GEAR & TECH

Russia's standard-issue sniper rifle is over 50 years old

Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is a legend — and deservedly so, seeing as he was America's top sniper of all time. But the United States is not the only country in the world to have had a great sniper. Russia has its legends as well, like sharpshooter Vasily Zaytsev.


We know a lot about the guns Chris Kyle used to leave his mark, but what type of rifle did Russia's deadeye use? The answer is likely to be a rifle that was around for over a decade when Kyle was born in 1974. That rifle is the SVD Dragunov, which, over the years, has seen a lot of action — from the Vietnam War to the War on Terror.

The United States military has faced the Dragunov since the Vietnam War. This rifle was taken from one of Saddam's palaces. (USMC photo)

The Dragunov fires the 7.62x54mmR cartridge, the same cartridge used by the PKM machine gun and the classic Mosin-Nagant rifle. The Russians had a lot of those rounds hanging around – and decided to put them to good use.

The SVD has been upgraded over the years. This one has a folding stock. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Michal Maňas)

It is a semi-automatic system – giving the user a chance to make a quick follow-up shot. It comes with a 24.4-inch barrel, weighs just under ten pounds, takes detachable magazines (usually with 10 rounds), and is equipped with a PSO-1 optical sight. Now, don't look down on it for being a semi-auto — the U.S. Army has proved that a semi-automatic sniper rifle can do serious work —America's top sniper in Vietnam, Adelbert Waldron, used the Army's M21 sniper rifle, an M14 equipped with a scope, to tally 109 confirmed kills.

A Polish version of the SVD Dragunov. (Photo by Polish Ministry of Defense)

The Dragunov has been widely exported. China made their own version, called the Type 79, and later developed an improved variant, which they call the Type 85. As you might expect, this means American personnel have faced it in combat. The rifle is still serving in Russia and newer variants have emerged, including some chambered for more powerful rounds.

Two Tigr rifles, the civilian version of the Dragunov. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Cas4j)

Since the Dragunov is semi-automatic, that means it's also seen export to the United States for private owners. One model, the Tigr, was chambered not only in 7.62x54mmR, but also had options for using the 9.3x64mm and .308 Winchester (the same round used by the M14 rifle and M40 sniper rifle, among other systems).

This dependable rifle is likely not going away anytime soon!