Thales and NIOA stamp their mark on the local and international firearms market

Australia’s firearms industry has come a long way since our first foray into arms manufacturing for our military at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory during World War One. A quick flick through the SSAA’s Australian Shooter magazine captures the plethora of new firearms, accessories and hunting products now available to keen shooters, many made by local businesses or offered through the growing number of gunshops. With more than one million shooters, our sport and industry is well and truly here to stay.

Announcements made earlier this year by two major companies that continue to contribute to Australia’s growing firearms market is set to secure both their, and our, position in the global firearms industry. The country’s largest firearms importer, NIOA Australia, signed a landmark deal to guarantee the production of a renowned small arms brand here, while Thales Australia, which owns Lithgow Arms, is set to make its mark in the United States as it delivers a civilian version of the rifle used by our military.

Unveiled at the US SHOT Show in Las Vegas in February, Lithgow Arms has responded to high demand from American customers for an improved bullpup rifle, advertising the “Australian military issue now available in the USA” at the industry-only event. Dubbed the Atrax, this will be based on the new F90 design, which is currently being rolled out to the Australian Defence Force (ADF), replacing the F88 version of the Steyr.

A spokesperson from Lithgow Arms explained that: “The Atrax differs from the F90 in that it is semi-automatic only, and is made under licence in the US for that market by a third party.” Expected to retail at around $US2000, the company is aiming for the Atrax to be on sale this year. “We do expect that some US consumers will be interested in what is a high-performance and very reliable bullpup rifle,” the spokesperson said.

Back home, NIOA continues to shape the local landscape. Its impressive facility in Brisbane has paved the way for increased imports of much sought-after firearms for the sporting shooter and recreational hunter. Further cementing its place, NIOA has partnered with the famous American company Colt USA, paving the way for a selection of Colt firearms to be manufactured in the Sunshine State.

Managing director and founder Rob Nioa said that the deal involves the sharing of intellectual property and technical data between the two companies. He outlined an ambitious end goal: “To offer the Australian Department of Defence a fully Australian manufactured Colt M4 as a replacement to the current Australian manufactured Steyr F88.”

Admitting it will “likely be up to 10 years before that opportunity will be tendered” due to the recent resigning of Thales as the provider, Rob is readying the company to “offer a fully Australian-made infantry rifle.”

“This would allow Defence to have one fleet of weapons for all defence personnel rather than the two fleets currently operated,” he added.

In the meantime, NIOA is preparing to bring out a prototype of a Colt firearm, with several pre-production guns the aim by the end of the year. “The initial guns will utilise a fair amount of components from Colt USA with activities in Australia focusing on final finishing of parts, manufacture of major receiver components, barrel manufacture, final assembly and testing,” said Rob.

Looking ahead, 2018 should see our military and law enforcement provided with a Colt product predominately made using Australian components and created onshore. “The ultimate objective of a full manufacturing model would be to fully integrate the Australian manufacture into the US global supply chain,” said Rob. “There are a lot of steps before that becomes a reality, however we have taken the first and one of the most significant by establishing the current agreement.”

In further proof that our firearms industry is serious business, Australia’s five biggest firearms companies joined forces to form the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA) in 2015. Consisting of Beretta Australia, NIOA, Raytrade, Outdoor Sporting Agencies and Winchester Australia, the group intends to promote the interest of the industry, especially to governments. “Australia’s firearm industry has a long history of innovation and manufacture that goes back to the Great War and continues to thrive and grow today,” said SIFA’s executive director Rod Drew. “Firearm, weapon systems and ammunition manufacture continue to grow and provide hundreds of jobs and valuable export dollars to the Australian economy.”

The SSAA has had a front row seat to witness the growth of our firearms industry since our first branch was formed almost 70 years ago. Our Australian Shooter magazine has captured the upsurge in gunshops and dealers around the country, with a noticeable increase in the previous four years alone.

SSAA’s Advertising Representative of nearly a decade, Karoline Minicozzi, explained that today’s firearms enthusiasts are becoming spoilt for choice. “We have seen a significant number of new distributors establishing themselves successfully in the market and very quickly becoming quite popular and very well recognised,” she said. “The SSAA SHOT Expo just keeps getting bigger as well. Not only in the number of exhibitors and visitors increasing each time, but also in that we have expanded to hold the event in Brisbane and Perth.

“Many companies have also realised the gap in the shooting and hunting industry and moved into promoting to this market where they never would have before,” said Karoline. “They have changed their branding and message to speak directly to us, the shooters and hunters and the 186,000-plus SSAA members, which in turn translates to increased sales for the businesses. This has done nothing but just benefit the community and given us more choices and options with what we need and want when participating in our sport.”

The SSAA’s three magazines, Australian Hunter, Australian & New Zealand Handgun and the flagship Australian Shooter, will continue to showcase the best of Australia’s firearms industry for our members and the wider shooting community.

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