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Industry Profile: International Replica Arms Company

By Robert Bruce, Military Affairs Editor

I had first become aware of IRAC when I was looking for a primary provider of simulated weapons for Threat Tec, our company that provides highly realistic training to military and security clients.  During my search, I kept hearing about this company called IRAC and how they produced the best simulated weapons money could buy.  J.T. Crawford, President/CEO of IRAC, Highgate, Threat Tec and Pariri.

While some small arms purists might be tempted to dismiss replica guns as “toys for big boys,” we believe the best of these of this category have long served important roles in a wide variety of situations.  Think “Rubber Duck” M16 rifles and other weapons; realistic full size/full weight, non-firing models made from durable epoxy reinforced with steel rods.  These have proven a damn good alternative to beating up real guns (or the nightmare of losing them) in tough training like parachuting and waterborne exercises.

But they don't go BANG. 

Or consider the cost, complexity, safety concerns, logistical hassles, and legal compliance issues of using blank-adapted versions of actual weapons by OPFOR (opposing force) elements in training scenarios.  Most often more trouble than worth.

These were among many obstacles confronting J. T. Crawford's Threat Tec teams in carrying out highly realistic, demonstrably effective “threat emulations” under Department of Defense contracts.  He needed to find a good source for working replicas that were tough, reliable and looked and sounded right.

In the interview that follows, conducted earlier this year during a visit to the group's headquarters in Hampton, Virginia, the 46 year old Crawford explains how he found International Replica Arms Company (IRAC).  And how he was able to make it a perfect fit in his group of closely-connected business entities.

A conversation with J. T. Crawford

SAR:  Tell us about yourself.  Where you came from and some things about what happened along the way to your highly successful group of companies. 

Crawford:  I'm from Kentucky and I grew up in the greater Cincinnati area of Ohio, right across the Ohio River where my paternal and maternal grandparents lived. 

I started shooting when I was probably 11.  I hunted from the time I was a small boy.   Probably for two years with my grandfather before I was allowed to carry a gun.  He would carry the gun and eventually I was carrying the gun with him.  We were avid outdoorsmen and loved to hunt and fish.  I have four sons.  All of my sons have been to the range multiple times.  Shot everything from the 1911 to the Barrett .50 cal. 

After high school, I enlisted in the Army for three years and served in the 101st Airborne Division;  2nd Battalion 187th Regiment “Rakkasans” and 1st Battalion 506th Regiment “Currahee,” the Band of Brothers group of WWII.   I was a sniper in South Korea from 1987-88 under the 2nd Infantry Division.

Entrepreneur afterward, back to college later for an MBA, then work as a consultant to a number of companies.  I started Threat Tec in October 2013, finding early success as a DoD (Department of Defense) contractor and we started to recognize opportunities to vertically integrate some of those needs we have within Threat Tec.  'Vertical integration' is bringing in things we would have to go out to third parties to bring into our mix, to provide the client with.  In this case weapon simulators from IRAC and battlefield effects from Highgate. 

SAR: How did your Army service influence development of Threat Tec?

Crawford:  In Korea there was a sort of mobile training team coming in setting up some simple sniper training for us.  Not anything like the realism of what we do today.  I don't want to minimize the quality of the training back then because the tools they had to work with were limited. 

But now, we do work with the Army Sniper School, bringing realism into the picture for our clients.  They were able to refocus some of their existing training models and capture better complexity to their training set.  So, as opposed to having a sniper team go and observe a crossroads where maybe nothing will happen, they can now go observe a village where we have built some key vignettes that are happening in the background.  And we want to see if they pick those up. 

When you see role players go out in different exercises, lots of times there are folks on the low end of the scale for realism.  Only because they aren't given a great deal of detail as to their mission set.  Our folks from Threat Tec receive our own internal training set to understand not just the verbal cues, non-verbal cues, body language, how different cultures will stand.  It really does give our soldiers a real chance to see a different lifestyle when they're peering into that village.

SAR:  The evolving realities of warfare and the Rules Of Engagement have demanded that?

Crawford:  They have.  Certainly the 24 hour news cycles produce a lot of information very quickly so mistakes or mis-reads are really amplified.  I'll tell you our service men and women do an extraordinary job of trying to understand the enemy, the enemy mindset, including identifying the enemy on the battlefield.  So it's pretty encouraging to come back 30 years later and see these young men who are going thru the sniper program now and how dedicated they are to really learning and … becoming professional soldiers. 

SAR:  Your favorite weapons back during that time in the Army?  What was the standard sniper rifle?

Crawford:  The Remington 700 – M24 – had just come into view and the units were very protective in those days of certain sensitive items getting out because we weren't used to employing snipers.  So more times than not I would go out with my M16A2 because what we looked at was another of the real missions of a sniper; the ability to collect and report data.  I think they called the course back then the “Scout Sniper Course.”  It was a five week long course with precision shooting, of course, but also man-tracking, hide building, and a lot of collection skills from memorization to terrain analysis. 

SAR:  A favorite gun at the time?

Crawford: From my perspective – even having been a sniper  – my favorite gun back then would have been the M249 (5.56mm Squad Automatic Weapon).  So light and so much firepower that I really had a love for that one.  I didn't carry it much at all but I loved going to the range with any of the light automatic weapons.

SAR:  Personal weapons now ?

Crawford:  I have many.  My favorite now?  I have the Barrett MRAD and I really like that but it's really hard to pick a favorite.  I have a .300 Blackout AR15  from Daniel Defense that is just outstanding.  Probably one of the smoothest shooting guns I've ever owned.  Lots of them, the Barrett M82A1  .50 cal. that I really enjoy shooting.  I've been to the Barrett factory, met Ronnie in passing, shook his hand.  They were friendly and knew that we were a DoD contractor, bringing anti-materiel rifles to our Threat Tec side for live training.  They worked hard to make the deal great for everyone.    Barrett is incredibly supportive of the military and its mission. 

SAR:  Tell us more about how Threat Tec's work led to purchase of IRAC.

Crawford:  The main driver for our purchase of IRAC, finalized in September 2014, was how nicely it fit with our Highgate and Threat Tec brands.  Our DoD partners had been raving fans about our products and we knew IRAC would go a long way towards strengthening our value proposition.

SAR:  What's a “value proposition?

Crawford:  (Chuckles)  A value proposition is 'how does this make sense to our customers?  So, why buy IRAC?'  And what is the value we bring to the marketplace that they're not getting from others?”  That was what we were trying to do.  You could just say it was an added value to our customers that now we have these capabilities in house.  So when you're trying to do a live event and you're bringing out – frequently with Threat Tec – I'll bring a full OPFOR (opposing force).  We have a number of retired Colonels, retired senior NCOs and we'll set up an operation to fight the BLUE FORCE – the good guys.  We fight using threat tactics, techniques and procedures, along with threat weapon systems.

Let me give you a little deeper analysis. Threat Tec did need some battlefield effects to help direct movement in some of the more constricted lanes we were working in.  And we were looking for a solution that would be very realistic, that would provide some value to the soldier going down the lane as in weapons identification.  If I'm in a scout sniper mode and I can see the position and I can say there's a 'Dishka' (.51 caliber DShK heavy machine gun) on the ridge, I'm able to report that back.  So we were looking for someone who could make them.  And we knew we had seen these sort of things in Hollywood movies.  We searched but couldn't seem to find the manufacturer.  So in my despair that I couldn't find them, I decided to do what any country boy from Kentucky does, I consulted YouTube and I said let's build one ourselves (laughs).  And while I was going thru layers of YouTube videos I stumbled upon IRAC.  They were doing a quad or dual mount Fifty in the back of a jacked up WW2 vintage military truck.  And I said 'that's the guy I need.'  And at the very end of that video, it was a television show, the guy gave a plug to IRAC.  And I found 'em.  After that Steve Carter, the owner, and I became fast friends and we certainly developed a whole lot of new R&D efforts for DoD.  Things like the RPG-29 (Russian antitank rocket launcher) we started building.  According to Steve, Threat Tec became his best customer.

Threat Tec began using IRAC as the primary provider of simulated weapon systems. From the very first time we used an IRAC product, we were impressed with just how good these simulators truly were. Our teams train military personnel in some of the most demanding environments in the world. IRAC simulators not only looked the part, but they consistently performed day in and day out, which was invaluable to us.

SAR:  'Most demanding environments in the world.'  More demanding than Ft. Benning, Georgia?

Crawford:  Yes, we do some great training environments.  Let me be clear:  We are not training in theater (overseas).  We've had some opportunities to do that but we've made a decision as a company we're too old for that (smiles).  We really focus on where we think we can deliver the most impact to the troops, places like Ft. Benning.  We do a tremendous amount of training simulations at places like Ft. Leavenworth (Kansas) and live OPFOR at Ft. Bliss (Texas). 

SAR:  Another catch phrase in Threat Tec promotional materials references “'high fidelity operational environments.” 

Crawford:  For us this means a really good example.  High fidelity because they are very close to the original.  So we're talking about really honest representations of operational environments.  Right down to the food they might be making.  So the smells, the sights, the trash piles, the vehicles driven.  You can see out back one of our technical vehicles still has an Iraqi license plate.  Not something we have in the states.  A little truck driven with a three cylinder motorcycle engine.  But they're everywhere in Asia.

SAR:  Getting back for a moment to Steve Carter and why he was open to you purchasing IRAC.

Crawford:  Steve actually brought up the idea.  I think he had been approached by a competitor to buy him out.  And we felt it was so important to have IRAC as part of our business model that we did not want to see it go to a competitor where we could possibly lose access to all the things we had developed.  So in turn we made an offer.  Several discussions.  Over a year's time we had discussed it, toyed around it.  There was probably just a day it became, 'that sounds like a good idea,' and it moved very fast after that.  Steve has retained a similar set of tools that we have here so he's able to do some things wherever he is.  He built a facility in Tennessee that will operate under a no-competition agreement. 

Through my dealings with IRAC, I had developed a very strong relationship with Steve.  As our relationship progressed, it became apparent that we had very similar perspectives of how an acquisition could improve IRAC's position in the market. I think with Steve there were a couple of things going on.  He was thinking of moving to Tennessee from Cincinnati and he looked at this as an opportunity to have a fresh start.  Do some things differently.  Quite honestly, I think he was ready to move on to a different business or take some well-earned time off.

SAR:  IRAC was physically located in Cincinnati and your headquarters in Hampton, Virginia is quite different from Tennessee.   

Crawford:  A couple of things have changed in his life since then.  Steve remains on as one of our advisors and one of our technical guys.  He comes in when we're doing a major run of systems and he'll be right here with us developing.  Steve will continue on with the R and D (research and development) role.  He's known this company and treated it like a baby.  So IRAC turns 40 years old this year.  Steve was, I think, the third owner of IRAC and I'll be the fourth.  We want to continue to expand and see some real growth opportunities in the different systems we develop.  And I've got Steve geared up to help create these new models.  We have a big goal for this coming year to see some new systems rolling out on a fairly regular basis. 

The primary reason why the transition of IRAC included the relocation to Hampton, Virginia was to consolidate IRAC resources and have them under the same roof as Threat Tec HQ and Highgate HQ. As a result, collaboration among our specialists is more fluid and natural, which leads to more innovations and higher quality products, and we have greater access to our prospective markets.

SAR:  Advantages anticipated and now realized ?

Crawford: The greatest advantage, as we saw it, was the ability to innovate and rapidly develop battlefield systems quickly and accurately.  Highgate Systems has developed a number of systems that have been used to build high fidelity operational environments for DoD in the test and evaluation space. Highgate”s rapid prototyping capability and the IRAC toolset have merged nicely.

So, think of Highgate as the rental company that rents those battlefield effects, the props, and provides some subject matter expertise to non-DoD customers.  So if you're shooting a film and looking for somebody to advise you on, for example, how was the Battle of Tikrit?   Let's get specific into DoD capabilities.  We have 28 Colonels on staff.  Those folks are really a 'who's who' among warfighters.  We have a Navy Cross recipient, lots of Silver Star and Bronze Star recipients.

SAR:  That's a nice video on YouTube for Threat Tec with Colonel John McCarthy pointing to its location in Hampton giving “greater access to our prospective markets.” 

Crawford:  Certainly TRADOC (Army Training and Doctrine Command), only five miles away at Fort Monroe.  So we have had the opportunity to share our developmental products, some of the things that are tried and true.  MCOE (Maneuver Center of Excellence) Ft. Benning, Georgia would certainly fall in that category.

SAR:  In addition to the Army's TRADOC, any interaction with other services?

Crawford:  We do look for opportunities because they're so close (the Hampton Roads area is heavily military) and some other venues.  Not so much on the live side.  We do have some small watercraft – Boston Whalers with gun mounts and things like that – so we can challenge some of those riverine, 'brown water' forces.  We have some fantastic tools.  Our Boston Whaler is a navy 'red dot' hull (reinforced for rough use) so it's really capable of doing a lot, it's a high performance boat.  But I can't think of anything we've done locally.  Perhaps some of our Navy friends will read this feature and check us out.   

Inside TRADOC we also have the opportunity to work in the Joint community.  So some of the testing and evaluation efforts will include all of the services.  We're always looking for the opportunity to help so wherever we can throw our weight in to help with the training venue or to help develop a concept, that's a strong suit for us.  We work on a lot of concept development, innovation of training programs and simulations. 

We've done some really cool things by way of Mobile Training Teams and even mobile devices as training tools.  Using iPads and iPhones with applications that allow some training to go on.  We are able to put some very cool things in those digital environments that really make a difference and save a lot of money.

Let me go back a step.  The old concept where we have to load up a mobile training team, go out and see the soldiers face to face and teach them how to do things....

SAR:  But in the digital world you can employ apps rather than live instruction ?

Crawford:  That's right.  And also on an IRAC instructional method for today's soldiers – 'digital natives' -- the young guys who are so accustomed to using tools like smart phones to learn.  We take things like a .50 cal. and explode the parts, show them how to assemble, disassemble, functions, and clear jams.  On a phone or pad.  You can do it on a truck while waiting to move out on a convoy.

We're trying to find things like that to really connect with our service members so they're getting the training they need, whenever they're able to do it.  We're part of a contract at MCOE ( Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, Ft. Benning) that does mobile device training.  We have people in our Illinois office and MCOE who are working on that.

Let's talk about that IRAC mobile app, called the IRAC Knowledge Vault.  What we're doing is taking our simulated systems and providing all our buyers, customers with something powered by an app called VEZI which we own through our Parari Group.  It allows someone to take a smart device, hold it up, tap it to a tag, and it will explode to a user's manual.  Everything from the history of the system, like an M2 machine gun. And then go to specifics of the system.  How do I set it up.  (Not as detailed as an old Technical Manual because the simulated system is simpler).  Our end users need to know what are the preventative maintenance steps and how do we service this thing.  How do we clear jams if there's an issue in the field.  We're simplifying that so our customers no longer feel the need to send it back, although that rarely happens.  Generally we're able to talk someone thru it on the phone.  (like oxygen/propane mix).

SAR:  Way back in the day it was a laminated 'cheat sheet' and now it's digital?

Crawford:  That's right.  But you can hold their attention much longer than the 'sage on the stage with the PowerPoint' or a handout.

SAR:  What is your vision for the “new and improved” IRAC in selection of product line, manufacturing, customer service, etc. ? 

Crawford:  We started making changes right away.  Steve has built a firm foundation, and now we want to see our client offerings expand and our market presence grow.  The first big change was the new and improved website.  This gives our customers and channel partners a way to see what products are available, prices and even online ordering.  We have some big surprises to announce at the MVPA show in June.  I can tell you that they will include some mobile tools for our customers, new packaging and several new products.  We intend to offer a new replica each quarter for the next 24 months.  It's a huge order but we have really great and dedicated people who can do just about anything.

SAR:  Who uses IRAC replicas ? 

Crawford:  Government Contractors, Hollywood, DoD, DHS, museums, and many collectors and military enthusiasts.  Our service members use IRAC systems for training and in the development of a realistic battlefield.

Many of the country's best known war museums have an IRAC system or two.  Our systems are in use internationally and chances are you can see one at a parade near you!  We have a number of solutions and do a lot of customized systems for vintage aircraft and military vehicles.

Yesterday I took a phone call from England and the guy has a Loach, an Apache and a Huey (helicopters).  All, over the years, outfitted with IRAC systems.  He wants to outfit a (sim-fire) Minigun on the Loach.  The movie folks love the sim-fire 60s on the Huey.  When you have a conversation with Steve, he'll frequently say, 'oh yeah, we made those guns.  I forgot about that.'

You know that dinosaur thing that goes around to monster truck rallies?  It also has IRAC machine guns.  A company called us with a Vietnam era vehicle and said they were going to fight this fire-breathing dinosaur and we need to know if we can buy some of those.  And he bought five (sim-fire) guns; Mk19s, M2 .50s, really did a nice job on the vehicle.   

SAR:  Movies and television ?

Crawford: You can see IRAC systems on the Batmobile; the two 30mm cannons that came out of the hood.  Also guns on the Green Hornet's car and in the Transformers movies.  Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Battle of LA, Red Dawn, Terminator Salvation, and a lot more including Dreamworks' WWII television series The Pacific. 

Hollywood prop companies would call and say 'I need this.'  We sell to a lot of those guys now.  They may not say for what movie for fear we might try to go direct – which we don't do.  But they will come in and say here's what I need.

SAR:  What's coming up next?  Promotional materials note a goal of eight new replicas in the next two years. 

Crawford:  The first two coming on line – we already have our alpha types – are the RPG-29 and the Kornet.  Those are really for our DoD market; training aids for Russian anti-tank missile launchers that a soldier is likely to find in multiple theaters today. Kornet is a nasty tank killer and the RPG 29 has a 105mm warhead.  We had a conversation with some foreign soldiers, I think from Israel, and they were talking about some of the recent battles and the devastation that was caused from these systems.  Our replicas are MILES (laser-based hit identifier) capable.  Not only an effective simulator, but has reported MILES “kills.” 

SAR:  Do you have anything in the works for other markets along the lines of traditional small arms?

Crawford:  We sure do.  For the public market, like military vehicle collectors, we're planning on bringing online the M240 (GPMG), unveiled at MVPA (Military Vehicle Preservation Association) in June.

For the public market, like military vehicle collectors, we're planning on bringing online the M240 (GPMG), unveiled at MVPA (Military Vehicle Preservation Association) in June. We now have a sim-fire M60, built on one of the receivers we've been selling.  Part of the issue is tooling and finding the right available components when we want to add some furniture.  I think you'll see us reconstituting a lot of the things that Steve did in the early days of IRAC that were really successful.

What we are looking for now in the development of 3D printers and the resins and things we can get our hands on allow us to replicate things that we couldn't do easily before.  So when we think static models, that's a huge opportunity. 

SAR:  Anything older, like from WW2, to join those existing replicas ?

Crawford:  We have a number of systems we're looking at.  Not ready to announce a winner but I can say keep your eyes peeled.  A lot of our folks from MVPA and reenactors have some things they've been looking for and we're trying to discover where that itch is the most for them.  We already have Thompson and BAR receivers, and make full replica M2 .50 cals and also .30 cal. water cooled and air cooled Brownings.  

SAR:  Why not a Tommy Gun?  Didn't IRAC once do a full replica Thompson?

Crawford:    We already offer an M1A1 receiver and we could do a static replica. Sim-fire (simulated firing) is not so simple in a Tommy Gun.  Steve made one of the Thompsons that Tom Hanks carried in “Saving Private Ryan.”

SAR:  Do IRAC's highly realistic replicas give rise to problems with local laws and police agencies?

Crawford:  No difficulties.  Our systems are not made for kids, we're not making toys. They're really a training aid or static device.    But we do send out some with the orange tips required in some jurisdictions or if that's what the customer wants. 

SAR:  Comment in the apparent “synergy” among your three business entities.

Crawford:  Primarily, the IRAC acquisition makes sense for us. Highgate, our family of companies, has always been very focused on delivering value beyond the purchase to our clients. Because IRAC had been built on similar values, it was easy to spot how IRAC was a natural fit.  The systems are all built with a great deal of pride, care and attention to detail, which are values each of our companies share. 

Highgate is essentially three things; renting rent props, costumes, effects.  So if your police station wants to do some IED training, we have IED devices, we have explosive device simulators, we have radio controlled detonators, we can help you work with your law enforcement folks, your fire departments, your first responders.

SAR:  Some of these devices are 3D printed?

Crawford:  No 3D printing by the three companies.  There is a fourth company, Parari Group, which has some capabilities in prototyping, rapid prototyping and such.  We have a number of things we want to do.  We have machinists in Hampton and modelers out in our Illinois office who are already 3D graphic artists whose strong set is building the language for those 3D printers.   

SAR:  We note the announcement of BATFE approval for manufacturing.  Now making real guns ?

Crawford:  Not real guns, but our IED simulators are technically classified  as 'destructive devices.'  There's a future version of us that will probably make some small arms.  Small batches.  Maybe specific runs that could be for something like a Thompson that we would want to make a commemorative semiauto.  I can see that in our long term future.  Very small quantities.  I don't think we're ever taking on FN, Remington, Winchester, or Barrett.  Any of those.

SAR:  Back to the 'destructive devices,' are these movie style pyrotechnics ?

Crawford:  There could certainly be movie style pyrotechnics, rocket launchers.  But we have another interest in unmanned aerial vehicles.   And potential warhead development for those sorts of tools.  That's a bit out in the distance.  We're right here in Hampton by the NASA facility.  There's a very large group of aerospace engineers in the area who are very interested in UAV and UAS development.

SAR:  You're buying semiauto AKs and making them blank only, right?

Crawford:  Yes and no.  We do modify the weapons so they're only capable of firing a blank.  We can also undo that so we don't really lose the ability to make it a firing weapon.  We simply, through some adaptation, make it so it can't fire a live round while we're doing training events.  As to what's next, when you talk to Gethyn Jones (IRAC GM) he'll have a thousand ideas of what he'd like to do.  Gethyn would love for us to do nothing but build real weapons.  From a business perspective I see that as a real uphill battle for us.  Not because we don't have an interest in it, not because we think it's a bad idea, but just because its a fairly saturated market.  And prior to the election of our current president, individual weapon purchases were on the decline.  Now they've taken a pretty good upswing.

SAR:  Some parting thoughts ?

Crawford:  The addition of IRAC into the Highgate family has been great.  IRAC is a solid brand and is capturing some recognition internationally.  We have static systems going into some Threat Tec channel partners in June.  This will be great for IRAC and expose the brand to an even larger audience.  Our Highgate customers are  excited to have access to the IRAC products and development team.  The integration couldn't be more positive and I see huge potential in linking the brands.

SAR:  How do you keep track of all this?

Crawford:  Great people !  It's a busy day (laughs) .

A conversation with IRAC's Gethyn Jones

At Crawford's invitation, we did enjoy the opportunity to talk at some length with Gethyn Jones, IRAC's General Manager and multi-role problem-solver.  Jones' professional resume includes extended time as an NCO with British Land Forces to include some “specialized” assignments that he's not free to discuss.  Critical to performance in these was a 6 month stint in the precision machinist training program conducted by British Aerospace.  Little imagination is required to speculate on how this likely fit into “specialized” small arms for certain high-stakes military applications. 

SAR:  We're in the Threat Tec arms vault with Gethyn Jones, IRAC's General Manager, and right now he's showing us a Romak (Romanian) AK that started life as a semiauto.  Did you do the conversion ?

Jones:  (Holding and demonstrating the rifle)  Yes.  We put our proprietary blank fire device on the muzzle.  That's to maintain the correct gas pressure.  So the working parts will operate to extract and feed a fresh round.  We leave in the original piston and original bolt carrier group because we're firing cartridge blanks.  What I do inside is to upgrade the recoil spring and locking pin system because the blank actually puts a lot more strain on receiver than the live round.  Blank rounds kill live weapons like nothing else.  We try to keep the function as close to the original.  So all you've got to do is insert a magazine loaded with blanks, cock it a you've got your mechanical safety lever to place on fire.  So the weapon handles exactly as the original.

SAR:  Adaptable to MILES (standard US military Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System for realistic force-on-force training) ?

Jones:  Yes, the MILES adapter laser box on the side of the barrel and we can either use an optical sight aligned with where the laser beam strike is – this is all done in their test units – or we can adjust our mechanical sights.  Very simple collimation.  Uses the same MILES box as M240 because its closest to  the ballistics of the 7.62 x 39mm round.

(Gets Russian bolt action sniper rifle from rack)  This is the Mosin-Nagant that everybody knows of.  Jim (Crawford) asked me to convert two of them to blank fire only for when the threat emulation scenario calls for a sniper.  We'll put on a MILES unit that equates to the strike of the 7.62 NATO round, registering as a kill or a wound.

That MILES system, now geared with these makes it extremely safe and very effective training.  You can do sniping from buildings.  You can engage in a more realistic environment.  You could hire a mall for the weekend and – provided you pick up your empty cases – you could take these systems geared with the MILES and train right in the mall.  It's safe.

SAR:  Getting back to the AK, what keeps it from firing live ammunition?

Jones:  First of all we seriously regulate ammunition when we're on the range or training scenario.  When we're running any scenario in conjunction with the Army, no live ammo.  We do a physical check.  Because the standard military blank for 7.62 x 39 mm rifles is slightly shorter than the live cartridge, our second line of defense is to use magazines with a blocking spacer that make it only capable of putting a blank in. 

SAR:  What about hand feeding a single live round?

Jones:  We can't deal with fools all the time.  Some of the regulations, they want a barrel welded up.  If you hit that with a live round I can't tell you where the projectile will go.  But with our baffle system blank adapter the barrel is going to 'banana.'  This is going to come off, but the projectile won't get thru.  It's a hardened like driving the round into a steel wall.

SAR:  Going back to make sure we understand the AK's modifications.  First of all the BFA is a proprietary design.  You start with a military BFA but there are internal modifications to prevent a live round from exiting the barrel.  Also “tuned” in its opening diameter to ensure the right amount of gas into the piston system for reliable operation.

Jones:  Yes.  We've done modifications to the support pins and recoil systems.  But selector; safe and semiauto settings are the same, as are sighting, magazine release, stripping, cleaning operations the same.  I'm working on a drum magazine for the RPK.  The SVD operates on the same system as the AK, firing blanks as well.

Highgate, Threat Tec, IRAC, and Parari
34 Research Dr. Hampton, Virginia 23666 Tel: 757-240-4968

J. T. Crawford’s four companies are headquartered in a large industrial park near Langley Air Force Base and NASA Langley. Eighteen key employees work comfortably in a modern, spacious 24,000 square foot facility. Close to a hundred others – mostly Threat Tec personnel – work off site in Illinois, Georgia, and Texas.

Crawford, characterized as an “intuitive entrepreneur” in some recent business profiles, provided some specifics on his coordinated business ventures and how they compliment one another.

Highgate Systems LLC. (Props, costumes, battlefield effects, consultation)

The overarching company in our group, Highgate rents props, costumes, and battlefield effects, and also providing some subject matter expertise to non-DoD customers. So if you’re shooting a film and looking for somebody to advise you on, for example, the Battle of Tikrit, we have many retired senior military personnel on staff; really a ‘who’s who’ among warfighters. And, if your law enforcement or security agency wants to do some IED training, we have realistic IED devices, explosive devices and radio controlled detonators. We can help your work with police, fire departments and other first responders. Web: highgateco.com

Threat Tec, LLC (Learning solutions, Red Teaming, support, equipment)

Certified ‘Red Team’ exercise support and immersive training environments from Threat Tec enhance U.S. military training and rehearsal exercises, as well as wargames, experiments, and operational tests and evaluations. We closely simulate the chosen Operational Environment (OE) with realistic host nation roleplayers, clothing, weapons, and battlefield effects. Threat Tec’s pool of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and Threat Emulators (TEs) are able to support simultaneous exercises at multiple locations across the country.

One of the things we have inside of Threat Tec is development of tools and solutions to the human domain in training. We have a training village down at Ft. Benning that can be tailored to a variety of operational environments. In Sniper School there, for example, students can actually observe a village and do a real life mission set where they’re trying to find out if there’s a ‘bad guy’ in there. This is high quality training using what we call ‘Threat Emulation’ – not the less-realistic ‘role play’ that others offer. Web: threattec.com

International Replica Arms Co., LLC (Design and manufacturing of BATFE-approved non-guns)

The main driver for our purchase of IRAC – celebrating its 40 year anniversary – was how nicely it fit with our Highgate and Threat Tec brands. IRAC has been a recognized leader worldwide in the design and production of the finest replica, display and simulated-fire machine guns. From receivers for combat classics like the Browning Auto Rifle, to complete, modern-era weapons like the Mark 19 Grenade Machine Gun and MILES-capable Russian Kornet tank killer, each one is made in our cutting-edge manufacturing center. Our specialists use a combination of computer-aided machines and experienced craftsmanship to make sure every part fits perfectly and performs as intended. While other companies choose to piece their guns together using cheap parts, our passionate team incorporates world class tools, materials and expertise to construct each replica machine gun and reach the highest quality possible at an affordable price. Web: iracllc.com

Parari Group (Business strategies and design)

Our fourth company is Parari, combining traditional business strategies with innovative design processes to help companies create and deliver new products and services. These strengths are applied to the other three members of our group and readily available to outside clients. Capabilities include branding, web design, video/audio, and print media. Web: pararigroup.com

I had first become aware of IRAC when I was looking for a primary provider of simulated weapons for Threat Tec, our company that provides highly realistic training to military and security clients.  During my search, I kept hearing about this company called IRAC and how they produced the best simulated weapons money could buy.  J.T. Crawford, President/CEO of IRAC, Highgate, Threat Tec and Pariri.

 

While some small arms purists might be tempted to dismiss replica guns as “toys for big boys,” we believe the best of these of this category have long served important roles in a wide variety of situations.  Think “Rubber Duck” M16 rifles and other weapons; realistic full size/full weight, non-firing models made from durable epoxy reinforced with steel rods.  These have proven a damn good alternative to beating up real guns (or the nightmare of losing them) in tough training like parachuting and waterborne exercises.

 

But they don't go BANG. 

     

Or consider the cost, complexity, safety concerns, logistical hassles, and legal compliance issues of using blank-adapted versions of actual weapons by OPFOR (opposing force) elements in training scenarios.  Most often more trouble than worth.

 

These were among many obstacles confronting J. T. Crawford's Threat Tec teams in carrying out highly realistic, demonstrably effective “threat emulations” under Department of Defense contracts.  He needed to find a good source for working replicas that were tough, reliable and looked and sounded right.

 

In the interview that follows, conducted earlier this year during a visit to the group's headquarters in Hampton, Virginia, the 46 year old Crawford explains how he found International Replica Arms Company (IRAC).  And how he was able to make it a perfect fit in his group of closely-connected business entities.

 

A conversation with J. T. Crawford

 

SAR:  Tell us about yourself.  Where you came from and some things about what happened along the way to your highly successful group of companies. 

 

Crawford:  I'm from Kentucky and I grew up in the greater Cincinnati area of Ohio, right across the Ohio River where my paternal and maternal grandparents lived. 

 

I started shooting when I was probably 11.  I hunted from the time I was a small boy.   Probably for two years with my grandfather before I was allowed to carry a gun.  He would carry the gun and eventually I was carrying the gun with him.  We were avid outdoorsmen and loved to hunt and fish.  I have four sons.  All of my sons have been to the range multiple times.  Shot everything from the 1911 to the Barrett .50 cal. 

 

After high school, I enlisted in the Army for three years and served in the 101st Airborne Division;  2nd Battalion 187th Regiment “Rakkasans” and 1st Battalion 506th Regiment “Currahee,” the Band of Brothers group of WWII.   I was a sniper in South Korea from 1987-88 under the 2nd Infantry Division.

 

Entrepreneur afterward, back to college later for an MBA, then work as a consultant to a number of companies.  I started Threat Tec in October 2013, finding early success as a DoD (Department of Defense) contractor and we started to recognize opportunities to vertically integrate some of those needs we have within Threat Tec.  'Vertical integration' is bringing in things we would have to go out to third parties to bring into our mix, to provide the client with.  In this case weapon simulators from IRAC and battlefield effects from Highgate.   

 

SAR: How did your Army service influence development of Threat Tec?

 

Crawford:  In Korea there was a sort of mobile training team coming in setting up some simple sniper training for us.  Not anything like the realism of what we do today.  I don't want to minimize the quality of the training back then because the tools they had to work with were limited. 

 

But now, we do work with the Army Sniper School, bringing realism into the picture for our clients.  They were able to refocus some of their existing training models and capture better complexity to their training set.  So, as opposed to having a sniper team go and observe a crossroads where maybe nothing will happen, they can now go observe a village where we have built some key vignettes that are happening in the background.  And we want to see if they pick those up. 

 

When you see role players go out in different exercises, lots of times there are folks on the low end of the scale for realism.  Only because they aren't given a great deal of detail as to their mission set.  Our folks from Threat Tec receive our own internal training set to understand not just the verbal cues, non-verbal cues, body language, how different cultures will stand.  It really does give our soldiers a real chance to see a different lifestyle when they're peering into that village.

 

SAR:  The evolving realities of warfare and the Rules Of Engagement have demanded that?

 

Crawford:  They have.  Certainly the 24 hour news cycles produce a lot of information very quickly so mistakes or mis-reads are really amplified.  I'll tell you our service men and women do an extraordinary job of trying to understand the enemy, the enemy mindset, including identifying the enemy on the battlefield.  So it's pretty encouraging to come back 30 years later and see these young men who are going thru the sniper program now and how dedicated they are to really learning and … becoming professional soldiers. 

 

SAR:  Your favorite weapons back during that time in the Army?  What was the standard sniper rifle?

 

Crawford:  The Remington 700 – M24 – had just come into view and the units were very protective in those days of certain sensitive items getting out because we weren't used to employing snipers.  So more times than not I would go out with my M16A2 because what we looked at was another of the real missions of a sniper; the ability to collect and report data.  I think they called the course back then the “Scout Sniper Course.”  It was a five week long course with precision shooting, of course, but also man-tracking, hide building, and a lot of collection skills from memorization to terrain analysis. 

 

SAR:  A favorite gun at the time?

 

Crawford: From my perspective – even having been a sniper  – my favorite gun back then would have been the M249 (5.56mm Squad Automatic Weapon).  So light and so much firepower that I really had a love for that one.  I didn't carry it much at all but I loved going to the range with any of the light automatic weapons.

 

SAR:  Personal weapons now ?

 

Crawford:  I have many.  My favorite now?  I have the Barrett MRAD and I really like that but it's really hard to pick a favorite.  I have a .300 Blackout AR15  from Daniel Defense that is just outstanding.  Probably one of the smoothest shooting guns I've ever owned.  Lots of them, the Barrett M82A1  .50 cal. that I really enjoy shooting.  I've been to the Barrett factory, met Ronnie in passing, shook his hand.  They were friendly and knew that we were a DoD contractor, bringing anti-materiel rifles to our Threat Tec side for live training.  They worked hard to make the deal great for everyone.    Barrett is incredibly supportive of the military and its mission. 

 

SAR:  Tell us more about how Threat Tec's work led to purchase of IRAC.

 

Crawford:  The main driver for our purchase of IRAC, finalized in September 2014, was how nicely it fit with our Highgate and Threat Tec brands.  Our DoD partners had been raving fans about our products and we knew IRAC would go a long way towards strengthening our value proposition.

 

SAR:  What's a “value proposition?

 

Crawford:  (Chuckles)  A value proposition is 'how does this make sense to our customers?  So, why buy IRAC?'  And what is the value we bring to the marketplace that they're not getting from others?”  That was what we were trying to do.  You could just say it was an added value to our customers that now we have these capabilities in house.  So when you're trying to do a live event and you're bringing out – frequently with Threat Tec – I'll bring a full OPFOR (opposing force).  We have a number of retired Colonels, retired senior NCOs and we'll set up an operation to fight the BLUE FORCE – the good guys.  We fight using threat tactics, techniques and procedures, along with threat weapon systems.

 

 Let me give you a little deeper analysis. Threat Tec did need some battlefield effects to help direct movement in some of the more constricted lanes we were working in.  And we were looking for a solution that would be very realistic, that would provide some value to the soldier going down the lane as in weapons identification.  If I'm in a scout sniper mode and I can see the position and I can say there's a 'Dishka' (.51 caliber DShK heavy machine gun) on the ridge, I'm able to report that back.  So we were looking for someone who could make them.  And we knew we had seen these sort of things in Hollywood movies.  We searched but couldn't seem to find the manufacturer.  So in my despair that I couldn't find them, I decided to do what any country boy from Kentucky does, I consulted YouTube and I said let's build one ourselves (laughs).  And while I was going thru layers of YouTube videos I stumbled upon IRAC.  They were doing a quad or dual mount Fifty in the back of a jacked up WW2 vintage military truck.  And I said 'that's the guy I need.'  And at the very end of that video, it was a television show, the guy gave a plug to IRAC.  And I found 'em.  After that Steve Carter, the owner, and I became fast friends and we certainly developed a whole lot of new R&D efforts for DoD.  Things like the RPG-29 (Russian antitank rocket launcher) we started building.  According to Steve, Threat Tec became his best customer.

 

Threat Tec began using IRAC as the primary provider of simulated weapon systems. From the very first time we used an IRAC product, we were impressed with just how good these simulators truly were. Our teams train military personnel in some of the most demanding environments in the world. IRAC simulators not only looked the part, but they consistently performed day in and day out, which was invaluable to us.

 

SAR:  'Most demanding environments in the world.'  More demanding than Ft. Benning, Georgia?

 

Crawford:  Yes, we do some great training environments.  Let me be clear:  We are not training in theater (overseas).  We've had some opportunities to do that but we've made a decision as a company we're too old for that (smiles).  We really focus on where we think we can deliver the most impact to the troops, places like Ft. Benning.  We do a tremendous amount of training simulations at places like Ft. Leavenworth (Kansas) and live OPFOR at Ft. Bliss (Texas). 

 

SAR:  Another catch phrase in Threat Tec promotional materials references “'high fidelity operational environments.” 

 

Crawford:  For us this means a really good example.  High fidelity because they are very close to the original.  So we're talking about really honest representations of operational environments.  Right down to the food they might be making.  So the smells, the sights, the trash piles, the vehicles driven.  You can see out back one of our technical vehicles still has an Iraqi license plate.  Not something we have in the states.  A little truck driven with a three cylinder motorcycle engine.  But they're everywhere in Asia.

 

SAR:  Getting back for a moment to Steve Carter and why he was open to you purchasing IRAC.

 

Crawford:  Steve actually brought up the idea.  I think he had been approached by a competitor to buy him out.  And we felt it was so important to have IRAC as part of our business model that we did not want to see it go to a competitor where we could possibly lose access to all the things we had developed.  So in turn we made an offer.  Several discussions.  Over a year's time we had discussed it, toyed around it.  There was probably just a day it became, 'that sounds like a good idea,' and it moved very fast after that.  Steve has retained a similar set of tools that we have here so he's able to do some things wherever he is.  He built a facility in Tennessee that will operate under a no-competition agreement. 

 

Through my dealings with IRAC, I had developed a very strong relationship with Steve.  As our relationship progressed, it became apparent that we had very similar perspectives of how an acquisition could improve IRAC's position in the market. I think with Steve there were a couple of things going on.  He was thinking of moving to Tennessee from Cincinnati and he looked at this as an opportunity to have a fresh start.  Do some things differently.  Quite honestly, I think he was ready to move on to a different business or take some well-earned time off. 

 

 

SAR:  IRAC was physically located in Cincinnati and your headquarters in Hampton, Virginia is quite different from Tennessee.   

 

Crawford:  A couple of things have changed in his life since then.  Steve remains on as one of our advisors and one of our technical guys.  He comes in when we're doing a major run of systems and he'll be right here with us developing.  Steve will continue on with the R and D (research and development) role.  He's known this company and treated it like a baby.  So IRAC turns 40 years old this year.  Steve was, I think, the third owner of IRAC and I'll be the fourth.  We want to continue to expand and see some real growth opportunities in the different systems we develop.  And I've got Steve geared up to help create these new models.  We have a big goal for this coming year to see some new systems rolling out on a fairly regular basis. 

 

 The primary reason why the transition of IRAC included the relocation to Hampton, Virginia was to consolidate IRAC resources and have them under the same roof as Threat Tec HQ and Highgate HQ. As a result, collaboration among our specialists is more fluid and natural, which leads to more innovations and higher quality products, and we have greater access to our prospective markets.

 

SAR:  Advantages anticipated and now realized ?

 

The greatest advantage, as we saw it, was the ability to innovate and rapidly develop battlefield systems quickly and accurately.  Highgate Systems has developed a number of systems that have been used to build high fidelity operational environments for DoD in the test and evaluation space. Highgate”s rapid prototyping capability and the IRAC toolset have merged nicely.

 

So, think of Highgate as the rental company that rents those battlefield effects, the props, and provides some subject matter expertise to non-DoD customers.  So if you're shooting a film and looking for somebody to advise you on, for example, how was the Battle of Tikrit?   Let's get specific into DoD capabilities.  We have 28 Colonels on staff.  Those folks are really a 'who's who' among warfighters.  We have a Navy Cross recipient, lots of Silver Star and Bronze Star recipients.

 

SAR:  That's a nice video on YouTube for Threat Tec with Colonel John McCarthy pointing to its location in Hampton giving “greater access to our prospective markets.” 

 

Crawford:  Certainly TRADOC (Army Training and Doctrine Command), only five miles away at Fort Monroe.  So we have had the opportunity to share our developmental products, some of the things that are tried and true.  MCOE (Maneuver Center of Excellence) Ft. Benning, Georgia would certainly fall in that category.

 

SAR:  In addition to the Army's TRADOC, any interaction with other services?

 

Crawford:  We do look for opportunities because they're so close (the Hampton Roads area is heavily military) and some other venues.  Not so much on the live side.  We do have some small watercraft – Boston Whalers with gun mounts and things like that – so we can challenge some of those riverine, 'brown water' forces.  We have some fantastic tools.  Our Boston Whaler is a navy 'red dot' hull (reinforced for rough use) so it's really capable of doing a lot, it's a high performance boat.  But I can't think of anything we've done locally.  Perhaps some of our Navy friends will read this feature and check us out.   

 

Inside TRADOC we also have the opportunity to work in the Joint community.  So some of the testing and evaluation efforts will include all of the services.  We're always looking for the opportunity to help so wherever we can throw our weight in to help with the training venue or to help develop a concept, that's a strong suit for us.  We work on a lot of concept development, innovation of training programs and simulations. 

 

We've done some really cool things by way of Mobile Training Teams and even mobile devices as training tools.  Using iPads and iPhones with applications that allow some training to go on.  We are able to put some very cool things in those digital environments that really make a difference and save a lot of money.

 

Let me go back a step.  The old concept where we have to load up a mobile training team, go out and see the soldiers face to face and teach them how to do things....

 

SAR:  But in the digital world you can employ apps rather than live instruction ?

 

Crawford:  That's right.  And also on an IRAC instructional method for today's soldiers – 'digital natives' -- the young guys who are so accustomed to using tools like smart phones to learn.  We take things like a .50 cal. and explode the parts, show them how to assemble, disassemble, functions, and clear jams.  On a phone or pad.  You can do it on a truck while waiting to move out on a convoy.

 

We're trying to find things like that to really connect with our service members so they're getting the training they need, whenever they're able to do it.  We're part of a contract at MCOE ( Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, Ft. Benning) that does mobile device training.  We have people in our Illinois office and MCOE who are working on that.

 

Let's talk about that IRAC mobile app, called the IRAC Knowledge Vault.  What we're doing is taking our simulated systems and providing all our buyers, customers with something powered by an app called VEZI which we own through our Parari Group.  It allows someone to take a smart device, hold it up, tap it to a tag, and it will explode to a user's manual.  Everything from the history of the system, like an M2 machine gun. And then go to specifics of the system.  How do I set it up.  (Not as detailed as an old Technical Manual because the simulated system is simpler).  Our end users need to know what are the preventative maintenance steps and how do we service this thing.  How do we clear jams if there's an issue in the field.  We're simplifying that so our customers no longer feel the need to send it back, although that rarely happens.  Generally we're able to talk someone thru it on the phone.  (like oxygen/propane mix).

 

SAR:  Way back in the day it was a laminated 'cheat sheet' and now it's digital?

 

Crawford:  That's right.  But you can hold their attention much longer than the 'sage on the stage with the PowerPoint' or a handout.

 

SAR:  What is your vision for the “new and improved” IRAC in selection of product line, manufacturing, customer service, etc. ? 

 

Crawford:  We started making changes right away.  Steve has built a firm foundation, and now we want to see our client offerings expand and our market presence grow.  The first big change was the new and improved website.  This gives our customers and channel partners a way to see what products are available, prices and even online ordering.  We have some big surprises to announce at the MVPA show in June.  I can tell you that they will include some mobile tools for our customers, new packaging and several new products.  We intend to offer a new replica each quarter for the next 24 months.  It's a huge order but we have really great and dedicated people who can do just about anything.

 

SAR:  Who uses IRAC replicas ? 

 

Crawford:  Government Contractors, Hollywood, DoD, DHS, museums, and many collectors and military enthusiasts.  Our service members use IRAC systems for training and in the development of a realistic battlefield.

 

Many of the country's best known war museums have an IRAC system or two.  Our systems are in use internationally and chances are you can see one at a parade near you!  We have a number of solutions and do a lot of customized systems for vintage aircraft and military vehicles.

 

Yesterday I took a phone call from England and the guy has a Loach, an Apache and a Huey (helicopters).  All, over the years, outfitted with IRAC systems.  He wants to outfit a (sim-fire) Minigun on the Loach.  The movie folks love the sim-fire 60s on the Huey.  When you have a conversation with Steve, he'll frequently say, 'oh yeah, we made those guns.  I forgot about that.'

 

You know that dinosaur thing that goes around to monster truck rallies?  It also has IRAC machine guns.  A company called us with a Vietnam era vehicle and said they were going to fight this fire-breathing dinosaur and we need to know if we can buy some of those.  And he bought five (sim-fire) guns; Mk19s, M2 .50s, really did a nice job on the vehicle.   

 

SAR:  Movies and television ?

 

You can see IRAC systems on the Batmobile; the two 30mm cannons that came out of the hood.  Also guns on the Green Hornet's car and in the Transformers movies.  Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Battle of LA, Red Dawn, Terminator Salvation, and a lot more including Dreamworks' WWII television series The Pacific. 

 

Hollywood prop companies would call and say 'I need this.'  We sell to a lot of those guys now.  They may not say for what movie for fear we might try to go direct – which we don't do.  But they will come in and say here's what I need.

 

SAR:  What's coming up next?  Promotional materials note a goal of eight new replicas in the next two years. 

 

Crawford:  The first two coming on line – we already have our alpha types – are the RPG-29 and the Kornet.  Those are really for our DoD market; training aids for Russian anti-tank missile launchers that a soldier is likely to find in multiple theaters today. Kornet is a nasty tank killer and the RPG 29 has a 105mm warhead.  We had a conversation with some foreign soldiers, I think from Israel, and they were talking about some of the recent battles and the devastation that was caused from these systems.  Our replicas are MILES (laser-based hit identifier) capable.  Not only an effective simulator, but has reported MILES “kills.” 

 

SAR:  Do you have anything in the works for other markets along the lines of traditional small arms?

 

Crawford:  We sure do.  For the public market, like military vehicle collectors, we're planning on bringing online the M240 (GPMG), unveiled at MVPA (Military Vehicle Preservation Association) in June.

 

For the public market, like military vehicle collectors, we're planning on bringing online the M240 (GPMG), unveiled at MVPA (Military Vehicle Preservation Association) in June. We now have a sim-fire M60, built on one of the receivers we've been selling.  Part of the issue is tooling and finding the right available components when we want to add some furniture.  I think you'll see us reconstituting a lot of the things that Steve did in the early days of IRAC that were really successful.

 

What we are looking for now in the development of 3D printers and the resins and things we can get our hands on allow us to replicate things that we couldn't do easily before.  So when we think static models, that's a huge opportunity. 

 

SAR:  Anything older, like from WW2, to join those existing replicas ?

 

Crawford:  We have a number of systems we're looking at.  Not ready to announce a winner but I can say keep your eyes peeled.  A lot of our folks from MVPA and reenactors have some things they've been looking for and we're trying to discover where that itch is the most for them.  We already have Thompson and BAR receivers, and make full replica M2 .50 cals and also .30 cal. water cooled and air cooled Brownings.  

 

SAR:  Why not a Tommy Gun?  Didn't IRAC once do a full replica Thompson?

 

Crawford:    We already offer an M1A1 receiver and we could do a static replica. Sim-fire (simulated firing) is not so simple in a Tommy Gun.  Steve made one of the Thompsons that Tom Hanks carried in “Saving Private Ryan.”

 

SAR:  Do IRAC's highly realistic replicas give rise to problems with local laws and police agencies?

 

Crawford:  No difficulties.  Our systems are not made for kids, we're not making toys. They're really a training aid or static device.    But we do send out some with the orange tips required in some jurisdictions or if that's what the customer wants. 

 

SAR:  Comment in the apparent “synergy” among your three business entities.

 

Crawford:  Primarily, the IRAC acquisition makes sense for us. Highgate, our family of companies, has always been very focused on delivering value beyond the purchase to our clients. Because IRAC had been built on similar values, it was easy to spot how IRAC was a natural fit.  The systems are all built with a great deal of pride, care and attention to detail, which are values each of our companies share. 

     

Highgate is essentially three things; renting rent props, costumes, effects.  So if your police station wants to do some IED training, we have IED devices, we have explosive device simulators, we have radio controlled detonators, we can help you work with your law enforcement folks, your fire departments, your first responders.

 

SAR:  Some of these devices are 3D printed?

 

Crawford:  No 3D printing by the three companies.  There is a fourth company, Parari Group, which has some capabilities in prototyping, rapid prototyping and such.  We have a number of things we want to do.  We have machinists in Hampton and modelers out in our Illinois office who are already 3D graphic artists whose strong set is building the language for those 3D printers.   

 

SAR:  We note the announcement of BATFE approval for manufacturing.  Now making real guns ?

 

Crawford:  Not real guns, but our IED simulators are technically classified  as 'destructive devices.'  There's a future version of us that will probably make some small arms.  Small batches.  Maybe specific runs that could be for something like a Thompson that we would want to make a commemorative semiauto.  I can see that in our long term future.  Very small quantities.  I don't think we're ever taking on FN, Remington, Winchester, or Barrett.  Any of those.

 

SAR:  Back to the 'destructive devices,' are these movie style pyrotechnics ?

 

Crawford:  There could certainly be movie style pyrotechnics, rocket launchers.  But we have another interest in unmanned aerial vehicles.   And potential warhead development for those sorts of tools.  That's a bit out in the distance.  We're right here in Hampton by the NASA facility.  There's a very large group of aerospace engineers in the area who are very interested in UAV and UAS development.

 

SAR:  You're buying semiauto AKs and making them blank only, right?

 

Crawford.  Yes and no.  We do modify the weapons so they're only capable of firing a blank.  We can also undo that so we don't really lose the ability to make it a firing weapon.  We simply, through some adaptation, make it so it can't fire a live round while we're doing training events.  As to what's next, when you talk to Gethyn Jones (IRAC GM) he'll have a thousand ideas of what he'd like to do.  Gethyn would love for us to do nothing but build real weapons.  From a business perspective I see that as a real uphill battle for us.  Not because we don't have an interest in it, not because we think it's a bad idea, but just because its a fairly saturated market.  And prior to the election of our current president, individual weapon purchases were on the decline.  Now they've taken a pretty good upswing.

 

SAR:  Some parting thoughts ?

 

Crawford:  The addition of IRAC into the Highgate family has been great.  IRAC is a solid brand and is capturing some recognition internationally.  We have static systems going into some Threat Tec channel partners in June.  This will be great for IRAC and expose the brand to an even larger audience.  Our Highgate customers are  excited to have access to the IRAC products and development team.  The integration couldn't be more positive and I see huge potential in linking the brands.

 

SAR:  How do you keep track of all this?

 

Crawford:  Great people !  It's a busy day (laughs) .

 

 

A conversation with IRAC's Gethyn Jones

 

At Crawford's invitation, we did enjoy the opportunity to talk at some length with Gethyn Jones, IRAC's General Manager and multi-role problem-solver.  Jones' professional resume includes extended time as an NCO with British Land Forces to include some “specialized” assignments that he's not free to discuss.  Critical to performance in these was a 6 month stint in the precision machinist training program conducted by British Aerospace.  Little imagination is required to speculate on how this likely fit into “specialized” small arms for certain high-stakes military applications. 

 

SAR:  We're in the Threat Tec arms vault with Gethyn Jones, IRAC's General Manager, and right now he's showing us a Romak (Romanian) AK that started life as a semiauto.  Did you do the conversion ?

 

Jones:  (Holding and demonstrating the rifle)  Yes.  We put our proprietary blank fire device on the muzzle.  That's to maintain the correct gas pressure.  So the working parts will operate to extract and feed a fresh round.  We leave in the original piston and original bolt carrier group because we're firing cartridge blanks.  What I do inside is to upgrade the recoil spring and locking pin system because the blank actually puts a lot more strain on receiver than the live round.  Blank rounds kill live weapons like nothing else.  We try to keep the function as close to the original.  So all you've got to do is insert a magazine loaded with blanks, cock it a you've got your mechanical safety lever to place on fire.  So the weapon handles exactly as the original.

 

SAR:  Adaptable to MILES (standard US military Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System for realistic force-on-force training) ?

 

Jones:  Yes, the MILES adapter laser box on the side of the barrel and we can either use an optical sight aligned with where the laser beam strike is – this is all done in their test units – or we can adjust our mechanical sights.  Very simple collimation.  Uses the same MILES box as M240 because its closest to  the ballistics of the 7.62 x 39mm round.

 

(Gets Russian bolt action sniper rifle from rack)  This is the Mosin-Nagant that everybody knows of.  Jim (Crawford) asked me to convert two of them to blank fire only for when the threat emulation scenario calls for a sniper.  We'll put on a MILES unit that equates to the strike of the 7.62 NATO round, registering as a kill or a wound.

 

That MILES system, now geared with these makes it extremely safe and very effective training.  You can do sniping from buildings.  You can engage in a more realistic environment.  You could hire a mall for the weekend and – provided you pick up your empty cases – you could take these systems geared with the MILES and train right in the mall.  It's safe.

 

SAR:  Getting back to the AK, what keeps it from firing live ammunition?

 

Jones:  First of all we seriously regulate ammunition when we're on the range or training scenario.  When we're running any scenario in conjunction with the Army, no live ammo.  We do a physical check.  Because the standard military blank for 7.62 x 39 mm rifles is slightly shorter than the live cartridge, our second line of defense is to use magazines with a blocking spacer that make it only capable of putting a blank in. 

 

SAR:  What about hand feeding a single live round?

 

Jones:  We can't deal with fools all the time.  Some of the regulations, they want a barrel welded up.  If you hit that with a live round I can't tell you where the projectile will go.  But with our baffle system blank adapter the barrel is going to 'banana.'  This is going to come off, but the projectile won't get thru.  It's a hardened like driving the round into a steel wall.

 

SAR:  Going back to make sure we understand the AK's modifications.  First of all the BFA is a proprietary design.  You start with a military BFA but there are internal modifications to prevent a live round from exiting the barrel.  Also “tuned” in its opening diameter to ensure the right amount of gas into the piston system for reliable operation.

 

Jones:  Yes.  We've done modifications to the support pins and recoil systems.  But selector; safe and semiauto settings are the same, as are sighting, magazine release, stripping, cleaning operations the same.  I'm working on a drum magazine for the RPK.  The SVD operates on the same system as the AK, firing blanks as well.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V20N9 (November 2016)
and was posted online on September 23, 2016

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