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 )

10 thoughts on “US Rifle Co-Production in the Cold War

  1. Daniel E. Watters

    The impression that I’ve gotten from reading the CINCPAC Command Histories and State Department wires of the era is that several Asian countries wanted to coproduce the M16, but the US kept trying to steer them away from manufacturing. In some cases, the fear was that coproduction wouldn’t be a cost-effective use of aid dollars. However, for many years, the US didn’t even want to export the M16, even to its allies deployed inside South Vietnam.

  2. Tom Schultz

    In 1958 the ChiNats started producing the US M3 A1 in 9mm. I don’t know how many, but handled one. seemed to be very well made for what is was/is. Had possession of Serial #003 for a short while, very sad tale.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Interesting question. They do not have a license for the design, they used the data without authority, or they reverse-egineered the rifle. The Norinco M14s were available here in the US pre-1989, as were their .45s.

      1. Y.

        I’ve read somewhere their M14 are based on reverse-engineered captured guns from the Vietnam war.

        However, Norinco is still making such guns, and even introduced an M4 clone called CQ-A1 in 2006 which local shooters here like in semi-auto as it retails at $900 and is apparently pretty good.

        Canadians can buy it for $700. They don’t have VAT?

        1. Y.

          Ah, I get it. Norinco has been banned from US because of Clinton’s decision in 1994. (It wasn’t to punish China, the trade ties were improved but Chinese guns could not be sold anymore. Just protectionism/anti-gun politics)

          So now Norinco thumb their noses at US intellectual property rights and Chinese gov’t won’t do a thing as Norinco is the company that makes most of PLA’s weapons and exports heavily too..

          1. Hognose Post author

            Actually, it was GHW Bush in 1989 over Tienanmen Square. That stopped both the new Norincos, including things like their decent quality and dirt cheap 1911 (it was two hundred-something bucks at the time) and the flood of surplus Type 56 SKSes.

            Norinco is owned by the PLA, as I understand it.

            Funny thing, we can buy all the PLA-built machine tools we can pay for, so it’s like there’s no limit on “firearms precursors.”

  3. James

    I remember reading something awhile back that Warsaw Pact countries that didn’t fully snuggle up to Soviet Communism only received the SKS, rather than the AK. Examples given were Yugoslavia, Albania, and a couple of others.

    1. TRX

      If I rememeber correctly, Albanian AKs are variants of the Chinese AKs, which have significant differences from the original Russian models, since they had a parting of ways with the Soviets before they adopted the AKM, so they designed their own AKM.

      Albania is a very strange place… I don’t know how closely they’re tied with China nowadays, but for a while there it looked like it was China’s outpost in eastern Europe.

      Most of the Warsaw Pact AKs had noticeable differences from the Russian pattern, as did the Egyptian Maadi, which was made on real Russian equipment received from the Soviet government, along with setup and training crews. I’m guessing minor local variations were permitted to give some local “buy-in” for nationalist or patriotic reasons.

      Yugoslavia was always a thorn in the USSR’s side, and it’s not surprising they went their own way as much as they could Most Yugo AKs are *much* more heavily built than the Soviet models, incorporating thicker receivers, beefier trunnions, extra top cover latches, and a gas shutoff mechanism. Apparently the Yugoslavians really, *really* liked their rifle-launched grenades. For the occasions when 7.62×39 wasn’t enough, they also made a variant in 8×57 Mauser.

      1. James

        I owned a Yugo SKS for many years and always admired the quality of workmanship and accuracy it offered (for a Eastern Bloc firearm). The NATO-compatible grenade launcher may shed some light on the gap between Sarajevo and Moscow.

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