A young Soviet tank crewman was wounded at the end of the Second World War.

During rehab, Mikhail Kalashnikov spent hours designing a dependable Soviet assault rifle.

Months later, the fruits of Comrade Kalashnikov's brainstorming and labor birthed the most famous rifle of modern warfare. First, there was the AK-47, unveiled at the conclusion of World War II.

That version of Mikhail's famous Russian assault gun, in 7.62x39mm has been mass-produced and copied far and wide to the tune of millions of rifles. Imitation is indeed the best form of flattery.

Then, there was the AKM - an improved AK-47.

Now, there is the AK-74 - the Russian main assault rifle (i.e., AK-74M).

The AK series...it just keeps getting better and better. To the detriment and concern of the United States and any and all others that may find themselves on the business end of this high-powered, ever-dependable, usually inexpensive-to-produce, easy-to-operate and maintain Russian assault rifle.

The AK-74 is chambered for 5.45x39mm ammo. It is gas-operated and features a rotating bolt.

The AK-74 represents a line of AKM improvements that were introduced in the mid-1970s.

It was battle-tested in the Soviet war in Afghanistan - one of the most brutal and bloody wars of our time and certainly one of the most inhospitable of environments to field troops and materiel.

AK-74 is the abbreviated form of Automat Kalashnikova 1974 - Automatic Kalashnikov 1974. After the mujahideen (Afghan freedom fighters) in Afghanistan waged a brutal war against their Russian foes - with the help of the U.S. (just trying to return the favor for Vietnam), the vaunted Soviet army tucked tail and made a beeline home to their vodka and borscht, minus several thousands of their men and tons of armaments. In their stead, the Russians left an Afghan puppet regime that was doomed to failure - and the rest is history - up to and including the U.S. going in and spanking the Taliban.

The AK-74 is still produced at Izhevsk Mechanical Works. Like its great granddaddy, the AK-47, this gun has numerous variants - both domestic and foreign. A stately Mikhail Kalashnikov, still going strong after all these years - and wars - must look on with disdain as replica AKs are built. If they aren't built in Mother Russia - they aren't squat - and Mikhail might have something there.

The rifle is light compared to earlier versions - at slightly more than 6 1/2 pounds. With the full stock extended, the AK-74 measures an inch longer than three feet; folded it measures 27 inches. The standard gun has a 16-inch barrel. The AK-74 is capable of cycling upwards of 650 rounds per minute, leaving the flash-suppressed barrel at nearly 3,000 feet per second. It has an effective range beyond a half mile and uses standard 30-round, 45-round and RPK-74 detachable box magazines.