Right now, the most popular, versatile, and “best” small arms system in the world is unquestionably the Stoner AR-10/15 system. It has the edge on everything else for soldier-readiness, ergonomics, modularity, accuracy, reliability, and, if operated within its envelope, durability. It has been proven by fifty-plus years of military service and tens of millions of guns produced.
Colt Model 639 CAR-15: the grandfather of today’s M4.
Some nations that produced alternatives (Israel’s Galil) turned to the AR in the end (although the Israelis are trying a new direction). Some just wish they did (UK, BRD). The one alternative that truly exceeds the AR’s longevity and reliability/durability is the equally legendary Avtomat Kalashnikova, the stout Russian take on the assault rifle idea (without the excellence of which the US might never have adopted the AR in the first place). The AK is an excellent firearm; it cannot match the AR for ergonomics, modularity, or accuracy in semi- or automatic fire (not that most soldiers learn to fire automatic fire accurately in any army), but it offers things the AR can’t. These include near-indestructibility with zero maintenance (near because we’ve seen what Afghans can do); extremely low cost for weapons or for starting production; and, and this is a big thing in some corners of the world, independence from the US and its friends and allies.
A number of alternatives have fallen by the wayside, some of them fair (M14), some good (G3, HK 33), some excellent (Galil, which was a westernized AK; FN-FAL; AUG), some pretty disastrous (INSAS). Sometimes making national weapons is a matter of national prestige, which is how you get Mexico, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic attempting firearms design. (All issue ARs, AKs or a combination these days).
But supplying weapons can be an instrument of national power. Unfortunately, we sit right now with the most desirable production weapons systems in the world and we are handicapped in exporting these systems and all that goes along with them by the useless striped-pants bureaucrats at the State Department.
You know, the guys who negotiated Iran’s pathway to nuking Tel Aviv and then congratulated themselves on a job well done? Those guys?
The strange thing is that individual Foreign Service Officers are among the most intelligent and capable people our universities produce, but something in State lobotomizes them, and gelds them for an encore. But we digress.
Arms Exports as a matter of national policy were long a Soviet specialty. “US embargoed you? Oh, dear, you poor fellow. Let us help you out! Here’s a wing of MiGs, our latest surface-to-air-missiles (and crews to run them until you’re up to speed; if you can get a war going, even better, we need ’em combat-tested), and several ships full of ground combat weapons… for, I dunno, how does a case of vodka sound? And you can owe us the vodka. Just keep the door open for when we want to chat.” Now, what self-respecting uniformed popinjay dictator is going to turn down a deal like that? Judging from the ruined dictatorships where we’ve found mountains of Soviet-era hardware, none of ’em.
The AK’s excellence helped it spread. So did “easy terms” from Amtorg, the Soviet export agency, and Soviet influence followed it.
But the US? We don’t play that game, or rather, we do, but we have State playing it, so we do a crappy job.
This didn’t start with the Cold War, either. The long excerpt that follows was written by WHB Smith in 1946, and he recounts how the Germans used the near-universality of the Mauser rifle as a wedge to propagate their thinking — everything from the General Staff concept in the 1890s to the Führerprinzip in the 1940s, which helps explain some of your Latin American caudillos like Juan Perón or Alfredo Stroessner.
Very few people in civil life have any realization of the tremendous power the Mauser organization played in world affairs from the date of its inception in 1871 to the close of World War II.
As a result of a planned German military policy, a policy which began with the very founding in 1864 of Germany as the nation we knew in the 20th century, the Mauser organization was used internationally to disseminate German ideas into German ideologies.
Germany infiltrated the entire South American continent and much of China by recognizing the elementary fact that whoever arms the police and military organizations of those countries, automatically exercises considerable control over their politics and policies. In world areas where police and military groups dominate, those who are in a position to provide arms and equipment and new military techniques have always been able to achieve a measure of power entirely out of relation to either the number of agents employed or the extent of the business they have done with those countries.
Rather SF-sounding, that. Force multiplier. Of course, after Smith wrote this in 1946, both the West and the Communist East used weapons supplies as a very significant factor in influencing foreign nations’ “politics and policies.” Let’s continue with the excerpt, shall we?
As this book is written, the Mauser factories in Germany (in US and British areas!) for the second time in less than half a century have been compelled to stop manufacture of weapons. But – again for the second time in that period – their manufacturing potential has not been seriously impaired. Meanwhile, in Russian areas they are reported in full operation!
Very early in the history of the Mauser organization, contacts and affiliations were made with the great Austrian Steyr Armory for the manufacture of German designed weapons in Austria. At a slightly later date, similar arrangements were made with arms companies in Belgium, notably at Lüttich [Liège].
At the close of World War I, when the Mauser factories were in Allied hands, the great Fabrique Nationale at Herstal, near Liège, Belgium, undertook to manufacture German Mauser rifles to meet the legitimate police and military requirements of Central and South America and of much of the Orient.
It is noteworthy indeed that all these Mauser rifles took the general pattern of the official German Gewehr 98! The differences in manufacture and in manufacturing methods were so slight that a very high degree of interchangeability of parts has always existed among Mauser rifles, wherever made, and in whatever caliber made, throughout the world. Not only were the receivers (the central forging which is the heart of any rifle and which houses the operating mechanism, and into which the barrel is screwed) of the same design and general length and weight, but all the military cartridges designed for the weapon were similar enough in overall dimensions that comparatively few changes were necessary in machinery and manufacturing to convert the central and south American calibers to those of the German standards. This condition still exists.
When arms factories were set up for the manufacture of rifles at Brno in Czechoslovakia, not only were German measurements and requirements instituted, but the actual German military cartridge caliber was retained! These Mauser rifles of Czech manufacture are among the finest known. They vary from the German only in very slight details. These factories also entered world commerce to provide military and police arms wherever required; and their products will be found throughout Central and South America and the Orient.
When arms factories for Mauser rifle manufacture were established at Warsaw and at Radom in Poland, again the arm manufactured was in all essentials the standard German army rifle using the standard German rifle cartridge! It must be remembered that with the sole exception of the United States, which uses the Garand M1 semi automatic rifle and the American Springfield (which is an improved Mauser rifle); Great Britain which uses generally the Lee-Enfield rear lug system (together with huge numbers of Mauser type American-made model 1917 rifles); France which adopted a modified Mauser pattern in 1935; and Russia which uses its own Tokarev semi-automatic rifle and its Nagant bolt action rifle, practically every country in the world today is armed officially with weapons of German Mauser or Austrian Mannlicher design. Italy, which employed at the beginning of World War II rifles with the Mannlicher magazine, also used a modified Mauser bolt.
In this day of atom bombs and rockets and flamethrowers, it is easy to overlook the political implications of a world system which permits for militaristic nation to provide arms to the police and military authorities of smaller nations. Where those arms and their replacement parts and ammunition go, there too go instructors, commercial agents, and exponents of the political and military ideologies of the country providing those weapons.
Regardless of the implications of the mass-destruction weapons now available in the world, there likely to be used only under the direst of circumstances. Military, police and sporting arms however, will continue to be, as they have been in the past, of supreme importance to the individuals directly concerned. Thus any organization selling and distributing weapons and techniques to the police or the military in any small nation is much more likely to dominate the nations policies and pot and is one which depends entirely on standard commercial, economic or cultural contacts.
As this is written, most of the great German, Austin, Polish and Czech arms plant [sic] capable of manufacturing Mauser rifles or replacement parts for them are under direct or indirect Russian control or influence. Russian trade missions are abroad in every Central and South American country. And Belgium can’t begin to undertake to fill the legitimate demand.
A move is currently on foot to assist our neighbors by rearming them with standard United States equipment. This move is meeting political opposition. If we fail to take advantage of this opportunity at this time, those nations have no recourse but to turn to Russia for adequate essential small arms requirements.
The effective spread of German militaristic ideas anywhere the Mauser organization went is the best evidence of what can happen in the event brush it is able to follow in the footsteps of Germany on international scale.
Of course, today we have the benefit of almost 70 years of hindsight that lets us examine what happened. We didn’t move fast enough, as Smith advised, to lock Russia out. And excellent Russian small arms were, often, a wedge for Russian influence in the postwar period; but so were excellent US arms a wedge for US influence. When one nation or the other produced less-than-excellent weapons, they had a hard time moving them to their top-tier client states. Israel would take fighter jets from the USA but they were never so hard up for small arms that the M60 general purpose machine gun looked good; they bought small arms from Belgium. North Vietnam welcomed jets and missiles from the USSR, as well as small arms, but didn’t take tanks until late in the war — when they wouldn’t meet American tanks one on one.
But what was a historic opportunity that was not quite exploited in 1946 has come around again. Right now, the US is heir to Mauser’s 19th and 20th Century domination of the small arms marketplace. If we had a foreign service with vision and patriotism, we’d be exploiting that.