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The Business Of An Arms Dealer

May 19, 2015

Arms Show 5.56mm Ammunition

The global trade in weaponry is defined by contrasts. Often thought of as nefarious and illicit, it’s actually open and accessible. The businesses who profit from it can be transparent to a fault. They even eschew secrecy to generate buzz about their groundbreaking deals with international clients: the governments of the world.

Last week, 21st Century Asian Arms Race (21AAR) was received at the offices of Stone of David, a local defence contractor that has its fingers in many pies. This includes supplying ordnance and munitions for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Little wonder then that its address is a stone’s throw (oops) from one of the country’s largest military bases.

But Stone of David have other revenue streams, including small arms for the civilian market. This is why less than a handful of vetted journalists were brought to a conference room one balmy May afternoon. It was a rare occasion to meet Nicola Bandini, author, inventor, and arms dealer. He’s the Italian CEO of Arsenal Firearms, a multinational joint venture with a growing product line. Bandini had just flown in for a mini-junket to promote a double-barrelled .45 caliber pistol.

Hefty and ridiculous, it was a novelty item that’s going to be featured in an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster. But Bandini was even prouder of a different firearm he created. It’s a 9x19mm semiautomatic pistol called the Strike One that he describes with reverence. Indeed, the Strike One is a marvel, ambidextrous and hammer-less, light and robust with a spectacular rate of fire.

 Behind the Scenes?

According to Bandini the Strike One is fast becoming a favourite of militaries and police forces around the world. (A claim that checks out. In 2012, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced its acquisition of the Strike One to replace the ubiquitous 9mm Makarov.)

While Bandini’s guns were impressive, meeting him inspired deeper thoughts on the business of weaponry. It’s worth noting that companies like Stone of David, who are Arsenal Firearms’ distributor, exist for a reason. Different countries arm and equip their militaries in different ways. In lieu of a robust local defense industry, which can collapse without government largesse, the next best option is to import.

But when a government-owned import-export company, like Serbia’s Yugoimport for example, doesn’t exist the burden falls squarely on the private sector. This is where companies like Stone of David step in. In the Philippine setting, it’s an ecosystem of local defense contractors who struggle to meet the AFP’s needs.

And the struggle is very real. What comes as no surprise is, like bureaucratic institutions everywhere, the Philippine military isn’t immune from red tape and mind-boggling procurement processes. Worse, the beginning of a tender doesn’t mean the acquisition will be made. Not even if modernization and rearmament are its most urgent priorities.

The irony is countries who don’t arm themselves jeopardize their peace (Ukraine) and countries who do can enjoy better ties with the international community (Singapore). It’s about contrasts. The weapons business is full of them.

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