America, the bastion of IP...when it serves her
The U.S. military has supplied hundreds of thousands of Soviet-style assault rifles and machine guns to allies and partners over the years and acquired some of its own for special operations and other training purposes, but it has had to largely source those weapons from friendly third-party countries that still make them. Worried about the reliability of this supply chain, U.S. Special Operations Command has hired contractors to build derivatives of certain guns in the United States, a move that has now incited the ire of Russia.
In 2017, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) put out a contract notice through the U.S. government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program calling on private companies to submit proposals to build analogs to the 7.62x54mm PKM light machine gun and the 12.7x108mm NSV heavy machine gun. Dillon Aero, Knight’s Armament Company, and McNally Industries all subsequently received deals to conduct research studies into the feasibility of building these guns, according to Military Times.
“If someone wants to carry out this work legally ... they should approach [Russia’s state arms exporter] Rosoboronexport and discuss it,” Russian state-run conglomerate Rostec, which oversees various defense firms, including gun maker Kalashnikov Concern, said in a statement on Oct. 10, 2018. “Otherwise, this would amount to the illegal copying of Russian innovations or theft, simply speaking.”
"Several countries hold licenses for manufacturing Russian machine guns of this model, but the US is not among them,” Viktor Bondarev, a member of Russia’s Duma, the country’s top legislative body, and Chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Defense and Security, told state-run media outlet TASS separately that same day. “If U.S. intentions evolve into real actions, if they start making concrete steps in an effort to use our technologies without permission, if they start re-engineering and manufacturing our heavy machine guns on the US territory, then we should react decisively and promptly.”
The remarks from Rostec and Bondarev highlight one of the core reasons why SOCOM is pursuing this project in the first place. Since 2014, the U.S. government has imposed a raft of sanctions on various arms of the Russia government, including Rosoboronexport, over the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine and Syria, meddling in the U.S. electoral process, and more.
This has made it all but impossible to source weapons like the PKM and NSV from Russia directly. This has already had far-reaching impacts on U.S. military assistance programs, most notably leading to an American-backed decision to replace the Afghan Air Force’s Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters with U.S.-built UH-60 Black Hawks.
Defense contractors situated within certain NATO members, such as Bulgaria, as well as in other ostensibly friendly countries, such as Ukraine, do still produce versions or derivatives of Soviet-era guns, providing alternative sources. They might not have the capacity to meet American demands or do so quickly, though.
At the same time, guns such as the PKM and NSV remain extremely popular around the world and in demand, including among U.S. allies and partners. In addition, the U.S. military has its own demands for these types of machine guns in order to train personnel who will act as advisors and mentors for foreign forces. There may also be a need to equip units that will be operating in close cooperation with those forces with similar weapons or to have them on hand to issue to personnel engaged in covert or clandestine operations.
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Source: The Drive