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Gold-Plated Pistols Upstage Tanks at Weapons Show

Times Staff Writer

The Military Defense Exposition, or Mildex ’86, which opened Wednesday at the Anaheim Convention Center, is “the first time Mildex has been held in the U.S.,” said Monica Belfortti, secretary-treasurer of the firm managing the show.

Where else has it been held? she was asked.

Nowhere, she said. This is the first one ever held.

It was organized, she explained, to give the People’s Republic of China its first chance to exhibit military hardware in the United States. She and her associates had previously been part of a law firm that represented mainland China in trade matters, and “they need weapons trade right away,” she explained.

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The U.S. government has nothing to do with Mildex, she emphasized, “but they’re delighted that Lockheed (Corp.) is helping. Lockheed is the only one (major American defense contractor) to come to Mildex.”

Mildex, which is not open to the public, is small by convention standards. Sixty-four exhibitors have enrolled, some merely representing publications, some intending only to distribute literature. Belfortti said 3,000 people have signed up to attend the exhibition and conferences scheduled to continue through Saturday. Most are expected to arrive today, she said.

The first sight they will see when they walk onto the exhibition floor is, not surprisingly, a group of Chinese under a sign stating “China North Industries Corporation.”

Standing before the racks of automatic weapons and artillery rounds and models of tanks and rocket launchers will be Sun Chang-Zhong, manager of the munition firm’s export division in Beijing.

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“We came because we wanted to show our products to the American people, for them to know our products, and to deepen the friendship between the peoples,” Sun said through an interpreter.

He said the Chinese have recognized that Americans, especially those dealing in defense products, “would like to do business with China. We came here to show our products to our partners and let them know our products.”

But while some visitors were hefting the Chinese submachine guns, more were lined up at the glass case to see the decidedly nonmilitary “decorative art pistols.”

Each rests in its own ornately jeweled and enameled case. The bodies of the 7.62-millimeter semiautomatic pistols are hand engraved and 24-karat gold plated.

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The handles and slides are decorated with cloisonne Chinese dragons, birds and flowers, each figure symbolizing a human virtue or condition, such as bravery, firmness, good luck or happiness. A cloisonne magnifying glass is included to heighten the owner’s appreciation of the “micro carvings” that are “realistic and moving.”

“The whole decorations incorporate various Chinese arts and crafts which give the users enjoyment of beauty,” the brochure states. Still, “the combat and defence effectiveness of the original pistol” is maintained, we’re promised.

Price: “About $10,000,” Sun said. But you can’t buy one--at least not at the exhibition. They are custom-made, only 20 per year, and in the past have been handed out only to foreign dignitaries visiting China, Sun said. They now are being offered by special order “to heads of state, generals, gun collectors, and to people all over the world.”

There were items for sale only to governments and law-enforcement agencies. Giat-Sofma of France was promoting its tanks with two-man turrets. The hot item this year for Pietro Beretta of Italy, selling for “under $1,000,” is an anti-terrorist pistol that can fire three-round bursts like a machine gun. Armtech of Australia is introducing a 7-pound, 28-inch-long machine gun/rifle that fires 5.56-millimeter bullets from box-shaped, rather than cylindrical, cartridges.

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Secret Items

There were items they wouldn’t even tell you about. Carl Lande, president of CCS Communications Control Inc., would not discuss the surveillance equipment his firm makes for government and police spies, such as the TV camera that looks and mounts exactly like a car radio antenna and is radio remote-controlled, or the self-contained TV camera and transmitter (transmission range, 6 to 10 miles) hidden in an attache case, book, picture frame or stereo.

But his firm, like others, had consumer products as well. CCS can provide the threatened executive with a watch or desk pen set or fake pack of cigarettes that tells whether there’s a radio-transmitting bug in the room. They will sell him a self-defense flashlight that zaps attackers with 5 million lumens of light to temporarily blind them.

CCS can wire his attache case so if anyone but him tries to pick it up, an electric charge is sent through the handle.

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But the real movers lately have been armored cars for executives and government officials, mostly those serving overseas, Lande said. “Bullet-proof cars are one of our top items. It’s been a record year in cars,” he said.

Wide Array of Devices

Bring in your car, and CCS will put bullet-proof glass in the windows; bullet-proof fabric in the walls and ceiling; flip-down gun ports; anti-bomb undercoating; steel-reinforced tires you can’t shoot flat; systems for spewing tear gas to foil attackers, oil onto the pavement to foil pursuers and smoke to confuse everybody; infrared goggles so you can see through darkness, smoke, gas and fog; emergency oxygen in case of gas attack; bumpers you can use for rams; a system that will send 6,000 volts through anyone trying to get inside; blinding, 1-million-candlepower lights front and rear; a transmitter so you can be tracked; an ultra-sensitive bomb sniffer and a remote-control starter so you can safely check whether a bomb has been wired to your ignition.

And if you think you still might be kidnaped, you can wear a tracking transmitter that looks like a belt buckle.

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Across the way, Buck Knives was showing its Buckmaster survival knife, which sales administrator Janet Drew said the U.S. Navy is testing. You, too, can buy it for between $120 and $150.

“This is so hot,” Drew said. “Ever since the Rambo movies came out people are so crazy about it.”

A Tanto Knife

The representative for Cold Steel Inc. said the Buck people “wish they had a knife this good,” motioning to the Tanto model. Behind him was a photograph of a Tanto stuck all the way through a car door.

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At the American Body Armor & Equipment Inc. booth, bullet-proof clothing was displayed as if in a haberdashery. The articles ranged from an all-out bomb-handler’s suit, complete with ventilation system and optional two-way communications, to a bullet-proof vest that looks like a suit vest. You can have one custom made with material you provide, said Robert Matthews, the firm’s vice president.

He recommended the ballistic apron for clerks in all-night stores. “It just looks like an apron,” he said. “No one can tell.”

Most any article of clothing can be made bullet-proof, he said. His catalogue showed a bullet-proof golf shirt, a bullet-proof outdoorsman’s vest and a bullet-proof jockstrap that “gives you plus protection where it counts. . . . One size fits all.”

Few Viewers

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Traffic was sparse in front of Matthews’ booth, however, as it was everywhere on the floor. Belfortti said the first of the exposition’s two conferences--"International Cooperation on SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative)"--will be held today and should increase the small turnout.

The turnout of anti-war protesters is expected to increase as well. On Wednesday, only nine showed up on Katella Avenue beside the Convention Center to show drivers their signs protesting the weapons conference. Six more sat near the exposition’s main entrance, chanted and beat drums.

But the Alliance for Survival, sponsor of the protest, is planning a “die-in” Saturday during which, organizers say, a large balloon resembling a nuclear mushroom cloud will be inflated and a large group of protesters will lie motionless to symbolize the potential victims of a nuclear war.


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