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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): May 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.

BARRETT FIREARMS expects more business from Israel, which seeks additional .50 M82A1 semi-auto rifles, but this time with all the latest enhancements (full-length Picatinny rails etc). Back in Sep 2000 we recall Barrett was shipping another 60 rifles with accessories to the UAE, another repeat customer who has bought substantial numbers of Barrett weapons in the past.

RADWAY GREEN SECURES FRENCH 5.56MM CONTRACT: BAe Systems announced at the end of Jan 2001 that its Royal Ordnance Radway Green subsidiary had won a three-year, £5 million contract with the French defence procurement executive to supply 5.56mm NATO ammunition. It was apparently the first time France had gone to competitive tender for army ammunition, and since Radway Green is - historically - not best-known for its low prices this may possibly tell us something about GIAT Industries, the home team.

Hitherto the French army has used steel-cased 5.56mm ammunition from GIAT in its FAMAS bullpups, but Radway Green has no recent experience of this material in small calibres, so we assume it will be supplying the more conventional brass-cased cartridges instead. We asked them to comment on this aspect, but by press time had received no response.

HIGH-VELOCITY TRANQUILISER DARTS: a new tranquilliser system called Eurodart, the Daily Telegraph reported, has been developed in the UK. It overcomes the wind drift, inaccuracy and excessive penetration problems of conventional tranquilliser darts, which are essentially hypodermic syringes with stabilising flights, typically fired at an MV of under 240 fps. The Eurodart has an MV in excess of 1,500 fps, making it more accurate to longer ranges, but it incorporates a grapefruit-sized, detonator-actuated ‘airbag’ membrane that inflates on impact, preventing excessive penetration and impact effects. Gas is used to propel the drug payload into the target. The paper suggested that Eurodart could also be used by security forces to deal with enemy troops or terrorists.

SOCOM WILL ACQUIRE 40MM STRIKER: a little while back we reported that the General Dynamics (formerly Saco) 40mm Striker lightweight automatic grenade launcher was being evaluated by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Now a report in Armed Forces Journal International says a SOCOM buy of Strikers is indeed going ahead, for deployment in FY 2002, complete with its sophisticated Computing Devices fire control system from Canada, but with the expensive pre-programmable fuzed ammunition from Nammo not deployed until FY 2004.

Presumably special forces will make do with standard-issue US 40mm HV ammunition in the intervening two years. As far as we’re aware, the SOCOM purchase is the first Striker sale of any significance. Striker is probably way too pricey as a package to supplant the regular 40mm Mk19 launcher as a general army issue, but the close links between the various Western special forces organisations, many of which have their own separate procurement budgets, make it very likely that if one of them buys Striker, others may soon follow.

WORLD’s OLDEST GUN REPORTED IN CHINA: a PTI report run by The Asian Age in mid-Jan 2001 said that, according to the Xinhua news agency, historians in China claim they’ve found the world’s oldest firearm with a collector in Heilongjiang province. It’s a copper blunderbuss dating from the Song dynasty (960-1279), 38cm long and weighing 5kg. It’s said to be 100 years older than the previously recorded ‘oldest’ firearm made in 1332, and is marked ‘Shen fei’, which translates from the Chinese as ‘flying magically’.

UK DEVELOPING EMP SHELLS: a late Dec 2000 Daily Telegraph report said that the UK was developing electro-magnetic pulse (aka radio frequency or RF) weapons packaged as 155mm shells or artillery rockets, intended to disable electronics rather than human targets. It said the impetus for the British programme was a technical paper, delivered at a French conference in 1994, which revealed Russian EMP research dating from as far back as the 1940s....plus the revelation in 1998 that Russia already had such a weapon, and handily briefcase-sized at that. Furthermore the IRA was alleged to have considered using EMP to disrupt the City of London’s financial centre rather than blowing it up (again). Apparently the British R&D on EMP weapons is being done by Matra BAe Dynamics, who are said to have convinced the MOD that a viable weapon can be produced.

The newspaper described the modus operandi, in part, as follows:

‘The shell or rocket will follow the normal trajectory of a standard missile but contain only a few grammes of explosive used to open it up as it approaches the target. An array of aerials then spring out and a burst of radio frequency of less than a second’s duration is transmitted, disabling all electronic equipment within a given range.’

It’s no secret that, conceptually, weapons of this type are becoming much more attractive than conventional munitions for tackling situations such as the occupation of Kosovo, and we already know that non-lethal guided weapons were used in Desert Storm and the former Yugoslavia to short-circuit power lines and electricity distribution equipment’. Lowering the prospect of casualties (on either side) reduces the threshold of political and public resistance to the initial idea of intervention, and avoiding gratuitous deaths during the ensuing military operations limits the likelihood of valid international censure. That said, we doubt EMP weapons are all that difficult to produce, and the crunch will inevitably come when it’s discovered at the 11th hour that a potential adversary is similarly equipped.

With the very high military dependency on electronics nowadays, you’d need to be very sure all your own vital equipment was adequately protected against offensive electromagnetic interference, or the resultant chaos could prove to be mutual. Of course, once you start thinking in terms of attacking electronic infrastructure instead of people, it’s logical to continue down this same ideological road into the realms of infowar, with hacking and viral disruption of crucial enemy computer networks. In fact, if you can adequately refine your infowar techniques, EMP weapons may not in fact be necessary at all.

US ARMY RUNNING OUT OF 9MM AMMUNITION?: according to a Washington Times report in early Feb 2001, the US army is suffering from a worldwide shortage of 9mm NATO ammunition, which is restricting training with the M9 pistol. The paper apparently got hold of an army memo cancelling pistol training for anyone other than MPs and those troops about to be posted abroad. It added that no other units, including reserves and National Guard, would get any more 9mm ammunition until Autumn this year. A Pentagon source the paper tackled said that the problem was financial; interestingly the Times noted another report from an overseas US unit claiming similar shortages existed in 5.56mm. Reportedly there is a $242m shortfall in the ammunition budget.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, if anyone in the DoD or Congress (which presumably imposed the cuts that got the army into this sorry state in the first place) thinks that this kind of thing can be countered by the increased use of simulation equipment, forget it. There’s no substitute for live-fire, and given the huge size of the US defence budget it’s simply ludicrous to be skimping on low-priced basic necessities such as ammo.

UK SMALL ARMS DESTRUCTION: in response to a Parliamentary Question, the UK MOD stated on 5 Feb 2001 that:

‘In conformity with UN resolution 54/54R the United Kingdom has reported that the total number of surplus small arms it destroyed in 1999 was 31,939. The majority of these were armed forces weapons (some 28,000) with the balance from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Metropolitan police. Comparable statistics for 2000 are not yet available. Our current policy on the disposal of small arms declared surplus by the Ministry of Defence is to restrict transfers to those which meet the legitimate defence and security needs of overseas Governments.’

‘SWORDS’ TO PLOUGHSHARES - LITERALLY: from comments in the Conflict, Security & Development Group Bulletin we note that, in Liberia, 19,000+ small arms, 600 heavy weapons and 2m+ rounds of ammunition were destroyed in Jul 99, with the scrap being converted, with German assistance into ‘agricultural implements’. Further weapon destruction was also anticipated in Mali at the end of 2000.

MALAYSIA LANDMINE DESTRUCTION: a Reuters report picked up by The Asian Age said that Malaysia was to destroy 94,000 mines on 23 Jan 2001 as part of its commitment to the Ottawa Convention banning the use of anti-personnel landmines which are activated by their victims. Malaysia’s entire stock is reportedly being disposed of.

EUROPEAN SURPLUS WEAPONS DESTRUCTION: according to JDW, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Sweden & the UK have reported to the UN the collective destruction, over the period 1990-2000, of 3.5million+ surplus small arms, in accordance with the requirements of a 2000 United Nations resolution. In the UK’s case, we don’t imagine this leaves the MOD exactly short of weapons, since there are still vastly more SA80s than the armed forces could ever use, and we noted that enough 7.62mm L1A1 rifles were easily found last year to equip those ‘strictly over-18’ local troops in Sierra Leone.

However, with increased Western sensitivity to casualties, the changing nature of the military threat and the likelihood that ways will almost certainly be found in future to avoid another general mobilisation of ground forces, the holding of large surpluses of small arms must now be increasingly difficult to justify.

CALIFORNIAN ASSAULT RIFLE BAN - SUPREME COURT DECLINES TO RULE: ‘The U.S. Supreme Court passed up a challenge to California’s pioneering assault weapons ban, opting Tuesday not to decide if the state is applying the law unconstitutionally. The court, without comment, let stand a lower court decision that upheld the state’s ability to selectively add weapons to the list of banned models while allowing the sale of nearly identical guns.’ (AP, Washington DC, via CNN, 20 Feb 01)

WACO PROSECUTOR FESSES UP: ‘Former prosecutor Bill Johnston says he will plead guilty to obstructing an investigation into the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco. In return, prosecutors will recommend probation, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported Tuesday....Johnson has admitted withholding information dealing with the FBI’s use of pyrotechnic gas....’ (AP, Waco (Texas), 6 Feb 01)


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