Though unquestionably iconic, the original Israeli Uzi submachine gun is an increasingly uncommon sight among Western security forces. However, recently released pictures show that Belgian Federal Police tasked with guarding NATO's main operational headquarters in Brussels still have access to these guns.
The U.S. military released the images of the Belgian Federal Police personnel training with their Uzis at an indoor range at the Training Support Center at Chièvres Air Base. Chièvres is situated around 12 miles from NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), home of the Alliance's Allied Command Operations (ACO), in the city of Mons.
The pictures also show officers training with their Smith & Wesson M&P9 pistols. The American gunmaker won a contract to supply these 9mm handguns to the Belgian Federal Police in 2011.
The full-size Uzis are definitely the more eye-catching weapons. These particular examples are guns that were license-built in Belgium by the equally famous small arms company Fabrique National, more commonly referred to simply as FN.
German-born Uziel "Uzi" Gal began work on this 9x19mm weapon shortly after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the first prototype was completed in 1950. Gal personally did not want the gun, which entered service with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) four years later, named after him.
The standard Uzi, which weighs just under eight pounds, was one of the first submachine guns to feature a so-called telescoping bolt. What this means is that a substantial portion of the bolt carrier, a key component of the gun's internal mechanism, is situated in the front of the gun and slides back and forth around the barrel. In many preceding designs, as well as subsequent ones, this component is positioned entirely behind the barrel.
Doing this allows for a more compact weapon that still has a relatively long barrel. The original standard Uzi, which had a fixed wooden stock, had a barrel just over 10 inches long and an overall length of just over 25-and-a-half inches. By comparison, the M1 Thompson submachine gun, another iconic weapon, has a 10-and-a-half-inch-long barrel, but is nearly 32 inches long.
A version of the standard Uzi with a folding stock, as seen on the Belgian examples at Chièvres, was subsequently introduced. With this stock extended, the gun's overall length is just slightly shorter than it would be with the fixed wood stock installed.
Despite the political complexities many countries faced, and that many still do, in dealing with Israel, the Uzi quickly became a gold standard for submachine guns worldwide. Iran under the Shah was among the importers of these guns and they remain in use in the current Islamic Republic, even though it is opposed to the very existence of Israel as a matter of policy. Large quantities of licensed copies and unlicensed clones were produced in various countries.
Through its ubiquity, including with major military and other security forces, the gun achieved iconic status, both in real life and in popular media. Robert Wanko, as well as other U.S. Secret Service agents, famously drew his Uzi during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Uzis also saw use with U.S. military special operations forces, including U.S. Navy SEAL teams and the U.S. Army's Special Forces, and they remain in arms lockers within the American special operations forces community for foreign weapon familiarization training. Other federal government agencies, such as the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service and predecessor organizations, issued Uzis to their personnel, as well.
At the same time, Uzis also became popular with terrorist groups and criminals. The robust and compact design combined with the sheer number of these guns in circulation worldwide – Israel alone manufactured more than 1.5 million of them – increases the chances that they will continue to find their way into the hands of malign, non-state actors.
This was all quickly translated to the big screen in movies such as 1986's The Delta Force, starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin. The list of movies, as well as television shows, in which the Uzi is a prominent feature, including other big-name blockbusters, such as 1984's The Terminator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular Terminator, is far too long to post here in full. Videos games and other popular media also routinely feature Uzis.
After more than seven decades, the Uzi continues to see significant use by military units and state security forces to this day – including with the Belgian Federal Police. However, it is now certainly a dated design that is relatively heavy for its size and has a rate of fire, 600 rounds per minute, that is decidedly slow for a weapon of this type, even if it makes it more controllable and, as a result, accurate.
A compact derivative weighing six pounds and with a rate of fire of 950 rounds per minute, called the Mini Uzi, was introduced in 1980. This was followed six years later by the even smaller and faster-firing Micro Uzi, which, while visually similar, is a substantially different design. A stockless Micro Uzi "pistol" with a slightly shorter barrel came soon thereafter. Semi-automatic versions were also produced, including types with longer barrels necessary to comply with various laws regarding civilian ownership, especially in the United States.
"Old technology has to be phased out at some point," Iddo Gal, son Uzi Gal, told The Baltimore Sun in 2004, two years after his father died at the age of 79. "There are very few weapons that held on for so long."
Still, just like its operational use, production of the Uzi persists. In 2010, Israeli gunmaker IWI even unveiled a new type, the Uzi Pro, a derivative of the Mirco Uzi featuring an all-new lightweight polymer lower receiver, among other changes, and various modern trimmings, such as accessory rails for mounting things like optical sights, lasers, and tactical lights. A semi-automatic "pistol" version, initially with no stock, but now available with an arm brace, was also introduced, again aimed primarily at civilian markets, particularly gun enthusiasts in the United States.
However, even when it first appeared more than a decade ago, the Uzi Pro was entering a market flooded with newer, more modern submachine guns, which have increasingly overtaken other iconic, but dated types, such as the Heckler and Koch MP5 series, as well. Military forces, in general, have long been moving away from guns of this general type, as well, in favor of compact assault rifles that fire rounds with better ballistic performance and reach. That same trend has also been apparent in many police and security forces around the world, in no small part due to concerns about the proliferation of more capable guns and body armor among criminal groups.
A newer class of guns, known as Personal Defense Weapons or PDWs, tries to make the best of both worlds by offering a compact and highly controllable package with a deep magazine depth that fires what can be described as miniature rifle rounds that are capable of penetrating body armor. These offerings have also degraded the sub-gun's attractiveness in some instances.
That being said, submachine guns, in general, do continue to see service with major military and other security forces, though often in niche roles. For example, in 2019, the U.S. Army officially selected a version of the B&T USA AC9 PRO series as a new weapon specifically for VIP security details, something you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone piece.
How long the Belgian Federal Police will ultimately hang on to their Uzis remains to be seen, but, at least for now, they remain part of the arsenal available to officers protecting one of the key headquarters of what is arguably the most significant military alliance on the planet.
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