Rus­sia. The word can stir emo­tions in ev­ery Amer­i­can. Rus­sians are the guys who are on the other side of the line. For us Cold War kids, im­ages of The Day Af­ter and Red Dawn in­stantly come to mind. When I “shot down” a he­li­copter at the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter, it felt like Robert the Wolver­ine tak­ing on Rus­sian Hinds. As cul­ture and his­tory moved for­ward, the un­of­fi­cial movie of the Afghan Na­tional Army, Rambo III, had

Green Beret John Rambo and the Mu­ja­hedeen fight­ing Rus­sians. Mov­ing far­ther for­ward, the Rus­sians mor­phed into masters of es­pi­onage or ruth­less lords of the un­der­world. James Bond and John Wick movies ce­ment these no­tions.

We all know re­al­ity is far dif­fer­ent than what Hol­ly­wood and col­lege fac­ul­ties present. Ig­nor­ing the cur­rent syco­phan­tic Rus­sian hy­per­ven­ti­la­tion, there’s a lot we need to ac­tu­ally learn. My ex­po­sure to Rus­sians re­vealed a very ro­bust and ul­tra-prag­matic peo­ple, bal­anced by an al­most ni­hilis­tic dis­re­gard for dan­ger. Re­mem­ber the video of Rus­sian troops shoot­ing each other in body ar­mor with live rounds? Like that.

Yet, Rus­sians are peo­ple whose feet are on the ground with a real sense of what the bot­tom line re­ally is.

Take, for ex­am­ple, Putin’s mas­ter­ful ma­nip­u­la­tion of Pres­i­dent Obama re­gard­ing Syria and the Crimea.

The cul­ture of these peo­ple is best rep­re­sented by what prod­ucts they ac­tu­ally make.

We’ve all heard the myth: Early in the space race, NASA devel­oped a rather ex­pen­sive zero-grav­ity pen for use in­side an or­bit­ing ve­hi­cle. The Rus­sians? The Rus­sians used a pen­cil. While this is just a fun anec­dote (the re­al­ity is the Fisher Pen Com­pany sold their pens to both na­tions), the broad strokes ring true.

Nowhere is the sense of Rus­sian rugged prac­ti­cal­ity bet­ter typ­i­fied than the ubiq­ui­tous AK-47. As a de­sign, it’s so ro­bust and prac­ti­cal that it has in­spired many other weapon sys­tems. The Is­raeli Galil, RPK, VZ-58, and many more all owe their ex­is­tence to the ven­er­a­ble AK-47. (All at once a mil­lion Stg 44 fans just groaned.)

One AK-47 based weapon that has pre­sented a prob­lem is the SVD sniper ri­fle. It uses the far-reach­ing and hard-hit­ting 7.62x54R car­tridge. The SVD and its vari­ants have long been a lethal con­cern for our war­riors. There have been a small but very vo­cal group of us within USSOCOM who have long pushed for over­match to 7.62x54R. With the adop­tion of 6.5 Creed­moor, we fi­nally have an an­swer to the SVD.

As the global sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues to de­grade, look­ing long and hard at how Rus­sians fight or might fight is back in fash­ion. USSOCOM had a re­cent so­lic­i­ta­tion for “non-stan­dard” weapons. To pre­pare a proof of con­cept for such a ri­fle, Handl De­fense con­sid­ered two cour­ses of ac­tion:

Fin­ish and sub­mit the 7.62x54R con­ver­sion kit for the FN SCAR or … Mod­ern­ize an SVD vari­ant

This ri­fle rep­re­sents the lat­ter op­tion. It started its life as a PSL. Yes, there are some large dif­fer­ences in de­sign be­tween the PSL and SVD, but for the most part they serve the same roles. When I started on this project, I was fo­cused on two things: coarse mod­ern­iza­tion and the the­ater of op­er­a­tions — get op­ti­mized for ur­ban snap shots, area de­nial from con­ceal­ment, and ca­pa­bil­ity for houseto-house fight­ing.


To tran­si­tion the plat­form from a Semi-Au­to­matic Sniper Sys­tem into an ac­cur­ized battle ri­fle, it was im­por­tant to only re­quire sim­ple tools and easyto-source parts. It had to be pos­si­ble with tools that are in ev­ery auto re­pair shop in the Mid­dle East.


One of the first lim­i­ta­tions of the cur­rent SVD/PSL de­sign is the mag­a­zine. Five- and 10-round mag­a­zines are avail­able for PSLs.

Fit­ting within the battle ri­fle con­fig­u­ra­tion, a new 20-round mag­a­zine was formed.

Bear in mind these mag­a­zines are in their first gen­er­a­tion, and there’s no bolt hold open fea­ture. While Alan Handl devel­oped a so­lu­tion that might be in­cor­po­rated in fu­ture de­signs, for now, the se­lec­tor switch has a cutout for man­u­ally lock­ing the bolt to the rear.

The lock­ing and feed lip por­tion of a PSL mag­a­zine was welded onto the lower por­tion of a Lahti LS-26 mag­a­zine. The fol­lower it­self was robbed from a PSL mag­a­zine, and re­in­forc­ing plates were added to the side be­cause it needs to be strong.

And, of course, some grind­ing and pol­ish­ing en­sures re­li­a­bil­ity.


There’s a se­vere lack of rail space on the PSL. Look­ing around the mar­ket place, we found es­sen­tially no op­tions for this plat­form. So, we made our own.

A Handl De­fense al­loy hand­guard assem­bly for the SCAR se­ries of ri­fles was mod­i­fied to in­ter­face with the PSL. This hand­guard is ro­bust with an open ar­chi­tec­ture. Like the SCAR, the PSL runs hot un­der sus­tained use, so start­ing with a SCAR hand­guard was an ideal so­lu­tion for this plat­form.

Am­ple rail space al­lows for the fit­ment of lights and lasers. How­ever, due to the larger gas tube on the

PSL, the 12 o’clock 1913 rail had to be re­lo­cated else­where. Keep­ing an eye on over­all bud­get, a Fab De­fense fore­grip was cut down and pro­vides a solid hand stop.

The PSL comes with a non­ad­justable wood stock. It might have been cheaper to sim­ply mod­ify the wooden stock to cus­tom­ize the length of pull and pro­vide bet­ter eye re­lief to the scope, but swap­ping in a fully ad­justable com­po­nent is more func­tional and ver­sa­tile. This FAB De­fense stock assem­bly is in­tended for an SVD. In­stal­la­tion re­quires mod­i­fi­ca­tion to

the lower re­ceiver it­self to al­low for proper place­ment of the pis­tol grip. The re­sult is more ad­justa­bil­ity, and it folds. Hot damn.


The stan­dard PSL comes with a side mounted fixed four-power scope, wholly in­ad­e­quate for the ri­fle’s in­tended use. In most ur­ban fights, there are close en­gage­ments in­doors. The stan­dard PSL or SVD is mostly in­ad­e­quate in that en­vi­ron­ment.

The length of the PSL in­doors is a con­cern, and im­por­tantly the pri­mary op­tic and backup sight­ing sys­tems are ef­fec­tively use­less in­side a room.

Now for lit­tle co­nun­drum. Do you go with the space pen? Do you spend money on a proper vari­able-pow­ered op­tic, a newly en­gi­neered mount­ing sys­tem, and a backup red dot sight? Those com­po­nents would prob­a­bly cost more than the ri­fle it­self.

That would most likely be out of reach for peo­ple who would build and field this ri­fle. So I stayed in the spirit of the build — more pen­cil than space pen. The pri­mary op­tic is a 3-9 vari­able-pow­ered Dra­gunov scope with an il­lu­mi­nated ret­i­cle.

This left the backup sight­ing sys­tem un­re­solved. Know­ing end users were less likely to pro­cure a red dot sys­tem, I tried a new and dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Years ago, Tyler Grey showed me a Glock pis­tol with a mod­i­fied set of sights. They fea­tured an open chan­nel, which al­lowed you to fo­cus on the tar­get while en­gag­ing. Rather than fo­cussing on the front sight, you used a “stress sight picture.”

The 45-de­gree off­set sights fea­tured on this PSL were in­spired by that meet­ing. They’re like an open globe sight, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the nat­u­ral abil­ity of the eye and brain to eas­ily align con­cen­tric cir­cles. They’re a sim­ple, cost ef­fec­tive, and easy-touse backup sight­ing sys­tem.

The backup sights are mounted on a cus­tom-built gas tube cover, al­low­ing for at­tach­ment of laseraim­ing de­vices, red dots, or sim­i­lar. The cover’s well ven­ti­lated to al­low for bet­ter cool­ing of the weapon un­der sus­tained rates of fire.


Sev­eral fac­tors played into the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the bar­rel assem­bly. First, the stan­dard PSL long-bar­rel assem­bly isn’t ef­fec­tive in­doors. How­ever, re­duc­ing bar­rel length

com­pro­mises bul­let ve­loc­ity. Ad­di­tion­ally, the bar­rel thick­ness and pro­file for the PSL are quite thin. Given the scope and spirit of the project, what could be done at a car re­pair shop in Raqqa? Some of the ac­cur­iz­ing solutions came more from the 1950s knowl­edge base than the cur­rent era.

A good muz­zle brake pro­vides bet­ter con­trol of the front of the ri­fle. The AK fighter brake made by De­fin­i­tive Arms fit the bill.

We also re­duced the bar­rel length. Given global se­cu­rity con­cerns, I can’t pub­licly delve into ex­actly what we did. The re­sults, how­ever, were en­cour­ag­ing, with less than 100 fps lost on ve­loc­ity while ac­cu­racy was im­proved, with a spe­cific 7.62x54R car­tridge.

We don’t have any data on the sup­posed im­prove­ments to 7.62x54R the Rus­sians are con­duct­ing. With U.S.-sourced am­mu­ni­tion, the Plumb PSL is very ef­fec­tive.


Fur­ther test­ing on longer dis­tance ca­pa­bil­ity is forth­com­ing with cus­tom loads. I’m very con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of U.S. ser­vice mem­bers and our al­lies in harm’s way fac­ing this type of plat­form. So any specifics on how im­proved ac­cu­racy is achieved will be highly scru­ti­nized be­fore pub­lic re­lease. While Handl De­fense is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing build­ing cus­tom Plumb PSLs for com­mer­cial use, this will likely only be done on a case-by­case ba­sis. With many friends still ac­tive within USSOCOM, I take this con­cern very se­ri­ously.

Sim­ply put, this ri­fle is a mon­ster — a bru­tally ef­fec­tive mod­ern­iza­tion of a seem­ingly forgotten plat­form. While not mod­ern­ized to Amer­i­can stan­dards, most of this build can be ac­com­plished with sim­ple tools found in the re­gions we find our­selves fight­ing in to­day.

Pre­ci­sion gun, fight­ing gun — this one does both.

The shor tened bar­reland fold­ing stock make for a pack­agethat’s far eas­ier to stow and trans­por t.

Lef t: The mod­i­fied SCAR hand­guard al­lows you to add or re­move rails for ac­ces­sories at will. Be­low: Cutout for a manual BHO on the safet y se­lec­tor.

The off­set openglobe sights al­low for rapid en­gage­ment while re­main­ing tar­getfo­cused.

Though heavy like ever y thing else Com­mie, the Plumb PSL’s bet­ter er­gonomics made it eas­ier to shoot. The brake did work to re­duce re­coil al­low­ing for quicker shots. The ac­cu­racy of this ex­am­ple was mildly bet­ter than the orig­i­nal PSL with heav­ier ammo. The ma­jor lim­i­ta­tion here is the qualit y of the glass, which is of typ­i­cal Ch­er­nobyl aw­ful­ness.

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