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.