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One of the world’s great unsung light machine guns is the Ruchnoy Pulemyot Degtyaryova (“Degtyaryov’s handheld machine gun” in Russian), more commonly known as the RPD. In 1944, Vasily Degtyaryov designed this 7.62x39mm (M43) gun, which was based on the Pulemyot Degtyaryova Pekhotny (DP) light machine gun designed in 1928—the RPD was vastly improved.

While the DP light machine gun fired the bull-size Soviet 7.62x54R cartridge using a Lewis Gun–type, 47-round, top-mounted, “pan” drum magazine, the RPD fired the intermediate-size, 7.62x39mm cartridge, a less powerful but more modern round developed during World War II. The RPD also used an uninterrupted belt-feed operated by a shuttle-feed system, similar to that of most other modern belt-feed designs. The RPD’s belt was a “push-through” type, as pioneered by Germany before WWII with the MG 34. The RPD’s belt is normally housed in a drum-like can that attaches to the bottom of the gun; however, this can is not a magazine but merely a container.

PKs, RPKs & RPDs

Except for size and other improvements, the PK and RPD share a number of similarities. As with the PK, the RPD operates by a long-stroke gas piston mounted beneath the barrel. The rear section of the piston contains the operating rod, bolt, bolt carrier and striker. On either side of the bolt is a locking lug, and being of the tilt- or prop-bolt variety, these relatively long locking lugs are referred to as “flaps.” They swing out laterally to engage locking shoulders in the sides of the machined steel receiver, and thus the RPD’s bolt is more of a rear-locking style.

At the rear of the striker is a dual cam system, which acts on the locking flaps to force them out into the receiver recesses when in battery and withdraws them back into the bolt as the carrier moves to the rear. The RPD fires from an open bolt. When the right-side-mounted cocking handle is pulled all the way to the rear to the cocked position, the bolt remains there ready to be fired.

When the trigger is pulled, the entire operating rod and bolt group speed forward under pressure of the mainspring or recoil spring. As the bolt goes into battery, the striker continues, with its cams forcing the flaps outward and with their rear ends engaging the locking shoulders in the receiver. If a cartridge is in position, the top of the bolt strips it forward out of its link and down into the chamber, where the striker would have ended its journey by firing the round. If the trigger were held back, the sequence would continue until the belt was empty.

The RPD was ready to be mass-produced near the end of WWII but was put on hold when Germany surrendered. With the Korean War looming, the RPD was finally put into production, soon becoming the standard light machine gun of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states. As successful as the RPD was, when the RPK (a light machine gun variant of the AKM) was designed in the early 1960s, it began to replace the RPD in first-line units for logistical reasons, as well as for cost and weight savings.

Nevertheless, the RPD was the standard light machine gun of the Viet Cong and the NVA during the Vietnam War. While it did not have the range of the U.S. M60, the RPD was shorter and had almost half the M60’s weight. This made the RPD extremely successful in ambush assaults, where only two or three 50-round belts were needed. But if many more than 150 rounds were fired at a time, one of the RPD’s main shortcomings would quickly become apparent. Where most other belt-fed machine guns have quick-change barrels, the RPD does not. This is not critical in of itself, but the RPD’s wooden handguard, which is mounted around and contacts the barrel, becomes quite hot after only a couple of hundred rounds and soon begins to smolder or even catch fire, leaving the bipod the only part of the weapon for the support hand to hold. In spite of this, RPDs have remained in use worldwide, their handguards (many of which are hand-made or otherwise improved) often replaced. The gun is that good. And the ammunition it uses is one of the world’s most common. This is why the RPD came to the attention of DSA Arms Inc.

Resurrected

Seeing the RPD’s potential as a historical firearm, DSA initially decided to recreate the gun as a semi-automatic-only rifle, but this is not a simple matter. As the RPD is continuously being replaced in former Communist Bloc nations, new parts-kits are available for import into the U.S. (except for receivers and some other components). However, many of the parts designed to function in full-automatic will neither fit nor work in a semi-automatic-only receiver. Therefore, DSA would have to manufacture all such parts, using proper steel and heat-treating. DSA would also have to get its new self-loading model approved by the BATFE. After more than a year of development, DSA had a belt-fed, semi-auto-only rifle that weighed over 16 pounds.

In DSA’s semi-automatic RPD, the striker is separate from the bolt group and has its own spring, so the striker 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 in full-automatic. As with the standard RPD, the safety can only be put in the on-position when the gun is cocked. Unlike most such guns, the safety is on when rotated forward and off when rotated rearward.

As with the RPD machine gun, to load the DSA semi-auto RPD, the steel tab on the starting end of a belt of ammunition is placed into the feed tray so that the tab protrudes out the right side. The tab is then pulled out to the right as far as it will go. 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. To unload, open the top cover by pushing forward on the sliding lock at its rear. Then lift up the cover and remove the belt. In the case of the semi-automatic version, the bolt handle must then be pulled back to extract and eject a round from the chamber.

Once the belt in inserted and the safety rotated back to allow firing, the non-reciprocating cocking handle on the right is pulled back all the way and released to chamber the first round under pressure of the recoil spring. The linear hammer and mainspring, however, remain locked to the rear by the sear, until the trigger is pulled, releasing the hammer to go forward and hit the firing pin.

The new DSA semi-auto-only RPD looks exactly like the original and comes with all of the original tools and accessories—a plus for collectors. It is a museum-quality piece, but it’s also ready to take to the range. And since the DSA RPD fires from a closed bolt with a pretty good trigger, the gun might surprise you. Although not particularly suited to match shooting, the RPD’s far-forward rear sight can provide some respectable accuracy when the gun is on a good rest. That is, unless, you get your hands on some subpar ammunition—not all of it is created equally.

Carbine Details

With the success of its traditional RPD semi-automatic rifle, 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 suppressor, is a modern front sight that is adjustable for elevation.

Replacing the traditional wooden handguard, the new carbine uses a ventilated, aircraft-grade alloy Brugger & Thomet handguard complete with Mil-Std-1913 rails on the top, bottom and both sides. And instead of a muzzle-mounted bipod, the new handguard accepts a variety of bipods that will mount on its bottom or side rails, including the Harris Bipod and the two-piece Vltor EPOD Bipod. The test sample came equipped with a Brugger & Thomet vertical foregrip/bipod mounted on the bottom handguard rail. The handguard will also accept reflex optics and laser, as well as light systems such as RM Equipment’s RailGrip and light mount with the SureFire G2 LED tactical light.

The DSA RPD Carbine uses a new M249-type pistol grip and is 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 mil-spec matte black with tough black Duracoat on the rail handguard (OD green is also offered, and it’s possible that other colors will be added in the future).

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 loads—in my experience, no RPD has ever been capable of such accuracy.

All the DSA RPD Carbines we tested had the standard tangent rear sight, but DSA is planning to mount a Mil-Std-1913 rail on the gun’s top cover. With such a rail, DSA’s RPD will be the first gun of its kind that can mount magnified optical sights. This belt-fed semi-automatic rifle with that kind of accuracy would be very effective at medium ranges without over-penetration. We tested the RPD Carbine with both an Aimpoint CompM4 and EOTech XPS2 reflex sight mounted on the handguard rail. These sights proved excellent when mounted forward on the handguard and would be just as good mounted to the rear on the cover. Both sights are not only rugged but also waterproof, featuring fine windage and elevation adjustments.

In addition to DSA’s highly modified semi-automatic-only RPD Carbine and Rifle, the company is offering full-automatic versions of these weapons to law enforcement agencies and other qualified buyers such as foreign governments that are friendly to the U.S. We were recently able to test and evaluate the very first of these full-automatic RPD Carbines at Gunsite Academy, where DSA’s Marc Christensen brought two preproduction samples. These come with the standard 100-round cans and with adapters that allow the use of M249 (squad automatic weapon) 50- and 100-round belt bags.

Shooting Impressions

For the occasion, we were only able to fire surplus 7.62x39mm FMJs, but we had enough of it to put 1,000 rounds downrange. 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, it was like no other. Unsurprisingly there were no malfunctions, and using the heatproof GripPod, both prone and while standing, kept the hand from any heat issues no matter how hot the barrel got. However, Marc had big news.

Marc Christensen has created the first DSA RPD Carbine in 6.8 SPC. Originally designed in 2004 by MSG Steven Holland, 5th Special Forces Group (ABN), and by Cris Murray, USAMU, the 6.8 SPC was designed to be used in the M16 envelope and has a downrange effectiveness almost as good as the 7.62mm NATO’s. What is unknown to most is that Jordan has been producing this cartridge for more than a year, and since King Abdulla had shown interest in the 7.62x39mm RPD Carbine (and because it was a cinch to do), DSA decided to offer the carbine in 6.8 SPC. A major hurdle was in getting the standard 7.62x39mm linked belt to work with the 6.8 SPC cartridge, which ultimately only required minor modifications to the feed mechanism. One such change involved the feed tray being lengthened just enough to allow the 1.8mm-longer 6.8 SPC cartridge to travel through it. With a 6.8mm match barrel and chamber, the new 6.8 SPC RPD Carbine was ready in no time.

At Gunsite, over 500 rounds of Hornady 6.8 SPC ammunition were fired in the full-auto RPD Carbine and, as with the 7.62x39mm version, there were no malfunctions of any kind. While the more powerful 6.8 SPC RPD Carbine had slightly more recoil, the muzzle brakes on both guns eliminated most of it. The 6.8 SPC preproduction sample had a rail handguard, pistol grip and stock in OD green, which made it easy to differentiate it from the 7.62x39mm RPD Carbine.

More recently, I received an RPD Carbine chambered for 6.8 SPC for testing. Like the full-auto versions I had tested at Gunsite, this one came with an adapter for M249 belt bags, so I equipped it with a 50-round bag. On the standard RPD forward sling mount, I attached a Blue Force Gear Universal Sling Loop to mount its Victory LMG sling away from barrel heat.

On the left side of the RPD’s rail handguard, behind the sling mount, I mounted a SureFire tactical weapon light. On the opposite side I mounted a DBAL laser from Laser Devices. On the handguard’s top rail I mounted an Aimpoint Comp M3 red-dot sight, and with it I was able to achieve five-shot groups of 1.5 to 2.5 inches at 100 yards off the bipod using Hornady, Remington and Silver State 6.8mm SPC ammunition loaded singly. I did not fire the 7.62x39mm model for accuracy, but Marc reported match-grade accuracy from this caliber. The effective range of DSA’s 6.8x43mm RPD Carbine is almost double that of the 7.62x39mm model. This will give an already proven weapon capabilities far beyond anyone’s expectations, but that’s not all.

DSA’s modified feed tray and the gun’s standard belt links are not only compatible with 7.62x39mm and 6.8 SPC ammunition, but also with 6.5 Grendel. As you read this, DSA is offering its RPD Carbine in this caliber, and it is sure to be as successful as the other two calibers, especially with Wolf Ammunition now importing 6.5 Grendel to the U.S. in quantities that will make it affordable. With an excellent sectional density and ballistic coefficient of friction, the 6.5mm bullet up to 144 grains can be fired in the Grendel cartridge with great accuracy at extended ranges. Like the other two calibers, the 6.5 Grendel also fits into the M249 belt bags. I look forward to testing this newest variant soon.

Although DSA’s full-automatic RPD’s will be available only to military, police and licensed dealers, both the traditional and the new RPD Carbine semi-automatic-only models 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 more information, visit dsarms.com or call 847-277-7258.

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