The Luchtbourgish procurement apparatus has been slothful over the last year—the members of the Procurement Board have made their preferences clear on a number of challenges, but the secretary has yet to finish typing up most of the proposals. He’s hammering one out right now for you.
The Luchtbourgish Individual Carbine Competition has a few extra constraints imposed by Luchtburg’s defense priorities. One: Luchtburg has a vast stockpile of 7.62x39mm ammunition left over from its time as a Russian client state. Any proposal for a weapon chambered for a different cartridge will have to account for the price of acquiring new ammunition stockpiles, and other new infantry weapons to replace other 7.62x39mm . Two: Luchtburg is a jungle country, and a heavy bullet is desirable1. Three: Luchtburg’s land army is small2, and so the price of an individual rifle is less important than it might be otherwise.
With those constraints in mind, I can easily eliminate 5.45x39mm and 5.56 NATO. Neither are bad cartridges, and both are perfectly acceptable choices. They are not, however, the right choice for us. Disposing of 7.62×39 to acquire a new cartridge would be expensive—conservatively, the cost of a modern corvette out to a ten-year horizon, and probably another FREMM over the 25-year lifetime of the Procurement Games. It would also violate another constraint: jungle effectiveness. I can also eliminate full-size rifle cartridges, for the same reasons that parvusimperator does. I’ll leave the takedown to his post. (Look back through the militariana tag for the post about SCHV rounds.)
So, that leaves me with the intermediate intermediate cartridges, if you will: 7.62×39, the great granddaddy of the field; the modern American contenders, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, and .300 Blackout; and lesser-used wildcats. The latter class is right out on production scale grounds. We’ll be buying, at the least, several hundred million cartridges, and sorting out production at the same time as a new rifle is not something Luchtburg wants to do.
The modern American contenders present more interesting problems. I’m a huge fan of 6.5 Grendel based on its ballistics, and of .300 BLK and 6.8SPC based on larger bullets and similar magazine capacities to 5.56, along with specialty loadings for various purposes. The thing about .300 BLK and 6.8SPC is, I’m not sure that their main advantage over 7.62×39 is inherent. You could just as easily load 7.62×39 with a heavy, subsonic bullet for use with a suppressor, or load it with a lighter bullet and hotter powder for ballistics more similar to 6.8SPC. I don’t think it’s quite possible to match Grendel, which is much less a compromise round than the other two American contenders. Generally speaking, though, I don’t think that 7.62x39mm is less capable by design. It’s less capable by less development. The expense of developing new loadings down the line is offset by not having to buy new training ammunition, or new squad automatic weapons3.
You may have noticed that I’ve rather biased the contest toward 7.62×39, and may additionally have noticed that this seems not to leave me with many good options: old AK variants, the AK-103, and (questionably) the AK-124. Russian-built arms, dependable but not generally known for their accuracy are not a particularly good fit for Luchtburg’s well-trained, well-supplied, well-maintained professional army. Fortunately, there is another contender, and it is the victor.
Enter the Swiss Arms SG5 553R. A member of the SG 550 family, it’s based off the current issue arm of the Swiss military, a pedigree that carries weight in the halls of Luchtbourgish government6. SIG/Swiss Arms is a large conglomerate, no stranger to handling large contracts, and is not Russian—a point in its favor when it comes to support and services. The design has been in service long enough to work out its kinks. As a bonus, it accepts AK magazines, meaning Luchtburg can dip into its stock of those, too. The short version is very short, and with the folding stock, is suitable for issue to vehicle crews and others who work in cramped spaces.
It does have some downsides—for one, we’ll probably want to pay for a longer-barreled version. The extant ‘long barrel’ version only has twelve inches of barrel length. We’ll probably want 16″, or maybe even a 20″ (although whether the squad marksman will also use 7.62×39 depends mainly on how our cartridge development project goes7). For another, it’s a precision-machined Swiss masterpiece. That kind of quality comes at a price. It’s hard to find contract price figures, but I’d expect to pay north of $1500 per rifle. Finally, there’s very little data on the SG 550-series in the sorts of terrain we’ll be using it most often: jungle, seaside, and aboard ships, none of which feature heavily in Switzerland’s landscape. It’s possible that those rather harsh conditions will reveal some flaws not otherwise known.
With all that being said, though, it’s a gun with very little downside for us: it isn’t as thrown-together as a Kalashnikov, so it costs a pretty penny, but the nice thing about small armies relative to defense spending is that they can afford to be well-equipped. The SG 553R is a modern rifle with a fine pedigree, and it’s the thing to take Luchtburg into the next 25 years.
I admit, this one was something of a foregone conclusion, given the constraints I imposed upon my choices, but that, I think, is a lesson in itself: procurement choices are ordinarily dictated by factors other than the raw quality of the platforms. (Else I might have ended up with SCARs.) We merely continue in that long tradition8.
1. Undoubtedly parvusimperator will quibble about the effectiveness of a fast, small bullet, but penetration of a barrier to hit something directly behind it is a very different game from penetration of a barrier to hit something 50 yards behind it. That’s the story in a jungle.
2. 75,000 rifles would cover every front-line combat formation, including vehicle crew, with about 10,000 to spare. 200,000 rifles would cover every reservist as well, with plenty of headroom.
3. Modernized PKMs will serve for now.
4. Izhmash would certainly sell them to me, but it’s unclear whether they’re vaporware or actually in testing right now.
5. Formerly SIG, but they’re currently organized as separate manufacturers. I think. The web of firearms manufacturer acquisitions and spinoffs is dizzying to untangle.
6. Several of the generals on the procurement board carry surplus K31s as hunting rifles.
7. You need speed and ballistic coefficient for that, and it’s hard to get both out of 7.62×39 at the same time.
8. Although my frigate choice was a lot more wide-open, as was parvusimperator’s carbine choice. It’s probably also true that your headline capabilities are the ones where you get to be a bit choosier.