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Air Show China 2021 turned into a spectacular advertisement for the country’s exportable military products. This was obvious from the start with the emphasis on the air force’s current inventory and the sprawling indoor and outdoor displays for different types of weapon systems. A minor feature that never received enough attention were small arms and light weapons at the show. Not only were the army’s next assault rifles given a publicity boost by national media but other models enjoyed the same treatment such as the elusive “CS/LR17” family. These modular carbines were introduced years ago but were never scrutinized in detail except via photos that circulated across social media and discussion boards.

The “CS/LR17” concept and its mass-production are all under military-industrial giant Norinco’s purview. A single modular carbine is offered in three popular calibers–7.62x51mm, 7.62x39mm, and 5.56x45mm. This isn’t out of the ordinary since a choice between alternating calibers is now deemed standard practice among gun makers selling new military rifles. It’s obvious the CS/LR17 was still influenced by foreign designs; the Heckler & Koch 433 and the Remington ACR are noticeable references. But this carbine’s functionality is simple enough. A milled lower receiver boasts an ambidextrous grip and an easy-to-use fire selector switch. Like most of today’s carbines the adjustable stock attached behind the lower receiver folds to the side. The magazine well, specifically for the curved magazine used for holding 7.62x39mm ammunition, is given a proper shape for quick reloads rather than a simple rectangular port on a Kalashnikov. A free-floating handguard with top-bottom-side rails encases the barrel assembly, which is available in three lengths, and a newly designed muzzle brake crowns this rival to the world’s Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles.

There are a variety of sights and other accessories for the CS/LR17 modular rifles. But seen in the photo above are a pair of simple flip sights positioned on either end of the top rail. Norinco also made single shot grenade launchers for the CS/LR17 family but these were absent in the recent media coverage. Nor have sniper rifle and light machine gun variants based on the CS/LR17 family been revealed. The CS/LR17 chambered for the ubiquitous ammunition for AK-47’s and AKMs is an attractive choice for militaries China considers friendly and Norinco’s reputation means these carbines are available to order in vast quantities. But problems abound. Foremost are the rest of the world’s existing Kalashnikov stockpiles, with uncounted millions warehoused by armies and governments, and the effect this has on decisions for procuring new assault rifles. China’s own mass-production of Type 56 assault rifles, often derided as inferior copies, is problematic in itself. The Type 56-1 and Type 56-2 have spread over Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East, burying any enthusiasm for modular carbines when a deluge of cheaper alternatives are at hand. It doesn’t help that China’s neighbors–with the exception of Russia–manufacture unlicensed Kalashnikov-pattern rifles too. Nor will the five largest armies in the world today (India, USA, Russia, South Korea, and Pakistan) show any enthusiasm for Norinco’s offerings when they have domestic small arms industries supplying them.

Still, the CS/LR17, whether chambered for 7.62x39mm or 5.56x45mm ammunition, enjoys decent prospects in familiar regions such as the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Africa where special operations forces and other elite units prefer modular small arms with accessories at a fair price. Besides, China’s uncharted gun making industry that consists of many different state-owned factories have the tools and in-house expertise for developing any small arm. This includes updating the successful Type 56 with the needed furniture that appeals to the armies of the 2020s. Type 56 and Type 81 rifles with new finishes and accessories were displayed at the indoor exhibition of this year’s Air Show China together with many old standards–the Chinese M14 clone, the MP5 clone, the RPG-7 clone–and it’s abundantly clear Chinese trading companies can deliver huge orders of these anywhere in the world.

It isn’t surprising to learn China’s exports of military products are tied to its diplomacy. This could be the fastest way for the CS/LR17 family of modular carbines to proliferate abroad. But there’s a robust commerce in Chinese weapon systems outside formal channels. This means Chinese small arms, old and new, will find their way to active war zones anyway and their effects are terrifying to contemplate. Absent Russia and the United States as small arms exporters China on its own is able to flood the world with its guns many times over.