Illustration by Lyn Haywood
By Charles Q. Cutshaw
Soviet and Russian pistols have traditionally been somewhat different in character than their western counterparts. The Model 1895 Nagant revolver, for example, can best be described as unusual. This complex revolver required the use of a unique cartridge because at the moment of firing, the cylinder was pressed forward, forming a seal with the forcing cone of the barrel that prevented the escape of gases, theoretically increasing velocity. The efficacy of this complicated system was questionable, even at the time of its introduction, but the revolver was reliable and popular, continuing in production until 1942. The TT-30/TT-33 Tokarev was a more conventional pistol design, but was chambered for the 7.62x25mm cartridge, virtually identical to and interchangeable with the 7.62mm Mauser round. Although there is no direct evidence to support the notion, the adoption of the 7.62x25mm cartridge was probably a result of the popularity of the M1896 Mauser pistol in that caliber among the Bolshevik forces during the 1917 revolution. The current Russian service pistol, the Pistolet Makarovka, or PM, was adopted in 1954. While the PM is similar to Walther designs, it is far from identical and is chambered for the 9x18mm cartridge, similar to the 9mm Ultra of the 1930s. Until recently the PM and its cartridge were rarely seen in the west, but the downfall of the USSR and the concomitant export of many PM pistols not only by Russia, but by many other former Soviet client states, has made the pistol and cartridge quite common.
The 9x18mm cartridge has slightly better ballistics than the 9x17mm (.380 ACP) cartridge and is the most powerful cartridge fired from a blowback-operated pistol, but it has always been considered a marginal military handgun cartridge by western small arms experts. The Soviets also realized the marginal terminal ballistics of the PM in the late 1970s and began to search for a solution. The answer came in the form of the PMM (Pistolet Makarovka Moderniziny), which fires a higher pressure version of the 9x18mm cartridge whose ballistics are squarely in the 9mm NATO (9x19mm) class. The PMM operates on the delayed blowback principle, but the new cartridge could also be fired in standard PM pistols that would not withstand the higher chamber pressures. Obviously, the PMM was an interim solution and recent pistol developments in Russia have demonstrated that the Russian military and police have taken a new direction in their handgun thinking. One of the new pistols described in this article will probably be the next Russian military sidearm, but as of the time of this writing, exactly which one is not clear. One Russian press article has stated that two of the pistols described below will be the replacement for the PM, but SAR’s usually reliable sources in the Russian small arms industry state that the press article is in error. Only time will reveal the truth, but we will describe all new pistol developments herein, indicating those which have been set forth as possible replacements for the PM and PMM. The reader will note that for the first time, Russian firearm designers have chosen to chamber their new pistols in 9x19mm NATO standard, with one notable exception.
According to SAR’s sources, the Izhmash MR-443 Grach is the pistol most likely to replace the PM and PMM in Russian military service. It was developed specifically for the Russian military and is the most conventional of the new Russian handguns. Unlike the PM, the MR-443 is a “full-size” pistol with a steel frame and slide, ambidextrous safety and contoured wraparound non-slip rubber grips. Locking is via a modified Browning system similar to that used in Glock and Heckler & Koch handguns where a barrel lug locks into the edges of the ejection port. The stainless steel magazine is of the double column type and has indicator holes on the side to show at a glance the number of rounds remaining. The MR-443 can be fired double action for the first shot and single action thereafter, but Russian sources emphasize that it can also be carried with the hammer cocked and the safety on (“cocked and locked”) as can all other new Russian pistols. Emphasis on this feature is somewhat unusual in recent military firearms, but recognizes the fact that a pistol carried “cocked and locked” can be gotten into action more quickly and with greater accuracy than any other method of carry. This indicates that the new Russian pistols will be used not only by the regular military, but by special operations units and police special units, who generally prefer “cocked and locked” pistol carry. American special operations forces, for example, demand that their handguns be capable of carry in this mode, which was made common practice by the Colt M1911/A1 and FN Browning M1935 pistols.
The MR-444 “Baghira” is one of two pistols that have been reported as replacements for the PM. Regardless of its status, however, the MR-444 is an innovative and modern handgun design. The MR-444 is reported to be available not only in 9x19mm, but in 9x17mm (.380ACP) and 9x18mm as well. A locked breech pistol is unusual in the latter two calibers, but it is possible that the MR-444 chambered for those cartridges will be blowback operated. The MR-444 frame is reinforced polymer like many recently developed pistols such as Glock, Heckler & Koch, SIG and others. Unlike the western designs however, the Izhmekh (Izhevsk Mechanical Plant) pistol has its steel guide rails retained by mechanical means, rather than being integrally molded into the frame. The slide stop pin retains the front guide rails, while the rear rails are held in place by a screw. This simplifies production, but could degrade accuracy. There are molded grooves forward of the trigger guard for attachment of laser aiming modules, white lights or other accessories. Operation of the MR-444 is the tried and true modified Browning system similar to that used in all other new Russian pistols, save the 6P35 described below. The barrel is unlocked by the interaction of two inclines, one on the bottom of the barrel and the other incorporated into the recoil/buffer mechanism. Locking is via a large barrel lug that locks the barrel into the ejection port. The MR-444 is equipped with a buffer system to reduce felt recoil, enhance control and reduce wear.
Although the MR-444 appears to be hammer fired, it is in fact striker fired with an external cocking lever at the rear of the slide that appears to be a hammer. This allows the shooter to manually cock the striker for a light trigger let-off. If the striker is not cocked, the first shot requires a long, relatively heavy trigger pull, followed by a lighter, shorter pull with succeeding shots as the striker is automatically cocked each time the pistol fires. Because the striker can be manually cocked, the MR-444 can also be carried “cocked and locked,” a unique feature in a striker fired pistol. As with the other new Russian pistols, the 15 round capacity magazine is of the double column type. The ejector serves as a loaded chamber indicator. When a round is chambered, its front edge is slightly elevated, thus providing a visible and tactile indication of a loaded chamber.
While the Izhmekh MR-444 and MR-445/MR-445S pistols have appeared together in the Russian press, they are in fact entirely different pistols. The MR-445 is a full size pistol, while the MR-445S is of compact size for concealed carrying. Other than size, the pistols are identical. What is remarkable is the MR-445’s .40 Smith and Wesson caliber. The .40S&W has improved ballistic performance in comparison to the 9x19mm cartridge, but it is not a standard military cartridge. The MR-445 is not offered in 9x19mm, indicating that this pistol is clearly intended for export, not Russian military service. Although a Russian press article has claimed that the MR-445 is one of the pistols selected to replace the Makarov, the notion of the Russian military adopting a pistol in .40 S&W stretches credulity. According to SAR’s sources in Russia, the MR-445 is actually intended for export to countries that make use of pistols in .40 S&W caliber, not for use by the Russian military.
The MR-445 is a polymer-framed pistol of conventional design. Unlike the MR-444, the MR-445 incorporates a hammer firing mechanism which can be fired either double action for the first shot with single action shots thereafter or carried “cocked and locked” with the hammer to the rear and the safety locked. When the ambidextrous safety is engaged, it locks not only the hammer, but the slide, trigger and sear. The magazine release is also ambidextrous and is of the lever type that functions by pressing downward. Like the MR-444, the extractor serves as a visible and tactile loaded chamber indicator.
The MR-446 “Viking” is very similar to the MR-443 in design and execution, although the former pistol has a reinforced polymer frame, rather than being of made of steel. The MR-446’s guide rails are molded into the frame. The trigger mechanism is similar to that of the MR-444 Baghira, although the MR-446’s firing mechanism is of the hammer type. The MR-446 is also designed to be carried “cocked and locked.” As with the other pistols in the MR-series, the MR-446 uses the proven modified Browning short recoil system.
The final candidate to replace the PM is the TSNIITochmash 6P35, which is clearly derived from the virtually identical 9x21mm Russian caliber Gurza. Advertising literature for the 6P35 states that the pistol is designed to defeat soft body armor at ranges up to 50 meters, although the ability of standard 9x19mm bullets to defeat such armor is limited. Like the Gurza, the 6P35 locks via a dropping block system similar to that of the Beretta 92. The frame of the 6P35 is also remarkably similar to the Gurza’s, being separated into two portions, the upper being of steel and the lower of polymer. The 6P35 has trigger and grip safeties and fires double action for the first shot and single action thereafter. There are no conventional manual safeties. The hammer can be cocked and placed in single action mode for the first shot and the manufacturer states that the pistol’s automatic safeties are sufficient for it to be carried “cocked and locked.” The lack of a manual safety will make this option a questionable endeavor for many, however.
Which of these pistols will be the Makarov replacement? Without actually testing the pistols and comparing their relative merits for military use, it is difficult to make a definitive statement. However, based on the evidence at hand, we estimate that the MR-443 is the most likely candidate. Although SAR’s Russian sources state that the MR-443 is the most likely candidate, we also believe that the MR-443’s high magazine capacity, ambidextrous controls and generally conventional design make it more desirable from a military standpoint. We do not accept claims that the MR-444 and MR-445 will replace the PM. The reasons for this are numerous, but the primary ones relate to military logistics and training. Adopting two dissimilar pistols of different caliber creates problems in both of these areas because it requires two completely different sets of spare parts and adding not merely one, but two new cartridges to an ammunition supply system that already has a number of small arms cartridges. Training is another issue that makes claims of Russia’s adopting two new pistols to replace one less than credible. The issue of training is not only one of operational training by users, but the need to train armorers to repair two different handguns. So we do not believe that Russia will adopt two pistols to replace one. (While it is true that there are two versions of the Makarov, the PM and PMM, the manual of arms is identical for both and most parts interchange.) In the final analysis, only time will tell which pistol is adopted by the Russian military. What is significant is that whichever candidate is selected, it will be in 9x19mm, not a traditional Russian pistol caliber such as 7.62x25mm or 9x18mm.
I would like to thank Valery Shilin for providing information for this article.- Charles
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V3N10 (July 2000)|