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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): March 1999

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. NEW WEAPONS & EQUIPMENT

H&K SL8 - CIVILIAN VARIANT OF G36: Heckler & Koch is introducing for civilian sales a rather curious-looking semi-automatic SL8 derivative of the Bundeswehr’s new 5.56mm gas-operated G36 assault rifle from the same stable. Like the G36, it has a polymer receiver. We received the H&K data on the SL8, which was also recently reviewed by Visier magazine in Germany.

It has a heavy target barrel plus all the usual curious ‘politically correct’ bells & whistles prompted by German firearms legislation, such as a thumbhole stock with cheekrest, no bayonet or flash-hider fittings and a ten-round translucent polymer magazine which does not protrude conspicuously from the (detachable) magazine well. It is not interchangeable with the G36 magazine. Our sources consider that, since the magazine housing is a separate component, there may possibly be provision somewhere down the line for changing the housing to accommodate other magazine types.

Oddest aspect, other than the plastic-cased, steel-faced hammer and the ruler-straight front edge of the open-based pistol grip, is the sighting rib, incorporating the ‘iron sights’ and a full-length scope mounting rail which will also accommodate the polymer-bodied 3x G36 day scope, offered as an optional accessory. Sighting radius for the iron sights is 51cm. The detachable rib is essentially displaced about 1.5” above the four-part polymer stock/receiver (and maybe three inches above the barrel), and attached only at two points, rear and centre. It floats entirely free for the full length of the handguard. Presumably this is a device to reduce mirage from barrel heating.

Stock colour is a very light grey, almost dirty white, in our view a totally inappropriate colour scheme for a rifle - unless maybe you’re going to become a permanent resident at the North Pole - since it will show every speck of dirt it collects. We’re told none of this is any fault of H&K - apparently the final colour was actually stipulated by the police in Bavaria in order to make the SL8 look less ‘threatening’ - originally it was to be a charcoal grey.

We would love to spend a beery evening around the Stammtisch with the Bayern Kripo vigorously demolishing their ‘gun colour/threat theory’, but life’s too short, so just thank God the SL8’s not shocking pink.

A traditional-style ring-hooded front sight blade is mated with a fully-adjustable & detachable black plastic rearsight with 100m and 300m flipover aperture leaves. The ambidextrous cocking handle is situated between the receiver and the sighting rib. The SL8 has a last-round hold-open catch, unlike the G3 and HK33 designs, and a conventional, thumb-operated H&K two-position fire selector/safety catch each side of the weapon.

Though ejection is clearly non-reversible, from a right-hand port in the polymer receiver, we note there is an integral case deflector nub like that on the M16A2, and the literature confirms the rifle is also suitable for left-handers. We know from personal experience that the M16A2 deflector works very well when firing from the left shoulder.

The stock is equipped with sling attachment points. Length of pull can be adjusted by 5cm in total, by dint of a separate padded butt-plate which can be pulled out of the butt housing and secured in one of five positions by a crossbolt through the butt. And there are also adjustment shims to alter the height of the cheekpiece. The tool set, another accessory, looks suspiciously like the M16A2 kit, though packaged in a black wallet with H&K logo. There’s also a soft black gun bag. Both of these are apparently to follow the rifle onto the market.

Empty weight of the SL8 without magazine is 4.2kg and overall length 98-103cm, with a 51cm barrel. Trigger pull is approx 20 Newtons (Visier said it weighed in at just over 1800g) and reportedly pretty crisp.

When Visier tested an SL8 prototype at 100 metres, best five-shot groups were pretty good, just 15mm with Federal’s 55gr American Eagle .223 FMJ budget ammunition (not normally, in our experience, a particularly accurate loading) and 18mm with Federal 69gr Gold Medal Match, though most groups shot were in the 22-35mm bracket - several other brands were tested, with similar results.

No malfunctions were experienced, though the testers were not very keen on the ergonomics of the pistol grip, which follows a strict design apparently also determined by the German authorities. They also said it was essential to keep the SL8 very firmly in the shoulder or shots would string vertically upwards. It’s hard to precisely classify the SL8 - it’s clearly not a hunting weapon, nor we guess what would in the UK ever be properly termed a target rifle. The German designation of ‘Sportgewehr’ is, in any event, a delightfully vague expression.

In the UK, if semi-auto centrefires had not already been banned many moons ago, it would probably be considered primarily a ‘practical rifle’ or maybe just a knockabout ‘fun gun’, which is how we imagine it would also be categorised in the USA. We expect it will probably appear on the H&K Inc SHOT Show 99 booth, though we would not anticipate any huge market for the SL8 outside Europe. However, Visier said a .222 Rem version was already being considered for French & Italian customers. Price is listed at DM 2,898.

GERMAN DEPLOYMENT OF G22 SNIPER RIFLE: Soldat und Technik (the Bundeswehr magazine) reported that equipping of the quite recently constituted German KSK special forces with the Accuracy International AW sniper rifle in .300 Win Mag (metric 7.62x67mm), aka the G22, has now begun. The KSK are also receiving the 5.56mm G36 and H&K P8 (USP) pistol. Issues of all three new weapons to the German Rapid Reaction Forces are also under way. German four-wheeled recce vehicles are planned to be mounted with a 40mm automatic grenade launcher (obviously the new Heckler & Koch launcher) starting in 2001.

CHINESE ‘ITHACA’ SHOTGUN FROM BROLIN: a Firearms Business (FB) report from the 1998 NASGW wholesalers’ exhibition in Florida said that Brolin Arms is introducing a ‘redesigned’ Chinese copy of the Ithaca pump gun at a dealer price as low as $149. What the impact will be on the recently-reconstituted Ithaca Gun company’s products remains to be seen. Cheap guns like the Mavericks and Chinese clones were a major factor in Ithaca’s earlier demise.

NORINCO OFFERING 5.56MM BULLPUP: presumably citing datasheet information, JDW reported in Oct 98 that NORINCO in China now had a 5.56x45mm export version of the 5.8mm bullpup rifle that’s been deployed with PLA units in Hong Kong since mid-1997 (see previous issues).

A later JDW report said that the 5.8mm system, which has since been wheeled out for PLA open days in Hong Kong, is now designated the QBZ (Qing Buqiang Zu or ‘light rifle family’) Type 95, but mass production is still awaited. The export version, which we understand is designated Type 97, would be offered with 1:7” or 1:12” rifling twist, according to which type of 5.56mm ammunition purchasers wished to use, though we have to say it would be much easier for all 5.56mm rifle producers simply to go with 1:9”, which will handle pretty much everything. The squad automatic/LSW version of the 5.8mm rifle with 75-round drum magazine will apparently also be available in the NATO calibre. The NORINCO photo accompanying the report suggests that to effect the calibre change the manufacturer has simply used an insert on the 5.8mm weapon to adapt the magazine well for what appears to be an M16-pattern magazine.

A JDW source was also quoted as saying that the change lever (fire selector) was right at the back end of the butt on the left side, a location we guess has been copied from the British SA80, with all the same implications, namely that this is ergonomically so awkward, requiring the rifle to be thrust forward well out of the shoulder & rotated, that once automatic fire has been selected the weapon is likely to be left on this setting.

JDW said that the export weapons were still being tested but will probably sell for between $362 and $483, which it said was in excess of twice what they cost NORINCO to make. Also, a ‘sniper version’ was still in the works.

At the end of the day, one still has to question why (apart from reasons of national pride) China has gone to all the trouble of developing a new 5.8mm cartridge when it could more easily have used the 5.45x39mm case or even 5.56mm NATO. The differences between 5.8mm and 5.56mm performance are not great.

Immediate reaction of a dealer colleague, when we told him about this development, was that even if the NORINCO bullpup does look rather snappier and more modern than China’s earlier offerings, it was probably only adding to the present world glut of new & used assault rifles. He may well be right. On the other hand, the price is very competitive.

We also remain dubious about China’s alleged intention to re-equip the entire PLA with the 5.8mm bulllpup, since even at (say) $150 a pop this would be a horrendously expensive move, with minimal operational payback for the massive Chinese force structure. Incidentally, anyone jetting over to Peking should look out for data on the new Chinese small arms at the nearest corner bookstall - Asian Age ran an AFP photo showing a magazine poster of the 5.8mm LSW on a Peking street.

And the Liberation Army Daily in China has confirmed that other weapons with the PLA forces in Hong Kong include the 35mm QLZ87 automatic grenade launcher (not be confused with the Type W87 launcher in the same calibre) and the 12.7mm QJZ89 heavy machine gun, a lighter version of the Type 85, weighing 26.5kg.

The grenade launcher, a uniquely Chinese design, is produced in two versions, heavy (20kg) & light (12kg); the difference is merely the tripod used in the heavy configuration in place of the bipod. Both have six and 15-round drum magazine options. Rate of fire is 500 rpm and maximum range 1,750 metres.

Both HE and HE Armour-Piercing grenades are fired; each type has an MV of 200m/s and incorporates a self-destruct fuze. Iron sights cater only for ranges to 600m, so optics are the order of the day - and night, using ‘luminescent diodes’ for illumination. Mechanism appears to be blowback, with an unspecified self-regulating capability to cope with adverse operating conditions.

Personally, we’ve never been able to see the point in six-round drums on this type of weapon - while there are technical advantages over belt-feed in being able to simply top up a magazine, six rounds are quite inadequate for any likely role, particularly at 500rpm. So is any drum, most likely.

Note also that the drum on the QLZ87 is underneath the receiver, whereas on the W87 it is located on the right-hand side.

However, we know the designers of the QLZ87 took the R&D task very seriously, ‘cos they’ve told us so - take this verbatim quote for example: ‘Scientific research personnel developed the spirit of a hard and united struggle in order to widen their trains of thought and boldly blaze new trails’. No doubt about it.

30MM AGS-17 UPGRADE: an updated version of the 30mm Russian AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher has been shown by Asian Military Review. The upgrade has reportedly been effected primarily to suit the AGS-17 (or Plamya) for vehicle mounting. It is fitted with an eyesafe laser rangefinder/ballistic computer designated EG-LFR and has two ammunition feed systems, 145 rounds for pintle-mounted launchers and 290 rounds when installed on a ring mount. Drum magazines or what appear to be free-hanging belts can be used. We imagine the upgrade may be a response to similar improvements in sighting and fire control capabilities on Western 40mm AGLs such as the Mk19 and the new Saco Striker.

DTL 9MM IDW ARRIVES IN UK: we received information confirming that prototypes of the DTL (formerly Bushman) 9mm Individual Defence Weapon (IDW) have finally arrived with Parker-Hale in the UK, where the IDW is to be produced under licence. We understand the design software has also arrived and that (at early Jan 99) some frames were already being cut. The IDW, you’ll remember, is an exceedingly compact mini-SMG with hydraulic cyclic rate controller, offering a very high degree of control in automatic fire.

This is a very important project from a UK viewpoint, since it represents a rare increase in the ambit of military small arms manufacturing in Britain, reversing the rapid downward trend of recent years, so it’s kind of vital for the industry that it succeeds. The Bushman (as was) started out a decade or so ago as a British project and at one time was to be produced under licence by BMARC, later absorbed by Royal Ordnance. That didn’t happen, and a further plan, to have it manufactured by Saco Defense, also foundered for lack of finance. After some time in the doldrums the project was taken in hand again by DTL in the USA. However, they didn’t get it into production either, and now it’s licensed back to Parker-Hale.

Whilst at first reading this sounds a bit like a catalogue of failures, it is not by any means untypical of many new, inventor-launched small arms projects, which often require re-financing several times during their extended development cycles. And funding the expensive final step from pre-production prototyping to series production often proves an insuperable hurdle for small companies, at which point projects are often sold on, with someone else assuming the costs.

At the last count, the plan was to make a first UK batch of 200 IDWs, and Parker-Hale was also interested in doing some in .224 BOZ calibre (a 10mm Auto pistol case necked down to fire 5.56mm rifle bullets - see previous issues). Other variants were also envisaged, with different barrel lengths and maybe additional calibres too.


2. INDUSTRY & INTERNATIONAL NEWS

ROYAL AIR FORCE PILOT KIT: the Times helpfully listed the contents of the survival vests worn by RAF Tornado pilots & navigators on the recent raids on Iraq. They reportedly include ten gold krugerrands valued at £180 each (for bribes), notes requesting help & offering rewards in 12 languages, a radio, a strobe light, a GPS and a Walther PPK pistol with two full magazines. UK special forces are also known to carry gold coins when on operations behind the lines. We kind of feel a 9mm mini subgun might be more useful than the Walther pistol - the DTL 9mm IDW (nee Bushman) for example (see Section 1 above).

MORE NEGEVS FOR IDF: Defense News said that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were to procure another ‘several hundred’ 5.56mm Negev LMGs from IMI. The report also said that a number of modifications were in train, including the replacement of the bipod by a forward grip. Reportedly the gun is also being tested by IDF special forces. It is set to replace the 7.62mm NATO MAG 58 - which is considered too heavy for extended IDF foot patrols - as the standard infantry LMG, though we assume the 7.62mm guns will be retained, as in other armies, for sustained MG fire support and on vehicles.

The Israelis have a long history of selecting dual-purpose small arms, and the Negev is designed to be configured as anything from a heavy-duty assault rifle up to a full-spec LMG using different barrels and feed systems. However, the choice of a forward grip in lieu of the bipod suggests primary employment in the ‘machine rifle’ role (comparable to the old Browning BAR) which has been seen before with the 5.56mm Minimi SAW used by US forces in certain operations such as Panama, where the proportion of Minimis to rifles appeared much higher than normal. Likewise for SAS operations in Desert Storm. It’s a ‘weight of fire thing’!

EUROPEAN SMALL ARMS AMMUNITION MARKET: we’re advised by a major military ammunition producer that the annual market in Europe for military SAA is approx 650m rounds. The collective French, German, Italian & British share (consumption) is about half the total. Collective consumption by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Sweden & Finland account for the rest. If Austria & Switzerland are also included, we’re advised the annual European market should probably be increased by about 70m making a total of 720 million rounds. The UK MOD market alone is about 100m rounds.

FLAT-PACK ARMS FACTORY FOR BURMA: JDW reported that Burma has recommenced small arms production in a new modular facility supplied back in Feb 98 in pre-fabricated form by Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS) with the help of Israelis linked to IMI. The report says the intended product range will extend up to 37mm, and the design of the new plant, which is under MOD control, will allow for expansion as required. Initial output is thought to be the indigenous 5.56mm EMER K-1 bullpup, numbers of which have reportedly appeared already with the Burmese military. This design, with pressed-metal receiver and M16-pattern magazine, in both rifle & LSW variants, is conceivably inspired by the new 5.8mm Chinese bullpup currently fielded by the PLA solely in Hong Kong (see previous issues).

Burma hasn’t officially confirmed it has a new plant, but JDW appears to have gleaned details from shipping papers. About seven years ago it looked as if the Burmese were planning to produce domestic variants of Chinese 7.62x39mm Kalashnikov derivatives, but this venture evidently never took off.

More recently it emerged that Burma was keen to make Kalashnikov weapons in 5.56mm instead, and it is thought to have tried to make or assemble these with Chinese help, but the K-1 bullpup design, originally prototoyped some years ago, is a new direction for manufacturers there. In all probability however it is merely a Kalashnikov mechanism repackaged in bullpup configuration, like some comparable designs. Past reports suggest that China, Israel and Singapore have all provided assistance to the Burmese small arms industry over the last decade.

In the past Germany was the main source of assistance, with Fritz Werner (then owned by the German government) having been responsible for the establishment of several Burmese arms plants, including the facility built with Heckler & Koch in 1957 for G3 rifle production, plus a small arms ammunition factory. The range of outside sources which have successively become involved in the Burmese arsenal-building plans suggests a typical Third World pattern of neglected facilities which ultimately cannot do the job, necessitating another new start with more outside help.

As far as we know, Burma still manufactures solely for its domestic forces and has not so far planned to export any of its small arms. Since it is now making 5.56mm weapons, we must assume the necessary ammunition is also being made. Also that the K-1 is now the official Burmese replacement for the 7.62x51mm G3, which is a bit on the large side for Asian troops. Reportedly Burma has been working towards its supersession for a decade or more.

Ever since Western supplies began to dry up in the late-80s, following criticism of the ruling SLORC regime’s rather quaint ideas on human rights, it’s clear Burma has been working towards complete self-sufficiency in light weapons, first with licenced production, now with some indigenous designs.

We would not expect the Chinese to have any qualms about equipping Burma, but the reported involvement by Singapore & Israel reflects badly on both suppliers and suggest a classic pattern of dwindling defence export opportunities progressively lowering resistance to outfitting regimes that most countries have now boycotted.

NATO IGNORING NGOs ON LIGHT WEAPONS: according to Defense News, NATO is resisting pressure from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to support their moves to enhance ‘transparency’ and controls in respect of transfers of light weapons (aka small arms). Human Rights Watch in the USA wrote to NATO urging the alliance to adopt appropriate policies, but there are apparently no plans to introduce any new NATO rules.

Could it be that the NGOs - which have so far rather had it their own way with the UN and certain national governments (such as New Labour in the UK) - have finally overestimated their importance in the wider order of things?

Reportedly Human Rights Watch is keen that NATO should do something in connection with its peacekeeping missions to prevent weapons proliferation, though it’s not easy to see exactly what this might be. Sources have suggested the NGOs’ concerns are not a priority at NATO Headquarters. Presumably the NGOs would like peacekeepers to be sure to collect up any bootleg weapons they find, though most combatants nowadays seem to have little problem replenishing their stocks, and if necessary (as in Croatia) may even manufacture their own. But with all the other international, regional (eg EU) and national moves on small arms controls, external supplies will of course completely dry up any time now. Well, won’t they?

FLINTLOCK MUSKET HP: we were talking to an apparently very knowledgeable re-enactor in Canada recently about practical hit probability (HP), (ie in combat conditions) with the smoothbored flintlock musket of circa 1810. He reckoned the practical HP at 100 yards in those days was about 4%, the vast amount of smoke from black powder fusillades being a major hindrance factor.

Whilst this sounds very low, try computing the average 100 metre HP of all rounds from any of the current range of 5.56mm personal weapons fired in combat conditions, and we’d bet it isn’t that huge, not least because of the indiscriminate use of burstfire, producing a high percentage of ‘sky hits’ and not much else.

We remember reading somewhere that the British shot/kill ratio (with .450 Martinis, we recall) at the siege of Rorke’s Drift in South Africa was around 60:1, based on Zulu bodies versus cartridge cases retrieved, so things obviously hadn’t improved much since 1810.

AUSTRALIAN GUN TRADE HIT HARD: press reports from Australia in Oct 98 suggested that the gun trade over there had been seriously damaged by the ban on semi-automatic long guns. In Queensland, the Brisbane Courier mail reported that at least a third of all gunshops had either closed or were considering it, and turnover was said to be off by a half, with new gun sales down a whopping 80%. Illicit trade prompted by the new laws was claimed to be largely to blame. The same paper said that armed robbery in Australia had risen last year by 39% and armed assault by 28%.

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