The AK-47 is perhaps one of the most iconic firearms on the planet.  The hearty design and famed reliability offered by the platform combined with the huge numbers of AK-47s produced by the Soviet Union during the cold war have made it a staple of many nations’ militaries.  Some have even gone so far as to call the AK-47, “the world’s most popular weapon.”

Russian Lieutenant General Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the first AK-47, and ever since that day the famous rifle has been inextricably tied to the Russian state in the minds of many – with the classic weapon and its banana shaped magazine conjuring images of Soviet might and mass manufacturing… but Ulrich “Uli” Wiegand, a German man who immigrated to the United States, wants his company to change that.  If he has his way, the best AK-47s in the world won’t illicit historic images of Cold War factories in Siberia… but rather of sunny Florida, right here in the United States.

“We are taking the best features of American manufacturing and infusing them into an AK-47, with one hundred percent American-made parts,” said Wiegand, who moved Inter Ordnance Inc. to Florida from North Carolina in 2013.

Some American based weapons manufacturers aren’t as impressed with Wiegand’s plans.  Thus far, he has invested about $5 million into his new AK-47 manufacturing facility, and according to his own estimates, he’ll need to invest an additional $3-5 million before the additional plant is up and running.  With such a significant initial investment required, his competition has been left wondering if there will be any room for profit once he begins selling the rifles.

Greg Frazee, the owner of Tampa, Florida based Trident Arms has been quoted as saying, “I don’t see that as a wise investment,” in regard to Wiegand’s plans.  According to him, the AK-47 sells within a niche market – one that may not be large enough to recoup the huge expense of the new production plant.  In his mind, sticking to the more popular American rifle platforms, such as the AR-15, offers a better chance at recouping an investment, and eventually turning a profit.

Frazee would likely be right, but it stands to reason that Wiegand has a trick or two up his sleeve when it comes to selling his American variation on the Russian classic.  Wiegan has a partner for his endeavor in the form of a company called Purple Shovel, which specializes in logistics and procurement with existing contracts with SOCOM – who just so happen to be in the market for AK-47s and other “non-standard” weapon systems.  The term “non-standard” in this case meaning weapons that are not currently in widespread use by the United States military or its NATO allies.

“For this solicitation, we are exploring capabilities and capacity within [the United States’] industrial base to build the types of weapons many of our foreign partners use,” said Navy Commander Matt Allen, a SOCOM spokesman.

Among the weapons SOCOM is looking to begin sourcing from within the United States is the AK-47.

SOCOM and other elements within the United States government have armed foreign allies with American made weapons in the past, but doing so can prove problematic.  American rifle platforms would need parts for repair that would require maintaining continued logistical ties between our government and the groups it arms, and being seen with American made armaments can send a message to other groups in the region American forces may prefer to stifle.  As a result, Special Operations Command and the CIA often contract through foreign companies to buy and ship weapons that are more aligned with what would normally be found in the region of the world the weapons be used in.

By sourcing the same style of weapons from within the United States, these agencies can exercise an increased degree of control over manufacturing processes and order availability, improving the reliability of the weapons we provide to friendly groups while reducing prices in the long run.

According to Commander Allen, sourcing AK-47s and other weapons from U.S. manufacturers would be a “good use of taxpayer funds, while also delivering the weapons our partners not only need to fight extremists, but also the ones they know how to use, know how to fix and have the supplies to maintain.”

Although such a transition may not be cheaper immediately, the cost savings are expected to compound over time, and the other benefits arguably make the initially increased expense worth it.

“Building them here would normalize transfers, make oversight easier, and prevent ad-hoc type arrangements like we’ve seen in the past” said Matt Schroeder, a senior researcher with Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research group that tracks weapons.

Of course, no official statement has tied Wiegand’s AK-47 manufacturing plant to a potential contract with SOCOM or the CIA, but it bears noting that Purple Shovel has an existing contract with SOCOM for “small arms, ordnance and ordnance accessories manufacturing,” according to federal procurement documents.  Further, it would be illegal for Purple Shovel or Wiegand to disclose if such an agreement were in the works.

While the U.S. government supplying weapons to foreign groups that have aligned interests with our own has proven problematic in the past, it seems the government has no intention of ending its practice of supplying weapons and equipment to groups around the world.  Though, if Wiegand has his way, the controversial practice will enrich at least one American business owner in the process.


Image courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times