By Robie Kulokivi
SAKO, Finland -since the early 1960’s a high quality sporting arms manufacturer has been deeply involved in developing and producing the basic weapon for the Finnish soldier, the 762 RK 62 assault rifle. A joint effort of the Finnish Defense Forces (FDF) and Sako over several years brought a new product improved model to daylight very recently, and this rifle was officially adopted as the 762 RK 95 TP.
After the initial order by FDF (worth some 16 Million USD) for the new M95 and spare parts, no follow up orders have been planned, nor does there seem to be any funding for future orders. Sako delivered the last assault rifles to the FDF during 1997 and after that the production line will be closed. This in turn means that the production knowledge will eventually disappear and after only a few years it would be difficult to start producing again. Is Finnish assault rifle production “finished” for good?
Sako; arms factory production from a military viewpoint
The commercialization of the Civil Guard Supreme Staff Gunworks in Helsinki city, the capital of Finland, on 1 April 1921 was the starting point for the 76 year old company that we know today as SAKO. Suojeluskuntain Ase- ja Konepaja Osakeyhti” (Civil Guard Gun- and Machiningworks Ltd) was formed on 1 June 1927 from the previous Civil Guard Supreme Staff Gunworks. After that re-organization the plant was moved from Helsinki to Riihimãki city. The Civilguard was a militarily led volunteer organization apart from, but co-working with the FDF. The organization was abolished in 1945 after the last Finnish wars.
During the 1930’s there were several large projects in both construction and maintenance of small arms. The main departments included machining, cartridge, barrel, and woodwork shops. One of the more important products by SAKO at the time was the 7.62 M28-30 bolt action rifle, a greatly improved Mosin-Nagant clone produced until 1941. Production exceeded 70,000 units. It is worth noting that this is the very same model that was used in the 1937 World Shooting Championships in Helsinki.
During the early fifties much of the effort went into servicing material after the war as well as to regaining the civilian markets. The FDF started planning the next generation of infantry weapon and asked both SAKO and Valmet (formerly VKT), a state owned company, to produce prototypes. After some experimentation, the Valmet M58 assault rifle in caliber 7.62x39mm was accepted as a test-bed for future trials. FDF requested offers from both Valmet and SAKO for a prototype batch consisting of 200 rifles. Valmet won the contract and delivered 200 units of 762 RK 60 assault rifles for field trials in late 1960. Based on the information gathered from those trials, specifications for the M62 were written down and prototype rifles produced. Special cold-hammered barrels were ordered from SAKO for the new test models.
In 1962 the FDF accepted the 762 RK 62 as the new standard infantry rifle and both Valmet and SAKO were contracted to produce it. The SAKO series started from serial number 200,001, and the very first production rifle by Valmet, serial number 100,001, was placed in the Military Museum collection. Some small changes in the basic model were made over the years but the model designation remained.
From 1987 on Valmet and SAKO fused into a single company (SAKO-VALMET) with Nokia and Valmet as 50/50 stockholders. Later, after several organizational shifts in state ownership, the SAKO name remained for the gun and cartridge producing, privately owned company located in the cities of Riihimãki and Jyvãskylã. The FDF has ordered assault rifles from SAKO on a regular basis until now.
Now it seems that from 1998 onward, there is no more funding available!
Sako is the biggest hunting- and sporting rifle producer in Europe and the biggest USA exporter in the trade. This, however will never compensate for the loss of military small arms production.
What happened to the government orders?
The funding for the FDF is directed from the annual state budget through the Ministry of Defense. The Finnish defense budget is approximately 1.8 Billion USD, which is some 4.6% of the total state budget. The FDF uses this funding so that around 0.6 Billion USD is used to procure new material.
In 1996 some 16 Million USD were placed in a contract with SAKO for the new M95 assault rifle. No follow-up orders from the FDF led to a lay off of some of the workers on the assault rifle line, with more to go in early 1997. From a top of over 450 workers working with the assault rifle, the force is now down to a hundred , and production is facing a grim future.
The “ghost in the curtains” often referred to here is the Finnish Defense Force Hornet (F/A18) aircraft procurement from the USA, which depleted most of the funds reserved for other weapons purchases. During the same period the FDF purchased large amounts of cheap Chinese assault rifles and former DDR used Russian assault rifles to be placed in stock for the use of all others in units that are not the best equipped troops of the war time FDF. These cheaper weapons were for use instead of the older SMG and rifles these forces had. The total war-time force of the FDF is some 500,000 soldiers.
The best equipped brigades are already stocked with domestic assault rifles, so it seems there is no need for any further purchases. At least this is a political view of these matters in many circles. This erroneous impression is probably about to lead to a situation where the assault rifle production know-how slowly evaporates from Finnish industry.
The staff of Sako are hopeful however. If the Parliament would awaken to the problem and direct funds for continued production and procurement of domestically produced weapons, there might be a solution. A previous (13 March 1997) State Cabinet Defense Political Report regarding development of the Finnish national defense during FY 1998-2007 did not directly secure any hopes for continued funding of the assault rifle. The debate is ongoing.
Some light has been shed very recently (in early 1998) on a possible budget for small scale, up-keep production of the Finnish assault rifle. It has yet to materialize.
Patria Industries Ltd. is a recently formed company including five of the major Finnish defense materiel related factories; Vihtavuori, Lapua, Sisu Defense, Vammas and Finnavitec. The key issue, apart from export, is state ownership to secure FDF needs so SAKO seems to be outside of this procurement. Would there be any sense in purchasing the assault rifle construction line from SAKO and putting it into the new defense industry company to save the Finnish assault rifle?
The latest assault rifle- 762 RK 95 TP
The FDF assault rifle 762 RK 62 with its milled receiver will serve well for many decades to come. It is a reliable and well-made weapon.
This previous model is robust, accurate and well liked by the soldiers using it. The caliber (7.62 x 39 mm) is well suited for use in Finnish conditions. Small cosmetic adjustments have been made over the years to the basic assault rifle model but a real FDF demand for a new improved model materialized in 1988 based on research during ’86-87. The first SAKO prototypes of 1988 and 1990 included drastic changes to the rather loud selector lever of the Kalashnikov-type weapons. The selector lever was placed to the left side of the receiver to be operated with the thumb, and the right side had only a spring assisted cover plate, instead of the old version, to facilitate charging handle movement and to prevent debris from entering the receiver.
For some logistic reason the FDF could not accept this special improvement to the design so an M92/62 hybrid was constructed for troop field testing purposes. This model was operated similarly to the M62 and had more interchangeable parts than the previous prototypes. Sadly, it also had the standard selector.
After some small final adjustments the production model was ordered, and was designated the 762 RK 95 TP by the FDF.
The most important new features of the M95 are;
A very positively locking design folding to the right of the receiver. Stock profile resembles the Galil but the locking is different. The upper tube of the stock has an area for maintenance accessories.
Receiver profile and cover assembly.
The milled receiver profile is such that it supports the magazine better than the M62 receiver did. The receiver cover is connected to the receiver in the standard Kalashnikov way but is also secured with a cross bolt through the upper rear of the
Charging handle angle.
The handle is placed at an upward angle (around 45 degrees) to facilitate left hand loading. This angle is not as much as that of the Galil.
Gas system valve.
The two position (open-closed) valve, is placed under the front sight on the right side. The actuation lever is well sized and the closed position is when the lever is pointing up (position marked with a “K” and arrow). The lever is then in view of the operator. The valve can be of use in different rifle grenade applications or when the need for the non-retracting bolt carrier is called for- when firing a suppressed rifle.
This totally new model offers reduced recoil impulse of the rifle, well quenched muzzle flame and is dimensioned for the newest types of rifle grenades. It requires a newly designed blank firing attachment. The FDF uses wood-bulleted blank ammunition for training purposes.
An accessory suppressor which quick attaches to the muzzle brake is produced by another Finnish company.
The rear sight has an L-shaped foldable peep sight with 150m and 300m settings. In the middle position the use of the dusk sight is possible. The dusk sight is an open sight with a tritium gas self-illuminating dot.
The elevation and horizontal adjustments are made to the front sight using an accessory tool. The front sight also has a fold up dusk sight that has a self illuminating dot. The front sight has protecting ears which clearly curve forming a circular opening, open at the top.
To facilitate use of optical or optronic sighting devices there is an accessory mounting rail that attaches with two screws to the left side of the receiver.
As a complete weapon the M95 is definitively an improved version of the older M62 with several other smaller improvements than those described above. The quality of workmanship is easily seen on any detail.
Perhaps the positive acceptance by the troops using these new rifles and pressure from those not yet issued it, will eventually lead to further funding, and further procurement of the 762 RK 95 TP by the FDF.
The first M95 production rifle, serial number 960,001, was presented by SAKO to the Military Museum in Helsinki. Perhaps they will have the good sense to request the absolutely last production rifle also.
Remaining products with military potential
What remains in production is the SAKO TRG series of sniping rifles. Two standard calibers and action sizes are produced; TRG-21 in 7.62 x 51 mm and TRG-41 in caliber 8.6 x 70 mm.
The rifle is of modern configuration in the 5 kg range, boasting rugged subassemblies and a plastic stock. The action is bedded in an aluminum bedding rail, which in turn functions as the fixing points for the two piece (front and rear) stock. The handguard part of the two piece stock has mounting rails for accessories. The buttstock part is fully adjustable for height, length and cant of butt plate. The trigger assembly is modular, removable and fully adjustable to shooter preferences.
The bolt has three locking lugs offering an opening angle of 60 degrees. The feed is from a detachable box magazine, 10 cartridges in 7.62 mm and five in 8.6 mm.
This rifle has received positive attention abroad and domestically, but the FDF has not bought it in quantities other than for sporting use.
There certainly would be a boost of sales potential if SAKO would place a bit more military attention on this TRG product. Just some fundamental things like applying hard chrome to the interior of the barrel and other necessary parts.
Perhaps resources are not available, or then again perhaps the SAKO leadership has become too “sportsman oriented” and is about to lose the military market by mistake. They would not be the first manufacturer to do this.
Be that as it may, this eventual assault rifle production loss will certainly be Finland’s loss.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N2 (November 1998)|