Industry News: April 1999

By Robert M. Hausman

Colt’s Manufacturing Acquires Saco Defense

New Colt Holding, the parent corporation of Colt’s Manufacturing Co. and Duchosso Industries, announced in early December that it had executed a definitive purchase agreement to acquire the assets of Saco Defense.

The acquisition was widely viewed within the arms trade as yet another sign that the newly reinvigorated 162-year old Colt’s was well on its way towards reestablishing itself in a premier position within the industry.

The Saco acquisition was primarily intended to strengthen Colt’s light military weapons line. In addition, the acquisition of Saco’s sporting arms capability (Saco produces a bolt action hunting rifle for Weatherby, Inc.) means Colt’s now has the capability of entering the hunting rifle arena by producing a line of Colt-brand bolt-action rifles from the Saco plant in Maine.

Saco is chiefly a military arms manufacturer whose product line of MK19 and Striker grenade launchers, as well as light machine guns, complements Colt’s M-4 military carbine and M-16 rifle line.

Both firms’ manufacturing and engineering operations will remain independent, and all current products will continue to be manufactured in their respective current locations. There are no planned workforce reductions, according to management. Colt’s international sales network will help market Saco’s products.

More Deals Pending

“This is the first of what I expect will be several acquisitions,” said Steven Sliwa, Colt’s recently named president and CEO. “The finalization of this merger positions Colt’s to be a premier supplier of military small arms. I am looking forward to the future profitability and strengthening of both organizations as we move forward with technological advancements.”

“This merger ensures the integrity of the quality weapons and weapons systems produced at Saco Defense,” added Bruce Makas, Saco’s president. “We are excited to be part of this growing organization.”

Donald Zilkha of New York, co-organizer of the investment partnership which owns New Colt Holding, commented, “The acquisition of Saco’s assets, combined with Colt’s new 1999 product which specifically addresses needs in the marketplace, and the continued development of ‘smart gun’ technology, makes us feel well-positioned to take advantage of growing market opportunities.”

Among the new products coming from Colt’s are .40 S&W and 9mm versions of the recently introduced Colt Defender, a compact M1911-style pistol that is selling above expectations. Another product is the Pocket Nine, an ultra-compact 9mm pistol. The long-awaited Colt Cowboy, an affordably-priced version of the firm’s legendary Single Action Army, is shortly expected to become available.

In the rifle category, expect to see the new “Colt Tactical Elite,” a highly accurate .223 rifle with a floating bull barrel, Choate stock, flat top receiver, and a tuned trigger. The rifle is said to be capable of producing 1-inch groups at 100 yards, out-of-the-box.

For the military, a new M-16 bayonet as well as a gravity knife for paratroopers are among the products in development.

Acquired through bankruptcy reorganization in September 1994, Colt’s Manufacturing has been restored to profitability, ending a decline begun under past owners that had led the company into strikes, boycotts and bankruptcy.

Colt’s President Profiled

“My role is to position the company for growth while gaining greater market share through the development of new products, innovation and technology,” Sliwa said during a recent interview.

Sliwa, who came on board in mid-August, replaced Ronald L. Stewart, who had announced his decision to retire from the company effective September 17. Stewart had been with Colt’s for about two years and had concentrated his efforts on the completion of a restructuring of the company’s business and manufacturing operations. Stewart had also become embroiled in the gun control controversy by calling for national gunowner licensing and other measures that upset and enraged many firearms rights activists.

Sliwa spent the past seven years as president of Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Florida, which specializes in teaching aviation and aerospace disciplines. Prior to that, he was vice president of product development for Integrated Systems, Inc. of Mountain View, California, an embedded software company. He was a research manager at NASA earlier in his career and also founded an educational software company known for its products for the blind and for college board exam preparation.

Sliwa holds bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees in engineering from Princeton, George Washington and Stanford Universities, respectively, and a master’s degree in management from Stanford.

A Shooter

“One of the best things about being at Colt’s is being involved with the firearms industry and to be able to go to the company range and blast away with M-16’s, M-4’s and Anacondas,” he continued. “I am a life member of the NRA and did a lot of target shooting with my father when I was growing up in western New York state. My wife is also a shooter. When this opportunity at Colt’s came up, it gave both of us a chance to get back into something we both enjoy,” Sliwa exclaimed.

“When Donald Zilkha (Colt’s chairman contacted me about this position and said he needed someone who felt comfortable dealing with government folks in Washington, D.C., as well as working with the press, and someone who is high-tech oriented, is a shooter and prepared to fight for firearms rights, I responded that I fit all the categories and it seemed to be a job made in heaven for me.”

Ask for his main mission at the company, Sliwa explained, “Overall, it is in strategies and relationships. We have a great team here and have been adding to our engineering talent. What I intend to do is build relationships not only with our consumers, retailers and distributors, but also in Washington, D.C., and within the firearms industry itself.”

Colt’s has scored a couple of victories recently in that it has won back all the M-16 contracts and is now the exclusive M-16 and M-4 carbine manufacturer for the federal government. The company has also recently won its first research and development contract in over a decade from the US military. The contract is for development of an under barrel-mounted shotgun for the M-16 rifle.

The highly-publicized Bank of America shoot-out in Los Angeles in 1997 involving two head-to-toe body armor-clad individuals who sprayed the street with an illegally converted full-auto rifle, equipped with a 100-round Beta C-Mag drum magazine, has prompted many police departments to trade-in their pump action shotguns and purchase the semi-auto version of the Colt’s M-4 carbine (this product can only be sold to government agencies under federal law).

‘Smart Guns’

Since Colt’s is the only company with a research grant from the federal government to develop so-called smart gun user recognition firearm technology, Sliwa reports he has been appearing on television frequently to testify against legislatively-mandated use of such user recognition technology on firearms, as has been proposed in Maryland and New Jersey. “Reporters have been shocked to discover Colts opposes ‘smart gun’ mandates as we know most of our customers are totally content with the current safety standards of firearms,” Sliwa said. “Though there are some firearms users who would like to have the option of experimenting with such technology, they are totally against any sort of government mandate requiring the use of ‘smart guns,’ and so is Colts. Going on the news shows also gives us an opportunity to talk about the Second Amendment and the value of firearms rights in general.”

Firearms user recognition technology is at least several years away from the completion stage, and Colt’s is working on a version for use by law enforcement personnel in which the authorized user must wear an electronic bracelet.

If, and when the police technology is perfected, the gunmaker may pursue developing a version that could be offered for sale to the public as an optional firearms feature. Experiments on the consumer version are ongoing and involve fingerprint and voice recognition methods as well as skin conductivity technologies.

As mentioned, Sliwa was with an embedded software company earlier in his career, and such technology may have an application in firearm user recognition systems. “We think it is a viable concept to wed electronics and guns and we will try to find ways to make that happen in a way that works reliably,” he said. “In the meantime, we have a lot of work to do with our core offerings, and that’s where we will be focused.”

In a related matter, the recent trademark dispute between Colt’s, O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. and Fulton Arms (manufacturer of another user recognizing firearms system) over the right to use of the name “smart gun,” ended up with a decision that the name had been used so much that it had become a generic term that no one owned. If Colt does eventually market a firearm incorporating user recognition technology, it will likely use a name other than “smart gun” for the product, due to that name’s prior extensive use.

In conclusion, Sliwa said Colt’s greatest asset is its name. “This company has such a great name and that has allowed it to survive good, bad and mediocre company presidents. I hope to do more than just help Colt’s survive, I want it to achieve its full potential as it moves into the 21st century.”

Saco Products

Saco’s Striker 40mm Advanced Lightweight Grenade Launcher was developed in partnership with Computing Devices Canada and BOFORS Carl Gustaf of Sweden and is said to be the first major advance in crew served weapon systems since the end of World War Two.

The Striker is a highly portable 40mm machine gun usable by the combat soldier in small, mobile tactical units. It can provide a decisive technological advantage over an enemy equipped with older crew served weapons. The gun’s sophisticated fire control system utilizes video image processing and ballistic computer technology to assist soldiers in detecting and recognizing targets. New high performance ammunition has been developed for the piece. Programmed air-bursting fuse technology ensures that each round detonates at the intended range, scattering lethal fragments onto the intended target.

Weighing just 38.6 lbs., the Striker (marketed in Europe by BOFORS Carl Gustaf as the CG40) first at the rate of 250-300 rpm, is 34.65-inches in length, 7.72-inches wide, and 7.48-inches high. A built-in round counter aids in establishing regular maintenance.

Saco’s Mk19 Mod3 40mm machine gun system, whether employed in either offensive or defensive operations, is designed to provide a heavy volume of accurate, lethal 40mm anti-personnel/anti-armor grenade fire to a range of 2,200 meters. When firing M430 High Explosive Dual Purpose grenades, the MK19 provides lethal fire against lightly armored vehicles and dismounted infantry. It will penetrate 50mm of rolled homogeneous armor and dismounted personnel within a radius of 15 meters from impact, will be killed or seriously injured by blast and fragmentation.

The MK19 features sustained automatic or single shot firing, with dual spade grips for controllability and a removable barrel with no headspacing or timing adjustments needed. Its open bolt firing system works to eliminate cookoff of rounds, enhances cooling between shots and facilitates sustained firing at 3 to 5 round bursts. Its mean rounds between failure exceeds 20,000 rounds. A full range of day and night sights, laser range finders and laser aiming devices are available and many of these fire control systems can be used with the M60 and M2HB .50 caliber machine gun series. Obtaining a muzzle velocity of 790 fps, the MK19 has a 325-385 rpm rate of fire, weighs 72.5 lbs., length 43.1-inches, and width is 13.4-inches.

Several mounts are available to increase the MK19’s versatility. The MK64 Carriage & Cradle is for vehicle, boat and ground-mounted applications. The M3 Tripod mount is best suited for ground use, and the MSGH19 Stainless Steel mount is best suited for vehicle or boat use and an optional armor shield is available.

The MK19 Mod3 Daylight Optic & Adjustable Sight/Bracket improves the gunner’s ability to acquire and accurately attack targets. It replaces the existing MK19 iron sight and non-adjustable M2 weapons bracket. The bracket contains an iron sight (consisting of a hooded post front and an rear aperture peep sight) and two mounting points for day and night optics, infrared aiming lights indirect fire module and other accessories. In use, the gunner determines the range to the target, sets the sight/bracket for the proper range using the adjustment lever, activates the range lock, overlays the reticle or infrared aiming light on the target, then fires.

The M2HB Series (heavy barrel) .50 caliber machine gun manufactured by Saco Defense provides a heavy volume of accurate, lethal fire using NATO standard 12.7mm ammunition. It is a recoil-operated, alternate-feed, link belt-fed, air-cooled , crew-served gun designed to fill the gap between 7.62mm machine guns and heavier, more-costly arms. It is in use by over 30 countries and provides sustained automatic or single shot firing, Its closed bolt operation in the single shot mode provides increased accuracy when used in a sniper role.

The range of ammunition available for the M2HB includes M33 Ball for soft-skinned targets and personnel, Slap for lightly armored targets, M8API giving an incendiary effect on lightly armored targets, M17 Tracer allowing observation of fire, M1A1 Blank and M2 Dummy rounds for training.

The applications for the M2HB include: firing on dismounted infantry, bunkers, weapon emplacements and lightly, armored vehicles and boats; fire suppression; defense against aircraft; protecting convoys, assembly areas and supply trains; reconnaissance by fire; and drug enforcement.

Accessories include the M2HB Quick Change Barrel Kit which offers fixed headspace, barrels with interrupted threads, removable barrel changing handle and alignment retention slots to facilitate quick barrel changes.

Saco’s M60 machine gun series (including the M60E3, M60D, and M60E2) using NATO standard 7.62mm ammunition, are air-cooled, gas-operated, belt fed designs that have proven to be one of the most widely-used general purpose machine gun series in their caliber.

The M60E3 Lightweight Assault Machine Gun (illustrated in these pages) is about 20% lighter in weight (at 19.5 lbs. with a standard barrel) compared to a standard M60 (at 24.5 lbs.). The M60E3’s three Stellite-lined, chrome plated interchangeable barrels (available in lightweight, lightweight/short length and heavy) give the soldier employment flexibility and the barrel mounted carrying handle aids in the removal of a hot barrel. A gas cylinder locknut enables easy disassembly/assembly and cleaning while a reversible piston prevents improper assembly.

Specifications for the M60E3 are as follows: maximum effective range 1,100 meters (1,200 yards); maximum range 3,725 meters (4,075 yards); muzzle velocity 2,800 fps; rate of fire 500-650 rpm; weight 19.2 - 20.8 lbs. (depending on barrel used); length 37-inches - 42.4 inches (depending on barrel); width 120mm (4.8-inches).

Saco’s products nicely complement existing Colt military products such as the M203 Grenade Launcher which turns any Colt M16A1 or M16A2 5.56mm rifle into a versatile double threat system. A complete self-cocking mechanism in the receiver (including striker, trigger and positive safety lever), allows the M203 to operate completely independently from the host firearm. Low recoil enhances accuracy up to 400 meters. A lightweight, single-shot, breech-loaded arm, it is designed to be installed with only two screws using a standard screwdriver, and without barrel modification.

In operation, the M203’s barrel slides forward in the receiver to accept a round, and slides backward to automatically cock and lock in the closed position, ready to fire. The sight system consists of a battle sight mounted on the handguard adjustable for ranges of 50 to 250 meters. A quadrant sight furnished with each launcher mounts on the carry handle and is adjustable for 50 to 400 meters. Firing the most commonly used CN/CS gas and various signal rounds, the M203 is constructed of high-strength aluminum alloy, making it extremely rugged, yet light in weight.

Colt’s submachine guns combine the M16A2’s straight line construction with the low recoil of 9mm ammo to provide highly accurate fire with less muzzle climb, especially in the full automatic mode. Firing from a closed bolt with a last round hold-open feature, models are available with fire control configurations of safe/semi/full, safe/semi/3-shot burst and safe/semi. All have telescoping buttstocks and are offered with barrel lengths of 7 or 10.5-inches. The 9mm NATO round yields 1,200 fps muzzle velocity versus 3,150 fps for the 5.56mm round, giving reduced penetration for certain combat situations.


Colt’s is also expected to be soon marketing the Crossfire rifle/shotgun system. The Double-barrelled long arm fires .223 Remington or any 12 gauge shells, including less-than-lethal rubber pellets, bean bags, CS-CN gas or OO Buck and slugs. The rifle section is designed with a 1-9 twist to optimize the use of .223 ammunition. Manufactured under ISO-9001 quality control standards, the Crossfire utilizes a pump action for both firing systems, optional Meprolight Tritium adjustable night sights, Invector-style choke tubes, single trigger and fire control selector, Picatinny-style optical rail on the receiver and under the forearm, 4-round removable shotgun magazine, AR-15 type 5-round rifle magazine, composite stock and forearm. The piece is available in black oxide or camo finishes. Length overall is 38-inches and weight is 8.6 lbs.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N7 (April 1999)
and was posted online on June 3, 2016


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