We learned (thanks, Denny) that Arkady Shipunov passed away last week. He began work at Tula arsenal in 1950, and was chief designer of its instruments bureau from 1962 until 2006 – quite the long reign! He was a prodigious inventor whose work was mostly on large machine guns and missile systems, but he was also the co-designer of the GSh-18 (Gryazev-Shipunov) pistol developed by Tula in the late 1990s.

Russian GSh-18 pistol
Russian GSh-18 pistol

The GSh-18 is one of the more recent additions to the small fraternity of rotating-barrel handguns (see also: Roth-Steyr 1907, Obregon, CZ-24, Boberg XR9, and others). We haven’t had the chance to handle one ourselves, but the design is pretty interesting. While most rotating-barrel pistols use two or three lugs, the GSh-18 uses no less than ten, arrayed equally around the barrel. This gives the barrel a rotation arc of just 18 degrees, and gives it a very strong lockup with so much lug surface area.

GSh18 locking lugs
GSh-18 locking lugs

Details about the mechanism are a bit sketchy, but we suspect the beveled set of lugs just behind the barrel are intended to seal the slide against dirt and grime getting in and fouling the locking lugs. Despite the apparent vulnerability to dirt getting in, the pistol appears to have passed Russian military trials with flying colors. The GSh-18 on paper appears to be an excellent handgun:

  • Good 3-dot sights (optionally including night sights)
  • Nice low bore axis
  • Polymer frame (for a total weight of just 16.5 ounces unloaded)
  • Reversible mag release to accommodate left-handed shooters
  • Trigger-mounted safety for simple loaded carry
  • Ejector doubles as loaded chamber indicator
  • 18+1 capacity of 9mm cartridges

In addition, the magazine of the GSh-18 is of the double-feed design, meaning that cartridges feed alternately from the left and right sides, instead of being forced into a single center column at the top of the magazine (the Stechkin APS also used double-feed magazines). This double-feed system has long been recognized as superior in submachine guns, as it reduces spring pressure on the cartridges, making for more reliable feeding and easier loading of magazines.

GSh-18 magazine
GSh-18 magazine – note the widely-space feed lips to allow alternate feeding from the right and left columns of cartridges

The one concern we have about the design – and again, this is without having actually handled one – is the rather complex disassembly. The design looks great on the outside, but it has a lot of independent parts that have to come out for basic takedown. Most other modern pistols have a nice modular construction, where the slide comes off as a complete unit with no fuss, but the GSh-18 requires several sequential parts to be removed.Connecting pins, non-captive springs…it’s just not very elegant:

GSh-18 disassembled
GSh-18 disassembled

You can see a promotional video (in Russian) about the GSh-18 here, produced by Tula (where the guns were designed):

Now, there is another element to the GSh-18 that we need to talk about, and that is its ammunition. Apparently one of the design criteria for military service was armor penetration capability, and the GSh-18 was designed around a specific 9x19mm AP cartridge, designated 7N31. It operates at higher pressure than standard 9mm ball (roughly +P+ pressures, although Tula promo material would have you believe it’s higher), and throws a lightweight projectile at pretty high velocity. Specifically, a 65 grain hardened steel core bullet at 1970 fps, which will perforate NIJ Level III soft body armor, or 8mm of mild steel plate at close range. In today’s world of increasingly-standard use of good body armor by combat troops, that would seem like a reasonable requirement to have for a sidearm – although we do wonder how many combat troops would be wearing soft armor, rather than either rifle plates or no armor. However, the 7N31 case is outwardly identical to standard 9×19, so the pistol can be used with standard ammunition as well.

Russian 7N31 cartridge
Russian 7N31 cartridge (image from IAA forums)

You can see a bunch more photos of the GSh-18 below, or download the whole set in high resolution as a zip archive:

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