Industry Profile: Interview With Dr. Phil Dater, Greg Latka and Richard Sleeva of Gemtech
By Matt Smith
SAR: When did you all get involved with suppressors?
Phil: I got involved back in the 70’s, around 1976. The first suppressed weapon that I bought was a M 11-380, with a Mac suppressor, the second one was really the one that got me going in suppressors, and that was a MAC suppressed pistol, a Mark I, with all those screen washers in it. After about a brick of ammunition, it wasn’t very quiet anymore, so I called Military Armament Corporation, and talked to Charles Pitts, who said they expected these things to have a service life of about 200 rounds, basically qualify where they’d be used on a mission and then deep-sixed. When I asked how you take them apart, Charles said they weren’t designed to take apart, so I figured out how to take it apart, and used a different packing material, Chore Girl, a scouring pad, and thought how this can be improved upon, so I did it.
SAR: Did you use the ropes back in those days, too?
Phil: Yes, I made the ropes out of the scouring pads, as I cut it into strips and twisted it into ropes. I started doing that under another guys license, S&S Arms, in Albuquerque who had a class 3 license.
SAR: Is S&S still around?
Phil: Yes. Sid McQueen, who changed his name to Sid Garrett, runs it with his partner, Don Packingham. Anyway, this had been my start and my improvement was to shorten the barrel a little bit, to put in a chamber in the front and a little barrel extension, packing fiberglass around the extension like a glass packed muffler. We called it the RST, which we later renamed and called the Mark II. I did that for a couple of years in the basement of the medical clinic where I worked on it all day on Saturday’s and all day on Sunday’s.
SAR: Did you have any training in that?
Phil: Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, it was an old Monarch Lathe, and it was the lathe I was trained on, as I used to work at Coleman Lamp and Stove in the summers in Wichita, KS. I worked in the model shop there making prototypes, so I had some machining experience. In 1977, I bought a lathe and started doing some of those things in my garage, and in 1978 I got my own license, which was the birth of Automatic Weapons Company. In 1983, I was doing enough business, and pretty much working full time to where it stopped being fun. At that time, one of my customers, Lynn McWilliams, said he’d take over the manufacturing, while I’d do the R & D, working on a royalty basis. I did some subcontract machine work and he started his Automatic Weapons Company in Houston, renamed to AWC Systems Technology. I still made a few things on my own. In 1989, he started to work with another designer, Mickey Finn, so we parted ways. I moved to Idaho in 1991, and about a year later, I met Jim and Mark.
SAR: What were some of the other things, other than the RST that you did in the early years?
Phil: Basically the model numbers are just letter designations. The RST was the Ruger RST pistol. There was the R10, which was the for the 10-22, the AR7 for the AR-7, the M22, which was the .223 suppressor for the M16’s, and the M76 for the Smith &Wesson 76, which later became the SG9. The Sten version of this can was called the SM2. I designed the Mark 9, and Tim Bixler made significant improvements in it, when he was the machinist for AWC, with interchangeability that I did not have on the prototype.
SAR: Was that on the end caps?
Phil: The rear mounts, with the original one built more like the SG9, where there was a sleeve that went in that was part of the rear mount and screwed into a support. Bixler’s real good at that and he worked for Lynn at the time. The Archangel 1was a renaming and a compilation of a couple earlier designs. I’d built several 22 muzzle suppressors over the years, starting in about 1978, and they went through various name changes and various variants. Near the end of Lynn’s and my relationship, Lynn rearranged some of the bits and combined some of the parts, and came up with the Archangel 1. There’s always some debate as to who really gets credit for that. The concept was to get rid of the first round pop. My original design was quieter, but had worse first round pop. He got rid of the first round pop by rearranging some parts, but degraded the performance
of the can.
SAR: Greg, how about your background.
Greg: I’ve been in the aerospace industry for 32 years. I’ve been general manager for the family owned shop for 22 years, doing everything including quoting the jobs, programming, figuring out how they’re going to run, fixturing, setting up the machines, and training the operators. I pretty much do everything. I’ve got an extensive background in machining, and we do a lot of the aerospace fittings in the aluminums and the high exotics, anywhere from Inconel to Rene’ 41. At one time, we were the second largest manufacturer of Rene’ 41 in the United States. We were doing a lot of stuff for the machine tool industry and the copper industry for tubing. Our mainstay is the quick disconnect couplings for the aerospace industry that go on jet engines. We have parts on the Cruise Missile and the Space Shuttle, and make parts for the Navy (nuclear level 1). We meet the quality requirements of the military, and are certified through Aeroquip for ISO 9000.
SAR: Before Gemtech was formed, didn’t you have your own suppressor business?
Greg: Yes, I’ve always been interested in firearms, and got my FFL about 16 years ago. Since I had all the manufacturing equipment, I got the manufacturers license. Then about 8 years after that, I got into the class 3, because I had some ideas for suppressors. It was during this time that I came up with the Slimline helical-style baffle and patented that. Al Paulson wrote an article for Machine Gun News on the Slimline. I incorporated into GSL Technologies, and operated alone for a few years.
SAR: How did everyone come together at Gemtech?
Phil: After I moved to Boise, I advertised in Machine Gun News that the original Automatic Weapons Company was alive and well in Boise, and then in another ad it said I’d be willing to do sound measurements for the industry. One day, I got a call from a competitor, and a few weeks later, he came over for the weekend to do some sound measurements, proving the ear is basically not a very good sound tool. I helped him fine tune a number of his designs and we decided to start working together.
SAR: Where did the name Gemini come from?
Phil: Well, that’s the corporation’s name, Gemini Technologies Incorporated. The name came from the astrological in that the corporation was formed when the sun was in Gemini. We had just decided to join up formally as a corporation. Soon thereafter, we had been talking with Greg off and on, and we subcontracted Greg to make some parts for us.
SAR: Greg, tell me how you came into Gemtech.
Greg: Al Paulson encouraged me to contact Gemtech and talk to them. At the time, I thought of them as competition, but Al said that he thought Gemtech could use my patent lawyer for a new product they had developed. I called and talked to them, and we started sharing ideas on suppressor designs. At the time, I was a member of the ADPA, and found out about the upcoming symposium at Fort Lewis, WA., and suggested that they attend. Phil sent me some drawings for some baffles for the Vortex 2, which he wanted priced. The baffles were to be made out of stainless. I told Phil that this was a lot of extra machining and weight for baffles. I suggested that they make the baffles out of aluminum, and that I would beef them up as needed during machining. They asked for a price for both the stainless and the aluminum, and based on this, they asked for the aluminum baffles. I manufactured the baffles for them, sent them over, and they were very happy with them. It wasn’t long after this that I joined Gemtech.
SAR: Richard, how did you become part of Gemtech?
Richard: My initial introduction to Gemtech was in 1994, when I first began buying their products. I was establishing my Class 3 business in northeast Pennsylvania. Gemtech became my main line of suppressors for sale to both law enforcement and individuals. Our first face to face meeting was at a previous NDIA show at Picatinny Arsenal. It was apparent then that we had similar goals and interests, but I was able to bring a different dimension to the business. As a corporation, we have a design base in research and development, with a long lineage, which Phil possesses. We are at the cutting edge of manufacturing expertise with Greg’s facilities and expertise. The missing component was marketing, which I feel I bring to Gemtech. I can view Gemtech objectively as a previous customer with a separate Class 3 business, with feedback from my customers. My corporate background in banking, law, and risk management adds to the overall success of Gemtech.
SAR: Phil, how did Richard’s role expand at Gemtech?
Phil: After several directors had resigned, we needed to replenish the board of directors. We gave serious consideration to a number of individuals, but Richard clearly stood out as dedicated to the company and our goals, and was extremely qualified. We asked him if he would be willing to serve on our board of directors and become an officer in the corporation. This fall, we had a meeting of the stockholders, and Richard was elected unanimously.
SAR: Tell me about your products, including the Slimline and the Raptor.
Phil: The Slimline originated with Greg and used the helical baffles from his patent. We found out through testing that in rim fire the helical baffles didn’t work as well as they should have in theory. We went to a more conventional style of baffle first, and then to an unconventional baffle design. The Slimline is currently 100% aluminum, and the Vortex 2 has a stainless exterior, and an aluminum interior. The advantage of the Slimline is that you can sight over it on a pistol such as the Walther TPH. Both cans are the same length, but the Vortex 2 is quieter due to its greater diameter and volume. On a rifle, either can will work equally well. On a pistol, the Vortex 2 works better. Both cans are designed to work dry, but a little water never hurts anything. The Slimline will retain water better than the Vortex 2.
Greg: After we came up with the new variation of the Vortex 2, I designed a quicksnap coupling for the MK-9K suppressor. I wanted to get the size for the suppressor down, so I redesigned the coupling to an inch and 3/8 size, and worked on a baffle stack for the Raptor. I put it together and sent it to Phil for testing. The sound reduction came out so well, that we decided not to change anything, and the Raptor was born.
SAR: Tell me about the M4-96D suppressor for the M16.
Greg: During the time we developed the Raptor, we heard that a solicitation was coming out for the M4. I began working on the M4 in an inch and 5/8ths size, without knowing the envelope they wanted. I built up a detachable suppressor using a special flash hider with lugs, and sent it out to Phil for testing. We found out that this system was very strong and successful. Once the solicitation came out, we had 5 weeks to get it on their desk. I put the product together, and Phil did the testing. Phil found out through testing that if we modified the baffle stack, we had better reduction. Once we had this figured out, we built the units, and Phil tested them thoroughly. At the end of the 5 weeks, we had the product and pricing on their desk. The M4-96D came out of a 5-week project, from start to finish.
SAR: Who does the majority of manufacturing on components?
Greg: We both do one-off stuff for testing, but once the unit is finalized, I take care of the production, holding the aerospace tolerances and finishes. When the components are done, I send them to Boise for assembly.
SAR: Are all the units test fired?
Greg: No, all the units are built to specifications. You can take any single part in the suppressor, and there would be no more than 1/1000th inch difference in the entire lot.
SAR: What are your best selling items right now?
Phil: The two best selling items right now include the M4-96D, which has always been popular due to its phenomenal accuracy and suppression in a small package, and has become our best selling suppressor of all time. We have both military and export contracts for it. The second best seller is the Raptor 9MM for the HK MP5, which is becoming a standard law enforcement item for many agencies.
After the M4-96D came out, we discontinued the .223 version of the Spec Op, which was an outgrowth of the M22 in bullpup sizing. The earlier version was a little more efficient, but it was twice the size and weight. The new .308 can, the TPRS, was mainly developed by Greg. This system utilizes a frequency multiplication unit, which shifts the frequency to a higher range. It’s at the higher range where hearing loss typically occurs, and the higher frequencies are attenuated faster in air than the lower frequencies, so they don’t carry as far. The Aurora was designed as a specialty disposable suppressor for use as a pilot bailout weapon with a 9MM pistol. Our integrally suppressed Rugers use the Vortex 2 baffle stack.
SAR: What are some of your newest products?
Phil: One of the newest items is the Outback, which is a screw-on .22 caliber muzzle suppressor. It was designed for the mass market and was based on proven technology. Large manufacturing runs allow us to offer this high quality suppressor at a very affordable price. It retails, with the tax stamp, for just over $500. The Outback is perfect for the backpacker in the woods who doesn’t want to carry an M16, but does carry a .22 pistol. This is not so much for protection, but for small game for the pot.
Richard: Another new product is the Viper. It is a very high quality M11/9 suppressor. The M11/9 machine gun is the most affordable mass produced weapon of its type in the market place. Previous suppressors produced by other manufacturers have a tendency to unscrew during firing, due to the large thread pitch on the barrel. Our customers have been asking us to produce a suppressor, which overcomes this problem.
Phil: We had been reluctant, initially, because in order to maintain alignment you had to hold the suppressor screwed on tightly to the coarse threads. Greg designed a mounting system that requires no modification to the weapon, but mounts to the existing threads and will not unscrew. This new mounting system gave us the opportunity to build a quality suppressor with sound reduction in the low to mid 30’s. It is two-thirds the size of the original Sionics, retains the original profile and will not unscrew.
SAR: Tell me about the new Mossad.
Phil: The Mossad is similar to the Viper, in that it is designed as a high efficiency suppressor for simple mounting on the Uzi without having to modify the weapon. Previously, we had modified Uzi barrels by adding a three lug adapter so that Raptor owners could use the suppressor on the Uzi or the MP5. The Mossad is dedicated to the Uzi and replaces the barrel retaining nut. You use the same original barrel, remove the barrel retaining nut, and screw the Mossad on in its place.
Richard: The Mossad also fits well with our international marketing. After the MP5, the Uzi is the second most common machine gun in many inventories. There is a definite need for a lightweight, compact suppressor for the Uzi.
Phil: The Mossad weighs about 12 ounces and the Mini-Mossad weighs 10 and 1/2 ounces. The Mini-Mossad has been designed for the Mini-Uzi, and offers about 33 Db reduction.
SAR: Which units are you going to demonstrate here at the symposium?
Greg: The SOS 45, the FN P90, the Mossad on the Uzi, the Raptor 40, the Raptor 9, the Predator and the M4-96D on the M16, and the Vortex 9.
SAR: What’s in the future for Gemtech?
Greg: We have several ideas on the drawing board and don’t want to go into great detail at this time. One item we have developed is the Hushpuppy/ Vortex combination. The original wipe pack is removed and the Vortex replacement is screwed in to bring it up to the technology of the Vortex 9. This system can be used either wet or dry, with about 32 DB reduction dry and 38 DB wet. There are a lot of Hushpuppies out there in the military, where you have to worry about the wipes being shot out or affecting the accuracy. With the Vortex, you’ll have equivalent reduction with no wipe replacement, and service for years.
Phil: Right now, we’re working on major production to fill a lot of military and export contracts.
Richard: The demand for the M4-96D’s and the Raptors will keep Gemtech busy well into 2000. The FN P90 firearm is beginning to sell throughout the marketplace, and the suppressor we designed for the weapon at the request of FN should sell well also. Our ability to service our dealers properly is a top priority at Gemtech. We will be looking to recruit large volume dealers, and reevaluate the dealers we currently have. We want to have a great marriage between our dealers and Gemtech.
Phil: We had experimented for a while with the concept of exclusive territories for our dealers. We determined that this does not work well. A lot of police agencies require multiple bids and when you have an exclusive territory, other bidders cannot sell into the territory. We found this to be a restraint of trade, and our business is to manufacture suppressors, not to regulate trade.
Richard: Our view now is to let the chips fall where they may, relying on our dealers in the marketplace. This also benefits the customer and end user by allowing the market to set its own pace for demand. This is the fairest way for us to develop our dealer network.
SAR: Thank you for sitting down and sharing your thoughts with us.
Gemtech: You’re welcome!
P. O. Box 3538
Boise, ID 83703-3538
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