PSL rifles are made at the Fabrica de Arme Cugir SA Cugir arsenal in Cugir, Romania. Their primary purpose is to be used by a designated marksman and is used to extend the range of the average soldier beyond the capabilities of their issued AKM carbines. It is built around a stampedsteel receiver similar to the RPK light machine gun's receiver. The PSL's operation is the same long stroke action of the Kalashnikov family of weapons. Its appearance is similar to the Dragunov Sniper Rifle though the Dragunov uses a different action altogether. The PSL is chambered for the same venerable M1908/30 7.62x54mmR (rimmed) cartridge as the Dragunov, and feeds from a ten-round detachable box magazine. The magazine used on the PSL differs from that of the Dragunov in that it is stamped with an X shaped pattern on the side, rather than the waffle style stamp found on the Russian magazines. The magazines, though they look similar in shape and size, are not interchangeable between the Dragunov and PSL without modification.
The PSL is typically issued with a version of the PSO-1 telescopic weapon sight, this version lacking the battery compartment and IR detection screen. The reticle is illuminated by mildly radioactiveRadium rather than the lamp of the Russian PSO-1. The optical sight is of 4X magnification and the lens is 24 mm in diameter. It shares the basic design and rangefinder found in the reticle of the original Russian PSO-1 scope.
The scope can be easily removed from the receiver of the rifle by swinging the locking lever open, then sliding the scope mount to the rear. This allows easy use of the iron sights and storage and protection of the scope when in transit or at other times when it is not needed.
The PSL has been in service in Romania since the 1970s and was widely sold on the world market. They are frequently encountered in Iraq where they appear to be quite popular. The simplicity of the rifle makes it ideal for poorly trained forces to use and maintain. The action, being a variant of the AKM's, is extremely reliable despite lack of maintenance, it is particularly forgiving of sand and other debris. The scope's reticle pattern is easy to use and makes range estimation quick and reasonably accurate without any mathematical calculations necessary. With some simple instruction an average individual can be issued a PSL and successfully engage targets at ranges that far exceed the accurate capabilities of non-scoped assault rifles like the AKM, AK-47, etc. In the hands of a capable shooter and with quality ammunition such as 7N1 and 7N14 a PSL is capable of 1 m.o.a.
PSL rifles have some notable features, the skeleton stock is somewhat similar to the Dragunov's but included an interesting corrugated and spring loaded stamped steel buttplate. When the rifle is fired this helps reduce the felt recoil to a degree.
The PSL's scope is made by the I.O.R. firm in Bucharest. I.O.R. Valdada is a Romanian company which has been making optics since 1936. They currently use German made Schott glass coated with the Carl Zeiss T-3 system to eliminate glare and maximize light transmission. It is unknown what glass and coatings they used at the time they produced the PSL's scope, however I.O.R. had a long association with western European optics manufacturers and maintained these despite being caught within the Iron Curtain. In 1967 I.O.R. collaborated with various German manufacturers and in 1975 an association was established with Carl Zeiss which led to even more expansion and modernization. Initial versions of this scope were more or less identical to the Russian PSO-1 with battery powered lamp reticle illumination. Shortly afterward the scope was revised to eliminate the electrical illumination and replace it with a radioactive based glowing light source, thus simplifying the maintenance and construction of the scope. The scopes found today typically show no illumination because the lifespan of the radium has expired. Original examples of the scope with the battery powered illumination are rather rare today and collector's pay a premium for them.
A sporting version of the PSL, intended for export, is offered as the PSL-54C, Romak III, FPK, FPK Dragunov or SSG-97. This weapon is identical in almost every respect to the original military version of the PSL except for modifications to comply with the U.S. import laws regarding sporting rifles. These modifications include the replacement of the original military receiver, which is capable of being converted to "full-auto" by the end-user, with a BATFE approved semi-auto Romanian receiver. In addition, the bayonet mount is removed and the muzzle brake is permanently attached to the barrel. The so called "third hole" is not present thus the "full auto" safety sear is not installed. The military spec FPK is not capable of fully automatic fire however it includes this safety sear to insure the rifle's hammer can not be released before the bolt is fully forward and locked in place in the trunion. Because of this fact and the lack of a spring loaded firing pin there is some theoretical potential that the US legal PSL could fire out of battery. The US commercial spec rifles also sometimes omit the bolt hold open mechanism that is on the true military spec rifles. All sporting versions of the PSL are constructed using original Romanian parts and assembled either in Romania or the United States.