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Archive for the ‘Small Arms’ Category

According to Matthew Cox’s piece “Corps to Replace SAW With Automatic Rifle,” the commandant of United States Marine Corps General James Amos has approved Heckler and Koch’s M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle for full fielding to all infantry battalions:

Marine infantry squads will replace their M249 light machine gun with a highly accurate, auto rifle geared for fast-moving assaults. In late May, Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, approved a plan to field the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to all Marine infantry battalions.

The lightweight auto rifle, made by Heckler & Koch, is a variant of the 5.56mm H&K 416. It weighs just under eight pounds unloaded — almost 10 pounds less than the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

The decision comes after the Corps fielded 458 M27s to five battalions as they prepared for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan.

“We wanted to get through the limited fielding and get the feedback before we moved ahead with the full fielding,” said Charles Clark III, who oversees infantry weapons requirements at the Corps’ Combat Development and Integration office in Quantico, Va.

“The decision is made. It’s happening,” Clark said.

Program officials plan to spend about $13 million to field all 4,476 M27s by late summer 2013, Clark said. In addition to the guns, that money also pays for spare parts, tools and gauges, he said.

As I have written, the long procurement process has not been without controversy.  However, the anecdotal reports I have heard indicate that H&K’s rifle has performed well in its limited fielding so far.  What remains to be seen is how the entire system–including optic, magazines, and other accessories–will perform.  Trijicon’s TA11SDO, which had been employed on the M249 SAW, will be transfered to IARs; questions remain if its reticle will be well-suited to the IAR and its very different tactical philosophy.  Moreover, there is the issue of existing 30-round magazines.  Due different mag well dimensions, the M27 is also incompatible with MagPul’s PMAG.

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Author of Gunpowder and Lead and Twitterati extraordinaire Diana Wueger was bringing it with some great tweets this week including one on these great Small Arms ID playing cards (PDF).  On a similar theme, Wueger turned her followers onto DAVA Consulting’s small arms and light weapons encyclopedia app, Modern Weapons: Small Arms, for the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad (available via iTunes for $0.99). I do love me some militant Apps, so I thought I would give this one a whirl.

If you have visited the English and Russian-language Modern Weapons web site, the layout of the app will be familiar. When you open the app, weapons are first listed according to general categories including handguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, machine guns, and so on. Aside from what the title suggests, the app also includes a variety of light weapons including Rocket & Grenade Launders and MANPADS.  Right from the get go, the feel of that app is a little too ‘video gamey.’ For example, developers could swap the term “sniper rifles” for “precision rifles.”

Within each of these categories, individual weapons are listed. The user can organize according to name, caliber, or country of origin. Resorting the list is quick and easy–a welcome feature. Naming conventions, however, are inconsistent. Some weapons are listed according to manufacture then model name; others give the US or another country’s military designation alone.

Individual entries were more pedestrian offering basic specs (weight, dimensions, magazine capacities, etc.). Here, there were some missing pieces.  In the technical specifications, listing the action/mode of operation and the barrel’s rate-of-twist would be would be even more useful than the token muzzle velocity entry, which is variable with ammunition. The manufacturers are absent unless listed in the title of each entry. This would be good to reference particularly in the cases where multiple manufacturers produced the weapon.

The AK-47 family is particularly thin in this regard. Anyone can identify an AK-47. I want to be able to differentiate between a Tobuk and Zastava! Where are the proof marks, stampings, and other identifying markings?  Random images are great for the amateurs ogling guns; professionals want to be able to identify weapons.

There is also a “favorites” feature, which allows users to ‘bookmark’ a short list of frequently referenced weapons.

The app also offers an internal browser that takes you to each weapon’s Wikipedia page, which is helpful given some missing information in the descriptions. However, the browser has no back or forward buttons, which can be a hassle if you click one or two successive links on the Wiki page.  Plus, resorting to Wikipedia is a real inconvenience without access to an internet connection. The YouTube and gun store/shooting range locator are puff features for the hobbyist–a waste of resources in my opinion.

A “pro” version of the app might include manuals for each of the weapons. At the very least, I would like to see instructions on clearing and field stripping.  This would be would be worth a good bit more than its extant $0.99 price tag.

There is some real promise here. I love that this app does not stop at small arms but also includes many light weapons including MANPADS.  (Even with some recent additions with version 1.4.9, the developers could greatly expand on this feature.) However, it lacks some vital features to aid small weapons and light weapons identification. All things considered, DAVA Consulting has made a very handy SALW ID app with some room for growth–particularly in terms of a professionalism upgrade.

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The Program Executive Office Soldier, or PEO Soldier, is a organization within the U. S. Army responsible for rapid development and fielding of technologies that support soldiers.  That is a noble mission no doubt, but my gripe with PEO Soldier is they invest time and money to develop technologies that private companies have already been fielded and that warfighters have battle-tested.  Case in point:  the U. S. Army improved magazine:

The Army has begun fielding the new 5.56mm 30 round Improved Magazine that delivers a significant increase in reliability for the battle-tested M16 and M4 weapons systems. Bolstering the already high reliability ratings of the M16/M4 systems, the Improved Magazine effectively reduces the risk of magazine-related stoppages by more than 50 percent compared to the older magazine variants. Identified by a tan-colored follower, over 500,000 of the improved magazines have been fielded to units in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the U.S.

“With the improved magazines, we’re taking weapons reliability up another notch,” said LTC Chris Lehner, Product Manager Individual Weapons. “By incorporating a heavier, more corrosion resistant spring, along with a new follower design that does not tilt inside the casing, our engineers were able to develop a magazine that presents a round to the weapon with even greater stability. Increased magazine reliability results in overall improved weapon system performance.”

Sounds great, right?  There’s only one problem.  MagPul Industries already developed such a magazine–the PMAG (PDF)–in 2006 and released it in 2007.  Since that time, the PMAG has been continuously improved, gaining a reputation for strength and reliability among civilian, law enforcement, and military users.  The thing is even strong enough to get run over by a truck.  (If one private company is not enough for you, TangoDown has its own high-reliability magazine, the ARC Magazine, which was released in 2009.)  To compound matters, the PMAG is in the military supply chain with its own NATO stock number.

Besides this obvious oversight, PEO Solder’s multimedia folks need a refresher on basic small arms operation:

[Apparently, PEO Soldier Live pulled the video.  No hard feelings! –Editor]

Catch the error?  As Lightfighter member XGEP quipped, “Well there’s your problem… you’re firing the whole cartridge out of the barrel!”  Already at a credibility deficit from “reinventing the wheel,” PEO Soldier takes another hit from a poor presentation.  I have written that those who design weapons could benefit from a humanities point of view; the same is true for humanities folks who are short on experience operating weapons.  There are few people who see both sides of the equation.  (And look!  Here’s one that needs a job!)

However, this is old, old news.  What reminds me of this sad tale?  While jonesing for some Portal 2, I came across this hilarious promotion video:

As Aperature CEO Cave Johnson (J. K. Simmons) lists the advantages of his company’s death-dealing robotic turret, he answers an age-old question:  “How do we get so many bullets in ’em?  Like this!  Plus, we fire the whole bullet.  That’s 65% more bullet per bullet.”  Perhaps, PEO Soldier was finally ahead of the curve!  I can’t help but think the people who put this video together had that silly PEO Soldier video in mind.

Be sure to pause on the “tech specs” of that turret.  There are some funny components including a “empathy generator” and a “empathy suppressor.”  I also had a good laugh at the roughly-multicam turret who says, “I’m different.”  Well done, Valve.  Well done.

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A lot has been made of the ill-equipped, poorly-trained Libyan rebels.  Over at Defense Tech, they pile on posting a YouTube video with a supposed rebel and his AK having a catastrophic failure:

Here’s some Thursday morning entertainment. It’s apparently a Libyan rebel fighter showing off his skills with an AK-47 (it might actually be an AK-74U). Too bad the weapon just doesn’t want to cooperate. In fact, it hates firing so much, it self destructs after a few rounds. Oh and int looks like the poster of this video is, um, pro-Gadhafi. So not too sure how legit the claims that this is a rebel soldier are. It might just be regime propaganda but it’s still entertaining. Enjoy.

Not so fast.  The video, as several commenters point out, this video made the rounds a while back.  I found this one from November 10, 2010, but I am not sure if it is the original.  Plus, it’s not an AKS-74U–a favorite of Osama Bin Laden photo ops.  More likely, it’s a Hungarian AMD65 with a different fore end and muzzle break.  As the Defense Tech correctly point out, the video’s poster does seem pro-Gaddafi, so I am guessing it is poorly-executed info op, recycling an older video.

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Back during this year’s SHOT Show, it was ‘reported’ that Trijicon marks its Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, or “ACOG,” a rugged, fiber optic scope in use with the U. S. military,  with a “Biblical passage.” I use scare quotes around “reported,” because users started noticing this in 2006–if not earlier.

The offending markings include “JN8:12,” which appear as part of the model description “ACOG4x32JN8:12” alongside the magnification (4x) and objective (32mm).  The Military.com article gives us the text of John 8:12:  “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”  For reasons both secular and religious, this will upset more than a few people, but before anyone gets too hysterical, let us consider the technology at hand.  The scope’s reticle is illuminated via fiber optic without any help from batteries.  This, rather than any ‘holy war’ histrionics, explains light reference.  While this is no doubt one of the more explicit references to religion in the American arsenal, the media is largely silent on the AGM-114 “Hellfire” air-to-ground missile taking center stage in the Afghanistan-Pakistan “drone war.”  This begs the question “why?”

GEN Petraeus called the revelation “disturbing,” and no doubt COINdinistas everywhere are cringing at the possible alienation of Muslim populations.

Commentators have put significant blame on Trijicon, but the personnel responsible for the solicitation should not be held blameless. I polled several non-experts on the the markings, and all recognized them for what they were.  There is no excuse this slipping past those responsible for the solicitation.

Clearly, the military needs more people from the humanities who have the intellectually curiosity to ask the right questions about these systems–particularly when they will be deployed in complex cultural terrain. As I have written before, there is much more to these solicitations than selecting the best technology for the application.  However, there must be an effort to ensure that the non-technical aspects affecting the solicitation are the right ones. Indeed, making weapons is not purely an engineering task but requires a multitude of lens not the least of which is a “culturally aware” humanities approach.  As the epigram on Thomas Ricks’ blog reads, “Weapons speak to the wise, but in general they need interpreters.”  And even the wise get it wrong sometimes. (See Ricks’ goofy response to the BulletFlight app.)

It is important to not that this optic is, as folks in the military say, “very good kit.” It is extremely durable and, by all accounts, performs its mission well. A concerted effort must be made to minimize the disruption to warfighters as the “Bible verse” faux pas is corrected. For example, they must be re-zeroed if the optics are removed from the weapon and any time they are without the optic they are denied what may often be a life-saving edge.

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Unfortunately, my research (and a thinly-stretched travel budget) prohibited me from attending SHOT Show 2010 in Las Vegas.  However, I have come across a few announcements here and there that caught my attention.  First and foremost are a few new high-capacity box magazines, which might be good candidates for the IAR.  As I mentioned before, I am not sold on drum magazines.  In fact, a RPK-like box magazine might be just what future IAR gunners need.

The first, and perhaps best, candidate is a 40-round version of Magpul’s well-respected PMag.  There are photos and some preliminary thoughts on the Military Times’ Gear Scout page.  When you check out the new magazine, be sure to take notice of the hilarious “Hello, Kitty”-like rollmark on the rifle.

40-Round PMag

Image Courtesy of Stickman

The next potential candidate I saw in this month’s issue of American Rifleman, which features an article on various magazines for the AR15/M16 system. Lancer Systems has announced a 48-round L5 Competition magazine.

Lancer L5 Magazine

Image Courtesy of Lancer Systems

L5 Magazine in Action

Image Courtesy of Lancer Systems

The L5 Competition is being pitched to 3-Gun competitors, but it may be useful for the IAR or similar type weapons.

For those unfamiliar with the IAR concept, advocates of the weapon system have called for a re-thinking of “suppressive fire” laid down by M249 SAW gunners. The argument is that unaimed fire does little to deter the enemy and that the only true “suppressed” enemy is a dead one, so a Marine armed with the IAR ought to focus on aimed, lower rate fire. Given this, one might argue that high capacity box or drum magazines are unneeded in the first place. At least to me, “aimed suppressive” firing seems like an issue of training rather than new technology, but the concept holds promise.

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My post on the IAR solicitation continues to get hits, so when I saw this article in the Marine Corps Times I thought you would be interested:

Marine acquisition officials are considering a high-capacity magazine that could hold 50 or 100 rounds and fit numerous 5.56mm weapons, raising questions about the Corps’ plans to move forward with development of the controversial infantry automatic rifle.

Marine Corps Systems Command, based at Quantico, Va., is “seeking potential commercial sources for a high capacity magazine for use in a semi or fully automatic rifle,” with responses that were due by Nov. 17, according to a new advertisement to industry. The magazine would need to fit “the M16/M4/HK 416 family of weapons,” which includes the new 5.56mm auto-rifle SysCom is considering as a replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in most fire teams.

Marine officials did not respond to requests for comment, but adopting a high-capacity magazine for the IAR would address concerns posed by some grunts worried that replacing the SAW with the IAR would cut firepower in situations where a sustained rate of fire is needed.

The SAW typically holds a 200-round drum of 5.56mm ammunition, while the IAR is designed for use with 30-round magazines.

Maj. John Smith, the weapon’s project officer, said in September that the Corps was “close to having a decision” on the IAR contract competition, which pits one rifle from FN Herstal, two variants from Colt Defense and one from Heckler & Koch against each other. At the time, Smith acknowledged that Commandant Gen. James Conway had questioned how the IAR will fit into fire teams, but said that his concern was “answered in short order.” Smith declined to elaborate, and Maj. David Nevers, a spokesman for Conway, said the commandant was unavailable for comment.

At the Modern Day Marine exposition held at Quantico in October, FN Herstal displayed a high-capacity magazine for its IAR variant that can hold 100 to 150 rounds. Another contractor, Armatac Industries, has approached the Corps about a 150-round magazine it makes and says is compatible with each of the finalists’ weapons.

Early in the evaluation process for the IAR, the Corps’ requirement called for the weapon to use 100-round magazines. That was eventually eliminated in favor of using the same 30-round magazines, as Marine officials sought to cut weight from the SAW’s replacement.

According to Darren Mellors, LWRC had been developing a high-capacity magazine like this for its candidate as well. I am not sure what this bodes for the IAR or the SAW, but I would be curious to see how well they perform in the field. To say the least, the BETA C-Mag has not gotten very flattering reviews. In theory, I like the idea of a system like the RPK that can alternate between drum and box magazines. However, drum magazines are much more complex and getting them ‘right’ is no easy task. It might be worth looking into 40- and 50-round box magazines akin to the RPK and Galil as another option. (For more information on Kalashnikov drum magazines, see this thorough article in Small Arms Review.)

With all this talk of high-speed low-drag mags, it is worth noting that soldiers could always use more regular vanilla 30-round magazines. These things are intended to be disposable items, and their springs wear out from repeated compression and decompression. Bad magazines are a top culprit of M16/M4 malfunctions, and they are a lot cheaper than a brand-new weapon system–particularly when the new system uses the same mags a la the SCAR. I have heard too many stories about warfighters not having enough, good-quality mags, and it is a pretty sorry commentary. I do not have an exact figure for what the DoD pays for a plain Jane STANAG magazine, but I have to imagine its less than $10. That’s $10 for truly life-or-death equipment.

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