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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.


SINGAPORE CLONES THE AUG: as Helen of Troy’s face reputedly launched a thousand ships, so Steyr-Mannlicher’s AUG seems set to spawn a truckload of imitators. Latest example, following earlier attempts by Taiwan, Israel and South Africa (and probably others, including China), is from Singapore, in the form of the 5.56mm SAR-21, recently publicised in the DSEI Show Daily. Visually the SAR21 is the closest to the AUG of all the other weapons inspired by the Austrian rifle; however we assume that internally it is yet another SAR80 (aka AR18) derivative simply re-packaged as a bullpup.

By definition, all imitators get a handy opportunity to add a few bells & whistles the original designer left off. The SAR21, which is said to be gas-operated, incorporates a pressure switch on the left side of the polymer handguard, activating a visible or IR laser aiming pointer obviously concealed beneath the barrel, within the handguard itself. The cocking handle has also been placed centrally above the receiver, directly beneath the AUG-style optical sight, theoretically making the SAR21 ‘ambidextrous’, though since the sole ejection port appears to be on the right side of the buttstock, it is probably not possible to fire from the left shoulder, unless an effective case deflector has been incorporated.

Magazines for the SAR21, holding 30 rounds, also resemble the Austrian ones, and the juxtaposition of metal to polymer components also suggests CIS has used the same system of plugging the barrel into the front - and the bolt into the rear - of a central stress-bearing cast or forged receiver. It’s not yet known whether SAR21 barrels are interchangeable.

Also like the Austrian rifle, the high-mounted optics are reportedly offered in 1.5x magnification (or 3x), with rudimentary open sights fashioned in the top of the scope housing. Empty weight is said to be 3.82kg (8.4 pounds) and overall length 80.5cm (31.7”). Barrel length appears standard and cyclic rate is listed as 450-650 rpm.

It’s claimed that the SAR21 will be adopted by the Singaporean forces after the millennium, though we recall similar local aspirations for the various earlier derivatives of the SAR80 (originally sold to CIS by the UK’s SMG manufacturer Sterling Engineering) were not, in the event, fulfilled.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, we doubt Steyr-Mannlicher will be unduly fazed by this newest, very competent-looking clone of its own highly-successful AUG. But - unless the SAR21 can be made at an exceedingly competitive price - we guess most export buyers may still prefer to go with the Austrian original, or rather to take a Steyr manufacturing licence, which is the way many purchasers nowadays like to buy.

NEW 1000-YARD .50 BMG RECORD: on 3 Jul 99, Paula Diercks in the USA set a new 1000-yard world record for the .50 BMG cartridge with a five-round benchrested group measuring just 3.064”.

The location was the NRA’s Whittington Centre near Raton (New Mexico), and the occasion the 3-4 Jul 99 Fifty Caliber Shooting Association (FCSA) annual World Championships. Paula, shooting in the first relay of the day, was using a 125-pound FCSA Unlimited Class bolt-action rifle belonging to Skip Talbot. This result is something to idly throw into the debate the next time conversation turns to how ‘inaccurate’ the .50 can be. In fact, with good quality components and the right weapon, the .50 appears to be potentially among the most accurate of all long-range systems.

HECKLER & KOCH 4.6x30mm PDW: ever since Royal Ordnance (RO) acquired Heckler & Koch, the two companies have been working on a Personal Defence Weapon (PDW), not to be confused with the small, caseless PDW which H&K earlier developed as a companion to the ill-fated 4.7mm G11 rifle. Oberndorf has developed the latest weapon, and Royal Ordnance Radway Green its 4.6x30mm ammunition. Over the years the ammunition concept has undergone some changes, not least to take into account NATO’s revised penetration requirements which today include titanium sheet as well as Kevlar.

The cartridge is conventional and boxer-primed, with a rimless brass, bottle-necked case 30mm long. Base diameter is 8mm, and the shoulder length is similar to that of the 5.56mm cartridge. Weight of the 4.6mm case is 3.8g (58.64 grs). The bullet, 15.3mm long and weighing 1.7g (26.23 grs), is a solid 4.65mm diameter plug of hardened steel with copper plated finish - we wonder what the barrel wear implications of this design might be. Loaded rounds have an overall length of 38mm and weigh 6.3g (97.22 grs). On the ballistics front, notional MV is 2,378 fps (725m/s) and muzzle energy 330 ft lbs (447J). The weapon itself is 34cm (13.4”) long, 4.2cm (1.7”) wide and 17.2cm (6.8”) high, with an 18cm (7”) chrome-plated barrel and a flip-down forward grip, making it look rather like a truncated version of the Polish Wz63 machine pistol.

Though not specifically documented, there also appears to be an MP5-style telescoping buttstock (not included in the dimensions above); we note the PDW is described as ‘for shoulder supported and hand-held applications’. In essence it is a machine pistol with shoulder-fired capability.

Both optical (red dot-style) & iron sights are available, for use out to 200 metres, and capacity of the twin-stack magazines (which are inserted into the pistol grip) is 20 or 40 rounds. The mechanism, which offers both semi-auto and burstfire modes, is gas-operated with a rotating bolt locking the breech. Rate of fire is around 950 rpm and system weight is 1.6kg (3.5 pounds) empty. Like all its conceptual predecessors, the H&K PDW is designed for use by ‘personnel whose primary task does not involve an assault against the enemy, but who require a close-range self defence capability’. The European Staff Target for PDWs reportedly also requires such weapons to be ambidextrous and suitable for use while troops are wearing goggles, respirators, body armour, NBC suits or heavy winter clothing.

It also says that hand-held PDWs shall be effective against protected human targets to 30 metres (50m desirable). Fired from the shoulder these specified ranges increase to 100m and 200m respectively. Weight limits (loaded) for the hand-held gun are 1kg (700g desirable) and 3kg for a shoulder-fired PDW. H&K’s test data shows the 4.6mm round penetrating to a depth of 28cm in an ‘unprotected’ 20% gelatine block 30cm deep when fired at a range of 50 metres. The ‘comparative system’ shown in side-by-side data is not named, but we assume it to be the FN 5.7x28mm. Either way, the rival system achieves 23cm penetration, though with a rather larger temporary wound cavity.

In terms of ‘energy transfer’, the 4.6mm, fired at 50 metres into 20% gelatine through 20 layers of Kevlar and a 1.6mm titanium sheet dumps 220 Joules in the target, as opposed to 180J for the comparison system. At 100 metres, fired against an ‘unprotected’ 20% gelatine block 15cm deep, ‘energy transfer’ for the 4.6mm is 170J, and 200J for the rival weapon, with full penetration in both cases. And, at the same range, but with the Kevlar and titanium protection described above, the respective ‘energy transfer’ figures are 115J and 65J, though the steel-tipped bullet from the comparison system makes it only halfway through the 15cm gelatine block.

Maximum range for defeat of the Kevlar (20 layers) and titanium sheet (1.6mm) is claimed to be in excess of 200 metres for the 4.6mm but only about 140 metres for the comparison system.

Fired at 18 metres against a 30cm deep block of 20% gelatine protected by a laminated car windshield at 45 degrees (and 45cm from the block), the 4.6mm achieves 18cm penetration, but the the bullet from the rival system, breaks up, with the deepest penetration achieved by the most energetic fragment just 14cm.

All quite impressive from such a small weapon as the H&K gun, however we can’t help concluding that (as with the FN P-90), what H&K has actually developed is - based on its performance - more of a limited-range individual combat weapon than a substitute for a pistol. ‘Close-range self defence’ does not mean 200 metres, nor even 100 metres. Twenty-five to fifty metres would be more like it. That said, based on H&K own claims, the 4.6mm appears to offer conspicuous performance improvements over its rivals in this category. Yet we must again question the real need for burstfire.

The PDW is still in development, but shootable weapons & ammunition already exist, and finalisation of the project is expected within a few months. Primary target of the new PDW is currently still the UK MOD’s written requirement, though the mere existence of such a document is no guarantee of adoption - of H&K’s or any other design. Most significantly, of course, H&K’s choice of an entirely new cartridge around which to develop its PDW will - by any standards - make the progress of this weapon an uphill struggle. The FN 5.7mm contenders (both the P-90 SMG and the FiveSeven pistol) are still going the rounds, and are now likely to be joined by the 4.6mm.

It will take a great deal to persuade any army to adopt - and tool up for - a brand-new calibre, though, against all odds, and contrary to all predictions, the .338 Lapua sniping round finally made it.

On the other hand, if any company can pull it off, it’s probably H&K, which has already notched up a string of resounding successes, particularly with its G3 & HK33 rifles, the MP5 SMG family, the USP pistols and most recently the 5.56mm G36 system. Innovative but rather less successful designs include the P9S and P7-series handguns. The only two ‘lemons’ were the 5.56mm G41 and the caseless G11, though in the later case German politics were the problem, not weapon design. And we suspect the G41 crashed simply because the HK33 was already quite satisfactory.


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