By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
The last two decades have seen a complete resurrection of civilian owned weaponry in Syria. The trend of owning and dealing weapons quickly declined after the 1982 Hama Massacre, after which fear arose that having a gun could have you linked to the uprising. Strict gun laws enforced shortly after the failed uprising also made it harder to acquire and own weapons. The fear slowly faded away during the 80s, and the shotgun, now tolerated by the regime, became increasingly popular as a hunting tool in rural areas throughout the 90s, much of which had to do with their favourable price.
Despite this, being in the possession of an automatic assault rifle was strictly forbidden after 1982. While some politically reliable farmers and shepherds were able to get a security clearance which allowed them to be in the possession of an automatic assault rifle before 1982, this clearance was too expensive for the general farmer. Illegally owning an assault rifle would generally result in two to six years imprisoment, and a fine of anything between 2000 to 10.000 USD before the revolution. This didn't deter some to get hold of an AKMS to ward off thieves raiding 'someone's' pistachio trees however.
Back to the shotgun, the use of which within the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA) and National Defence Force (NDF) remains limited. The Syrian military doctrine never focused on house-to-house fighting, and as a result specialised weaponry for such situations was never acquired. Limited numbers of military grade shotguns, such as the Italian SPAS-15, did find their way to private individuals in the Syrian coast in the past years however.
The Syrian Civil War and the widespread house-to-house combat through which it is often fought brought the need for weapons optimised for close-quarters combat, and a Syrian military delegation was sent to Russia to purchase such weapons. It is believed that the ВПО-205-03, along with the AK-104, was among the weapons inspected by the Syrian military delegation during a Russian weapons expo in 2012, which in turn led to the acquisition of a limited batch of ВПО-205-03 fully automatic shotguns, the military-grade variant of the Vepr-12.
The shotguns of the Vepr-12 series bear heavy resemblance to the AK-74M and AK-100 series, and one could mistake it for an assault rifle, especially with the conventional magazine in place. The picatinny rail with which it is outfitted, as opposed to the standard side mount seen on the AK series, accepts a wide variety of optical sights, vertical forward grips, IR pointers and flashlights.
The already compact ВПО-205-03 can be further shortened by the side-folding stock, making it an ideal weapon for close-quarters combat. Like most of the world's shotguns, the weapon fires standard 12-gauge shells.
As is commonly seen with deliveries of sophisticated weaponry to Syria, none of these shotguns found their way to the battlefront. Instead, all were immediately distributed to various important figures and parties in the coastal area. While the ВПО-205-03 would be a godsend for the regime forces fighting in for example Deir ez-Zor, corruption prevents the use of such weaponry in places most needed. Of course, in this case it concerns just the use of a single new type of shotgun, but ultimately such policies could end up costing the regime the war.
From Russia with Love, Syria's MTs-116Ms
From Russia with Love, Syria's AK-104s
From Russia with Love, Syria's AK-74Ms
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From Russia with Love, Syria's OSV-96s