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Special purpose small arms ammunition of USSR and Russia.

© 2005 - 2008 Maxim Popenker

SP-3 and PZAM silenced pistol ammunition

During the postwar period, there was much development in the field of the small arms
ammunition. Soviet Union actively participated in these developments, following both
mainstream and some more or less unconventional routes. The mainstream developments
are well known and included 7.62x39 M43 and 5.45x39 M74 intermediate ammunition for
assault rifles, as well as 9x18 ammunition for pistols. Of cause, there was much more
development in these lines that it might appear at the first sight, but for now we will focus
on rather more interesting types of ammunition.
During the post-war decades both USSR and its major rivals from NATO were deeply
engaged in espionage and counter-espionage. These activities sometimes called for very
special actions, usually described by typical Russian euphemism as “wet deeds”, or, in
plain language, murders. These clandestine operations required some very special
weapons, and during early 1950s the designer Igor Ya. Stechkin (better known as an
author of the 9mm APS Stechkin automatic pistol), developed a very special weapon for
KGB. Externally this weapon looked much like flat tin cigarette case, but internally it held
three short barrels and a trigger unit. The intended use of this weapon was obvious, but the
necessary compact size effectively prohibited the use of a standard silencer. As a result,
Stechkin developed a special type of ammunition, which required no silencer to be fired
silently. The major source of the sound of gunshot is the large volume of hot gases,
violently expanding from the muzzle and creating a sound wave. Stechkin avoided this
problem by encapsulating the blast of the propellant within the cartridge case. First
experiments were conducted using standard 9x18 cases, but the ammunition, designated
SP-1 (Spetsialnyj Patron 1 – special cartridge 1), never achieved production status. The
SP-2 ammunition, which was the first to be produced in any quantity, has been based on
7.62x39 case, slightly shortened and fitted with round-nose 7.62mm bullet with aluminum
core extended back into the case to rest on the internal piston. Internally this cartridge
contained a small charge of propellant behind a short piston, which propelled the bullet out
of the case when fired and then locked the hot powder gases inside the case. The resulting
sound was almost non-existent, and the cartridge has been adopted by KGB for
clandestine operations. To improve performance and somewhat confuse possible
investigators, the round-nose bullet has been later replaced by standard pointed 7.62mm
bullet originally used in 7.62x39 M43 ammunition. Earlies development centered on a large
steel case with single-stage piston and internal firing pin, located in the base in attempt to
keep high pgas pressures within the case after the discharge. This design was known as
7.62x63 PZ cartridge, which later evolved into PZA and PZAM cartridges of the basically
same dimensions. This ammunition was in use since mid-1960s in S4M silent pistol. Later
on, another cartridge cartridge, designated as 7.62x38 SP-3, has been developed and put
in use during early 1970s, along with MSP two-barreled derringer type pistol and NRS
scout shooting knife. The SP-3 featured much shorter case, because it used more
compact two-stage piston system and more or less standard primers, securely crimped
into the base of the cartridge. The performance of the SP-3 was about 25% less (in terms
of muzzle energy) than of PZAM, but it was considered sufficient for its intended use in
deep concealment last-ditch weapons used by Soviet secret intellegence agents outside of

cartridge metric designation bullet weight muzzle velocity muzzle energy

PZAM 7.62x63 8 g / 123 grain ~ 175 m/s / 570 fps 122 J / 90 ft-lbs
SP-3 7,62x38 8 g / 123 grain ~ 150 m/s / 490 fps 90 J / 66 ft-lbs

loaded 7.62mm PZA loaded 7.62mm PZAM 7.62mm SP-3 cartridge and spent

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loaded 7.62mm PZA loaded 7.62mm PZAM 7.62mm SP-3 cartridge and spent
silent cartridge and fired silent cartridge and fired SP-3 case and bullet, loaded into
case (note projecting case (note projecting steel clip used for MSP pistol
piston) piston and slightly Note that piston is of two-stage
bottlenecked telescoped design
cartridge) loaded into
steel clip, as used for
S4M pistol

SP-4 silenced ammunition

The key problem with the SP-3 and PZAM

ammo were their telescoped pistons, which
projected significantly from fired cases and
thus made almost impossible to develop the
semi-automatic weapons for these
cartridges. During late 1970s and early
1980s Soviet designers solved this problem
by developing the 7.62x42 SP-4
ammunition, which used the same basic
principle. The telescoped two-stage piston
has been replaced by single-stage piston,
which did not projected from the case when
fired; the standard 7.62mm M43 bullet has
been replaced by the cylindrical bullet, made
of mild steel, and fitted with a brass driving
band at the front. This cartridge has been
adopted circa 1983 by KGB and Spetsnaz
elements of the Soviet Army, along with
six-shot, magazine fed, blowback operated
semiautomatic PSS pistol and single-shot
NRS-1 scout shooting knife. The SP-4
ammunition and PSS pistols are still in use
by elite Spetsnaz units within Russian
armed forces, as well as by some FSB and
MVD elite units. Apparently, the earlier MSP
pistol with SP-3 ammo and S4M pistol with
PZAM ammo were not phased out of
service and still can be encountered in the
hands of serious operators, who not require
7.62mm SP-4 silent cartridge (left)
multi-shot capabilities of PSS / SP-4
compared to 9x19 Parabellum cartridge
metric bullet muzzle
designation w eight velocity
9,3 g /
200 m/s
SP-4 7.62x41 143
/ 655 fps

SP-5 and SP-6 subsonic assault rifle ammunition

Next line of development, also initiated by

Spetsnaz requirements, also involved silenced
weapons, but in more powerful form. Since the
effective range of silenced pistols is severely
limited, scout and Spetsnaz elements of the Soviet
army originally employed AK and AKM rifles, fitted
with detachable sound suppressors (silencers) and
loaded with special versions of 7.62x39 M43
ammo, known as 7.62x39 US (Umenshennaya
Skorost – Low velocity). To achieve subsonic
velocity along with acceptable ballistics, these
cartridges were loaded with heavier bullets, but its
performance was still inadequate. So, during the
late 1980s, soviet designers developed improved
sub-sonic ammunition, suitable for specially
designed automatic weapons. These cartridges,
known as SP-5 and SP-6, were based on a
7.62x39 M43 case, necked-out to 9mm, and loaded
with heavy, streamlined bullets. The SP-5 cartridge
was loaded with standard “ball” bullet with lead core,
and was intended for accurate sniper work out to
300-400 meters. The SP-6 cartridge featured an
armour-piercing bullet with hardened steel core,
which could defeat typical military type body
armour at the ranges of up to 300-400 meters. Two
weapons were initially developed for this
ammunition, both based on the same receiver and
gas operated action – VSS sniper rifle and AS

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gas operated action – VSS sniper rifle and AS

assault rifle. Both weapons were selective fired,
with integral sound suppressors, and used same
magazines with 10- or 20-round capacity. Latter on,
several more weapons were developed for 9x39
ammunition, such as SR-3 and 9A-91 compact
assault rifles, used by elite Internal Affairs Ministry,
Police and State Security units. The one problem,
associated with 9x39, as well as with most other
special purpose cartridges, is that such ammunition
is usually quite expensive. An attempt was made left to right: SP-5 ball cartridge case
during late 1990s to produce much cheaper 9x39 and bullet; SP-6 AP dummy
AP loading, designated as PAB-9. This cartridge cartridge, and 7.62x39 M43 cartridge
featured bullets with stamped (instead of machined) for scale
steel cores, as well as increased driving surfaces.
As a result, accuracy was poor and barrel wear
significantly increased, so this ammunition is
apparently no longer in use.
metric bullet muzzle
designation w eight velocity
12,5 g / 290 m/s /
7.62 US 7,62x39
193 grain 950 fps
16,8 g / 280 m/s /
СП-5 9x39
260 grain 920 fps
16 g / 247 280 m/s /
СП-6 9x39
grain 920 fps

SP-10 armor piercing pistol ammunition

This development leads us back to pistol

ammunition, but this time with improved
penetration capabilities rather than
stealth. The proliferation of body armor
rendered most military pistols, with its
ammunition being about 100 years old,
almost obsolete. The one way to deal
with body armor is to adopt smaller-
caliber, high velocity bullets for both
pistols and submachine guns. This gives
additional benefit of flatter trajectory and
lessened recoil, both beneficial for
accuracy. At the minus side, the terminal
performance of the small-caliber, light
weight bullets is somewhat questionable.
After initial test and research, conducted
since late 1980s under the codename
“Grach”, Russian armed forces adopted
an improved version of the world’s most
popular pistol ammo, the 9x19
Parabellum. First produced circa 1994,
this version of the 9mm features an
armor piercing bullet of proprietary
design, and a powerful powder charge,
which brings this cartridge, officially
designated as 7N21, to the +P+ level,
with peak pressures running up to 2 800
kg per square meter. Armor piercing
bullet for 7N21 ammo features a
hardened steel penetrator core, enclosed
into bimetallic jacket. The space between
the core and jacked is filled with
polyethylene, and the tip of the penetrator
is exposed at the front of the bullet, to
achieve better penetration. Bullet of the
similar design, but of lighter weight, is
used in another service 9x19 cartridge,
7N31, which has been developed in late
1990s for the GSh-18 pistol, and latter
was adopted for PP-2000 submachine
gun. Another offspring of the ”Grach”
trials is the 9x21 family of ammunition.
Adopted by the Federal Security Bureau
(FSB) of Russian Federation, this
cartridge in its basic form, known as 9mm SP-10 AP cartridge (right) compared to
SP-10, is more or less a stretched-out 9x19 Parabellum cartridge (left)
7N21 cartridge with improved
performance; 9x21 ammo also available

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in AP-T (tracer) and SP-11 low-ricochet

ball (with lead core) bullets. This ammo is
used in SPS “Gyrza” pistol and in SR-2
“Veresk” submachine gun.
metric bullet muzzle
designation w eight velocity
5.3 g / 460 m/s
7N21 9x19 82 / 1508
grain fps
4.2 g / 600 m/s
7N31 9x19 65 / 1967
grain fps
7.9 g / 390 m/s
7N28 /
9x21 122 / 1278
grain fps
6.7 g / 430 m/s
7N29 /
9x21 103 / 1410
grain fps

Underwater pistol and rifle ammunition

Next line of development, almost unique to the Soviet

armed forces, is the underwater firearms and ammunition
for these. Initially developed during late sixties, underwater
cartridges propelled the long and slim drag-stabilized
bullets, and were used in four-barreled SPP-1 break-open
pistols. To achieve better loading and extraction, the
bottlenecked brass cartridges were rimmed and loaded
using special flat clips, which held all four rounds together.
Both primer pockets and case necks were sealed against
the water, and the steel bullets were covered by special
lacquer coating. Initially satisfied with the pistol, Special
Forces elements of the Soviet Navy requested further
development and by the mid-1970s soviet designers
brought in an unique underwater assault rifle, the APS
(which, in fact, was a smoothbore weapon). This weapon
used cartridges, externally similar to earlier SPS pistol
ammunition, but based on the standard 5.45x39 M74
cases. This “rifle” ammunition is available in two basic
forms, MPS “ball” and MPST “tracer”. Both APS
underwater automatic weapon and SPP-1M underwater
pistol are still in use by Russian navy, as well as offered
for export.
metric bullet muzzle
cartridge underwater cartridges, left to
designation w eight velocity
13.2 g / 204 250 m/s / 820
SPS 4.5x40R 7.62x39 M43 cartridge for
grain fps
15 g / 232 360 m/s / 4.5mm SPS cartridge case
MPS 5.66x39
grain 1180 fps and bullet;
Note: for underwater cartridges muzzle velocities listed in 4.5mm SPS dummy
air; in the water, MV depends on the actual depth cartridge;
5.66mm MPS dummy

Small-caliber pistol ammunition

The last development, which could be

considered as a “special purpose”, took
the place during 1970 – 1972 timeframe,
when the KGB requested the
development of an “easily concealable
pocket pistol, with flat shape and not
thicker than a matchbox (17mm)”. This
pistol was intended as a concealed carry
weapon for security personnel, as well as
self-defense weapon for top ranked
officials. After a short research designers
rejected available western “pocket-gun”
ammunition, such as 6.35x16SR and
7.65x17SR, as entirely unsatisfactory,
and rapidly developed a small round,
which looked more or less like scaled
down 7.62x39 M43 cartridge. The
5.45x18 MPTs cartridge had a rimless
bottlenecked case, made of brass, with

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bottlenecked case, made of brass, with

pointed jacketed bullet. The terminal
performance of this tiny cartridge is
rather unspectacular, but it has a
reputation for penetrating soft body
armor at shorter distances. However, it is
by no means an “armor piercing”
ammunition, and the latter attempts to
use it for larger PDW-type weapons such
as full-size OTs-23 “Drotik” automatic
pistol, turned into a predictable failure.
Still, the extremely compact and quite
reliable 5.45x18 PSM pistol is widely 5.45mm 7N7 cartridge (right) compared to
used as a self-defense weapon for Army 9x19 Parabellum cartridge (left)
and MVD generals, as well as by various
law enforcement operatives, working
under cover.
metric bullet muzzle
designation w eight velocity
7N7 / 2.5 g / 320 m/s
5.45mm 5.45x17 39 / 1050
MPTs grain fps

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