Even before the AK-74 hit armories in 1974, Russian forces were looking for something smaller and lighter to issue to mechanized, rear line, and special forces troops. While the AKS-74 with its side folding stock was developed around the same time as the fixed stock version, it wasn’t quite as compact as Soviet officials required for the aforementioned use cases. Ultimately, and after nearly four years of testing, an even more compact version of the AKS-74, the AKS-74U (“U” for shortened), was chosen in 1977 (though it wasn’t officially adopted until 1979) after it beat out designs from other famous Russian designers, including S.G. Siminov and Yevgeny Dragunov.
With help from their Russian allies, Bulgaria began to produce licensed AK-74s of all sorts in 1984. Unlike other Soviet satellites that often took Kalashnikov designs and modified them, for both practical reasons and to avoid conflicts over royalties, Bulgaria mostly stayed true to the reference build. The Bulgarians produced almost every major variation of the AK, save the AKM, and all are very close to their Russian progenitors.
The AK we’re looking at today is an Arsenal SLR-104UR. It is essentially Arsenal Bulgaria’s semi-automatic rendition of their AKS-74U rifle. Arsenal has been producing the AKS-74U since the mid ’80s, but having been released in 2013, the SLR-104UR is a fairly recent arrival to US shores. It also happens to be relatively reasonably priced. Whereas kit-built AKS-74Us typically fetch $1,500 or more, the SLR-104UR can currently be had for $1,200. That’s still pricey for an AK, so let’s see if the 104UR is worth the scratch.