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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): May 2002

By Nick Steadman

SADW is a monthly electronic publication from Nick Steadman Features. Nick, intrepid world traveling reporter for much of the arms industry, files this 40,000 to 50,000 word report once a month to his loyal subscribers. Those lucky ones pay a mere $50 (US) £32.50 (UK) per year for the privilege of getting the hot tips and insights from one of the industry’s insiders. Nick’s unique perspective is globally based, as is his wit. Here is a small sampling of a few of the July 2002 SADW articles. You can contact Nick at the email above, and make arrangements with him to obtain the full service sent directly to your email address. In order to receive SADW your e-mail system must be capable of receiving attached files, and the e-mail software system or settings do not reject files as large as 400kb. Each issue is full of insight and information for those with an interest in Small Arms, as well as his observations on world travel.

SA80A1 LSW SCREWS UP IN AUSTRALIA: RAF News (4 Jan 2002) said that the Royal Air Force Regiment shooting team at the Australian Skill-at-Arms Meeting in Brisbane had to withdraw from the machine gun matches since the 5.56mm SA80A1 Light Support Weapon ‘was not performing well in the heat’ (up to 40 degrees Celsius at the firing point) and burst dispersion was poor, such that ‘keeping even a few of the rounds on target (was) far from easy’. Other teams, using 7.62mm GPMGs, were apparently not afflicted with such problems.

However, the LSW’s optical sight and lighter weight was said to be an advantage in the falling plates match, which also involved a 100-metre sprint. The RAF team came third in this event. No detailed word, however, on performance of the SA80A1 Individual Weapon, so we assume they were spared the usual busted firing pins & suchlike.

SA80A2 EXCELS IN AUSTRALIA: Soldier magazine (Jan 2002) said the British army combat shooting team, equipped (unlike the Royal Air Force Regiment’s team) with the upgraded 5.56mm SA80A2, won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy at the Australian army Skill-at-Arms meeting in Brisbane, as in 1999, and that their weapons fired in excess of 21,000 rounds over nine days with no stoppages.

Incidentally, the UK Foreign Office confirmed on 14 Jan 2002 that all British troops deployed to Afghanistan so far as part of the new peacekeeping force had already received the SA80A2, and it was hoped that the pace of the H&K upgrade programme would enable all troops there (other than support units) to have the improved weapons.

SWISS 5.6MM AMMO REDESIGN: in common with a few other countries, notably Germany, parts of Scandinavia and now the US, the Swiss have embraced measures to reduce the amount of toxic emissions from their military small arms ammunition.

RUAG Munition (fomerly SM Ammunition, and before that the Swiss Army’s Thun Arsenal) tell us that since 1998 they have been assembling the Swiss army-issue 5.6mm GP90 cartridges with a new gilding metal-plated mild steel bullet jacket to reduce bore fouling and a new base seal to prevent lead vaporisation from the core.

Prior to this change the Swiss 5.56mm bullet jackets were mild steel with cupro-nickel plating, but - as all past users of pre-1950 .303” ammunition will know - cupro-nickel is notorious for fouling rifle bores. Using gilding metal should reduce the cleaning requirement and improve accuracy at sustained rates of fire.

The 5.6mm cartridge itself was adopted in 1987, replacing the 7.5mm Swiss as the front-line calibre. For the present the Swiss 5.6mm primers and propellants are still conventional, but it’s planned this year to go over to non-toxic priming, and an entirely lead-free 5.6mm bullet is also in development.

The US in particular has also identified changes which could be made to the chemistry of small arms propellants to reduce environmental pollution from harmful solvents. RUAG’s website says that a change of 5.6mm propellant is also foreseen, replacing imported powders which have been exclusively used in the past, and that stocks of Swiss-made powder from Nitrochemie Wimmis AG were to be trialled some while ago (in 1998/99), though RUAG did not mention propellants in its situation report to us, so we’re not sure whether the Swiss powder actually has any special ‘green’ characteristics.

This is all part of what’s officially designated in Switzerland as the GP90 Future Ammunition project. Ironically, RUAG’s new ammunition with base-sealed bullets is still not yet in general use by the Swiss army, since the defence ministry has substantial stocks of older ammunition batches to work through first.

(footnote: for those who may be slightly confused by now, the 5.6mm Swiss is actually the 5.56mm NATO cartridge case with an all-lead cored bullet and no NATO-style penetrator. A different rifling twist is also needed. The special Swiss designation is largely political, to avoid any perceived association with NATO. Various unsuccessful attempts were however made in Switzerland to find a ‘better’ calibre alternative to the 5.56mm before the ‘5.6mm’ compromise was finally settled upon)

WHERE ALL THOSE AK74s ARE COMING FROM: a short in Defence News & Analysis (Jan 02) said that the recent fighting in Afghanistan had seen an increase in the number of 5.45mm AK74 rifles spotted on the ground, and suggested that this was due to Russian small arms support for the Northern Alliance. They may however have been unaware that the US government has also been quietly supplying the same fighters with AK74s - and a lot of other equipment, including some of the spookier Spetznaz-type silent weapons.

SNC .50 MK263 AMMUNITION: SNC in Canada confirms that the US Navy has adopted a special derivative of its match-grade .50 AP ammunition with hard steel core (Rockwell 60) as the Mk263, which is used in mixed belts with the Mk211 (Raufoss Multipurpose or MP) cartridge for special Navy applications, engaging targets out to 1,000 metres, where MP provides the AP-Incendiary effects, and the Mk263 the enhanced armour defeat.

Accuracy of the SNC match-grade .50 family, which comprises TP, TP-Spotter, API and AP natures and is designed to function in all long-range sniper weapons, is about 0.65 MOA at 1,000m. Special match-grade cartridge cases are used in this application, whereas the Mk263 apparently uses a standard case.

BERETTA’S MYSTERY SUBGUN: students of recent Beretta ads may have noticed a new weapon has appeared in them; it looks like a streamlined, very ‘modern’ 9mm SMG. We queried this with Beretta USA, wondering if it was the elusive 9mm police carbine, a concept which Beretta (like Glock) toyed with for several years but eventually shelved, fearing inadequate market interest.

Beretta USA did not confirm or deny our suspicion that this was the gun concerned, but did say ‘That is nothing more than a prototype. No plans at this time to be introduced.’ why include it in the ads, guys? We’re just bound to ask about it.

RADWAY GREEN HITS YEAR ZERO - GIMME A CLUE!: we noticed that the date headstamp on Royal Ordnance Radway Green’s 7.62mm NATO 155gr Competition ammo made in 2000 is simply ‘00’, which struck us as potentially a tad confusing for amateur archaeologists of the distant future, scrambling over the remains of ancient British rifle ranges, nuclear-powered metal detectors at the ready. The cases are also still berdan-primed, which is pretty drole.

NOTTINGHAM PATTERN ROOM, REQUIESCAT IN PACE: the UK MOD Pattern Room, formerly at the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, and most recently located inside the Royal Ordnance/Heckler & Koch (UK) secure compound at Nottingham, has finally closed, with the entire contents transferred to the financially-troubled Royal Armories at Leeds where - for the present at least - it’s intended the collection should remain.

The former Curator of the Pattern Room at Nottingham (Herb Woodend) has now retired, but has reportedly been retained by the UK MOD as a consultant to spy out likely new additions to the collection, while his former deputy (Richard Jones) is apparently moving to Leeds with the weapons. Presumably the extensive small arms library at the Pattern Room has accompanied the guns.

We gather the plan is to offer at Leeds the same sort of research service for small arms professionals which was previously available (by prior arrangement) at Nottingham and Enfield, and a new building to house the additional weapons at Leeds is said to be on the cards. The Nottingham Pattern Room already had little room to spare for extra long guns and heavy weapons, though it could still have accommodated a lot more handguns.

While earlier it was expected that the modern weapons from the Pattern Room might be sent to another secure MOD establishment (the Royal Military College of Science (RMCS) at Shrivenham was front-runner), it is apparently now planned to keep everything at Leeds, which - given today’s security paranoia - and the presence of lots of fully-functional, military selective-fire weapons - could, we anticipate, cause some new problems for the MOD. We don’t believe the Royal Armories could offer the high level of physical security which was available at Enfield or Nottingham, and we can’t imagine that the functioning modern guns will ever be put on public display.

All of this locational disruption might seem rather unnecessary at first sight when one considers that the initial threat to the Pattern Room at Nottingham was merely a rent dispute between the UK MOD and Royal Ordnance, its landlords there, but the problem was then exacerbated by the Royal Ordnance decision to close its entire Nottingham site (which includes its dormant H&K (UK) small arms plant) by the end of 2001, so it became clear that the Pattern Room would inevitably have to relocate somewhere else, and very soon.

We have some concerns about the choice of Leeds as a final resting place for the Pattern Room weapons, since the Royal Armories themselves have had a rocky time of late, and never achieved the visitor figures essential to the viability of the government/commercial financing deal on which the Armories project was first established. The UK government is currently propping Leeds up with additional cash, but - given the current official & public indifference towards anything to do with guns - how long this largesse may continue remains to be seen.

This situation seems just too uncertain in the longer term, so we suspect, therefore, that at least the modern Pattern Room guns will eventually end up back with the MOD, since they constitute an irreplaceable technical intelligence asset of the defence ministry, and one to which relatively easy access is required. There are also times when some of them may need to be fired, and Shrivenham (or maybe the School of Infantry at Warminster, which also - like RMCS - has its own collection) would be a much better bet for this.


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