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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): April 2008

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

RUGER .40 POLICE CARBINE: In the USA

We took the opportunity to fire a few rounds through one of Ruger’s new semi-automatic carbines, which were originally envisaged as police guns, but are now available to all comers. Both 9x19mm and .40S&W calibre versions are offered. These weapons, based on the Ruger 10/22 design, are very solidly built, with durable black synthetic stocks and fed from Ruger P-series pistol magazines. However, the factory trigger pull on the .40 calibre version we fired was way too heavy, and we found the recoil unexpectedly sharp.

NEW VERSION OF HUNGARIAN ‘GEPARD’

According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, a new M4SA1 version of the 12.7mm Gepard rifle is being finalized by Landimex in Hungary. It will also be offered in .50 Browning. This is a recoil-operated semi-automatic weapon, 145cm long and weighing 17kg, with optional 5-shot box or 10-round cylindrical magazines. Jane’s says Landimex is now waiting for a first production order.

The new model looks radically different from the earlier Gepard range, which includes both bolt-action and self-loading rifles in 12.7 and 14.5mm Russian calibres. These were essentially all of tubular design (we called them ‘gas pipes’), but the M4SA1 has a more conventional ‘boxy’ receiver. Presumably the .50 Browning option for the M4SA1 is a move to try to exploit Western requirements. From the modern appearance of this rifle it should have much better prospects in this market than its predecessors.

CLOAKING ENGAGED!

Several sources carried reports culled from the New Scientist about a new ‘Magic Vision’ multispectral screening smoke being developed by DARPA in the US. The aim is to screen against enemy visual and infra-red observation, while allowing friendlies to nevertheless see through the smoke, wearing special goggles.

No-one is cracking on exactly how it’s done (a clue - it’s a wavelength thing), presumably so the bad guys (pick a country) don’t find out; however one report described a big smoke generator that troops would presumably have to hump around with them, which didn’t sound very practical. They need to put the stuff up in artillery shells, mortar bombs, vehicle smoke grenade dischargers & hand grenades. If you require a special system for it, you can guarantee it’ll never be there when you most need it.

2. INDUSTRY & FOREIGN NEWS

TRAINING SOFTIES

A Los Angeles Times item said that in the US army you can now train wearing running shoes; combat boots are not required. Nor do you need to climb over the walls on the assault course - just run round ‘em. The story also said that ‘Heartbreak Hill’ on the 20km march at Fort Knox is now off the route, since it was judged ‘too difficult’.

Lets hope all our future wars are in a guaranteed 100% obstruction-free, flat-as-a-pancake desert, otherwise we’re in real trouble.

EXPLODING FEDAYEEN

The Guardian ran a photo from Baghdad of Saddam Hussein’s ‘Suicide Fedayeen’, a squad of characters in white balaclavas apparently established to defend the country against all those nasty Americans, Brits & suchlike. However, they seem unnervingly eager to join their maker, since one of them - while brandishing an AK - also had a brick of explosives strapped to his chest, with a mass of wiring also in evidence. Another appeared to have more explosives stuck in his belt. We’re not quite sure how they plan to do much ‘defending’ once those detonators let go. And the white outfits and cartoon strip ‘bombs’ are gonna make ‘em pretty conspicuous - now we know what to look out for. Pure Hollywood!

SA HOPES FOR UK WEAPON SALES

Jane’s Defence Contracts supplement said that Denel in South Africa was hoping to be a player in meeting new UK MOD support weapon requirements which could also span 40mm automatic grenade launchers, 60mm mortars, extended-range 81mm mortars and helicopter guns. It said Denel’s Vektor cannon, GPMGs and 40mm launchers had recently been demonstrated in the UK to this end.

CTA CONCEPTS JUST KEEP ON COMING

A new Remote Weapon Station Concept centred on a 40mm Cased Telescoped Ammunition (CTA) cannon was highlighted in Jane’s Defence Weekly. The remotely-fired system, from the GIAT Industries/Royal Ordnance joint venture company CTA International (CTAI), is to incorporate a co-axial 7.62mm Chain Gun, a firing platform, dual-nature linkless feed and a new family of ammunition, including tracer-equipped APFSDS for anti-armour roles and a ‘general-purpose’ (presumably HE/Frag) round.

CTA International can already configure the weapon station to fit the space requirements of the US army Bradley AIFV. As with CTAI’s earlier projects, the group is aiming to compete for the equipping of US, British and other future infantry fighting vehicles. However, as we have pointed up before, CTA - rather like caseless ammunition - has been around for decades with no actual adoptions anywhere, and we would have to say that, by any standards, CTAI is still taking a serious gamble. Though CTA theoretically offers considerably enhanced performance from guns which will fit the space envelope of existing weapons half their calibre, there is no pressing battlefield threat that demands this sort of upgrade - at least not with anything this unconventional.

A very well-known US designer with experience in the CTA field also claims that the concept is flawed; he says that - in small calibre CTA at least - the additional propellant surrounding the telescoped projectile merely increases operating pressures and does not add to velocity. He tells us that when this additional powder space is eliminated by redesigning the case, pressures drop.

It’s certainly true that there is more chance of securing the adoption of unconventional systems such as CTA guns when a generation-change in their likely host vehicles is on the cards. But whether the concept will prove successful and there will ever be sufficient export business outside existing target countries to keep the unit price reasonable remains to be seen.

KLM WON’T ACCEPT FIREARMS

An international arms dealer tells us that, having recently increased its charges from the normal IATA rate of £1.26 per kilo to something around £15.78, the Dutch airline KLM will no longer accept firearms for air freight at all from 1 Mar 98. However, Aer Lingus will, and at £1.01 a kilo.

We’re told that other air carriers who will not accept firearms include Swissair, Federal Express and some other US airlines. It is our understanding that ‘firearms’ - in KLM’s case at least - includes both commercial and private consignments. But British Airways still carries firearms, also at around £1.01.

GIAT PROPPED UP AGAIN

A Financial Times report in early Feb 98 said that GIAT Industries in France had announced it is due to receive another Ffrs 4.3Bn from the government, subject to official approval. The report said the capital injection had been brought forward due to accelerated reductions in GIAT income stemming from French defence economies. GIAT has already been propped up to the tune of FFrs 7.4Bn in the preceding two years, and it’s not over yet.

One really has to ask whether GIAT is viable in today’s defence & financial environment, and if it would not be much more sensible simply to privatise it and let the market decide which elements of the group - if any - are worth saving, otherwise GIAT will continue to be a major drain on the French exchequer.

THEFTS FROM US ARMY BASES

USA Today summarised a Dayton Daily News item on the theft of weapons & explosives from US army bases. During 1995-96 there were reportedly 111 investigations, of which 13 involved M16 rifles, one complete with an M203, and 20+ more related to explosives, including PE, TNT & dynamite. Nine involved grenades & launchers, but 33% of all cases related to non-lethal items.

ROYAL ORDNANCE/RHEINMETALL LINK-UP?

The Sunday Times reported that British Aerospace (BAe) is discussing what appears to be ammunition & artillery joint venture proposals for Royal Ordnance (RO) & Rheinmetall in Germany. Bonn is thought to be supportive of the idea.

This is consistent with our own understanding of the direction in which RO has recently been looking, since its earlier plans for merging its arms & ammunition activities with those of GIAT Industries in France foundered due to GIAT’s ongoing financial insecurity.

The press reports also suggest the RO/SNPE merger of propellant & explosives production is also still a live proposal, despite it’s unpopularity with the RO workforce.

US MARINES HAPPY WITH SIMULATOR SYSTEMS

Windsock, the newspaper of the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point (NC) featured the Station Operations & Engineering Squadron’s ISMT (Indoor Simulator Marksmanship Training) equipment, a laser-based system (from FATS, we assume) which is being used to train on the whole spectrum of infantry equipment, including rifle, heavy machine gun, the 40mm Mk19 grenade launcher and even anti-tank launchers.

The Marines say the umbilically-assisted recoil simulation provides 100% of the recoil of ‘the real thing’, and that scores on the ISMT mirror those achieved with live firing on the open range. With the rising price of ammunition, and more stringent financial controls, we can expect to see an exponential increase in demand for simulation systems. Yet we hope it is fully understood by all those controlling the purse strings that they can never be a total substitute for training with operational equipment, as we recall a senior American officer once suggested.

MINI-14 WITH COLOMBIAN GUERILLAS

A photo run by The Sunday Telegraph showed a patrolling guerilla SW of Bogota armed with what appears to be a Ruger Mini-14 rifle, though from appearances alone we could not vouch it wasn’t a Mini-30.

THUMBHOLE AKs WITH COLOMBIAN PARAMILITARIES

US civilian shooters are clearly not the only users of the distinctive thumbhole-stocked Kalashnikovs which former east-bloc producers developed for the American market, recently cut off.

A photo run by the Observer in early Dec 97 showed a good number of these weapons with the Colombian Peasant Self-Defence Force (aka The Headcutters, for obvious reasons), one of various paramilitary groups, all linked to the Colombian military, which are reported to be taking on left-wing guerillas with considerable savagery.

Other weapons shown included a 5.56mm Colt M16 Carbine with long flash-hider, a belt-fed Heckler & Koch LMG (presumably an HK21 from the ammunition shown) and possibly another M16 of unknown model designation. All the AKs shown (evidently all 7.62x39mm) had the US-style thumbhole stocks.

Maybe these AKs are overruns, sold direct? Otherwise they must presumably be weapons which have somehow found their way from consignments originally sent to the USA, since - as far as we know - no-one other than the the US has ever specified this distinctive design. Is this another CIA ‘turn a blind eye’ job?

USMC MARKSMAN’S RIFLE

After several years’ deliberation, we’re told that the USMC will now be fielding one 5.56mm M16A2 HBAR ‘flat-top’ rifle, complete with a Trijicon ACOG optical sight, in each infantry section (US = squad). The idea is to give designated marksmen a higher-precision 5.56mm weapon in order to take full advantage of their shooting skills.

In recent years the DMR (or Designated Marksman’s Rifle) requirement appears to have become entangled in the project to select a 7.62mm NATO semi-automatic Sniper Support Weapon for Number 2 men in USMC Scout/Sniper Teams. We’re relieved to see it finally disentangled!

TURKEY TO MAKE 5.56mm HK3

Under the headline ‘Turkey selects Israel, UK for F-5, rifle contracts’, Jane’s Defence Weekly (JDW) said that Turkey had decided to adopt the 5.56mm Heckler & Koch 33 rifle over the next decade to replace its elderly 7.62mm NATO G3s.

MKE in Turkey would set up an $18m* production line to make 200,000+ HK33s (nb: technically the HK33E or Export model) rifles and would also continue G3 production, primarily for export, though we are not sure there will be a huge market for these old weapons. In addition, in a separate deal yet to be finalised, MKE would build a $30m 5.56mm ammunition plant with a 50m rounds pa capacity, and would also establish a propellant capability.

However, we are not entirely clear as to the Turks’ logic. JDW suggests that Turkey feels stung by German opposition to its joining the EU, and theoretically now has a ‘don’t buy German’ policy. The Turkish MOD apparently justifies the choice of the HK33 partly because Heckler & Koch is now a ‘British’ company.

Well, that may technically be true, but it’s a fine distinction: we would prefer to say (and so - we’re sure - would H&K) that Oberndorf is merely a German subsidiary of a British firm. However, we guess realpolitik is the actual reason. Despite the current blip in relations, Germany & Turkey have enjoyed close defense links over the years, and in addition to the 7.62mm G3 rifle, MKE has also produced the equally ubiquitous MP5 SMG series. All they need to do to make the HK33 is simply buy an additional licence from H&K, as EBO in Greece also did a few years ago.

Things may well have moved on a bit since Royal Ordnance appeared on the scene - we were very surprised some years ago when visiting H&K, just after it was acquired by RO, to be told that the usual basis of the deals H&K had struck around the world was simply to build a plant, get it going and leave it at that. Hence Oberndorf’s chagrin at the plethora of competing foreign companies now offering H&K-pattern guns on the world market.

However, we doubt this deal, whatever its paper value, will have any impact, other than possibly marginal, on the survival potential of the Royal Ordnance Nottingham (H&K UK) small arms facility. The trend for most foreign buyers from industrialised or developing countries to seek licences for local manufacture, as opposed to off-the-shelf purchase, sees to that. And there’s nothing Nottingham can provide to Turkey that Oberndorf can’t, unless for political reasons supplies have to go from the UK.

The other odd (or maybe not so odd) thing is that Turkey has evidently not been seduced by the apparent charms of the much newer 5.56mm G36 rifle. The HK33E is now a pretty old design (though undeniably a good one), but what we may be seeing here is another instance of the - not uncommon - reluctance to take a hitherto untested weapon.

Our own sources also suggest that MKE is still suffering from the effects of a major explosion in its ammunition plant early in 1997, and the scheme to set up a 5.56mm cartridge line will presumably therefore become part of the overall recovery plan.

Note also that Turkey is opting for an Israeli-led team to modernise its F-5 warplanes, in preference to a Franco-Belgian consortium, again reportedly because France, like Germany, had not been enthusiastic about Turkish EU accession either. Presumably it is also an expression of Turkey’s new military cosiness with the Israelis.

*(Footnote: Defense News in the USA said the $18m figure is the value to Heckler & Koch of the technology transfer necessary to produce the HK33 in Turkey - and also that H&K (UK) in Nottingham is the beneficiary of the contract, rather than the Germans.

However, we believe it is more likely to represent the total potential royalty on around 200,000 weapons, plus an upfront cash element and maybe a sum for plant construction - but here we are merely guessing.

It can’t be a simple royalty - $12m over 200,000 guns equates to $60 per rifle or (at a typical rate of 5% of ex-works price) a per-unit price of $1,200, which no-one would pay for just another HK33).

BOSNIAN MUSLIM-CROAT FORCES STRONG ENOUGH TO GO ON THE OFFENSIVE

An AFP item run by the Financial Times quoted the vice-president of the Muslim-Croat federation who said that - while it had no plan to - the federation’s army was now well-enough equipped to recapture land from the Serbs.

These forces, you’ll recall, have been equipped & trained by the US government. Let’s hope it doesn’t all turn pear-shaped again, since - if so - both US & allied troops will be in the crossfire, and Washington’s re-equipping policy will cut little ice with the parents of any casualties.

.222 RIMMED CARTRIDGE

One of our Bisley colleagues the other month showed us his hand-made .222 rimmed ammunition produced from .357 Maximum cases necked down to .22. The round is used in a Simpson (German) double-barreled, break-action rifle from circa 1910.

BROLIN IS NEW MAUSER IMPORTER

At the end of Dec 97 Brolin Arms announced it was the new Mauser importer for the USA and will also provide Mauser parts, accessories & customer service. 1997 lines will include the Lightning Bolt rifle and the multi-calibre Model 2000 with quick-change barrels.

Mauser has had quite a few different US importers, most recently GSI for its straight-pull sporters and chassis-based, high-tech SR-93 sniper rifles, none of which were reportedly sold at the projected retail price of $21,500.

We suspect high pricing is still the main problem this brand name will continue to suffer from in the US market. European manufacturers have mostly yet to fully appreciate the intrinsic ‘pile ‘em high & sell ‘em cheap’ nature of the US gun business. Some no doubt still set quite unrealistic sales targets for their US distributors.

(nb: in a previous piece we suggested Brolin Arms had been renamed as Brolin Industries; however it now appears that both companies, which are run by the Brothers Lin (BRO LIN), still exist in their own right)

(Brolin Arms, 2755 Thompson Creek Road, Pomona, CA 91767, USA, Tel +1(909)392-7822, Fax +1(909) 392-7824)

WHAT FOR?

Newsweek summed up the Bosnian situation very neatly in a cartoon it ran in Jan 98. Three tanks were shown, respectively emblazoned IFOR, SFOR and WHAT FOR? Pity diplomats have no sense of humour.

DRENCH THE BIKERS!

A Guardian short from AP said that police in Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City planned to fire water cannon & teargas at drag-racing bikers, since everything else has so far failed to stop motorcyclists racing in the traffic. Exactly how they planned to avoid including the public in the drenchings was not explained, or maybe that’s not an issue?

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N7 (April 1998)
and was posted online on July 7, 2017

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