Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): February 1998

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.


Thanks to reader Peter Labbett, the British cartridge expert, we can now hazard details of what the 5.8mm ammunition for the new Chinese bullpup rifle (see earlier issues) possibly looks like. Labbett says that he saw an ‘authenticated’ Chinese 5.8x42mm cartridge case in the USA a few years ago, though no bullet. The case was laquered steel and Berdan-primed with twin flash-holes. Headstamp was 71 (the factory) and the date 1982.

Dimensions were as follows:-

Head & rim diameter - 10.43mm
Case diameter at shoulder - 9.53mm
Length, base to shoulder - 34mm
Neck length, above shoulder - 4mm
Neck diameter, external - 6.87mm

The actual length of the case measured was 41.93mm.

When compared to the 7.62x39mm case, it emerges that the 5.8x42mm is smaller; for example the 7.62 has a head/rim diameter of 11.35mm and a shoulder diameter of 10.05mm. Labbett also suggests the 5.8mm dimensions imply rather less case taper than with the 7.62x39mm, though this is not readily apparent from a superficial examination of the Chinese bullpup’s magazine. Clearly, the 1982 date is very early, and we cannot rule out the possibility the 5.8mm round used in the new bullpup is not identical, though Labbett points out that ammunition development cycles are often very long. He also says there is ‘no doubt’ the Chinese started work on a small-calibre project soon after the Russian 5.45x39mm was revealed. Labbett has a 5.45mm case with a 1973 headstamp. Given that we know China has been experimenting for a good many years with several different test calibres, of which the 5.8mm is the only one to emerge outside their research organisations, it is a fair stab (absent any other input) that the 5.8x42mm is probably the cartridge adopted for the new rifle and Light Support Weapon. More later, as soon as we see confirmatory cartridge literature.

As an aside, we feel there is inevitably an element of ‘angels dancing on pinheads’ with this project; we have now had 4.85mm (UK SA80 experimental), 4.7mm (caseless G-11), 5.56mm NATO, 5.7x22mm (GIAT PDW), 5.7x28mm (FN P-90), 6mm (Russian experimental) and finally 5.8mm Chinese, with sundry others in-between. It seems doubtful at best whether the PLA actually needs a new small-calibre cartridge, in particular (bearing in mind the recent Sino-Russian rapprochement) something other than the perfectly adequate 5.45x39mm. And the cost of re-equipment would be mind-blowing; introduction of the UK SA80 cost at least $750m, for a relatively small inventory. Short of some new threat appearing which can only be tackled with a specific new small arms system (not an issue), we still don’t know why they’re bothering, other than to impress us with their technical sophistication.


Rather than simply placing an order for new rifles to replace its existing .50 M88s, we understand the US Navy is buying McBros receivers & McMillan stocks and mating these with bought-in barrels from various sources, capped off with Navy-made muzzle brakes. In short, the Navy is building its own weapons, using these assorted components. But this is surely a job which should have been awarded entirely to industry?


Steyr-Mannlicher may just be the luckiest company trading into the USA, since it appears to have got 3,000 of its latest USR ‘sporter’ rifles into America just before the latest hoo-ha about thumbhole-stocked ‘sanction-busters’ developed (see Legislation section). Readers may remember that Steyr’s earlier plans to sell the 9mm SPP semi-auto version of its TMP machine pistol into the US were seriously stymied by changes to American assault weapon legislation. The ‘new’ Steyr rifle, first reported on the Internet in late Oct 97 at http://www.subguns.com, incorporates various design changes to meet existing BATF criteria, including a new grey stock with an integrally-moulded loop behind the pistol grip, constituting a ‘legal thumbhole’. Naturally the USR is semi-automatic only; it also has the new AUG-A2 receiver with detachable optical sight.

Barrels, which are 20” long, are technically non-removable and have no flash hiders or bayonet fittings, but we understand from elsewhere that the remnants of the barrel release mechanism still exist and that barrels could therefore be removed using simple tools. Special ten-shot magazines are supplied, to meet US capacity restrictions. Gas systems reportedly cannot be adjusted, and the ergonomics of the cocking handle have been enhanced. The reported retail tag is $2,295, and Steyr’s US importer, GSI, is apparently selling only through two selected American distributors. The Western Firearms Co in Grapevine, Texas (Tel +1(817)481-6616, E-mail: firearm@flash.net) says it has stocks of the USR ready for immediate shipping.

In our view the original AUG is just fine as it is, and any divergence from the military configuration is essentially redundant; however the visual changes evident in the USR are not very major, and as US civil market ‘sporters’ go, this is not a bad-looking item. The same cannot be said of some other brands. But no 5.56mm rifle is worth $2,295.


Defense News reported at the end of Nov 97 that GIAT had finally disposed of its 92% interest in the FN Herstal empire to the Wallonia government in Belgium for a token one French franc. However, Wallonia will have to fork out Bfrs 2.5Bn by way of investment - and also finance FN redundancies. Exactly how this will work out remains to be seen; all the decisions being taken are purely political, and would only seem to be deferring the evil hour when FN folds completely, as we’re convinced it will. No doubt Colt is biding its time for another bite at the cherry.


Defense News reported in mid-Nov 97 that the first consignment of Israeli weapons had been sent to Slovenia under a secret 1995 bilateral deal. Diplomatic sources said the deliveries included communications, artillery, mortars and ammunition.


The Scottish Daily Mail reported the invention of what it said worked something like the phaser, beloved of Star Trek fans. It is described as a ‘non-lethal immobiliser’ for military & police.

According to the report, A pulsed electrical current travels down a channel of ionised air created by an ultraviolet beam, which has a range of 100 yards. The effects can be tuned to produce anything from muscle contractions to a heart attack. Live long & prosper (maybe!).


There were two incidents in Nov 97 involving .22 calibre pen guns. In the first, reported in The Times, a Ukrainian sailor was fined £500 for possession of one of these weapons after he apparently tried to barter it for a TV set in Falmouth, Cornwall. In the second incident, covered by The Times & others, a similar device, thought to be of Russian origin, was found (with a quantity of drugs) in Strangeways jail, Manchester, by security staff who searched a locker where a visitor had left his personal belongings. The device aroused the suspicion of staff, who had it X-rayed. According to the Manchester Evening News, the gun had a removable tip concealing a .22 chamber, and was fired by a spring-loaded plunger. The paper said the weapon had ‘alarmed police firearms experts who discovered it could kill after they put it through ballistics tests’. Did they really expect it wouldn’t?


A report in The Observer in mid-Nov 97 said that .45 MAC10 and 9mm Uzi SMGs have been supplied to the Continuity Army Council (CAC), a breakaway IRA group, by the same US source that helped equip Republican units with Armalite rifles back in the 1970s. Incidentally, the newspaper described the MAC10 as a ‘rifle’ and upped the alarmist quotient by saying that the Uzi ‘can kill at up to 300 yards’. We’ll let the MAC10 error pass; however, having used a scope-equipped MP5 SMG at 300 metres in Sweden while visiting Carl Gustaf AB, we must take issue with the second point. Yes, the theoretical danger area for 9mm ammunition is quite large (about 1500-1800 yards, we recall), but while 200 yards is well within the capability of any 9mm SMG, 300 metres definitely ain’t, without an immensely liberal dose of Kentucky Elevation, extensive prayer and a lot of luck.


we saw in the USA recently some belted (disintegrating link) 7.62mm NATO ‘surplus’ ammunition, apparently supplied from Israel, that was a real bag of beans. The loaded cartridges had obviously been pickle-cleaned, and the belts were an eclectic mix of ball, tracer and AP of various different makes and ages (we spotted 1950s-1970s) and in no particular sequence in the belts. We’re perfectly prepared to accept it all probably goes ‘bang’, but we hope it’s ridiculously cheap all the same, since one stuck bullet in a MAG 58 could ruin your day. If you’re buying 7.62mm belted and this mixed bag is not what you expect, check before spending.


An item on the Cybershooters mailing list suggested the lubricant and water-repellant WD-40 might possibly be associated with stress fractures in firearms. We put this point to the manufacturer in San Diego, and it is categorically denied. The WD-40 compay says the product has never been known to have any adverse effect on metals. WD-40 is of course quite widely used by shooters.


Ballistica Maximus Corporation in Florida is still offering the complete tooling, drawings and technical package for production of the Military Armament Corp MAC 10 and MAC 11, SMGs, (originally Ingram). The offer says the package cost was originally $6m, but it is now for sale at $850,000. It is claimed the guns could be made in Third World countries for as little as $5 apiece, which we must say sounds rather low, bearing in mind the likely cost of materials. Anyone getting excited at the prospect of becoming the new ‘Mr Subgun’ should note the sale will require US government approval. The package has been on the market since at least April 95.

(Ballistica Maximus Corp, 3130 W. Lambright Street, Suite 413, Tampa, FL 33614, USA, Tel +1(813)935-0900, Fax +1(813)935-0806, E-mail: RPLMkII@aol.com)


GSI Inc in the USA has issued a notification that Steyr-Mannlicher has modified the firing pin kit for all versions of the AUG rifle and is now supplying just one kit (Steyr part number: 1200040600, GSI part number: AUG 04.24A). This kit comprises a new pin, pin spring, lock spring and a longer lock sleeve. GSI cautions that all the new parts in the kit must be used when replacing the old firing pin components, which should then be ‘discarded’. The reason given for the move is ‘interchangeability’ - the new kit is believed to have been developed as a result of US Customs experience with the AUG.

Apparently early semi-automatic AUGs exported to the US threw up slamfire problems with thin commercial primers, and this blip was rectified by use of a lighter firing pin. Then US Customs bought selective-fire AUGs and reportedly experienced light strikes with military primers as well as slamfires with commercial ammunition. The new pin kit has apparently been developed to eliminate all these glitches. However, there is nothing so far to suggest that users who are quite content with the functioning of their AUGs ‘as is’ need to rush out and replace any parts.


Several South African sources referred to Mikhail Kalashnikov’s visit there, his first, not least to attend the South African Big Shot Show, a trip the Pretoria News says was hosted by Suburban Guns, local importers of Russian hunting and target weapons. The News said Suburban’s eminent guest was also going to do some hunting during his trip. In recent years various companies have organised trips for Kalashnikov to the US SHOT Show and other events. He has also visited with Bill Ruger Sr, boss of Sturm Ruger & Co, in Arizona, where the two apparently took an immediate liking to each other.


In a recent speech to a Lisbon conference, General John Sheehan (USMC), NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT), made these thought-provoking points:

“If we could at this time shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 with all existing human ratios remaining the same, there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere (North and South America), and 8 Africans. Seventy would be non-White, 70 would be non-Christian, 30 Christian. Fifty percent of the entire world wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people. Seventy would be unable to read; 50 would suffer from malnutrition, and 80 would live in sub-standard housing. Only one would have a college education.”


US sources confirmed what we’d already understood was likely - the USMC is unhappy with the idea of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon as currently proposed, and apparently now has no plan to adopt it. Price, complexity and dubious tactical justification are just three reasons cited. This is a significant piece of news, since it logically makes it that much harder for the army to justify its adoption either. In the middle are some who feel that - rather than scale the OICW on a one for one basis as a straight M16 rifle replacement, there could perhaps be one of two of the new systems in a squad to provide ‘smart’ HE fire support. We would not disagree with this, except that the requirement could probably be met equally well by a semi-automatic grenade-launcher such as the ten-shot Knox/Alliant 30mm or the 40mm pump-action multi-shot from the US Naval Ordnance Station, Louisville (NOSL), both already developed, rather than going to the trouble of reinventing the wheel.

It goes almost without saying that an HE/bullet-firing combination weapon such as the OICW is the hardest way to go, and, in common with most dual-purpose systems, is quite likely to prove less than ideal in either of its main roles. Don’t forget, we’ve pretty much been here before - with the three-shot semi-automatic grenade launcher incorporated into the Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW), another project that took as long to expire as a Wagnerian hero - but croaked eventually, just the same. Its logical successor is the M16 with M203 launcher, another compromise.


A piece in the Herald Sun (Australia) revealed that armed robbery in New South Wales increased by over 13% while the government’s gun buyback scheme was under way. For some inexplicable reason, NSW’s gun-toting crooks obviously decided not to participate in the buyback, which has evidently not been quite what one could term a public safety enhancement. Are politicians (and the public) congenitally dense, or what?

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N5 (February 1998)
and was posted online on September 8, 2017


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