From railguns to AK knockoffs – Pentagon’s weapons shopping cart
While requesting $71.4 billion to fund the research and development of futuristic weapons for the US military, the Pentagon is turning to Soviet-era weapons for its proxies in Syria – and trying to get even more bang for the buck by buying Bulgarian.
Unveiling the military’s 2017 budget proposal, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke of the importance of weapons research in tackling threats 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. Carter mentioned sci-fi-sounding technologies such as miniature drones, “swarming autonomous vehicles,” and railguns, which the US military is looking to adopt in the coming years.
The US Navy is already testing energy weapons as a point-defense system to bring down missiles and drones, and is looking to add railguns to the mix. A staple of science-fiction storytelling, the railguns – or Gauss rifles – use magnetic rails to launch shells at three times the speed of current naval cannons, far faster than cruise missiles. Prototype railguns are supposed to be installed aboard the USS Zumwalt, an experimental destroyer the size of a WW1 battleship currently undergoing sea trials.
Another futuristic system likely to cost the Pentagon millions is the 'Black Hornet.' The six-inch (16 cm) hand-held drone has a range of about a mile (1.6 kilometers), weighs less than an ounce, and carries three cameras for scouting in any weather – day or night. Officially designated UAS PD-100, the 'Black Hornet' is made by the Norwegian company Prox Dynamics, and sold through the Dutch-based consultancy Broadfield Security Services (BSS).
For wars fought here and now, however, the US military establishment is opting for tried and tested technology – designed in the Soviet Union. According to a shopping list leaked to BuzzFeed, the Department of Defense is looking to buy 450 AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, almost 100 PKM light machine guns, 31 DShK heavy machine guns, fifty rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, ten heavy mortars, and millions of rounds of ammunition – all intended for the 'moderate' rebels in Syria.
Though deadly, all this technology dates back to the 1940s, and in some cases even earlier. The Degtyarev-Shpagin heavy machine gun (DShK, affectionately known as “Dushka”) was first developed in 1938, for example, while the venerable AK-47 entered service in 1947. Their modernized versions are still in use in the Russian military. Given the frosty relations between the US and Russia, however, it is unlikely that Washington’s Syrian proxies will be getting the latest and greatest.
BuzzFeed is perplexed that one of the companies bidding for the contract is Purple Shovel, which was set up by a former US Army sergeant who worked in counter-intelligence before going into the weapons business. According to BuzzFeed, Purple Shovel has been involved in the Pentagon’s program to train and equip Syrian 'moderates' from the very beginning, sourcing the Soviet-era weaponry from places like Bulgaria and Belarus.
The training part of the program was officially discontinued last fall, after nearly all of the fighters and their US-supplied equipment ended up in the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria. One Pentagon official described the program as a “complete disaster.”