Genesis of Russian High-Precision Rifles

 By Vladislav Grinkevich. 

At least a dozen of specimens of high-precision rifles are produced in Russia today. It is hard to believe that only 20 years ago our industry did not produce sniper’s weapons whatsoever as it is understood, let’s say, in the West.


The high-precision rifles have not been produced in the USSR for the defense and law enforcement agencies. In the West this class includes the rifles capable of driving five bullets into a circle of 1 inch in diameter from a distance of 100 meters, i.е. less than one minute of angle (1 MoA), from a distance of 100 m it corresponds to a circle of 2.9 cm in diameter. The Soviet Union did not need such weapons as, strictly speaking, there were no snipers in the Soviet Army of the second half of the 20th century. The military doctrine of that period anticipated the large-scale military operations, even with the use of mass destruction weapons. The single shooters hunting for individual enemy’s soldiers and officers seemed to be anachronism (though, they have proven to be efficient during the World War II).

“Cold War” Snipers

Indeed, since early 1960s the rifle squads were manned with snipers, but the task of these combatants was to enhance the efficiency of unit’s fire up to the distances of 400–700 meters, i.e. approximately twice as much as compared with AKM. In the Western armies such shooters are referred to as marksmen. In our country sometimes they are called “platoon riflemen”.

The Dragunov sniper’s rifle (SVD) went into service in 1963 and, being the only domestic sniper’s rifle for more than 30 years, it became the weapon for the Soviet marksmen snipers. The SVD has demonstrated no accuracy wonders; according to standard four shot holes shall be fitted into a circle of 8 cm in diameter. It is nearly three times worse than the indicators of up-to-date prototypes. Nevertheless, a good deal of military experts considers the SVD to be a unique development, which unfixed the notions on capabilities of a “trench rifle”.

Designer Eugeny Dragunov has succeeded to build a robust, very dependable and, at the same time, very precise weapon. Quite a task has been solved in the process of its development, i.e. provision of reliable operation of automatics using at the same time the old rifle cartridge of 7.62×54 mm with a rimmed cartridge case.

With respect to reliability the SVD notably surpasses competitors represented by sniper’s variants of Belgian FN FAL, German G3 or American М14.

The Dragunov rifle is in the inventory of more than thirty countries and, like Kalashnikov submachine gun, has been used practically in all military conflicts of the modern age. According to some mass media, the Iraqi gunmen used to down light reconnaissance UAVs of the USA by means of SVD, while during the Civil war of 1979–1992 in Salvador someone shot down the jet attack plane with Dragunov rifle.

Apart from classical SVD, SVDS with folding stock has been produced, a short sniper’s rifle (SVU) of bull-pup configuration. The latter was built in 1970s for paratroopers, but it did not happen to be produced in series. It was recollected again as late as the 1990s, when the Ministry of Internal Affairs wanted to put the SVU in service and requested the designers to introduce additionally the mode of automatic shooting (which has been implemented in models SVU-А and SVU-АS). Though, these prototypes did not come into widespread acceptance. As it often happens with the weapons of classic arrangement recomposed into a bull-pup, SVU has appeared to be non-ergonomic and unhandy. The rifle, for instance, is hard if not impossible for shooting from the left shoulder.

In 2006, the large-caliber version of Dragunov rifle SVDK for cartridge of 9.3×64 mm was put in service.

In the latest SVD model – SVDM (developed by Concern Kalashnikov) a thick forged barrel with long service life is installed, a breech frame is closed with rigidly fixed flap cover with Picatinny rail for setting wider range of sighting equipment.

From Stadiums to Military Forces

In 1990s after disintegration of the USSR the new challenges (local conflicts, terrorist threats) compelled the Special Forces to revise the attitude to the high-precision weapons. It appeared that the full-featured “sniper’s barrels” are needed by everyone: army, militia, Federal Security Service, etc.

The Russian gunmakers went along nearly the same path as their Western colleagues did, i.e. they militarized the existing sport rifles featuring caliber of 7.62×54 mm.

The sniper’s rifles of the US Army М24, and police rifle of Model 700P are based on popular Remington 700. In Russia, the first full-featured sniper’s rifles have been designed on the basis of sport rifle from Tula MTs-116, which has been successfully used at international competitions in shooting at 100 and 300 meters, and “Record-CISM” rifle from Izhevsk. It has been built specifically for exercises according to the program of International Sport Shooting Federation (ISSF) and for competition in high-rate shooting according to the program of International Military Sports Council (CISM).

In 1997, the Central Design and Research Bureau for Sporting and Hunting Weapons in Tula presented the sniper’s rifle MTs-116М, and a year later Izhmash (now Concern Kalashnikov) demonstrated its SV-98. According to statements of military experts, some prototypes of this rifle were able to pump a group of four shots almost bullet to bullet in case of firing with serial combat sniper’s munitions.

In general, characteristics of SV-98 and MTs-116М are similar: cartridge 7.62×54 mm, manual reloading, detachable magazines, a stock with adjustable butt plate and cheek piece. The declared range of firing ranges up to 800 meters for MTs-116М and up to 1,000 meters for SV-98.

Besides, both rifles feature archaic elements: butt and stock for MTs-116М are made of wood, for SV-98 it is made of plywood. By the way, it was declared at Concern Kalashnikov that the plywood butt was replaced with aluminum one in 2016.

Frowns from 1990s

But sometimes rather awkward things have been made by the designers, like OTs-48K rifle. In the 1990s the Central Design and Research Bureau for Sporting and Hunting Weapons was given a task to design a low-end variant of sniper’s rifle for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In order to make a cheap “sniper’s barrel”, Tula’s designers took old Mosin rifles of 1891/30 from the stores (certainly, the best barrels have been selected), and placed them into a new butt in a bull-pup arrangement. They added a rubber butt plate and cheek piece, modernized a firing trigger, and an additional lever has been installed for loading convenience connecting it by means of special metal tie-rod with the main one (“original” breech mechanism lever went somewhere under the shooter’s cheek). This has even more complicated the breech mechanism manipulations. A compact, 85 cm only, most probably, cheap, but extremely inconvenient weapon came to hand.

One more strange creation of the 1990s was the small-caliber sniper’s rifle SV-99 for cartridge .22 LR (the so called “twenty-two”) with biathlon-type breech mechanism. It has been designed in Izhevsk on the base of sport rifle “Biathlon-7-2” for the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The rifle was supposed to be used in public places, e.g., for providing security in airports. A small lead bullet with small initial speed practically excluded ricochet burst, which means that the risk of occasional victims decreased during firing. Indeed, SV-99 was not able to destroy an enemy reliably and quickly due to its low power.

According to available data, this weapon is used for destroying CCTV cameras, as well as for shooting off stray dogs (though in this case the rifle’s efficiency is also doubtful).

Competitors of the State

Private companies have entered the market of high-precision weapons in the mid-2000s. Vladislav Lobaev, known shooter and designer who founded ‘Tsar Cannon’ Company, was a pioneer in this field. In 2010 the company stopped working in Russia and moved to the UAE in a body. Lobaev himself names the conflict with functionaries, who have declined to extend license, as a reason for it.

In 2013 Lobaev resumed production in Russia by establishing Corporation LOBAEV with the department “Design Bureau of Integrated Systems” (DBIS), which is specialized in the production of long-range and super long-range rifles.

For the moment, apart from DBIS (LOBAEV Arms brand) three private players are involved in the segment of high-precision weapons: Promtekhnologiya (Orsis brand), SKAT, and Moscow Weapons Company. Yet, only Promtekhnologiya has mastered serial manufacture of produce, DBIS is technically ready to do it (the company extends its production facilities now). SKAT and Moscow Weapons Company work in the format of weapons workshops providing one-off products for certain customers.

The range of Orsis products includes five high-precision rifles of in-house development. The company’s landmark is the Т-5000 rifle, which was introduced in 2011 and positioned as a universal high-precision weapon for hunting, sport and defense and law enforcement agencies.

Т-5000 has been made in the aggressive tactical design and is produced with five calibers: from .260Rem to .338 Lapua Magnum. The basic are the following: .308 Win (7.62×51 mm) and powerful .338 Lapua Magnum (8.6×70 mm), the effective range reaches one and a half kilometers in this caliber.

The new rifle has been initially announced as a competitor to the leading overseas brands, in particular, it was reported that Т-5000 surpasses the Austrian SSG 08 of Steyr-Mannlicher, which has been supplied for the snipers of the Russian Military Intelligence.

According to statements of experts and comments of some users, the design, ergonomics and accuracy of Т-5000 (0.5 МoА or about 1.5 cm per 100 meters) actually meets the most stringent requirements. One can recollect that in June 2012 the team from “Alpha” group of the Federal Security Service with rifles Т-5000 won at the International competitions of police and army snipers. In May 2016, the pair of snipers (shooter and corrector) of Security Service of the President of the Federal Security Guard Service of the Russian Federation won with Orsis rifles at the Championship of Europe in sniping in Czech Republic.

Metamorphoses of Т-5000

Orsis has never concealed its intention to become the supplier for the Russian defense and law enforcement agencies. As far back as September 2012, Т-5000 was tested as a part of the set of “Ratnik” outfit. But the matter failed to advance further. Even though for today there is an experience “regarding mass use” of this rifle abroad, nevertheless, Т-5000 is not included into inventory of any single national defense and law enforcement agency.

There are several reasons for it. Let us start from the fact that our special forces prefer to deal with state companies, but not private ones. Besides, not just a rifle will be put in service but the sniper’s complex of the weapon, sighting equipment, and munitions, and all that should be produced by Russian enterprises. Only a state structure having vast experience of dealing with military bureaucracy will be able to coordinate activities in all directions, to fit performance characteristics to the needs of Special Forces and draw up documentation correctly, which may be of immense complexity.

Probably, this is the reason why the Central Scientific and Research Institute for Precision Machinery Engineering from Klimovsk located near Moscow received an order for the development of complex for the army and the Federal Security Guard Service on the basis of Т-5000. At the end of 2013, the beginning of works on the complex “Precision” (“Tochnost”, caliber 8.6×70) was announced. Actually, the Institute from Klimovsk came forward as an aggregator, who coordinated works of Orsis, of Dedal NV – manufacturer of sighting equipment, and of cartridge-producing plants. Apart from this, about 200 changes have been introduced into baseline design of Т-5000 in the course of work, according to the enterprise press service statement.

Dmitry Semizorov, the Head of TsNIITochMash, declared in November 2016 that the weapon has passed the state testing procedure and is ready to be produced in series. The rifle has been made in two versions: for the Ministry of Defense and for the Federal Security Guard Service. The preliminary testing of “Precision” for the military are to take place in 2017.

The Second Attempt

One of the specific features of “Precision” project consists in the fact that initially it was non-competitive. Though, more than likely, potential contestants could be found.

The mentioned DBIS developed as many as seven models of high-precision rifles in 2014–2015, basically, for big calibers: 300 Win Mag (7.62×67), 338 Lapua Magnum and even 408 Cheyenne Tactical (10.3×77) – a special sniper’s munitions developed for shooting at 3,500 meters. The stated specifications of Lobaev’s rifles are very high: accuracy from 0.3 to 0.5 МoА. The weapon is made in a very aggressive tactical design and features no less aggressive names: “Sumrak” (Dusk), “Vozmezdiye” (Retaliation), “Stalingrad”, “Diversant” (Subversive), “Skalpel” (Lancet).

Vladislav Lobaev regards as his pride the super long-range rifle SVLK-14 “Sumrak” with caliber of 408 Cheyenne Tactical. In 2015 the record-winning long-distance shot was made from a customized variant of SVLK-14 at 3,400 meters (a board measuring 1 m to 1 m was used as a shooting mark).

The rifles of LOBAEV Arms have been certified as non-military weapons, but the designer reckons to quicken the interest in its produce, both from the Russian Special Forces and their foreign colleagues. According to the company’s information, the rifles of LOBAEV Arms are used today by the President’s Security Service and Federal Enforcement Service units.

“Antimaterial” rifles

An independent direction in the sniper’s weapons is associated with the heavy rifles featuring caliber more than 9 mm (basically, 12.7 mm), these are a kind of reincarnation of anti-tank rifles of the World War II. Such rifles in the USA are referred to as “antimaterial” rifles – not because they can annihilate matter, but because they are intended for hitting “tough” targets: firing positions (a magnum can make a hole in the wall, which hides a sniper or a machine gunner), jeeps, light armoured vehicles, etc.

In 1983, Pentagon purchased a batch of М500 rifles of 12.7 mm caliber from Research Armaments Prototypes company (RAP), they have been used in Lebanon, Panama, Haiti, and Iraq. It has been reported that proceeding from the results of the “Desert Storm” operation the Americans even begun to establish special groups of snipers for killing rocket launchers.

The first large-caliber semi-automatic OSV-96 sniper’s rifle for cartridge of 12.7×108 mm appeared in our country from Instrument Design Bureau (Tula) in the mid-1990s. In 2000, Kovrov Degtyarev Plant (ZiD) made its bull-pup variant KSVK. In 2004 the Kovrovites presented their improved version named ASVK (large-caliber combat sniper’s rifle).

It is declared in performance specifications that the rifle of caliber 12.7 mm is capable of precision shooting at a distance of 1.5 km and more when using special sniper’s cartridges. An average covering circle declared by the manufacturer makes about 160 mm at the distance of 300 m (without using special munitions).

According to open sources, the bullets get settled into a rectangular of 3×6 meters in case of shooting with armour-piercing machine-gun cartridges of 12.7 mm from a distance of 1,500 yards (about 1,300 meters). It allows at its best to hit a vehicle or an armoured personnel carrier, but definitely not an individual.

A special direction in this segment belongs to the rifles of low-noise shooting. The large-caliber rifle, and to be more exact, the sniper’s complex VSK “Vykhlop” (the same VSSK/6S8) has been created according to a special order of the Special Operations Center (SOC) of the Federal Security Service of Russia. The rifle of caliber 12.7×55 mm is intended for silent hitting of protected targets: vehicles, non-armoured equipment, and soldiers in heavy body armour vests.

The complex VSK “Vykhlop” was demonstrated for the first time at the exhibition Interpolitex in Moscow in the fall of 2005. The weapon has been produced in small quantities and is included into inventory of the units of the Special Operations Center of the Federal Security Service of Russia. 

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