As nations continue to wage Counter-Insurgency (COIN) operations across the Asia-Pacific, requirements are emerging for Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) capable of providing soldiers with optimised range, effects and efficiency at both short range and long range.
As described by US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, one of the US’ combined combatant commands at the AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association) West conference in San Diego, California on 21st February, the Asia-Pacific region continues to witness instability. Adm. Harris stated that this instability was the result of nations such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia adopting increasingly muscular strategic postures, witness the DPRK’s test launches of four ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan in early March, as well as the threat posed by non-state actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). including military groups associated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS); an article on the Cable News Network website in July 2016 noted that the movement is increasingly active in the Asia-Pacific region, with some Islamist organisations in Indonesia pledging allegiance to the organization, and southeast Asian citizens joining ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria.
Arguably, as a result of these dual challenges, the SALW market is witnessing an upsurge in activity across the region with Indonesia, the PRC, Russia and the Republic of Korea (ROK) which all notably unveiled inventories of small arms and light weapons throughout 2016 and 2017. According to the Global Small Arms Light Weapons market report, published on 21st February by Grand View Research, the holistic market is expected to reach $25.7 billion by 2024, with the Asia-Pacific highlighted as a particular area of growth by the report. Highlighting specific growth drivers such as the activities of Japan, India, the PRC, the ROK and Russia the report described how the SALW market in the Asia-Pacific was anticipated to grow at an annual rate of more than 25 percent: “Increasing technology and economic developments in emerging countries such as China and India … (have) contributed to the growth,” the report indicated while highlighting companies such as Beretta, FN Herstal, Glock and Raytheon as being highly active in the region: “An increase in the urban warfare along with increased (acts of political violence) is anticipated to propel the market growth. The development of lightweight weapons for further enhancement of defence systems is an ongoing trend in the developed countries,” the report continued, adding that light weapons accounted for more than 60 percent of the market with assault rifles expected to grow by 20 percent per year over the reporting period as well as an uplift in demand for Underslung Grenade Launchers (UGLs).
On 24th January 2017, Australia’s NIOA signed a partnering agreement with Colt’s Manufacturing Company for the assembly of SALWs domestically, signaling a drive for the US-based company into the Asia-Pacific. Signed at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the news followed the launch of Colt’s latest assault rifle, the 5.56mm M5 Enhanced Carbine. According to Colt and NIOA officials, the agreement provides a: “framework to enable NIOA to undertake manufacture of Colt’s small arms product range in Australia and integrate into Colt’s global supply chain … NIOA, as the current provider of Colt small arms for the Australian Special Forces and law enforcement communities, is committed to maximising Australian industry capability in the provision of our support to Australian agencies. This agreement will allow NIOA to offer (the) Australian government expanded domestic opportunities for future small arms procurements,” a company spokesperson explained to Asian Military Review.
The agreement will further proliferate Colt technology across the Asia-Pacific, including the 5.56mm Advanced Colt Carbine-Monolithic; 5.56mm Advanced Piston Carbine; 5.56mm M4 Carbine; 5.56mm M16A4 Service Rifle; and Colt CM901 7.62mm Modular Rifle; as well as the company’s inventory of special mission weapons comprising the 7.62mm Colt Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS); KAR-901 7.62mm rifle; 5.56mm Infantry Automatic Rifle; 5.56mm Sub-Compact Weapon (also unveiled at SHOT 2017); and R0951-10 7.62mm carbine. However, the move is unlikely to have any effect on an existing Australian Department of Defence (DOD) contract, signed in August 2015, with Thales’ Australian subsidiary, to equip the Australian army with 30000 EF88 assault rifles from the company. Speaking to AMR, Colt’s director for international sales, Matthew Fehmel, explained how the M5 Enhanced Carbine has been designed as an assault rifle series for the: “modern (soldier) and special weapons law enforcement professional when weight, comfort and adaptability are critical … Today’s battlefields demand the accuracy, reliability and performance of the Advanced Colt Carbine-Monolithic one-piece upper receiver and free floating barrel, resulting in increased accuracy and better zero retention with after-market sighting and aiming systems than the standard M4 carbine family of weapons,” they explained.
The M5 also features a redesigned lower receiver (or Trigger Mechanism Housing) with ambidextrous controls including the fire selector switch (safety, semi-automatic and automatic modes); magazine release catch; and charging handle. Additionally, a six-position butt-stock provides an enhanced ergonomic fit for the individual soldier allowing greater adaptation and comfort, in a variety of shooting styles and positions: “The M5 Enhanced Carbine has a low profile gas block in a carbine length gas system and a free float modular rail system, maximising rail real estate, comfort, weight and accuracy, while at the same time, maintaining the same lethality and accuracy expected from a Colt,” Mr. Fehmel added. Available in 5.56mm calibre, the rifle can also be fitted with a suppressor for special operations so as to reduce muzzle flash, noise, vibration and dust signatures; particularly associated with urban operations. The rifle also features a 360 degree rail adaptor system for the integration of weapon accessories including laser designators, tactical torchlights, red dot and optical gunsights. Moreover, the M5 Enhanced Carbine is available in multiple barrel lengths, with options including a 261.6mm (10.3 inches/in), 292.1mm (11.5in) and 368.3mm (14.5-inch) configurations providing maximum effective ranges between 400 metres/m (1312.3 feet/ft) and 600m (1968.5ft), Colt officials described. Dependent upon barrel selection, the carbine weighs no more than eight pounds/lb (3.64 kilograms/kg) and measures a maximum of 895.3mm (35.2in) when fully extended.
The agreement between Colt and NIOA coincides with developments across the Australian DOD which on 9th December 2016, initiated a prototype Combat Shooting Skills Training course designed to further develop the marksmanship and field craft of soldiers across the force. Forming part of the army’s Modernisation and Strategic Planning initiative, the course is the first of its kind with soldiers from the army’s Royal Australian Regiment receiving training from the Australian Special Air Service Regiment at the Majura Training Area near Canberra. The training course is designed to: “fuse innovative teaching techniques with the latest shooting range technologies to provide the regular infantry soldiers with a near-real immersive combat environment to pass on the advanced combat shooting skills,” a DOD spokesperson explained to AMR: “After the course is over, the regular infantry soldiers will take these innovative teaching and combat shooting skills back to their School of Infantry and infantry battalion training positions to further impart the knowledge.”
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, Chinese and Russian SALW products continue to proliferate the market with the Philippines Department of National Defence (DND) considering the procurement of multiple weapons. On 1st February, the DND signed a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) agreement with the US government which included 400 Colt M-203 UGLs as well as 85 Remington M-40A5 7.62mm sniper rifles. The news follows an uplift of SALW capability in October 2016 which saw the Philippine Army’s Special Operations Command and the Philippine Navy Special Operations Group (NAVSOG) receive Glock-30 11.5mm handguns. Defence sources explained to AMR how the Philippines’ special forces continue to conduct Counter-Insurgency (COIN) operations against the Abu Sayyaf insurgent group in Basilan Province, in the south of the archipelago, resulting in ongoing demand for increased lethality and accuracy across its available range of SALWs, particular for Close Quarter Battle (CQB).
According to industry sources associated with the region, speaking to AMR at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 21st February, the DND is considering a multi-million dollar procurement of weapon systems from the PRC to assist forces conducting COIN and counter-narcotics missions. Sources explained how troops from the army’s Special Forces Regiment (SFR) and NAVSOG were conducting an evaluation of the technology, including networked sniper rifles and assault rifles for round-the-corner engagements. Meanwhile, on 20th December 2016, the PRC offered the DND nearly $500 million in military aid including SALW technology with industry sources explaining how SALWs under consideration includes Norinco’s family of Type-97 assault rifles, the export variants of which are designated as the QBZ-97 family. The Type-97 family comprises the 5.56mm Type-97 Squad Machine Gun; Type-97A Automatic Rifle in bullpup configuration; 5.56mm Short Assault rifle; 5.56mm CQ-A automatic rifle for CQB; and 5.56mm sniper rifle. Additionally, Norinco manufactures light weaponry including the LG4 40mm multi-grenade launcher; 9mm NP42 handgun; and NSG-1 7.62mm high precision sniper rifle.
Following comments made by the Russian administration in January, describing the availability of SALW as well as tactical platforms, the DND is also considering multiple Russian-manufactured options as reported in AMR’s SALW for SOF article, published in the November 2016 edition of the publication. These include various weapons unveiled at the Russian Ministry of Defence’s (MOD’s) Army 2016 Military Technical Forum held on 6th September 2016 near Moscow, ranging from the Kalashnikov AK-15 7.62mm assault rifle; and Kalashnikov MA Compact Assault Rifle; as well as the firm’s SVK 7.62mm, SV-98M 7.62mm and VSV-338 8.6mm sniper weapons. Additionally, DND forces could benefit from support weapons including the same company’s RPK-16 5.45mm light machine gun, sources added.
Beyond the Philippines, Indonesia is pressing ahead with the indigenous design, development and manufacturing of SALW in order to lessen its reliance on the international supply of weapons. PT Pindad used the IndoDefence exhibition held in Jakarta in November 2016 to promote its family of assault rifles and submachine guns including the SS-3 7.62mm assault rifle. Designed as a next-generation solution to the company’s own SS-2 weapon, the SS-3 fires NATO-standard 7.62mm ammunition and features a gas operated firing mechanism with a rotating bolt. The weapon, which weighs 5.3kg (11.6lb), has a maximum effective range of 500m (1640.4ft) according to PT Pindad’s literature. The rifle was exhibited at the IndoiDefence exent with a X4 optical weapon sight as well as a bipod and forward hand grip for enhanced stability. Also featured at the event was the company’s SS2-V7 carbine, fitted with a suppressor and aimed towards the special operations community. Firing 5.56mm rounds with a 30-round magazine capacity, the weapon weighs 3.7kg (8.1lb) and retains a maximum effective range of 150m (492ft), according to company officials.
Finally, PT Pinbad is marketing its PM-3 submachine gun, available in 9mm caliber with a weight of 3.1kg (6.8lb) with a gas operated firing mechanism. This weapon has a maximum effective range of 75m (246ft), making it ideal for CQB, covert special reconnaissance tasks and as a personal defence weapon.
On 6th January 2017, the Indonesian government unveiled a two percent investment increase, worth $7.2 billion per annum, for the country’s Special Forces although defence sources were unable to confirm to AMR how much money would be set aside for the acquisition of SALWs. However, sources did confirm how evaluation teams from Indonesia’s Army Special Forces Command (KOPASSUS), Naval Special Warfare Command (KOPASKA) and Air Force’s Special Forces Ground Corps (PASKHAS) continued to evaluate SALW technology in line with the nation’s emerging counter-insurgency requirements.
Finally, the Asia Pacific is home to one of the region’s longest-running and largest SALW requirements. To this end, the Indian Ministry of Defence has a requirement to equip the Indian Army with a total of 186,000 next-generation 7.62mm assault rifles; as well as 160,000 5.56mm carbines in 5.56mm. Additionally, the MOD is seeking 16000 7.62mm light machineguns and 3500 sniper weapons. The requirement for upgrades to legacy 5.56mm Ordnance Factories Board INSAS rifles is expected to result in a request for proposals being published by the MOD in April 2017, sources explained to AMR although the MOD was unavailable to comment on the solicitation. The MOD is considering replacing current inventories of SALWs for its conventional forces as well as its special forces, particularly in light of emerging requirements in the COIN domain. Sources associated with ongoing evaluation of potential weapons explained to AMR how critical requirements included calls for: “high accuracy and reliability with associated sighting systems; lightweight advanced materials; improved ergonomics … and increased lethality, range and mobility with the consideration of ballistics and propellant studies.” The MOD is also considering the procurement of a 40mm UGL for integration on legacy INSAS and Kalashnikov AK-47 family rifles, with sources describing the requirement as a “force multiplying effect” for tactical formations: “The (UGL) is a very effective area weapon against a group of enemies,” one source explained to AMR: “The add-on attachment provides increased firepower with a wide choice of ammunition for different roles … HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose) ammunition rounds can be used for breaching, while air-burst ammunition can also be used to upgrade the UGL further,” the source continued.
However, Asia Pacific is not just witnessing extended activity in regards to imports. Pakistan Ordnance Factories used the International Defence Exhibition event in Abu Dhabi to open a sales office in the United Arab Emirates to further promote its products across the Middle East. According to firm’s chair, Lieutenant General Omar Mahmood Hayat, the company is seeking to extend exports to the UAE from anywhere up to $10 million per annum over recent years. Company sources explained to AMR how the company is already exporting undisclosed products to other countries in the region including Saudi Arabia. Options for Middle East customers could the company’s SMG-PK/PK1 and MP5A2/ MP5P3 9mm sub machineguns, G3A3/G3P4 7.62mm assault rifles (all manufactured under license from Heckler and Koch); as well as support weapons including the MG3/MG1A3 7.62mm machine gun and PSR-90 7.62mm sniper.
The future of the SALW market in Asia-Pacific appears healthy as indigenous armed forces continue to develop their COIN doctrines. Despite the proliferation of equipment and materiel from the West, indigenous industry is stepping up to the challenge, and is now routinely offering mature weapons capable of handling the demanding requirements being witnessed across an ever-widening span of special operations.