Keeping It Quiet - A Deeper Dive (2018)

Keeping It Quiet - A Deeper Dive (2018)

Following on from my previous work in 2018, in this post we'll be taking another look at the sale and use of suppressors in the Middle East among non-state groups. There's various technical aspects and occurances that I have discovered since my original post, this will attempt to cover them.

Essentially, read Keeping it Quiet: Suppressor Use by Jihadis, Militants & More first, this information is an expansion of that article. It is released in it's unfinished state due to time constraints.

Suppression of Assault Rifle Platforms

As noted earlier, the AK platform is often suppressed by ISIS, HTS and other Islamic Groups. There is a clear trend of rebel/militant self-manufacture and sale of these suppressors. These suppressors sell for around $100-150 USD on rebel social media groups and seem to be widely available, alongside optics, weapons etc- this thriving ecosystem means that suppressors are widely used and available across groups.

The stereotypical AK suppressor as perceived in the west is the PBS-1- this Russian design is used on 7.x62x39mm AKs, such as the AKM, AKMS or AK-103,and has rarely been spotted in Syria or Iraq. It uses a disposable wipe system to achieve it's suppressive effect, and has been spotted in Syria fairly rarely. Copying this type of design has not been replicated by groups or individuals manufacturing suppressors in Syria, preferring to stay closer to a traditional style (Either K Baffles or Monocore- internal images of these suppressors are not to hand).  The most popular rifle calibre to suppress in Syria remains 7.62x39mm or 5.45x39mm, merely down to the prevelence of platforms utilising the calibres. Groups attempting to replicate Western/Russian SoF style appear to prefer the AK-74M or AK-103, with these comparatively modern platforms bringing various improvements over older AK models, namely optics mounts, solid side folding stocks, improved accuracy and typically much newer date of manufacture, even if the basic design remains the one Mikhail Kalashnikov finished in 1947. Other AKs or clones (Such as the typically worn out Chinese Type 56 seen so often) may also have no muzzle threading or welded muzzle nuts, making suppressor attachment harder. The classic AKM or AKMS is also suppressed often, with modern platforms being merely preferable, not essential.

Craft Made suppressors for this platform seen for sale have utilised a "crown" at the point of attachment to the weapon to achieve lockup using the weapons' front sight block detent pin- a similar method to modern russian suppressors, and the same way the standard AK muzzle break is retained. This ensures that the suppressor is kept attached to the rifle and cannot rotate off during the heat and strain of use. Suppressors using this crown can be indicative of craft production of lesser than commercial quality, as the suppressor may not lock into the same spot on the threads every time, meaning there must be more than one place for the detent pin to go. This also may be indicative of sharing across varied platforms and rifles with different muzzle thread lengths, even if pitch remains the same. Sharing is limited however, as a suppressor built for an older AK platform (AKMS or Type 56, for example) will not have the same thread/diameter as a more modern platform (AK-74 or 74M, for example), as the AK-74 uses a 24×1.5mm RH threaded sight posts with a sleeve that extends over the barrel, but the older AKM style (14x1mm LH) has a directly threaded barrel that extends beyond the front sight block.   A suppressor made for an AK thread will not be compatible with the M16 or Aug platforms, for example, because suppressors for M16 or Steyr Aug platforms use differing threads too- the M16 uses a 1/2×28 thread, a Aug 13x1 LH. Compatibility between platforms in use is therefore limited, not even taking into consideration the design features of the suppressor in terms of bore size etc that effect it's sound reduction. There is no evidence of western commercial-style multi-calibre adaptors in use either. Suppression of these rifles is much rarer than those of the AK platform so this is unlikely to be an operational concern.

Other rifle platforms are much more rarely suppressed- they are much rarer in general than the AK platform in general use, so this is expected. However, IS has made use of suppressed 5.56mm platforms in the DMR role (Even back in 2009 an improvised suppressed M16A1 was captured from Iraqi Insurgents, though it is clear which particular group), mainly the M16 series and Aug Series. Suppressors for these platforms may be highly similar internally to suppressors for the AK series but will not be compatible as noted above. There is limited evidence of non IS 5.56mm suppression, with Malhama Tactical showing a suppressed Steyr Aug only once.

We lack any imagery of rebel suppressor production- even as Mortar Shell, Hell Cannon and similar weaponary production is clearly shared. As covered in my previous post, IS have shared some limited detail, but even less is publicly avilable for other groups, Islamist or secular. There is a small amount of videos from early on in the war that we can glean some information from but this is limited.

Interestingly, a now-removed Youtube video shows off a Russian PBS-1 suppressor, and appears to show disposable rubber/cloth baffles that resemble those used in that model, and also a more traditional-style interlocked baffle system, with compatibility for both in a single suppressor tube. The suppressor is then demonstrated on an M16, likely a M16A2 or M16A4- the suppressor looks to be viable. This video dates back to 2012, right around the starting stages of the Syrian Civil War, so possession and use of craft-producted rifle suppressors in the conflict can date back to at least that time, although data on their use then is very sparse.

Suppressors are commonly sold between groups- they are manufactured for the operational needs of the groups, and surpus suppressors are then sold. Personal manufacture seems rare, with use of workshops to produce being managed by the armed groups. Suppressors are also produced by invididual craftsmen to be sold in quantities on the open market locally- these are those most often seen.

Interestingly, captured IS suppressors and those in use can be observed to have a very similar design to those being bought and sold by Islamic and Rebel factions- it remains unclear whether this is a result of sales between groups or simply adoption of broad common design features that aid in function. There is no evidence of direct copy of western or russian suppressor designs, although Jihadi chatter online as far back as the late 2000s discussed specific models and their design.

Suppressor identified as for an AK-103 for Sale - $150
Suppressor for AK Platform for sale - $120

Suppressor for non-AK platform for sale
Two Suppressors captured by HTS from IS, July 2018. Note larger crown on second suppressor- for AK-74/100 platforms with threaded front sight block.
AK-74M or AK-103 with Suppressor in use by Imarat Kavkaz, Mid 2015
Suppressed AK-74M in the Hands of Xhemati Alban. This rifle is used in the close range precision role in a manner similar to ISIS' 5.56 platforms- hence the PK-01VS Mid Range optic.

The suppressors for use with AKs above can be identified by the partial or full "crown" used to achieve lockup using the FSB detent pin, as discussed above. The diameter of the suppressor thread and crown for an AK-74, 74M or 100 series is a larger than that of a AKM-pattern rifle, so suppressors for these different platforms may be distinguished via observation of the crown/attachment end of the suppressor if available. This doesn't distinguish calibre, however, as the AK-10X series may be chambered in 5.56x45mm (AK-101, AK-102) and 7.62x39mm (AK-103, AK-104, seen in use and for sale, but expensive) as well as 5.45x39mm. The suppressor shown for sale that is identified as for the AK-103 by the seller is likely to fit all AK-100 and 74M series rifles.

Suppression of DMR/Battle Rifles

Evidence of suppression of battle rifles or designated marksman rifles such as the G3, FAL, or M14 is sparse, even though such platforms are reasonably common in the Syrian/Iraqi conflicts, and all of which would be of use in the theatres that militant and other armed groups in the Middle East operate in. Some of this scarcity may be down to the use of longer barreled intermediate calibre platforms such as the RPK or Tabiq Kalashnikov versions, or the M16A4 in the designated marksman role, which is both possible and easier in the close range enviroments- both Urban and Natural that occur so often in battlegrounds such as Latakia, Aleppo and Afrin.

There is, however a few examples that appear to use essentially identical suppressors to those used on intermediate-calibre assault rifle platforms but scaled upwards. This is obviously necessary as a reflection of the larger, full size cartridge. These have seen use in particular on PSL, SVD and FAL rifles.

Suppression of Bolt Action Rifles

The utility of suppressed Precision/Bolt Action Rifles in Syria etc is currently clearer to me than that of assault rifles, as the use of the latter is often sporadic and someonewhat negated by unsuppressed platforms in use by the users' collegues. I haven't seen this in the case of long range platforms- partially, I suspect to scarcity of use, and also the more solitary nature of their use. These rifles are much less likely to be next to/be made obvious to the enemy by unsuppressed platforms as the sniper operates comparatively alone.

Suppression of Precision/Bolt Action Rifles in Syria and Iraq is rarer than those of Assault Rifles and Pistols, but is shown in some fair detail by Xhemati Alban, a small Albanian subgroup of HTS. A documentary-style video was released in early August 2018 showing the use and manufacture of suppresssor for Mosin-Nagant rifles, amongst other things. (The video is highly interesting, I noted some details in a Twitter thread). They also show spotters and non-sniping members of the squad utilising suppressed AK-74M platforms, which is likely to be far more tactically useful than mixed squads that is seen so often in general HTS forces.

Detail of Suppressor Manufacture
Detail of Suppressor Manufacture
Suppressed Mosin in Custom Chassis
Suppressed Mosin in (Another) Custom Chassis
Improvised Suppressor Cover

The below Mosin-Nagant pattern rifle for sale is highly similar to the Xhemati Alban rifles- so much so I'd suggest that their manufacturing capabilities are perhaps not as impressive as first impressions may leave you. Suppressed Bolt-Action Rifles have also been seen for sale, namely the Mosin-Nagant and the SSG 69, both of which are popular rifles in Syrian Opposition circles. The SSG 69 is dramatically more expensive- as a superior rifle- which is the most likely explanation for the use of modified/improvised Mosin-Nagant platforms. Both would serve their purpose when not operating at extreme range and with correct ammunition. This may be a challenge, as in Iraq and Syria it's known that ammuntion destined for GPMGs is often used in the precision role. (Such as Standard 7.62x51mm ball cartridges being used by ISOF Forces, as opposed to match/sniper ammunition). A Syrian-run opposition account claims that 7.62x54r Ammunition more suited to precision use is more readily available than 7.62x51mm in the DMR context, but this would also apply for bolt-action rifles.

The below rifles were available bundled with suppressors and other accessories visible in Syrian Opposition social media buying/selling groups in 2017-2020.

Posted by @SilahReport, $500 USD, December 2017
A rebarrelled suppressed Mosin Nagant for Sale- Idlib, July 2018
Steyr SSG 69 for Sale, Idlib, July 2018. $2200
Note Price difference to the Suppressed Mosin above.

It's difficult to identify any particular design features of suppressors used by irregular groups on precision platforms, though the suppressors are generally larger, which can be expected due to the larger rounds involved. Although a larger suppressor is not required- a precision 7.62x54r platform custom threaded in 14x1mm LH for a older 7.62x39mm AK could be compatible with suppressors meant for those platforms. Videos of suppressed Mosin-Nagant rifles have generally shown them to be effective, although this is difficult to measure.

At this point my patience ran out; better to release something rather than nothing. If you enjoyed this, please consider