Sponsored by Arnold Defense www.arnolddefense.com
10 Apr 20. Renewing the Assault. Lessons learned from recent conflicts has seen a greater focus on modularity and ambidextrous customisation of small arms, as well as reducing weight and the introduction of new ammunition types to increase lethality.
The assault rifle is the primary weapon for any soldier, no matter what their role or specialisation. First introduced during World War 2 by Germany and then slowly adopted by other armed forces, the assault rifle is now considered the optimum weapon for frontline troops.
In terms of design, the selective-fire assault rifle has not changed radically since its inception, with only slight enhancements such as the Bullpup layout (SA-80, FAMAS, TAVOR and AUG), or optimised internal parts for greater reliability.
Several armies are now modernising their small arms inventories, either through upgrading existing stocks, or replacing them with new examples.
In Europe, there is modernisation occurring, although this is limited to upgrading older types or introducing mature designs with little risk. The British Army has embarked on an upgrade programme for its SA-80, bringing it up to an A3 standard with contractor Heckler & Koch. France has also adopted the HK416F, while Germany is also expected to select a new rifle shortly to replace its ageing G36.
One of the most ambitious small arms programmes anywhere in the world right now is the US Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW), which could see a revolutionary leap in terms of rifle technology and individual soldier lethality.
One of the most notable aspects of this programme so far has been the army’s decision to move to a new, military-grade 6.8mm intermediate calibre that has superior aero-ballistic performance than the 5.56x45mm NATO standard round currently used on the M16/M4. For the US Army, the 5.56mm round lacks the range and ‘stopping power’ required to defeat modern peer threats who use advanced body armours.
The NGSW programme will consist of both a fully ambidextrous rifle (NGSW-R), and an automatic rifle (NGSW-AR), with the latter replacing the belt-fed M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). While the service has agreed on a calibre for the bullet, it will be up to industry to decide how that 6.8mm projectile is packaged with cartridge, propellent and primer.
At the end of August, Textron Systems (partnered with H&K), Sig Sauer and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS) were selected to develop and manufacture prototypes for the NGSW programme.
All three companies are now expected to deliver 43 NGSW-ARs and 53 NGSW-Rs over a 27 month period, along with 845,000 rounds of ammunition for testing. Two prototype test phases are scheduled into the programme in May 2020 and January 2021, lasting three months and six months respectively.The US Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon programme is one of the most advanced small arms programmes in the world, with Sig Sauer (pictured), Textron Systems, and GD-OTS offering various 6.8mm solutions. (Photo: Sig Sauer)
This year’s AUSA in Washington DC was the first real opportunity to see all three competing designs together. Textron Systems’ solution represents one of the biggest leaps in small arms technology with its focus on cased-telescoped ammunition, over traditional brass cases – a technology that has not previously been mature enough to field. The company has been developing its CT ammunition and associated weapon systems in various calibres for over a decade with the help of funding from the US Army.
GD-OTS meanwhile has surprised many by revealing that its NGSW offering is a bullpup-configured rifle, with the magazine and action behind the trigger rather than the traditional AR layout. One of the main benefits of this design is that the barrel can be longer to improve accuracy, yet the overall weapon system remains compact.
Sig Sauer’s offering appears to be the most conservative design offering, with Ron Cohen, President & CEO, noting that the “core of our submission is our newly developed, high-pressure, 6.8mm hybrid ammunition that is utilised in both weapons, and is a significant leap forward in ammunition innovation, design, and manufacturing.”
If the NGSW programme is successful and a suitable rifle is selected, the first unit to receive the rifle could be as soon as FY2022, according to army documentation.
China Goes Traditional
The US’s competitor, China, has also officially revealed that it is bringing a new rifle into service. This unnamed weapon – which has long been rumoured to be in development as a replacement for the 5.8mm Type 95 (QBZ-95-1) – was first shown during celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 2019.
Instead of the bullpup configuration of the current in-service rifle, the new weapon is a more traditional AR design with the magazine ahead of the trigger and action, rather than behind. The PLA also appears to be following trends seen elsewhere around the world in the small arms market, particularly when it comes to improving user ergonomics and increasing overall modularity.
Features China’s new rifle
Initial details appear to suggest that the new rifle remains a 5.8mm example, potentially even able to utilise the same magazines at the Type 95 (or at least the newer QBZ-95-1 variant). It has been seen in both a carbine variant and standard infantry variant, and photos have also circulated on Chinese forums of a longer barrel version for potential use as a squad designated rifle.
Photos from the 70th anniversary military parade show the rifle with a single Picatinny Rail along the top with a new sighting system, likely a magnified 3x example that utilises tritium and fibre optic for illumination, along with traditional flip-up iron sights. Other photos appeared to show a new night vision sight, likely an uncooled thermal device to be used during both night and day operations.
Other features include a telescoping butt stock that can be adjusted to the preference of the individual soldier; this also likely houses a return spring which means the butt cannot be folded. There is also a foregrip that has two extendable bipod legs for a steadier position when in the prone position. This foregrip also features an electronic box at the top where it meets the handguard, which is possibly a laser aiming device that has both visible and IR-based lasers or an interface to a helmet-mounted night vision system, or radio system.
The handguard itself appears to be one single piece, with attachment points on the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions for additional accessories, and can be easily removed with a hex tool to access the gas parts for disassembly and cleaning. The PLA has chosen not to go with newer attachment points such as M-LOK or KeyMod.
There appears to be some similarities with the AK design, such as an ambidextrous magazine release in front of the trigger guard, as well as a charging handle just below the cartridge ejection port, as well as commonalities with western-style designs such as the thumb-operated fire selector switch.
The magazines themselves are a new polymer design that allows a firer to see when they are running low, with a red mark becoming visible at 5, 3 and 1 rounds remaining. It has not been verified officially whether the rifle uses a long-stroke, short-stroke piston, or direct impingement gas operating system – although there is a strong likelihood that it is a short-stroke gas system owing to the popularity and advantages of this design.
India’s new Assault Rifle
Another Chinese rival, India, is also in the process of fielding a new assault rifle, replacing the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) that was first fielded three decades ago. A replacement for the locally-developed 5.56x45mm INSAS has been in the works for several years, but as with many Indian defence projects, it has faced several delays. The country’s experience with the INSAS and its technical shortcomings has seen the Indian MoD opt for a rifle design from a foreign vendor, which will be manufactured locally.
India selects Russian AK-203
This year, India finally selected the Russian AK-203 chambered for 7.62x39mm, which will be built locally in Amethi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This facility was inaugurated in March 2019 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is run by Indo-Russian Rifles Private, a joint venture between Rosoboronexport, Kalashnikov Concern (part of Rostec) and India’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). A manufacturing contract for 670,000 units is expected to be signed following approval by authorities, possibly at the end of October, with final production numbers likely to be around 750,000.
Around 40,000 units are expected to be built in Russia and exported to India to meet urgent operational requirements, with initial work in India to be the assembly of knock-down kits, which will then ramp up to component and sub-assembly manufacturing for greater transfer of technology and indigenisation. Local reports suggest that the deal will value each rifle at $1,000.
Russia is fielding the new Kalashnikov AK-12/15, while India will locally-manufacture and field the less advanced AK-203 to replace its technically deficient INSAS rifle. (Photo: Kalashnikov)
The 200-series’ of Russian AKs (available in 5.45mm, 5.56mm and 7.62mm) retain much of the features of previous AK designs but have been updated to improve areas such as ergonomics and attaching accessories.
The AK-203 now features a telescoping buttstock (four positions) so that soldiers can adjust as needed; this can also be folded to reduce the rifle’s overall length. The rifle also features Picatinny rails on the top of the rifle, and on the bottom of the new polymer handguard to attach sights, lasers, lights or other accessories. A tab has been added to the fire selector lever for easier operation with the trigger finger, while the rifle itself retains the AK’s reliable long-stroke gas piston system.
As well as the AK-203 – which will be the service rifle for most Indian Army soldiers – the country’s MoD has also committed to buy 72,400 SIG716 rifles from US company Sig Sauer.
The order was announced by Sig Sauer in February 2019, with the company confirming that the rifles will be manufactured in the US, rather than in India. The 4.3kg SIG716 features a 16in barrel and short stroke piston design, and fires the 7.62x51mm NATO round. It is not known when the Indian Army will receive its first examples.
CAR 816 rifle
Making India’s small arms procurement more complicated is the reported purchase of nearly 100,000 5.56x45mm carbine rifles from UAE company Caracal International, known as the CAR 816. Once again, the status of this order is unknown.
Vietnam selects Galil ACE 31/32
Vietnam is another country that is refreshing its small arms inventory and has recently completed a new rifle manufacturing facility in the country with the help of Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) to replace older AK-47s in the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) with the Galil ACE 31/32.
Ronen Hamudot, VP marketing and sales at SK Group (which owns IWI), said this was an example of one of the company’s “mega projects” in terms of technology transfers and indigenous manufacturing. “They selected the ACE because they have a lot of 7.62x39mm ammunition and magazines, and so we designed and developed it with them,” he explained. “In Vietnam it is full production, they manufacture everything and are totally independent.”
IWI has even subcontracted the Vietnamese facility to manufacture parts for Israeli production lines as well, reducing overall product costs.
Philippine National Police
The long-stroke, piston-driven ACE rifle can also be chambered for 5.56x45mm, 7.62x39mm and 7.62x51mm calibres. The Philippine National Police is also another user of the Galil ACE family in the region, with the country still receiving batches.
The ACE design brings the legacy Galil – designed and fielded in the 1970s – up to modern standards with a full length Picatinny rail on the top for accessory attachment, as well as a telescoping buttstock and adjustable cheek piece. Weight has also been addressed with the use of polymer for several components.
IWI’s two new Rifles
Over the last 12 months, IWI has also revealed two new rifles that have been developed, including the 5.56x45mm Carmel and the AR-15 based ARAD.
IWI CARMEL_Mepro_M5_4351: IWI recently revealed its latest rifle, the Carmel, which addresses several demands particularly around modularity for the user and weight reduction. (Photo: IWI)
The former is a brand new design that addresses key demands in the rifle market, including an innovative ambidextrous charging handle that can be swapped to either side without disassembling the rifle, as well as other ambidextrous controls such as magazine release, bolt catch and thumb-operated fire selector switch. Modularity is increased with an adjustable/collapsable buttstock that offers six positions, as well as an adjustable cheek rest. The Carmel is 3.3kg, with weight savings gained by using polymers and aviation-grade aluminium.
The ARAD meanwhile is based on the AR-15 design but introduces some ergonomic improvements, such as being fully ambidextrous, as well as being available in several barrel lengths and calibres – including the increasingly popular .300 BLK used by special forces and law enforcement. (Source: AMR)
07 Apr 20. South Korea’s Poniard guided rocket system passes Pentagon’s Foreign Comparative Testing. South Korea’s Poniard (known locally as Bigung) multiple launch guided rocket system has passed the US Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) Foreign Comparative Testing: a move that paves the way for the system to enter the US arms procurement market.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in Seoul announced on 7 April that the locally developed road-mobile weapon system hit all 10 designated targets and met all US requirements during an FCT session held in South Korea in October 2019 that was attended by US DoD experts.
The 70 mm (2.75 inch) system, which was developed by the Agency for Defense Development and South Korean defence company LIG Nex1 to simultaneously engage multiple fast-moving maritime targets, is currently operated by the Republic of Korea Marine Corps (RoKMC) as a mobile coastal defence system and is expected to replace older South Korean coastal defence systems by 2024.
The Poniard, which has now the become the first such South Korean system to pass the Pentagon’s FCT, has a ‘fire-and-forget’ capability, a stated maximum range of 8 km, and can carry a total of 36 rockets in two separate launchers (18 rockets in each launcher).
As operated by the RoKMC the Poniard is integrated into a 6×6 Kia KM250 military truck that is equipped with the necessary target detection and launch control systems that allow it to operate as a standalone system.
The Poniard, development of which was completed in 2016, can also be deployed from vessels. A variant of the system was recently shown at the 22-25 October 2019 International Maritime Defense Industry Exhibition (MADEX 2019) in Busan mounted on a full-scale prototype of LIG Nex1’s Hae Gum II (Sea Sword II) unmanned surface vessel (USV). (Source: Jane’s)
06 Apr 20. AFRL Gives Warfighters New Weapons System. The Air Force Research Laboratory has set up the Air Force’s first high-energy laser weapon system overseas for a 12-month field assessment. The Air Force Strategic Development Planning & Experimentation (SDPE) Office located here is leading the project.
“The receiving combatant command will utilize this system as an operational asset against small unmanned aircraft systems for the duration of the field assessment,” said Dr. Michael Jirjis, the SDPE Base Defense Experimentation director.
During the 12-month field assessment, the Air Force will be evaluating five systems. Field assessments began in January 2018 when the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Stephen Wilson, asked the Air Force to experiment with directed energy systems as an effort to transition game changing capability to the warfighter. The Air Force will be evaluating the Raytheon High Energy Laser (HELWS), Raytheon High Power Microwave (PHASER), and the AFRL Tactical High-Power Operational Responder (THOR) drone killer. AFRL is especially excited about the THOR field assessment, since it was developed in house.
“THOR is a directed energy game-changer,” said Dr. Kelly Hammett, AFRL’s Directed Energy director. “Drones are becoming more and more pervasive and can be used as weapons intended to cause harm to our military bases at long standoff ranges. We built the THOR weapon system as a deterrent against these type threats. THOR with its counter electronic technology can take down swarms of drones in rapid fire. This capability will be an amazing asset to our warfighters and the nation’s defense.”
Leading up to the current field assessment, the Air Force SDPE Office successfully led operational experimentation events of laser and high-power microwave testing events in the fall of 2018 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and in the fall of 2019 at the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) event held at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.
“The overseas field assessments are allowing us to understand directed energy as a capability against drones. This gives us a better picture of the military utility, reliability and sustainability, training requirements and implementation with existing base defense,” Jirjis said.
According to Jirjis, the next 12 months will allow the Air Force Research Laboratory to shape how the Air Force wants to move forward with both high energy lasers and high-power microwaves against small drones.
“The intent of these systems is to be operationally used by the combatant commanders for the duration of the 12 months,” he said. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Air Force Research Laboratory)
06 Apr 20. US Navy Invests in New Mine Warfare Technology. Sea-based mines are a constant concern in naval warfare. Like their land-based counterparts, they offer adversaries a low-cost means of inflicting potentially catastrophic damage. To counter that, the Navy is developing several new countermeasure platforms.
One of the top global mine threats comes from China, said Seth Cropsey, director of the Center for American Seapower at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. It has been estimated that Beijing has as many as 100,000 such weapons.
Those “range from the old-fashioned moored contact mines … to include mines that have rocket-propelled weapons and target detection systems,” he said.
In the event of a conflict with China, the United States is unlikely to approach warfare from the land, he said. “That leaves us with the seas as the place of where conflict is most likely to play out.”
Beijing would likely concentrate on creating choke points in areas such as the archipelagos that separate East Asia from the Middle East and the South China Sea, he said. That means that sea control and navigating around China’s anti-access and area denial capabilities will be crucial.
“It’s reasonable to expect that the Chinese would use mines there, reasonable to expect that they would use mines if they decided to use force against Taiwan,” he said. Moving through those straits is crucial and being able to clear them of mines is equally important, he said.
Russia would be another formidable foe, Cropsey said. Moscow likely has a larger and more varied mine warfare capability than the United States, but specific details are hard to come by in the public domain, he added.
Iran is another country that could pose a major mine warfare threat, Cropsey said. Tehran has non-magnetic and remote-controlled mines. It is also likely that it has Russian- and Chinese-built systems.
“It fits the Iranian style of warfare,” he said. “It’s relatively low in cost and it could be used in large numbers.”
Cropsey compared it to Tehran’s use of fast-moving, swarming boats. “You think of swarming boats — think of swarming mines,” he added.
Despite increased threats, the Navy needs to invest more in mine warfare, Cropsey said. “Mine warfare has been a neglected child of the Navy,” he said. “That didn’t begin this year or last [year] or 10 years ago. It’s an old, old story.”
While the Navy has traditionally employed expensive, manned aircraft and ships for mine clearing, it is now working on a slew of new robotic systems that can sweep, detect and neutralize the weapons as part of a countermeasure package that will be deployed off the service’s littoral combat ship.
One such system is Northrop Grumman’s AQS-24C mine hunting system, which builds upon the company’s AQS-24B that was introduced into the Navy’s fleet in 2017 and has been used from the MH-53E helicopter and an unmanned surface vehicle platform.
The towed payload has reached a number of performance milestones, said Gene Cumm, director of international mine warfare at the company.
For example, the system was successfully towed at 400 feet from a boat in October, he said. The company also completed improvements to the platform’s optical sensors, which gives it increased laser power and an improved light filter.
Additionally, Northrop recently completed initial in-water testing of a next-generation deploy-and-retrieval payload from the AQS-24, according to a company press release.
“Achieving this important milestone demonstrated reliable unmanned mine hunting operations, while using operationally representative hardware from the LCS MCM mission module,” said Alan Lytle, the company’s vice president of undersea systems. “This allows the program to begin preparation for further at-sea testing of the system for extended duration missions in rigorous conditions.”
Northrop has delivered a total of 31 AQS-24 systems to the U.S. Navy and to Japan’s navy, Cumm said. That includes four A variants, 25 B variants and two C variants. Northrop is working on developing upgrades to give customers new capabilities, including ways to speed up mine clearance.
“When there is a mine threat, it’s all about how fast that threat can be erased, and the shipping lanes reopened for commerce,” he said in an email. “Systems that work at eight or nine knots are better than surface ships at two or three but can’t compare to ours at 18. That advantage is what is key to the warfighter and improving the ability to perform at that speed is our focus.”
Capt. Danielle George, program manager for mine warfare under the Navy’s program executive office for unmanned and small combatants, said AQS-24C will offer the Navy rapid detection of moored mines. Fielding of the platform to the fleet is slated for 2020, according to George’s presentation slides at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference in Arlington, Virginia.
Another platform the Navy is working with is Raytheon’s AQS-20 mine hunting sonar for the LCS mine countermeasure package.
The system features four separate sonars in a compact, lightweight and hydro-dynamically stable towed body and can provide real-time, computer-aided detection and classification against mines, according to the company.
The program of record for AQS-20 on the mine countermeasure package includes 24 systems, said Wade Knudson, senior director of undersea warfare systems at Raytheon.
The AQS-20, when coupled with Raytheon’s mine neutralizer Barracuda system, gives the service a way to destroy mines much faster than legacy platforms, he noted.
“We can tow the AQS-20 at high speed and at depth. We can find the mines and then in real time we will … deploy a Barracuda in the water that will then swim up to the mine and autonomously neutralize the mine,” he said. “That will all happen 10 times faster than today’s methods.”
The Barracuda, which is the size of a sonobuoy, has been through preliminary design review. Raytheon is now preparing for critical design review, Knudson said.
The Barracuda is a low-cost mine clearance capability that will be able to provide rapid reacquisition, identification and neutralization capability against near surface sea mines, according to George’s presentation slides. The program is currently in Milestone B and the Navy is commencing a detail design of the neutralizer vehicle.
Raytheon has so far delivered 40 AQS-20s to the Navy, including 10 of its latest C-variant which includes the latest synthetic aperture sonars and forward-looking sonars, Knudson said. The plan is for each ship carrying the MCM package to have two of the platforms.
The AQS-20 is being integrated onto the Navy’s mine countermeasure unmanned surface vehicle, Textron’s common unmanned surface vehicle, or CUSV, he added.
“The Navy’s in the middle of integrating and testing not only the MCM USV but towing the AQS-20 behind it,” he said. The primary work surrounds the integration of the platform to show that it can tow the AQS-20 autonomously from the littoral combat ship.
Both the AQS-20 and AQS-24 will be towed by the CUSV platform, and both are in initial integration and testing phases in Panama City, Florida, said Zach Bupp, program director for unmanned surface vehicles at Textron. Contractor testing is expected to wrap up in 2020, he added.
The common unmanned surface vehicle has an endurance of more than 20 hours, a range of about 87 miles, and a towing capacity of 4,000 pounds of force at 20 knots, according to the company.
The craft — which the Navy calls the unmanned influence sweep system, or UISS — completed development tests and operational assessments in November 2019, Bupp said.
The platform reached a Milestone C decision with the Navy in March. The Navy is now putting on contract three low-rate initial production craft and three sweep payloads, he added.
Current sweeping missions are conducted by aircraft, and while servicemembers are not operating from the surface of the water, there are still risks, Bupp said. Part of the benefit of the CUSV system is that it keeps sailors out of harm’s way, he added.
“It keeps people at a safe distance from that minefield and is designed for a detonation event to occur and then continue on with its mission set,” he said.
An initial operational test and evaluation event with the Navy is scheduled for the platform this summer off a littoral combat ship in San Diego, Bupp said.
Meanwhile, Northrop is seeing international interest in the AQS-24 system grow, Cumm said.
“The international market for small craft MCM is emerging quickly, and the AQS-24 is a great fit for many of these emerging requirements,” he said. “The high-speed capability of the system, 18 knots, coupled with the integrated mine ID capability at high speed — 10 knots — make the system ideal for high performing small surface vessels.”
The Australian navy is interested in the platform and the system has participated in two exercises in Australia over the past two years, Cumm said. The system is under consideration for a new mine countermeasure ship currently being developed, he added.
Northrop has begun to manufacture components of the AQS-24B variant with Marand Precision Engineering at its Moorabbin, Australia, facility.
“The main reason to build parts of the system in Australia is to help ensure that the system can be best sustained after delivery,” Cumm said. “The best way to sustain a system in a country is to build a high percentage of the key components there. With Australia being so far away, having the system come back to the States for repair, upgrade or overhaul is unrealistic when trying to maintain a high operational availability.”
Knudson noted that Raytheon is also looking to expand the market for the AQS-20 internationally and is eyeing allies in Europe, Australia and East Asia.
“We’re certainly talking to them and I think there’s an interest in trying to use some of this investment because they also recognize how dangerous this threat is,” he said. (Source: glstrade.com/National Defense)
05 Apr 20. After 50 Years, the Army and Marine Corps Are Closing In on Dumping Brass-Cased Ammo. After more than 50 years of failed attempts, the U.S. military may be on the verge of ending its love affair with brass-cased ammunition, something that predates the Spanish-American War.
Traditional brass has dominated military small-arms ammunition since U.S. troops stormed up San Juan Hill, Cuba, in 1898. The robust material performs well in the violent, super-heated space of weapon chambers during firing, but its sheer weight has always been a problem for infantrymen and logisticians alike.
Advancements in body armor, communications equipment and other tactical gear have weighed down U.S. combat troops in the Army and Marine Corps, pushing individual loads well past 100 pounds and degrading service members’ physical performance, U.S. military studies have shown.
Both services have launched multiple efforts to lighten the weapons and equipment grunts carried while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but ammunition weight has always been an Achilles’ heel for these efforts.
“We have not gotten lighter in the last 20 years,” Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told House Armed Services Committee members at a March 5 hearing. “We have slowed the rate of weight increase, which is unacceptable.”
Early attempts at lighter, plastic-cased cartridge designs failed to meet military standards, but recent technical advances by a few bold companies have prompted the Army and Marine Corps to launch new efforts to test polymer-cased ammunition for infantry units.
In early January, the Corps announced it plans to invest up to $10m in polymer-cased .50 caliber ammo to test in the “Ma Deuce” M2 machine gun, a potent weapon used by both Army and Marine mounted combat units.
The Army’s role in the Joint Lightweight Ammunition Integrated Product Team is to find a lightweight-cased replacement for brass-cased 7.62x51mm, the caliber used in Army and Marine M240 machine guns and some sniper weapons.
“The ultimate goal is to replace brass-cased ammunition for all 7.62mm ammunition in the Army,” Becky Leonard, spokeswoman for the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments & Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, told Military.com.
The Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon Effort
The Army is also evaluating lightweight-cased 6.8mm ammunition for its Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) effort, which is designed to replace the M4A1 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon with more potent weapons that significantly lighten ammunition weight.
Two of the three firms competing in the final phase of the program — Textron Systems and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc. — use polymer-cased technology for their lightweight 6.8mm cartridges. The third, Sig Sauer Inc., uses a more traditional brass-case design with a stainless-steel base to save weight in its NGSW prototypes.
The Army hopes to select a final design for both weapons from a single company in the first quarter of 2022 and begin fielding them to an infantry brigade combat team in the first quarter of 2023, modernization officials have said.
But this is not the first time the Army has launched futuristic infantry weapon programs involving lightweight ammunition; previous attempts resulted in failure.
In 1951, the service developed the Special Purpose Individual Weapon, which fired plastic-cased 12-gauge rounds filled with multiple flechettes, or darts, in an attempt to increase the probability of hitting enemy targets.
The Advanced Combat Rifle program, launched in 1986, pursued a similar goal, with several of the prototypes featuring plastic-cased ammunition.
The Army took a renewed interest in lightweight ammunition after 9/11, when combat troops began to struggle under heavy combat loads in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Soldiers on combat patrols in Afghanistan typically carry 92 to 105 pounds of mission-essential equipment … this overload causes fatigue, heat stress, injury and performance degradation for soldiers,” according to a 2005 report by the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal on “Alternative Cartridge Case Material and Design.”
“Despite years of research and development, the Army’s weapons and equipment [are] still too heavy to allow foot soldiers to maneuver safely under fire,” it states. “The only way to fully realize lightweight concepts is to look at novel ways of designing the system, such as allowing the use of lightweight polymer composites for cartridge case applications.”
Perhaps the most successful weapons programs involving polymer-cased ammunition were launched in 2004 under the Army’s Lightweight Small Arms Technology (LSAT), which resulted in successful tests of a special case-telescoped (CT) ammunition in lightweight machine gun prototypes chambered for 5.56mm and 7.62mm, and a rifle prototype chambered 6.5mm CT ammo.
Textron has incorporated the CT technology developed in LSAT into the 6.8mm cartridge it designed for its Next Generation Squad Weapon prototypes. The technology relies completely on a plastic case to hold the propellant and the projectile.
The Move to Polymer-Cased Ammo
While the commercial ammunition market may stick with brass, Wayne Prender, senior vice president for Applied Technologies & Advanced Programs at Textron, told Military.com that he is convinced that the U.S. military will eventually have to move toward polymer-cased ammo.
“Weight is a significant factor for a military application, more so than a commercial application or sporting application,” Prender said. “You are carrying significantly more with significantly less support structure. Ounces may not matter if you are going out for a hunt, but ounces matter when … your life depends on it.
“That is why weight is such a significant factor in a military application and why we endeavored on it.”
True Velocity Ammunition LLC began designing polymer-cased ammunition for the military in 2010 and now makes the 6.8mm cartridge for General Dynamics’ NGSW prototype weapons.
“It’s not a new concept. The U.S. Army has had a lightweight ammunition requirement for going on 40 years now. It’s just [that] nobody has been able to bring a viable solution to the table,” said Pat Hogan, chief marketing officer for True Velocity. “I think that the technology has arrived. … we have proven that it is viable.”
Both Textron and True Velocity maintain that their polymer-cased ammo designs offer about a 30 percent weight savings over brass ammunition, but also bring increased performance.
In 2005, polymer-cased technology suffered from too many flaws to perform adequately under harsh combat conditions, according to findings in the ARDEC report.
Since then, companies like Textron and True Velocity have learned how to solve the problems highlighted in the report, such as “cracks on the case mouth, neck, body and base” and “insufficient high temperature resistance.”
“Brass is a conductor of heat, and our composite case is an insulator,” Hogan said. “Brass conducts the heat during the ballistic event; the brass superheats and then transfers that heat to the chamber of the weapon, whereas polymer insulates the chamber from that heat.”
Excessive heat buildup can cause ammo to cook off or explode in the weapon, a problem True Velocity’s case technology has licked, he said.
“Anecdotally, we have run cook-off tests through some of the belt-fed platforms and, in order to get the gun even hot enough to be in a position where you could even have a cook off, we have to run brass ammo through a gun to get it hot enough where you can really test our ability to withstand cook-offs,” Hogan said.
The cylindrical design of Textron’s case-telescoped ammunition “really allows you to minimize exposure to heat,” Prender said, explaining that the weapons system and CT ammo work together to dissipate heat.
“We deal with heat a little bit different,” he said. “Our chamber [pivots or rotates], which enables us to remove the chamber and ammo from the latent heat that may exist after [each] round fires.”
Textron System’s 6.8mm polymer case-telescoped ammunition that was designed for the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon. (Textron Systems)
Other companies have shown enough promise in polymer-cased ammo technology to attract the military’s interest.
The Marines awarded a contract worth up $10m to MAC LLC for polymer-cased .50 caliber ammunition. Military.com reached out to MAC LLC but did not receive a response by press time.
Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) officials say that the contract is not an indication that the Corps plans to select MAC LLC polymer-cased ammo as an alternative to brass ammunition.
“The Marine Corps has not selected this polymer ammo as a replacement,” Emanuel “Manny” Pacheco, spokesman for MCSC, recently told Military.com. “The current contract will provide ammunition for user evaluation. Future contracts will be informed by the results of this evaluation.”
But Lt. Col. Bill Lanham, MCSC’s deputy program manager for ammunition, sounded confident, in the contract award announcement, that the Corps will one day transition to polymer-cased ammo.
“When we go to war, we need more ammo to defeat our adversaries,” Lanham said in a Jan. 17 news release. “Polymer ammo gives Marines the opportunity to carry more ammunition or make trades with what gear is important to carry during combat.”
The Marines plan to test the polymer-cased .50 caliber ammo in an operational validation scheduled for the third quarter of fiscal 2021.
Meanwhile, the Army’s search for polymer-cased 7.62x51mm identified “three lightweight ammunition designs” and is currently conducting a series of pre-validation tests, said Leonard, who did not name the vendors or the lightweight materials used in the designs.
“Once the pre-validation test is completed on all three-lightweight ammunition [designs], the Army will downselect a design and award a contract to the selected vendor to deliver rounds for qualification testing,” Leonard said.
The Army is assessing the production requirements for lightweight 7.62mm ammo that meets the current brass-cased ammunition requirements, she said, adding that the service hopes to obtain a low-rate initial production contract in late fiscal 2023.
The advancements in polymer-cased ammo, however, provide more than just weight savings, both Prender and Hogan said, explaining that the polymer cases can be molded to enhance accuracy and ballistic performance.
Engineers have learned how to shape the internal geometry of the case to allow the propellant, or powder, to perform more efficiently, Prender said.
“Better performance, better performance in range, better performance in velocity, better performance in accuracy,” he said.
With a brass cartridge case, “you can’t do anything to change the interior geometry,” Hogan said.
“We can change the wall thickness or the interior shoulder angle or the configuration of the bottom of the cartridge case — a lot of things to manipulate the ballistic event and basically shape the charge,” he added.
For Prender, it’s all about the science.
“It really gets into advanced materials and material science, which is really allowing us to push to the next level,” he said. “There is a reason why legacy weapon systems have kind of reached a ceiling and their ability to get better is incremental at best, so you need an enabling technology.” (Source: Military.com)
03 Apr 20. UkrOboronProm presents BM-21UM Berest 122 mm MRL. Ukraine’s state-owned Shepetivka Repair Plant (ShRP) has completed factory testing of and is ready to accept domestic and foreign orders for its new BM-21UM Berest 122 mm multiple rocket launcher (MRL), the UkrOboronProm defence conglomerate to which ShRP belongs announced on its website on 1 April.
The new MRL is based on a two-axle, 4×4 all-wheel-drive KrAZ-5401NE truck chassis with a four-door cabin in two-row seat configuration for five crew members. The vehicle carries two 165 litre fuel tanks and has a maximum speed of 95km/h. The BM-21UM carries 50 3 m-long tubes in five rows each, a 25% increase over the launcher of the Soviet-era, truck-mounted, 40-tube BM-21 Grad 122 mm MRL. The actuators of the BM-21UM launcher are equipped with electronic control modules, with two hydraulic jacks located in front of its rear wheels providing stabilisation and keeping the vehicle level. Crew members can place the Berest in firing position in 30 seconds and launch all 50 rockets within 25 seconds without having to leave the cabin. (Source: Jane’s)
Arnold Defense has manufactured more than 1.25 million 2.75-inch rocket launchers since 1961 for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and many NATO customers. They are the world’s largest supplier of rocket launchers for military aircraft, vessels and vehicles. Core products include the 7-round M260 and 19-round M261 commonly used by helicopters; the thermal coated 7-round LAU-68 variants and LAU-61 Digital Rocket Launcher used by the U.S. Navy and Marines; and the 7-round LAU-131 and SUU-25 flare dispenser used by the U.S. Air Force and worldwide.
Today’s rocket launchers now include the ultra-light LWL-12 that weighs just over 60 pounds (27 kg.) empty and the new Fletcher (4) round launcher. Arnold Defense designs and manufactures various rocket launchers that can be customized for any capacity or form factor for platforms in the air, on the ground or even at sea.
Arnold Defense maintains the highest standards of production quality by using extensive testing, calibration and inspection processes.