DS ARMS REINVENTS A CLASSIC ARM!
By Gary Paul Johnston
From the December 2012 issue of SOF
While it’s not common to see a rebirth of a firearm considered obsolete by modern standards, it does occur, and it’s always the result of a need. One example is the greatly improved M60A4, designed and produced by U.S. Ordnance in Sparks, Nevada, and now in fairly wide use by special units of the U.S. Navy.
The reason for the M60A4’s success is that it fills the void for a reliable, lightweight machine gun in 7.62x51mm NATO caliber. Now a similar gun has risen from “Phoenix”-like ashes. It is the new RPD CARBINE and LMG from DS Arms (DSA), of Barrington, IL.
Originally conceived by Soviet designer Vasily Degtyarev in 1944, the ruchnoy pulemyot Degtyareva (Degtyarev light machine gun), or RPD, was based on his Degtyarev pekhotnyy (Degtyarev infantry), or DP, machinegun of 1928, but was vastly improved over that earlier and less reliable weapon.
Where the DP machine gun fired the more powerful Russian/Soviet 7.62x54R cartridge from a Lewis-type 47-round top-mounted “pan” magazine, the RPD fires the less powerful, but more modern M43 7.62x39mm cartridge developed during World War II. What’s more, the RPD uses an uninterrupted belt feed operate by a shuttle feed system similar to most other modern belt feed designs.
In this system, the belt is of the “push-through” type, as pioneered by Germany prior to WW II with the MG 34. The belt is normally housed in a drum-like can attached to the bottom of the gun; however, this can is not a magazine but merely a container. Except for size and other improvements, the DP and RPD are very much alike.
Like the DP, the RPD operates by a long stroke gas piston mounted beneath the barrel. The rear section of the piston contains the operating rod, bolt carrier and striker. On either side of the bolt is a locking lug. Being of the tilt-, or prop-bolt type, these relatively long locking lugs are often referred to as “flaps,” and they swing out laterally to engage locking shoulders in the sides of the machined steel receiver, and thus, the RPD’s bolt is a rear-locking bolt.
At the rear of the striker is a dual cam system, which acts on the locking flaps. The RPD fires from an open bolt; when the right side-mounted cocking handle is pulled all the way to the rear (cocked) position, the bolt carrier cams the flaps out of the receiver shoulders and back into the center of the bolt group.
When the trigger is pulled, the entire operating rod and bolt group speeds forward under pressure of the main, or recoil, spring. As the bolt goes into battery, the striker continues, with its cams forcing the flaps outward with their rear ends engaging the locking shoulders in the receiver. If a cartridge had been in position, the top of the bolt would have stripped it forward out of its link and down into the chamber, where the striker would have ended its journey by firing it. If the trigger were held back, the sequence would continue until the belt was empty.
Although the RPD was ready to be mass-produced near the end of WW II, it was not widely issued until just before the Korean War in the 1950s, after which it became the standard LMG of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. As successful as the RPD was, when the RPK LMG version of the AKM was designed in the early 1960s, it began to replace the RPD in first line units for logistic reasons, as well as cost and weight.
However, the RPD was the standard LMG of the Viet Cong and the NVA during the Vietnam War, where it was extremely successful during and against ambush assaults where only two or three 50-round belts were fired. If many more rounds than this were fired at a time, one of the main shortcomings of the RPD quickly became apparent.
Unlike most other belt-fed machine guns, the RPD does not have a quick-change barrel. While that in itself is not critical, the RPD’s wooden handguard is mounted around the barrel. After only a couple of hundred rounds, the handguard becomes quite hot and will soon begin to smolder or catch on fire, leaving the bipod the only part for the support hand to hold.
The handguard issue aside, the RPD has continued in use world wide, often having a number of handguards replaced, many being made by hand or otherwise improvised. The gun is that good and the ammunition it uses is one of the world’s most common types. This is why it came to the attention of DSA.
The Semi-Automatic RPD
Initially, DSA decided to recreate the RPD as a semi-automatic only rifle, but this is not a simple matter. As the RPD is continuously being replaced in former Com-block nations, new parts kits are available to be imported into the U.S., except for the receiver and some other components. In addition, many parts designed to function only as full automatic parts will neither fit nor work in a semi-automatic only receiver. All of these parts had to be designed and manufactured by DSA, using proper steel and heat treating. Finally, the new self-loading gun had to be approved by the BATFE. The result is a belt-fed semi-auto only rifle weighing over 16 pounds.
In the DSA semi-automatic RPD, the striker is separate from the bolt group and is the only part that remains to the rear when the gun is cocked. The sear that holds the striker has a disconnector that automatically resets the sear after each shot, so that the gun cannot fire full automatically. As with the standard RPD, the safety can only be engaged when the gun is cocked.
In operating the DSA semi-auto RPD, the steel tab on the starting end of a belt of ammunition is placed in the feed tray, and pushed so that the tab protrudes out the right side. The tab is then pulled out as far as it will go. An optional method is to open the top cover by pulling back the latch on the rear, and laying the belt with the top round on the bolt and then closing the cover. Once this is done, the cocking handle is pulled back as far as it will go and released to spring forward, stripping and chambering the first round. The manual safety on the right side above the trigger must then be rotated forward to prevent the trigger from being pulled to fire the gun.
DSA’s new semi-auto only RPD looks exactly like the original and comes with all of the original tools and accessories for the collector. It is a museum quality piece, but it’s also ready to take to the range; since it fires from a closed bolt with a not too bad trigger, it might surprise you.
Although not particularly suited to match shooting, the RPD’s far forward rear sight can provide some respectable accuracy with the gun on a good rest. However, assuming that is the case, and without “pilot error,” the remaining weak link is the ammunition, not all of which is created equally.
The short of it is that much of the surplus 7.62x39mm (M43) ammo is not that accurate, while almost all such ammunition made commercially is, and this includes foreign commercial 7.62x39mm. Federal, Hornady, Remington and Winchester make some of the best in the U.S. Other factory-new ammunition that performs well is from Wolf and Brown, Silver and Golden Bear. A full line of imported 7.62x39mm ammunition is carried by J & G Sales, of Prescott, Arizona.
Although all 7.62x39mm ammunition is currently loaded with bullets weighing 123 or 124 grains, with its growing popularity, you can expect to see someone offer this cartridge with a 110-grain bullet. When the U.S. Special Forces 5th Group was testing this round in 2000, it was producing a muzzle velocity approaching 2,600 fps when loaded with a Sierra 110-grain .30 caliber bullet. This load would greatly reduce ricochet potential and would be excellent for law enforcement use.
The New DSA RPD Carbine
Realizing the potential of modernizing a tried and true gun like the RPD, DSA set out to improve the design. Using a match quality 7.62mm barrel blank, DSA designed a new 17.5-inch barrel. Although the barrel contour is heavy, it is fully fluted to reduce weight and provide for much faster cooling. Just in front of the gas block, behind a screw-on muzzle brake/flash hider, is a modern front sight. Instead of a wooden handguard mounted against the barrel, the new carbine uses a ventilated aircraft alloy handguard complete with Mil-Std 1913 rail on top, bottom and both sides. Instead of a muzzle-mounted bipod, it will accept a Harris Bipod and others that will mount on its rail. Our test sample was equipped with a Mil-Std GripPod.
If the GripPod is selected, my preference is to equip it with the GripPod Rail Mount, and on the strong side to use a Vltor QD ring to mount a SureFire G2 Tactical LED light. This system allows the operator to use the support thumb to operate the light’s end pressure cap to activate the light instead of the index finger, as on some devices. Using the index finger can result in “limb confusion” or “connection,” resulting in an unintentional discharge of the weapon. The Rail Grip, from RM Equipment, with a SureFire G2 light, works just as well but does not provide a bipod.
The pistol grip of the DSA RPD Carbine uses a new M249-type pistol grip and is also equipped with an M4 recoil spring tube in place of the standard wooden buttstock. On the tube is a Vltor EMOD buttstock that is adjustable for length of pull. The finish is a tough, black synthetic.
Not only is the new DSA RPD Carbine capable of sub-MOA accuracy with high quality commercial 7.62x39mm ammunition, but it will also produce close to MOA accuracy using some surplus 7.62x39mm. To my knowledge, no RPD has ever been capable of such accuracy.
All the DSA RPDs we tested had the standard rear tangent sight, but DSA is planning to mount a Mil-Std 1913 rail on the gun’s top cover. With this rail, DSA’s RPD will be the first such gun on which optical sights can be mounted. With the accuracy factor, this belt-fed semi-automatic rifle would be very effective at medium ranges without over-penetration. We tested the RPD Carbine with an Eotech XPS2 Reflex Sight mounted on the RPD Carbine’s handguard rail. This sight proved to be excellent when mounted forward on the handguard, and would be just as good mounted to the rear on the cover. Not only is the Eotech rugged, but it is water proof with brightness control, as well as fine windage and elevation adjustments.
Full Auto, Too!
Yes, in addition to DSA’s highly modified semi-automatic only RPD rifles and RPD carbines, the company is offering fully automatic versions to law enforcement agencies and other qualified buyers, including foreign governments friendly to the U.S. We were able to test and evaluate the first of these recently at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona.
For the occasion, we were only able to fire the guns with surplus 7.62x39mm FMJ ammunition, but we had enough of it to put 1,000 rounds down range. Shooting the traditional style RPD is no different from the real thing, which I’ve fired many times; but shooting the new full auto DSA RPD Carbine was truly a great experience. With its efficient muzzle brake, the gun is easier to control than the original RPD. With its modern pistol grip and EMOD Stock, this was like no other RPD. Having zero malfunctions came as no surprise, and using the heatproof GripPod both prone and while standing kept the hand from any heat issues, no matter how hot the barrel became.
Although DSA’s full automatic RPDs will be for but a very few licensed dealers and collectors, both the traditional model and the new RPD Carbine should also appeal to some law enforcement agencies, not to mention the DOD, in order to train U.S. military instructors for duty to friendly foreign countries where the RPD is issued. The semi-auto only versions will have wide appeal to collectors. DSA offers a complete accessory/spare parts kit for the RPD plus drums, belts, rail handguard and adapters for the M249 belt bag. For information on all their excellent products, contact DSA, Inc.
Caliber: 7.62x39mm (M43) 7.62x39mm (M43).
Muzzle Velocity: 2350–2550 fps 2300–2500 fps.
Operation: Long stroke gas piston
Type of Fire: Semi-automatic only or full automatic only
Overall Length: 40.8 inches 37–40.5 inches
Barrel Length: 20.5 inches 17.5 inches
Weight: (gun alone) 16.31 pounds 13.6 pounds
Feed Device: 100-round non-disintegrating link belt
Safety: Two-position rotating safety/selector
Sights: Protected front post/rear tangent.
Stock Furniture: Oil finished hardwood Black synthetic
Price: $2,100 (MSRP) $2,800 (MSRP)