The Dragunov SVD rifle has been the standard Soviet Army sniping rifle since 1965, and it was also adopted by the other armies of the Warsaw Pact, as well as being copied by Chinese, Egyptian, Iraqi and Yugoslavian makers. The Soviets were the first to adopt a semi-automatic rifle for sniping purposes, at a time when all other armies considered that semi-automatics were not sufficiently accurate for this role.
The operation of the Dragunov is, in principle, the same as that of the Kalashnikov rifle, using a gas piston and rotating bolt. But there are two very significant differences. Firstly, there is no provision for automatic fire, since this is unnecessary on a sniping rifle. And secondly, the gas piston action is different. The Kalashnikov, like most gas-operated military rifles uses a long stroke piston which gives a great reserve of power for dealing with dirt and sticky cartridge cases, but which shifts the balance of the rifle as it moves. This is not conducive to accuracy, and so the Dragunov uses a short-stroke piston which only moves a fraction of an inch an gives the bolt carrier a sharp blow, imparting enough momentum to drive it back and initiate the reloading cycle. One is entitled to assume that a sniper will keep his rifle clean and lubricated and be fussy about his ammunition, so the reserve of power is not necessary.
A technological marvel for its time, the PSO-1 optic was a standard addition to the Soviet Army-issued SVD-63
• Below the hooded front sight, the SVD-63’s muzzle consists of a permanently attached, slotted flash hider
• To help ensure an optimal cheek weld, the thumbhole stock features a clamp-on cheekpiece.
The cartridge is virtually an antique – the rimmed 7.62 mm full-power round introduced with the Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle in 1891 – but it is an accurate and powerful round, which is what counts in this role. As with all rimmed cartridges there is a danger of jamming if the rims override each other, but the magazine is carefully made with guide ribs to control the cartridges and jams are extremely rare. (One report says that the design of the magazine took more time than any other part of the rifle, an indication of the importance of reliable feed.)
The standard sight is the four-power PSO-1, a somewhat clumsy but robust design with adequate optics. It also incorporates a “Metascope”, a small electronic device capable of detecting infra-red light at night and thus warning the sniper of being under observation. Unfortunately modern infra-red sights do not need IR illumination, and thus this device is no longer of much use.
With the recent change in the political climate, it can be expected that numbers of Dragunov rifles, not necessarily of Russian manufacture, will appear on the commercial market around the world.
Technical specification of Dragunov SVD sniper rifle
|Manufacturer:||Soviet State Arsenal, Izhevsk, CIS|
|Caliber:||7,62 mm Russian M1891|
|Barrel:||24.5 in (622 mm)|
|Weight:||9.5 lbs (4,3 kg) with sight|
|Magazine capacity:||10 rounds|