Although its initials brand it as a sniper rifle, the Snayperskaya Vintovka sistemy Dragunova that Evgeni F. Dragunov developed in 1963 falls short of the chilling precision and range of a current state-of-the-art, bolt-action weapon for the specialized sniper in the appraisal of weapons expert Chris McNab in his latest Osprey offering. Most rifle aficionados class it as a designated marksman rifle (DMR), offering talented soldiers within standard infantry units good intermediary range, durable simplicity, and the ability to get off multiple shots because of its rare semiautomatic capability.

Since its introduction into the Soviet armed forces, the SVD has found its way into fighting forces around the world and killed untold thousands. That apparently began with a slow trickle into the People’s Army of Vietnam around 1972, and U.S. intelligence agencies allegedly placed a $25,000 reward for any captured intact. One Soviet-made SVD-63 captured from the PAVN is shown in the book, but the weapon’s expense seems to have limited its introduction at a time when North Vietnam was going to prevail with or without semiautomatic sniper rifles. There were to be a lot more sniper duels in 1979, however, when China launched its invasion of Vietnam with its infantry units equipped with reverse-engineered 7.62mm Dragunovs, designated Type 79s, joined in later border incidents by improved Type 85s.

Ironic though it may have seemed back then, Vietnam was by no means the only occasion in which marksmen wielding SVDs traded shots with one another. The author’s comprehensive rundown of the many conflicts in which the SVD played vital roles lists many fighters, including Afghans, Chechens, and Ukrainians, whose targets were—and are—Russian. The SVD Dragunov Rifle offers an in- depth look at the technology and history of a weapon which retains its importance on the battlefield after 60 years.

The SVD Dragunov Rifle

By Chris McNab. Osprey Publishing, 2023, $23

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This review appeared in the 2024 Winter issue of Vietnam magazine.

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