The United States Special Operations Command or USSOCOM or just SOCOM is looking to buy a whole bunch of AKs and more. What’s really interesting is that they’re asking American companies to step forward with U.S.-made versions of these guns, opening the door to domestic production of the iconic Dragunov SVD.
While SOCOM is also considering foreign manufacturers in friendly foreign countries, this market research request is to price out American 7.62x39mm AKs, RPDs and RPKs, along with 7.62x54mmR designated marksman’s rifes–not limited to SVDs but also PSL-type rifles and even Mosin M91-type rifle–along with some heavier hardware including 12.7mm and 14.5mm machine guns.
“The U.S. Government is performing Market Research to identify responsible sources within the national technology and industrial base who have the skills, experience, and knowledge required to successfully produce non-standard weapons,” explains the official Sources Sought request.
These guns will be used by SOCOM to train and equip friendly forces in conflict zones where these types of guns are common. Exactly which forces the military has in mind for these guns has not been disclosed. The U.S. has supplied security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and Kurdish forces across the Middle East.
Supplying fighters with “non-standard weapons” as opposed to those commonly used by our military makes sense as they can be simpler to use and maintain and these forces already have a familiarity with them. Most importantly, these guns make more sense logistically, using easier-to-find and inexpensive local ammunition.
The idea is to supply these fighters while putting tax dollars straight back into the U.S. economy. Speaking to the Tampa Bay Times, SOCOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Matt Allen said “a U.S.-based source would be a good use of taxpayer funds, while also delivering the weapons our partners not only need to fight extremists, but also the ones they know how to use, know how to fix and have the supplies in their regions to maintain.”
While the idea of building AKs and other “non-standard weapons” domestically supports American interests at home and overseas at the same time, there is one major hurdle U.S.-based builders will have to deal with: cost. Foreign manufacturers can realistically supply these guns to-spec for much less than what they cost to make in America.
Foreign small arms manufacturers have the machinery, expertise and inexpensive labor to make AKs and the other weapons sought at more than competitive prices. “The factories around the world set up to do that are doing it with dirt-cheap labor,” said Mark Surbu, founder and president of Serbu Arms. “I don’t know how to compete here. I am surprised they are trying to do that. It doesn’t make sense.”
American manufacturers have one advantage, their ability to meet production demands. It may seem counter-intuitive, but as tensions increase in the Middle East, manufacturers in friendly nations are already at or near their production capacity. Manufacturers in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland have suspended or limited commercial production in order to meet demand for military and security forces.
It seems unlikely for the military to turn to Russian or Chinese manufacturers to produce these weapons as the U.S. has sanctions in place against both country’s arms industries, and it would be no small conflict of interest. Finding a manufacturer at home, while more expensive, could still be a better option at this time.