The Soviet Union and its current iteration, Russia, have long been known for innovative weapon development; only some of which has seen the light of day in the Western world. There is a long history of effectively “keeping the lid” on new weapons until someone on the other side runs into them in the field and reports on them. Rumors of a new cartridge and both a submachine gun and silenced sniper rifle utilizing this ammunition have leaked into the general Western military communities for many years, some have been on display at shows, and there have been several Western military personnel and firearms writers who have studied these and written some information on them.
None of these unique weapons have been seen by the general military population other than in isolated news clips, especially from the recent unpleasantness in the former Soviet State of Georgia. When Russian military forces crossed into the northern provinces of Georgia and swiftly cut them off from the south, much of the world recoiled in horror and voiced platitudes about how the Russians must stop this assault. Within a short period, the Russian military forces brilliantly transitioned into the “Peace-keepers” in the region, and photos leaked out to the Western press and intel communities showing strange Dragunov-looking weapons that were clearly too short to be in 7.62x54R caliber, and also very clearly integrally suppressed. Pandemonium ensued as all resources were called upon to ID this weapon and the threat it represents.
There have been some excellent but isolated references on the 9x39mm ammunition and firearms, and Internet resources are limited of course to the writer’s experience with the weapons – usually non-existent other than in computer games. Real time, take-it-apart, pull the trigger, hands-on testing has been very rare and certainly not widely reported. Charles Cutshaw’s excellent book The New World of Russian Small Arms and Ammo (ISBN-10: 0873649931) does an excellent job and should be on everyone’s bookshelf, but his 1990s treatise is limited to Marshall Goldberg’s line drawings for illustration and he was not allowed to disassemble the weapons.
Two of the Small Arms Defense Journal writers were granted the opportunity to examine in detail both the weapons and the ammunition in the field at a discreet location in Southwest Asia. In addition to extensive disassembly and photography, we were also given the opportunity to test fire both the VSS silenced sniper rifle and the VIKHR submachine gun with our meters ready to conduct scientific testing. We wanted to be as thorough as possible with this unique opportunity.
There are some myths and assumptions made that we will try to gently correct, or at least provide another point of view on. The first being that the MA “VIKHR” (Whirlwind) submachine gun is the same as the VSS “Vintorez” (Thread-cutter) with the exception of the buttstock and suppressor. This is not true as the receivers are similar, and some parts will interchange, but they are not the same receiver with one simply being suppressed.
As is their standard procedure, the Russians had several factories competing to manufacture the 9x39mm weapon systems they required. The end product offerings are as follows:
- MA “VIKHR” (Whirlwind) unsuppressed miniature assault rifle.
- AS “VAL” (Rampart) based on VIKHR, side folding stock, not a “Take-Down”.
- VSS “Vintorez” (Thread-cutter) based on VIKHR, removable stock, “Take-Down”.
- A-91 offered in a number of calibers, can operate with or without the suppressor.
- VSK-94 sniper model of the A-91, in a case, could have wood (early) or polymer stock and fire without suppressor installed.
Our concern today is with two of the offerings from TsNIITochmash, the VIKHR and the VSS.