Dragunov: The world’s most popular sniper rifle

Perhaps the most talked about sniper rifle in the post-Soviet space is the Dragunov sniper rifle. Some absolutely fantastic stories are constantly gathering around this weapon, while there are also those who say that this weapon has long been outdated and has no place in the modern army.

Those who are personally familiar with this rifle, or at least just with firearms, usually look at such disputes and discussions with a smile, because the intensity of passions due to very controversial statements is not at all funny. Let’s try to get to know more closely such a rifle as the SVD and figure out what exactly this weapon is.

History of Dragunov sniper rifle

It is most correct to start acquaintance with the weapon with the history of its appearance, and not with the tactical and technical characteristics. As you know, in the 30s of the last century, special attention was paid to the training of the population. This approach helped not only to get a huge number of trained shooters, which only had a positive effect during the Great Patriotic War , but also to develop a number of requirements for new types of weapons.

As it turned out, for medium distances, the effect of the weapon’s automation is minimal, which means that the shooter can make much more aimed shots in the same time. This fact was confirmed in the course of hostilities. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that the self-loading rifle of increased accuracy is an actual weapon both for that time and for the modern army.

Dragunov rifle is the world's first "indestructible" self-reloading gun.
Dragunov rifle is the world’s first “indestructible” self-reloading gun.

SVD did not appear from scratch. Perhaps for some it will be a secret, but almost all weapons in the Soviet Union were not produced at the initiative of any individual designer or group of gunsmiths. Almost every serial sample is not only the result of the work of many people, but also the result of a rather tough competition, in which several designs took part at once, sometimes even fundamentally different from each other. That is, we can safely say that only the best weapons were accepted for service, in terms of the totality of their characteristics and labor costs in production.

But frankly speaking, very often really interesting projects did not get a “start in life” precisely because of their complexity, although their characteristics in some cases were higher than those of the winners of the competition.

In 1958, the basic requirements for the new weapon were drawn up, according to which the groups of designers had to create a sample and demonstrate its capabilities. It is necessary to make a digression and explain what everyone usually forgets about. Almost never only one person works on a weapon – this is the totality of the work of many specialists and the fact that the Dragunov rifle bears his name means that it was this person who led the project and was the initiator of the main idea. However, in addition to him, other designers worked on the weapon, thanks to which these ideas were implemented in metal in the shortest possible time.

Three design groups can be distinguished among the participants in the competition. As we already know, the winner of the competition was represented by Izhevsk Plant No. 74. Its main competitors were Simonov and Konstantinov, representing the Klimovsky OKB-180 and Kovrovsky OKB-575.

If we briefly talk about what the rifles of other gunsmiths were like, then the option proposed by Simonov was based on automation with the removal of powder gases from the barrel bore and locking by a skewed bolt. A variant of the Konstantinov rifle, it worked all according to the same automation scheme with the removal of powder gases from the barrel bore and locking when the bolt was turned.

We will not go into details, although the very essence is hidden in them, but for a complete overview of the weapons that participated in the competition, at least a separate article is required. We will confine ourselves only to the fact that the Simonov rifle dropped out due to a large number of delays in firing, and the Konstantinov rifle showed itself worse when used in adverse conditions.

As a result of the competition, the Dragunov sniper rifle was adopted by the Soviet army in 1963.

Features of the design of the rifle

If we talk about any features of the Dragunov rifle that have not been used anywhere else, then there are none. But this does not mean that the weapon becomes uninteresting from this. First of all, it is necessary to dispel the myth that the SVD and the Kalashnikov assault rifle are almost identical weapons.

Yes, indeed, both devices work according to the same automation scheme, but it is important to pay attention to the little things, which in this case have a significant impact on the final characteristics of the weapon. The weapon’s automation is built according to a scheme with the removal of a part of the powder gases from the bore, which act on the piston, and its movement is transmitted to the bolt carrier.

If you look at the AK bolt group, it is easy to see that the bolt carrier is connected to the piston, which means that the entire structure will move when moving backwards. That is, the mass of the moving parts will be common. Opening the veil of secrecy over the reliability of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, you can share information that the mass of parts that come into motion when fired is of no small importance for the very legendary reliability of the weapon. But what does this mean for more accurate weapons? For weapons that require high accuracy, a large mass of the bolt group means a greater impact on the result of firing.

If you pay attention to high-precision rifles, then you will not find a single self-loading model among them. This is explained precisely by the fact that automation one way or another, but will affect the result of shooting. Of course, there are attempts to create high-precision self-loading weapons, but this is more a demonstration of the manufacturer’s capabilities, and not really working samples, since such designs are either overly complex or simply short-lived.

Now let’s look at the SVD bolt group. It is easy to see that the piston interacts with the bolt carrier through the pusher, and the latter is not connected to the bolt carrier. In other words, only the bolt carrier carries out a full stroke, without additional mass of parts, which means that the mass of moving parts is less.

Another interesting design feature, or rather, not even a feature, but an interesting fact is the step of the rifling in the barrel of the Dragunov rifle. Initially, the rifling pitch was 320 millimeters, which ensured a fairly high accuracy of fire. So, at a distance of 300 meters, when using 7N1 ammunition, the hits fit into a circle of 12 centimeters. However, at the same time, the accuracy when firing with armor-piercing incendiary cartridges left much to be desired. As a result, the rifling pitch changed from 320 to 240 millimeters. This led to the fact that even with the use of “sniper” cartridges, accuracy deteriorated sharply, but it increased with the use of armor-piercing incendiary ammunition. The rifling pitch was changed in 1975, which is why you can often hear that the first rifles were completely different, and uneven to the current ones.

Principle of operation

Perhaps a description of the operation of weapon automation will be useful for someone.

After the magazine with ammunition is inserted into the weapon, when the bolt group moves back, the trigger is cocked, and when the bolt group returns to the forward position, the first cartridge is removed from the magazine and fed into the chamber. The bolt carrier, pushed by the return spring, reaches its extreme forward point, while the bolt rests against the breech of the barrel, and the bolt carrier continues to move. With the interaction of the figured cutout and the attachment in the bolt carrier and the bolt body, the latter rotates and the barrel bore is locked.

At the moment the trigger is pressed, the hammer breaks down, which strikes the drummer. The striker, in turn, deforms the cartridge primer. The initiating composition of the capsule ignites, from which the process of combustion of gunpowder begins . When the powder burns, a fairly large amount of powder gases are formed, which build up pressure in the sleeve, and after the bullet leaves it, and in the barrel.

Since the only moving part in the entire system is only a bullet, powder gases push it along the entire length of the barrel, constantly increasing its speed. As soon as the bullet passes the section of the barrel to the holes for the outlet of the powder gases, part of the powder gases begins to act on the gas piston. The piston through the pusher activates the bolt carrier, which begins to move back and first turns the bolt, unlocking the barrel bore, and then rolls back, removing the spent cartridge case and cocking the hammer. Upon returning the bolt carrier forward, when the trigger is pressed, the whole process is repeated.

Tactical and technical characteristics

If we talk in numbers about the SVD, then its technical characteristics are as follows:

Weight w / o ammunition, with telescopic sight 4.5 kilograms
total length 1225 mm
Barrel length 620 mm
Receiver thickness 88 mm
Height taking into account the installed sight PSO-1 230 mm
Food Stores with a capacity of 10 rounds 7.62×54 R

If we turn to the manual on shooting, then the effective range of the weapon is as follows: 350 meters for the head figure, 430 meters for the chest, and 640 meters for the growth-oriented moving target with a height of one and a half meters.

As you can see, there can be no question of any kilometers. Yes, open sights are graduated up to 1200 meters, yes, the scope allows you to fire up to 1300 meters. However, firing and hitting are two different concepts.

But if we talk about absolute records, there is one for SVD. In particular, the enemy was hit at a distance of 1350 meters. Such a hit was due not only to the skills of the shooter, favorable conditions at the time of the shot, but also banal luck. Nobody else was able to repeat something similar from the Dragunov sniper rifle. But with all this, one cannot say that the SVD’s performance characteristics do not meet current requirements.

Advantages and disadvantages of SVD

In order to reason, a good weapon or a bad one, you first need to understand the goals and objectives of the rifle. For some reason, a sniper, in the mind of an ordinary person, is the same shooter who is located at a distance of almost a kilometer from his target and is waiting for a convenient moment. But, firstly, the sniper crew consists of two people, and secondly, the tasks for the shooter are different. Like the shooters themselves, the weapons for them are also different.

SVD has never been a high-precision weapon, and it is at least not entirely smart to consider it in such a context. This rifle was developed as a weapon for marksmen, to support the company, and not for shooting at many hundreds of meters with a pretty penny hit. Actually, it is for this reason that the rifle is self-loading, and not with manual reloading.

The main advantage of the Dragunov sniper rifle is its ease of use and high reliability in adverse conditions. The low cost of production in comparison with analogs also plays a significant role.

The disadvantage of this weapon is usually called a cartridge. At the same time, there are different opinions: someone does not like the caliber of a cartridge for the SVD of 7.62 mm, someone does not like the presence of a rim. Nevertheless, the only drawback of this ammunition is its obsolescence. But he, as before, fully copes with the tasks set, and, to be objective, does not require replacement.

Ammunition and equipment

As mentioned above, the Dragunov sniper rifle is powered by 7.62×54 ammunition, while the entire range of these cartridges can be used. Complete with SVD optical sight PSO-1 and its derivatives. For firing in the dark, the NSPU-3 or NSPUM night vision sight can be installed. But this does not mean that the weapon can only be equipped with these sights. Separately, it should be noted that the rifle is equipped with a bayonet-knife, which again subtly hints at the scope of its application.

SVD modifications

At the end of the article, we will briefly describe those weapon modifications that have appeared in more than half a century, and there are not so few of them:

  • TSV-1. In fact, this rifle is nothing like the SVD. The only thing they have in common is the look and layout of the controls. Designed for basic shooting and gun training, it is powered by a .22LR cartridge;
  • SVDK. In contrast to the small-caliber version, you can bring a large-caliber rifle chambered for 9.3×64. The design is completely similar to the SVD, with some differences due to the use of a larger and more powerful ammunition. It was developed for confident destruction of targets protected by personal body armor;
  • IED. Despite the fact that the weapon outwardly completely differs from the original version of the rifle, in fact, it is still the same SVD, but in a bullpup layout. The designers managed to fully preserve the interchangeability of not only individual parts, but also weapon assemblies;
  • SIDS. A variant of the rifle in the classic design, but with a side-folding butt and a shortened barrel. It was developed for 

     in 1991;

  • SVDM. The modernized version of the weapon, however, the modernization included only the mounting bar on the receiver and removable bipods, in all other respects it is the same SVD.

As you can see, for all the time, no significant changes have been made to the design of the weapon, which again indicates that the weapon is not yet outdated and is quite capable of performing the tasks assigned to it.

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