Arming for Emergencies: Russian Weapon Engineers Create the Ultimate Pilot Survival Tool

The Russian air force, navy and army have lost 15% of their Su-34 strike fighters and a quarter of their Ka-52 attack helicopters.

defence, defence news
The Kalashnikov Group and India established the Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) in 2019 to produce AK-203 assault rifles under licence in India. (Photo: Kalashnikov)

By Girish Linganna

The Russian aerospace forces officially approve the addition of the PPK-20U. The Russian PPK-20 U is a submachine gun designed for integration into pilot survival kits. It has a lightweight, compact design and features a folding telescopic polymer buttstock. It weighs 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) unloaded and is 16 inches long in its shortest configuration making it useful for other units that need a compact submachine gun, such as bodyguards, undercover security officers, and vehicle crews. It uses a simple blowback method of operation and fires 9mm parabellum rounds. It also has a quick detachable sound and flash suppressor to aid in avoiding detection.

It is included in the Russian KM36 ejection seat survival kit along with other items such as water storage container, a machete, first aid supplies, signalling devices like flares and pen lights and a survival knife. As Downed Russian pilots have more than just a pistol for protection. The gun is intended to be a tool for the pilot’s main goal of escaping in emergency situations and not meant for a prolonged firefight. The ejection seat has a high survival rate of 97% and the pilot survival kit has limited space and weight, so the weapon must be able to handle harsh conditions.

PPK-20’s Lethal Trio: Blowback Mechanism, Drum Magazines, and High-Pressure Ammunition

The submachine gun’s design traces its roots to the 1990s and quality control standards during the start of the Russian Federation were reportedly low. The Kalashnikov USA KR-9 SBR is a civilian attempt to reproduce the aesthetics of the Vityaz-style firearm, the predecessor of the PPK-20.The weapon was first unveiled in August 2021 at the international military-technical forum.

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The PPK-20U was created by a team of Russian weapon engineers and heavily based on the Bizon design, which was accepted into service in 1996. The PPK-20U features a quick-detachable sound and flash suppressor, making it ideal for a down pilot trying to avoid detection. The PPK-20U uses a 64-round politic feed magazine, a design feature borrowed from the Russian love for drum magazines on submachine guns. The PPK-20 U, an upgraded version of the Vityaz, completed state trials in 2020. It is a further development of the Vityaz, which is used by the Russian police, some law enforcement units and FSB security agency.

The PPK-20 is designed for close combat in buildings. It is capable of firing high-pressure armour-piercing ammunition. It operates using a blowback mechanism. It is equipped with a combined safety and fire mode selector, with options for safe, semi-auto, and full-auto. It is not particularly accurate, with an effective range of around 50 metres, but remains lethal up to 200 metres. A lighter and more compact variant, the PPK-20U, was released for military pilots and has a number of improvements over the standard PPK-20, including a new polymer grip, ambidextrous fire selector, and adjustable stock.

A lighter and more compact version, the PPK-20U, was designed for military pilots and unveiled in 2021. It is slightly shorter and lighter, with a new polymer grip, trigger guard, handguard, and ambidextrous fire selector switch. It can mount a sound suppressor and be stored inside a pilot’s seat. However Kalashnikov intends to market the submachine gun to international customers.

Armed for Survival: Compact Weapons Rise to Meet Pilots’ Firepower Needs

The PPK-20 U was developed to address the issue of Russian pilots needing more firepower after incidents in the Syrian war and the invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian troops have brought down 184 confirmed and another 73 captured Russian aircraft in 8 months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 55 fighters and 54 helicopters have been destroyed.

The Russian air force, navy and army have lost 15% of their Su-34 strike fighters and a quarter of their Ka-52 attack helicopters. The manpower crunch is likely to be severe as the number of experienced pilots who have died is incredibly high. However, the need for increased firepower for pilots who find themselves in the ground started much earlier than the invasion of Ukraine. As a Russian military plane was shot down in Syria by rebel forces and the pilot Major Roman Nikolayevich Filipov was killed. The incident took place in a rebel-held area in northwest Syria. After the crash, Major Filipov engaged in a gunfight with the rebel forces. But rather than enduring what would have happened if he was captured he used the grenade on himself. The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the downing of the aircraft and the death of the pilot as The downing of the Russian plane and the death of the pilot marked a significant escalation in the Syrian conflict and raised tensions between Russia and the rebel forces.

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It is not just Russian pilots who are asking for higher firepower. All of the NATO countries are requesting for increased firepower among fighter pilots after the downing of Jordanian Air Force pilot, Kasha Bay, in December 2014. Moaz al-Kasasbeh was a Jordanian pilot who was held captive by the Islamic State (ISIS) group. He was reportedly captured after his warplane crashed while he was participating in coalition air strikes against the group in Syria.

The US Air Force’s development of a folding M4 carbine for air crew members is a response to the same issue that is being faced by other NATO countries, including Russia, of needing a compact and portable personal defence weapon for pilots that provides increased firepower compared to a pistol. The M4 carbine, when folded, can fit into a survival kit and can be used in case the crew has to eject and survive behind enemy lines. However, its disadvantage is the time required to assemble the weapon, which can take up to 60 seconds, before it can be used.

The Kalashnikov Group and India established the Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) in 2019 to produce AK-203 assault rifles under licence in India. The manufacturing processes could begin after a firm contract is signed. The AK-203 was showcased at the Army 2021 and features a slotted muzzle brake, integral Picatinny rail, ergonomic pistol grip, folding telescopic stock, and a 30-round plastic magazine that allows controlling ammo consumption. It can be used by the air force, army or navy during combat.

The Russian aerospace forces’ approval of the PPK-20U is a step towards enhancing the safety and security of Russian pilots in emergency situations. With its lightweight, compact design and high firepower, the PPK-20U is a well-rounded weapon that can serve the diverse needs of Russian pilots. The folding telescopic polymer buttstock and quick detachable sound and flash suppressor are among its standout features. The weapon’s approval reflects the growing need for increased firepower among military pilots globally and is a response to the numerous incidents in recent years where pilots have found themselves in hostile environments. The Russian aerospace forces have taken a proactive approach to ensuring the safety of their pilots by incorporating the PPK-20U into the KM36 ejection seat survival kit.

The author is Defence and Aerospace Analyst.

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First published on: 02-02-2023 at 19:03 IST