Russia’s Popular Mechanics has the story on a new, possibly SVD-derived potential Dragunov replacement. The SVD, or simply Dragunov, was the first successful semi-automatic designated marksman’s rifle and it has been in service for over 50 years–and it’s starting to show its age.
The proposed replacement rifle, the SK-16, is a sleek, modern carbine with a flattop rail for optics. The SVD uses the older side-mount rail for optics which are heavier, more complex and sometimes less stable mounting methods for scopes, a critical part of any designated marksman’s kit. The SK-16 also has a folding, fully-adjustable stock and free-floating handguard for improved accuracy.
It appears to have a barrel length in the 14- to 16-inch territory, much shorter than the SVD’s 24-inch barrel, and did we mention it is chambered for 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester? This is a major departure from the Dragunov standard which fires the venerable 7.62x54mmR cartridge.
There are a few theories to explain this since 7.62x54mmR is still a capable cartridge. Designed for the Mosin-Nagant rifle, 7.62x54mmR was originally expected to perform out to laughably-long range back in 1891, out to 2,000 meters or nearly 1.25 miles. Over time the cartridge has been modernized and is still in use today to good effect. So why change it?
One explanation is that there are few modern 7.62 NATO options produced domestically for Russian special forces. While there are AK-based 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester options produced in Russia they have all the shortcomings of the Dragunov and none of its advantages. The SVD is not based at all on the original Kalashnikov pattern, it is an accuratized design with a short-stroke recoil system and milled steel receiver.
For Russians to get a modern semi-automatic 7.62 NATO/.308 Win. rifle, they have two options: import or innovate, and the Russian small arms industry has always favored innovation over importation. But there is an even simpler explanation for the move away from 7.62x54mmR–it’s a rimmed cartridge.
Unlike 7.62x54mmR, 7.62 NATO/.308 Win. use a rimless case which feed more reliably and offer higher capacities than the rimmed cartridge. It also opens up a lot of other options for more cartridges compatible with .308 Winchester cases. If you’re making a truly modern long-range carbine you might as well start with .308 Winchester, it opens a lot of doors without compromising on performance.
That’s not the only surprise with the SK-16. While photos of early prototypes clearly have gas piston systems, according to The Firearm Blog, the current-production SK-16 uses a gas trap.
Gas traps use special muzzle devices that channel gas from the end of the barrel back to the operating system after the bullet leaves the barrel. These were used in early automatic firearm designs but largely discarded in favor of other gas operation systems because of gas trap reliability issues.
It sounds like Kalashnikov Concern developers Demyan Belyakov and Evgeniy Erofeev have overcome these problems to build a precision gas trap rifle. From the renderings it looks like the SK-16 channels gas back to a small port above the chamber which cycles the action. Gas trap actions stay locked until the bullet leaves the barrel so these could theoretically be very accurate guns if the system works.
Not that very many Americans will be able to shoot one of these guns anytime soon. The SK-16 is a Kalashnikov Concern gun which means that due to sanctions, it cannot currently be exported to the U.S. Sanctions were put in place against Russia after the Russian annexation of Crimea last year targeting the Kalashnikov Concern specifically.
Even if Russia hands over Crimea today it would be a surprise if those sanctions were lifted. As Russian hostilities towards U.S. military forces continue and even increase in aggression, sanctions seem likely to stay in place for the long run.
But the rifle itself is interesting nevertheless, and we hope to at least see it in photographs if it does get adopted as the SVD’s replacement.