Category Archives: Industry

Ghost Gunner Update

You guys may remember the Ghost Gunner, the open-source CNC mill that we ordered a couple of months ago. According to the makers, the initial units should be shipping RSN1. Cody Wilson hasn’t been on the blog since November, but we didn’t share that update with you guys yet.

The first news is that the machine itself has been tweaked since it was announced.

Ghost Gunner Mk III

Improvements in our Mark III design:

* Single piece powder coated 1018 steel exoskeleton to improve rigidity per unit weight
*Reinforced A36 steel end plates to further improve rigidity
*A new open source GrBLDC brushless motor controller shield for Arduino.
*Oversized 125W NEMA 23 BLDC motor, electronically throttled to 72W.
*Spindle incorporation of industry standard ER11 collet system, supporting tools up to 5/16”

Those are all good improvements, although the steel exoskeleton looks like a manufacturing twofer that saves weight and reduces cost, with no net change to rigidity over the original design. Hey, if it can make the specs he claims, we’re all for it. But the ER11 collet is a big improvement over any proprietary system, as quality ER toolholders are readily available.

The ER system was developed by the Swiss company Fritz Weber Maschinenbau AG (now Rego-Fix) in 1972 and has become a standard. It allows a range of tools to be held in a single holder, which is nice; there are several ER sizes (larger number is larger) and ER11 handles a tool shank to 1/4″ / 6.5mm or so (Wilson says 5/16″). For a ½” shank, you’d need ER-20s. It is not a quick change tool holder, but the holders can be changed in the collet fairly quickly. This thread on Practical Machinist has some details (they’ve had some good luck with import tool holders, and discuss how to check them for run-out).

Back to GhostGunner, here’s what’s up:

For the rest of November we are setting up our work shifts and finishing our packaging. We begin assembly the first week of December and are still on pace for our Holiday fulfillment. Not too shabby, eh?

As for new orders, we’re thinking we will open them again in January. But you can always reserve a spot for the next round of machines on our waitlist.

This has been really fun. Ghost Gunner is still an open source project, and we will be releasing the designs and software as soon as possible. Stay tuned, ghost gunners.

via Ghost Gunner.

We’re a little concerned that we haven’t been contacted, because their lame order page ate the Address 1 line for Hog Manor (& Rong Brothers Aeroplane Works), and replaced it with the digit “4”, and we’ve been unable to reach anybody to make a correction. A bit discouraging, but it’ll work out.

They had no problem charging our credit card the same day, that’s for damn sure. Since it’s Wilson, we’re just glad we didn’t have to pay him in Bitcoin.

Still and all, we are in (IIRC) the third hundred or so — the $1299 batch.

Ghost Gunner Mk III w gun

What excites us about Ghost Gunner is not routing out AR lowers, the one canned application that comes with it, but the potential of using it to automate other small manufacturing gigs. We’re already thinking about setups for engraving and for modifying an A2 forging receiver to A1 profile. We’re going to need Wilson to fulfill his promises of open-source file formats, etc. A .dd format is a useless thing if it’s not documented and there’s no software that writes it. We’d feel a little more comfortable if the machine would take GCode.

But then again, it seems to be all open-source built, Arduino, GRBL, etc., so it probably can.

It may wind up being an expensive toy that gets used as a sweater rack, like a fat guy’s treadmill (wait… we just described our exercise room right now. And us). It wouldn’t be the first.

If there are developments from GhostGunner, they’ll probably be tweeted by the Defense Distributed or Cody Wilson accounts:

https://twitter.com/DefDist

https://twitter.com/Radomysisky

The FOSSCAD channel is unrelated, but also worth watching. Apparently the real goings-on go in in IRC, and only announcements pass in Twitter.

https://twitter.com/fosscad

Notes

1. RSN – Silicon Valley/Startup Culture acronym for “Real Soon Now.” Sometimes serious, sometimes ironic. Here, we’re not sure. They seemed to be on track in November, so we think maybe serious.

Pythons Can’t Save Colt

Since Colt’s near-default last month, a lot of gun enthusiasts have been suggesting that Colt has an easy way back from the brink — it could just bring back the Python.

One of Colt's best loved guns isn't made anymore.

One of Colt’s best loved guns isn’t made anymore.

We do love us some lustrous blue, silky-smooth double-actions, we firearms enthusiasts.

First, let’s have some high points from one of the good posts making this argument.

I think the way Colt should solve their money woes is by bringing back the Python.

Today the Python’s fetch ridiculous amounts when you can find one for sale. On one forum recently the asking price was over $4k and it sold within a day.

… they could easily ask $700-800+ with an MSRP of $900-1000+. A blued Smith Model 586 6″ has a MSRP of $839 and would retail for around $750. A blued Ruger GP100 6″ has an MSRP $699 and you might be able to get one for $550. It would take several years for Colt to saturate the market with new Pythons to the point people would say I’ll just go get a 586 or a GP100. Both the Smith and the Ruger are terrific firearms, but you cannot find a Colt and I know plenty of wheel gun enthusiasts who would line up to grab a new off-the-line Python for $800+ and that cycle would repeat until all of us left wanting finally had one in our hot little hand.

Please do Read The Whole Thing™ because we edited it heavily, although we think we represented the argument fairly.

Now, we’ll put on our Master’s Hood (it’s totally a thing) and apply some MBA-fu to the situation. First, the facts:

  1. Colt was in debt $380 million when they defaulted briefly last month. That’s $380,000,000 or… at least 380,000 Pythons if they (a) could sell 380,000 Pythons and (b) could produce them for free and give nothing up to the retail and wholesale trade. 
  2. Uh, that was before their latest loan which kicked the default can down the road, at the cost of more debt, $70 million from Morgan Stanley, some of which is going to pay interest on previous debt, some of which will retire some of the oldest and most urgent debt, and some of which, judging from past experience, will be pocketed by the owners.
  3. While Colt has not released the numbers for 1985-2004, the entire 50-year production of Pythons, most of which took place when revolvers were the preferred police guns and were far more popular than today, has probably produced under 650,000 Pythons. That’s still quite a lot of guns, and a new Python will compete on the market with those as well as with all the other baubles demanding your Gun of the Month Club money.
  4. How unlikely is a $900-1000 street price? The MSRP of the Python when it went out of the catalog was $1,150 (presumably 1999). That is $1,639 in today’s dollars. And Colt was losing money on every one. Colt needs products that are profitable, not loss-producing.
  5. Colt needs not only for each gun to be profitable, but it needs a high profit margin for the company to have any hope at paying down its crushing debt. A lot of precision manufacturing operations have a 10-20% markup. A lot of less ordinary businesses have a 50% gross margin. So when we figure out what it costs to make a Python (we know it would be more than $1,639 without major process changes) we need to plus that up at least another $170 for some profit. We’re now closing in on $2k. Ask yourself — how many $2k handguns do I own? We can answer that question, maybe 2. Collector’s items.
  6. As price goes up, for a gun as for anything else, the size of the market and therefore the sales volume declines. If cars were free, more  people would want Bentleys than a Corollas. But in the real world, C > B in sales volume. This relationship isn’t perfectly linear, but it’s broadly so.
  7. The principal reason for the high price (and therefore, low sales) of the Python at its end was the great many labor hours that went into one. Colt’s UAW member workers are generally much more expensive per hour than most other gunmakers’ workers, but the Python workers were in a different class entirely.
  8. The cost driver for the labor hours was the beautiful and unequalled mirror polish that was put on most Pythons. The reason the Python Blue is so beautiful is not the bluing so much as the incredible metal finish underneath it. This required many hours by specially skilled workers on special (and expensive) buffing wheels. Colt actually ran a sort of polishing academy for select workers, back in the day. You’re not going to get that for $900 in 2014. While CNC can cut metal well, and CNC polishing machines do exist, there’s no substiute for the old Polishing School-trained experts who did the old Pythons, and the big, sometimes exotic-material, wheels they used.
  9. It’s been 10 years since the last Custom Shop Python and 15 since the last production gun. The human expertise that would finish and assemble them is heavily attritted. How many people in your workplace were there in 2004 and 1999?

colt_logo_mFinally, there’s an overarching reason that Colt is not going to look to product to save them. Its leaders are not product guys; they’re not gun guys like you are. They are finance guys, hedge fund guys, and they have a very risky and highly leveraged investment (one that has already made them fabulously rich, and about which they do not care, apart from its ability to make them fabulously richer). So their focus has been on a Hail Mary, longshot very-high-payoff end game for Colt, and it continues to be. The possibilities are:

  1. Going public with an Initial Public Offering (IPO). They lost the window for this which would have been possible in 2012-2013. Now, they would be making the IPO with the burden of all this debt, into a market rocked by media stories (however inaccurate) that the gun industry is dying. An IPO was probably their initial imagined goal when they took the business over in the first place, but now it would fail.
  2. Finding a private buyer, probably another hedge fund. This is a problem given the financials of the company at the moment. While an IPO is sometimes an instantiation of the Bigger Fool Theory, hedge guys think that they’re never fools.
  3. Merging. A variety of the above. Hey, maybe Kahr wants a prestige nameplate?
  4. Continuing to borrow. We were a bit shocked by the terms of the last credit extension because we don’t see how Colt can pay it off. Sooner or later, the music stops. (This is also Bigger Fool Theory in action). And right now, more debt adds more people to the game of musical chairs, without adding chairs. Could this happen for a few more cycles? Possibly.
  5. Landing a Fat Government Contract. This is clearly something Colt managers have invested most of their time and effort in, but they haven’t even been able to successfully defend the contracts they’ve had. This is one of the principal reasons they’re in the hole; they blew the money that could have been invested in keeping them competitive for these contracts and in improving production efficiency, sluicing it out to the hedge fund guys’ pockets instead. They’re learning what HK, FN, Lockheed Martin, etc. have learned, you need to be close to DC and to your K Street lobbyists to make sure the baksheesh you’re paying to Congress gets you cash back. The headquarters of a lot of defense companies founded in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southern California now cluster around the nation’s wealthiest, and most corrupt, urban area. Finally, on this, being good at government contracts makes a company less and less suited for anything else. Over time, government work drives out your ability to compete in a free market and you become a captive of these contracts (look at Lockheed’s failed attempts to build airliners, or the whole history of Booz Allen). Working for the government is also the Bigger Fool Theory in action, because no one of us is as dumb as all of us, channeled through our grifting and gluttonous elected representatives.
  6. Banging out bankrupt. Unless some example of the Bigger Fool Theory is executed, this is in Colt’s future. One iron law of finance is that, in the end, creditors that can’t be paid, won’t be paid.

The fact is, the industry brontosaurs of today are sunning themselves on the edge of a tar pit that’s full of the fossils of the terrible lizards of yesterday. While our focus is usually on the guns, not the business, the guns have to make the manufacturer money for him to stay in business. The guns have to sell for enough for there to be something left over after the lights are kept on, the machinery is paid for, the overhead’s handled, and the skilled workers are compensated for their time. Or the lights go off, the machinery is repo’d or auctioned, the overhead goes unpaid, and the workers drive by a dark plant to go to the unemployment office.

Exercise for the reader: imagine you are CEO/CFO of Colt. Design a plan to retire more than a third of a billion in debt. Colt sales are about $50 million a quarter right now, with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and allowances amortization1 of $6M. Not so easy, is it?

Notes

1. Thanks to Alan H in the comments for the correction. (Makes all the “MBA-fu” noise look pretty dumb now). Just FYI, the reason EBITDA is important is it represents earnings from your actual business, uninfluenced by accounting write-offs that can make your balance sheet look better but don’t actually represent more dollars earned by your business’s activities.

The Press vs Remington: Fable vs. Fact

Remington Outdoor LogoA series of lawsuits have been pursued by a variety of ambulance chasers against Remington over the model 700 rifle, thanks to TV publicity about some accidents. In most of these accidents it seems that someone was careless with the gun ,but after negligent-discharge remorse, came to forget the carelessness. Instead, they conveniently blame the gun, its safety and trigger, and since you can’t slake your greed by suing yourself and your own property, Remington’s deep pockets. It was a case of mass hysteria like the Audi “unintentional acceleration” cases — imagine the Salem witch hunts of 1692 with an added profit motive.

Well, that’s what makes “class actions” go. Class actions are a racket in which lawyers, supposedly enjoined by “legal ethics” (ha) from suing on their own behalf, grab some token “plaintiff,” and… sue on their own behalf.

The plaintiff’s insignificance in the whole lawyer-driven thing is clear when you see how class-action settlements generally go. The lawyers get millions, and the class members get, generally nothing — the people who were allegedly wronged get nothing from the courts. It’s just a form of legal extortion by the lawyers.

Remington recently settled a class action suit about Remington 700 (and just about every other bolt-action Remington) safeties. As is usual with these settlements, those who are supposedly victims get next to nothing (there will be a way to send your Remington rifle for new parts and a new, heavier trigger) and the lawyers get piles of sweet cash, which is what you worship instead of God if you are a lawyer.

The lawyers are evil, but not stupid. They know that sooner or later any going concern will pay the Dane-geld. Remington is not stupid either: they calculated the least costly way of making the lawyers go away and clearing this problem from the balance sheet. Shot made.

So, who is stupid? That would be… the press. Who have been, after misreading this story, trumpeting it as a recall of all Remington 700s ever made.

It isn’t, but that didn’t stop Scott Cohn at CNBC from writing an unsupported report claiming the guns were being recalled. CNBC and Cohn have been the happy PR venue for the plaintiffs’ attorneys for years, and they both wave the bloody shirt. (Note that Cohn’s report has been dishonestly stealth-corrected to insert Remington’s and the attorney’s corrections on the “recall” language, subsequent to another story giving — and dismissing — Remington’s point of view).

Is gun. Is not safe. Tell us what’s wrong with this picture:

Among the deaths was nine-year-old Gus Barber of Montana, killed during a family hunting trip in 2000 when his mother switched off the safety on her Remington 700 rifle and the gun went off.

A brief refresher: Rule #1: all guns are loaded; #2: never muzzle anything you don’t intend to destroy; #3, finger off the trigger until sights on target; #4: be sure of your target. Even giving the best possible interpretation of facts, that this was a safety failure and not an inadvertent trigger activation, why was the gun pointed at poor Gus? Why did she take the gun off safe when pointed at her son? And why does Remington get all the blame for that irresponsible and negligent action, the proximate cause of Gus’s demise?

It turns out, she seems to have been perfectly innocent in this case. One of the best reports (i.e., not based on CNBC’s) described the accident in a way that makes us much more sympathetic:

 Model 700 rifle fired when Barber’s wife, Barbara, released the safety as she prepared to unload the gun, the family says. The bullet went through a horse trailer and hit Gus, who, unbeknownst to her, had run behind the trailer.

That makes Mrs Barber’s actions look a lot more responsible, and highlights why The Rules can’t always save you, and a mechanical safety — a reliable mechanical safety — is an essential belt to wear with the suspenders of The Rules.

Remington called Cohn’s report “fundamentally inaccurate” and said that, “once again, CNBC did not comply with the most basic tenet of reporting – fact checking.” We’re not sure how Remington got the idea that reporting involves fact checking. For today’s media, it includes finding a story that’s “click-bait that pops” and that meets the “consensus media narrative” on a subject, and then sourcing a few quotes and details to give the advocacy a sheen of truthiness. Most reporters not only refrain from checking facts, they’re not interested in collecting facts and we reckon that eight out of nine of them could not identify a fact in bright sunlight at seven yards.

Remington also had the jaws that CNBC bad-mouthed the 700’s sales record:

[C]ontrary to CNBC’s story, it is undisputed that the Remington Model 700 is the best-selling American-made, bolt-action rifle of all time. The Model 700 has also been and continues to be the tactical sniper rifle of choice for the U.S. armed forces and special operators and is widely used by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

It does appear that some of that language has also been inserted in Cohn’s report.

The original Cohn report was picked up (usually uncredited) by:

And many more. Not all reporting on this settlement sucked, though. The Missoulian of Missoula (where else?), Montana, had by far the best report on the settlement, with a fresh interview with Mr Barber, who comes across as a pretty righteous guy, magnanimous in his long-sought victory; and some details on the settlement.

Who Gets What in the Settlement

Because the settlement is being badly misreported, we thought we’d read it and tell you who gets what — and who doesn’t.

  1. Nobody gets anything until the judge approved the settlement. This is normally a formality, but judges have been known to demur in cases where all benefits accrue to the attorneys. However,
  2. “Class Members” — Remington owners — get a replacement trigger at Remington’s expense, and a gun-safety DVD. Except…
  3. Some 700-based actions can’t be retrofitted with Remington’s new trigger. Owners of those guns (600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722, and 725) will get a token “settlement” — a worthless coupon. Oh, they do get the DVD.
  4. “Representative Plaintiffs” — the eight named plaintiffs who lost family members in gun accidents — get $2,500 each. No, that is not a typo. (We believe that most have previously won other settlements or awards).
  5. The nine law firms who represented the eight named plaintiffs split $12.5 million within seven days of the approval. This is who the suit benefits, and this is who it was always going to benefit. However, Remington is reserving as much as $17 million for the trigger fixes. They took a charge of $29.5M against earnings last quarter.
  6. Contrary to several of those media reports, government purchasers at all levels get no trigger repairs. They’re explicitly excluded from the settlement class. Of course, we teach our snipers not to point their M24s at each other, in mistaken trust of the safety catch.  (Is gun. Is not safe).
  7. There are two separate settlements, one for the previously recalled post-2006 XMark Pro trigger, and one for all other 700 series guns going back to the 1940s, but they differ primarily in the technical fix required. The XMark Pro was already recalled to fix assembly problems.
  8. If current owners don’t put their gun in for repair within 18 months of the judge’s OK, they have no further benefits — and no further right to sue for a trigger or safety failure. Basically, these nine law firms get the money for all potential plaintiffs, for which the potential plaintiffs lose their personal right to sue. That’s how a class action works, and why it’s great for companies and lawyers, and lousy for injured people.
  9. You only have 21 days from the judge’s approval to file to preserve your personal rights.
  10. Guns don’t have to go to Remington, there are a large number of authorized service centers that can do the trigger work. Remington will set up a website to direct you to the most convenient site. (Shipping of the firearm is also Remington’s concern).
  11. If the gun is irreparable, Remington will return it with a notice it is irreparable; or if the gun needs other work to be safe, Remington will notify the owner and ask him to pay for them to proceed. A master gunsmith named Chris Ruger has been named to mediate any disputes that may arise. Since lots of covered guns are Social Security age, they’re probably going to see a few rust ranches and soiled farm implements in those rehab shops.

How common is this problem?

After a decade plus of publicity, the attorneys had eight named plaintiffs and claim to have identified 75 cases of Remington 700s that fired without trigger command, including 24 fatal accidents, in approximately 70 years. Given the sales of the 700 are about 78 million, that is about one ten-thousandth of one percent of Remington 700s, and the likelihood of it happening in any one year is about 1.4 millionths of a percent.

Not common, but extremely serious if it happens to you. Watch your gun muzzle, and watch your backstop. Remember Barbara Barber, who thought her 700 was safe when she flicked the safety on fire to permit unloading (as the old Walker trigger design used to require).

And if you hunt with a 700, like half the hunters in America, you might want to get into the queue as soon as the website is live. It may appear here.

Hat tip, Miguel at Gun Free Zone.

 

 

Dae-who? (answer overleaf)

Here’s a rare assault rifle, one you don’t see often in its standard select-fire iteration out in the world, and one you see even less often in its semi auto US import version, the importation of which ceased in the 1990s and has never been resumed.

We’ll have the answers for you after the jump. Tell us in the comments if you knew it on sight!

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Whistling Past the Graveyard of Remington in NY

Remington Outdoor LogoIn 2016, Remington will be celebrating its 200th Anniversary in, or near, Ilion, NY.

If it’s still there, which seems an open question.

It seems likely some small, token presence will remain, but this last industrial presence in the Ilion-Herkimer area is melting away like an ice sculpture in Death Valley. The nearest large daily, the Utica, NY Observer-Dispatch, is already a paper for a post-employment region: rather than have a business section, the “Business” link on its home page links to a slow-loading subdomain of The Street. (The part that loads slowest? “Local Business News,” evidently. Maybe there isn’t any. We gave up waiting).

what_business_newsThe  only local business news on 4 or 5 December was that a scrap metal business in Rome, New York, is growing and might add a few jobs. That’s not going to offset the loss of jobs from Remington, which has been issuing blocs of pink slips this holiday season, despite gun sales that remain strong. (Black Friday set the all-time one-day NICS record).

The reporters and editors at the O-D are a type we know well. They aspire, or once aspired, to going to the “big leagues”  — the Times, or the TV Networks — and they model themselves on those outlets’ reporters and editors — activists with bylines. So the O-D’s Lindsay Boyle, who’s been covering the local decline of Remington, rounded up a corral full of quotes suggesting that the layoffs, in that memorable Vietnam Era military locution, “don’t mean nuthin’.” The story was widely distributed by AP, but it turns out that she’s told us this story before. A few times.

Because this is long, details after the jump.

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US Rifle Co-Production in the Cold War

During the Cold War, one of the many types of leverage exploited by the “belligerents,” the USA and the USSR, was armament sales. But as the nations in each power’s camp got more sophisticated, they wanted to develop or at least manufacture their own weapons.

The problem with that was that interests in the superpowers’ own nations wanted to export weapons, not export weapons-making technology. We know now that the USSR’s command economy allowed the export of AK-making technology to literally dozens of countries, some of which had no business building a plywood outhouse, let alone modern 20th Century weaponry.

The US was much more diffident about exporting rifle-making technology and rifle designs to our allies, or entering into co-production agreements. In the case of the M16, this was complicated by the government’s lack of ownership of the key intellectual property, making an M16 agreement necessarily a three-way negotiation with the rights holder, Colt.

Finally, towards the end of the period, US salesmen were handicapped by US laws that criminalized the quaint foreign custom of bribe-taking, and more to the point, criminalized the American who paid the bribe. This ensured that a number of contracts went to H&K and FN, whose salesmen — and whose cops — were not so, shall we say, rigid in their thinking.

Only three nations received the rights to manufacture US rifles from the US government, although others may have negotiated those rights for the M16 and M4 with Colt directly (subject to export licensing, of course).

There are US political and economic interests that strongly favor selling completed rifles instead of committing to coproduction, even as coproduction becomes the norm for many other defense articles from the F35 on down. US government contracts are often perceived by contractors and  their workforces as producing feast-or-famine instability. And in the height of the Cold War during the 1950s-70s, the US defense contractor workforce was largely unionized, and the unions were a force in American politics at the time. The unions had zero interest in production happening in a non-union, or even in some other union, shop in some FISH1 country in Asia or Africa, and used their influence to torpedo what deals they could.

Taiwan ROC: The M14 Rifle

On 23 January 1967, Taiwan’s Nationalist Chinese government (still recognized by the USA as the legitimate government of all China at that date) inked a Memorandum of Understanding with the USA for rifle, machine gun, and ammunition production. It provided a very rare authorization for unlimited quantities of M14 rifles and M60 general-purpose machine guns. (Why “unlimited”? Perhaps they were thinking the Taiwan government might get all China back).

Government-furnished machinery, tooling and process information that had been provided to Harrington & Richardson of Worcester, Mass. for the M14 contract was part of the deal. H&R had produced M14s according to Springfield Armory’s processes, not according to the more economical processes developed by TRW from automotive experience. Lee Emerson, who admits that information on the Taiwan program is hard to come by, writes:

The Memorandum of Understanding grants license to the Government of Taiwan to produce M14 rifles known as the Type 57. The January 23, 1967 memorandum states that Taiwan will purchase tools, components, material, documentation, technical assistance and assemblies from Fiscal Year 1967 through Fiscal Year 1969. As agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding, the U. S. government sold some of the M14 rifle production machinery used by Harrington & Richardson to Taiwan in 1968. One complete set of fixtures and inspection gages was supplied to the Government of Taiwan by Springfield Armory. By November 1968, nineteen machine tools had been accepted by the Government of Taiwan out of 150 offered by the U. S. government. This assistance effort was coordinated by MAAG China. The Memorandum of Understanding also required that the Taiwanese T57 items produced would be interchangeable logistically with USGI M14 items.

The project wound up in 1979. By then the Taiwan government had produced 149,596 M14 rifles (Emerson says over a million, which seems unreasonable until you realize the 300,000 man ROC armed forces have reserves of nearly four million), 10,725 M60 machine guns, and more than 250 million rounds of 7.62 NATO ammunition. In Taiwan ROC service, the rifle is referred to as the T57. We have struck out on finding authentic images of the T57, this receiver is from a Taiwanese toymaker’s airsoft toy and is therefore somewhat suspect:

Taiwan M14 markings

The latest Taiwanese version of the M14 is the XT98 sniper, a crudely welded prototype of which was caught at a trade show in Taiwan in 2011 by Steve Johnson of the Firearm Blog. This is one of Steve’s photos (more at the link).

xt_98_1-tfb

According to Johnson, the rifle was displayed by the Taiwanese Military Combined Logistics Command, Arsenal 205, which is their national armory. It appears to be a steel or aluminum chassis into which a legacy M14 is dropped; there has been no reported M14 production since the coproduction project went inactive in 1979.

While the US has had more success in recent years giving M14s away than it had when the weapon was still in significant US military use, no other nation ever bought the M14 as a service weapon, or developed a coproduction agreement.

Taiwan’s next rifle, the T65, was a kissing cousin of a Colt M16 improvement, the gas-piston Model 703, produced without recourse to any Colt license nor any government-to-government coproduction agreement. The Colt 703 was never manufactured, apart from toolroom prototypes.

Republic of the Philippines: M16A1 Rifle

Lots of nations bought M16s, but they bought them either through US Military Assistance Plan dollars. (Or they just ripped off the design, as noted above about Taiwan). Only a few nations sought coproduction. One of these was the Republic of the Philippines.

On 17 May 1974, the US and the Philippines, a close US ally since independence (actually, since 5 years before independence, as many Filipinos fought valiantly against Japanese invasion and occupation alongside Americans) signed a Memorandum of Understanding for rifle coproduction. It had no expiration date, but in place of the “unlimited” restriction in the Taiwan M14 contract, it authorized 150,000 rifles. The serial numbers have “RP” prefixes.

Elisco Filipino M16

 

Elisco Filipino M16A1b

The project concluded in January, 1982. By then Filipino arsenals had produced 166,314 M16A1 rifles. US documents do not account for the discrepancy between authorization and production. Subsequently, the Filipino firm Elisco Tool seems to have concluded a license with Colt directly for additional M16A1 rifles and carbines.

Singapore: M16A1 rifle

Chartered Industries of Singapore negotiated a deal, not with the US Army Security Assistance Command or some other branch of the US government, but directly with Colt Industries. Unlike the government-to-government exchanges, terms of this B2B deal have not been made public.

The rifles were marked with the following rollmarks (left side of magwell):

MADE IN SINGAPORE BY
CHARTER INDUSTRIES
OF SINGAPORE LIMITED
UNDER LICENSE FROM
COLT INDUSTRIES
HARTFORD CONN, USA
PATENTED
SER 000000

The serial numbers have no national prefix, unlike their Filipino and Korean counterparts. The right side had a CIS logo engraved on the magazine well.

CIS is known to have chafed under the terms of the deal. When it was sold to them, they were encouraged to plan to amortize machinery and plant under a production quantity supported by exports, but the deal they finally signed allowed them no export sales.

South Korea: M16A1 rifle

On 31 March 1971, The ROK concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the USA for rifle coproduction. It authorized 1,166,000 M16A1 rifles, which were duly built by 1984 at the latest, when the program was wound up.

According to Retro Black Rifle, the Korean rifles’ markings included (right side):

MADE IN KOREA
UNDER LICENSE FROM
COLT’S HARTFORD, CT
U.S.A.

…and (left side):

Made by Daewoo
Colt 603-K
Markings:
M16A1
K000000

But it makes little sense for a rifle intended to be used by Korean draftees to be marked in English (RBR does note that the selector switch is marked in Korean Hangul script). An archived thread in ARFcom’s Retro Forum provides photos purporting to be one of these contract M16A1s (so-so pics, but they do embiggen):

Korean Retro M16A1 right Korean Retro M16A1

 

Like the Singaporeans with their Colt contract, the Koreans found the terms of their coproduction agreement with the USA uncongenial. They interrupted payments to Colt when certain Colt patents expired, triggering a lawsuit (it appears to have settled on neutral terms).

South Korea benefited by the technology transfer, perhaps, but they couldn’t use it to sell friendly Asian nations further quantities of M16A1 rifles. (It is a standard clause in coproduction agreements that no third country sales are authorized. This is presumably for political as well as economic reasons). In the end, Korean engineers at Daewoo Precision Industries (now ST-Motiv) used some concepts from the M16 and some from other firearms (including the AK and the FAL) to develop the K2 rifle and K1A1 submachine gun. Colt sued them for infringement on Colt’s patents but was not successful.

Notes

1. FISH country: an acronym indicating the nation in question is a Fly Infested $#!+ Hole, pronounced as “fish country”

Sources

Army Security Assistance Command. Security Assistance Coproduction Status Report and The Status Report Of Coproduction Programs. Washington: US Army, 31 December 1993. Retrieved from: http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/other/614.pdf

Emerson, Lee. M14 Rifle History and Development.  Available in four volumes at: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/m14rhad This is the most comprehensive M14 book (and yes, we do have them all). Volume 1 is the most critical to military-weapons buffs; the full set of four volumes is a bracing ~$170; A text-only version from 2013 is available as a free download here: http://www.m14.ca/books/M14_RHAD_Text_Only_Edition_131215.pdf. If you’re seriously interested, we firmly recommend buying all four volumes, which almost pay Lee back for his research. (Indeed, we just bought a fresh set to replace an outdated and incomplete set). With reference to the Taiwan guns, Lee has posted an excerpt: http://m14forum.com/m14/69027-taiwan-t57-m14-rhad-expanded.html 

Retro Black Rifle (various pages, notably: the Foreign Model Guide at: https://bpullignwolnet.dotster.com/retroblackrifle/ModGde/4nGde.html )

On Reaching 200 Megaguns

Well, not megaguns exactly, but 200 mega-NICS-checks. Oy.

You can see the original at FBI, or this image that embiggens for your reading convenience:

NICS-200-million

The NICS check is a slightly off-kilter proxy for new-gun sales, because:

  1. One check can encompass multiple firearms sales. For example, we recently bought an M1 Garand, M1 Thompson SBR, and M1903A3 on a single NICS (still waiting on Form 4 for the TSMG). We picked up a package of 6 Nodak Spud retro AR receivers on a single NICS check, too. So that’s nine guns on two checks.
  2. Some new firearms sales do not initiate any NICS check, in a handful of states where some time of gun license exempts buyers from the checks (because the license is revoked if any NICS-denial event is triggered).
  3. Some NICS checks are not the result of gun sales. This is true in states like Washington that have criminalized sportsmens’ gun borrowing, and in states that run a NICS check for initial or periodic reviews of pistol permit eligibility. (We seem to recall NC and KY are among these states). This distortion can be seen when you look at the by-state figures, which the FBI publishes regularly; if a state’s numbers are much higher than those of comparable states, they’re probably using NICS checks for something other than gun sales.
  4. Many NICS checks are the result of used, not new, gun sales. Please look back at the example in (1) above, considering now that the 9 firearms included only 6 new firearms, across those two NICS events. This is probably the biggest single distortionate factor: with reasonable care, guns last essentially forever, and remain subject to this regulatory burden essentially forever; the Garand and 1903A3 in example 1 were made 60 and 70 years ago, respectively, under Korean and WWII contracts.

You can see more FBI NICS information here and reports here. The only adjusted reports that we know of are made by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and are available to members only (authentication required). The NSSF doesn’t report quite as quickly as the FBI, because it tries to apply statistical corrections for the known distortions; it considers its adjusted reports closer to a count of new guns sold, and its numbers generally run about 70% of the FBI’s gross NICS numbers.

Still, we can draw some inferences from the numbers so far:

  1. There have been 10,000,000 or more NICS checks a year since 2006.
  2. There have been 15,000,000 or more NICS checks since 2011.
  3. It’s highly probable that 2014 will join 2013 with over 20,000,000 checks, although 2014 may not break 2013’s record.
  4. There have never been fewer than a million NICS checks a month since August, 2009.
  5. December is usually the peak NICS month (there are exceptions, especially in years that are supply-constrained during the Christmas season).
  6. There has not been a December with fewer than 1.3 million checks since 2007. We’ll see in a moment why this number matters.
  7. The only Decembers to fall below 1,000,000 were December, 1998, as the NICS system was feebly wobbling into existence as an alternative to the failed Brady waiting period, and December, 2002 amidst the dot-bomb and 9/11 recessions.
  8. The long run of increases over same-month-previous-year was interrupted in the summer doldrums of 2013. (You can see that summer is low period for these checks every year) and this year has been running slightly behind 2013, although a few months have .

Right now, the total stands at 18,658,863 through 30 November 14, which lets us figure out what it would take to achieve prior-year sales.

  • To break last year’s record of 21,093,273, we have to initiate over 2.4 million checks in the month of December. (For nit-pickers, 2,434,410. +1). That’s a big but not impossible goal: the NICS total has beaten that three times, in December, 2012, January, 2013, and March, 2014.
  • To break the arbitrary number of 20,000,000, on the other hand, we only have to initiate 1.3 million checks (1,341,137). This looks like a lock to us.
  • To break 2012’s then-record number of 19,592,303, we’d have to record 933,340 NICS checks. That would betoken a sales collapse to 1998 levels. This (breaking 2012’s record) is absolutely, positively going to happen.
  • If this December’s NICS ties with last December (2,041,528), the whole year would be 20,700,391, about 400k short of an all-time record. (For the pedant, 392,882 NICS short). That sounds like a big drop-off, but it’s actually 1.86%, making the numbers a tie, for all practical purposes.

First Official WeaponsMan Prediction is that 2014 final numbers Beat 2012 for Second Place with over 20,000,000 unadjusted NICS checks.

Second Official WeaponsMan Prediction is that the media — led by the usual suspects who retype gun control orgs’ press releases, and spin for ATF, like Pete Yost (AP), Sari Horwitz (WaPo), Paul Barrett (Bloomberg — at least Barrett admits he’s on the payroll) and the gang — trumpets 2013 not beating 2014 as ZOMG Gun Sales Collapse.

Think about that: Twenty Million is what our best indicator of sales tells us, a number more than 16 of the 17 years on record, and they’re going to tell us the gun culture’s on the skids. (How would any of those media hacks know? It’s not like they expend shoe leather like reporters of yore).

On the other hand, if we beat the WeaponsMan prediction and beat 2013, here’s what those bylined tools will write about it:

”    “.

Yeah.

If you want to frustrate them? There’s never been a better time to buy a gun. Or three (at three different FFLs, naturally. You wouldn’t want them all on one NICS check. That plays into enemy hands).

Hat Tip, Miguel at Gun Free Zone

What’s the Opposite of “Advanced”?

We leave answering the question as an exercise for the reader after watching this video, about 15 minutes long. Here you see the 1989-90 contenders for the Advanced Combat Rifle, a program that would have replaced the issue M16A2 rifle which was still being fielded into some low-priority units, replacing 20-25 year old M16A1s, at the time.

The video begins with a rather sloppy three-minute history of American infantry weapons (you’ll cringe at the assertion that the first Army bolt-action was “made by Krag-Jorgensen,” or that the 1903 Springfield “wasn’t much better than the Krag.”  The video also makes a curious claim — one not seen in the doctrinal literature — that the M16A2 had an effective range of 550 meters.

The reason for the program is explained: the actual combat accuracy of the rifle in soldiers’ hands degrades far below its mechanical potential. So the ACR program was hoping to double the real-world effectiveness of the individual weapon.

The four vendors trying to grab the contractual brass ring were:

  • AAI, with a flechette-firing M16 cousin, complete with early ACOG;
  • Colt, with a product-improved M16, including an adjustable carbine-like stock, four-position selector, duplex (two-bullet) ammunition, and an available Elcan scope (similar to the model later adopted as the M145 machine-gun optic);
  • H&K, with an Americanized version of their ill-fated caseless G11; and,
  • Steyr-Mannlicher, with an oddball AUG derivative firing polymer-cased rounds with flechette projectiles.

At about 10 minutes in, the video presents the modifications made to Buckner Range on Fort Benning to evaluate the novel weapons.

In the end, none of them was sufficiently superior to the issue M16A2, or sufficiently well-developed already, to justify further development.

We thought for sure we’d put this video up before, but while we’ve talked about some other boneheaded procurement events — like in this post on the Objective Family of Weapons two years ago — we don’t appear to have actually done it.

No, Colt Didn’t Default

Colt Defense Roll MarkingThis was reported in the comments to our Colt post, but deserves a post of its own. From Guns.com:

Colt Defense LLC will not default on a major payment since it secured a new $70 million loan, according to Monday’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The iconic Connecticut-based company said it will use the secured term loan from Morgan Stanley Senior Funding Inc. to make the $10.9 million interest payment to bondholders. Although due yesterday, Colt has until Dec. 15 to make the payment in full.

Colt said the new loan “will provide it with the time and flexibility necessary to support its medium and long term objectives.”

The cash injection will also go towards repaying all of the amounts outstanding under Colt’s existing $50 million term loan agreement from July 2013.

via Colt secures $70 million loan to avoid default.

We’ll be speaking to our own Morgan Stanley guy, who’s not involved with the group that did this, but we can’t see them making their money back by 2018 or in 2018 without a plan either to flip the company to a new hedge fund, or to take it public. It will need far better results than it has had to go public; a previous attempt to go public, filed for in 2005, collapsed in 2006, although it doesn’t seem to have been formally withdrawn until 2011.

We did discover that the interest rate on this loan is loanshark high, as you might expect for in extremis financing: 8% cash plus, this was interesting 2% payment-in-kind interest. That’s a 10% compound rate; Tony Soprano was unavailable for comment. And the loan is secured, which is why it is being used first to pay off amounts owed under the technically defaulted ABL Credit Agreement (which is also secured senior credit, “senior” in financing terms meaning it would take priority over other debt in bankruptcy).

One wonders what the payment-in-kind is. Product, at wholesale value, letting the lenders cash in again?

Colt’s extant debt is also at high interest levels. For example, $250 million borrowed in 2011 was borrowed at 8.75% and is due in 2017.

If large amounts of this $70 million just go into the pockets of the hedgies like the previous refinancing proceeds did, the company’s still doomed, in this iteration. But, as Daniel Watters noted in the comments to our previous post, the can’s been kicked down the road, and they buy some time to sell or IPO — or find another expensive loan to pay the previous expensive loan.

This loan does not seem to require interim amortization payments, unlike the facility that just precipitated this default… it just sits accruing interest on paper until Colt pays it, or fails to. This is another indicator that the financiers are seeing an exit some time before the drop-dead date of 2018.

Ironically, the guys that own Colt are personally anti-gun, and big supporters of the ban-happy Senator Charles Schumer, but that’s pretty common in the hedge fund world. You would think that people who oppose guns that much would avoid putting themselves in a position where they need to sell massive quantities of them to break even, but as as we’ve seen, they don’t need to actually make a success of a company to get stupendously rich from it. No more than the tick has the best interests of the dog at heart.

Primary Documents

Here are the most recent Colt filings on the SEC’s database:

  • 19 November 2014: 8K Amended Item 5.02: John Magouirk, SVP and COO, 51, is out, with a one-year salary continuation (and non-compete, presumably for that period). Scott Anderson, 52, is in, to that position. He has no firearms industry experience, but is a finance guy who has worked elsewhere in manufacturing. He reports to Dennis Veilleux, CEO, who remains in place.
  • 19 November 2014: 8K Amended Item 9.01 Exhibit 10.1: Magouirk’s separation agreement. He will be paid $7,210 a week for 52 weeks ($374,920) not to come to work. (Not having him around is apparently very valuable). The lettered Exhibits to the document suggest that no one else  is being let go in conjunction with this change.
  • 18 November 2014: 8K Amended Item 1.01: this is where the loan is described. (This is the source for our description of it in the penultimate paragraph before “Primary Documents.”)
  • 18 November 2014: Colt Defense LLC press release. Basically reiterates the facts of the loan as in the 8K 1.01, and includes Colt’s one-paragraph “about Colt Defense LLC” blurb.

Colt Defense LLC has generated a mountain of SEC paperwork over the years. Its most recent financing activities can be found with this SEC “EDGAR” Database search, yielding 53 documents going back to 2011. Note that additional documents can be found by using other Colt firm names over the years, including Colt Finance Corp, the holding company that wraps around Colt Defense LLC.

At least in 2005, the Connecticut Development Authority had significant ownership of Colt (16.2%) and an employee ownership plan had another percent or so.

Gun Marketing Between the Lines: Taurus, Beretta (Updated)

ITEM: Look Out for the Bull!

A site called Grand View Outdoors has a “review” of the new Taurus Model 180 Curve pistol that could have been written by Taurus’s PR people (maybe it was). (ETA: See UPDATE below). So you see what we’re talking about, here’s Taurus’s promo video:

And here’s Taurus’s web page on the new gun. OK, so that’s the 180 Curve, a melted-looking pocket pistol that’s supposed to hug your body shape and that holds 6 rounds of .380. It has a DAO trigger and the crappy Taurus locking system.

A lot of these details aren’t being mentioned in the stories online here and there, yet they’re easily found or deduced based on stuff Taurus themselves posted. As you can see from this picture, it has an unusual feature for a .380, a locked breech, Browning tipping-barrel style:

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-5Note also the complete absence of protruding sights. Taurus explains that that’s because of their new sight system, which appears to consist of a sort of sight post and crosshairs decorating the back of the gun. Here are two pictures showing that — with no clue as to what it would be like in low light:

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-6

 

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-2

It seems to be held together, in part, by Allen-key screws.

As you can see in the video, it looks like the mag doesn’t drop free. In addition, it has a magazine disconnect (Taurus’s term) or mag safety: mag’s out, can’t shoot. The magazine safety was always a lousy idea, even when it was implemented by John Moses Browning Himself; when Browning put one in, it was usually because a customer or manager made him do it, and he always did it in a way you could pin it out or remove it. (So many have been taken out of BHPs that some BHP owners don’t know that theirs originally came with the unpopular feature).

Shooters seeing the Curve for the first time might be a bit skeptical about how the handgun actually handles. With its weird shape, curved magazine and boxy lines, can the Curve actually shoot when it counts?

That’s a good question. How will they answer it?

After firing several boxes of .380 at an indoor range near Taurus’s Miami, Florida-based U.S. headquarters, it’s pretty clear the shapely Curve has no problem throwing lead down range. Most shooters experienced few if any malfunctions and the included laser sight made hitting the mark a breeze.

If you read that graf between the lines, you see it was a press junket near Taurus HQ, where an unknown quantity of journos collectively fired “several boxes” of ammunition through, presumably, selected “press guns,” and… “experienced few if any malfs…”

Wait, what? Were there malfunctions? A “few” in “several boxes” of ammo presumably provided by the maker of the GD gun? Newsflash: that’s not “carry gun” reliability. That’s more like “the reputation Taurus is really trying to shake.” But “if any”? Well, did the gun jam or didn’t it? And what’s with the mag having to be pulled out of the magwell in the video? Is that intentional (i.e., crappy magazine safety) or unintentional (i.e., crappy QC)?

The article also claims that the mag withdrawal is due to the mag being curved, but the photos with the article (all seem to be Taurus handouts) and the photos on Taurus’s site show that it isn’t; the grip is curved but the mag is not.

Ph_Curve_Back_W_Magazine

But like anything in life, the Curve isn’t going to be everything for everybody looking for the perfect concealed carry handgun. For one, sized similar to a smartphone, the Curve is little (think Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380). If you’ve got big hands and long fingers, the grip is a little tougher to negotiate and the trigger doesn’t break without negotiating a better pull.

via Taurus Bends The Handgun Market With New ‘Curve’ | 2014-11-18 | Grand View Outdoors.

Is it just us, or is that last sentence unintelligible?

And is it just us, or is the writing visibly worse on a lot of so-called professional, advertising-supported sites than it is on private enthusiasts’ sites? Maybe these guys were just having a bad day.

Now, the Curve is priced very low ($392.42 list, suggesting it may sell for around $350), and with its integral light and laser, and small size, our guess is that they are going to sell these by the boxcar load. Will Taurus have QC problems? Only time and a large quantity of guns in the field will tell. Taurus doesn’t have the best reputation in this area (to put it bluntly, they’ve squandered the good reputation they once had). It is very concealable, and it’s probably better to have “a” gun than to go unarmed because it’s not the “right” gun.

If you remember the Remington R51, you might not be the first in line for one of these. Wait and see is a good policy. And a good question to ask the guy at your LGS, when you’re buying any unknown quantity that’s been around long enough to have made some sales: “Have any of these come back for warranty work?” A small shop, the guys will know right away. Big box stores they won’t (and they might tell you whatever they think will close the sale).

So, that’s Taurus and how they got glowing promotional media from someone with scant exposure to the firearm in question. Let’s move on.

ITEM: Beretta publishes video showing jammed Beretta.

Seriously, this is an own goal, or to mix sports metaphors, an unforced error. What were they thinking? Here’s a still from a video clip of infantry officer trainees shooting Beretta M9s, that was included in a Beretta promo video.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 22.01.34

The slide’s jammed about 3/8″ out of battery and has been for about 3.5 seconds at this point. The still is taken from a Beretta promo video, visible at this link at beretta.com.

And at about 5:11 in the video, the soldier in the right foreground fires, and the gun jams out of battery. They cut the video off there, but not before showing the jam.

It’s all part of a new site Beretta has in place to promote the now-venerable M9/M92 series pistols. The site’s a great idea, but they managed to put up a video showing their flagship gun, which hardly ever jams, jamming. What were they thinking?

What these two incidents have in common

The commonality between the Taurus launch with its unknown number of jams, and the Beretta video with it’s visible jam, is that in both cases professional marketing operations went out in public with something that was distinctly off message. Unforced error again. In the first case, Taurus was (mostly) saved by the gun press’s incredible ability to deny or explain away malfunctions happening right in front of their eyes. In Beretta’s? Our best guess is that the video was edited from a pile of b-roll by someone who was a video pro, not necessarily a gun guy or gal, and the four seconds of failure to return to battery were brief enough that Beretta’s gun guys overlooked it until it was up on their website in front of God and everybody.

There’s no such thing as a firearm that never fails, but your marketing materials will be assumed by the public to have been scrubbed of failures, making the escape of failures into the wild doubly embarrassing.

UPDATE

See the response by Christian Lowe in the comments below. Christian was the reporter for GrandView Outdoors, and he provides more detail about the gun, about the range experience (his Curve never malfunctioned, but he thought someone else’s did), and some insight into the process of writing his article. Thanks!