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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): August 2001

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. Each issue is full of insight and information for those with an interest in Small Arms, as well as his observations on world travel.

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 May 2001 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.

NEOSTEAD SHOTGUN UPDATE: the first batch of Neostead bullpup shotguns (see previous issues) will hopefully be ready in Oct 2001. Meanwhile Neostead has added a third member of staff - Alex du Plessis, the ADP pistol designer, who will be advising on manufacturing aspects. Negotiations are also under way with Truvelo, which manufactures the ADP, to assemble the Neostead guns, possibly using Truvelo barrels (which are the controlled items of firearms under South African law). Du Plessis reportedly also has some new ideas for sniper rifle designs, which could also become part of the new working relationship with Neostead.

As far as the US market is concerned, Neostead has asked BATF for guidance on whether the shotgun could be sold in the USA (to civil and/or police markets), either complete or imported as parts. A reply is still awaited. If a parts kit was the chosen route, the receiver would be unfinished, in order to comply with US controls, and the barrels would be sourced in the USA. We gather at least one US manufacturer may now be interested in making the Neostead guns from scratch or importing the parts for assembly, and that this relationship could also be a springboard for some of Du Plessis’ rifle designs.

Despite a lot of superficial interest, Neostead had no luck in the past putting together any concrete deals with US manufacturers, but we always anticipated the tune might change once production guns were imminent. And indeed, so it now seems. Retail price of the Neostead shotgun will still be rather steep at about US$1,000, but it’s worth pointing out that this is a complex gun to make, and the cost of production in South Africa is already around $650, so - taking distributors’ & dealers’ markups into account - the margins are by no means unreasonable. Furthermore, the $1,000 retail price point still compares quite favourably with that of other speciality shotguns, such as the USAS-12, and anyway - if you’d be perfectly happy with a budget-priced Mossberg, Remington or Winchester, you probably don’t need a Neostead.

Du Plessis is also, by the way, the designer of the ambidextrous magazine-fed Truvelo ‘Mega Sniper’ bolt-action .50 Browning rifle currently shown in Jane’s Infantry Weapons, though Truvelo also offers a single-shot bolt-action .50, reminiscent of the McMillan, which was shown at this year’s IWA exhibition in Nuremberg. The locking mechanisms apparently differ, the repeater having two rear locking lugs in addition to the pair at the front of the bolt.

LAND WARRIOR SAVED BY FUEL CELLS?: a late Apr 2001 item in the Guardian suggests that help for the black box freaks of the US army’s Land Warrior programme is now at hand, in the form of a sub-two pound fuel cell the size of a paperback novel developed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington, and said to be able to provide 25 watts of power for a week. If so, this would represent a quantum leap ahead of all the current battery options, which require replacement every 12 to 24 hours, ruling out extended patrols without daily resupply. The fuel cell will use aviation spirit or diesel to produce hydrogen which is combined with oxygen to generate the power. 2003 could see it available for testing, by which time the Land Warrior bill to US taxpayers is expected to have risen to $2,000,000,000.00. Enjoy!

.408 CHEYENNE TACTICAL LONG-RANGE TESTS: Dr John Taylor’s .408 Cheyenne Tactical (CheyTac) Intervention rifle (see previous issues) has recently undergone long-range test-firing at Arco (Idaho) (elevation 5,300 feet) to validate the ammunition design. A Leupold Mark 4 16x40mm Mil-dot scope sight was used.

Some notes from these .408 tests follow:-

a. 17 Apr 01 - using the 419gr projectile at an MV ‘in the low 2900s’, sub-MOA groups were obtained out to 1,500 yards in strong gusty wind. Both 1:12” and 1:13” twist barrels were tested, the 1:13” being preferred on account of the MV, which is 150fps higher.

b. April 18, 2001:-

- at 1,900 yards - 3-shot group of 19 inches with 2 of the 3 shots 4 inches apart.

- at 2,100 yards - 3-shot group of 30 inches with 2 of the 3 shots 10 inches apart. Mirage starting to build up.

- at 2,200 yards - mirage too intense to see target.

c. April 19, 2001 - the 419gr projectile appears still to be supersonic at 3,000 yards, as opposed to 1,900 to 2,300 yards for the .50 BMG; however problems were experienced shooting decent groups beyond 2,300 yards due to uneven downrange wind conditions, and Taylor had resolved (after the tests recorded in this report) to redesign the chamber to advance the bullet in the lede and increase the MV to 3,000 fps, hopefully improving the wind-bucking capability as well as inherent accuracy.

d. April 20, 2001 - 39-inch groups were obtained at 2,300 yards, in gusty winds, with near-perfect elevation and only lateral (wind) dispersion.

e. April 22, 2001 - elevation was claimed to be perfect out to 3,000 yards, but with horizontal dispersion still a problem.

f. April 23, 2001 - Taylor established that the bullet goes transonic between 3,300 and 3,400 yards. This and other ballistic characteristics are to be verified later at Yuma Proving Ground using doppler radar instrumentation.

Taylor also has plans to try to reduce the weight of the Intervention rifle (currently 23 pounds without scope) by up to four pounds, and to improve stability by moving the bipod to 12 to 14” ahead of the receiver (it’s currently located at the front of the receiver).

SANDIA’s WARP-SPEED ACCELERATOR COULD HAVE GUN POTENTIAL: A Daily Telegraph item in late Feb 2001 gave details of Sandia National Laboratory’s Z Accelerator, christened ‘the fastest gun in the West’, which the paper said uses 20,000 amps of electrical power to accelerate small metal discs to 45,000 mph. Sandia’s website adds that the Z accelerator is the world’s most powerful X-ray machine, part of the Department of Energy’s research programme to design an accelerator fast enough to simulate nuclear fusion, avoiding the need for underground testing of the real thing. Substitute materials such as titanium & copper were reportedly needed to stop the aluminium projectiles liquifying under the severe forces involved.

Apparently another possible application of this technology could be to fire spacecraft out of the Earth’s gravitational field. The performance so far (albeit with a tiny projectile at a range of only a few feet) is already three times what that mission would require, though one assumes that - when suitably scaled-up - the launch system would be a monster, consuming horrendous amounts of electricity. Other roles could, it’s claimed, include hypervelocity battlefield guns. It’s also being used to assess the likely damage to space exploration vehicles from ‘space junk’ impact, and for studying how materials behave under extreme conditions.

APOBS FOR SURVIVABLE BANGALORE OPS: OK, so now you’ve all seen ‘Saving Private Ryan’ at least twice, and watched all that nasty barbed wire being blown up, you all know what a Bangalore Torpedo is, right? Defense News said that the old WW2-era M182 Bangalore was, amazingly, still in US Marine Corps service, but would be supplemented from Autumn 2001 by APOBS, aka the Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System. As you’ll know from the movies, the chief problem with the Bangalore is finding some poor schmuck (well, a whole team of ‘em, in fact) to rush out under withering fire, connect and ram ever more 13-pound sections of the thing towards the obstacle and then light it, most of ‘em dying in the process. It’s an ideal job for someone who’s thoroughly tired of life. We recommend platoon commanders first use up any of their troops who’ve received ‘Dear John’ letters in the past 24 hours.

However, with APOBS, a rocket drags a line charge with a six-second delay fuze over the obstacle and is finally braked by a parachute, whereupon it detonates, reportedly clearing a safe path two feet wide and about 50 yards long. Furthermore, APOBS can also be remotely fired by cable. Only one major downside - the darned thing apparently weighs 130 pounds and needs two men to cart it around, which is likely to make it rather unpopular. Also, Defence News noted that because APOBS detonates on the surface of the obstacle rather than (as with a Bangalore) beneath or inside it, results may be less reliable. This, people, is the price you pay for casualty avoidance, which is obviously one of the aims. At the risk of repeating ourselves, no pain, no gain.

IRANIAN AMMUNITION OPTIONS: Miltech in Germany listed the lines offered by the Ammunition Industries Group (AMIG) of the Iranian Defence Industries Organisation (IDO), including:-

AMIG has reportedly been in the ammunition business for over 60 years, and is claimed to manufacture to international standards of quality assurance. As some readers may know, Iran already does a fair job cloning MP5 and MP5K SMGs, plus Webley-Schermuly riot guns, though we don’t expect the Pentagon to be listed among its loyal customers anytime soon.

POTENTIAL FOR IMPROVING 40MM GRENADE LAUNCHER EFFECTIVENESS: a paper by Royal Ordnance boffins embedded at the Royal Military College of Science (RMCS Shrivenham) claimed that while the range of low-velocity 40mm grenade launchers is around 400 metres, in practice, due to the limitations of existing sighting systems, this was reduced to no more than 150 metres. This is well below the 300-600 metre engagement bracket for rifles, LMGs and anti-armour launchers, with obvious implications for their tactical usefulness.

In particular, poor range estimation was identified as a major culprit in targeting errors with 40mm systems, an aspect not helped by the very low (nominally 75 m/s) MV and rainbow-like trajectory of the grenades. It suggested that, to reduce this mismatch and extend 40mm launcher effectiveness, a number of improvements would help. These could include laser-assisted rangefinding, higher velocity, recoil elimination, airburst & other advanced fuzing, maybe even guided projectiles. At Shrivenham the boffins set up their own ‘synthetic environment’ in their offices, using simulated area (trench) & window targets at ranges to 300 metres, in order to test some of their theories, with a laser rangefinder & magnifying optical sight on the weapon and a head-mounted display worn by the firer.

The host weapon was a modified SA80 fitted with a 40mm H&K underbarrel launcher and control buttons on the handguard, and the whole outfit was integrated with the prototype FIST equipment (UK version of Land Warrior). The tests required the firer to aim using the weapon sight, then lase the target for range data. Eyeballing the target through his head-mounted display he then had to simply align two icons just above his line of sight before finally firing. This technique should theoretically produce 1st round hits.

Claimed results suggested 1st round accuracy improvements of ‘an order of magnitude’ better than for firers using standard equipment and visually estimating the target’s range, but some operators found it took far too long to aim (up to ten seconds) using all this new fire control equipment, nor were all of them happy with the ergonomics.

(nb: this time aspect reinforces our own lingering concerns about the complexity of all Land Warrior systems and procedures detracting from users’ concentration on the urgent tasks in hand - delivering fast, effective fire and (just as important, if not more so) avoiding that of the other guys)

The modified system performed almost as well as the theoretical expectation against the area target out to 200 yards, though - despite marked improvements - the window target results still fell short of the boffins’ aspirations. While vertical round-to-round miss errors with the prototype equipment were only slightly worse than if the range was known in advance and a simpler red dot sight was used, horizontal round-to-round dispersion errors were noticeably greater. Furthermore, firers also found it difficult and slow to accurately lase man-sized targets beyond 250-300 metres. Just don’t ask why, having had the opportunity more than a decade ago to adopt a 40mm underbarrel launcher for use with SA80, the British army chose instead to adopt the much less flexible muzzle-launched rifle grenade, and even then essentially only for Desert Storm.

Despite their obvious advantages, only UK special forces plus some Paras and Pathfinders currently have M203 launchers, used only on M16-series rifles.

UK POLICE ALERTED TO THREAT OF ‘DISGUISED FIREARMS’: Police Review reported in mid-Apr 2001 that the firearms tracing unit of the UK’s National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) had alerted police in Britain to the existence of ‘disguised firearms’ such as mobile phone guns (see previous issues) and said that this class of weapon was already in circulation in the UK. NCIS says most of these guns, which can also be disguised as flashlights, cigarette lighters or screwdrivers (and don’t forget pen guns!) are being made in Eastern Europe and are very ingeniously designed.

As we commented in a previous issue, some of these ‘guns’ (for example the mobile phones and the twin-barreled Bulgarian Osa pistols) are not actually built as lethal weapons, being intended to fire gas or blank ammunition, but there are clearly backstreet workshops somewhere which are converting them to fire live ammunition, typically .22 rimfire. It was thought some of the mobile phone guns could well be in Britain at this time, and NCIS warned officers to be wary of phones being held in odd ways and, if possible, to check their weight, in case they might actually be firearms.

As we’ve said before, phone guns present a particularly serious security problem, for example at airports, as virtually everyone has a mobile nowadays, and few people ever give them a second thought. The chances of an armed police squad taking out an innocent phone user who may be acting oddly are clearly somewhat greater now, though hopefully not as high as in the US, where (as far as we know) they haven’t even woken up to phone guns yet. Over there, anything in a suspect’s hand tends to prompt a vigorous and often fatal response.

The NCIS firearms tracing system has been set up to hopefully enable the origins of all guns recovered by British police to be identified. It’s hoped this intelligence will also provide clues to the structure of the illegal firearms trade and allow effective action to be taken to tackle the problem.

Footnote: pen guns are another dangerous area, since some of them are extremely well-disguised. One manufacturer we’ve spoken to said he’d been told of at least one instance of his pen guns going through US airport controls entirely unchallenged, though, in fairness, the weapon involved on the occasion described was apparently a non-functional sample. Problem is, in the US passengers usually have the option of emptying their pockets before going through metal detectors. In our experience very little attention is paid to what goes in the little plastic tray along with the keys and change.

On the other hand, if someone is compelled to carry a weapon through controls and then triggers an alarm, we’re sure anything found during the subsequent patdown or manual scan is likely to be scrutinised much more carefully. Separately, we noted from the Charlotte Observer that a man was apprehended in Mecklenberg, North Carolina, in early May 2001 trying to enter the local courthouse armed with a loaded .25 pen gun and a knife. He initially set off the metal detectors and when questioned pulled out the knife, ammunition and the pen, telling the officers it was a gun - which deputies at the security checkpoint had already figured out. He was apparently only there to pay a traffic ticket, but now he’s facing weapons charges too!


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