In the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union was engaged in a silent battle. Organized crime and terrorist cells had adopted body armor use alongside its growing use by conventional fighting forces. Terrorist threats were quickly spreading from the Middle East during the Afghan War and affecting urban areas. These changes contributed to the ever-growing need for body-armor-defeating weaponry paired with a diminished sound signature, packaged in both a sniper rifle and an assault rifle. The Soviet Union’s answer in 1987 was the VSS Vintorez (Special Sniper rifle) and the assault variant, the AS Val (Special Automatic rifle). Both designs were the creation of Pyotr Serdyukov at the Central Research Institute of Precision engineering (TsNIITochMash) in Klimovsk. The need for such a weapon arose in the 1970s, and in 1972, the Soviet command established a special development group at TsNIITochMash. Among the elite selected, the Baku native Serdyukov, an alumnus of the Tula Polytechnic Institute, was chosen to run the VSS Vintorez project. Serdyukov came to Klimovsk in 1969 upon graduation and quickly became known as a gun smith with proclivities for design. In total, he would create 14 designs at TsNIITochMash, but the AS Val and VSS Vintorez are notably his most famous. When asked what his favorite weapon design is during an interview with Russian media, he responded, “It is not right to have a favorite of anything that kills.” The VAL and VSS would draw first blood in the Chechen conflicts of the tumultuous 1990s.
One the most distinguishing features of this weapon is the ammunition; the 9×39 cartridge also born in the late 1980s in Klimovsk. TsNIITochMash designed the cartridge to meet Spetsnaz requirements issued from the Soviet Ministry of Defense in the prior decade. The round should be for subsonic special-purpose, intermediate ranged weapons with improved penetration and stopping power against armored targets. Testing at the KSPZ Klimovsk Specialized Ammunition Plant yielded a muzzle velocity of 925 to 958 feet per second with the 250- to 260-grain SP-5 and SP-6 projectiles (SP-Special Cartridge).
The designers created the improved subsonic ammunition based on the 7.62×39 case, necked up to 9mm. To achieve stability at subsonic velocity, they were loaded with heavier projectiles. The SP-5 was loaded with standard “ball” rounds with a lead core and was intended for accurate sniper work out to 300 to 400 meters. The SP-6 cartridge featured an armor-piercing projectile with a machine-hardened steel core. This round could defeat all common levels of body armor up to 300-400 meters. Some reports suggest the round has successfully defeated body armor out to 500 meters, though this is outside the design parameters and has little official documentation. In current Russian deployment, the round is used against a target no more than 300 meters to give sufficient accuracy and ballistic performance.
Despite meeting the Spetsnaz technical requirement, the 9×39 came at a prohibitive price, which at times restricted availability and live-fire training for some less specialized units. Naturally, these problems did not affect training and deployment of the cartridge in the hands of the FSB. However, TsNIITochMash attempted to economize production of the 9×39 AP (Armored Piercing) cartridge with a new version designated the PAB-9. This cartridge featured projectiles with a stamped steel core, instead of a machined steel core as in the SP-6. The result was unsatisfactory accuracy and performance, and the PAB-9 was officially withdrawn from service. It does appear out of storage from security agencies from time to time, and some sales to foreign groups. The trajectory of a subsonic bullet is anything but flat, so an operator must know dopes calibrated to a 9×39 calibrated optic, such as the PSO-1-1 and the PSO-1M2-1.
Increased attraction to Russian firearms in the last few years comes from the more publicized use by Russian Special Operations and Airborne units in the Chechen conflicts, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. Slagga Manufacturing, LLC, out of Connecticut is planning to develop a clone of the VSS with the AS Val, and SR-3M options are also planned to share the same receiver.
Slagga Manufacturing states that they are “still experimenting with materials,” though the receiver and most components will most likely be from 4140 steel. The stock will be plywood, though a walnut option will be available. The receiver will be milled with welded receiver rails. The bolt carrier will most likely be cast to accommodate the internal cam grooves. However, Slagga Manufacturing has “been playing with the idea of DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering).” Slagga Manufacturing plans to start with the 9×39; however, there are plans to construct versions in 7.62×39 and .300BLK. After heat treatment, the majority of parts will be Cerakoted. All mechanical parts will be machined and cast oversized slightly, then individually fitted to ensure perfect tolerances. The weapon will be a 1:1 clone with the exception of the auto selector. The weapon will have a quick-detach suppressor and stock for easy take down, and the side receiver rail will be compatible with SVD optics. Magazines for 10 and 20 rounds will be available.
AS Val Rifle
The AS Val is nearly identical to its sibling, the VSS. The discernible difference is the folding stock. The AS Val is an integrally suppressed, gas-operated, select-fire rifle, operating with a long-stroke gas piston. The weapon is locked using a rotating bolt with six locking lugs. The AS Val has a floating hammer and features a cross-bolt-type fire selector switch located in the trigger guard behind the trigger. The weapon has a right-handed fixed charging handle and an AK-style safety. As the weapon is integrally suppressed, the barrel extends to 12cm long; the porting consists of six rows of nine holes spiraling along the rifling grooves. The twist rate is 1:8.3 inches. Each port is approximately 2mm in diameter. These ports further reduce velocity before the projectile enters the suppressor baffles, producing a muzzle velocity of 920 to 960 feet per second. Though designed at TsNIITochMash, production began at the Tula Arms Plant (Tulsky Oruzheiny Zavod or TOZ).
In Russian military service, “specialized weapons” have lower acceptable requirements for testing. Operators have reported that the VSS stops functioning if submerged in water. The waterlogged firing pin channel provides resistance against the hammer. The reliability of the VSS is measurably lower than the Kalashnikov assault rifle and therefore has limited mission parameters. However, within those parameters, the AS Val and VSS have carved a niche that has allowed them to survive in the Russian battle space for years to come.