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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): February 2000

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.

1. WEAPONS, EQUIPMENT, FUTURE SYSTEMS, TRAINING & RELATED NEWS

PARKER-HALE 9mm IDW DEBUTS IN UK SUNDAY PRESS: under the lurid headline ‘No escape from the Eliminator’, the Mail on Sunday tabloid profiled the 9mm IDW (formerly Bushman) machine pistol, now being promoted by its UK licensee as the Parker-Hale Personal Defence Weapon (PDW). The report claimed the weapon ‘has been put through its paces by both the Ministry of Defence and the police, and is seen as the replacement for the German-made Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun’. It added that sources maintained ‘orders for the PDW are being prepared for SAS counter-terrorist teams and for the anti-piracy and drug-enforcement squads of the Special Boat Service’.

However, we’re at a loss to know on what the paper bases its strange comment claiming the weapon ‘has a barely audible firing action’ - last time we fired the IDW in Florida it went ‘bang’ like any other 9mm. Maybe they’d picked up on the fact it can be fitted with a muzzle suppressor? We assume the press coverage resulted from Parker-Hale’s recent presence with these guns at the Esher COPEX security show in the UK. What the 400 rpm rate-controlled IDW does have very much in its favour is its minimal burstfire dispersion, which makes it potentially able to defeat - with closely-placed multiple hits of ordinary ball ammunition - Kevlar body armour which would normally resist single shots.

But there are many other factors which will influence the IDW’s popularity. For example, loyalty to the 9mm MP5 family is still strongly entrenched amongst UK special forces, and British police would not be permitted to use automatic fire even if they adopted the IDW. Our prediction is that the real market for this gun still lies abroad. Unless, that is, the UK MOD eventually gets its thinking together on PDW requirements and decides it is better to go with a 9mm weapon than continuing to examine the various small-calibre PDWs now in development.

It’s thought that a major factor driving UK military interest in PDWs is the likely cost of having to modify the 340,000-weapon inventory of 5.56mm SA80s to meet NATO reliability criteria. Because of its poor functioning, SA80 has currently been struck off the NATO list of approved weapons (see footnote).
The MOD’s position at 10 Nov 99, as stated in a minister’s Parliamentary Answer, goes:

‘It is our practice to keep the effectiveness of weapon systems under continual review. SA80 is an effective weapon system and is planned to remain in service well into the next century. We are, however, currently investigating potential improvements to the SA80 and I expect to receive recommendations in due course.’

Sources close to the problem believe the MOD still plans to retain SA80, suitably modified, for non-critical applications, but to procure another 5.56mm weapon for harsh operating conditions, equipping everyone else (about 15,000 personnel) with a PDW of some description.

If this is the case, whoever wins the PDW contract stands to make quite a lot of money.

The jury is still out on what any additional 5.56mm weapon might be - logic suggests the H&K G36, since Heckler & Koch is currently still owned by Royal Ordnance (maybe not for long?), though based (inter alia) on comments from Northern Ireland, we would imagine the M16 series would be the troops’ preferred option. Either way, SA80 must stand as one of the poorest-conceived & executed small arms systems of all time.

As to the Parker-Hale gun, about a dozen examples currently exist, representing various stages of refinement, incorporating modifications which have been suggested by the UK MOD and others. The company could well have orders for as many as 1,000 pieces by the end of the year. Weight is down to 4.75 pounds and is likely to drop to 4 pounds in its final form, the buttstock has been improved and Parker-Hale has even developed a test rig to allow experimentation with other calibres as required. It has also developed an alternative (and much cheaper) method of rate control which is now being patented, and is currently seeking renegotiation of the expensive licencing deal with DTL, the US end of Bushman.

Footnote: it’s worth reiterating details from the letter about SA80’s shortcomings (as below) of 2 Jun 97 from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. As far as we’re aware the situation now (two and a half years on) is still largely unchanged and, in any event, a rectification programme for all SA80s in service would take forever.

‘John Reid wrote to you, on my behalf, on 10 September last (nb: 1996) to inform you that the SA80 weapon system had been suspended from the NATO Nominated Weapons List as the result of difficulties when firing ammunition natures in service with our NATO Allies. He undertook to write again once we had decided a way ahead.

John also mentioned our own national trials, from which a number of reliability issues have emerged. A review this February of the results of trials over the period from 1995 to 1997 has raised the possibility that there may be underlying problems with the reliability of the system, including its use with UK ammunition, and particularly in the hottest and dryest conditions. The evidence remains inconclusive, and the work we are planning with Heckler and Koch will be important in determining a clear understanding of the current performance, along with the options for improvement.

Heckler and Koch have now presented their proposals to us for modifications to the breech block and chamber magazines, gas plug and barrel geometry. We have decided to place a contract with them, through Royal Ordnance, to incorporate the proposed modifications on a statistically viable batch of 200 weapons, including different combinations of modifications, to allow full visibility and confirmation of quantifiable increases in reliability. This work and subsequent detailed assessment are not expected to be complete until around the end of the year. We will then consider what, if any, wider modification programme to implement.

In the meantime, the NATO panel, with our agreement, decided in March to continue the temporary suspension of SA80 from the NATO Nominated Weapons List, pending the results of our programme of action to rectify the problems.’

CANADIAN .50 TP-S & API MATCH CARTRIDGES: another new line from SNC Technologies in Canada, touched on before in these pages, is .50 calibre match-grade ammunition in two natures never before available - Target Practice Spotter (TP-S) and Armour-Piercing Incendiary (API). We assume the latter is intended to compete with the Raufoss .50 MP. The projectiles for the two match-grade rounds are similar, with jacketed steel cores and an airgap in the bullet nose. But while the penetrator of the API bullet is hardened steel and the airgap is filled with incendiary composition, the TP-S core is mild steel and the nose contains a spotting charge.

SNC has been assiduous in optimising the production quality of its match-grade .50 bullets and cartridge cases, as well as the assembled ammunition. Particular attention has been paid to case-neck concentricity, head-to-shoulder dimensions and the angle of the head to the axis of the case. The current bullet designs are two of five options originally studied. Propellants are spherical with low muzzle flash, and primers the standard SNC variety. SNC also confirms the new ammunition complies with all standard NATO requirements for pressure, velocity, action time, waterproofing and weapon functioning.

All this attention to detail has resulted in .50 ammunition claimed to achieve accuracy of 7.5” (19cm) mean radius (0.65 MOA) at 1,000 metres, averaged over 20 strings each of five shots, all from a ‘short’ (29”) sniper rifle barrel. By comparison, the .50 M33 ball round is said to deliver 1.13 MOA (which sounds too good to be correct) in longer M2 machine gun barrels. Both the API and TP-S rounds are ballistically matched and deliver recoil energy from muzzle-braked rifles of 20-25 Joules. The API bullet is claimed to defeat 22mm armour plate at 100 metres. We don’t know how the Canadian API Match compares pricewise with Raufoss MP (which we recall is about $8 a round), but it should prove popular with those requiring an accurate anti-materiel round with visual hit confirmation for taking on small targets. These could include visors of armoured vehicles, IR detectors, radar antennae, claymores and anti-personnel landmines. The TP-S provides the same hit confirmation for range practice.

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