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24.6.2017 : 10:53 : +0200

Global Focus

Ammunition Profiling

Consistent access to small arms ammunition is vital to armed conflict; this is particularly true in conflicts involving non-state armed groups that rely on small arms as their primary tools of war. Ammunition profiling—the compilation of data on the various types of cartridges documented on site, with particular focus on calibre, production facility, and year of manufacture—assists in piecing together the sources and supply chain for ammunition circulating in conflict situations.

A number of recent Small Arms Survey studies have used ammunition profiling to help reveal the history and alliances in various conflicts and identify manufacturers and supply routes.


Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia

A new Small Arms Survey Issue Brief—Feeding the Fire: Illicit Small Arms Ammunition in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia—analyses small arms ammunition found in the holdings of non-state armed groups in three recent conflict zones: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. It provides an overview of the various documented calibres, the relevant supply chains, and, whenever possible, the corresponding ammunition manufacturers.

Key findings include:

  • The main calibre observed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia is the Soviet-designed 7.62 × 39 mm cartridge, used in Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles and variants produced in numerous countries.
  • Most of the small arms ammunition observed was manufactured in China, Iraq, the former Soviet Union, and Sudan.
  • All of the observed calibres were designed and adopted before or during the cold war era. No modern calibres—ones designed and adopted during the past 30 years—were documented.
  • Analysis of small arms ammunition is often limited as a result of poor documenting practices.


Côte d’Ivoire

Identifying Sources: Small-calibre Ammunition in Côte d'Ivoire, a Special Report from the Small Arms Survey in partnership with the Integrated Embargo Monitoring Unit (IEMU) of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), provides a baseline profile of the small arms ammunition in circulation in Côte d’Ivoire.

The study finds:

  • Ammunition found in Côte d’Ivoire is produced by many states, and includes Western-standard ammunition dating as far back as colonial times and Eastern Bloc-standard ammunition produced from the 1950s to the first decade of the 21st century.
  • The bulk of the Soviet or Eastern Bloc-standard ammunition was imported during the Ivorian crisis that began in 2002 and had largely ended by 2011.
  • A number of examples of ammunition that previously was not typically documented in African conflict and post-conflict settings can be found in Côte d’Ivoire, such as ammunition produced in Sudan in 2010 and 2011.
  • Ammunition bearing identical markings to ammunition that was documented in Côte d’Ivoire has also been documented in eastern Liberia (2013) and Niger (2012). This suggests possible illicit circulation of the ammunition in the sub-region.

Identifying Sources is the latest in a series of country profiles published under the Survey’s Security Assessment in North Africa project, with previous reports focusing on ammunition circulating in Libya and Syria. 

Comparative analysis of these profiles, with additional data on ammunition circulating Somaliland, South Sudan and Sudan, is available in Chapter 6 of Small Arms Survey 2014: Women and Guns. The chapter, titled ‘Across Conflict Zones: Ammunition Profiling,’ sheds light on cartridges found in seven conflict and post-conflict zones, and offers new insights into the presence of newly produced ammunition as well as the circulation of unmarked cartridges.


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