SMGs & the Operational Briefcase: A Concept of the Cold War

The Cold War inspired many innovative (and bizarre) new weaponry. We saw new rifles, machine guns, ordinances, handguns, and more. One of the more interesting developments in the world of small arms was a focus on low-profile, undercover weaponry. It was the age of spies, where Communist dictatorships and Western democracies traded blows quietly. One of the small developments in small arms was the Operational Briefcase.

What the hell is a briefcase gun? Well, to put it simply, it’s a weapon that fits into a briefcase and is either designed to be fired from the briefcase or quickly deployed from a briefcase. These guns were designed for undercover operatives who needed some real firepower. Handguns are great, but a submachine gun gives you instant, overwhelming firepower in a close-range fight.

You can’t exactly tuck an Uzi into an IWB holster and toss a shirt over it. It would most certainly ruin the lines of your suit. With that in mind, a briefcase was a handy way to conceal and potentially even utilize a submachine gun. When you start to lose your spy game, don’t be afraid to cheat!

HK’s Operational Briefcase

The most famous, and likely most mass-produced model of briefcase guns, comes from Heckler and Koch. The Operational Briefcase, as it’s known, is quite clever. It was used with the HK MP5K and, believe it or not, is reportedly still in production for law enforcement and military sales. The MP5K fits into the briefcase and is secured internally.

HK Operational Briefcase
The HK Briefcase is easily the most famous of the cases.

A trigger linkage system runs from the middle of the case and up into the carry handle. There a trigger sits and allows the user to fire the weapon. The Operational Briefcase will only fit the smaller, stockless variants of the MP5 submachine gun. The gun attaches to the briefcase via a claw-style mount, much like an MP5 optic mount.

HK Satchels
There were two bags, but one doesn’t get the same fame as the other.

It bears mentioning HK made another not-so-popular MP5 briefcase. This wasn’t the operational briefcase. It was a much simpler means to mount and fire your weapon. This case was leather and more like a bag than a briefcase. It was secured via a claw-style mount, but it didn’t have an integral trigger. The back of the case would appear to be closed, but a hand could reach through to fire the weapon.

The Uzi Operational Briefcase

The Israeli Uzi submachine gun is one of the most popular SMGs of all time. It’s generated over a billion dollars in sales and has been used by everyone from Israeli Commandos to Secret Service agents. Speaking of, it’s because of the Secret Service we know all about the Uzi and its Samsonite briefcase. The Secret Service and bodyguards, in general, are the prime candidates for SMG briefcases.

uzi briefcase
The Uzi briefcase is so 80s it hurts

They need low-profile firepower and a quick way to access it. We famously saw this case being used when President Reagan was shot, and the famed Secret Service officer deployed his Uzi. These cases were made by Action Arms from Samsonite cases. Additionally, Cobray also produced an Operation Briefcase for the Uzi in very small numbers. This very simple briefcase allowed the user to fire the Uzi from inside the case. These are quite rare, and I don’t know of any law enforcement or spy agency using them currently.

The American 180 Briefcase

The American 180 SMG was really cool (and really odd). I mean, what’s normal about a fully automatic 22LR SMG that feeds from a pan magazine? Did I mention the wood stock and the wide variety of odd models they designed and used? It was already a very weird gun, but it was modular. They produced numerous barrel lengths, including a rather short 9.5-inch barrel.

American 180 briefcase
This was one of the rare cases found on Gunbroker. The big circle is the magazines, the rest is the gun

One of the many owners of the American 180, invented an Operation Briefcase design. Remove the stock, use the short barrel, and slap it into a very complicated briefcase design. I’ve only ever seen one for sale, and it came from a Gunbroker listing. I did read a 1995 article on the Internet Archive, and they were produced in more than a one-off configuration.

This SMG briefcase is powered by enough D-cell batteries to make a Maglite downright blush. I can’t tell you how it works, but it does have the huge 177-round drum installed, so you won’t run out of ammo. I think I see a hydraulic there too….who knows, it’s likely as complicated as the American 180.

MAC Briefcase

Military Armament Corporation famously produced the MAC-10 SMG. This beastly .45 ACP SMG was once trying to replace the M1911 as America’s sidearm. It was once described as the perfect weapon to fight inside of a phone booth.

Forgotten Weapons briefcase
Forgotten Weapons got their hands on one of the cruder MAC-10 cases (Forgotten Weapons)

What’s neat about this design is the fact it is designed to be used with the MAC’s suppressor. This likely made it much easier to control and quite a bit quieter to use. Not stealthy quiet, but enough to help you keep a moderately low profile.

The case was designed for a stockless weapon, but the stock had a spot in the case so the gun could be removed, and restocked at a moment’s notice. It’s fairly clever, and the Cobray variants are the most common. Like most Cobray inventions, they are somewhat rickety. The firing mechanism is on the bottom, and there is no safety device.

The KGB’s AKS-74U Operational Briefcase

So far, we’ve only seen the Western forces and their applications of the Operational Briefcase, but what did the Soviets have? They clearly needed to have some low-profile capabilities. You could argue they were ahead of the game because they didn’t use an SMG. They used an ultra-short carbine. The AKS-74U, which fires the 5.45 cartridge, is basically the size of an SMG. The KGB used this gun in areas where they couldn’t open-carry assault rifles but needed some serious firepower.

AK briefcase closed
The AK-74 concealed in a briefcase

The KGB Briefcase was not your average operational briefcase. KGB agents packed an AKS-74U with the stock folded into the case. The only change was the removal of the muzzle device. The handle of the case actually attaches to the gun. The briefcase forms a shell around the gun.

AK briefcase
Hit a button and the AK releases

The user can defeat a safety device and then press a button that releases the briefcase and drops it off the gun. This reveals the gun and readies it for action. It’s super simple and very clever. It’s fast and easy to use and allows you to aim the gun. Maybe the Soviets were onto something.

Operational Briefcases and You

So what has stopped the gun industry from producing any number of operational briefcases for any of the numerous PCC-type sub-guns? Well, that’s easy. The ATF then turns your gun into an AOW. Yep, you’ll need to stamp your firearm as an Any Other Weapon. This makes them not very popular with civilian owners. Still, they are most certainly a rather cool piece of Cold War history.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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