New Russian Pistols Vie for Military Adoption
Despite their diminutive size, pistols still are important military firearms, and they are even more important as law enforcement weapons. The venerable 9x18mm Makarov PM pistol still dominates in both roles across Russia, despite the fact that at least three more powerful service-type pistols were adopted during the early 2000s in an attempt to provide Russian military and police personnel with more effective sidearms.
The most widely used of those three is the Yarygin PYa, a full-size service pistol firing 9x19mm ammunition, produced in Izhevsk by IMZ / Kalashnikov group. Developed during the late 1980s for the Russian Army “Grach” trials, it looks like it has been actually designed during the mid-1970s, with its classic hammer-fired DA trigger, non-decocking safety and massive all-steel construction. Its overall production is estimated as something between 150,000 and 300,000 guns, delivered to the Russian government during the last 15 years. Two other pistols look somewhat more modern, but their production numbers are noticeably smaller and run in the thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. Those are the GSh-18, a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol in 9x19mm, produced by KBP in Tula, and the SR-1M, polymer-framed but with a hammer-fired DA trigger with automated grip safety, produced by TsNIITochMash in Klimovsk. The last gun also is unique because it fires proprietary 9x21mm ammunition, which, in terms of power, is closer to .357 SIG SAUER than to 9×19, and is available in FMJ, expanding and AP loads.
However, each of those pistols left something to be desired, and recent years saw the appearance of two more modern service pistols, which seem to compete for orders from the Russian military and law enforcement. These two are Lebedev pistols from the Kalashnikov group and the “Udav” pistol from TsNIITochMash.
Kalashnikov group is the largest Russian small arms manufacturer and, among others, controls IZHMASH and IMZ Baikal factories in Izhevsk. It introduced its new service pistol in 2015. Originally designated as PL-14, “Pistolet Lebedeva” (a pistol designed by Dmitry Lebedev), it was later redesignated PL-15 and went through several iterations. According to an interview with Kalashnikov group representatives at the Russian Army Expo in June 2019, the first Lebedev pistol to be produced “in numbers” will be a sport version, factory-designated “SP-1.” Intended for IPSC and other similar sports, it is similar to upcoming law enforcement versions, known as MPL (Modular Pistol, Lebedev), but features nicer grip panels made from wood and a standard, non-threaded barrel.
Two current law enforcement versions of the Lebedev pistol are the aforementioned MPL (former PL-15), a full-size service pistol which can be equipped with extended threaded barrel for use with suppressor, and PLK (former PL-15K), a compact version roughly similar dimensionally to the old Makarov PM, but offering noticeably better accuracy and firepower. All versions feature striker-fired, single-action triggers and manual safeties. Versions with a DAO trigger and internal hammer, which were on display previous years, seem to be shelved, at least for the time being. The MPL pistol is primarily intended for use by Rosgvardia, a relatively new Russian para-military law enforcement service, and by various SWAT-type units. PLK seems to be targeted toward replacing the old and outdated Makarov PM in the hands of ordinary law enforcement personnel.
As noted above, all current versions of the Lebedev pistol feature striker-fired, SA triggers with a cocking indicator in the shape of a small pin which protrudes from the back of the slide. Manual safety levers are located on either side of the frame. The frame itself is made from aluminum alloy, as it offers better strength and less flexing compared to polymers, especially when firing high-impulse Russian service ammunition such as 7N21 AP, which is graded way above “+P” pressures. Lebedev pistols use traditional Browning-type short recoil actions, with vertically tilting barrels controlled by a cam-shaped cut below the breech. Magazines are of proprietary design, double-stack and single-feed. Current production pistols feature dovetailed front and rear sights, compatible with Glock aftermarket sights. The front of the frame is shaped to form the Picatinny rail below the barrel. Overall, the pistol features excellent grip shape, low barrel axis and rather good trigger pull, about 2kg / 5 pounds, with only 2mm of travel and reset. Newest versions of MPL and SP-1 are planned to feature “optics ready” slides in the near future, with integral mounting points for micro Red Dot sights.
Udav means “python snake” in Russian. Officially introduced in 2017, this large pistol received government approval in early 2019 and is said to be geared toward the military; although its use seems to be limited by the fact that it is designed for proprietary 9×21 ammunition. Normally loaded with AP bullets that feature hardened steel core, exposed at the front, it is a formidable round, but the problem is that it is proprietary and produced only at TsNIITochMash. This round so far has seen limited use in two weapons from the same manufacturer, the SR-1M pistol and SR-2M submachine gun. This year TsNIITochMash also introduced a 9×19 version of Udav, but it appears to be too bulky a design for the ubiquitous 9×19, although there’s no doubt that it can consume a steady diet of powerful 9×19 7N21 AP or 7N30 AP ammunition for a long time.
Like the Lebedev pistol, Udav features the most common type of short-recoil-operated, locked breech action of Browning type, with a cam-controlled vertically tilting barrel. In all versions, Udav features a traditional DA trigger with exposed hammer and ambidextrous slide-mounted safety levers. When applied, the safety also safely drops (decocks) the hammer. The frame of the pistol is made from impact-resistant polymer, and due to use of a longer round, it is somewhat bulky in the grip area. There’s no way to change the grip circumference, no replacement backstraps or grip panels. Magazines are double-stack and double-feed. Udav pistol has no slide release lever; its slide hold-open device is purely internal and is designed to release slide automatically as soon as a fresh magazine is fully inserted into the grip. For use by Special Forces, it can be equipped with an extended threaded barrel. Proprietary sound suppressor features a carbon fiber body to decrease its weight.
Unlike the PL-15, which is rather pleasant to shoot, Udav is somewhat harder to master due to more powerful 9×21 ammunition and higher barrel axis; however, in trained hands it is a very accurate gun that can be effectively fired at extended ranges of up to 100m.
So far there’s no positive info about what pistol will be adopted, by what service and in what numbers. And there’s actually a third runner in this competition, the rarely mentioned MPYa, a Modified PYa pistol from the Kalashnikov group. It is based on a proven and tested PYa but features a more slightly redesigned locking system which doubles its service life with 7N21 ammo. It also has an improved grip and frame shape, with an integrated Picatinny rail below the barrel. So far, it appears to be a “Plan B” for the Kalashnikov group for the unlikely event of something going wrong with the Lebedev pistol. Only time will tell the winner, and we will report to you anything of interest in this regard as soon as new information is be available from Russian officials.
|Trigger type||Striker-fired, single action||Striker-fired, single action||Hammer-fired, double action||Hammer-fired, double action|
|Magazine capacity||16 rounds||14 rounds||18 rounds||18 rounds|
|9×19 7N21||9×21 SP-10 / 7N29||9×21 SP-11 / 7N28|
|Bullet type||Armor Piercing||Armor Piercing||JHP with plastic nose plug|
|Muzzle velocity||460 m/s||410 m/s||390 m/s|
|Muzzle energy||560 Joules||563 Joules||600 Joules|