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Big Bore - Small Noise: A New Russian Large Caliber Silenced Sniper Rifle
By Maxim Popenker

Over last decades, counter-terrorism operations became very important for most ‘civilized world’ law enforcement organizations. Increased terrorism threats plagued Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, and over recent years local law enforcement organizations, especially the FSB - Federal Security Service, formulated requirements for some specialized equipment to deal with modern threats. One type of such threats is well-armed terrorists, equipped with relatively long-range weapons such as assault rifles and wearing body armor or hiding behind some sort of a barrier, such a car body. To engage such threats at stand-off ranges without causing unnecessary alert, in 2002, FSB requested development of a silenced sniper rifle, with an effective range of up to 600 meters. Existing silenced weapons, such as VSS or VSK-94 sniper rifles, which fire 9x39 subsonic ammo, are not up to the task, as their effective range is limited to 300-400 meters maximum against unprotected targets and is only about 200 meters or less against targets wearing body armor. Their accuracy at extended ranges also is not entirely sufficient.

Development program, codenamed “Vychlop” (exhaust) was handed over to a design team at the State-owned Central Design and Development bureau of Hunting and Sporting arms (TSKIB SOO), located in the city of Tula. The team started its work with development of a new subsonic sniper round, provisionally titled as STs-130. It is built upon a .338 Lapua Magnum case, shortened to 54 mm (2.125 inches) and necked out to 12.7mm (0.5 inch). Three types of projectiles were developed for this round - PT, PT2 and VPS. The first two are standard jacketed ball and solid brass bullets respectively, intended for sniping and the latter is a composite AP bullet with hardened steel/tungsten core exposed at the nose. Muzzle velocity with all bullets is about 295 m/s (970 fps). Bullet weight is about 48 gram (740 grains) for least expensive solid brass PT2 bullet, 59 gram (910 grains) for jacketed PT bullet (with typical Russian steel/lead core and gliding metal jacket) and 76 gram (1,173 grains) for VPS armor-piercing bullet.

With ammo at hand, the design team developed a new weapon, which was first displayed to the Russian public in 2005. Known officially as VKS - “Vintovka Krupnokalibernaya Specialnaya” - special large caliber rifle, it was originally built in very small numbers and issued to elite anti-terrorism units of Russian FSB. As time progressed, the VKS and its ammo apparently proved itself well enough to warrant more extensive acquisition and issue to regional SWAT-type law enforcement teams across the Russia, such as OMSN, SOBR and OMON.

The VKS rifle is a manually operated bolt action rifle of bullpup layout. It is built on the receiver, made from stamped steel, with a polymer stock/housing. The straight-pull bolt action employs a four-lug rotary bolt which locks into the barrel extension. The charging handle can be installed by the user on either side of the rifle, according to his preferences. Feed is from a detachable box magazine, made of plastic, with 5-round capacity. The manual safety is located on the left side of the stock behind the magazine. Obviously, this is not the best position for the safety switch, but over time Russian users used to live with ergonomics, optimized by and for production engineers rather than shooters. The rifle is provided with a detachable, screw-on silencer of impressive size and rather conventional design, made of steel. The front part of the silencer body contains a multi-baffle assembly, while its rear part is filled with a spool of fine steel mesh. Apparently, the rifle can be safely fired with the silencer removed, although this is not listed in the manual.

To provide necessary stability when firing, the rifle is equipped with an integral folding bipod, which can be folded up and rearward to be stored in the recess made at the bottom of the stock, in front of the trigger guard. The lever at the front of the trigger guard is the bipod lock/release.

Sighting equipment includes an integral Picatinny rail on top of the receiver and a set of back-up iron sights on folding bases. Unlike most Russian firearms, VKS has aperture-type rear sight, adjustable through micrometer screw and with two range scales on either side, for ball and AP rounds (which, due to different projectile weight, have noticeably different ballistics). The rifle is usually supplied to users with two sights - daytime variable-power 4-12X telescope of local manufacture or image-intensifying night sight with 6x magnification (also of Russian manufacture), with Gen 2+ or Gen 3 sensor, depending on particular departments’ funding. Other standard accessories include spare magazines, soft carrying bag, cleaning kit and manual. Ammunition is supplied in plastic boxes each containing five rounds, with bullet type pressed into the box cover.

Unfortunately, limited availability and high cost of the STs-130 ammo precluded informal test firing of VKS at the time of this writing. But it appears that in trained hands the VKS can live up to expectations delivering deadly and accurate sniper fire to ranges of up to 600 meters. Another interesting aspect of this rifle is that it is rumored to serve as a starting point for ongoing development of several new sniper weapons, including a long-range sniper rifle with similar hand-operated action and bullpup layout, chambered in .300 Lapua Magnum and .338 Lapua Magnum, as well as semiautomatic rifles of similar layout, also chambered for potent .338 Lapua ammunition. So far, no official info emerged on these weapons, but it appears that TSKIB SOO is making good progress with at least some of these prototypes.

VKS rifle specifications:

Weight: with empty magazine and silencer, less scope: 6.5 kg (14.3 lbs)
Overall length: 1125 mm (44.3 inches) with silencer, 650mm (25.6 inches) without silencer
Magazine capacity: 5 rounds
Muzzle velocity: 290-295 m/s
Maximum effective range: 600 meters
Accuracy at 100 meters, R100:
With PT and PT2 ‘sniper’ ammo - 35mm or less (1.5 MOA or less in five-shot groups)
With VPS ‘enhanced penetration’ ammo - 70mm or less (3 MOA or less)

It must be noted that listed accuracy is ‘factory guaranteed,’ that is, every rifle fresh out of the factory, shoots no worse than listed above. Many rifles can shoot noticeably better but actual accuracy may vary depending on many factors.

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