Those who follow the war in Syria on YouTube or Twitter will likely be familiar with the unique profile of the Soviet sniper rifle officially known as the SVD (Samozariyadnyia Vintokvka Dragunova). Unofficially, of course, it goes by the name Dragunov. The weapon has a long record of reliable service, having first appeared in 1963. It has seen action in every conflict in which the Soviet Union, Russia, and her allies have been involved since that time. In Syria, it has seen use all over the theater of conflict, in both urban settings and in the countryside.
It is a gas-operated system, using the old 7.62 mm x 54 rimmed cartridge used by the old Mosin-Nagant infantry rifles of the tsarist era. The reason for this is that the older round is ideally suited for sniping work; the 7.62 mm “short” round used by the AK-47 simply does not have the heft or ballistics to serve properly in the sniping role.
Certain features of the weapon immediately draw the observer’s attention. The first feature is the very long barrel length. This was needed to impart some long-range accuracy, but there has been no sacrifice when it comes to balance. The weapon handles very well and there have been few if any complaints about rifle length. The second feature is the fact that the hollowed-out stock has been so designed that it integrates itself seamlessly into the weapon’s pistol grip. A bayonet can be attached to the rifle also. While this may seem a strange feature to add to a sniper rifle, Soviet planners knew that in the chaos of combat, you can never be sure what will happen. A Chinese version of the rifle uses a bayonet that can double as a bolt-cutter.
Other features enhance the effectiveness of the whole. The PSO-1 telescopic sight provides a 4 X magnification; it also has infra-red features that permit its use as a night-sight. As a back-up, the rifle has regular iron sights in case the telescopic sight is smashed or becomes non-operational. The sight itself used a simple system of comparing the height of the average man against a grid rage-finder scale. Another interesting feature about the Dragunov is the fact that, unlike many Western sniper rifles, it does not normally use a bipod: rather, the sniper achieves stability by wrapping his arm with the sling.
It is safe to say that the meticulous Soviet designers of the weapon did their own combat studies and concluded that the addition of a bipod did not comport with the “simplicity” principle of Soviet weapons design. In combat, soldiers will find things to rest the rifle on, a fact that makes a bipod an unnecessary luxury that does little but add extra weight. The weapon is effective to about 900 meters, although tests indicate that it works best at distances not much beyond 800 meters.
This is a combat sniper rifle, pure and simple. While it may lack the elegance and super-high accuracy of the US Marine Corps M40A or the Israeli Galil rifle, it more than makes up for this in toughness and durability.
Caliber: 7.62 mm
Length: 48.3 in.
Weight: 4.34 kg (unloaded)
Muzzle velocity: 830 m/sec.
Magazine: 10 round