Category Archives: Foreign and Enemy Weapons

HK433 and the German Competition, Part III

So far, in Part 1 and Part 2, we’ve given you just about everything that Hah und Kah has put out about the new assault rifle family, the HK433. It’s importance for HK is that it’s the company’s entrant in the Bundeswehr competition to replace HK’s own G36. The G36 ran into troubles with shot dispersion in hot conditions, both hot environments and when the gun itself heats up; after a long and unpleasant series of legal maneuvers, German courts ruled that the government was not entitled to recover damages: the G36 met every Bundeswehr requirement, and the hot-conditions test was not anticipated, and so wasn’t a requirement. The rifle’s poor performance in these conditions was a surprise to everybody, including the team that designed it.

And, despite the problem, the German troops that carry the G36 remain generally happy with it; for all the Sturm und Drang in the press (this has been an ongoing Page One story in Germany), troop confidence is not as shaken as you might think. There is no groundswell of German Landsers demanding their G3s back (let alone Opa’s K98k). So the competition has to produce a rifle that’s better than the G36, not only in the view of the theoretically objective testers, but perhaps more importantly in the eyes of the Gefreiter mafia.

While HK’s own HK433 has to be considered the favorite, it’s a big contract (and a German sale increases your odds of selling to fans of German engineering worldwide, including many Third World armies that are larger than the Bundeswehr). So everybody’s going to chase it.

So who else is playing? The German station N TV has a report on the competition, and we’ll translate some passages for you, starting with a shortened version of a paragraph we did in Part I.

Out with the old G36, in with a new standard rifle for the Bundeswehr. …. The firms Sig Sauer s well as Rheimetall in collaboration with Steyr Mannlicher have recently indicated that they want to get the big contract from the Federal Defense Ministry. Now the former top dog and G36 supplier Heckler & Koch chimes in.

After delays the RFP for the major contract should be issued in the first half of 2017, reports the Defense Ministry. Actually a start at the end of 2016 had been envisioned. Due to painstaking preparation of the conract conditions, an “adjustment of the internal timeline” became necessary. The supply of new rifles should begin in 2020 and end 2026; originally 2019 has been named as a possible starting year.

Heckler & Koch and the Defense Ministry? Wasn’t there something about that? Officials and the department head, Ursula von der Leyen, had accused the firm of accuracy problems with the G36 in sustained fire and heat, and demanded damages. But the Koblenz State Court issued von der Leyen a setback in 2016: the judges ruled that, measured by the contract conditions, the rifle had no deficiencies. .

Essentially, the problem they found with the rifle was not a performance measure they specified when they were buying rifles, last time out. The courts ruled that Minister von der Leyen was in the position of someone who bought a car without air conditioning, and then demanded the dealer fix the AC.

But the Minister held to her decision to muster 167,000 G36s out at the end of this decade. In order to find a modern replacement, the Ministry is preparing a request for proposals….  Yet it’s not surprising that the Swabian gunmaker has thrown its hat in the ring. “You have to consider – Heckler & Koch is the official supplier to the Bundeswehr”, Wolf-Christian Paes from the Internationalen Konversionszentrum in Bonn explains. “We want the contract absolutely, for us it is also strategically important,” says Scheuch. His firm is heavily leveraged, but recently has reported better financials.

Does Heckler & Koch start off with a black mark for the big contract, due to the contretemps with the Ministry? “It’s going to be an objective competition,” company head Scheuch says. “The procurement branch of the Bundeswehr is large, versatile, and well organized — any disadvantage from a the person opinion of any individual involved is not a threat.”

Legal experts agree. “That’s not forced optimism from Heckler & Koch”, says contract lawyer Jan Byok from the offices of Bird & Bird. There will be “no whiff of discrimination”. If that were the case, the contract would be legally disputable — something the Government wants to avoid. In a pan-European contest, all participants have equal chances, Byok said.

Weapons expert Paes sees it similarly: from the Bundeswehr he has heard that H&K has considerable understanding there: the firm has provided what was ordered. Had they wanted rifles , that even in continuous fire remained highly accurate, they’d have had to pay more — but that didn’t happen, Paes says.

And then the writer takes a shot at handicapping the field:

Weapons experts see H&K somewhat advantaged, relative to foreign firms: should the US manufacturer Colt join in the competition, the “Bund” would probably prefer the German firm, somewhat, said Paes. “It’s an announced objective of the Government’s industrial policy, to retain manufacturing competence in the country.”

In 2016 H&K got a big contract from the French Army — and defeated the Belgian gunmaker FN. Such successes have consequences for the Bundeswehr contract, lawyer Byok said. … H&K also supplies the armies of Spain, Great Britain, and US special operations forces.

SIG-Sauer also wants the contract. But the Schleswig-Holstein subsidiary of a US business has only 120 employees, H&K on the other hand has 850. Is SIG-Sauer too small? A business has to have a certain minimum size to meet contract terms, says attorney Byok.

They could handle the contract in any case, a SIG-Sauer spokesman reports. “For one, because we have just now already expanded production capacity, for another, because the development of such a contract would take place over a longer period of time.  How the race ends is unclear. One thing is certain, for lawyer Byok: the contract will draw the attention of the entire small arms industry. Along with Colt and FN, the Italian gunsmith Beretta and the Czech firm CZ should throw their hats in the ring: “That would be everybody, who has a name and a rank” [in the industry].

That actually winds up being just about the whole article. Let us know if you spot any translation errors.

Exit thought: since nobody has seen the contract yet, what’s the over-under on it having some provision for limited dispersion of rounds from an overheated gun?

Ukraine to Buy 7.62 x 39 mm M16s… from Blimp Impresario?

We remember where we met Igor Pasternak — at the EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the world’s largest airshow — but we don’t remember when. It might have been in the 1990s, or in one of those Augusts of the early oughts we didn’t spend in places named Stan.

Pasternak is a fast moving guy, bursting with energy, with a shock of hair that seemed to be stood up by the electricity within, as if he is his own Van Der Graaf generator. And he burned, inside, with the fire of the True Believer. There are several sub-strains of aviation that attract, well, wild-eyed zealots: one of them is lighter-than-air aircraft. Pasternak was a lighter-than-air True Believer: airships, dirigibles, blimps; the Age of the Zeppelin was ripe for return. And, indeed, he’s had some success with his company Aeros, making both airships (lighter-than-air-craft that can fly under control) and aerostats (tethered balloons) for military uses, even though his real passion is for really large airships for cargo transport.

So it’s kind of amazing to see him and Aeros showing up as the Ukraine’s next vendor of military rifles. But a quick check shows that Worldwide Aeros Corp. has a manufacturer FFL at the same Montebello, California address as Aeros, the blimp guys.

But Aeros will not be building any rifles in its California digs — instead, they will set up the Ukrainians to build their own. From the Ukrainian press:

Sergei Mykytyuk, the director of Ukroboronprom subsidiary Ukroboronservis, told journalists at a January 3 press conference in Kyiv with Aeroscraft CEO Igor Pasternak and Ukroboronprom director Vladimir Korobov, “The first weapon for the pilot project will be manufactured in Ukraine – a model M16 automatic rifle designated the WAC-47. Weapons manufacture to NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] standards is an important part of the development and reform of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex.” Aeroscraft’s Mr. Pasternak added, “The M-16 project was conceived some time ago, as the Ukrainian armed forces, border guards and National Guard will, with time, switch to NATO standards.”

Ukraine’s decision to manufacture assault rifles compatible with NATO standards represents the most decisive break yet with the remnants of its Soviet military-industrial complex heritage. Moreover, it is a significant symbol of Kyiv’s ongoing interest in eventual membership in the North Atlantic alliance.

As for Ukraine’s interaction with the North Atlantic Alliance, Ukroboronprom noted, “Ukrainian soldiers are already participating in joint maneuvers with NATO, there are joint teams with Lithuania and Poland, and the creation of a similar unit with other NATO countries Romania and Bulgaria has been proposed. Furthermore, Ukraine consistently participates in joint peacekeeping operations. And in each case, one of the problems is logistics. For example, in the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade [LitPolUkrBrig], Polish soldiers use the Beryl assault rifle, caliber 5.56×45, while Ukrainian soldiers use the automatic AKM or AKMS, caliber 7.62×39.” The introduction of the WAC-47 in significant numbers to the Ukrainian armed forces would eliminate this logistical bottleneck (Ukroboronprom.com.ua, January 10).

More details of the supposed contract appear in the Western press, but many of these details are not credible. Indeed, there is a lot of nonsense being written about this contract.

In order to modify a Ukrainian M16 to use NATO ammunition, the bolt and barrel will have to be replaced, Brian Summers, a U.S. Army veteran and weapons expert, told The Daily Signal.

“The only items that would have to be replaced are what I would describe as items that would normally be replaced based on use,” Summers said. “The magazines are ammo specific, and would have to be changed to the specific caliber.”

The M16 rifle has two main components—an upper and lower receiver. According to Summers, for a Soviet-caliber M16 to use NATO ammunition, only the upper receiver needs to be modified by replacing the bolt and barrel.

The M16 weapons system is “one of the most versatile weapon platforms in configuration and caliber,” Summers said. “Your troops essentially can train on one platform and when switching over to a new caliber do not need to be retrained in a new weapons system … Core of the platform, lower receiver, does not change and any optics can be moved.”

In the 1990s, Colt Defense LLC, the original M16 producer, produced a special civilian version of the military assault rifle designed to use Soviet 7.62×39 mm ammunition.

“I own this variant and if I want to fire 5.56 mm [NATO ammunition], I simply switch the upper receiver with 5.56 mm bolt and mags,” Summers said. “Two minutes to change.”

Exercise for the reader. Take an AR, any 5.56mm AR. (Most of you have one). Take an AK magazine, any 7.62mm AK mag. (Most of you have one of those, too). Insert Mag A in Magwell B. Wait, what? (The Colt version, long discontinued, uses proprietary magazines, seen with a 7.62 upper and a crude mag made from a 5.56 mag and an AK mag. It was discontinued in part because it doesn’t work terribly well).

A regular AK mag doesn’t go. If you’re a weapons expert, or even an ordinary retired 18B, or even just any one of the ten million Americans that buys an AR every year, you know that. If you’re the kind of “weapons expert” that Newsweek finds, like this guy, you don’t know that. If you’re a reporter, you live your life in the death-grip of the Dunning-Kruger effect about everything, and you can’t tell a phony weapons expert who’s never seen an AR and AK in the same place at the same time from the real thing. But you work for Newsweek, where everything  is “too good to check.”

In our opinion, the success of this program is uncertain. The Ukraine does have the aerospace industry necessary for AR parts manufacture, but the guy who’s going to teach them how to do it appears to have no significant background in firearms production. Now, of course, Gaston Glock has no significant background in firearms production before the Glock 17, and neither did many of the aeronautical-engineering experienced engineers at Armalite before the various 1950s Hollywood projects that would culminate in the AR-10 and AR-15. Perhaps some day we’ll all be lining up to buy awesome caliber-convertible carbines from Kiev.

But that’s not the bet that the oddsmakers would put the house money on.

HK433 and the German Competition, Part II

First, apologies to everyone who was expecting this post, as promised, 24 hours ago. We now return you to the weapons discussion formerly in progress! -Ed.

In our report Saturday on the new HK433 military rifle we only included a partial translation of HK’s press release. We stopped because our post was quite long enough, but in the comments many of you asked questions about the items that were not included.

So let’s translate some more HK!

To begin with, we’ve got some marketbrag that we left off last time:

Countless ideas, decades of know-how and mature solutions, tested in the toughest worldwide practice, form the foundation of the trailblazing weapons technologies of Heckler & Koch. In that, the German proportion of value added has remained 100%,since the founding of the traditional enterprise in the Swabian city of Oberndorf in 1949. High-Tech Made in Germany!

Joining with the rifle families G36, HK416 and HK417, combat-proven worldwide, the HK433 is now a fourth scalable assault rifle family in the product portfolio of the enterprise. With this entirely novel development, Heckler & Koch underlines anew its claim to built the best assault rifles in the world. With France (HK416AIF), Germany (G36), USA (US Marine Corps M27/HK416), Great Britain (SA80), Norway (HK416), Spain (G36) und Lithuania (G36) Heckler & Koch already provides the standard assault rifle to a comprehensive number of armies and service branches of NATO. Numerous Special Operations Forces of the western world — including for example the US Special Forces, the Kommando Spezialkräfte of the Bundeswehr (KSK) and civil authorities’ special elements (incl. GSG9) – rely on assault rifles from Oberndorf.

After that, our translation Friday picks up the ball. Until this point:

The Slim Line Handguard developed by Heckler & Koch is firmly attached to the upper receiver, with no play. It can be removed without tools and offers sling attachment points, modular HKey interfaces at 3 and 9 o’clock, as well as a full-length Picatinny rail to MIL-STD-1913 at 6 o’clock.

The interchangeable lower receiver defines the desired operating system and thereby reduces the training demands on the operator. Depending on prior firearms training, the operator can select the G36 or the HK416/AR-15 operating system. All control elements are bilaterally available, symmetrically ordered and can be configured as the customer desires.

“Drop-in” solutions for the lower receiver expand the functional envelope of the weapon with individually configurable match triggers or trigger-group assemblies. The magazine well in compliance with NATO STANAG 4179 (Draft) provides for secure interoperability with the G36 weapons system, the HK416 or the market-standard AR-15.

The grip interface is based on the HK416 weapons family. Through grips with interchangeable grip surfaces and grip backstraps analogous to those of the P30 and SFP/VP pistol series, the rifle can be optimally fitted to various hand sizes.

The ergonomically folding and length-adjustable shoulder stock with the height-adjustable cheekpiece mates with the receiver without any play. The length adjustment offers five detents and is dynamically adjustable for this and the personal combat equipment of the operator. Straight, convex and concave buttplates ensure the necessary comfort with the weapon at the ready position. The shoulder stock can be folded to the right at any length adjustment. Here the most extremely compact transport measurements are achieved. The trigger remains freely accessible. The ejection port is not covered, to ensure that in an emergency a functional capability is available even in “transport condition.”

H&K weapons are distinguished, along with the highest reliability, also by a standard-setting safety standard. So on the HK433 firing readiness, drop safety (NATO AC225/D14), the ability to safe the weapon in all loading conditions and a high cook-off safety are understood, along with a robust and non-delicate manner of construction, even in dirty, extreme cold and war temperature conditions, or lacking lubricants.

Camouflage colors and infrared-absorbing finishes are available, if desired by customers.

Special material combinations and surface treatments round out the whole concept of the HK433. They provide for a low-maintenance system under extreme conditions, with an above-average service life.

The empty weight of the HK433 with the 16.5″ long barrel is 3.5 kg.

Here’s the original .pdf in The Awful German Language:

20170203_Pressemitteilung_-HK433.pdf

Now you’re caught up on what HK has said. Tomorrow, assuming of course that the system continues working, we’ll have an update on who’s expected to be playing in the German rifle competition. HK, as the largest German firm participating and the only one offering a 100% German-designed, German-produced weapon from a factory ready to deliver immediately, is thought to have the inside track.

Espionage, Reverse Engineering, and Soviet Long Range Aviation

This is a documentary on how a Soviet design team, led by a man who’d been a political prisoner during the Great Purges, conducted the single greatest feat of reverse engineering in engineering history: the knock-off of the B-29A bomber as the Tupolev Tu-4. The creation of this aircraft instantly made Soviet Long-Range Aviation (their equivalent of the USAF Strategic Air Command) a credible force worldwide. Got an hour and a half today?

Like most other European powers, the Soviets had experimented with long-range, four-engined bombers before and during the war, but depended instead on large fleets of twin-engined, medium-range medium and light bombers. Only the USA and Great Britain actually developed credible long-range bomber fleets.

But the B-29 was qualitatively different from first-generation fourmotors like the Boeing B-17 and Consolidated B-24, or the Avro Lancaster or Handley-Page Halifax. It used next-generation technologies throughout, including engines of greater complexity and power, much higher-technology defensive armament with remote-control, low-drag turrets, and a pressurized, shirtsleeve environment for the crew. Some parts were so sophisticated that new manufacturing processes were invented to suit. The entire airplane was a Hail Mary effort by the world-leading American aviation industry; at that, in came very close to failing. (The parallel effort that produced the Consolidated B-32 Dominator did fail).

The Soviet effort included espionage by the NKVD (later KGB) and GRU as well as direct reengineering of “captured” B-29s. How could the Soviets capture B-29s when the USA and USSR were allies, not enemies, in World War II? Ah, that was in the West. From the Soviet point of view, the war with Japan was Britain’s and America’s problem, and the USSR maintained neutrality. Thus, combatant aircraft of either nation that landed on Soviet territory, and their crews, were subject to being interned. As the 20th Air Force stepped up raids on Japan from bases first in China and later in the Marianas Islands, an occasional B-29 made an emergency landing in Soviet territory. The crews usually made their way back to the United States (minus anyone the KGB interpreted as a Soviet citizen, who vanished into the Gulag forever). The planes never did. What were the Russians doing with them? When the Tu-4 appeared in 1947, we had the answer.

The primary effort to copy the B-29, ordered by Stalin himself, was the re-engineering effort, but espionage was also involved, especially where novel industrial processes were involved. Fortunately for the Soviets, they had a comprehensive network of agents in place and potential recruits.

There’s a reason that Americans in the fifties and sixties were asked if they were, or had been, members of the Communist Party. The Party throughout its existence owed its loyalty to the USSR; while many misguided idealistic Americans cycled through its ranks, anyone who came and stayed was, not to put to fine a point on it, an agent of a foreign power already. (Additionally, the Soviet intelligence services recruited from within the Party. They would usually direct an espionage recruit to break with the Party for cover purposes, something our counterintelligence was slow to grasp and exploit). And nobody in 1942-45 cared if some guy was a Communist or liked the USSR — hell, everybody liked the USSR, they were bearing the brunt of the fight against Hitler. This network of willing ideological agents fanned out across the engineering firms, manufacturers, even steel and aluminum smelters and foundries, stealing not just the detail design of the B-29’s systems and components, but the industrial processes that made them possible.

The Russians also manipulated Lend-Lease to get some B-29 components. Lend-Lease reported to Harry Hopkins, a lifelong friend of President Roosevelt who was a committed Soviet agent. The US would not give the Soviets B-29s or their engines… so Hopkins arranged for them to get examples of an unarmed seaplane that had the same engine. Soon enough, factories in Russia turned out perfect, even improved, copies of the engines. This happened on a smaller scale with items like analog gun control computers, turbosuperchargers and pressure recovery turbines, electrical servos and lightweight hydraulics.

The classified Norden bombsight had already been acquired by agents in the design and production; vaccum tube production technology was stolen and improved Soviet production. Many of the American spies doing this didn’t think of themselves as traitors: why, they were just helping our best ally, “Uncle Joe!” Wartime propaganda, often produced by writers and artists who were Party members or fellow travelers, made it easy to rationalize as a patriotic duty, and one problem Soviet agent handlers had, in those pre-Cold War years of alliance, was convincing their American agents to clam up about their efforts to help the USSR. Even during the war, that kind of boasting caused the roll-up of agent networks, although with less fanfare than such events would have produced pre-1942 or post-1945.

The first flight of the Tu-4 was carried out by a test crew led by long-time test pilot Mark Lazarevich Gallai, who would also test the early jet MiG-9. Gallai’s memoir, Through Invisible Barriers, is available in several languages but not, as far as we know, English.

Having stolen the B-29, the Soviets found out that it still had a lot of teething problems, including a tendency to engine fires that made flying it one of Gallai’s most memorable experiences. They had plenty of engineers on the job, though, and tended to solve these problems by independent engineering, more than by redirecting the espionage apparatus to nick the American solutions.

The USA followed the B-29 with two amazing bombers that owed much to the concepts and processes of the B-29, but little to the actual aircraft: the Consolidated B-36 Peacemaker, and the Boeing B-47 Stratojet. The USSR, lacking the easy access of wartime, didn’t try to steal these in toto. Instead, the Soviets built directly upon their Tu-4 in the design of next generations of bomberr. Some trace Tu-4 DNA still exists in the Tu-95 NATO codename Bear, a 1950s design that still serves Russia today. But Soviet engineering, bootstrapped by the crash Tu-4 project, (and perhaps, especially in turboprop propulsion, some war-trophy engineering from Germany), would continue to serve Soviet needs. The USSR was never as far behind in aviation again as it had been at the outset of the Tu-4 program; indeed, after that remarkable catch-up it was often ahead (as it sometimes had been in the 1930s, before the purges).

And when native engineering fell short? Well, the spies were always willing to accept a tasking. But they never again stole a whole airplane design, and all the industrial processes to produce it.

Iran Deploying AK-103 Rifles

One of the benefits of the Iranian nuclear deal — for Iran, like the rest of the benefits — was the opportunity to recapitalize its military small arms, and not just its main priorities, worldwide Islamic terrorism abroad, and nuclear weapons at home.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an independent armed service modeled on the Nazi SS, has benefited with new AK-103 rifles from Russia. The IRGC has been using the new rifles for some months now. This is an image of one of the IRGC AK-103s, presumably in 5.45 x 39 mm caliber, published by the Iranian Tasnim news agency.

In August, the same agency published this story (as translated by the AEI Critical Threats Project):

  • Iran purchases assault rifles from Russia. Tasnim News Agency reported that Iran has purchased AK-103 assault rifles from Russia. According to reports, “some units” in Iran’s armed forces will be equipped with the new rifle. (Tasnim News Agency)

The original link to Tasnim’s Persian-language story no longer works. More recently, a follow-up shows that the AK-103s have been issued and are being used in training (AEI translation again):

  • IRGC units use AK-103 assault rifles in “Imam Ali” exercise. Some IRGC units used “new AK-103” assault rifles during the IRGC Ground Forces’ “Imam Ali” exercises last week in western Iran. Iran purchased AK-103s from Russia in August 2016. Defense Minister IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Dehghan stated at the time of the purchase, “Production of light arms has been low in the last ten years due to the prioritization of air and naval projects. This purchase was made due to regional crises.” (Tasnim News Agency)

This link to Tasnim works at present, but may fail soon.

Most intriguing is the suggestion that the Iranian small arms production capacity is insufficient. It may be an indicator that Iran has been starving general purpose forces as it spends lavishly on nuclear armament and terrorism promotion. It may simply mean that the vast infusion of American cash from the pro-Iranian Obama Administration allowed Iran to modernize forces across the board. Or we may be reading far too much into a routine replacement of old rifles.

Six Millimeter Shorter Casing = $1,000 in Collector Value

This Czech vz. 52/57 rifle just sold last night on GunBroker for $1,375.00, or roughly $1,000 more than a typical vz. 52 in similar condition goes for. Where did the extra grand come from? We’ll tell you, which will require a short trip down the Warsaw Pact memory lane, and a little bit of supply and demand economics. There’s going to be some numbers, perhaps, but we will not tax anybody’s rusty math skills.

(By the way, we didn’t bid on this rifle, even though we’ve bought from this seller and were watching the auction. No reason but the sleep-intensive weekend; as a normal practice we never bid until the last minutes of the auction, and we were racked out with Small Dog Mk II when the vz. 52/57 found its new home).

Where a vz. 52/57 comes from

The Czechoslovak model 52 semiautomatic rifle is an interesting gun that borrows many manufacturing processes from the German weapons that had been made in the same factories just before. It was part of an immediate postwar reimagining of Czechoslovak small arms that produced new rifles, pistols, submachine guns, and light machine guns over a period of four years from 1948 to 1952. The firearms were initially intended to be chambered for a new 7.62 x 45 mm intermediate cartridge (rifle and MG) and the old European standard pistol round, 9 x 19 mm  (pistol and SMG).

As it happened, though, something else happened in 1948 — the Soviet-controlled Czech Communist Party overthrew the republic in a nearly bloodless coup (there were only a couple of murders and disappearances).

Within a year or two, the Czechoslovak Army was renamed the ČS People’s Army, and directed to conform to Soviet calibers. Or else! (But a resistant Czech or Slovak didn’t get shipped to Siberia… someone who didn’t suck up to the Fraternal Soviet Big Brother sufficiently went to the mines at Jachymov, to mine radioactive pitchblende with hand tools. For ten years or death, whichever comes first). Needless to say, everyone disinclined to a career-change towards uranium mining thought changing calibers was a brilliant idea.

The pistol was easily redesigned before it shipped to use the 7.62 x 25mm Russian round instead of the 9mm Parabellum, and so there were no production Model 52 pistols made (at least, initially) for the Western round. Even though the prototypes had been developed with the 9 mm, the pistol’s roller locking system was, like most such, adaptable to a wide range of loads and only a barrel swap was required. Likewise, conversion of the Sa. vz. 48 submachine gun was fairly straightforward, although with the magazine in the grip, a new, awkward grip angle was required to make the necked 7.62 feed properly.

This is one tell of a 52/57 — they wrote the nomenclature right on it.

Converting the vz. 52 rifle and the light machine gun vz. 52 to the Soviet caliber was not as easily done; some of the engineering talent in the Czechoslovak arsenals was tied up doing this until the converted rifle and companion MG rolled out in 1957, as the vz. 52/57. New production immediately converted, and sufficient existing guns were converted to arm active-duty ČSLA units, with the knowledge that a new assault rifle (the vz. 58, which was developed from the start for the Soviet M43 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge) was coming.

Another tell is the forward handguard, painted black.

Excess stocks of the old vz. 52s and their 7.62 x 45 ammunition were stored and many were exported to “fraternal socialist states” and “national liberation movements,” which is to say, guerrilla and terrorist movements worldwide. Vz. 52s turned up in Laos, Vietnam, the Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and a decade later in Africa and Central America. The global diaspora of vz. 52s and 52/57s took on a new direction with importation of surplus guns to the United States. Prior to 1990s importation, the only vz. 52s in the country were GI bringbacks from Vietnam or Grenada.

The Collector Consequences

As we mentioned, a 52/57 is worth three to four times the value of a “slick” vz. 52. We believe that this is a function of supply and demand — some factors lower the supply, and others increase the demand.

Supply Factors: We don’t have numbers at our fingertips yet, but we believe raw numbers are one factor in the higher value of the the vz. 52/57. We believe fewer were made. The vz. 52 was made in plants in Považska Bystrica (coded aym) and Uherský Brod (she); the vast majority were coded “she.”  But the vz. 52 was in production from 1952 (late; it’s a rare date code to find) through 1957. Peak production seems to have been 1955/56. The vz. 52/57 was introduced in 1957, but that’s a rare date code on that version; most are coded 58 and 59. We’ve never seen one coded 60 or later.

In addition, the vz. 52 was widely exported, especially to Cuba which demanded 100,000 of them, 400,000 spare magazines, and 4 million rounds of ammunition. The Cubans in turn re-exported the Czech weaponry to every hippie with a cause and dictator wannabe worldwide in the ’60s and ’70s; this ensured that lots of surplus vz. 52s were here and there for importers to find and pounce on in the 90s and oughts. But by the time the Czechoslovaks replaced their 52/57s with vz 58s in the early 60s, they’d been cut out of the supply chain to Cuba by their Soviet masters. The Soviets had initially approved them supplying the Cubans to provide plausible deniability of Soviet arming of the island nation; once the cat was out of the bag, there was no more need for indirection in weapons supply. Ergo, the Cubans got few if any vz. 52/57s and the smaller numbers of this model were also less available for export to the USA.

Demand Factors: One of the obvious ones is that, with the vz. 52/57 being rarer, people trying to complete a collection of Czech weapons, or semiauto service rifles, or 7.62 x 39 service rifles, need to find one and people pursuing these collector themes are competing with one another to an extent that doesn’t happen with the vz. 52. But there is also competition for the 52/57s from shooters, because 7.62 x 39 ammunition is available everywhere and relatively inexpensive, but 7.62 x 45 is unavailable, after an initial brief splash of surplus that came in with the rifles.

The magazine is also a “tell.” Only the 52/57 has this about 25º angled base. Rifles were issued with two magazines, but troops were expected to load with stripper clips. Spare magazines for either vz. 52 are rare and expensive.

Given that shooters have many 7.62 x 39 options for far less than the $1,400 of a vz. 52/57, it seems probable that the main thing driving the price difference between the 52 and the 52/57 is collector demand vs. short supply; a secondary factor is that collectors who also desire to shoot the arms in their collection will have a preference for the version that shoots common ammo.

Are these Factors Generally Applicable?

Supply and Demand is not only an important economic concept, it’s as good as a natural law. If you see a price for what seems to be a common arm, your first reaction may be that the buyer or bidders is/are on crack. But when you look closely, most of the time you will see the hidden supply and demand factors that conspire to set that price point at which the market clears. If you don’t see them, then you will be tempted to conclude that someone in the transaction is using mind-altering chemicals. However, before you commit to that as your final answer, reconsider the possibility that there are supply and demand factors that you may have overlooked.

In our case, we know from experience that we make errors in understanding firearms valuations more often that we actually encounter drug-addled collectors. After all, what collector needs a drug? You’ve got all the serotonin and endorphin jolt you can imagine when you score something rare. Like, say, a vz. 52/57.

Powder Pioneer: Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier

Antoine Lavoisier was a reformed lawyer, whose curiosity made him, in some ways, the modern founder of the science of chemistry; and whose patriotism and scientific acumen led him to the leadership of King Louis’ XVI’s powder works in the very peak days of the Bourbon monarchy in France.

In other words, his timing could have been better.

The son of well-to-do, educated parents, he took the law degree as his father wished, but appointment to the privatized firm that collected Louis’s taxes gave him an income of his own and the freedom to pursue chemistry. He is revered today as one of the founding fathers of the science; his book, Traité élémentaire de chimie, was published in 1789 and was the first textbook of the science of chemistry — arguably the first textbook of science, period.

In 1775, the King appointed him as one of France’s Gunpowder Commissioners. Chem Heritage:

In 1775 Lavoisier was appointed a commissioner of the Royal Gunpowder and Saltpeter Administration and took up residence in the Paris Arsenal. There he equipped a fine laboratory, which attracted young chemists from all over Europe to learn about the “Chemical Revolution” then in progress. He meanwhile succeeded in producing more and better gunpowder by increasing the supply and ensuring the purity of the constituents—saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal—as well as by improving the methods of granulating the powder.

Thus, chemistry was bound up with armaments even in its creation. As Michael Freemantle puts it in Gas, Gas, Quick, Boys!:

Gunpowder provides another example of the application of chemistry to warfare. The powder consists of a mixture of charcoal, the chemical element sulfur and one chemical compound – potassium nitrate. Its use in warfare dates back to the introduction of the gun as a weapon in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In fact, gunpowder chemistry also played a role in the birth of modern chemistry as we now know it.

His contributions to chemistry include such fundamentals as the naming of oxygen and hydrogen, and the understanding of how they could be combined to synthesize water, or water split to produce them. And someone had to be the first one to understand and report that the mass of reaction ingredients must equal the mass of reaction products — that someone was Lavoisier.

M Lavoisier and his wife, by French master Henry-Louis David. The scientific apparatus in the portrait is described here.

Putting a state arsenal on a scientific basis using these principles gave France a technological advantage in its longstanding conflicts with its neighbors, especially its cross-Channel nemesis. As mentioned above, improving the purity of the ingredients in the mixture, and adjusting the granulation of the powder, went a long way to improve the power, consistency, and reliability of gunpowder in the later 18th Century. This superior powder, made in the royal arsenals, using Lavoisier’s scientifically improved methods, was shipped in quantity from France to their allies in the endless wars with England, the American revolutionaries.

Unfortunately for Lavoisier, revolution didn’t stay on the far side of the Atlantic. Being in the good graces of the King had just hit its sell-by date, and hit it hard.

The American Chemical Society, as part of an in-depth exploration of the man and his impact, closed with this description of the end of Lavoisier:

Ironically, Lavoisier, the ardent and zealous chemical revolutionary, was caught in the web of intrigue of a political revolution. The TraitÉ was published in 1789, the same year as the storming of the Bastille. A year later, Lavoisier complained that “the state of public affairs in France…has temporarily retarded the progress of science and distracted scientists from the work that is most precious to them.”

Lavoisier, however, could not escape the wrath of Jean-Paul Marat, the adamant revolutionary who began publicly denouncing him in January 1791. During the Reign of Terror, arrest orders were issued for all of the Ferme Générale, including Lavoisier. On the morning of May 8, 1794, he was tried and convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal as a principal in the “conspiracy against the people of France.” He was sent to the guillotine that afternoon. The next day, his friend, the French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange, remarked that “it took them only an instant to cut off that head, and a hundred years may not produce another like it.”

Lavoisier experimenting, draw by his wife (who drew herself into the pictue!)

His wife, who had been a key collaborator,  and many of his friends and fellow scientists would make it through the Terror; the unpleasant Marat, the Heydrich of his time, would not. But that’s another story!

Indian Intel on Pakistani Nukes

While we’re talking about Pakistan lately, there’s an interesting article at The Diplomat about the history of Indian analysis of the Pakistani nuke program. As we seldom get insights into Indian intelligence, it’s worth reading in depth. A taste:

India, for instance, has taken a keen interest in Pakistan’s pursuit of a nuclear device going back to the 1970s and even earlier. Based on newly declassified Indian documentation I was able to access, what follows is an account of what Indian external intelligence knew about Pakistan’s intentions between the 1970s leading up to the 1990s – the decade that would end with both countries coming out as the world’s sixth and seventh declared nuclear powers.

For Indian intelligence in the 1970s, the focus in Pakistan was about its reprocessing capacity and centrifuges. This shifted in the 1980s to focus on the capability to produce an explosive device, and, finally, in the 1990s, focused on the nascent Pakistani missile program routed through China, which was eventually outsourced by China to North Korea.

Soon after the 1998 tests by both countries, Indian intelligence was looking at supply chains for Pakistan’s Shaheen-II ballistic missile, almost four years ahead of its first test in 2004.There was already specific knowledge available with India on Shaheen-I, including on the hardware that was involved in steering the missile. Additionally, New Delhi was not entirely convinced that Pakistan would not use choose to use non-nuclear chemical warheads for its missiles

The author of the post, Vivek Prahladan, has a book-length exploration of these declassified Indian documents coming out. In his post, he also reveals discussions he had with Indian government officials that hinted at the degree to which India had eyes on the Pakistani weapons program. Further, it’s interesting to see how US officialdom at the highest levels (President Reagan and advisor Thomas Eagleburger) dismissed Indian concerns.

And then there’s the whole “Abdul Qadeer Khan ran a rogue operation” cover story, which most of the world pretends to believe.

Pakistan May be Adopting a CZ Bren Variant

There is much more certainty expressed about this in the gun press in the USA than in the Pakistani or Czech media, but it looks like Pakistan may have reached an understanding with CZ-UB for a next generation military rifle.

The Paki competition has been no secret, nor has their desire (1) to make the gun locally and (2) to be free to export it. Some manufacturers have hung up on the first condition, but the second has been more problematical: who wants to compete with his own design, manufactured by well-educated and skilled, but much less expensive, Pakistani labor? In addition, Pakistan, burned before by on-again, off-again American sanctions, doesn’t trust American suppliers. Still, there have been a number of entries (alphabetically by manufacturer):

  1. Beretta ARX-200 — Beretta is hungry for a high-profile sale of its decent rifle, which has not been able to break out of the pack on the international market.  This was always considered a longshot entrant.

  2. CZ-806 Bren2 — CZ-UB has also provided a previously unseen variant, the CZ 807 in 7.62 x 39 mm, for the Type 56-2 part of the contract, and is offering the 806 in 5.56 plus a variant in 7.62 NATO with 14″ or 16″ barrel. CZ’s production costs are low enough to make the Bren very competitive. 

  3. FN-SCAR-H  — adopting this rifle would be popular with the troops, but there may be cost issues. US SOF have used it  for some years and opinions are split. FN could really use a major sale of this excellent weapon. The NATO 7.62 caliber is widely used by today’s Pakistan Army and this could directly replace the elderly G3s, whose design dates to the early 1950s (although HK roller-lock guns are still in production by POF).

  4. Kalashnikov AK-103 — Kalashnikov Concern too could use a high-profile export sale, but having been burned in the past by global copying of Soviet-era Kalashnikov weapons without bourgeois capitalist royalties, they’re reluctant to bless a lower-cost producer to export their designs. (It may come down to royalty rates — and the degree to which the famously trusting Russians trust the famously upright Pakistanis). Another plus would be that most extant accessories like magazines and pouches work fine with the updated AK. The 7.62 x 39 Bren, on the other hand, requires a new, proprietary polymer magazine (although it should fit fine in most AK mag pouches).

  5.  Zastava M21 — The Croatian bullpup, another longshot, was eliminated early, but expect the Croats to keep showing up at competitions, and tweaking their firearm based on feedback. They also submitted a conventional layout carbine in 7.62 NATO, based on the former Yugoslav M76 sniper rifle (for which they did produce 7.62 versions for export, even though the native gun was in 7.92 x 57 mm).

POF and CZ-UB have, according to Pakistani and Czech media, reached a memorandum of understanding about co-production and ultimately Pakistani production of the CZ-UB design, which has been interpreted as a signal of a CZ win in the competition, but might not be that at all, but an earlier milestone — i.e., a co-production agreement if CZ wins.

The Nature of the Competition is Unclear

While the Pakistan Army wants to replace both its G3s and its Chinese Type 56-2 AKs, what isn’t clear is whether this is one competition for one rifle, or two competitions for two rifles, in two calibers. Both of the current rifles have their fans in the South Asian nation’s forces, the AK for its compactness and doglike reliability, and the G3 for its range and ability to digest less-than-perfect ammunition. But the last matters less as POF ammo QC has improved, and the Pakistan Army is professional enough to train with whatever it gets from its lords and betters, rifle-wise.

Some sources have already reported that the CZ 807 in 7.62 x 39 has won the nod to replace the AK, and that this gives the CZ 806 in 5.56 or the future 7.62 x 51 variant the inside track to  replace the G3.

Having weapons chambered or both NATO and former ComBloc calibers has logistic consequences, but given that Pakistan can produce indigenous weapons and ammo in both calibers, it also has operational benefits. For example, Pakistani troops can interoperate with any conceivable ally (and they often do, as UN peacekeepers) without fretting about ammo supply.

The Threat Pakistan’s Generals See

While Pakistan has been engaged in bitter antiterrorist operations (and Pakistani politics is sufficiently complex that sometimes Pakistani officials find themselves on both sides of a fight), the Army’s focus is and has been since inception on war with India. Pakistan has fought major wars with India in 1947, 1965, and 1971, and limited wars in 1985 and 1999. Pakistan has also made an ally of China, with India allying with Russia, but Pakistani generals now fear a two-front war in the case of Chinese-Indian rapprochement, something made possible by Russian weakness and US abdication in the region. Thus, Pakistan weapons procurement is driven largely by the need to match India and exploit asymmetries to offset India’s demographic and economic superiority. The Pakistani service also knows its forces have come a long way since the US invaded Afghanistan next door, and would like to see their equipment improved to match — hence the timing of this planned move up from 1940s and 50s weapons designs.

For more information

Steyr / Rheinmetall Enters the G36 Replacement Competition

At least three manufacturers are competing in the evolving process of selecting the Bundeswehr’s replacement for the unsatisfactory G36 individual rifle. The participants include H&K, SIG-Sauer, and Steyr, which is partnering with Rheinmetall. (Gun history buffs, Rheinmetall is huge now, but evolved from an ancient gunmaking firm… Dreyse, of Prussian needle-gun fame). Dreyse was based in Sommerda, but Rheimetall calls Düsseldorf home today.

G36: Los! (Out with it. Here a G36E clone).

The story is told at the indispensable German defense blog, Thomas Wiegold’s Augen Geradeaus! (“Eyes front!”). Our meatball translation:

On the standing theme of the G36 and future assault-rifle of the Bundeswehr, at year’s end we’ve got a new data point: Three German enterprises will compete for the provision of the new standard weapon for German armed forces. Along with Heckler & Koch, which already supplies the G36 and has had success with the HK416 in France, and the Eckernforde-based business SIG-Sauer, the German defense concern Rheinetall is stepping in — with a weapon from the Austrian manufacturer Steyr Mannlicher. The Austrians were defeated by Heckler & Koch in the competition for the new Bundeswehr rifle in the early 1990s.

(Thomas, if you read this, you’re welcome to use any part of our translation on your site, should you want to put up an English post. We know your English is good but your time is limited, and there’s great interest in the non-German-speaking world in the Bundeswehr’s decision process).

In any event, he goes on from there to quote from a story in the Vienna newspaper Kurier, which says that Steyr is developing an AUG successor called the Gewehr bei Fuß or Foot-Soldier’s Rifle. The model being offered to the Germans is called the RS556.

The Austrian journos think that Steyr lost back in 1994 because of politics — EU Brüderschaft be damned, German officials wanted German soldiers carrying German guns. With 60% of the value added in the manufacture of the proposed Bundeswehr RS556 version being Made In Germany, they think the away team has a better shot. Our translation of part of the Kurier report:

The Austrian weapons manufacturer already had a shot in Germany in 1994, when its legendary Steyr Universal Rifle AUG (Sturmgewehr 77) had the best result in tests, according to reporting at that time. Yet the German manufacturer, Heckler & Koch in Oberndorf, received the contract for 176,544 military rifles for its Sturmgewehr G36.

So what is the RS556? Essentially, it’s a reformation of the AUG’s technology into an AR-15 form factor. Indeed, at a distance, it’s hard to tell it from a SIG or a 416. So however this shakes out, the AR is going to notch up another win. From the same Kurier report:

The new RS556 indeed looks like an American weapon, but it is the further development of the Steyr Sturmgewehr 77. With just a handgrip and no tools the barrel can be changed. Ther eare three barrel lengths available, and the rifle can be employed as assault rifle, submachine gun or light machine gun according to length.

You may recall this was a selling feature of the AUG, although not one that seemed to be prized by end users. It looks like the Steyr RS556 is also fully ambidextrous.

Due to a special surface coating, the rifle also works without gun oil, which is an especially large advantage in desert operations. The gas system and the rotary-locking bolt are inherited from the earlier StG 77 (AUG).

The AUG had some success, arming Austria, Australia (in a local version; bad news for ill-educated Yanks who always confuse those entirely different countries), some of the UAE forces and (briefly, because nobody paid to maintain them) the US Immigrations & Customs Enforcement agency. (ICE now uses M4s in either semi or surplus configuration, which have mostly replaced the late lamented AUGs and the not-as-lamented MP5s).