The Suppressed ‘Shaft’ and ‘Threadcutter’ Rifles: One bad mother, shut your mouth (VIDEO)

Thought historically tight-lipped about all things military, one thing the Russians have never kept secret is existence of their robust special operations, or spetsnaz, community, which they have fostered for many generations. These operators fielded the finest hardware found East of Berlin and, going back to the 1980s, the Soviets had an itch for a long-range suppressed rifle and scratched it with a Shaft and a Thread Cutter, so to speak.

Who were the spetsnaz?


Spetsnaz: Secrecy meets hatchets meets style

Formed in the 1950s from lessons learned fighting the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany, the spetsnaz (a Russian acronym for special purpose) units were bad hombres and by the later Soviet era, spetsnaz troops (roughly the commie version of the special forces/ranger type units) were a huge part of the Motherland’s military machine. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviets had no less than 14 army and 2 naval brigades of these troops compared to the sole US Army Ranger regiment and five Special Forces groups.

These groups in general, by the nature of their role on the battlefield, have long sought out suppressed weapons and on both sides of the curtain, most got by with regular issue guns with fitted external suppressors. By the early 1980s, they wanted something better and that is where the VSS and AS came in.

The design of the Shaft and the Thread cutter

Diagram of VSS and AS

Diagram of VSS and AS.

Starting in 1983 at the TsNIITochMash works, Soviet engineer Petr Serdjukov sat at his workbench and pieced together a very interesting pair of guns. Classified as the Vintovka Snayperskaya Spetsialnaya (VSS) or “Special Sniper Rifle,” but commonly called the Vintorez (Russian for “Thread cutter”), the gun was true to its designation. The other, the AS Val Avtomat Specialnyj Val, (Russian for “Special Automatic Rifle”) was code named “Shaft.” Designed to take out sentries, soft targets at distances, and high-profile subjects, these rifles had to be both as suppressed as possible and still capable of penetrating a steel helmet at 400-meters.

VIntorez disassembled

VIntorez, disassembled.

Both guns used a stamped receiver made from a single sheet of thin steel like the AK-series assault rifles. Direct gas impingement rather than gas pistons work on a rotating bolt with six locks to provide the action of the rifle. Controls such as the magazine release and slide stop were further clones of the Kalashnikov. The gun used a ported 7.9-inch match barrel that was wholly and completely concealed under a paired suppressor muffler to capture the gas from the firing.

AS VAL disassembled

AS VAL, disassembled.

The weapons were select-fire capable of up to 900-rounds per minute cyclic from 10 or 20 round magazines. But this feature was a sideshow; these guns were primarily meant for suppressed sniping and as such had the same 4x PSO-1 optics of the Dragunov sniper rifle backed up by adjustable iron sights.

Special ammunition

9x39mm and 7.62x39mm

Left: 9x39mm Right: 7.62x39mm

To impart damage at long-range while still remaining subsonic so that the crack of the bullet’s sonic boom would not give it away, meant special ammunition. To meet this challenge the gun was designed around a unique 9x39mm Spetsialnyj Patron (Special Cartridge) round.

Using the same principal that we new see with in the .300 Blackout, the Soviet 9×39 took the standard 7.62x39mm round used by the AK-series rifles, pulled the 120-grain .30 caliber bullet off, necked the case wider, and crammed a 250-grain 9mm round atop it. This giant bullet was subsonic but could still impart 653-ft.lbs. of energy (about the same as a .44 Magnum) at long ranges.

Concealable for those special moments

AS Val in the field in Chechnya

AS Val in the field in Chechnya.

Whereas the AS Val was a fixed rifle with a folding sock that weighed 5.51-pounds and was 34.4-inches overall, the VSS Vintorez was a more clandestine piece.

On the VSS, the entire weapon can be broken apart into five main subassembly components: stock, barrel group, optics, receiver group, and magazine. Each of these is less than a foot long and a pound in weight that can be concealed in a small bag such as a laptop case, grocery bag, or backpack. They could even be staged separately or smuggled into a facility by multiple operatives past a controlled checkpoint for future assembly and use. This is important when you remember that one of the core missions of the Soviet-era Spetsnaz (remember the gun was designed back in the 80s) was to infiltrate  well behind enemy lines with small teams of raiders.  The theory was that even before open hostilities start, Russian operatives could attack targets well in the rear during the first hour of war.

as with folding stock

Top: AS on with folding stock Bottom: VSS with fixed wood stock. These guns share internal components.

Both the VSS and the AS Val have been in regular service with the spetsnaz since the mid-1980s and have seen hard use in a myriad of small conflicts. Today, now the warm and fuzzy Russia 2.0, there are still ten brigades of spetsnaz and a number of MVD internal troops who combat internal threats like terrorists and insurgencies in parts of Russia that are no longer thrilled with being such.

And while these hardlegs are frequently seen with large numbers of Shafts and Threadcutters, they are seldom heard.

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