Anti-Aircraft Guns, Aimed Forward, Duel on Iraq’s Northern Front
KPVs pose a threat to Iraqi troops and vehicles
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
One of the more brutal weapons to see use on both sides of the war in Iraq is the KPV, a belt-fed heavy machine gun designed to take down aircraft — using a round dating back to tank-busting guns in World War II.
The 14.5×114-millimeter KPV is not as pervasive as the smaller DShK, a rough equivalent to the U.S. M2 Browning. But the 108-pound KPV is nonetheless a big, unwieldy and extremely dangerous threat the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga have encountered on their push toward Mosul.
The Islamic State seized dozens of them in Syria and Iraq, bolting the guns onto pickup trucks to increase their mobile and intermediate range firepower. Over the years, Russia supplied the Iraqi and Syrian armies with KPVs as vehicle guns, and as part of multi-barreled ZPU-type anti-aircraft weapons.
A Norwegian foreign fighter serving with the Kurdish Peshmerga uploaded photographs of a KPV captured from the Islamic State during the push toward Mosul. “This one was taken from ISIS after we liberated Batnay last week,” the fighter Peshmerganor wrote on his Facebook page.
“The weapon technician is seen here checking it for damages. We also took another 14.5 mm machinegun from ISIS after we liberated Sinjar last year, so it’s actually a somewhat common weapon down here.”
As an anti-aircraft weapon, the KPV is mainly a deterrent.
Coalition warplanes typically fly high above its effective vertical range of 2,000 meters. But swivel it horizontally and the KPV’s rounds can extend out to nearly two miles — while punching through light armor given the intense velocities provided by the cartridge and firearm.
The muzzle flash is … intense.
Kurdish and Iraqi troops rely on a hodgepodge of bespoke war vehicles, and the level of protection can vary. Some troops go into battle riding aboard unarmored pickup trucks. But they have heavier weapons, including KPVs, of their own.
“One of our gunners got a probable confirmed kill with the 14.5 mm during the first days of the offensive,” Peshmerganor wrote.
The KPV’s round has more than twice the muzzle energy, and thus kinetic power, of the M2 Browning’s .50-caliber round. Its ammunition is widely manufactured in the post-Soviet world, North Korea and the Middle East, and comes in a variety of armor-piercing incendiary and high-explosive variants.
In fact, the same 14.5-millimeter round first served in Soviet PTRS and PTRD anti-tank rifles of World War II. These rifles are impractical as anti-tank weapons in the 21st century, given the heavier armor that is now standard around the world, but have made a reappearance in Ukraine given their ability to punch through concrete and lighter vehicles.
U.S. warplanes have focused on hitting the Islamic State’s heavy machine guns at a distance. The coalition has dropped around 2,900 munitions since the offensive began on Oct. 17, according to the Pentagon, which regularly lists “heavy weapons” as targets in post-strike reports.
Some of those targets have surely been KPVs. “Sucks beeing [sic] hit by one of these,” Peshmerganor wrote. “Day ruined.”