Category Archives: Industry

What It Takes to be a Gun Design Engineer

Some conceptual design considerationsFrom time to time, people, especially young people, ask this question. We’re not gun design engineers, although we’re fascinated by their work; we’re, relatively speaking, dilettantes.

So when we got a chance to see a real job listing for a real senior design engineer to do real firearms design, our first thought was to share it with you guys and gals. (Well, actually, our first thought was… “Crap. We’re not remotely qualified.” But our next thought….) Anyway, here is the list of prerequisites:

Education and Experience Requirements

  • Four year degree in physical engineering required. Mechanical engineering preferred.
  • 5 plus years related experience in an engineering environment required. Manufacturing environment preferred (firearms manufacturing is ideal).
  • Duties require effective verbal communication skills, visual acuity to product details along with drawings and computer screen data, and the physical ability to work and move in a factory environment.
  • Firearm Design Experience Required
  • Ability to work cross-functionally internally and externally.
  • Knowledge/experience with SolidWorks CAD system preferred.

The job is with a large, publicly held company (Vista Outdoor, the sporting spinoff of ATK), and the benefits package seems decent. Note that they don’t want an operator-boperator, gun-plumber, or machinist. They want a design engineer who can work on the screen and then go on the shop floor to find out why the parts don’t match the computer file. “SolidWorks preferred” but we bet if you came from a CATIA shop they’d still snap you right up if you met their other prerequisites.

Note that they’re looking for a degreed engineer, but not a PE. That should help narrow down what they’re planning to pay for this guy.

What will a Senior Firearms Design Engineer be doing? Here’s what the listing says:

Responsible for the design and development of new firearm products. Duties include development of concept print/plans, design of products, tolerance specification, and other similar duties pertaining to product design.

What about some specific duties?

  • Develop and design new company products.
  • Develop and produce concept prints, plans, drawings for new products and/or modifications/enhancements to existing products. Design features and functions for the products.
  • Specify materials, dimensions and tolerances, inspection standards, etc. for the components and parts.
  • Develop details drawings.
  • Oversee and guide projects assigned to less experienced design engineering personnel.
  • Keep abreast of developments in the market. Review competitor’s designs and products.
  • Analyze market place requests, customer requirements, etc.
  • Analyze company ability and desire to meet requirements and/or requests and make appropriate recommendations to management personnel.
  • Maintain a working liaison with other departments and engineering sections. Provide support for sales personnel to contribute technical assistance to customers.
  • Assist QA personnel provide technical support for vendors, develop inspections for parts, and/or to qualify vendors.
  • Work with other engineering units to resolve problems, develop processes, etc.
  • Perform other similar duties as required by responsibility or necessity or as requested.

Savage ArmsThe downside? Well, it is at Savage in Westfield, Massachusetts; there are nice places to live around there (apart from the politics and outside the inner city, it’s Norman Rockwell’s America) but it’s a very expensive place to live, with staggering taxes; and MA is a Brueghelian environment for a gun guy these days. (And it gets worse every time the gun control pols’ constituents shoot each other up in Roxbury and Mattapan).

Three possibilities here: someone left Savage one key designer short, perhaps during last year’s layoffs; the company is about to get a bunch of investment earmarked for new products; or Savage managers see the opportunity to poach some talent from a struggling neighbor (cough Colt cough).

If the job sounds like it you want it, you’re qualified, and Westfield isn’t all that impossible for you (like, because you’re currently 40 minutes south in equally anti-gun Hartford?), then “apply online at to Job ID: 29438,” as the listing says.

Remember that a lot of the industry is located in anti-gun places, but it’s moving gunwards every year, and success in this job would open doors in many other manufacturing plants in our industry. (That’s one reason why you will always see competitors treating each other with regard and respect at industry shows — apart from the fact that gun folks tend to be polite folks. It’s a small industry, in people terms, and yesterday’s competitor is tomorrow’s colleague).

Savage is also looking for a senior quality manager. We leave digging up the details of that job as an exercise for the reader.

Saved By the Bell (Contract): Colt? Not So Fast.

colt_bankruptcy_bannerFor once, the Friday night news dump wasn’t bad news. Last night the news broke that everybody’s favorite Chapter 11 case had received a large contract for up to $212 million for new M4A1 carbines. Or did it?

For coverage, here’s TFB. But we also found an interesting detail in the official release. See if you can spot it:

Colt Defense LLC, West Hartford, Connecticut (15QKN-15-D-0102); and FN America LLC, Columbia, South Carolina (W15QKN-15-D-0072), were awarded a $212,000,000 firm-fixed-price multi-year contract for M4 and M4A1 carbines for the Army and others, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 24, 2020. Bids were solicited via the Internet with six received. Funding and work location will be determined with each order. Army Contracting Command, Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, is the contracting activity.

Did you see it? Let’s emphasize it for you, eh?

Colt Defense LLC, West Hartford, Connecticut (15QKN-15-D-0102); and FN America LLC, Columbia, South Carolina (W15QKN-15-D-0072), were awarded a $212,000,000 firm-fixed-price multi-year contract for M4 and M4A1 carbines for the Army and others, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 24, 2020. Bids were solicited via the Internet with six received. Funding and work location will be determined with each order. Army Contracting Command, Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, is the contracting activity.

OK, let’s translate that from Defense Acquisition to English for you:

  1. There’s a new contract for M4 and M4A1 Carbines (is anyone still using the burst-fire M4? USMC?).
  2. Both Colt and FN are approved vendors of these carbines under this contract. (There are many reasons a contract might be split like this, including maintaining second-sources for the sake of the defense industrial base, or ensuring the survivor of a competitor so that future bids aren’t expensively sole-sourced). They will provide carbines at the prices set in their contracts: as many, and as often, as DOD requires, up to $212 million worth between both firms.
  3. This contract runs for five years, and $212M is its max value over both vendors over all five years.

Therefore, if the orders were evenly split between companies and year-to-year, the contract’s worth $21.2 million a year each for five years. However, it’s unlikely that the contract will be evenly split like that.

At a bare minimum, the contract’s good news for FN and for Colt. For one thing, both of them can continue to claim that their carbine is “issue” as they sell their wares into the private market, which is much larger than the military market. (Private gunowners in America buy more AR-15 rifles in a year than the US military would need to completely re-equip its entire inventory).

There are some possible downsides of this contract from the point-of-view of resolving Colt’s bankruptcy and management issues. As Nathaniel at TFB notes, Colt may have bid so low it was reasonably assured of a win, but if so, it could a hard time meeting the bid price economically. More seriously, the company’s desperate financial straits were holding the managers’ feet to the fire in their ongoing conflict with investors (to be specific, bondholders). Removing present management is necessary for real success. The current managers/owners appear to excel at financial machinations, but they are poor at product and marketing. They utterly failed to take advantage of having the most wanted firearm brand, during the greatest run on firearms in American history.

It’s almost as if they’d rather play Wall Street games than win by producing high-demand products at a profit. So having a contract to keep the lights on and doors open may, paradoxically, delay the “creative destruction” needed to fully reform the company and the brand.

Still, the M4/A1 contract may keep Colt workers at work and ensure that American service members will have suitable firearms, while Ordnance goes back to the drawing board in pursuit of the Next Big Thing™.

Extra: Another SA80 Chart, and the Defense Industrial Base

Here’s another SA80 chart from the aforementioned HK presentation. It was not presented because, as you can see, the legend is garbled. The numbers look a little better, but we’ll get to those after we fix the chart.



Thinking about the garble, it occurred to us that the garbled “words” had the characteristic frequency count (at a glance) of a substitution, not transposition cipher; therefore, perhaps the characters had been subjected to a Caesarian cipher like ROT-13. Why, we have no idea; this is Ernst Mauch era HK, where “you suck and we hate you” was corporate policy.

Indeed, LZ and OVZ are clearly meant to be IW and LSW, and are the letters 3 spaces further along the alphabet. We quickly built an Excel decoder1 and determined that the lines below were not Caesarian +3.  E u x q h l, for example, yields H x { t k o when subjected to +3. That can’t be it!

Changing to -3, E u x q h l decodes as B r u n e i. More like it. D o d v n d becomes A l a s k aN x z d l w breaks out as K u w a i t, and Z d u p l q v w h u (the “u” is there, it’s almost invisible against the blue background) becomes W a r m i n s t e r. Exactly where the narrative tells us the 2001 tests took place! Here’s a corrected slide.



Why HK went to NDIA with a jacked-up slide, and why they jacked it up like this, are mysteries for the ages, but we’re inclined to think that it could have been sheer bloodymindedness on the part of Powerpoint. Powerpoint has bugs on its bugs sometimes. Couple that with a presentation handed off to someone to deliver who was a gun expert, not a computer jockey, and therefore couldn’t fix it. It also could be that HK didn’t go to the show with a bad slide. It might have been perfectly fine in PowerPoint and been botched by NDIA’s or DTIC’s conversion to .pdf. A vast quantity of data is lost in this conversion every show (including every video), so it’s not hard to imagine a perfect slide from HK going garbled in this process.

In any event, we have ungarbled it for the ages, although lots of luck getting the correction back into DTIC. Not going to happen.

Now, as to the numbers in this slide, they look better than the ones previously addressed, but they’re still not good for the LSW. The rifle numbers are OK and you’d get similar numbers from anything good (yes, even AK). While the LSW numbers show that HK really worked their Teutonic tushes off to try to make a silk purse of this sow’s ear, it’s still a sow’s ear. Reliability numbers of 89 to 94 percent sound great, until you break it down to failures per magazine. Here are some reliability percentages from the HK tests; the two on the left are from the 1999 tests, the four on the right  from Alaska, Brunei, Kuwait and Warminster testing in 2001.



99 01 AK 01 Bru 01 Ku 01 Warm
96% 86% 95% 90% 89% 94% Reliability percentage
28.8 25.8 28.5 27 26.7 28.2 Average good rounds per 30-round mag
1.2 4.2 1.5 3 3.3 1.8 Average failures per 30-round mag

Is 95% reliability reliable enough for you? That best-case reliability (tested, remember, by the same guys selling the modifications to the MOD) yields three failures in every two magazines in the light support weapon L86A2.

If your car was 95% reliable, you’d be late to work three days every two months. If you still had the job after that.

It’s amazing that dogged German engineering could come so close to triumph over what we’re really hesitant to call bad design just because the “design” of the L85 was so haphazard in the first place. History records how designers like Kalashnikov and Garand and Stoner adopted and adapted parts concepts from earlier designers’ best ideas. But those guys knew what they were doing. It’s sad to see that by the 1970s, Enfield Lock was reduced to copying (and borrowing) parts from other firearms without understanding them or doing proper engineering substantiation or testing. They may not even have known what it was they didn’t know, and the proceeded to give the British Army a rifle that was so much less than such a good organization deserves. They were unskilled and unaware of it — a Dunning-Kruger index case.

It would have been something to hear the muttering in Oberndorf as various Herr Professor Doktor Dipl.Ing guys finally got a chance to examine the documents on what they were committed to re-engineer, when they realized it had never been engineered in the first place.

There is also a lesson here that goes far beyond the tragedy of the L85 or the world of small arms for that matter: it’s that there is a price for neglecting or ceding your defense industrial base. For reasons of policy and politics, Britain went in 100 years from a hotbed of firearms RDT&E, engineering and manufacture to a nation which can’t design an infantry rifle or pistol and will henceforth have to import them. Germany is very close to the same position today: their export controls and the G36 fiasco make it increasingly likely that some future German prime minister will have to go to his or her future French counterpart (Marine le Pen?) and ask to buy guns. Bismarck would be fit to be tied.


  1. To do this, convert the character to its ASCII code, with the Excel CODE() command, where the parenths are full of the cell reference you want to convert. Then you have a number to which you can apply any numeric operator — all we need here is addition and subtraction. Then take than number and convert it back to an ASCII character with the CHAR() command.


Just How Bad Was Is the SA 80?

Here’s an old HK document bragging up their rebuild of Britain’s buggy SA 80 assault rifle, circa 2007.  Whilst it’s marked “Commercial in Confidence,” a rough equivalent of the US’s proprietary information markings, it was presented at a public NDIA Conference (the 2007 Small Arms Conference) and it’s still available in DTIC’s document repository.1

HK Future Requirements 2007 Bantle_210PM.pdf

The Original L85A1 rifle

The Original L85A1 rifle

Without the audio or video of the presentation, making sense of the slide deck is a challenge, as the document was not made by fluent English users. You learn that after HK was contracted to un-screw the unreliable Enfield in 1996, the processes included “Weapon Measurement 4 Weapons,” “Evaluation with Various Ammunition,” and HK’s personal bugbear, “Firing at Different Temperations. [sic]” By 1997 HK thought it had some answers, and then it took another year to hash out a contract to fix 100 each of the rifle (Individual Weapon) and squad/section automatic (Light Support Weapon) units. The actual modification of the firearms took only six months, or half the time of contract negotiations — who do these guys think they are, with all this bureaucracy, Americans?

Why was the L85A1 so unreliable? This dissassembled view gives a clue. The innards were copied from the AR-18 -- indeed, the prototypes used Sterling-made AR-180 parts. Simply copied, not engineered at all.

Why was the L85A1 so unreliable? This dissassembled view gives a clue. The innards (bolt, gas system, barrel/magazine alignment) were copied from the AR-18 — indeed, the prototypes used Sterling-made AR-180 parts. Simply copied, not engineered at all.

Here are the firing cycles HK used for the 1999 tests:

Individual Weapon Firing Cycle
Sequence Rate (rounds / min) Duration sec Rounds fired Comment
1 30 40 20 40 secs
2 10 360 60 6 minutes
3 30 60 30 1 minute
4 10×4 60 40 10 bursts of 4, 1 min.
totals   520 150 150 rounds in 8:40

And here are the firing schedules used with the support weapon.

Light Support Weapon Firing Cycle  
Sequence Rate (rounds / min) Duration sec Rounds fired Comment
1 60 180 180 3 minutes
2 0 60 0 1m cooling
3 60 180 180 3 minutes
4 0 120 0 2m cooling
5 60 150 150 2:30
6 0 600 0 10m cooling
7 30 600 300 10 m, lower rate
8 0 120 0 2m cooling
9 60 150 150 2:30
totals   2160 960 960 rounds in 36:00

We note that those firing schedules, especially the rifle schedules, are very light compared to what is expected in modern combat and combat training. It’s nothing to burn through 5 magazines during a single practice hit during SFAUC, or any other CQB/MOUT training evolution, and you will burn through them in well under 8:40. And rates of fire in defensive operations, under the pressures of a modern, complex attack, are much higher.

The initial trials results in 1999 showed a very great improvement in both weapons (and exposed just how crappy the originals had been). But they didn’t go far enough. Results in Arctic firing tests, conducted in Alaska, were particularly shabby.


We can all agree that a weapon achieving 5% or even 22% reliability on that mild test cycle is junk, and that HK’s improvement of the firearm was near-miraculous. (We do wonder how much of it was just bringing indifferently-manufactured SA80s up to blueprint spec). But while the numbers speak for themselves, they don’t say this is a good firearm — even post-overhaul.

Now, 96% reliability sounds good, but that means, on average more than one malfunction or failure per magazine! And 86% reliability means, on average, more than four failures per 30-round mag. Of course, that beats the relative inutility of the unmodified guns, but you have to wonder why the MOD didn’t just send the SA80 to the knackers’ yard after these dismal tests.

Results in hot weather trials in Kuwait that summer were better, but not much better and probably within the margin of error of the test design.


You can’t help but think that what HK had at the end of this round of tests was a much better firearm than the British Army had had before — but still a piece of junk.

At this point, the UK considered ditching the SA80 and buying Stoner systems from Colt or Diemaco, but given that HK was then owned by Royal Ordnance (soon itself bought by BAE), it seemed sensible to give the contract to HK, and brag up the 98.5% reliability number — which was, you see, the very best result, in one style weapon, from one test. This produced the SA80A2, which had the following differences from the original (source):

  1. A new cocking handle, made of shaped nylon polyamide, which doubles as a cartridge case deflector;
  2. A new magazine, which is slightly longer, more curved and comes with a smoother spring feed action;
  3. The LSW has a heavier barrel;
  4. A new gas plug and cylinder made from superior materials;
  5. The catch spring has been widened to prevent jamming in the gas feed during re-assembly;
  6. The gas blowback cycle has been improved;
  7. One-and-a-half locking nuts removed from the barrel extension / chamber to accommodate a different extractor shape, which should also guide empty cases away from the ejection port;
  8. An all-new bolt head that has a larger, more robust extractor;
  9. The cartridge ejector has a new rim and a stronger multi-wire spring;
  10. The carrier has been polished to reduce the friction between it and the top-most cartridge in the magazine;
  11. A new sturdier firing pin has been installed, made from high-strength, quenched and tempered steel, with the stop moved from the rear to the front;
  12. The ejection port has been enlarged to improve the round ejection pattern;
  13. The magazine housing has been reinforced with additional welding to prevent it breaking;
  14. The weight of the hammer has been increased by 9g to prevent misfires caused by ‘bouncing’;
  15. The bolt release catch has been strengthened;
  16. A new recoil spring with a higher compression has been installed to even out the rate of fire.

HK received approximately $180 million for the upgrade of these rifles, about $400 each for the weapons that were done. Meanwhile the Army had been downsizing and so barely more than half of the initial buy were upgraded.

These were the weapons with which the British Army went to Afghanistan in 2002. (SAS were deployed earlier, but they were carrying M4s and Minimis). The regulars also used the Minimi in Afghanistan; as the L110A1 it has de facto replaced the unreliable L86 Light Support Weapon.

Since then, a Picatinny rail fore-end (developed for the firearm by Daniel Defense of the USA) has been added and Magpul E-mags have replaced the reliable but expensive HK steel “maritime” magazine.


You’d need more nearly A/B equivalent tests to be sure, but it seems that even after modification the SA80 is not even in the same reliability grid square as more popular weapons like Stoner and Kalashnikov system weapons, or even HK’s own much-maligned G36.

And while the LSW tests appear to have actually loaded up the weapon with heat — almost 1000 rounds in a half hour — the rifle firing tests were much lighter than a troop unit is likely to experience in a position defense.  In other words, as grim as these reliability figures are for the SA80 series weapons, they’re nowhere near the worst case for those weapons.

All this raises the question: how do weapons whose performance goes nonlinear at high sustained rates of fire get adopted in the first place? Our belief is that the initial testing protocols do not test the weapons sufficiently. A routine part of procurement of, for example, aircraft, is the provision of static test airframes or articles that are tested to failure or destruction. It’s clear from the dismal performance of the unmodified SA80 on these extremely mild firing programs that this weapon was not only not tested to failure or destruction, it was not remotely challenged during its original adoption. If it had been, the sorts of fixes the HK engineers used to raise the reliability of the weapon from nonexistent to merely worst-in-class could have been implemented way back in the 1970s when the British Army was shaking the thing down for the first time. Or pretending to.

How do you prevent an oversight like the one that gave some of the world’s most professional soldiers a weapon they couldn’t count on? We see that oversights are more likely to happen on in-house and sole-source projects, rather than on COTS and competitive projects. We think that helps point the way to a broadly useful prophylactic measure: more independent analysis (from varied independent analysts) and independent review of testing protocols and results. Also, weapons must be tested to and beyond the edge of the performance envelope, including testing to failure/destruction.

Is it wasteful to test toolroom prototypes, built for tens of thousands of dollars each, to destruction? Not if you think it’s wasteful to spend tens of millions on redesigning and rebuilding your combat arms after they’re fielded.


  1. NDIA’s document stash has recently been reorganized with a new website, just as amateurish as the last, and a new search function which can’t find much. The good news: trying to find specific documents you used to have links to, DTIC’s incompetent organization instead serves up serendipitous finds like this!

Tracking Point 2015 Promo Video

They’re not just live again, they also have a promo video. New (or maybe just new to us?) although we seem to recall we’ve seen the murder of the drone before.

Remember, it’s always legal if it’s your drone.

And yeah, we did beat TFB with the breaking story (grin). Not like we have a competitive streak or anything.


We’ve confirmed that this video is a new release. -Eds.

BREAKING: Tracking Point is Back!

TrackingPoint ARWe received minutes ago the word that Tracking Point, last seen nearing belly-up in bankruptcy protection, is back in business, accepting orders, shipping product, and resuming development. In fact, founder and new CEO John McHale is so enthusiastic about the relaunch that we’ve received, if we’re counting right, (3) releases in a matter of minutes around 0930 Eastern Daylight Savings Time (including one link that 404’d. Patience, John).

Rather than plus up McHale’s comments with our opinions, and further delay getting this up (and thereby getting beaten by our friends at TFB, which we probably will anyway because there’s a small army of them), here’s the release:

TrackingPoint Emerges From Restructuring a Leaner and Stronger Company
Founding Management Team Returns To Lead TrackingPoint Forward

Pflugerville, Texas (September 15, 2015) – TrackingPoint announced today the successful completion of a financial and operational restructuring. The company is accepting new orders while fulfilling its backlog of existing orders. In the spring of 2015, TrackingPoint temporarily suspended production and deliveries in order to put the company back on a strong financial footing. TrackingPoint previously announced 2014 year-on-year unit growth of 281%, and its management indicated that the rapid growth subsequently outstripped the company’s ability to manage its operations.

TrackingPoint’s founding team of John Lupher and John McHale has returned to manage the company going forward. John Lupher reassumes his founding role as Vice President of Engineering, while John McHale, formerly Chairman, returns to his original role as CEO. “We were successful early on, so John Lupher and I decided to go back to our roots and take TrackingPoint to the next level”, said McHale. Frank Bruno, Chief Operation Officer, and Richard Wierzbicki, Chief Financial Officer, bolster the team to ensure the company operates efficiently going forward.

The company has a five person board of directors that includes Eric Olson, the first Navy Seal to rise to the rank of four-star Admiral. Olson, a Navy Seal for 38 years and retired former Commander of the US Special Operations Forces, helps lead TrackingPoint’s defense strategy and initiatives. “I’m glad to see TrackPoint moving forward with renewed focus on law enforcement and the military. “This is innovation at its best, with a real and meaningful purpose for security forces and war fighters”, said Olson.

“This is a new beginning for TrackingPoint,” said McHale. “We will focus intently on the consumer, continue to innovate, and operate in a way that ensures long term success.” The company’s investors include the Friedkin Group, Goff Capital Partners, and McHale Labs.

About TrackingPoint

TrackingPoint is based in Austin, Texas, and created the first Precision-Guided Firearm, a revolutionary new shooting system that puts fighter jet lock-and-launch technology in small arms, enabling shooters to make shots previously considered beyond human ability. For more information, please visit

tracking_point_advanced_modeWe’ll be digging further into this, but in our opinion this is good technology; a glimpse of the future for hunters, snipers, and in time, combat troops; and innovation that deserves to be rewarded in the marketplace.


The biggest obstacle to wider adoption of the TP technology is price (they have a lot of RDT&E to amortize). McHale has made a small nod in the direction of affordability with the announcement of a $500 discount on any TP precision-guided firearm system purchased between now and year’s end.

New Army Pistol Solicitation Padded, Targeted at Large Contractors

On the way out? Beretta M9

On the way out? Beretta M9

At the end of August, a new solicitation for the Army’s new XM17 Modular Pistol project came out. The usual suspects are competing for it, including Beretta, SIG Sauer, Springfield, and Smith & Wesson  among others, and the S&W contender is claimed by the company (in a stock-analysts’ conference call) to be in very good shape, but the tests are a long way from completion — in fact, they’re not yet underway.

The solicitation is 315 pages long, most of it bureaucratic boilerplate. The real statement of work begins on Page 188, and it looks like the one thing they don’t want to do is buy a handgun from a handgun manufacturer. Instead, they aim to throw the contract to a large, high-overhead defense/aerospace prime contractor who will assemble the package with components from many disparate vendors, each one marked up obscenely.

Some points that caught our eyes included these:

  • They have 150 days from 28 August, 2015 to submit their proposals, so the deadline is 25 January 2016 — conveniently, three days after the end of the SHOT Show.
  • It’s not just for a gun, but for every associated accessory (holsters, mag pouches, cleaning kits), training, “blue barrels” for simunitions training, and all kinds of other cruft. What this does is (1) pad the hell out of the contract — suggesting someone is getting a kickback, and (2) exclude small contractors, firearms-only manufacturers,
  • Vendors can offer two firearms,  “full-size” and “compact,” or they can offer one firearm that can apply to both requirements, perhaps through modularity. But they also have to provide dummy guns, training cutaways, and high-touch VIP guns . Again, this contract padding helps exclude small contractors and favor the General Dynamics type  bloated aerospace prime.
  • Vendors must offer suppressors (if they offer regular and compact guns, they have to offer regular and compact suppressors). Nothing suggests anyone in Ordnance has the experience or ability to evaluate these devices, and nothing suggests there’s any advantage to buying these rarely-used devices from the pistol vendor — this is just more contract padding. Somebody’s setting himself up a nice retirement.
  • The solicitation does not specify caliber, nor does it specify ammunition type. So something like JHP ammo or Russian-style ultra-high-velocity projectiles are not ruled out.
  • The selected vendor must be willing to provide a technical data package and licensing to USG.
  • The selected vendor must provide handgun and ammunition. This means the contract is deliberately slanted to large defense primes like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
  • The ammunition for this pistol will receive a new designation: ball will be XM1152, special purpose XM1153, dummy XM1156 and blank XM1157.
  • “Special Purpose” is an alternative to ball with improved terminal performance, in other words, probably a JHP, but they don’t specify hollow point or anything else.
  • Terminal performance of ball and SP rounds will be evaluated compared to M882 9mm ball from the M9 pistol (current standards).
  • While this is not a standard article of military kit, Ordnance Corps hate loading mags as much as anybody, so the mags for the new pistols must be compatible with the UpLULA p/n UP60B loader — or, if the vendor’s mags are incompatible, or he prefers a different mag loader, the vendor must supply three dozen loaders that work with his mags. However, UpLULAs are the one accessory that isn’t jammed into this padded contract.
  • Reliability counts. The objective is 2,000 Mean Rounds Between Stoppages (MRBS) at a 90% confidence level.

The proposal shows signs of being ineptly edited, beyond having every pistol accessory up to the kitchen sink thrown in. For example, from the Executive Summary of the Proposal (the only thing that anyone who isn’t competing is likely to have had time to read):

The MHS procurement is intended to be an open caliber competition, which means the choice of caliber is left to the discretion of the Offeror. Offerors are permitted to submit up to two (2) proposals configured to the specific caliber it chooses for evaluation. If an Offeror chooses to submit two (2) proposals, their submissions must each be chambered in a different cartridge of the Offeror’s choosing. In addition, each proposal must be submitted independently from each other.

Note that that paragraph, above, is self-contradictory. You can submit two proposals for your specific caliber, it says here — but only if there are two different calibers. Well, that’s Army Ordnance for you: the guys who examined the smokeless Mauser and bought the .30-40 Krag. (Well, until Mauser-toting Spaniards made a believer out of the combat arms, and Ordnance belatedly discovered enough good in Mauser’s design to copy it slavishly).

Each proposal will consist of either a two (2) handgun solution (one full size and one compact), or one (1) handgun solution that meets requirements for both a full size and compact weapon, plus the following ammunition: ball, special purpose, and dummy drilled inert (DDI), as well as, accessories (to include spare parts).

It is when you look at all the accessories that are swept into the contract, that you realize something is not on the up-and-up. This contract was either written by someone used to writing big-ticket contracts for things like jet fighters to Boeing or Lockheed Martin, or by some big contractor like Boeing or Lockheed Martin themselves.

Gee, why would they do that?

Exercises for the reader:

  • When was the last time you bought the same ammo brand for your pistol as the pistol is itself?
  • Do you seek out Toyota brand gasoline for your car?
  • What are the odds that a firm that makes a superior handgun is also the one that makes the most superior suppressor and best possible ammo pouch?

Some Straight Talk About Handguns

Everyone goes nuts about handguns, but in fact, they’re of nugatory military value. They add, slightly, to a special operator’s combat value, principally by boosting his confidence that he can stay in the fight if his long gun goes down. Most non-SOF combat arms troops don’t carry handguns (weapons crews, officers, senior NCOs do) and the number of enemy killed with handguns by non-SOF in nearly 15 years of war is probably in the single digits. Add SOF kills, and you’re in the double digits. (Not because we’re all awesome pistoleros but we do carry the sonofabitches).

Then, there’s the combat power of the handgun, which is by design low. Even a scroungy, anemic rifle (M1 Carbine, say) is going to give you more hits on target and more terminal effect than any pistol you have any reasonable hope of training GI Joe and GI Jane to shoot. We currently issue a good and well-accessorized carbine.

For what pistols are useful for, they might as well buy more M9s (or 1911s, for crying out loud). Yes, a rail for a light or laser is nice, but who will issue the lights and lasers? And do we want to make suppressor capability, something that is very, very, very rarely used even by the troops that have it now, a mandatory part of the cost of every pistol in the inventory?

At a time of dwindling resources, this padded, bloated contract is the wrong thing at the wrong time. It blows mass quantities of money on something that’s of marginal military utility, and by so doing starves other programs that can improved combat results.

Indeed, whoever wrote this is not working for the United States (even though we taxpaying chumps are paying him), but for one or more contractors. Finding the office that this came from and making all the heads there roll will improve our combat capability and our financial stewardship of public funds.

BREAKING: G36 Replacement will be All-New, Competition Starts in November

The G36 is the standard service rifle of the German Armed Forces, as it has been for about 20 years. But the Bundeswehr has announced that it’s now on the way out, and a solicitation for replacements is out — to all European manufacturers, not just German ones.

End of Life: Always controversial, the G36 is scheduled to be replaced by a new rifle, to be selected in a process that will probably be just as spectacularly controversial.

End of Life: Always controversial, the G36 is scheduled to be replaced by a new rifle, to be selected in a process that will probably be just as spectacularly controversial.

Early this morning, commenter “Tobse” flagged us to this article in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s most-circulated newspapers), noting that the decision to replace the G36 had been made. Here’s our translation of the first grafs of FAZ political correspondent, Johannes Leithäuser’s, article, The G36 Assault Rifle is being Mustered Out:

Defense minister Ursula von der Leyen made it known back in March that scientific tests of the G 36 had revealed an accuracy problem at high temperatures. A month later, the Minister announced that the standard troop rifle had ” no future in its current form” in the Bundeswehr

While the Ministry set up and tasked numerous commissions with the questions of: whether soldiers had been injured or killed in action because of faulty weapons; whether the manufacturing firm Heckler & Koch had too tight connections to the Ordnance Department of the Ministry; and whether the Ministry took too long to react to reports of the deficiencies — while, then, a great deal of attention was focused on working out questions about the past — the military leadership was working on a solicitation for a new weapon.

You may read the article in German here or a dread Google robotranslation here.

The key points of the article are drawn from this solicitation. They are:

  1. The BW won’t really get the new rifle until the 2020s.
  2. The solicitation is Europe-wide. Sorry ’bout that, Colt, LMT, etc. (Also, sorry ’bout that, HK. You’re going to have to compete with everybody, including those Polish rifles we saw this morning).
  3. The solicitation seems biased towards current production, COTS rifles, as the Ministry feels that only with such a head start can they hope to make a 2019 fielding of test units and 2020s for quantity production.
  4. In the light of the problems with the G36, there are specific environmental requirements for the new rifle’s accuracy (including in automatic fire) and its polymer parts.
  5. The various German (i.e., HK) and foreign weapons used as controls in the tests that exposed the G36 overheating problems were all better than the G36 at that, and sometimes at something else, but they all had disadvantages relative to the G36, such that none of them seems superior all-round.

BW soldier with G36

Previous FAZ coverage of the G36 problem is here (these are the links to the native German, copy the links — not our translated titles — and paste them into if you need the robo-english:

Augen Geradeaus! on the Solicitation

As you might expect, Thomas Wiegold is all over this at Augen geradeaus! He has three stories up so far including:

  • 8 Sep 15: Out with the G36: The Bundeswehr shall get a completely new assault rifle. This article is an update based on materials provided to members of parliament (the Bundestag). Most of the details of the specification remain up in the air, but will be in the Funktionalen Forderung Fähigkeitslücke (FFF), roughly equivalent to a US procurement Requirements Specification, which is due in November. So even such questions as caliber are still not decided. He quotes Minister von der Leyen as saying:

We have, with the military leadership, decided for a clear break. After almost 20 years with the G36, we want to acquire a new assault rifle for the Bundeswehr. The new sustem should also full more modern requirements better than an updated, improved G36. For this purpose, there will be an open and transparent tender process.

More G36 Information from Thomas Wiegold

Lithuanian troops with the G36. They have also stopped procuring the controversial rifle.

Lithuanian troops with the G36. They have been satisfied with the rifle for 10 years, but have now delayed procuring more units until the heat-accuracy issue is resolved.

This is the latest of Wiegold’s posts, from 28 August; here’s the original in German; the Google machine mumble; and, below, our manual translation.

After State Secretary for Armament Karin Suder decided, to purchase a limited quantity of new assault rifles and machine guns from Heckler & Koch, this question immediately arose here: why an acquisition on the vasis of the HK417 rifle with the larger 7.62 caliber, and not, like the G36, in the 5.56 caliber? I enquired at the Defense Ministry. The responses, a little concatenated:

As it says in the Ministry’s announcement, the planned new acquisitions are not intended as the regular successor to the accuracy-problem stricken G36. But rather, intended to fill out the so-called “Weapons Mix.” Thus: the 600 additional assault rifles and 600 aditional machine guns are coming on top of, not in place of, the G36s, and are also no foreshadowing of the decision over a G36 successor.

One the acquisition of 600 assault rifles on the basis of the accepted G27P, this is the decisive statement: “on the basis of a weapon already adopted by the Bundeswehr.” With that, the prescribed procedures for introducing a weapon that is not already in the forces do not apply — and that also explains, why the decision settled upon the G27, and thus the HK417, and not the HK416. The latter does have the same caliber as the G36, but is not adopted by the Bundeswehr. 

At the same time, the statement, “..on the basis of the… G27P,”  suggests that the rifle that will be bought is not the precision weapon that has been introduced by the KSK [special operations forces unit, “Kommandostreitkräfte” — Translator note] but rather a variant that is expected to be different, especially in the optics. You might say, then, a “high end assault rifle” that is used as such, not a DMR- or sniper rifle, as for example the Norwegian forces: 

Norwegian sniper/designated marksman with HK417. Original Norwegian Forces caption: Close to 300 soldiers from Telemark battalion, parts of the Norwegian Army's Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and the Armored Battalion was in May of 2015 on an urban warfare exercise (Urban Viking/Urban Mink) in Marnehuizen, Netherland. (Sniper from the Armoured Battalion)

Norwegian sniper/designated marksman with HK417. Original Norwegian Forces caption: Close to 300 soldiers from Telemark battalion, parts of the Norwegian Army’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and the Armored Battalion was in May of 2015 on an urban warfare exercise (Urban Viking/Urban Mink) in Marnehuizen, Netherland. (Sniper from the Armoured Battalion)

Personally, we didn’t get this from the Bundeswehr statements, and came away thinking that Herr Wiegold is going a little too far with this — that the HK rifles are indeed intended to be DMR rifles, although he may be right that their optics will differ from those used by KSK already. Still, we weren’t sitting in on his discussions with Ministry officials, either! Back to the translation:

In increasing the number of MG4s with the troops, the caliber was obviously not decisive — but again the fact that the weapon is already adopted, and for that reason more of them can be ordered without a lot of bureaucratic hassle.

But above all: the G36 will continue to be used, until a successor is selected. Particularly as the 1,200 weapons on order can’t begin to replace the roughly 170,000 G36s on hand.

With this it is perfectly clear: it’s actually less of an interim solution for the G36 problem, than an interim solution that makes the weapons mix, something that’s required anyway, a little more practical. But the experts in the preceding thread had already said that.

That’s the end of Wiegold’s original posting. He updated it with a transcript of a news conference with MOD spokesman, Oberst Ingo Gerhartz. Gerhartz fields a series of fairly obtuse questions, of which we’ll excerpt just two answer that extend our knowledge.

Once more, briefly, the facts: There are 600 rifles of the G27 type, a so-called assault rifle, and then there are 600 guns of the MG4 type, so-called light machine guns. By November, 2015 60 G27-type rifles will be acquired, therefore all remaining 540 rifles of the G27 type, and the 600 guns of MG4 in the course of the next year, or by the end of next year.

That makes the purchase schedule pretty clear. [Note that in German it’s OK to call both rifles and MGs, “rifles.” It isn’t in English, so we’ve used “guns” for the MG, even when Gerhartz used “Gewehre.”]

The other excerpt worth translating is this discussion of the G36’s technical issue:

The G36 – we’ve learned this through intensive investigation – has two weak points,one of them the so-called shot-induced  warming. That means, if I fire too much at a high rate of fire, then I get a loss of accuracy. The other, I also get a loss of accuracy, in an extremely warm environment —  30 or 35° C or more (86-95º F or more). These are the two weak points. This is exactly why we’ve chosen this supplement right now. First: the G27 is a rifle that can handle this hot climate, in any case. There will be no diminution of precision. The other is a machine gun. With that, I can naturally shoot at a higher rate of fire, without any sacrifice of accuracy, and naturally, this ameliorates the other weak point of the G36. It all comes down to the weapons mix. It;s not a substitute that we’re now throwing out for the G36, but it’s something we’re putting out there to ameliorate the weak points of the G36 in the weapons mix.

The reporters did not seem happy with this (indeed, they didn’t all seem to follow this), and many of them followed the Green Party line that to buy these weapons from H&K now is to somehow “reward” the company for the problems with the G36.

To which HK would reply: but, the test changed after the gun was accepted. And the soldiers like it.

How this problem will shake out is anybody’s guess. Germany’s defense budget is an anemic 1.16% of GDP, and will go down further in 2016 (as a percent of GDP. In real-Euro terms, it’s slightly growing). The Bundeswehr is suffering from aging, Cold-War-era equipment and poor readiness:

The military said only 70 of 180 Boxer armored fighting vehicles, seven of 43 navy helicopters, 42 of 109 Eurofighters and 38 of 89 Tornados were operational. Transall transport planes were also in poor condition, with only 24 out of 56 deployable. These are symptoms of Germany’s push for fiscal austerity. Germany has pushed strict austerity measures in order to combat deficits and public debt.

The demographic squeeze on Germany’s social safety net leaves little in the coffers for discretionary spending, like defense. The numbers, in fact, look worse than the paragraph above suggests:

Bundeswehr Mid-2014
Operational Capability of Select Weapons Systems

Available Deployable
Tiger helicopter 31* 10 10
NH90 helicopter 33* 8 8
Sea King helicopter 21 15 3
Sea Lynx helicopter 22 18 4
CH53 helicopter 83 43 16
Eurofighter fighter jet 109 74 42
Tornado fighter jet 89 66 38
K130 corvette 5 2 2
U212 submarine 4 1 1
Frigates 11 8 7
Marder IFV 406 280 280
Boxer IFV/multi-role 180 70 70
Total stock = all procured units
Available = in operation, including systems currently out of service because of maintenance or repair
Deployable = can be used immediately for missions, exercises or training*includes pre-production models
Source: Bundeswehr German Armed Forces via

The Bundeswehr is in a tough spot. It needs money for personnel, for maintenance, and for readiness, and it can’t afford everything. In this case, what usually goes by the boards, whether it’s the American forces in 1975, the Russian forces in 1995, or the German in 2015, is maintenance and readiness, as the table above illustrates.

G36 “Replacement” — Official Bundeswehr Statement

G36_NobleJump-2Thomas Wiegold’s Augen geradeaus (Eyes front!) website is a must-read for anyone interested in Bundeswehr politics and policy. He has had a lot of coverage of the G36 which you can read at this link, newest on top; we’re grateful to the commenter who sent us this link. We’re going to translate Wiegold’s second most recent post, because it includes the complete text of the BW official statement on the new purchase. From this statement, it’s easy to see how people could get the idea that this was the Endlösung for the Frage G36. However, if you read all of Wiegold’s G36 posts (which we recommend you do, even if you have to roll the dice on comprehension with Google Translate), you see a highly complex problem. Despite the failed tests, the troops, including those who have been engaged in heavy combat, are genuinely satisfied with their rifles. The Inspector General could find that the weapons can be made to lose accuracy on the range or under sunlight, but they can’t find instances where that caused German combat troops problems.

The German authorities have a typically complex and bureaucracy-dense set of solutions underway; both military and parliamentary commissions are examining the G36 issue, and in the meantime, the Länsder in the field are going to get a plus-up with a couple of guns per squad that better resist heating.

So here’s Wiegold’s second most recent G36 post, including the official statement verbatim.

—— start of Wiegold post ——-

Problems with the G36: “Interim Solution” from Heckler & Koch

G36 on ruckIn view of the problems with the G36 assault rifle from the firm of Heckler & Koch, the  Bundeswehr has embarked on an interim solution – from Heckler & Koch. From a letter from the Parliamentary State Secretary in the Defense Ministry, Markus Grübel, to the Defense Committee, from (last) Thursday:

As an interim solution, Madam State Secretary Dr. Suder has decided on  26 August 2015 to acquire 600 assault rifles on the basis of the developmental G27P as well as 600 light machine guns MG4 to supplement the previous weapons mix for combat.

The decision resulted from a comprehensive evaluation. This considered equally the requirement for a solution on the basis of a rifle already introduced into the Bundeswehr, securing increased performance for soldiers in action — there, above all fulfilling the accuracy requirements during firing-induced and climate-caused overheating that have been established bu the “G36 In Service” working group — and also the necessary measures for the manufacture of the operational and support equipment (acquisition of accessories, ad logistics).

As an immediate solution, a variant on the basis of the G27P rifle (precision weapon for special operations forces, caliber 7.62 x 51 mm), which is based on the commercial-off-the-shelf rifle HK417, came into consideration. Contingent on pending tests of the accuracy performance of the G27P, a first shipment of around 60 weapons with their normal complement of accessories is expected to be acquired by the end of November, 2015. By June, 2016 an additional 540 weapons will be made available. Considering these timelines as well as the time required in the training schedule, the G27P will be used — according to the current state of knowledge — in combat, from the second half of 2016.

With the acquisition of additional MG4s in the IdZ (Infantryman of the Future) variant, which is already in Bundeswehr service, the weapons mix will be further expanded. By the end of 2016, up to 600 weapons should be made ready. The scope of this interim solution with readily available weapons presents itself as the most readily available and suitable offering, give the production capacity of the industry. The costs for the acquisition of the weapons is estimated to be € 18 Million. In addition, there’ll be a regular annual cost for using these weapons. The acquisition will take place as an “Immediate Initiative for Combat” on the basis of the requirement “Combat-required immediate need.”

With these two weapon systems the well-known deficiency  – depending on the still-required accuracy testing of the G27P as well as the time requirements for manufacturing the combat and support materiel and for the reqired training — will be reduced in the short- or medium term.

G36_Zagan_quer_klThat sounds indeed like a very hasty solution. Above all because the G27, the Bundeswehr name for the Sturmgewehr HK417, has a larger caliber than the G36 and can hardly be regarded as a replacement model for broad troop issue. And 600 units is scarcely a replacement for the entire Bundeswehr.  In other words: Here’s a quick solution for a very small element of the troops; it;s far removed from a broad general replacement.

 ——- end of Wiegold post ———–

Since then (28 August 15), he’s posted an update. (Or Googledeutsch->Englisch). We won’t do a full translation due to time limits, but the key points are that the German media, too, ran with the idea of this small buy being somehow a G36 answer. The spokesman, Oberst (Colonel) Ingo Gerhartz, made the following key points:

  1. No, this is not a replacement for G36s but a substitute.
  2. Some of the 600 of each type weapon will stay in Germany for training, the rest will go with the deployed troops.
  3. This offsets the known G36 problems by introducing two weapons that do not lose accuracy in environmental or operational heat.
  4. so an infantry unit is plussed up on G27s and MG4s but still is armed primarily with the G36.
  5. The decision on whether a product improvement of the G36 is possible, or whether the Bundeswehr has to bite the bullet and select a new service rifle, will probably not be taken until sometime in 2016.