Report: Profiling the Small Arms Industry – World Policy Institute – Research Project


REPORTS – Weapons at War
November 2000

For further information:
Frida Berrigan,
212-229-5808, ext. 112
or Michelle Ciarrocca,
212-229-5808, ext. 107

Profiling the Small Arms Industry
by Frida Berrigan and Michelle Ciarrocca

This report profiles six small arms manufacturers, providing information on what weapons systems they produce, where and by what countries the weapons are made, and where they are sold and used. These profiles are part of our ongoing “Weapons at War” project. Alliant Techsystems, Colt Manufacturing, Denel South Africa, FN Herstal, Heckler and Koch and Saco Defense are profiled. Keep an eye out for more.

Table of Contents
Alliant Techsystems
Colt Manufacturing Co.
FN Herstal
Heckler & Koch
Saco Defense

Alliant Techsystems
Hopkins, MN

“We’re going to take the human factor out as much as possible,” Major James Baldwin on how Alliant’s Objective Individual Combat Weapon will help the Army

Company History and Products
Alliant Techsystems is the largest supplier of all munitions to the U.S. Department of Defense, and works on many DoD contracts, including large and small caliber munitions employing depleted uranium penetrators, rocket motors for most missiles– most notably the Trident II nuclear missile and the tactical AGM-130 and AMRAAM missiles. Alliant was spun off from Honeywell in 1991 and suffered a hostile take-over by Hercules Incorporated in 1993. It is a $1.2 billion a year business which operates in 23 congressional districts throughout the United States and has international sales office in 33 countries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Malaysia, Chile, Pakistan, India, Greece and Turkey.

For fiscal years 1996 through 1999, the most recent years for which full data is available, Alliant Techsystems received a cumulative total of about $1.5 billion in Pentagon contracts. Total company sales were roughly $4.1 billion in total for those four years, which means that the company has depended on Pentagon contracts for about 37% of its sales over the past four years. Despite reported record profits in 1998, Alliant laid off 500 workers. A breakdown year by year is as follows

YEAR DOD CONTRACTS (millions) DOD RANK % sales to DOD
1996 $456.5 million 26th 45%
1997 $378 million 30th 37%
1998 $316.6 million 34th 31%
1999 $421.9 million 27th 42%

Although contracts dropped off a bit in 1997 and 1998, the fact that they went over $400 million again in 1999 and that they accounted for over 40% of the company’s sales in that year suggests that Alliant has either not been trying to diversify out of military products or has not succeeded in doing so. Percentages are approximations, because the company fiscal year doesn’t match the government fiscal year, but the average over the 4 years — 37% of Alliant’s business from the Pentagon — suggests a high ongoing rate of defense dependency.

Alliant Techsystems makes some of the deadliest and most problematic weapons systems in the United States (and global) arsenals:

TRIDENT II SLBM: Alliant Tech is responsible for the propulsion system for the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile, a multiple warhead, nuclear armed missile that is one of the few major long-range nuclear delivery vehicles still in ongoing production for U.S. forces. Alliant’s nuclear production wing, Hercules Inc., has suffered two major whistleblower lawsuits in recent years, paying out a total of almost $60 million in 1998.

Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW): Alliant is the prime contractor for the OICW, the Army’s next generation combat rifle, touted as “revolutionizing warfare.” It will be capable of firing two types of rounds: a conventional bullet, like the current generation M-16 rifle, or a 20mm grenade. The $10,000 per copy rifle is designed to “see around” walls and barriers, and unleash an exploding shell that will spray shrapnel at anyone attempting to hide from the person firing it. “Our theme is ‘no place to hide’” says Army program manager. Weapons analyst Michael T. Klare has raised serious questions about the morality of pursuing this new, more indiscriminate variation on the Army’s current combat rifle, because it seems more likely to be used to harm civilians. Each pull of the trigger sends out a barrage of shells, relieving the solider of the need to take careful or steady aim. “We’re going to take the human factor out as much as possible,” explains Major James Baldwin of the U.S. Army. If and when the weapon is accepted, Alliant will receive a production contract valued at over $1.5 billion. Once the weapon enters the U.S. arsenal, the pressure to sell to NATO allies could become almost irresistible.

Anti-Personnel Land Mines: Alliant is a major producer of anti-personnel land mines. Although it is currently prohibited from exporting these mines under U.S. law, the company has refused an appeal from Human Rights Watch to renounce any further production of these deadly systems. Nineteen other U.S. companies have signed this pledge.

Depleted Uranium Shells: Alliant makes depleted uranium shells for use in U.S. tanks, armored personnel carriers, and howitzers. These systems are the subject of great controversy because of their impact on the environment and human health in areas where they have been used (like Iraq) and tested (like Alliant’s test range in Socorro, NM). Weapons analyst William Arkin estimates that 300 tons of depleted uranium was dispersed during the Persian Gulf war, mostly from the 30mm and 120mm DU shells. Alliant has produced over 15 million 30 mm PGU-14 shells (used in the A-10’s Gatling gun) for the U.S. Air Force and over a million 120mm M829 rounds (described by the Army as the world’s most lethal kinetic energy shell) for the U.S. Army. While the DoD denies any link between DU and Gulf War syndrome, veterans groups and scientists both challenge this claim.

Military exports: Alliant’s major export has been the MK-46 torpedo, which it has sold to Bahrain, Egypt, and Taiwan.

Other products: Numerous other weapons which lend themselves to cruel and indiscriminate use against civilian targets, such as the Selectable Lightweight Attack Munition (SLAM), which the company says is “a compact, lightweight, hand-emplaced munition developed for U.S. special operations forces enabling them to engage targets from five inches to 25 feet”; the demolition munition, which is tailored for destroying piers and bridges; and various munitions and fuzing devices designed to set off incendiary explosions or penetrate “hardened targets” (e.g., underground bunkers containing the leadership of an adversary nation).

Colt Manufacturing Co.
Hartford, CT

Company History and Products
Although Colt works hard to maintain its “How the West Was Won” reputation, it has come very far from the cowboys and wagon trails that define that era. It is one of the largest gun and small weapons manufacturers in the United States and it is in big trouble financially.

Rescued from bankruptcy in 1994 by Donald Zilkha (and almost $30 million from the state of Connecticut), the company now finds itself caught between public outrage unleashed by a rash of high school shootings and a mountain of lawsuits filed by cities fed up with gun violence. The result of this growing anti-gun sentiment is lowered sales and stock prices. Between 1993 and 1997, domestic production of firearms in the United States has dropped from 5.2 million to 3.7 million. Drops in handgun sales have been most noticeable—from $28 million in 1993 to $1.4 million in 1997. Colt saw only a small $2 million profit in 1997, from $96 million in sales.

In the fall of 1999, Colt eliminated its civilian hand gun business, stating that despite higher profits, it had become “too risky.” In a move to distance itself from the lawsuits and blame for gun violence, Colt bid for competitor Heckler and Koch, and later FN Herstal, proposing that the “combined company would be in a strong position to compete for military rifles and grenade launchers in the U.S. and Europe.” When those deals fell through, Colt purchased Saco Defense, maker of grenade launchers and light military weapons, and Ultra Light Weapons, a small West Virginia maker of expensive hunting rifles. Colt sold Saco to General Dynamics in May 2000 for an undisclosed sum of cash, but the company is continuing to market to the military. One of Colt’s new weapons is the M4A1 Carbine with accessory kit, for U.S. Special Operations Forces, “designed to enhance [their] lethality.”

The fact that Colt no longer produces handguns did not exclude it from this latest round of suits. This summer, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer made New York the first state to sue the firearms industry, following on the heels of more than 30 city and country lawsuits. Spitzer offered a carrot along with the stick in the form of a “Code of Conduct” for the gun industry. Most refused, including Colt, Beretta, Sturm Ruger and Co, and responded with their own suit, charging that “self appointed gun control politicians” were trampling the U.S. constitution in their effort to “legislate gun control by economic sanction.” They claimed that “if these politicians are not stopped, our democracy will be undermined.”

Colt produces a variety of small arms and light weapons, including:

  • M16 assault rifle: Indonesia, Mexico and Israel are just a few of the countries that have this gun in their arsenals. Singapore, the Philippines, and South Korea all have licensing agreements to produce M-16s domestically.
  • M203 40mm grenade launcher (fitted on M16): Used by U.S. armed forces and has been exported.
  • M1911A1 .45 cal pistol (no longer produced): Argentina, Norway and Canada have licenses to manufacture this weapon.
  • M4 Carbines: lightweight shoulder fired weapons, a compact version of the M-16. These weapons have been made for Lebanon and Colombia, among others.
  • Colt is currently working on a new version of M4 system “designed to enhance the lethality of the Special Operations Forces operator.”

The M-16: Worst Case Scenario
The lightweight and cheap M-16 machine gun is one the United States’ most deadly export. M-16s sold to Indonesia were passed on to paramilitaries who brutalized the East Timorese after the September 1999 UN sponsored referendum on independence. A shipment of arms to Guatemala in the late 1980s included 16,000 M-16s, used by the army in a December 1990 massacre in Santiago Atitlan. The M-16 rifle is in the arsenals of more than 50 countries, including Cambodia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been produced in Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines.

Colt: More for the Military
As it moves to provide more weapons for the military, Colt has stopped production at seven lines, resulting in the loss of at least 300 Hartford, CT area jobs. Even as it moves to develop new weapons for the military, Colt is also trying new angles for the civilian hand gun market. Colt is on the vanguard of the “Smart gun” movement, reaping hundreds of thousands from the federal government for the research and development of guns that would only fire if handled by their users. The industry is seeking up to $40 million in federal grants to develop this new (and very remote) technology. A Colt test model, expected next summer, ate $500,000 in federal money.

As its investment in “smart guns” demonstrates, Colt is working on more than one track to escape litigation. Another tack is a massive lobbying campaign to pass laws barring counties and municipalities from mounting liability lawsuits. Colt CEO admits “we’re writing a lot of checks and I predict that we’ll be writing a lot more. We want to win lawsuits or use politics to make them irrelevant.” Among these checks are two from CEO Donald Zilkha, one to gun control advocate Chuck Schumer for $2,000 and another for $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. While Colt does not disclose its campaign contributions or lobbying expenditures, the National Rifle Association, of which Colt is a contributing member, spent $3 million on lobbying efforts, and gave $4.3 million to federal candidates in less than two years. George W. Bush ranks number one in contributions received from the gun industry, at $26,750 for his run for presidency.

Colt’s lobbying money seems to have been well spent, at least when it comes to avoiding bans on its dangerous assault rifles. Despite his reputation as a gun control advocate, Democratic Vice president contender Joe Lieberman fought for and won an exemption from the 1994 assault rifle ban for Colt Sporter. This gun, close cousin to the M-16, has shown up often among the weapons seized by police in drug raids. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, of the 2,890 Colt rifles seized between 1995-1998, 375 have been Sporters. The Hartford Courant editorialized, “Mr. Law and Order… turned soft when it came to protecting a deadly rifle merely because it was made in the state.”

Denel Corporation
South Africa

How does one face a mother to tell her that a Denel-made firearm, shell or bullet that killed her child provided someone with a job?

Company History and Products
Denel, South Africa’s largest armament manufacturer, is the successor to ARMSCOR, which was caught selling weapons to Rwanda in 1993 immediately before the genocide. It has tried to distance itself from its apartheid legacy and from its reputation as a provider of weapons to deadly regimes. But as this factsheet will demonstrate it has not been entirely successful.

Denel is in the midst of an effort to privatize and develop partnerships with international arms manufactures. Most recently, in March 2000, the company signed a tri-party agreement to become a strategic supply partner to BAE (one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense company) and Saab (Europe’s “leading high tech company”). While this development brings Denel into the advanced weaponry arena, it maintains a strong hold on the small arms and light weapons industry through its many subsidiaries, including:

  • LIW, maker of the GA35 – 35mm Rapid Fire Automatic Cannon
  • VEKTOR, maker of the G12 Automatic Cannon (20mm); MG 4 Mounted Machine-gun (7.62mm); mortar systems (81mm; 60mm); R4/R5 Assault Rifles;
  • Swartklip Products, maker of 155mm ERFB carrier shells; bullet trap rifle grenades; 40mm high velocity rounds; 40mm low velocity rounds
  • SOMCHEM, maker of Gun propulsion (155mm Bi-Modular Charge System); Velocity Enhanced Long Range Artillery Projectile; base bleed units
  • Pretoria Metal Pressings, maker of assorted ammunition
  • NASCHEM, armour ammunition (76mm; 90mm; 105mm; 120mm); artillery ammunition (155mm); Mortar bombs (60mm; 81mm)

Denel’s two prestige products are the Rooivalk attack helicopter and its 155mm-howitzer high mobility, self-propelled artillery systems– the G5 and G6. Denel also makes 127mm multiple rocket launchers and CB-470 cluster bombs. Terry Crawford Browne, an analyst with Economists Allied for Arms Reductions in South Africa notes that “Denel portrays itself as the cutting edge of South African technology, and as being a leading export manufacturing company. In fact, much of its technology has been pirated from the U.S. and other countries and exports of armaments amount to less than 1% of all South African exports.”

Denel’s land mine clearing subsidiary, Menchem designed landmines before starting landmine clearance in 1991 and it continues to produce rifle grenades and rockets, leading many to question its credentials as a humanitarian champion. Menchem has been accused of “double dipping” — being paid to de-mine areas like Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Cambodia of landmines it produced. Managing director, Vernon Joynt countered, “We never built mines, we only designed them.” Menchem’s hiring practices have been under scrutiny since it was reveled that apartheid era elite military and police officers are on its payrolls, including manager Johan “Sakkie” Van Zyl, who led the military unit responsible for the 1985 stabbing death of activist Matthew Gomiwe. Van Zyl is currently overseeing Menchem’s de-mining project in Bosnia.

Sales to Regions of Conflict
Denel CEO Flip Botha reported with pride that, “we are marketing ourselves in 17 countries and with this we will embark on a program with government to get global partners.” Perhaps he should not boast so loud: according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission report, of the top ten destinations of South African arms exports between 1996-98, half were to countries that recently experienced conflict, including India, Colombia, Congo-Brazzaville and Algeria. “The dirtier the war,” writes Terry Crawford Browne, “the greater the certainty that illicit supplies of South African weapons are involved.”

While Algeria has suffered a protracted civil war, with an estimated 120,000 killed since 1992, South Africa maintains that the country “has a democratically-elected, internationally-recognized government, and that weapons sold to Algeria would only be used for external self-defense.” This doublespeak has allowed for the sale of almost R400 million in the last two years, including large quantities of small arms. A sale of R100 million worth of Denel’s surveillance equipment is in the works. The United Arab Emirates is awaiting shipment of $9.6 million in naval ammunition, and sales are in the works to Oman, Malaysia, and Kuwait.

In 1997 India was the largest export market for South African arms and went on to use those weapons, including combat vehicles equipped with Denel shells, in 1999 fighting with Pakistan over the contested Kashmir region.

Denel has relied heavily on Presidents Mandela and Mbeki, and Defense Minsters Joe Modise and Mosiuos Lekota to promoted exports of Rooivalk helicopters, as well as G5 and G6 artillery pieces to countries such as Algeria, India and China. Denel’s R8 billion deal to sell G6 artillery to India is being actively marketed by the Defense Ministry. Government ministers are adamant, even passionate, about foreign sales, in part because of Denel’s recurring financial disasters. South Africa has poured billions to subsidize and promote the Rooivalk helicopter without a single export contract resulting. In fact, despite R4 billion in public investment, Denel has lost R1.3 billion in the last three years.

Guns for Oil
Denel is currently involved in a lengthy battle to allow it to trade oil for weaponry with Saudi Arabia. This arrangement was used in the apartheid era to circumvent the internationally imposed economic sanctions. In the 1980s Saudi Arabia traded the equivalent of $4.5 billion in oil for G5 artillery. The current proposal is an exchange of 78 G6 guns for $1.5 million in surplus oil and a promise to build an oil refinery in South Africa.

FN Manufacturing Inc./FN Herstal
The Herstal Group

Company History and Products
The Herstal Group is comprised of the parent company Herstal, and its two main subsidiaries: FN Herstal and Browning and US Repeating Arms Company. The Herstal Group has offices in Liège, Belgium, as well as in nine other European countries, North America, and Asia. Each subsidiary has its own research, development and manufacturing components, and its own global distribution networks. FN Herstal’s products are used by the Armed Forces of more than 100 countries.

Browning of Morgan, Utah produces shotguns, rifles, handguns and the Browning M1919 A4, A6. US Repeating Arms Company, located in New Haven, CT, specializes in Winchester rifles and shotguns.

It is no coincidence that FN Manufacturing, the company’s main US facility, is in South Carolina, the home state of former Senate Armed Services Chairman, Strom Thurmond, and current House Armed Services Chairman, Floyd Spence. FN Manufacturing produces small caliber weapons and machine guns such as M16, M240, M249, SAW, and the 49 pistol for military and law enforcement markets. FN Manufacturing is one of the US Army’s prime contractors of small arms.

FN Herstal produces:

  • M16A2 5.56mm assault rifle (NATO standard) (also produced by Colt Manufacturing)
  • M249 Minimi 5.56mm machine gun
  • FN MAG (NATO standard machine gun)
  • M240 7.62 x 51mm armor machine gun
  • 5.56 Special Purpose Weapon (SPW) – a light weight machine gun
  • FN FAL automatic rifle – manufactured under licensed production agreements in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Israel, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Venezuela
  • P90 submachine gun
  • FiveseveN pistol – FN’s latest design of a semi-automatic pistol
  • 5.7x28mm ammunition

Sales/Proposed Sales
In both 1999 and 1998, FN Manufacturing of South Carolina received approximately $32 million in contracts from the US Department of Defense for the purchase of M249s, M60s and M16s. As well, FN Herstal’s 5.56 Special Purpose weapon has been selected by the US Special Operations Command as their new light weight machine gun. The US ordered 425 of the weapons with a potential for up to 2,500.

Through years of US arms sales and military aid, the M16 rifle has ended up in the arsenals of more than 50 countries, including Cambodia, Guatemala, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The M16 has also been produced in Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines.

In addition to FN Herstal’s facilities in Europe, North America, and Asia, FN assault rifles are manufactured under license in Indonesia. While the US has a long history of supplying weapons to the Indonesian military, reports from the scene have documented the use of M16 rifles by the anti-independence death squads (set up by the Indonesian military) against the people of East Timor. FN Herstal also assisted in building Eldoret, an ammunition factory in Kenya. The factory produces 20 million 7.62 NATO-standard rounds of ammunition a year which is used throughout war-torn Central Africa and the Great Lakes region.

Furthermore, the Belgian government was recently in the middle of controversy over the shipment of 500 P-90 machine guns and 500,000 rounds of ammunition destined for a private firm in Mexico. The P-90 was designed for the use of NATO military forces, governments and law enforcement and, because of its ‘lethality’, the Belgian government made assurances that it would never be exported to any private institutions or companies. IANSA reported that the “super weapons” have the ability to penetrate 48 layers of the anti-ballistic material used in bullet-proof vests, weigh only three kilograms when loaded, and can store up to 50 bullets. To date, the Belgian Foreign Minister has temporarily suspended the transfer, but has defended the sale saying that the P-90s were actually destined for the Mexican police. The end user certificate, however, did not mention the police, only the private company which is a representative of FN in Mexico.

Heckler & Koch/Royal Ordnance
BAE Systems

Company History and Products
Heckler & Koch (H&K) is a subsidiary of Royal Ordnance, which is owned by the BAE Systems (formerly known as British Aerospace). BAE has owned Royal Ordnance since 1987. Royal Ordnance acquired the German small arms company, Heckler & Koch, in 1991. Heckler & Koch manufactures a variety of small arms, from pistols and submachine guns to automatic rifles and grenade launchers. The small arms are produced by Heckler & Koch in Germany and the UK. Royal Ordnance employs about 4,000 people and exports weapons and technology to over 50 countries.

Royal Ordnance and Heckler & Koch produce/have produced:

  • 7.62 mm L1A1 rifle – A modified version of the Belgian FN Fusil Automatique Léger (FN FAL), no longer manufactured in the United Kingdom. It has been produced under license in Australia and Canada. A similar model is being produced at the Rifle Factory in Ishapore, India.
  • 5.56 mm L85A1 rifle and L86A1 Light Support Weapon -The L85A1 was in production between 1985 and 1994, and nearly 324,000 of these rifles have been produced. Development of the weapon is continuing. Production of the L86A1 Light Support Weapon ceased after 23,000 copies were manufactured. The L86A1 is manufactured in the UK and is used by the British Army, small numbers have been sold to other nations, including Jamaica.
  • Sterling 9 mm L2A3 sub-machine gun – The L2A3 was produced in the United Kingdom between 1953 and 1988. A similar model, named Sub-Machine Gun Carbine 9mm 1A1 is produced under license by Indian Ordnance Factories, Kanphur. The L2A3 was manufactured at the Sterling Armament Company at Dagenham, and at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Fazackerley. A similar model was also produced under license by the Canadian Arsenals Limited under the name 9 mm C1 Sub-Machine Gun. Approximately 90 countries bought the gun in different quantities. Main buyers were Canada (under license), Ghana, India (under license), Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Tunisia and some Arabian Gulf states. The L2A3 is no longer in service with the UK armed forces, but the silenced version L3A4 is held as reserve weapon by the British army.
  • 81 mm L16A2 mortar – The mortar is still being produced in the UK. Similar models are produced in Japan by Howa, and in the US by Watervliet Arsenals, under the name 81mm M252 mortar. Over 5000 of these weapons have been produced by Royal Ordnance and are in service in many countries including: Austria, Bahrain, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Guyana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Yemen. The US Army and Marine Corps use the US model M252.
  • MP5 submachine guns – The ‘weapon of choice’ for many law enforcement and special forces units around the world. Made under licensed production agreements in Greece, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UK.

H&K is partnering with Alliant Tech Systems of the US and five other international firms to develop the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) for the U.S. military. The OICW is being marketed as ‘two weapons in one,’ with one barrel that shoots a 5.56 mm shell and acts like an M-16 for close-range fighting, and a second barrel that fires 20 mm air-burst shells that function like small grenades. This new high-tech weapon is expected to be available in 2007 at a cost of $10,000 to $12,000 each.

In addition to the countries listed above, Heckler & Koch guns are also made under license (or have been) in Thailand and Burma. These licensed production agreements raise serious concerns over the inconsistencies with individual countries export controls. For instance, Peter Abel points out in Running Guns that H&K MP5 weapons were showing up in Bosnia and Serbia, breaching the UN arms embargo levied in 1991. “Prior to the UN embargo, it was not illegal for UK firms to export to Yugoslavia, although it was for German firms.” Abel notes that, “In a pattern that would be repeated with license production in other countries, neither company technically had broken its national laws, but H&K weapons had ended up in a conflict zone.”

MKEK of Turkey manufactures an assortment of H&K small arms, including the G3A3/A4 assault rifles and the MP5A2/A3 and MP5K sub-machine guns. As Abel notes, Turkey’s own horrific human rights record and ongoing repression of its Kurdish population has caused many European countries to halt arms sales to Turkey, yet small arms production continues unabated under licensed production agreements. Additionally, Turkey exports the small arms it produces to some 38 countries, including Ecuador, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, and Tunisia. In a more blatant attempt to evade export controls, Turkey shipped 500 sub-machine guns to Indonesia in September 1999 (at the height of the violence in East Timor), after an EU embargo on arms to Indonesia prevented Germany or the UK from supplying the weapons.

Heckler & Koch (US distributor in Virginia) received close to $2 million in US DOD contracts in 1999 for 40 caliber pistols, semi-automatic shotguns, and miscellaneous weapons, while Royal Ordnance received $29 million in DOD contracts for bulk explosives, demolition materials, and other ‘classified’ weapons systems. BAE systems as a whole received $761 million in DOD contracts for 1999.

Saco Defense/General Dynamics Armament Systems
General Dynamics

Company History and Products
Saco Defense is one of the world’s leading producers of small and medium caliber machine guns and cannon barrels. Saco Defense, bought on June 30, 2000 by General Dynamics Armament Systems (GDAS), a division of General Dynamics, specializes in automatic weapons for the military. Saco Defense, briefly owned by Colt, is now called General Dynamics Weapon Systems. GDAS company headquarters are in Burlington, Vermont, with additional facilities in Maine, New Jersey, and Arkansas. General Dynamics, the nuclear submarine and combat-ship giant, is based in Falls Church, Virginia.

Saco/GDAS produces a variety of armament systems and munitions including:

  • M2 .50 caliber Browning machine gun – This machine gun is used by virtually every army outside the former communist bloc. Some 3 million Browning machine guns have been made by different companies, and it is one of the most ubiquitous machine-guns ever made.
  • M60 and M60E3 7.62mm machine gun – The M60 is used by US forces, Australia, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and many other countries.
  • MK-19 40mm Grenade Launcher – Saco Defense is the sole producer of the MK-19 for the US armed forces, and is currently working on a next generation grenade launcher called the ‘Striker.’ It was widely used in the Gulf War and in addition to the US, both Taiwan and Israel have purchased the MK-19.

In 1999 Saco Defense received more than $16 million in DOD contracts for the purchase of Mk-19s, M60s, and other classified weapon systems, while it’s new parent company, General Dynamics, received close to $5 billion in DOD contracts.

Most recently, GDAS was awarded a $39 million contract from the US Army for M2 machine guns, gun bolts, and barrels. The company also received a $126.4 million order from the US Army and Air Force for HYDRA-70 rocket systems, with a maximum potential value of $1.2 billion over the next five years.

The US government has facilitated the sales and giveaways (through its’ Foreign Military Sales and Excess Defense Article programs) of M60 machine guns to Panama, Peru, Colombia, and Jordan; and M2 machine guns to Egypt, Greece, Thailand, and Tunisia.

The US Environmental Protection Agency accused Saco Defense of violating chromium emissions standards in 1997 and 1998, once by 20 percent and once by 33 percent. Saco has agreed to pay $75,800 to settle the claim.


Arms Trade Resource Center

Minnesota Alliant Action

Handgun Control

Federation of American Scientists Arms Sales Monitoring Project

Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University

ECAAR South Africa and Terry Crawford Browne

The Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers

Human Right Watch’s new report “A Question of Principle: Arms Trade and Human Rights”


Running Guns (ed. Lora Lumpe, 2000)

Council for a Livable World

Alliant’s website

FN Herstal

BAE Systems

General Dynamics


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