Experience in World War 2 (1939-1945) led the Soviet Army to developing small, portable anti-aircraft gun systems centered around a suitable mounting with wheeled carried and an adequate rate-of-fire to combat the threat posed by low-flying aircraft and light-skinned vehicles. The "ZPU" line was born with design work stemming from 1945 and begat a family of similar-minded weapon systems led by the single-barreled ZPU-1, the twin-barreled ZPU-2 and the four-barreled ZPU-4. The first system entered service in 1949 and still sees combat service with many operators today (2014).
The ZPU-2 is the two-barreled form combining the firepower of two 14.7mm heavy machine guns fed from individual ammunition cassettes. The machine guns feature "quick-change" barrels to combat overheating and are managed through a basic action by a sole operator while the entire gunnery crew typically numbers five. The gun is connected to its mounting hardware to which then the entire system is affixed to a two-wheeled carriage assembly that allows the weapon to either be wheeled short distances by a crew or driven by mover vehicle to a new location. The twin-gun approach instantly doubles the effectiveness of the original ZPU-1 single-gun series and is not as complex or ammunition-hungry as the subsequent ZPU-4 models. The guns are cleared to fire standard Armor-Piercing Incendiary (API) projectiles, similar rounds with a Tungsten core (API-T) and Instant Incendiary (II) ammunition as required.
The weapon system sports a traveling weight around 2,200lbs and displays a weight of 1,400lbs when made ready to fire. The mounting system allows for an elevation range of +90 to -7 degrees allowing the guns to engage both land- and air-based targets. Traversal is a full 360-degree due to the wheeled nature of the carriage. The guns reach out to 16,400 feet against air targets (4,600 feet effective range) and out to 26,250 feet against ground targets. The carriage carries 2,400 rounds of 14.7mm ammunition.
ZPU-2 guns have seen combat actions in some of the most famous conflicts of the 20th Century including the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and the Persian Gulf War (1991). Due to its Soviet origins, the ZPU-2 has seen widespread sales and use by many Soviet-allied and aligned nations and states including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
The weapon was produced in China as the Type 58 and in Poland as the PKM-2. Local ammunition production also occurred in Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Poland and Romania.