Between August 31 and September 3, the Targi Kielce fairground in Poland hosted the 17th International Defense Industry Fair MSPO 2009. The world’s economic crisis and budget cuts accounted for a fair more modest than the record-breaking MSPO in 2008. Then, a fire on the eve of the opening, affected it further by destroying one of the three halls, partly with the exhibits. Still, there was enough left to make the trip to Kielce worthwhile as there were 319 exhibitors from 25 countries present, compared to 394 from 22 countries in the record breaking 2008.
August 30 was a black day for military event organizers in Poland. The fire broke out just after 4 a.m. in the former main hall of the Targi Kielce fairground. Then, in early afternoon at the neighboring and associated with the MSPO Radom’s Air Show, a Belorussian Su-27 fighter jet crashed, killing both on board.
Several stands burned down completely in the Hall F (former Hall A), including the Cenzin booth with FN small arms exhibition. Israeli Elbit lost a prototype 30mm chaingun-and-Spike ATG-armed remote-operated weapons station (ROWS) based on the Slovakian BMP-2, intended to be offered to the Polish government in their bid for the BMP modernization.
There was some good news for the WZM of Siemianowice Slaskie, manufacturer of the Polish Rosomak (Wolverine) wheeled APC – their two vehicles survived unscathed, save for a few melted outside plastic parts. Even the tires survived, while all around a blaze reaching 900 degrees Centigrade consumed most of the exhibition and damaged the hall to the extent of rendering it unfit for rebuilding. Both the Med-evac WEM-Rosomak and the other Wolverine (a turretless UAV-carrier variant) left the ruined hall under their own power, to the applause of the onlookers.
Radmor of Gdynia, a radio manufacturer, also suffered in the fire – but when the surviving companies were moving overnight to an adjacent hall to enable them to open booths in time for the opening ceremony scheduled for noon on August 31, Radmor was able to exhibit an amazing testimony to the quality and ruggedness of their equipment. One of the RRC 9210 radios recovered from the burned down main booth, after melted plastics were torn out and a fresh battery plugged in, was found to work perfectly well to the amazement of the witnesses. It looks like Radmor just found a piece-de-resistance for all future exhibitions and fairs.
Mobile Containerized Shooting Range System
This year’s MSPO saw a perfected pre-series prototype of the Polish MCSRS (Mobile Containerized Shooting Range System). Last year’s prototype, although hastily built, survived the year of intensive (70,000 rounds plus) use by the Warsaw Police. This time, Zakłady Mechaniczne of Tarnów have designed and built a highly mobile shooting range in two trailer-mounted HC40 containers enabling the shooters to use not only 9mm handguns and SMGs, but even 5.56mm automatic rifles in total safety, and some comfort. The mobile system is designed to offer an instant shooting range capability to police and military units where, due to zoning laws or other developments, typical shooting ranges are not available. It is a self-contained unit offering a 15 meters shooting aisle. The 15 m is just for starters with two shorter containers containing the backstop at the terminal end and the storage/waiting room in the “line of fire” end. Additional (essentially empty) containers, each measuring 12 m (40 feet) can be inserted to extend the total length of the range. To set up a fully functional, zero-emission firing range one only needs a parking lot with electric supply and about an hour’s time from trailer braking to first shots fired. The shooting range has an air-conditioning system, ample ventilation and lighting, can accommodate any type of target appliances, and is guaranteed to contain any shot fired within from a weapon of appropriate power level. The shooting aisle’s walls, as well as the bulkhead separating the firing line from the waiting room are armor-plated, as well as the electrically locked-from-within entry door in that bulkhead. The armor plating is covered with a spaced ricochet containing layer, partly covered with sound-absorbing foam and rubber panels. All that can be heard outside is a dull clang of bullets hammering on the back stop. The backstop is constructed of heavy-duty angled steel deflecting louvers with a main armor plate capable of withstanding thousands of impacting bullets. The debris from the disintegrating bullets is collected in the bottom drawers, easily accessible from the outside for routine emptying and disposal of the waste.
The shooting range was open to all willing to try their hand with Radom-manufactured Walther P-99 and PPS pistols, as well as the PM-06 Glauberyt SMG and the 5.56mm Mini-Beryl automatic carbine. The shooters lauded the surprisingly ample inner space, functional design and the environmental-friendliness of the shooting range. All these virtues were appreciated by the Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration, who awarded his annual Special Prize to the MCSRS.
MSBS-5.56: First Time in Public
FB Łucznik, besides their staple of Beryl, Glauberyt and Walther P99 handguns, has exhibited – for the first time in public – a mock-up of the new Polish automatic rifle design: the MSBS-5.56. This is a modular 5.56mm small arms system designed more along the lines of G-36/FN SCAR rather than the Kalashnikov-based Beryl. The MSBS is a joint venture between the FB Radom and WAT (Military Technological University) of Warsaw. The system is to be based around a common upper receiver sporting a long upper monolithic sighting rail, with two lower receivers (one classic with collapsing buttstock, the other converting the rifle to bull-pup configuration for AFV crews) and several barrels of different lengths. The new rifle mock-up was part of the Polish “Future Soldier” project, code-named Ułan.
It is a tradition at MSPO that a selected country is invited to stage a national defense industrial exhibition during the fair. Such national exhibitions have in the past been shown by Germany, Israel, France, United States, and others. This time it was a shared exhibition by the V-4 Group, or Vysehrad Group, a Central-European Alliance consisting of Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary. The result was a little more modest than usual. As this was staged during the exhibition in Poland, Polish industry was all around. The Czech Republic as well as Czech companies withdrew in face of the economic crisis – so only Slovak and Hungarian companies participated in the V-4 booth. Against that backdrop shined two Hungarian companies showing interesting, if lesser-known, sniping rifles.
From 1987-97, the Hungarian Army had a big-bore sniping rifle development program going on codenamed Gepard (Cheetah). There were many types of the Gepard rifles in development: single-shot Gepard M1, semiautomatic Gepards M2 and M4, as well as repeating Gepard M5 in bull-pup configuration. All of these programs were led by two Hungarian officers, Ferenc Földi and Ferenc Szép. After the Army lost its interest in further development, the Gepard project and trademark were taken over by Sero, Ltd., that manufactured semiautomatic M4s for the Army. Ferenc Szép further developed his repeating M5 under the auspices of another company, the Bátori-Épszol Ltd. Szép’s rifles were made in two sizes: the “Big-bore Szép sniping rifle” chambered for the .50 BMG, a further modification of the M5 Gepard, as well as the all-new “Medium-caliber Szép sniping rifle” chambered for the 7.62mm NATO. The 7.62mm bull-pups are available in two lengths: as a rifle and a compact rifle. Both are bull-pup bolt-action repeaters with 5-round magazines utilizing three-lugged bolts with VERY short bodies – just under 40 mm (1.57 inches). The difference is in the barrel length. The rifle has a 750 mm (29.53 inches) long barrel and tips the scale at 5.9 kg (13 pounds), while the compact model has a 650 mm (25.59 inches) long barrel and a weight of 5.5 kg (12.13 pounds). Bátori offers with the rifle special long range sniping ammunition manufactured by the MFS company in Sirok, Hungary, offering <20 mm R50 dispersion at 100 meters.
Sero Ltd. was also present at the MSPO with their new (2007) development of the Gepard project, the GM6B Lynx in .50 caliber. This rifle is a bull-pup development of the Gepard M2/M4 series semiautomatic rifle. The bull-pup configuration enabled Sero to manufacture a more compact rifle of 1,125 mm (44.29 inches) overall length with 730 mm (28.74 inches) long barrel, and lighter: just a shade under 10.5 kg (23.15 pounds). This is serious progress compared to the airborne variant of the M2, the M2A1 15 kg (33 pounds), 1,266 mm (49.84 inches) with 830 mm (32.68 inches) barrel being the starting point of the new rifle. The GM6B is a .50 Browning version – an alternative GM6 is chambered for the 12.7×108 Russian.
Professional Equipment for Professional Soldiers
Polish Army’s Land Forces Command staged their equipment review alongside the fair, as usual. With procurement budget cuts all around, there was nothing particularly innovative there, both in small arms and heavier equipment. It was, however, a nice opportunity to see and handle most of the small arms types currently in the inventory of the Polish Army. As this was the Army’s first year without conscripted soldiers, the exhibition was called, with some affectedness, “Professional Equipment for Professional Soldiers”. Name notwithstanding, it was a rare opportunity to see all three new repeating sniping rifles alongside each other: the 7.62mm Finnish SAKO TRG 21 in classic layout as well as two indigenous bull-pups, the 12.7×99 Tor and its small-caliber companion, the 7.62×51 Bor. It was also the first time when the American-made Mk 19 Mod 3 40mm grenade machine gun (about 20 of which were donated by Israel) was presented in public. Right beside these was shown one of the very few series-manufactured UKM-2000, a new breed of the PKM-based, but chambered for 7.62×51 and fed directly from M13 link GPMG. By using that ruse, the new machine guns could have been introduced cheaper and faster, utilizing old PK equipment, ammo boxes, tripods, vehicular mounts etc. – but alas, switching the manufacturing from Poznan to Tarnow wasted at least 5 years, and now due to procurement cuts the Army orders them in two-digit quantities a year. The small arms exhibition concluded with an array of 5.56mm Beryl assault rifle derivatives. Characteristically, no handguns or SMGs were exhibited – mainly because the Army has nothing to brag about in those departments at all.
Famous Austrian small-arms ammunition manufacturer, Hirtenberger Patronenfabrik, active since the 1860s, has now grown into Hirtenberger Defense Systems group manufacturing artillery ammunition and mortars. Their most famous product in that branch is the 60mm M6 light mortar, presented at MSPO by their Polish partner, M.K. Szuster of Warsaw. The M6 has branched into a family of three models: M6C Commando, M6 Light and M6H Heavy Sixty. All of these are available with three tube lengths: 640, 895 and 1000 mm and all accessories are compatible between the three, giving the user an opportunity to mix and match according to need. The M6 series is now used by Austrian, Italian and Greek armies, as well as British Special Forces (tender for the Army was still open at the time of writing).
News from Tarnów
The only domestic manufacturer to exhibit new products was OBR SM of Tarnów.
The 40mm RGP-40 multi-shot grenade launcher was already prepared in time for the last year’s MSPO, but the presentation was put on hold in order to perfect it before the public premiere. The new RGP-40 is already a long way away from the last-year’s configuration, shown this year. The first attempt at the MGL was plagued with petty, but troublesome snags, lively commented by the fair attendees. Seems like most of the professionals reviewing the prototype had very similar views at what the MGL should look like, and the current prototype under development in Tarnów will have a swiveling stock to enable greater elevation without having to handle the MGL high above your head, as well as a bottom rib enabling the MGL to be rested without fouling the cylinder movement. The RGP-40 is another Milkor look-alike, with spring-loaded cylinder and gas-actuated indexing mechanism.
The second new design from Tarnów presented publicly for the first time was the 12.7mm Szafir (Sapphire) four-barrel Gatling machine gun intended for helicopter gunships (remote operated front position) and fixed-wing aircraft (pod gun), as well as naval and vehicular applications. In the future, the OBR SM plans to create a family of Gatlings chambered in automatic cannon cartridges to resurrect the 1980s-abandoned programs of the 6-barrel 23mm aerial cannon (Project Śniardwy) and the naval 30mm 6-barrel (Project Nawałnik) cannon.
The vehicular overhead remote-operated weapon-stations of the Kobuz family are still developed and this year a new variant, called the ZSMU-70 was premiered, coupling the WKM-B (a license-built NSV-12.7 chambered for the Browning ammunition) with a twin-tube 70mm rocket pod.
The Sapphire from Tarnów was not the only Gatling to be seen at MSPO. The Works 11 company from Katowice held a first Polish public presentation of the M134 Minigun machine gun – the M134G by Garwood Industries of Scottsdale, Arizona. The first M134s to enter Poland were GE guns captured in Vietnam, but these were swallowed up by the military R&D institutes and never publically displayed. Then, in the spring of 2009, Warsaw’s Unitronex staged a live-fire demonstration of the M134D manufactured by another Scottsdale, AZ company, Dillon Aero. But this was accessible by few people outside of military circles. Now, the M134G could be seen and handled by the general public for the first time in Poland, with another live-fire demonstration scheduled for late 2009, this time by Garwood Industries in cooperation with Long Mountain Outfitters LLC and Works 11.
CK-5 – New Red Dot Sight from PCO
Przemysłowe Centrum Optyki of Warsaw presented a new Polish individual and support small arms red dot sight, the CK-5. This is another variation of the EOTech holographic sight (except – it’s not holographic), but with a very different charging arrangement. The main current source are chargeable batteries that can be charged by an outside charger or a photoelectric cell provided on top of the casing. Using sunshine for aiming marks is not a new idea – but Trijicon sights used cheaper KISS-principle fiber optics to mark an aiming point. In the CK-5, the aiming mark is a bit too complicated to be effectively illuminated by fiber optics: it sports a large outside circle, with inner circle, four stadia lines and three aiming points for ballistic compensation, calibrated to 5.56mm for the individual variant, and 7.62mm for the support weapons variant. This calls for a laser diode to project, and this LED is powered by sun-charged batteries. On paper that looks great, but one look at the sight reveals a large potential for problems: large shiny areas are rather frowned upon in the individual camouflage era, not to mention they’re prone to scratching or breakage in the field. But the worst and most foreboding thing is the clear proof that PCO cannot learn from other manufacturers’ faults. The ‘UP’, ‘DOWN’ and ‘NV’ buttons are still grouped at the rear, like in EOTech 552, as if 553 and subsequent models did not happen, and the progress in red dot sights ceased 10 years ago. Grouped at the rear, they are inaccessible to the operator if any device (NV, image magnifier) was mounted behind. Additionally, there are no flaps to cover the glass when not in use, either – even though GG&G introduced theirs for the EOTech series three years ago. All the above, combined with a price tag, would allow all the competing manufacturers a good night’s sleep. The CK-5 would not rob them of their markets, including the domestic one, where Polish Army would still be using and purchasing more and more EOTechs.