SVD Dragunov – most popular combat sniper rifle ever

Dragunov SVD - combat sniper or designated marksman rifle
SVD Dragunov (Photo: XY)

Mostly mistaken for a regular sniper rifle, SVD Dragunov in-fact is a designated marksman’s rifle. It is intended to be carried by a member of an infantry squad and used to provide accurate fire to as far as 800 meters. Anyone familiar with accounts of the Great Patriotic War cannot but help note the emphasis given to sniping by the Soviet army. Post-war, that emphasis remained undiminished, and to carry out the sniping role the Soviets developed what is widely regarded as one of the best contemporary sniper rifles. This is the SVD, sometimes known as the Dragunov.

The Dragunov, when it came in, was the only Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). Since then it has become a widespread concept, with most armies fielding a DMR. The rifle was cool. It was operated like an overgrown AK-47 (though mechanically it has almost nothing to do with it).

Prized weapon

The SVD Dragunov rifle first appeared in 1963 and ever since has been one of the most prized of infantry trophies. It is a semi-automatic weapon that uses the same operating principles as the AK-47 assault rifle but allied to a revised gas-operated system. Unlike the AK-47, which uses the short 7.62-mm (0.3-in) x39 cartridge, the SVD fires the older 7.62-mm x54R rimmed cartridge, originally introduced during the 1980s for the Mosin-Nagant rifles. This remains a good round for the sniping role, and as it is still used on some Russian machine-guns, availability is no problem.

U.S Marines at shooting range aiming with SVD Dragunov combat sniper
U.S. Marines practicing shooting with soviet-made designated marksman SVD Dragunov rifle (Photo: XY)

The SVD has a long barrel, but the weapon is so balanced that it handles well and recoil is not excessive. The weapon is normally fired using a sling rather than the bipod favored elsewhere, and to assist aiming, a PSO-1 telescopic sight is provided. This is secured to the left-hand side of the receiver and has a magnification of x4.

The PSO-1 has an unusual feature in that it incorporates an infra-red detector element to enable it to be used as a passive night sight, although it is normally used in conjunction with an independent infra-red target illumination source. Basic combat sights are fitted for use if the optical sight becomes defective.

Perhaps the oddest feature of a sniper rifle is that the SVD Dragunov is provided with a bayonet, the rationale for this remaining uncertain. A 10-round box magazine is also fitted.

Long-range accuracy

Tests have demonstrated that the SVD can fire accurately at ranges of well over 800m. It is a pleasant weapon to handle and fire, despite the lengthy barrel. SVDs were provided to many Warshaw Pact and other nations and the weapon was used in Afghanistan, some ending up in the hands of the Mujahideen. It seems reasonable to assume that the SCD remains in use in Russia and with other former client states of the USSR. The Chinese produce a direct copy of the SCD and offer this version for export, quoting an effective range of 1000 m (621 ft).

The SVD Dragunov is a potent weapon that makes no bones about it. Accuracy is reasonable but not stellar. Given highest quality ammunition it is capable of putting 3 shots within a 1″ -1 1/2″ circle at 100 yards. But keep in mind it uses the same ammunition as Soviet/Russian light machine guns 7.62×54R.

SVD Dragunov look through PSO-1 telescopic sight
SVD Dragunov with PSO-1 telescopic sight (Photo: Vk)

In practice it mostly used this machine gun ammunition and accuracy was more on the order of 2″-3″ 3 shot groups at 100 yards. This limited its effective range to about 500 yards. Semi-automatic sniper rifles allow for quick follow up shots, but the election of fired cases can give away the sniper position. It as I said is a sturdy, reliable, and simple weapon. But things like accuracy, quality of trigger pull, and optics lag behind Western designs.

However by no means would I want to face an enemy armed with one in combat. In most cases due to sniper tactics and the ability of the rifle itself, the soldier armed with one could maintain enough distance to lay down lethal fire while being out of range of soldiers armed with standard assault rifles of various types.

Technical specification of SVD Dragunov

SVD Dragunov Designated Marksman Rifle
Caliber:7.62 mm (o.3 in)
Weight:Complete, unloaded 4.39 kg (9.67 lb)
Length overall:1225 mm
Length of barrel:547 mm
Magazine capacity:10 rounds
Muzzle velocity:830 m (2,723 ft) per second
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