AK6, meet K22

The Swedish Armed Forces today did a decent attempt at upstaging Boeing’s PR-coup last week by casually dropping some major news seemingly as an afterthought, when they today announced a joint assault rifle procurement between Finland and Sweden which will kick off in September:

In September another procurement relevant to many within the Armed Forces. Then it will be determined which firearm will replace the AK5 [FN FNC]. The new firearm will be bought together with Finland – which means that in the future the two countries will use the same assault rifle.

The obvious issue: Finland is not currently in the process of acquiring a new assault rifle, following the rather recent upgrade of the current RK 62 to the RK 62M-standard.

But let’s start from the beginning: two years ago the Swedish Armed Forces outlined a plan to introduce a new “firearms system”, intended to replace the personal weapons of their soldiers. This included both assault rifles currently in service (the older H&K G3 as well as the newer FN FNC, AK4 and AK5 respectively in their Swedish designations), as well as the current AI Arctic Warfare/L96A1 sniper rifle (Psg 90) and the FN Minimi (Ksp 90). The plan is also to acquire a designated marksman rifle, a role which currently is filled with scoped assault rifles. The budget for the project would run from 2021 to 2030, with the major procurements being made starting 2025.

A year ago, the Finnish Defence Forces officially announced that they are acquiring a new weapon designated K22 from Sako. The key thing to notice here is that the weapon is a semi-auto in 7.62 NATO, made by a company famous for only doing bolt-action rifles for the last quarter of a century. The weapon would be delivered in two different configurations, as a sniper rifle and as a designated marksman rifle, differing in the equipment it comes with. The weapon would be a clean-sheet design, but based on “popular solutions”.

Yes, it’s an AR-10.

Now, you don’t have to be a business major to imagine that for Sako to bother looking into autoloaders they might have some plans for manufacturing more weapons than what the FDF might require for their snipers and marksmen. I would be highly surprised if their sights aren’t set on the 200,000+ weapons that will be replaced once the FDF starts retiring the RK 62M sometime in the 2030’s. The K22 might provide a nice development path into the world of ARs, from which to scale down into lighter calibre.

Crucially, the Swedish Defence Material Agency (FMV) has been closely following the Finnish developments, and this eventually led to the signing of an Memorandum of Understanding between the countries last month with regards to exchanging information on firearms and their technology, with the development of the K22 being mentioned in the press release by the Finnish representatives.

A somewhat grainy picture of the K22 in the hands of brigadier general Mikael Frisell, chief for the ground forces’ systems-section of FMV. Source: FDF homepage

The Finnish inspector for the infantry, colonel Rainer Peltoniemi, noted that:

We’ve found that Finland and Sweden have very similar capability requirements, development schedules, and goals, meaning that cooperating is very natural and appropriate.

What has then gone “wrong”, if one country thinks they will be buying a common assault rifle in September? There are two possibilities:

One is that the terminology has been lost in translation. The current designated marksman-ish weapons of the Swedish Armed Forces are coded AK for “automatic carbine” in the Swedish designation system, a designation used regardless of weapon length. It is entirely possible that Sweden intends to buy the K22 in September, and designate it locally as AK-something (Ak6 is one possibility, though e.g. the H&K 416 and 417 which have been acquired for SOF usage are designated AK416 and AK417, so AK22 might be another guess). This would then have been the news that the Swedes happily announced to the world today.

The other is that there is a silent agreement to launch a joint project for a larger number of weapon systems, possibly including the whole Swedish “Nytt Ehv-system”-program as well as Finnish replacement of RK 62M and potentially some other weapons as well. This was now unfortunately slipped into the press release by someone who didn’t know it was supposed to be under wraps.

Hopefully it was a case of the former, but I guess we’ll know by September.

Edit 04 May 2021:

The text has been updated, and it is now made clear that it is indeed the complete New Firearm-project that will kick off in September, and that as a part of this project is to look into whether part of the program can be handled together with Finland. In short, no decision on common weapons just yet, but a Swedish K22 order in late 2021 or early 2022 wouldn’t exactly be surprising in my opinion. 

The Return of the Sako

Big news in the Finnish small arms industry this week, as Sako and the Finnish Defence Forces announced that they have signed a letter of intent “regarding research and development of a family of rifles and preparation of the procurement of a rifle system. The rifle system is intended to consist of two different system configurations including a sniper rifle for sniper use and a semi- automatic rifle for the squad’s designated marksman.” Ruotuväki then got some further details, while Seura got a comment from Sako.

The first obvious thing to note is that Sako is back to producing (semi-)automatic military rifles for the first time in more than twenty years, Sako having exited that market segment following the delivery of the last batch of the 7.62 Rk 95 TP assault rifles to the FDF in the later half of the 90’s. Since, Sako has built up quite a reputation in the defence field with the TRG-family of high-end bolt-action sniper rifles. These have proved especially popular in the form of the .338 LM chambered TRG 42 found in Finnish service as the 8.6 TKIV 2000. However, the weapon is far from the only scoped firearm in Finnish service.

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A marine sniper from Nyland Brigade taking part in the currently ongoing sea warfare exercise Lotta 20. The weapon is the 8.6 TKIV 2000, a Sako TRG 42 in .338 LM. Source: Finnish Navy Twitter

Two weapons that relatively seldom are seen but still feature in the FDF firearms guide are the SVD (7.62 TKIV DRAGUNOV) and the 7.62 TKIV 85, chambered in the closely related calibres of 7.62×54 R and 7.62×53 R respectively (the later being a Finnish derivative of the former). The Dragunov is in many ways closer to a designated marksman rifle, even if in Finnish service the designation ‘TKIV’ for sniper rifle is used. Part of the reason behind this designation is likely that until recently regular Finnish squads did not sport designated marksmen. The 7.62 TKIV 85 is a rather basic no-frills bolt-action sniper rifle, sporting an adjustable wooden stock and relatively nice optics (either the Zeiss Diavari 1.5-6 x 42 or the Schmidt & Bender 4 x 36). It’s main (sole) claim to fame is that the receivers are refurbished Mosin-Nagant ones, potentially making some of the metal rank amongst the oldest in regular service anywhere on the globe. It is these two that will be replaced by the new K 22, the Dragunov being completely phased out while the TKIV 85 is “mostly” replaced. And yes, as the designation indicates, the weapons should be ready for delivery by 2022.

The current job description of the Finnish designated marksman, locally known as tukiampuja (supporting rifleman), is:

The designated marksman is a rifleman whose assault rifle is equipped with magnifying optics. He/she is able to perform accurate fire at longer ranges than other riflemen (300-500 m), as well as being able to better discover and identify targets compared to others. The designated marksman can function as a pathfinder, assistant machine gunner, or close-in anti-tank gunner.

Jääkärijoukkuen ja ryhmän käsikirja

Internationally, the idea that at least some members of the squad need longer range fire power has quickly grown in popularity during the last two decades, with the weapons usually being either older scoped battle rifles chambered in 7.62×51 (.308 WIN) or assault rifles more or less moded to fit the purpose (in some cases this is just a case of putting a scope on an accurate rifle, in other cases free-floating handguards, bipods, and heavier barrels can be included). As the versatility of the designated marksman on the modern battlefield has become ever more obvious, the weapons have also evolved and become more tailored to the mission. While few are completely clean-sheet designs, weapons such as the M110 differ quite significantly from the run-of-the-mill ARs seeing more widespread use.

Crucially, the designated marksman is not a sniper, and that’s not only because the ranges are shorter. The designated marksman might lack the particular training associated with the things a sniper does besides shooting, but on the other hand the designated marksman is supposed to be able to travel and fight as a part of the squad. This means also being able to e.g. fight at close quarters in urban operations, making the semi-auto action more or less a must.

Going back to the description of the letter of intent, the reference to a “family” is interesting, as that easily can give the picture of two different weapons sharing some components. In fact, the two versions will be identical when it comes to the rifles themselves, but will differ in that the sniper version will feature a dedicated long-range scope as well as more and better sniper-specific kit. The rifle will come in one calibre (at least for the time being), the venerable 7.62×51.

Tukiampuja Maavoimat FB

A Finnish rifleman with an upgraded 7.62 RK 95 TP with magnifying optics, the current DMR in Finnish service. The K 22 will be a significant upgrade both when it comes to accuracy, firepower, and ergonomics. Source: Maavoimat FB

This has raised some eyebrows. Sniper rifles are frequently bolt-action due to their inherent better accuracy. This is however not a definite, as weapons such as the aforementioned M110 or the H&K PSG1 shows. The calibre is perhaps more of a surprise, as the combination Sako and .338 LM has proved very successful, and certainly gives the sniper added reach. At the same time, the .338 LM is overly heavy/powerful/expensive for a DMR that is supposed to shine at ranges between 300 and 500 meters. However, not too long ago the 7.62×51 was the most popular western sniper calibre, and by quite a bit. Especially when considering that the weapon it replaces is the 7.62 TKIV 85, buying a sniper rifle chambered in a medium rifle calibre isn’t as outrageous as it may sound.

From the earlier source, the Finnish sniper “can in favourable conditions take out individual targets from more than a kilometer away”, but it also deserves to be remembered that while the snipers usually are cherished for their very long range one shot-one kill engagements, the role include a number of other missions as well. Nevertheless, the quoted range is a serious requirement for anyone using the current 7.62 TKIV 85 or the future K 22, but keen readers will remember that in a podcast not too long ago major Tapio Saarelainen of the Finnish Army Academy noted that the 7.62 TKIV 85 has an effective max range of 500 to 600 meters, while shots in general are at ranges up to 350 meters due to the Finnish geography. That is partly a training issue, as Saarelainen notes that there simply isn’t money to fund the number of rounds he feels is needed to properly train a sniper. As such, while the K 22 kit and capabilities will be rather different from those of snipers equipped with the 8.6 TKIV 2000, it certainly seems like K 22 will have a slot to fill on the Finnish battlefield. Especially as the ergonomics are likely to be far superior to those found on the 7.62 TKIV 85, further aiding in hitting targets at longer ranges. In Sweden, where the more modern L96A1 AW is in service as the Psg 90, the snipers train out to 1,000 meters with the 7.62×51.

Sweden is interesting, as the press release about the letter of intent notes that the option is available for other countries to become involved. As noted last year, Sweden is in the process of acquiring a number of new weapons, including both a sniper rifle and a DMR. As Sweden currently lacks a military small arms manufacturer, cooperation with Finland could very well be in the cards. While security of supply is one of the driving factors for the K 22 from a Finnish point of view, helping the Finnish production line stay open might certainly benefit Sweden as well in the long run.

One of the more interesting tidbits about the rifle is found in the article by Seura. Sako is owned by Beretta, and the company has relatively recently (2015) launched a DMR-variant of its ARX-series of assault rifles, designated the ARX-200. This is in 7.62×51, and you would be excused to think that a localised version of the ARX-200 might be the upcoming K 22. However, Sako denies this, and states that the rifle will be a clean-sheet design. There is one small caveat, though:

Certainly the development takes into consideration popular solutions

While this doesn’t necessarily mean much, rumours have been going around about a Sako-made AR-style rifle for some time already. I will point out that I have no idea about the source of these rumours, but an AR-patterned rifle certainly is a “popular solution”. What Seura also noted is the fact that following the rework of the old 7.62 RK 62 to the 62M-standard(s), the lifespan of the current Finnish AK-pattern rifles is expected to stretch out to approximately 2035. As the wholesale replacement of something along the lines of 200,000+ weapons will be a massive operation that takes time, a decision about the replacement will likely have to be made within the next five years. Here, a successful semi-auto K 22 might well work as a basis for a new Sako assault rifle. At the same time, waiting for the outcome of the US NGSW program would likely be a smart move, considering the impact it will have on the field. And as it just happens, 2022 is not only the year that the K 22 will start rolling off the production line, but also when the first US Army units will start taking delivery of the NGSW weapons. Funny how that works out sometimes.