Up-Close-And-Personal with the Dragunov

By Simon Chambers (formerly of the British Army Parachute Regiment and Small Arms Instructor)

I first came across the Dragunov Sniper rifle while working for ********** as a Contractor in Iraq. In the early days we were still out sourcing for our weapons locally. We were receiving some help from the Coalition Forces but this was usually as favours or through the back door.

On one particular occasion we were given a load of weapons that had been recovered in an arms cache. Most were crap but thanks to the Soviet design of interchangeable working parts we were able to rebuild several weapons that would still be serviceable. Our armourer thought all his Christmases had come together when he found a brand-new Dragunov sniper rifle underneath all the rubbish we had been given.

Our team was still arguing over who would get to use it when our armourer came back with bad news and informed us the weapon had been booby-trapped. A small hole had been bored into the barrel just short of the breech and had been designed to cause the barrel to explode.  As the escaping round reach a muzzle velocity of 830 meters per second the released gas would at the very least blown a few fingers off of our shooter and very likely have blinded him. We gave it back to our friends in the coalition forces along with the rest of the rubbish to be destroyed.

As the bolt-action Mosin-Nagant had outlived its working life it had to be replaced. Unfortunately the Soviets had nothing at that time to replace it and so they called upon Yevgeny Fedorovitch Dragunov. He had been a gunsmith for most of his working life specialising in Sporting and hunting rifles.  He knew he had to design a new Sniper rifle incorporating the gas operated, self loading principles of the AK 47 Assault rifle. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly the AK parts were in plentiful supply and secondly as the Soviet army had only just got used to maintaining the AK47, he had to design a rifle that could be maintained as easily as the AK. This would make training the next generation of snipers so much easier.

Dragunov designed a rifle using the AK47 working parts with a new weapons frame. The AK was no use over 400 meters so a new weapon had to be developed. Using the 7.62 x 54R round Dragunov designed the new rifle using the AK bolt and carrier around a new weapons frame. It proved to be a success. Many countries still favoured the single shot, bolt-action rifle for sniping which was not a good idea.  The bolt had to be worked to reload the weapon at a time when the sniper really needed to keep still after firing his first shot. This is the moment when a sniper is most vulnerable.

The AK mechanism when scaled up has terrific recoil which would give away the snipers position with unnecessary movement after the first shot has been fired. To combat this Dragunov incorporated the ‘Short stroke’ system. The working parts only moved a very short distance, a few millimetres before the escaping gas was allowed to escape and produced a smoother blow back which in turn re-cocked the rifle. This cancelled out the recoil enabling the sniper to continue shooting with very little fear of his position being given away by unnecessary movement.  This new design only took four years to produce.

The barrel is 622 mm long which gives enough length and time for the round to reach its muzzle velocity of 830 meters per second up to an accurate range of 800 meters. This still gives enough velocity to send the round on its way towards its target – up to 800 meters away.  Included in its repertoire of ammunition are tracer, steel-core and armour-piercing-incendiary rounds; although none of these are as accurate over long distances as the standard full-metal jacket ball ammunition.

The standard telescopic sight fitted is the PSO-1. It has a 4x magnification and has gradation marks that are illuminated by a small battery for spotting infra- red sources at night. A long rubber eyepiece protects the shooter against the recoil and enables the aim to be kept on the target. The SVD (Snaiperskaya Vintovka Dragunov) with its sight fitted only weighs in at 4.30 kg. It is fitted with a ten round magazine and I was personally surprised at how light it was to lift.

The only draw back I found on this rifle is that it shares the same stiff, clumsy and noisy safety catch as the AK. The SVDs were issued on the basis of one for each platoon of a standard Russian motorised rifle company – that makes a lot of precision fire support!  When you consider that one sniper can hold up an entire regiment until he is spotted, overwhelmed and taken out, in theory that gave the Warsaw Pact armies a hell of an advantage on the battlefield.  In practice however, not every soldier designated as an SVD-gunner got much trigger time on the range to hone his marksmanship skills – nor did all designated SVD-gunners actually get trained on, or even issued, the weapon.

The SVD was also copied by many of countries patronised by the Soviet Union, which means that it is still used by former Warsaw Pact countries, and by many terrorist and insurgent organisations around the world. So it looks like the Dragunov will keep on seeing service on the battlefield for the foreseeable future – but now it will sometimes be seen in friendly hands as well.

Editor’s Note:

Just as the SVD is popular and widespread in the real world, so it has also become in the airsoft world.  Airsofters can now choose from several types from various manufacturers, with manual spring, gas, or electric operating mechanisms to select from as well.  The one which is considered by many to be the highest quality airsoft SVD replica on the market today is the Real Sword SVD from China.

Pick up a copy of Issue 4 of Airsoft Soldier magazine for a great, in-depth review of this beauty.

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