The XIX MSPO (which is the Polish abbreviation for “International Defence Industry Exhibition”) was held in Kielce, September 5-8, 2011. For the past decade the show has grown bigger with every year, however the recent Euro crisis downgraded the growth this year. Nevertheless, there were still 400 exhibitors from 20 countries participating in the show, with scores of foreign official visitors (including for the first time – the European Defense Agency). Despite the looming general election, internal politics was conspicuously absent from the fair, and the visiting VIPs were of lesser grade than usual. That latter thankfully – because there was less fuss and security red tape, as well.
Traditionally, the fair was more about the heavy equipment and logistics than small arms, but still the most important players of the European market were all present or accounted for. Alas, no groundbreaking small arms were shown, though, by domestic or foreign exhibitors.
Bumar Steals the Show
As always was the case in Kielce, the Bumar pavilion, now in center-front Hall C, was the most frequented one, and held the most interesting exhibits. Bumar – for those not following the European market – is Poland’s leading defense industry holding company, actually owning three quarters of it. With the exception of the aerospace industry and several independent companies, too big (like intercom specialists WB Electronics, or Huta Stalowa Wola artillery systems supplier) or too small (like up-start specialized equipment trade company Works 11 from Katowice) to swallow – all that goes bang or is connected with things that go bang in Poland is Bumar.
As of 2009, Bumar took over the Future Soldier program, Uhlan 21 – now called the Tytan ISW. A whole new core business unit called Dywizja Bumar Żołnierz was created within Bumar especially to take care of this very prestigious program, meant to shape the future of the armed forces. The main companies taking care of the Tytan program are Bumar Żołnierz SA (formerly PCO, the optoelectronics giant), Fabryka Broni Radom-Łucznik (main small arms supplier for the Polish Army), both Tarnow companies: the Zakłady Metalowe Tarnów (machine guns) and OBR SM (sniper rifles), Maskpol SA (NBC protection, ballistic protection and uniforms), aided by non-Bumar entities like WB Electronics and Radmor SA which supply radio and electronic components of the system. The Tytan, still on a distant horizon right now, will indeed revolutionize the Polish Army, turning soldiers into a net-centric one-man fighting force with full C4I capabilities. So far elements of the net-warfare system are being created and integrated, as well as modern ballistic and NBC protection, and small arms, including a ground-breaking MSBS-556 Radon modular fully user-configurable battle rifle platform with shared upper receiver for a range of bull-pup and classical configured rifles, different barrel-lengths and other options. Mockups of 3rd Gen rifles in both configurations were displayed in Kielce, while FB Radom and WAT strive to put it into metal.
OBR SM’s Sniper Rifle Family
Another company taking part in the Future Soldier program is the Tarnow factory – two of them in fact. A mechanical factory was first established in Tarnow as early as 1917, as a railway stock repair facility, then in 1937 it begun a conversion towards defense industry, within the COP Central Industrial Region concept, but WW2 intervened. After the war it was rebuilt as a heavy machine gun and light artillery facility, with R&D Center for Machinery (Polish: Ośrodek Badawczo-Rozwojowy Sprzętu Mechanicznego, OBR SM) added in 1971. The OBR SM was closely interconnected with the parent ZM Tarnow company, and located on the same premises. In the 1990s they were separated and privatized separately, but then, after some time, both were incorporated into Bumar, and now they form part of the same Bumar’s Division. ZM Tarnow makes machine guns (GPMGs and HMGs) and automatic cannon, while OBR SM’s specialty became sniper rifles – a novelty on the Polish market, as these were the first ever true sniper weapons to be 100% designed and manufactured in Poland.
So far three lines of bolt-action bull-pup configuration repeating rifles are offered, all with Lothar Walther match-grade barrels. The oldest is the largest one of them – the .50 BMG-chambered WKW Wilk, an anti-materiel rifle introduced into the Army as Tor wz.2004 (Tor being Polish for thorium, a radioactive metal with atomic number 90, as per Polish nomenclature scheme, in which small arms are given cover names of the Mendeleyev table of elements or minerals). So far less than 100 of these were manufactured and bought by the Army, issued mostly to UOD units for UXO and IED disposal (but rumors have it, that they were already as successful in a counter-sniper application). Then the Alex line followed, the name coming from Aleksander Leżucha, the series designer. The Alex has branched into two consecutive rifle lines, the 2008 Bor wz.2008 (Bor for boron, a metalloid with atomic number 5) precision rifle in 7.62 NATO chambering, a two sizes scaled-down Tor. Last year a “mid-sized” rifle was first presented, in .338 Lapua Magnum, still awaiting acceptance by the Army. This year another sniper rifle designed in OBR SM has been premiered, still in mock-up form – a semiautomatic SKW-338 bull-pup, the world’s first in this configuration chambered for the .338 Lapua Magnum. So far only the mock-up was exhibited, let’s see what happens, but the rifle’s design is catchy indeed – even if it has a bit of a Barbarella/Buck Rogers streak in it.
Despite the opinions that the Beryl wz.96 assault rifle has already hit a stone wall as far as development capabilities, Fabryka Broni keeps the design alive and new branches keep growing on the design tree with each year’s passing. This time there was an improved prototype of the Beryl Light Support Weapon. This is a Beryl rifle fitted with a slightly thicker barrel devoid of the classical Kalashnikovian front sight base. Instead it has a semi-rigid two-piece accessory rail running all along the top, from mid-gas tube to rear sight bracket and then on top of the hinged, stiffened receiver cover – same line, same height all the way. It was also fitted with a revised receiver, allowing the STANAG magazine adapter to be installed, so that STANAG feed tower Beta-Mags (or any other compatible high-capacity) magazines can be attached to it. Other than that, the LSW is just another Beryl AR, and can do anything that is needed from a battle rifle, including rifle grenade launching and bayonet work.
The fate of the LSW Beryl is uncertain though, as it now has a very powerful competitor. The LSW program triggered enough interest in SAW/LSW 5.56-caliber weapons to attract IWI of Israel, which proposed that FB Radom take part in manufacturing of the famed Negev SAW – a real, belt-fed machine gun as opposed to a mere machine rifle, like the LSW Beryl. The Negev hardly needs introduction to the readers of SADJ; it has an enviable track-record so far, serving the Israeli Defense Forces in some of the world’s most difficult environment, fully compatible with the latest ‘sandbox’ deployment environment of the Polish Army. Polish Negevs – if accepted – would initially comprise 30% of Polish components, with a rising degree of ‘polonization’ along the track. This was already the case with Radom-assembled Walther P-99s, for which now all metal parts are made in Radom, only the plastic frame being supplied by Walther. Polish national Police, with over 75,000 P99s already purchased, is the world’s largest force to adopt this successful design – and it shows in mutual Walther-Radom relations. The newest Walther trigger option, called PPQ, and the new look of the Walther pistol were first offered to Poland two years ago, incorporated in the Rad pistol, with which the FB Radom factory is courting the Polish Army – so far to no avail.
New Start for the Wist-94
The pistol issue continues to linger on in the Polish Army. The mid-1990s accepted Wist-94/94L pistol was widely criticized for its lack of reliability needed from a life-saving last-ditch self-defense weapon in real warfare conditions. It was loudly “drummed-out” of the fighting units in Iraq, replaced with its own predecessor, the P-83 Vanad pistol – a Makarov-class (but not Makarov-copy as several misinformed internet sites proclaim it to be) compact semiautomatic chambered in 9×18 Makarov, a cartridge long deemed insufficient for self-defense if in military FMJ hard ball. However, the troops going to Afghanistan were still armed with the Wist-94 pistols, and soon photos and clips showing stovepipe jams by the magazine full abounded in the Internet, undermining the already low confidence of the troops in their handgun. Now, after so many years of handing the hot potato to and fro, the manufacturer of the pistol (Prexer of Łódź, a non Bumar-affiliated company) together with the Polish Army’s Materiel Command all of a sudden presented a revolutionary new (considering the previous decade of complete hiatus) version of the Wist-94L pistol. The “L” in 94L stands for laser. This was a Special Forces variant with a laser sight pod integrated into the frame in front of the trigger guard. Now that was en vogue in mid-1990s, but with so many years passed since, the concept became obsolete. The legacy of the 94L however was a mold for polymer frame with an exchangeable block – both laser and non-laser frames were molded in the same main mold, only the trigger guard/dust cover module was replaced with relevant one. Now a third “Lego block” was added, with a Picatinny rail instead of the laser pod, allowing accessorizing the pistol with tactical light or light/laser module – or whatever else is needed and can be attached to the rail. The new frame was the Materiel Command’s requirement, along with the revised magazine follower. Then the Prexer, on its own, in an unprecedented and surprising bid to product-improve their pistol, decided to press on further with modifications. The most annoying feature of the original Wist-94 pistol was its diminutive ejection opening, the heritage of the pistol’s designer’s misguided attempt at creating a “dust-free” weapon, instead of dust-proof. The idea was to seal off the dust by minimizing the size of openings, instead of making the pistol withstand the dust intake and still operate. The outcome was an ideal stove-pipe jam factory, with multiple spent case rebounds, resulting in re-feeding the empty shell base first into the chamber – and thus creating an extremely dangerous, hard-to-clear in the field failure. Now the new version radically cures the situation by enlarging the ejection opening almost threefold while at the same time changing the lock-up method to more “dust-friendly.” The original pistol had a modified closed Browning locking cam with locking ribs on top of the barrel – almost an ideal copy of the CZ 75 design. Now it is locked into the ejection opening, Glock-style. Whether it would cure the ailments of the original design we’ll see in the near future, after the military testing is over.