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.