Being a gun nut and a traveller, I really wanted to visit Switzerland for a long time. This October I finally put these plans to life, and made a week-long leisure trip across the German-speaking part of Switzerland with my wife. Our main goal was just to see the country (which turned out even much more beautiful than we expected), and my own goal was also to get a taste of the Swiss gun culture. Part of this goal was achieved by visiting two local gun collectors (more about this later, probably), and another part was achieved by using an invitation I received from B+T AG folks during latest IWA-2013 expo in Nuremberg. After some planning, I was offered a factory tour and a visit to a shooting range, and below is my humble report on the event.
Before we start, a couple of words about B+T AG. Formerly known as Brugger & Thomet, this private company is located in the suburbs of the city of Thun, surrounded by beautiful mountains, green pastures with neat village houses, and phlegmatic cows, eating grass in the middle of the Swiss Army tank shooting range located nearby. Over the last two decades, B+T earned its fame first by producing its own semi-automatic version of the famous HK MP5 submachine gun (known as B+T 96) and some sound suppressors, and later by introducing a whole spectrum of small arms, intended for police, military special operations and civilian use. B+T also makes accessories for other brands of small arms, serves as a Swiss distributor and dealer for Heckler & Koch and some other foreign companies, and runs a large gun & tactical accessories store near its factory.
Current product line-up of the B+T includes following gun families:
- B+T MP9 compact submachine gun, based on the redesigned Steyr TMP, and its semi-automatic derivative, TP9, available in pistol and carbine versions. MP9 is a neat little gun which can be used for VIP close-protection teams, special police operations in urban environment, and as a military PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). It uses locked-breech action, resulting in mild recoil despite relatively light weight of the gun
- B+T APC 9mm submachine gun and semi-automatic carbine. As its name suggests, Advanced Police Carbine is primarily intended for police use, as a duty / patrol gun that is also suitable for SWAT-type uses. It is bigger than MP9 and has a bit more accuracy due to better trigger and overall ergonomics. It is also simpler than MP9 because APC is built around simple blowback system. APC is a well-thought weapon, completely ambidextrous and capable of mounting a wide array of accessories, some of which are provided with the gun (such as Aimpoint Red Dot sight)
- B+T APC-556 automatic carbine (“assault rifle”) and APC-223 semi-automatic carbine, built around 5.56mm / .223 Rem ammunition. Both weapons are visibly based on the concept of the smaller APC9 submachine gun, but internally these guns use conventional gas operated actions with short stroke pistons and rotating bolts. Like their smaller brother, APC-556 and APC-223 are fully ambidextrous and fully customizable. Thanks to the built-in hydraulic buffer, recoil is very soft, and the guns appear to be very controllable in rapid fire.
- B+T APC-300, a derivative of the APC-556 chambered for .300 Whisper (a.k.a. .300 AAC Blackout). It seems that this gun has a lot of potential, thanks to a wide range of loads available in this relatively new promising caliber; it can be used with subsonic loads and sound suppressor for special operations (as well as for hunting or recreational use, where permitted by law); with supersonic loads it is a close match (ballistically) to the venerable 7.62mm Kalashnikov AKM warhorse, while being much more customizable and significantly more accurate (after all, it’s a Swiss gun)
- B+T VP9 “veterinary pistol”, a 21st century reincarnation of the WW2 era Welrod silenced manually operated pistol. Promoted as a veterinary tool to silently and humanely put down wounded or infected animals, it also can be used by other qualified personnel, which may have legitimate and urgent needs to put down some son of a b#tch without much noise.
- B+T APR bolt-action sniper rifles, in .308 Win and .338 LM calibers. These highly accurate weapons are widely used by various Law Enforcement organizations across the world, and also by a number of target shooters in Switzerland and elsewhere.
- B+T SPR special purpose rifles, based on the APR but scaled down to work with .300 Whisper ammunition, especially useful for relatively short-range urban work specific to Law Enforcement. Combined with proprietary B+T sound suppressors and sniper-grade .300 Whisper “Swiss P” ammunition, developed in cooperation with B+T by another Swiss company, RUAG Ammotec, these rifles offer excellent accuracy and stealthiness.
- Finally, there is a 40mm GL-06 grenade launcher, a stand-alone single shot weapon which can be used with both less-lethal and “lethal” (i.e. HE-FRAG) 40mm LV ammunition of almost any type.
Now, let’s go back to the factory tour.
Like I said before the main B+T facility is located in a single modern-looking building, located in the industrial suburbs of the city of Thun. It contains offices, design bureau, manufacturing and storage facilities – all in a relatively small, but very well laid off and very clean working space. Production and storage facility takes most of the 1st floor. Normally B+T purchases pre-fabricated aluminum and steel parts from third party suppliers, and then cuts them to size and finishes using state-of-the-art CNC equipment. Same applies for polymer parts. Complete guns are assembled, subjected to strict quality inspection, and then packed for delivery to various customers around the world.
Design bureau is surprisingly small – during my visit I’ve seen just three engineers there, working on their computers, but even a team that small can quickly produce new and interesting designs. For obvious reasons I cannot tell you right now, what they are developing, but I can tell that their new designs look very promising and interesting to me.
The gun and tactical accessories shop, owned by B+T, is located in the basement of the adjacent building. It is quite spacious by Swiss standards, and has very nice selection of guns, accessories, 5.11 clothes and anything else a shooter can find useful in his gun-related hobby or work. A very useful addition to the shop is a small, but well equipped 25-meter indoor range, where potential customers can try a gun before buying it. This range was used to allow me to shoot some of the B+T weapons. Due to time restrictions, my shooting was limited to just three weapons – TP9 carbine, APC9 carbine and APC223 carbine. All were tested with and without accompanying quick-detach sound suppressors, also made and sold by B+T.
The TP9 was tested first. It’s a handy weapon, which can be fired with or without shoulder support, provided by a side-folding stock. It can also be fired single-handedly, if required. Recoil is mild, and with sound suppressor and sub-sonic ammo you do not need any hearing protection even in a small indoors range. I liked almost everything about this gun, except for its relatively long and heavy trigger pull. I was told that this is a “feature” rather than “bug” (using IT slang), as the MP9, its parent weapon, is intended for use mostly in the high-stress situations where none can expect target-grade accuracy.
APC9 came second. It has much better trigger and more comfortable stock. A really fun gun to shoot, which also can be effectively used as a serous LE tool. It also can be used in conjunction with quick-detach B+T suppressor, and in this configuration it really shines on.
APC223 came last. Due to lack of subsonic 5.56mm ammunition on hand I didn’t dare to shoot it with ear protection off, but it still sounded not so loud. It also has a good trigger and very well thought ergos, and what I liked most about this gun was a lack of any felt recoil, especially when firing with suppressor attached. It was like firing an airgun, except that it still put a lot of energy into the target with each supersonic 5.56mm bullet.
Overall, I was quite impressed with both the factory of B+T, and its products of typical Swiss quality. And I was especially impressed with and grateful to B+T personnel, who were kind enough to bring me in and show me all described above and something more.