Covert Shores guide to underwater weapons
General guide to many types of underwater firearms, spear-guns, rocket-guns and similar weapons used by combat swimmers in a military/naval context, in history and contemporary. Will be added to and fleshed out over time.
The universal and main weapon of divers for self-defense and, if required, offense. Also used as a tool and required for personal safety in addition to diver-diver combat.
To be followed by a separate article on specific models of diver’s knives.
SPP-1 underwater pistol
The distinctive four-barrel SPP-1 (Специальный пистолет подводный) pistol was introduced into service in 1971. It fires four darts at a range of up to 20 meters underwater (The lethal range is 20 m when fired in the air, 17 m when fired 5 m underwater, and 11 meters when fired 20 m underwater). While this may not sound very far, it is an order of magnitude further than an ordinary weapon fires underwater. The SPP-1 round is hydrodynamically shaped resulting in a long needle which resembles a crossbow bolt 4.5mm in diameter. Overall the SPP-1 was considered a robust and reliable weapon although range dropped significantly at deeper depths. The type is still in use today.
Mk.I Underwater Defense Gun
The USN Mk.I Underwater Defense Gun was a six round pistol with separate barrels like the Soviet SPP-1. It operated similar to the Russian pistol but was unweildy and shorter ranged managing just 10m (30ft). There was also the challenge that the buoyancy changed with each round fired making it difficult to keep on target. Always regarded as a special weapon the SEALs and UDT did not take to it and it was usually left behind in the armory.
Rebikof spear gun
Despite some similarities to the underwater combat in the famous Bond Movie Thunderball, this single-shot spear gun was a serious proposition for underwater combat. It was developed by French diving pioneer Dimitri Rebikoff while he was living in the US, and it was tested by the US Navy SEALS / UDT in the 1970s. Rebikoff had a close relationship with the SEALs/UDT and had developed several of their early Swimmer Delivery Vehicles.
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P-11 underwater pistol
The Heckler & Koch P11 is one of the better-known underwater weapons. Although broadly similar to the US Mk.1, the two types were developed independently. It is a five-round pistol with a range of 15m (50ft) underwater. The P11 has been exported to several countries and was held in the inventories of the SEALs, SBS, COMSUBIN and Kampfschwimmers among others.
APS-5 underwater assault rifle
The APS-5 (often simply called the APS) underwater assault rifle was introduced in 1975 and was essentially an underwater AK47 with a distinctive stepped curved magazine. Range was almost double the earlier SPP-1 pistol at about 30m (100ft) and magazine capacity increased to 26 rounds. The magazine necessitated a moving bolt so the receiver was modified to have large holes to allow the displaced water to escape.
This reliable weapon was undoubtedly the most formidable underwater personal weapon of the Cold War, but wielding it was found to be quite awkward because the slab sides created a lot of water resistance when turning. Consequently offensive Spetsnaz divers preferred the SPP-1 if an underwater weapon was to be carried, whereas defensive divers carried the APS. Both could be fired above water if required but this was a strain on their mechanisms which were designed with the water resistance factored in, resulting in incredibly short barrel lives which wouldn’t last a single gun battle. Therefore regular assault rifles were still needed to be carried for over-the-beach operations.
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QBS-06 underwater assault rifle
The QBS-06 was first revealed in 2006 and is in use with Chinese combat swimmers. It is similar to the Russian APS design but fires a marginally larger 5.8mm round. It can be identified by its flash suppressor, flat bottomed magazine and fore-grip.
Self-Suppressed Unit (SSU) bi-medium gun
Yugoslavia also developed an indigenous underwater gun, the Self-Suppressed Unit (SSU). The project started in the late 1980s with the intention of equipping the Naval Commandos of 82 Maritime Center. The design was to be a silent gun that could also be used above water. The weapon was essentially a flare gun refitted to fire ‘real’ bullets. The round was fired at low pressure to keep it subsonic, with an effective range of about 20m (65ft) underwater but just half of that above water. The round was a long dart-like bolt that came pre-loaded into the silencer tube so it’s a single-round weapon but the barrel could be quickly replaced to fire the next round.
Five prototypes were made but the project stalled with the break-up of Yugoslavia. The manufacturer, EBW, continued some degree of development in the 1990s and the type could have conceivably have made it to market but it never got a customer.
ASM-DT 'Sea Lion' bi-medium assault rifle
The ‘Sea Lion’ was an attempt to create an assault rifle which can be used both above and below water. It combines flechette (dart) rounds similar to the APS for underwater firing with regular AK-74 5.45mm rounds for land use. The weapon was developed in the 1990s.
ADS bi-medium assault rifle
The ADS was developed to solve the problem that Spetsnaz combat swimmers required separate weapons for fighting underwater and on dry land, meaning that two or more weapons had to be carried on a single mission. The ADS is described as a two-media assault rifle: it can fire 600 meters in air and 25 meters underwater.
The concept and overall design of the ADS assault rifle was by Vasiliy Gryazev although it was only produced after his passing. It uses two separate 5.45x39-mm cartridges for underwater and air. It also has an integral 40 mm grenade launcher.
DSG Supercavitating Ammunition
DSG Technology of Cyprus/Norway have developed a supercavitating underwater round which can be adapted for standard rifles, allowing Special Forces divers to fight both above and below the surface.
Multi-Environment Ammunition (MEA) is effective as a standard round but can be fired into or out of water, even at a low trajectory of just 2 degrees. As the round moves through the water at over 100 meters per second the shape creates an air bubble (supercavitation) allowing it to move with minimum drag.
Based on the innovative Airringer twin-dart personal defence weapon developed by Joerg Sprave. As with the Airringer, each bolt is pushed forward by its own compressed air cartridge, fired by a firing pin. The device is compact, lightweight and simple, and can be used like a pistol, and it can also be used above the surface although its two-round configuration would not lend itself to replacing the combat swimmer's sidearm.
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