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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): February 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

IMI SHOWS NEW 5.56MM BULLPUP: JDW has published details of the IMI Israel 5.56mm bullpup rifle, which is reportedly now called the Tavor. The accompanying photo showed a much neater design than the earlier prototypes, which, as we recall, resembled the Steyr AUG rather more closely. Though not stated, we assume the innards of the Tavor are Galil-based. The one-piece stock/receiver is made from synthetics and the pistol grip has a large AUG-style ‘trigger guard’, more correctly a hand protector.

A bipod and 40mm grenade launcher are reportedly also available, and the flash hider appears to incorporate an angled slot and holes for muzzle stabilisation. An International Technologies red dot sight is fitted, mounted directly on the barrel, and there is also an integrated laser aiming pointer. Mini-night sights are also available. Magazines are M16-pattern and the sample shown was right-ejecting, though - since JDW says the left-mounted cocking handle (which also seems to be inspired by the AUG) is reversible - we assume the same also applies to ejection. Weapon weight is stated as 3.5kg loaded, and length overall is 72cm.

The Israelis have been cagey in the past as to exactly what was the purpose of this project; however it would appear it has been developed as a potential replacement for the IDF’s Galils and M16s. Whether there will be other competitors (as there were when the Galil itself was adopted) remains to be seen. But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Steyr must be feeling pretty smug.

MARINES M40A2 BECOMES M40A1 IMPROVED: just to confuse you, now that the US Marine Corps has finally unveiled its long-awaited M40A2 sniper rifle it’s actually calling it the M40A1 Improved. Like the M40A1, the new rifles are built on Remington actions, and they have custom stocks from McMillan, with adjustable ambidextrous cheekrests and hooked butts to offer a good purchase for the non-firing hand. We’re told the scopes are 4-14x Leupolds, and we note the scope rings are mounted on a Picatinny rail that extends a couple of inches beyond the breech ring. Also, the butt pad appears to incorporate a spacer system. The heavyweight barrels are threaded for muzzle suppressors, but a very finely-fitted thread protector is added for normal use. As we recall, the USMC small arms shop at Quantico made only about 1,000 M40A1 rifles; we don’t yet know whether the existing rifles will simply be taken in for upgrading or if all-new weapons will be built.

NEOSTEAD SHOTGUN UPDATE (1 NOV 98): Neostead in South Africa has provided another update on the status of its 12-shot ‘pump-forward’ bullpup shotgun, as (lightly edited) below:

‘Firstly we would like to explain that the Pre-production Models (PPM) that we are presently building are for testing and evaluation purposes, and are not for sale. To evaluate the PPMs all the major and critical components have been manufactured using permanent production tooling such as injection moulds for the polymer parts, metal stampings etc. To go into production and still be able to achieve a retail selling price of $1000.00, further industrialisation and permanent tooling is required. The planning for this stage will be finalised after the PPMs have been fully tested and evaluated.

Exciting improvements and enhancements incorporated in the PPMs are :-

- Completely new barrel guides - giving greater barrel stability resulting in greater accuracy.

- Positive sear link lock - thus preventing drop-test discharge.

- No tools are required for field stripping. Merely depress a spring loaded button and the butt/grip slides off.

The frustration is that we have not yet received the necessary permits to allow us to complete final assembly and start test firing. These permits are now 11 months overdue. It is our intention to manufacture the Neostead gun in the USA for the US market. A further update will be issued when we have completed test firing.’

STEYR 5.56MM USR - AMPLIFICATION: one of the managers of the Cybershooters mailing list in the UK wired us some comments regarding our earlier report on the Steyr 5.56mm USR, the commercial, ‘less-warlike’ (aka politically correct) AUG rifle variant, a batch of which was exported to the USA just in time to escape current import restrictions. He points out that the magazine capacity is actually nine rounds rather than ten, and that the gas system is adjustable. Though the rifle comes with no barrel release catch, he says you can simply buy one from GSI for $6 and Loctite it in place. He further notes that the more ergonomic design of the USR cocking handle is offset by the lack of a hold-open slot in the receiver, so that you can only lock the breech open with an empty magazine in place. Finally, he considers the muzzle flash is a bit excessive without the military flash hider.

SWISS SUPPRESSOR YARD SALE: the European distributor of SS-Super-Sonic-International in Niederbipp (Switzerland) is having a yard sale of suppressors, many at half price, since all must go by 31 Dec 98, after which new Swiss firearms laws forbidding their sale come into force. On offer are suppressors to fit almost every kind of pistol, carbine, SMG and military rifle (both East & West-bloc), including Impuls models for recoil-operated pistols, plus multicalibre versions. The suppliers claim up to 30% better suppression than rival products and offer a 10-year guarantee. (S Frauchiger, European distributor, Tel (+41) 32-633-2418 or 79-319-4973)

FN 5.7x28mm P-90 AMMUNITION - CORRECTION: in our item ‘5.7mm P-90 Ballistics Improved’, carried in a recent issue, the following paragraph appeared:
‘And he further notes that, at the bottom line, the P-90 projectile has just 60% the momentum of the commercial .22 Hornet, with around 52% of its energy. A closer analogue, Fackler says, would be the 1922fps .22 rimfire Remington Viper round, with momentum within 5% of that achieved by the P-90.’

We’ve recently received a wire saying that the author of the original article (in Wound Ballistics Review) misread the Remington brochure - which is apparently easy to do, given the way it’s printed - and that the figure of 1,922 isn’t the muzzle velocity of the Viper round, but the order number!

Viper MV is actually published as 1,410 fps, giving it a momentum 43% less than that of the SS190 round for the P-90, not 5% less. However, the message also said that .22 WMR is a different story, with momentum for the Winchester 34 gr Supreme is within 1% of that of the SS109 round.

NEW METAL STORM US DEAL: a report in The Courier Mail (Brisbane) said that the Charter Pacific Corporation, which has invested A$3m in a 30% stake in Mike O’Dwyers Metal Storm high-rate gun development company (see earlier issues) had negotiated a deal allowing Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in the USA, a firm specialising in US government-funded R&D projects, to utilise Metal Storm technology. No cash value was mentioned. Under the terms of the SAIC agreement, Metal Storm will reportedly receive a percentage of the income from any commercial exploitation of the gun technology. However, Metal Storm will continue working itself on aspects not covered by the linkup with SAIC, such as projects specific to local Australian defence needs. The paper said that Lockheed Martin also entered into an ‘evaluation alliance’ with Metal Storm in 1996 to study possible applications of the invention, which readers will recall relates to electronically-fired, programmed volley gun systems with a number of projectiles loaded base to tip in each barrel, offering phenomenally high theoretical cyclic rates.

SELLIER & BELLOT STEEL-CASED 5.56MM: FAMAS users and others who (Lord knows why) prefer steel cartridge cases might wish to know that Sellier & Bellot from the Czech Republic is now selling steel-cased M193-style 5.56mm ammunition in the USA. Primers are Boxer, and made from brass. Headstamp wording is S&B 223 REM. Case colour is grey, resembling East German ammunition. It’s loaded with a lead-cored, copper-jacketed ball bullet and retails for around $25 for a box of 140 rounds.

Steel-cased ammunition is still the standard in the East, and GIAT in France also uses steel for its military 5.56mm, but most Western buyers inevitably tend to think ‘cheap & cheerful’ whenever they see steel. We think - as a straight marketing point - that Sellier & Bellot would be well-advised to use brass cases when selling into the US & Western European markets. There’s also a chance that shooters might then pick up the fired cases too - many ranges are now littered with steel East-bloc empties that no-one bothers to collect since they have no obvious value even as scrap.

2. INDUSTRY & INTERNATIONAL NEWS

A THOUGHT FOR ARMISTICE DAY: we were chatting to a neighbour about Armistice Day in November, and he related how, back in the 1970s, he went on a battlefield tour in Europe with a military guide. It was the quiet season at the war cemetery, and there was nobody else to be seen among the serried rows of headstones, but a short while later a bus turned up and promptly disgorged a bunch of children, who leapt off into the cemetery engaged in the kind of noisy stuff that kids tend to do. The tour guide was apparently outraged by this noisy ‘intrusion’ and stomped over to the bus to ask the woman in charge of the kids what she thought she was doing.

But her reply literally stopped him in his tracks. She said “We bring them here from time to time, so the men can hear the children”. He just hadn’t thought of it that way, and was duly humbled.

We can tell you from our own experience that the local school kids also take their lunch amongst the headstones at the war cemetery for the allied Burma Railway dead at Kanchanaburi in Thailand, close by the River Kwai, but we see no contradiction there either. The Week asked if we could ever tolerate something as harrowing as the Great War today, and quoted the following from Wilfred Wilson Gibson:

‘We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?’

COLT PILES UP SEVERAL CONTRACTS: National Defense said that Colt had recently secured an initial $2.5m deal, with further options worth $5m, to produce ‘M16A4’ rifles for the US army. We understand this model is a ‘flat-top’ M16A2 with Picatinny scope rail and the four-rail Modular Weapon System around the barrel for improving the potential for mounting additional sighting devices and other accessories. The A4 designation is mighty confusing, since there has never been an official M16A3 model, though that’s what Picatinny Arsenal in the past took to calling the flat-topped M16A2 with scope rail to distinguish it from the A2 with integral carrying handle.

Some 20,000 A4s are eventually expected to be made, at a price of $375 each, presumably by modification from A2 flat top standard, with initial deliveries early in 1999. The same source also said that in Jan 98 Colt won a three-year US army deal, a partnering arrangement with Anniston Army Depot, to upgrade USAF M16 rifles to M16A2 standard, initially 50,000 weapons for $18m, with the possibility of further options up to more than 120,000 riffles.

The magazine said the Air Force currently had around 220,000 M16s; as we understand it, the USAF still has basic early models (not M16A1s) without forward bolt assists, though we recall seeing M16A2s with Air Force Security units from Nellis AFB some years ago.

Additionally, the magazine pointed out that back in Oct 97 Colt was awarded another $12.5m deal to provide in excess of 24,000 5.56mm M4 Carbines to the US army. Clearly this steady injection of new army & air force business will help keep Colt’s military production ticking over for a few years, but none of it changes the longer-term prognosis of very lean times ahead for all US small arms suppliers.

ANGOLA RAID LEAVES SIX DEAD: early in Nov 98 the Telegraph and others reported that the Canadian-owned Yetwene diamond mine in Angola was raided by a 50-strong unit of what are thought to have been members of the Unita rebel forces, who killed six staff, including two from the UK, and kidnapped four others. Eighteen more were wounded.

GLOBAL SCENE HITS ISRAELI DEFENCE: an item in Jane’s News Briefs said that, due to financial crises around the world, Israeli defence manufacturers could be looking at 1998 revenues as low as $1.5Bn, down from $2.5Bn in 1997, suggesting an urgent need for ‘reform’. Restructuring, downscaling & diversification are probably the words they should really be grasping for.

INTERARMS USA REORGANISATION: Firearms Business (FB) reported in Oct 98 that most of the management at Interarms in the USA had been let go and the company’s former controller, David MacGillivray, had been promoted to president & CEO. There was still no definitive word on the Umarex (Germany) purchase of Interarms which had been in negotiation for some considerable time, though Interarms confirmed it would still need to work closely with Walther, which is a Umarex subsidiary.

ARMED POLICE EVERYWHERE: it seems that the new UK government’s fears of terrorist attack extend rather further than the modest little squad of 28 armed police protecting British PM Blair around the clock. The Mail on Sunday highlighted the inauguration of a new MOD Police (MDP) control room in the bowels of the Whitehall defence headquarters in London, complete with an armoury and a team of MDP ‘marksmen’ reportedly tasked with protecting the defence secretary and military Chiefs of Staff.

One of the MOD Police staff, a female firearms instructor, was pictured with her ‘sub-machine gun’, which the rest of us would more readily have recognised as an SA80 rifle. We don’t somehow expect a platoon of armed crazies to storm the MOD HQ anytime soon, but hey - that would spoil a good bit of free ministry PR. Yet knowing how un-cordial relations between senior military staff and politicians (particularly of a Labour hue) usually are, we guess the biggest risk to the defence secretary’s health is probably from the Chiefs of Staff themselves!

DENEL LOSSES: Flight International reported that Denel in South Africa is expected to record current FY losses of up to Rand 400m ($70.5m). The group is now to be reorganised from 18 divisions to four (heavy ordnance, light ordnance, commercial & aerospace). The public enterprises minister has apparently confirmed that British Aerospace will be the first company to be approached by the South African government regarding an equity partnership with Denel’s aerospace division (Denel Aviation & Kentron).

SWITZERLAND WITHOUT AN ARMY?: in Oct 98 The Economist reported that one Tobias Schnebli from the “Group for a Switzerland Without an Army” was out collecting signatures for a petition to present to the Swiss government seeking to abolish the army. If petitioners can collect 50,000 names, a nationwide referendum can be held on an issue. With 100,000 signatures you can force an entirely new legislative initiative to be voted on. Back in 1989 Herr Schnebli’s group first forced a vote on the future of the army and 36% of the electorate reportedly agreed the army should go. However, the government is getting wise to all this and now wants to increase the number of names required on petitions for new initiatives to 150,000.

RADWAY GREEN SAA PLANT UNDER SERIOUS THREAT: Royal Ordnance sources confirm that the company has already submitted an unsolicited bid to the UK MOD for the upcoming multi-year British armed forces buy of small arms ammunition (see Section 1). In so doing, the company has stressed to the ministry the need to encourage partnership with the defence industry, as recommended in the UK Strategic Defence Review, a process intended to produce ongoing cost & efficiency savings.

However, if the MOD nevertheless simply opts for a cheap overseas bid, regardless of from whence the ammunition is sourced, Royal Ordnance has unequivocally stated that it will ‘exit the business’. This would be a major blow to the UK, leaving it with no indigenous military SAA manufacturer.

We’re conscious the UK MOD has provoked this kind of thing before, some years ago, by dint of buying successive orders of cheap Greek .50 BMG ammunition from Pyrkal and forcing Eley Ltd in Birmingham (the UK’s sole domestic source at the time) to quit the .50 business altogether. In our view, it would be grossy irresponsible of the MOD to allow yet another significant component of the UK strategic industry to wither on the vine. But in recent years the ministry has already sourced large quantities of assorted SAA from overseas and its policy on 155mm propellant purchasing (see story below) seems likely to put UK capability in that field too at risk.

ARMS IN KOSOVO AID CONSIGNMENT: TTU Europe reported that on 1 Nov 98 some sniper rifles, communications kit and ammunition were seized by Albanian customs from two containers of Swiss origin. The military materiel, travelling on a Croatian vessel, was apparently hidden in a humanitarian aid consignment destined for Kosovan refugees.

USAF HAS TOO LITTLE AMMO: a Defense News item said the US Air Force had admitted that past emphasis on funding major assets such as new aircraft had resulted in an ammunition shortfall that was unlikely to be cured for several years. Now the ammunition reserves of a few years back have been ‘drained’. 30mm GAU-8 ammunition for the A10 tankbuster is apparently a major concern, with only 1.5m rounds allocated for next year against a requirement of nearly 2m. About a third of the USAF’s total ammunition stocks of 27m rounds is apparently held in the Gulf and now considered suspect due to adverse storage conditions - this stock is now being repatriated to the USA for inspection. We begin to hear the cash registers tinkling at the ammo contractors.

CLINTON COPS OUT ON KOSOVO MONITORING: the news that the US government has hired private contractors to provide the 150-strong American contingent to the unarmed Kosovo ceasefire monitoring force has gone down like a lead balloon on the other side of the Atlantic, where the UK is sending a 200-man team, half of them serving military personnel, the rest retired officers and other experts.

A Guardian report said that the US State Department had hired Virginia-based DynCorp for the Kosovo job, and the firm would be providing a team of ‘weapons inspectors’, ‘verification experts’, drivers and technicians. DynCorp had beaten its competitors MPRI to win the contract.

The use of outside contractors is seen as a political ruse by the Clinton administration to sidestep the negative impact which might otherwise be incurred if US troops were killed on this risky Kosovo mission. But one British defence commentator was quoted as saying “It is extraordinary that a country with a highly paid volunteer army should turn to a private company of mercenaries. This is not the sort of task which should be done for profit.”

Even more surprising when one remembers the Kosovo deal itself was brokered by Washington. We can’t believe that senior American military commanders reckon much to this policy either, since it shows the US forces in rather a poor light.

UK WORLD ARMS SALES NO 2: IISS data reported by the Guardian says that in 1997 the UK (up 5% with £5Bn in sales) maintained its position as No 2 world arms exporter in a year which showed the global market rise to a record post-Cold War high of $47Bn. It has risen 36% just over the previous two years. Top of the list (no surprise) was the USA, but Russian sales have slumped over a decade from 35% of the world total to just 5.4%, suggesting that the defence industry alone is certainly not going to buy Moscow out of trouble any time soon. Biggest arms importer is Saudi Arabia at $11Bn, which raises some interesting questions about the likely impact on the world market if the oil price collapsed.

NEW THAI POLICE ACADEMY: the Bangkok Post reported early in Oct 98 that the US and Thailand had signed a deal to establish a new International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, funded by the American government. It’s aim is to further co-operation twixt US, Thai & other SE Asian law enforcement agencies, focussing on drugs, the smuggling of people, terrorism and ‘economic crime’.

SUICIDE BY COP - DATA: the results of a survey of 240 US police shootings from Jan 1980 to Jun 1995 recently published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin concluded that suicidal intent on the part of the person confronting police and subsequently shot was a factor in probably nine cases and possibly also in another 28. Taken together these would constitute 16% of the total.

In 160 cases no reliable determination could be made, and in 43 instances a suicidal motive was absent or unlikely. 69% of the 240 shootings, which covered 18 metropolitan areas, were fatal. The findings suggest that the ‘suicide by cop’ phenomenon is indeed significant, as suspected for some time, and begs the question what - if anything - could be done to reduce its incidence.

LARGE UK 5.56MM DISPOSAL: the UK MOD has recently sold off two million rounds of Hirtenberg (Austria) 5.56mm L3A1 M193-specification ammunition which was surplus to requirements. It was in three batches, of 1984, 1987 and 1988 vintage. Some readers may find it curious that while Royal Ordnance Radway Green still has to fight tooth & nail to secure every UK MOD small arms ammunition contract, the MOD should be selling off stocks of foreign ammunition which could have been produced at home.

The disposal is even odder when one bears in mind that M193 (55gr) 5.56mm ammunition is perfectly OK to use in current NATO 1:7” twist barrels (eg SA80, M16A2), and indeed the US forces still buy M193 ball and M196 tracer for training, not least because it’s cheaper than the SS109 family.

LETHAL DOWNSIDE OF SA MAJORITY RULE: The Economist & others reported that since the majority ANC government was elected in South Africa in 1994, around 550 farmers (mostly white Boers) have been murdered in 2,000 attacks throughout the country. 104 had already been killed in 1998. In some cases their (black) attackers have lain in wait and killed whole families, carving political slogans on the corpses. In others, victims have been raped & tortured. Many farmers believe it is part of an intimidation campaign, though the government denies politics are involved. Nevertheless, we doubt this information will be appearing anytime soon in South African tourist literature.

PLA SLASHED BY 100K: According to the Telegraph, China announced in mid-Sep 98 that it had made 100,000 members of the PLA redundant, a move which is one step in a programme to trim the 3m-strong army by half a million. It’s hoped to save money with which to modernise the PLA. We guess it’ll also dump rather a lot of surplus small arms on the market too.

BUNDESWEHR GRENADE ACCIDENT: in early Sep 98 the German press reported that there was an accident at the Leopold Barracks in Amberg in which an HE/Fragmentation hand grenade exploded, wounding 21 soldiers, five of them seriously. The troops, from the HQ company of Panzerbrigade 11 and Panzerpionierkompanie 120 (armoured pioneers), were undergoing grenade training in a room when (for reasons which are unclear) a live hand grenade suddenly detonated. A corporal who reportedly brought the live grenade to the training session was lightly wounded in the blast and apparently now faces charges under safety regulations.

SYMBOLIC MACHETE DESTRUCTION: a Times short said that police in the UK had torched and ‘melted down’ a machete used in an attack on children having a school picnic in Wolverhampton two years ago. This is the sort of blatantly PC move, blaming the weapon for the deed, that we normally hear reported from California.

3. FUTURE WEAPON SYSTEMS & TECHNOLOGY

ISRAELI GENETIC WEAPONS?: potentially the most disturbing news of the month came via the Sunday Times, which claimed that the Israeli biological warfare establishment at Nes Ziona was developing genetic weapons intended to target ethnic Arabs without harming Jews. It said that the Israelis had used some of the genetic research carried out by South Africa under apartheid (see previous issues) and cited ‘Israeli military and western intelligence sources’ as the basis of the story.

The paper claimed that researchers had been trying to find specific ‘Arab’ genes which would make target populations vulnerable to certain biological agents, which could used either to fill weapons or to poison water supplies. But the task had been more difficult due to the common Semitic origin of Jews and Arabs. However the Israelis had already figured out specific genetic vulnerabilities, in ‘particularly the Iraqi people’. The US defence secretary was also quoted as confirming that a number of countries were working on genetically-engineered weapons, and one was indeed thought to be Israel.

The Sunday Times said that Jane’s Intelligence Review, citing South African sources, had already published a similar story, and that the Israelis were said to have done their genetic research on Arabic Jews, ‘especially Iraqis’. If these revelations are true, they are particularly shocking for a country like Israel which was founded in the wake of systematic Nazi genocide and depends heavily on Western moral and financial support for its continued existence. Yet with every ‘shock-horror’ military story of this type, it’s always educational to study the timing, which in this case was at the very peak of the latest Iraq crisis. Clearly there would be significant propaganda value in Israel being thought to have weapons designed specifically to exploit Iraqi vulnerabilities, bearing in mind the possibility of Saddam Hussein once more including Israel on his own target list - and the exceedingly hawkish Israeli government now in power.

Either way, whether or not the specific Israeli threat is real, since genetic weapons research is already thought to be under way in various states it is clearly time for this sort of work to be prohibited by international convention, as medical experts in the UK have been saying for some while.

As for Israel, we would hope the government there will realise that Western sympathy for its plight is liable to evaporate rather rapidly if that country sinks to the same sort of ‘Final Solution’ tactics practiced against the Jewish community in World War Two. All Jews should condemn it outright.

It does however highlight the need for the West to get a much firmer grip on Jewish/Arab politics and persuade all the parties that ‘end-game’ policies such as genetic and nuclear warfare are unacceptable as bargaining chips, since their only outcome, if pursued, would be mutual annihilation, hardly a triumph of late 20th century diplomacy.

NANOTECHNOLOGY FOR SOLDIER APPLICATIONS: in mid-98 the US army’s Soldier Systems Command (SSCOM) hosted a conference on ‘Nanotechnology for the Soldier System’.

Nanotechnology, as SSCOM describes it, involves ‘the exploitation of novel phenomena that occur in materiels constructed from constituents that are extremely small. For example, the size of these building blocks used in nanotechnology will range from one millionth to one billionth of a meter.’

SSCOM claims that nanotechnology will significantly reduce the soldier’s load, help track his performance and vastly improve his chemical/biological, ballistic & environmental protection, as well as protecting his eyes from directed energy (as in ‘death rays’).

According to one speaker, “Nanotechnology may benefit the soldier of the future because nanomaterials and devices could provide greater protective and intelligence capabilities at a reduced weight. This should improve the soldier’s mobility, viability and lethality.”

Another said, “Nanomaterials that can be developed and demonstrated for soldier systems in the near term include nanofibers for filtration and chemically protective membranes, nanolayered materiels for packaging and ballistic protection, nanoparticles and nanocomposites for signature reduction and ballistic protection, and nanofoams for new lightweight transparent armor.”

All well & good, but first please ensure you have more than a nanobudget to develop all this stuff.

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