.45x39mm 7N6 round, the attempt to create a compact assault rifle was introduced under Project “Modern”. The stipulations for the competition called for a compact assault rifle, that with the stock folded, would not fit outside the profile of the soldier carrying it (no longer than a shoulder width or ruck sack). It was envisioned as a short rifle for infantry roles that required a defensive weapon while carrying their main weapon system, i.e, RPG gunners, machine gunners, and mortarmen. Additionally it would ideally become the rifle of choice for the Spetsnaz.
The competition began in 1973, and there was little doubt that the Kalashnikov lead design bureau would take the lead, as the new Soviet service rifle, the AK74 was being adopted, and it would make sense for the new compact rifle to have interchangeability and familiarity advantages with the rifle that the rest of the military was using. Nevertheless, prominent Soviet small arms designers submitted a number of designs to the competition. In 1976, Kalashnikov’s design was chosen as a final prototype, going on troop trials in Azerbaijan, and finally being adopted in 1979 as the, “5,45-????????? ? ???????? ????? 74”, or abbreviated, “???-74?”.
As adopted, the design remained relatively the same albeit a few changes. Initial production was at Izhevsk, but once full production became underway, the tooling was moved to the Tula Arms Factory, as Izhevsk was at full capacity producing AK74s, and AKS74s. Very few of these Izhevsk AKSUs have survived until today. In 1982 the design of the muzzle brake threads was changed, as experience in Afghanistan revealed the previous design did not lend itself well to high rates of fire. In late 1985/early 1986, the design of the handguards was changed from the two slots cut for better ventilation, to more straightforward handguards with no slots. This design change makes identification of the AKSU in photographs especially helpful. Production continued until around 1992/1993 when production of working variants stopped. From 1993 to around 1997 and according to some sources the 2000s, we see production of a line of demilitarized AKSUs for the European civilian market.
Combat Use in Afghanistan
The interesting twist in the AKSU tale is that the rifle was actually not really used at all in the spirit that it was adopted in. Despite a number of prototypes and variants of the AKSU specifically for the Spetsnaz, to include enormous NSPU night sights that were the length of the rifle, suppressed under barrel 30mm grenade launchers, screw on PBS suppressors for the actual 5.45x39mm barrel, 20 round magazines, the Spetsnaz special forces actually wanted nothing to do with the rifle. This was due to the combat they were facing in Afghanistan where engagement distances tended to be 300 meters and beyond. At 100 meters, the AKSU would fair decently, but beyond that, it became much harder for an accomplished shooter to hit a man-sized target. In addition to this, the rifle would heat up much faster than a standard issue AK74. Thus, the Spetsnaz ditched the rifle in favor of the standard issue rifles, which were much more adequate for the engagements that they found themselves in. The Soviet troops that were actually issued the AKSU turned out to be vehicle crewmen, the Hind pilots, and the BMP drivers. The reason for this is that these men needed a compact rifle that wouldn’t hinder their duties inside the confined space of a vehicle, but yet needed an enormous amount of firepower if their vehicle were downed, and they had to defend it against Mujahedeen fighters attacking them from all sides. Thus, in many pictures from the era, we see AKSUs with 45 round RPK74 magazines attached to them, or 30 round magazines taped together for ease of reloading. These troops didn’t have to worry about the additional weight as they weren’t on foot patrols, but instead stayed in their vehicles on operations. The Hind pilots even had special polymer scabbards that they carried the AKSUs in, on their thighs.
Variants and Design Changes
Apart from the previously mentioned Spetsnaz configured variants, there were a number of different configurations that the AKSU saw itself in over its service life. One of the more popular ones is the suitcase configuration that the KGB used it in. This consisted of removing the muzzle device, and fashioning a sort of extended carrying handle onto the receiver cover. Once placed inside a suitcase, the KGB operator could depress the carrying handle, which would detach the case away from the gun, and with a 30 round magazine inserted, the operator would be ready to utilize the AKSU. There was also a simpler grenade launching mechanism that attached to the muzzle device, and fired a standard issue Soviet hand grenade from a blank round. These were more experimental and were not pressed into service very much.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, production of the AKSU slowed down until 1993 when production stopped altogether. In fact, as a sort of business enterprise, in around 1992 AKSUs were being produced in deactivated forms for the European deactivated weapons market. However, this wasn’t the end of the rifle as Bulgaria was able to get ahold of the technical data package and has been producing the rifle since the early 1990s. The data package was based on the most current design, the post 1986 rifle without the heat vent holes in the hand guards. Thus, all the AKSU copies coming out of Bulgaria are without the vent holes, which in addition to the “Circle 10” stamp, makes identification of these clones relatively simple. Outside of Bulgaria a number of countries began making their own short barreled AKs, some of the most significant manufacturing taking place in the region of Peshawar in western Pakistan. These models sometimes very closely resemble the AKSU but might be built on AK74 or even AKM receivers, in addition to numerous other minute differences.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the rifle is in the nick name for it, the “Krinkov”. A name that has come to be the moniker for any short barreled Kalashnikov platform rifle or pistol in the United States today. The entomology of the name has a complicated history but the most important part is that it isn’t Russian at all. Soviet soldiers never used this name, but instead used the word, “Suchka” which translates to “Little Bitch”. In fact, the word “Krinkov” isn’t Russian at all, and really doesn’t even exist in the Russian language or dictionary.
Instead, the name originates from the Mujahedeen side of the Soviet-Afghan War and is a Pashtu word. In the 1980s and even unto today, the short rifle was and is seen as a status symbol among the mostly Pashtun tribes of eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. This was due to the fact that only Soviet vehicle crew members carried them. Capturing a Soviet AK74 was certainly a good find, but being able to capture a weapon that only the most brutal and vicious of Soviet tactics utilized against the Mujahedeen was a mark of a brave warrior. During the war, the Soviets used their Hind helicopters to devastating effect on the Muj fighters, and it was rightly feared by them. So the ability to be in possession of an AKSU was tangible proof that a Muj fighter would have been able to shoot down one of these Hinds, or at least be in the company of the group that shot it down.
We have accounts from the first published Western article about the weapon, the July 1984 edition of “Soldier of Fortune.” In it, David Isby, an SoF writer, investigates the mysterious “Krinkov” in Pakistan. While he is there, he learns that the rifle is selling for the amount of 10,000 dollars, or equivalent to the sale of 4 Soviet .51 caliber Dushka heavy machine guns. This status symbol was even used by Osama bin Laden when he was recording videos in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Local Pashtuns wouldn’t understand his take on Islamic fundamentalism versus the Western powers, but they would absolutely understand the AKSU fitted with a 45 round magazine always present either on him, or in the background of his video speeches.
But because of this status symbol, Isby reports that he heard several names for it, “Krinkov”, “Shrinkov”, and “Sheskov” (Isby heard about the rifle through Ian Hogg, while he heard about it through Peter Jouvenal, a news cameraman in Afghanistan at the time, whom deserves the credit for bringing the word to the U.S.). “Sheskov” hasn’t been used since that time frame, but the word “Krinkov” is currently used in modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan to refer to the AKSU. In addition, another word, “Kalakov” is also used, but this is used to refer to AK74s, especially the AK century series of rifles, some of which have made their way into the gun markets of Dharra in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Going back to the entomology of the word “Krinkov”, among Pashtuns then and today, it was and is a popular tendency to add an “ov” to any word, to Russianize it. Inferring that a product is Russian, a “tractor-ov”, a “truck-ov” means that the product is probably of superior quality compared to a similar Chinese or maybe Pakistani product. However, we have this “Kri” in the name that has nothing to do with “Kala” from Kalashnikov. An explanation for this is that there is a certain Pashtun sub tribe in eastern Afghanistan that instead of saying “Kalashnikov” as most Pashtuns do when referring to an AK platform, they instead say, “Krishnikov”. And this is possibly the closet we will come to finding out the exact origins of the word “Krinkov”, by combing the first part of this tribes name for it, and the popular “-ov” that is added to words, to Russianize them. The “Shrinkov” and “Sheskov” that Isby heard referred to it as well, have faded away in the usage of the language, leading to “Krinkov” becoming the dominant term for the weapon in modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But how did any of this immigrate to the United States? The 1984 “Soldier of Fortune” article certainly produced some communal buzz about the topic, but the AK platform was not nearly as popular then as it started to be in the 1990s, and where it certainly is in today’s firearms community. The name was probably reinforced by intelligence officers and people who knew about the platform, and were keeping current with what it was referred to in Pakistan, in which “Krinkov” became the dominant moniker for the AKSU. The famous senator Charlie Wilson of “Charlie Wilson’s War” fame even received one as a gift from the Mujahideen that he was aiding through the CIA’s Operation Cyclone. Again, we see this as a status symbol. However, the name didn’t gain popular traction among the American firearms community until a store opened up in Naples, Florida by a certain Paul Mahoney, who named his store “Krinks” specifically because he specialized in converting and building short barreled AK rifles, and AK pistols for the firearms market. His builds weren’t anything like the quality that we see today from many modern day AK companies in the United States, but for the early 1990s they were some of the only kind of their type.
Thus, through Paul Mahoney, the word entered into the American firearms community lexicon. “Krinkov” or “Krink” has come to mean any AK platform, of any rifle caliber, with a hinged receiver cover, in an SBR rifle or legal pistol configuration. “Draco” is similarly used but refers more to those AK platforms that do not have a hinged receiver cover, and instead have a traditional AKM rear sight base, with the tilting lever keeping the gas tube installed. The AKSU doesn’t have this design feature because it uses a pin that the receiver cover keeps compressed to keep the gas tube in place. Opening the receiver cover on an AKSU allows the user to disassemble the gas tube.
Modern Day Builds in the United States
Despite their complexity to build, a number of collectors in the United States, to include the author have managed to build reproduction AKSU rifles, albeit without the full capabilities of their original select fire option. Building one requires a Russian AKSU parts kit. These are somewhat mislabeled as being from the Tula arsenal, which is misleading because every single AKSU in service in the 1980s came from the Tula production plant in Russia. The prices for these de-milled kits have gone up very high since their importation. They used to be imported with original Russian 8.5 inch barrels, and sold for a few hundred dollars. However today, one would be lucky to even find a Tula parts kit without a barrel, below the thousand dollar mark. Many of these parts kits seem to have come from the later years of the war, 1986 onwards, but there are decent amounts that come from the early war years, the pre 1986 designs with the heat vent holes in the hand guards.
The largest problem for collectors is finding an 8.5 inch barrel to match their parts kits. Original Russian barrels are extremely rare to come by in the current market so that leaves collectors with one of two options. The first is to find a Bulgarian 8.5 inch barrel, which is perfectly fine for a reproduction parts kit because the Bulgarian designs come directly from the technical data package of the post 1986 AKSUs. However, these are also drying up, and in their place comes a name called Blue Jack.
Blue Jack is an online username used by an individual in New York, who contracted with a barrel making company in Montana in around 2008 to 2010. The problem with making a proper AKSU 5.45x39mm barrel is that the twist rate needs to be correct, or else the bullets will tumble in flight. Many early AKSU builders found this out the hard way by simply substituting a virgin AK74 barrel and cutting it down to length. Not only does the gas port have to be re-drilled but the barrel itself is of a far slower twist rate because it has a longer barrel to work with in the full length AK74 design.
Thus, the company in Montana built functioning AKSU barrels to the correct dimensions, and the individual “Blue Jack” paid upfront for them, and marketed them over internet forum sites and selling sites thereafter, under his moniker Blue Jack (which he based in West Virginia). They initially sold for one to two hundred dollars, but this price soon rose as demand increased and their reputation became spectacular for actually working in AKSU builds. He then made them better by batches and assigned a number to them, as in Blue Jack Version 2, then Version 3, and so on. All of a sudden, this Blue Jack stopped having them made, and nowadays there isn’t a company on the market that produces 5.45x39mm 8.5 inch barrels for the AKSU. Blue Jack’s virgin barrels are now upwards of five hundred dollars.
Solving the parts kit situation, and the barrel conundrum, a collector still needs an American made fire control group, and a receiver in order to be 9.22r compliant. Most any AK trigger group works in an AKSU parts kit, be it a Tapco G2 or an ALG aftermarket trigger. Receivers are not hard to come by either, with Nodak Spud being an especially good manufacturer of stamped AK74 receivers. The important point here is to make sure the stock latch is included, and the rear trunnion is for a rifle build and not a pistol build as these two are very different versions. Many of these AK manufacturers also engrave their serial number and information on the bottom side of the rifle, just ahead of the magazine well. This is useful because it would otherwise detract from the historical quality of the AKSU when viewed from the sides. Important to note about the receiver is that this is the actual firearm and serial number, and thus requires an FFL to ship to.
Once all the parts are accounted for, and the proper ATF paperwork is completed, finding a builder is the crowning task. Going with a high quality builder is absolutely essential as there are a number of steps in the process that an inexperienced AK builder can make mistakes on, from riveting the trunnion in place, to pressing the barrel in place as well. But once the project is completed, collectors will have a firearm that almost completely resembles the rifle it was in the 1980s.
The Soviet AKS74U might not have changed the battlefield, or revolutionized small arms design, but it has a fascinating history that is very unique to it, from its inception, experimentation, actual use, and the convoluted history of its popular name, “Krinkov”. Indeed, it is an artifact of history from the Soviets, the Afghan Pashtuns, and today the American firearms community.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V20N9 (November 2016)|