As nations continue to avoid conflict with the deterrent effect of their armed services, it is their Special Operations Forces (SOF) which remain at short notice to move to launch clandestine and discreet missions to defeat adversaries beyond the gaze of traditional and social media.
Integral to any SOF mission is a robust concept of operation; tactics, techniques and procedures; as well as secure and reliable communications; protective equipment and lethality provided by Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). In the latter part of 2016, the Asia-Pacific has become an integral hub for the international SALW market with a series of large requirements and new developments.
For example the Republic of Korea (ROK) is using the domestic S&T Motiv 5.56mm x 45mm K2 carbine, already in service with the ROK Army’s (ROKA) Special Forces brigades and ROK Navy (ROKN) SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) teams, sources explained to AMR. The weapon features a barrel capable of housing the firm’s K11 suppressor (to reduce firing noise and muzzle flash) and an extendable butt-stock, making it particularly suitable for close quarter combat in urban and maritime environments as well as airborne insertion by parachute. This is because carbines traditionally boast a comparatively smaller physical size than assault rifles, making them ideal for such aforementioned tasks. Also displayed alongside the K2 at the September Defence Expo Korea event held in Seoul, was S&T Motiv’s longer range members of the K2 family, including the K2C1 5.56mm x 45mm weapon which comprises an upgraded variant of the Republic of Korea Army’s legacy K2 assault rifle, as distinct from the K2 carbine discussed above. Company sources explained to AMR its vision for the K2C1 to provide a longer range capability for the ROKA and ROKN SEALs as well as replace in-service Colt Defence M-16 assault rifles currently being used by the ROKA.
S&T Motiv is contracted to supply a total of circa 60000 K2 assault rifles to the ROKA, with manufacturing already underway. Initial deliveries began in June 2016, official sources confirmed although specific numbers remain undisclosed, as does when deliveries are likely to conclude. This gas-operated weapon is available in 305mm (twelve inch/in) and 465mm (18.3in) barrel lengths, with the latter option providing an overall weapon length of 850mm (33.4in) when fully extended. The weapon weighs 3.7 kilograms (7.9 pounds/lb) in an unloaded configuration.
While S&T Motiv was exhibiting its wares in Seoul, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) hosted the annual International Military Technical Forum or ‘Army 2016’ event in Moscow from 6 September to 11 September, with indigenous companies unveiling a total of nine new SALWs to the domestic and international markets. All of these developments which comprise sniper rifles, assault rifles, Personal Defence Weapons (PDWs/hybrid submachine guns and carbines), handguns and automatic grenade launchers, represent significant capability uplifts for Russia’s Special Purpose or Spetsnaz brigades, as well as countless other SOF units internationally which rely upon the same Russian-manufactured weapons.
Russia’s Precision Machine Building Design Bureau (PMBDB) used the event to launch the SR-1MP handgun which fires 9mm x 21mm SP10 armour-piercing ammunition, also developed by the same company. Weighing 1.1kg (2.4lb), the combat handgun includes a 120mm (4.7in) barrel capable of generating a muzzle velocity of 410 metres-per-second/mps (1345.1 feet-per-second/fps). The weapon relies on a double-action firing mechanism, where the trigger is also used to cock the weapon, as well as a safety catch located on the side of the pistol grip. It can be fitted with an 18-round magazine. Although the PMBDB claims the firearm has a maximum effective range of 100m (328.1ft), industry sources explained to AMR how even the most accurate of firers would struggle to accurately hit a target beyond 50m (164ft) with the SR-1MP. The firm also added a Rail Adaptor System (RAS) located below the barrel which is capable of integrating tactical torches, laser designators and red dot sights as well as providing a secure port for the addition of a suppressor onto the handgun’s barrel. The latter is a growing requirement throughout the international SOF community for suppressed weapon firing. This is particularly useful for urban operations where muzzle flashes and associated noise can degrade intra-squad communications and also compromise the squad’s discretion.
Meanwhile, the Russia’s Kalashnikov Group used the Army 2016 event to launch its long-awaited next generation AK-15 assault rifle and Malogabaritny Avtomat (MA) Compact Assault Rifle. Speaking to AMR at the Eurosatory exhibition held in Paris this June, company sources explained how it was positioning itself to support SOF globally. The Kalashnikov Group already provides Spetsnaz units with a variety of weapons from its small arms inventory including the AK-74M, AK-101, AK-102, AK-103, AK-104 and AK-105 assault rifles; as well as the Vityaz-SN 9mm submachine gun; and twelve-gauge KS-K semi-automatic shotgun.
Initial plans for the design of the AK-12 (as the AK-15 was originally designated), featuring both 5.45mm × 39mm, 7.62mm × 39mm and 5.56mm × 45mm ammunition were initially approved by the Russian MoD (Ministry of Defence) back in December 2014 following the completion of an operational test and evaluation programme which focused on extreme environmental testing. The rifle was then re-qualified and approved by the Russian MoD in March 2015. The AK-15 has been designed in line with emerging requirements from the Russian Army’s Ratnik soldier modernisation concept. However, the AK-15’s future within Ratnik has yet to be assured with sources explaining to AMR how the MoD is currently considering a variety of assault rifles for future procurement including the Degtyarev Plant’s A-545 and A-762 weapons. All these rifles remain in an operational test and evaluation programme which is scheduled to be completed by December 2016, sources added.
Speaking at the event, Russian Army officials announced how the wider armed forces and SOF were expected to receive a next-generation assault rifle system within a five to seven year period as part of the Ratnik-3 roll-out. A total of 100,000 Ratnik-2 ensembles are currently being delivered to the army, industry sources confirmed to AMR. Kalashnikov Group sources explained how the AK-15, which includes a gas-operating system (where a proportion of the gas expended by an exploding cartridge is used to extract the spent cartridge case, and load a new cartridge), would replace the Kalashnikov AK-103 weapon used by Russian SOF. The assault rifle comprises an all up weight of 4.1kg (nine pounds) when fitted with a 30-round magazine. It also features a retractable butt stock providing the rifle with a length of 1066mm (41.9in) when fully extended. The weapon fires from a 415mm (16.3in) barrel achieving a muzzle velocity of 715mps (2345.8fps) out to a maximum effective range of 800m (2624.7fps), company sources explained.
The AK-15 rifle was displayed at the Army 2016 event with an ambidextrous fire selector switch (for fully automatic and burst fire) and an integrated suppressor, again indicating its suitability for special operations, with a RAS to accommodate the firm’s GP-25 underslung grenade launcher. A rear RAS located across the top of the weapon is capable of housing a magnified optical gun sight with red dot sight, plus Image Intensified (I2) or Thermal Imaging (TI) sensors.
Meanwhile, the Kalashnikov Group also unveiled its MA sub-compact carbine at Army 2016, designed to replace the AKS-74U carbine adaptation of the AK-74 assault rifle as a PDW. The weapon is manufactured to fire 5.45mm x 39mm ammunition, the carbine measures 750mm (29.5in) when its foldable stock is extended, and possessing an all-up weight of 2.9kg (6.4lb). The MA has a 750mps (2460.6fps) muzzle velocity, firing 850 rounds-per-minute. At the exhibition, the MA PDW was displayed with an integrated red dot sight located on a RAS as well as an emergency battle sight. The weapon is equipped with a 30-round capacity magazine and right-sided ejection port although company officials assured AMR it could be fired ambidextrously if required with a double-sided fire selection switch allowing alternation between semi-automatic (single shot) and automatic firing modes. Spetsnaz commandos are trained to fire weapons either left or right handed should they be injured as well as allowing them to make the best use of cover to protect themselves from incoming rounds.
Gearing solutions towards the support of SOF, Kalashnikov Group unveiled a total of three sniper weapons at Army 2016, comprising both bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles. The firm’s latest offerings now include the semi-automatic SVK weapon and bolt action SV-98M and VSV-338 rifles, Kalashnikov explained. Defence sources associated with the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) in Mons, southern Belgium, explained to AMR how Spetsnaz sniper teams have been heavily utilised as part of Russia’s support of the regime of President Bashir al-Assad in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Such teams, AMR has been informed, have performed counter-sniper operations against various anti-regime rebel groups.
The SV-98M is available in 7.62mm x 54mm calibre and represents an upgraded variant of the company’s legacy SV-98 bolt action rifle, displayed at the Army 2016 event. The weapon, which measures 1200mm (47.2in) in length and features a 650mm (25.2mm) barrel, comprises an all up weight of 7.8kg (17.2lb). The bolt action weapon includes a tripod, extendable butt stock and ten-round magazine with the capability to fire accurately out to a range of 1000m (3280ft). Sources explained to AMR that the Russian MoD and the Spetsnaz brigades would shortly begin an operational test and evaluation programme to consider the future procurement of the sniper system.
The other bolt action solution, the VSV-338, can use the .338-calibre Lapua Magnum cartridge which the Kalashnikov Group has designed as a heavier calibre option when compared to the SV-98M. A .338-calibre round, equivalent to an 8.6mm x 70mm cartridge, provides special forces sniper teams with an extended range of up to 1500m (4921.3ft). NATO SOF sources explained to AMR how .338-calibre sniper systems remain the preferred sniper weapon for the international community, providing the optimal balance between weight, range and lethality, particularly for dismounted operations in the rural and urban environments. Other popular .338-calibre options include Israel Weapons Industries’ Dan 338 and Accuracy International’s Arctic Warfare Magnum (AWM) ammunition, currently in service with undisclosed SOF globally. According to company officials, the VSV-338 comprises an all up weight of 7.2kg (15.8lb) and a 1100mm (43.2in) length with a fully extended butt stock. The weapon has a five-round magazine capacity and fires ammunition at a velocity of 860mps (2821.5) through a floating barrel (where the barrel and the stock are designed not to touch at any point) for increased accuracy.
During the Army 2016 event, the Kalashnikov Group also unveiled its SVK semi-automatic sniper weapon designed to provide SOF sniper teams with a capability to rapidly engage multiple targets across the battlefield. By their very nature, NATO SOF sources explained, semi-automatic sniper solutions are not quite as accurate as their bolt action counterparts but requirements to fire quickly and at shorter ranges means there remains a role for this type of armament. According to Kalashnikov Group, the SVK is available in 7.62mm x 54mm and 7.62mm x 51mm calibres. With an all up weight of just 5.9kg (13lbs), the weapon provides even greater mobility for operators seeking to change fire and over-watch positions quickly and discreetly. Featuring a folding butt stock, the SVK measures just over 1000mm (39.3in) in length when fully extended and includes an ambidextrous fire selector switch and RAS for a variety of sights, sensors and accessories. At Army 2016, the SVK was exhibited with an integrated suppressor and ‘in-line’ suite of magnified and I2 optical sights with an integrated bipod for greater stability. It remains unknown if any sales of this weapon have yet been achieved.
Finally, the Kalashnikov Group unveiled a new Light Machine Gun (LMG), designated the RPK-16 for fire support operations. On show at the Army 2016 event, this 5.45mm x 39mm weapon featured a fabric ammunition box, suppressor; bipod and magnified sight. Company sources explained how the weapon system has been designed to replace legacy RPK-74 LMGs used by the Russian Army, among other forces. With an all up weight of six kilograms (13.2lb), the weapon measures little over 1000mm in length with options for a 370mm (14.5in) or 550mm (21.6mm) long barrel available. The RPK-16 has the capacity to fire out to a maximum effective range of 800m (2624.7ft), the company claimed. The RPK-16 also features a foldable butt stock making it suitable for airborne Spetsnaz operations. Such a weapon system is also light, but powerful, enough to be carried by SOF commandos conducting special reconnaissance or direct action tasks. Like other Russian weapons discussed in this article it remains unknown whether any sales of this weapon have yet been achieved.
Away from Russia, one of Asia-Pacific’s largest potential small arms contracts, currently being considered by the Indian armed forces, continues to be delayed with the likes of IWI, Colt Defence, Beretta and CZ still awaiting a decision from the government for a contract dating back to 2010. The contract relates to the delivery of 45000 Close Quarter Combat (CQC) carbines. Industry sources explained to AMR how, despite years of testing and evaluation of the various small arms provided by the companies mentioned above, a contract signature still appears as distant as ever.
Speaking to AMR, company officials from IWI were unable to confirm or deny Indian media reports on 9 August, claiming it could reconsider investment plans in India following the delay of the CQC programme. Trials of the various weapons provided by the would-be contractors mentioned above were completed in 2014 with industry sources explaining to AMR how nothing had happened since. These trials, conducted in the Rajasthan Desert in north-east India and the mountain regions of Jammu and Kashmir in the north of the country included Beretta’s ARX-160, Colt’s Combat Rifle, CZ’s 805 Bren and IWI’s ACE.
IWI is currently tied into a agreement with local company Punj Llyod under the government’s “Make In India” investment concept. Launched by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, this initiative aims to encourage local and international companies to manufacture their products in India. However, sources associated with IWI explained how the government remained unresponsive to the company regarding the future direction of the programme. The CQC component is designed to equip the Indian Army’s seven Special Forces battalions as well as the navy’s Marine Commandos (MARCOS). As an alternative, the Indian MoD could fall back on the indigenously manufactured Ordnance Factory Board’s 5.56mm x 45mm Excalibur assault rifle. IWI’s ACE is understood to be the only rifle which passed stringent CQC requirements. The short-barrelled carbine has a comprises an AR-design featuring a 368.3mm (14.5in) barrel, an ambidextrous fire selector switch, retractable butt-stock and polymer lower receiver, housing the weapon’s firing mechanism.
Small arms and light weapons are rarely manufactured for the defence and security markets without specific requirements in mind. The fact that the likes of Kalashnikov Group remain so active in developing the growing inventories of such weapons signals a healthy future for the sector in the near and medium term.