Ukraine to Buy 7.62 x 39 mm M16s… from Blimp Impresario?

We remember where we met Igor Pasternak — at the EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the world’s largest airshow — but we don’t remember when. It might have been in the 1990s, or in one of those Augusts of the early oughts we didn’t spend in places named Stan.

Pasternak is a fast moving guy, bursting with energy, with a shock of hair that seemed to be stood up by the electricity within, as if he is his own Van Der Graaf generator. And he burned, inside, with the fire of the True Believer. There are several sub-strains of aviation that attract, well, wild-eyed zealots: one of them is lighter-than-air aircraft. Pasternak was a lighter-than-air True Believer: airships, dirigibles, blimps; the Age of the Zeppelin was ripe for return. And, indeed, he’s had some success with his company Aeros, making both airships (lighter-than-air-craft that can fly under control) and aerostats (tethered balloons) for military uses, even though his real passion is for really large airships for cargo transport.

So it’s kind of amazing to see him and Aeros showing up as the Ukraine’s next vendor of military rifles. But a quick check shows that Worldwide Aeros Corp. has a manufacturer FFL at the same Montebello, California address as Aeros, the blimp guys.

But Aeros will not be building any rifles in its California digs — instead, they will set up the Ukrainians to build their own. From the Ukrainian press:

Sergei Mykytyuk, the director of Ukroboronprom subsidiary Ukroboronservis, told journalists at a January 3 press conference in Kyiv with Aeroscraft CEO Igor Pasternak and Ukroboronprom director Vladimir Korobov, “The first weapon for the pilot project will be manufactured in Ukraine – a model M16 automatic rifle designated the WAC-47. Weapons manufacture to NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] standards is an important part of the development and reform of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex.” Aeroscraft’s Mr. Pasternak added, “The M-16 project was conceived some time ago, as the Ukrainian armed forces, border guards and National Guard will, with time, switch to NATO standards.”

Ukraine’s decision to manufacture assault rifles compatible with NATO standards represents the most decisive break yet with the remnants of its Soviet military-industrial complex heritage. Moreover, it is a significant symbol of Kyiv’s ongoing interest in eventual membership in the North Atlantic alliance.

As for Ukraine’s interaction with the North Atlantic Alliance, Ukroboronprom noted, “Ukrainian soldiers are already participating in joint maneuvers with NATO, there are joint teams with Lithuania and Poland, and the creation of a similar unit with other NATO countries Romania and Bulgaria has been proposed. Furthermore, Ukraine consistently participates in joint peacekeeping operations. And in each case, one of the problems is logistics. For example, in the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade [LitPolUkrBrig], Polish soldiers use the Beryl assault rifle, caliber 5.56×45, while Ukrainian soldiers use the automatic AKM or AKMS, caliber 7.62×39.” The introduction of the WAC-47 in significant numbers to the Ukrainian armed forces would eliminate this logistical bottleneck (Ukroboronprom.com.ua, January 10).

More details of the supposed contract appear in the Western press, but many of these details are not credible. Indeed, there is a lot of nonsense being written about this contract.

In order to modify a Ukrainian M16 to use NATO ammunition, the bolt and barrel will have to be replaced, Brian Summers, a U.S. Army veteran and weapons expert, told The Daily Signal.

“The only items that would have to be replaced are what I would describe as items that would normally be replaced based on use,” Summers said. “The magazines are ammo specific, and would have to be changed to the specific caliber.”

The M16 rifle has two main components—an upper and lower receiver. According to Summers, for a Soviet-caliber M16 to use NATO ammunition, only the upper receiver needs to be modified by replacing the bolt and barrel.

The M16 weapons system is “one of the most versatile weapon platforms in configuration and caliber,” Summers said. “Your troops essentially can train on one platform and when switching over to a new caliber do not need to be retrained in a new weapons system … Core of the platform, lower receiver, does not change and any optics can be moved.”

In the 1990s, Colt Defense LLC, the original M16 producer, produced a special civilian version of the military assault rifle designed to use Soviet 7.62×39 mm ammunition.

“I own this variant and if I want to fire 5.56 mm [NATO ammunition], I simply switch the upper receiver with 5.56 mm bolt and mags,” Summers said. “Two minutes to change.”

Exercise for the reader. Take an AR, any 5.56mm AR. (Most of you have one). Take an AK magazine, any 7.62mm AK mag. (Most of you have one of those, too). Insert Mag A in Magwell B. Wait, what? (The Colt version, long discontinued, uses proprietary magazines, seen with a 7.62 upper and a crude mag made from a 5.56 mag and an AK mag. It was discontinued in part because it doesn’t work terribly well).

A regular AK mag doesn’t go. If you’re a weapons expert, or even an ordinary retired 18B, or even just any one of the ten million Americans that buys an AR every year, you know that. If you’re the kind of “weapons expert” that Newsweek finds, like this guy, you don’t know that. If you’re a reporter, you live your life in the death-grip of the Dunning-Kruger effect about everything, and you can’t tell a phony weapons expert who’s never seen an AR and AK in the same place at the same time from the real thing. But you work for Newsweek, where everything  is “too good to check.”

In our opinion, the success of this program is uncertain. The Ukraine does have the aerospace industry necessary for AR parts manufacture, but the guy who’s going to teach them how to do it appears to have no significant background in firearms production. Now, of course, Gaston Glock has no significant background in firearms production before the Glock 17, and neither did many of the aeronautical-engineering experienced engineers at Armalite before the various 1950s Hollywood projects that would culminate in the AR-10 and AR-15. Perhaps some day we’ll all be lining up to buy awesome caliber-convertible carbines from Kiev.

But that’s not the bet that the oddsmakers would put the house money on.

35 thoughts on “Ukraine to Buy 7.62 x 39 mm M16s… from Blimp Impresario?

  1. SAM

    “Exercise for the reader. Take an AR, any 5.56mm AR. (Most of you have one).” way to rub it in man that a lot of us don’t live in a free country.

  2. DSM

    At first I thought this WAC-47 would be one of those AR upper with a mixmaster AR/AK lower that takes AK mags kind of deals but no, it looks like a contemporary AR with a long, aluminum handguard, if Google is to be believed. From my XCR days I know the folks having their 7.62×39 conversion kits had issues with the mags but were able to mitigate most with stronger mag springs. Good enough for a range day but would that hold for field conditions or conscripts?

  3. SPEMack

    This is one of those headscratchers that make you eagerly await for either the finished product or another press release.

    And just to be funny, I did try and insert an AK mag into my AR. And then yelled out it doesn’t fit real loud while Jackie was getting ready for work. Day made.

  4. Keith

    I don’t have and will never have either an AR or an AK if my personal finances don’t improve from there current level after the move.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

  5. Max Popenker

    point one: Ukraine does have domestic AR manufacturer, but it is a small one and, more important, private. It is called Zbroyar, and its Z-15 rifles are avaialbe in 7.62×39 besides standard .223
    point two: Ukraine also have a government-connected, MVD-controlled “Fort” factory that assembles Galil and Tavor rifles from Israeli parts
    point three: UkrOboronExport is large, governmental organisation known for long list of failed projects and misplaced money
    point four: I can bet a bottle of a good brandy against a 0.33L Diet Coke that this project will end up with nothing.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Didn’t know about the small AR manufacturer. I did know about the Tavors, which are made in 5.45 and which, under the agreement, Ukraine is supposed to never export anywhere else. (The “Donetsk People’s Republic” maybe).

      UKR also had one big, Soviet-era small arms ammunition factory. It’s in Russian hands now. (If it’s not completely destroyed by the artillery duels).

    2. John M.

      I hope they don’t sell you beer in .33L increments over there. If they do, you’re getting ripped off to the tune of almost one full US ounce. (The standard beer delivery mechanism over here is 355 ml.)

      -John M.

  6. MajorMike

    It is conceivable (but unlikely) that these WAC-47s will have some sort of magazine well that will accept a Ak-style magazine and a 5.56mm STANAG magazine. Or have a replaceable magazine well (been done).

    However, it is stupid. Ammunition standardization trumps rifle pattern standardization (or magazine standardization). It’s more important that every unit in the LitPolUkrBrig use the same calibers of rifle ammunition than their rifles look alike. Even magazines are of lesser importance. The chance of a Polish troop getting thrown a AK magazine full of 7.62x39mm to use in his 5.56x45mm Beryl by a Ukrainian troop in a firefight is statistically nil.

  7. DB

    Look, someone in Ukraine got a payoff to sign the contract. Just like those “bomb detectors” someone sold to Iraq. It would all be funny, except under-equipped Ukrainian grunts are dying in battle as I type this. This is why you see 3rd World armies running around with five entirely different rifle models, with all the logistic nightmares that entails. We call it corruption there, and generals retiring to go to work for Lockheed Martin here.

  8. Sommerbiwak

    Apart from funneling money into korruptnik pockets… I see no use for these rifles whatsoever, when Ukraine is perfectly able to build AK type rifles. Looks like SOP for the ukrainian cleptocracy.

    They really had all the cards in their hands twenty five years ago with in parts rather old fashioned heavy industries, but also really world leading high technology for example in aerospace and rocket markets. :-(

  9. Steve M.

    I think the smiling guy pictured above is going to pocket the money and try floating away into the sky.

    That is the only thing that makes sense about this.

    1. John M.

      It’d be awfully hard to float a dirigible with all the hands that want a piece of this skim holding onto it.

      -John M.

  10. John M.

    Both the AR and the 7.62×39 are wonderful things. But I’ve never seen a combination of them that was equal to the sum of its parts.

    -John M.

  11. Docduracoat

    I have the Colt Sporter Lightweight in 7.62x 39 that I bought new back in the 1990’s
    It came with a standard 20 round AR15 magazine that would function fine when loaded with 5 AK rounds
    I bought some of the “Frankenmags ” made from 30 round AK mags welded to an AR mag upper half
    They look like the magazine to the right in the photo, but longer
    They worked O.K. and would take 35 rounds
    It wasn’t until c products (now ASC) came out with their 30 round AR type magazines in 7.62 x 39 that the AK caliber AR 15 finally worked perfectly
    They look like the 2 magazines to the left
    With a cheap Chinese red dot mounted on the fixed carry handle it has fired thousands of rounds of steel cased cased ammo with only one broken bolt
    A new bolt and I am already 1,000 rounds further along
    It still shoots 5 shot, 3 inch groups at 100 yards off a rest with Tula ammo
    I have painted it in duracoat in a Russian Army woodland camo pattern
    I love that gun!

    1. Steve M.

      A friend just purchased an AR Stoner 7.62×39 upper receiver. Midway had it on sale. I’m interested to see how it works out.

  12. atp

    Does Ukraine still use 7.62x39mm for ANYTHING? I thought they standardized on 5.45 decades ago, while still part of the Soviet Union. All the pictures I’ve seen of Ukrainian (and Russian) troops with loaded AKs are clearly 5.45 from the shape of the magazines.

    The CMMG Mk47 Mutant looks like a pretty smart design, if for some reason you insist on an AR-15 firing 7.62×39. (Except that they should have given it a FAL-style side-charging, since you’ll be racking it for every reload just like on an AK.) That’s a pretty strange thing to insist on, though. More interestingly, IMO, is that the Mutant’s CMMG-specific shortened AR-10 upper receiver and bolt group would be a smart choice for 6.5 Grendel and similar cartridges. (Perhaps not AS smart as going to Charles St. George’s 3-lug bolt, as on the Leader T2 Mk5 and K&M Arms M17S, but smarter than cramming the larger case head into the marginal 5.56 bolt face.)

    1. JHP

      A 5.45 AR would be much more feasible. I built one just before the 7N6 ban, so it doesn’t get much use now, as 5.45 and 5.56 have reached a price parity. But at least your rifle doesn’t look like it has a cancerous growth, and that counts for something.

  13. SAM

    I don’t see the point if you need a NATO compliant gun you need STANAG magazines and STANAG 4172 5.56 ammo http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2008Intl/Arvidsson.pdf not 7.62×39 ammo. Just buy/make M16s or something like AR18s or “AK223s”.
    If you want to still use 7.62×39 just issue AKMs and spend a small sum on updating them, if only to fit the safety with a finger tab and add a front night sight.

  14. Slow Joe Crow

    What about the third possibility that they are going
    to make standard 5.56×45 ARs to work with NATO allies and the news media are wrong about the 7.62 capability? That actually makes more sense than a 7.62 or multiple caliber AR, since they already have sources of 5.45 and 7.62 rifles.

    1. W. Fleetwood

      I suspect you are correct. On the other hand perhaps we are finally going to see a military unit armed entirely with Media Fantasy (TM) weaponry. Super deadly AR 15s that can fire the dreaded 5.56 Green Tip ammunition (It’s poisonous!) or 7.62 ammunition (Like the US uses in the M60 machinegun!) Of course they will have Glock handguns (They’re made of porcelain and invisible to X rays, infrared, and radar!) and for personal defense the MAC 10 (You can change from 9mm to .45 by turning the barrel around!). Yes, it will surely be a sight to behold.

      Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

  15. SAM

    Newsweek talks about “Brian Summers, a U.S. Army veteran and weapons expert” but if you google him all you get is that one story in Newsweek.

      1. Aesop

        50:50 there is no Brian Summers, and the generic name just a made-up fictional to represent “stuff Newsleak editors pulled out of their fourth point of contact and slapped onto a page.”

  16. Andy

    Technically, he just said the mags need to be “changed to the appropriate caliber.” If you’re feeling charitable, that’s true – “change” just has to expand to mean “design and produce a suitable magazine in the first place.”

    He never claims to be talking about AK mags. He specifically referenced the Colt version, and for that system with proprietary mags in hand, isn’t the conversion exactly as he describes?

  17. Greg

    Not to nikpick but as someone who spent four years living and working in the country (at Chornobyl) and is married to one of their amazing women it is no longer properly called “The” Ukraine. These days it’s just Ukraine.

    1. John M.

      Next you’ll be telling us that Sudan and Hague don’t get definite articles anymore either.

      Curiously, the French use the definite article when talking about our very own New Orleans.

      -John M.

  18. somedude

    Guess you should not get rid of all your small arms when two poly ticks come over the pond with rumors of peace, love and harmony.

  19. Cap'n Mike

    The thing I find most surprising about this story is that Newsweek is still being published.

    Who knew?

  20. TOR

    Weapons Man, My experience says this is very unlikely. Ukrainians are shooting AK 74’s and have a bunch of them. So not only would they have to learn the AR they would have to figure out where, if anywhere, they have ammo.

    Aside from not having their primary rifle as a big problem and not having much money this technology, which wouldn’t work anyway doesn’t make sense.

Comments are closed.