The push to enhance the lethality of the infantry at squad level and the rifleman in particular has extended beyond just the weapon itself. It is now encompassing advances in ammunition, the sighting systems and even a more flexible approach to the assigned tasks of squad members.
Multiple weapons can now be assembled from a single chassis. In this way a squad member can customise his weapon by attaching different barrels, butt stocks, forearms, feed systems, and accessories to potentially create a carbine, a rifle, an infantry automatic rifle, or even a light machine gun or designated marksman rifle. The concept was demonstrated in the 1960s by Eugene Stoner and his 63A weapon.
Today a number of companies are offering similar capabilities. The logistic benefits may be obvious but the tactical ones are equally significant. When each member of a squad has a similar engagement capability it is possible to adapt the role that each member plays in any combat situation.
For example, a team being employed to deliver a base of fire could have several members performing as ‘automatic fire riflemen’ rather than only one. Likewise individuals in a team conducting building clearing could simply change roles based on what is needed and where they are located at any given time in the conduct of the assault.
Several infantry weapons are being offered with this capability:
- MSBS System
- H&K HK416/M27
- IWI TAVOR
The MSBS system (Modułowy System Broni Strzeleckiej) uses a common chamber/receiver which can be configured in a conventional and bull-pup style. Modules can be attached to this base to achieve up to eleven different tactical versions including a sub-carbine, basic carbine, a carbine with grenade launcher, sniper rifle and a light machine gun. This design flexibility offers a weapon configuration suited for various roles within the infantry squad.
Heckler & Koch’s HK416 has been recently adopted by a number of world militaries including the Norwegian and French Armies, Special Forces (SOF) in 27 countries and (as the M27) the US Marine Corps.
It has proven to be highly reliable. A key attraction is that the weapon can fill all the squad roles of assault rifle for the rifleman, designated marksmen rifle, and automatic rifle with minimal adaption. There is a short version with 280mm (11in) barrel weighing 3.7kg (8.2lb) and standard with 368mm (14.5in) barrel weighing 4kg (8.8lb); it is currently fielded in 5.56 with a 7.62 version the HK417 and other calibres possible. A compact ‘C’ model with 228mm (9.0in) barrel is also available.
Israel Weapons Industry TAVOR uses a long-stroke piston bullpup system designed for reliability, durability, simplicity of design, and ease of maintenance. It can be configured to fill roles as an assault rifle, carbine, designated marksman rifle, or submachine gun. It is the standard infantry weapon for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and selected units in 30 other countries and built under license in Brazil, India, and the Ukraine.
There are concerns in some armies that advances in body armour have limited the effectiveness of some current calibers especially the 5.56 which is widely adopted.
In response to this the US Army determined to go to a 6.8mm government developed projectile. It is heavier and will need to be fired at a higher velocity.
It has been designated as the required bullet for their new Next Generation Squad Weapons – which includes both a rifle/carbine and automatic rifle. However, industry is open to propose whatever cartridge design that they wish.
This move by a major small arms user is also facilitating the introduction of some innovative ammunition designs. Textron Defense is presenting the Cased Telescoped (CT) ammunition where the projectile sits inside a polymer cartridge. Benefits of the CT are that the round is shorter and lighter.
GD-OTS & True Velocity
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS) is collaborating with the firm True Velocity to offer a fully composite cased round. “These are entirely non-metallic and average 30 percent lighter than traditional brass cartridge” explained Pat Hogan, chief marketing officer. “This equates to him being able to carry an additional 90 rounds at the same weight as 7.62 round”.
The composite case has proven in tests to be consistently more accurate as it is a heat insulator reducing heat produced during the firing process. That in turn diminishes wear and tear on the gun, he added.
SIG is also introducing new three piece construction hybrid ammunition. It features a brass case, steel base and an internal clip to connect the two.
This is also true of PCP Tactical which is offering both its own new ammunition case design using polymer cases with a metal base.
Most of these are interchangeable with existing ammunition so the adoption of these substitutes for brass in the US programme could provide the impetus for a broad introduction of this approach.
Advanced Sights Optics
The push for weapons with increased ranges and target effect offers little benefit if these shots are not accurately placed. To achieve this requires a new approach to target engagement.
Adam Maxwell at Vortex Optics suggested that “rifleman optics have moved from ‘red-dot’ to true 1X, daylight bright, forgiving eye-box, and rugged private proof sights like the Vortex Razor Gen 2 1-6×24. These offer the soldier a reflexive capability, increased PID (proportional integral derivative) [controllers that use a control loop feedback mechanism to control process variables and are the most accurate and stable controller] giving first round hit capability at intermediate ranges.”
The ability to make optics more rugged has led to the introduction of variable magnification, previously solely used in sniper scopes. Increased magnification allows the shooter to better detect and identify a target, especially at longer ranges. These capabilities have been further advanced, explained Thomas Haynes, senior manager International sales at Steiner, by “offering small compact rifle mountable units that include laser range finding, illuminators and pointing.”
Fire Control System
A true fire control system akin to a combat vehicle may be soon available to infantry weapons. An example might be SIG Sauer’s optic that combines a laser range finder with Ballistic Data Xchange software that enables it to provide an adjusted aiming point.
The next step is incorporating these advanced capabilities into a single system and electronically integrating it with other soldier viewing systems. In fact, this is exactly what is being requested by the US Army in its Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) as part of its pursuit of Rapid Target Acquisition (RTA).
RTA intends to further link the weapon, sight/scope and helmet mounted display for “battle sight” situations explained Matt Picket at the Fort Benning based Soldier Requirements Cross-Functional team.
Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW)
The US Army is currently testing candidate weapons from five companies, up to three of which will be selected to continue in a run off for its NGSW. The drivers behind the programme are defeating advanced body armour and to take advantage of technologies that can improve accuracy and extend engagement ranges.
In October 2018 the US Army Contracting Command in its Draft Prototype Opportunity Notice defines both a Next Generation Squad Weapon, both rifle and automatic rifle. Within the NGSW effort each selected contractor was…developing two weapon variants and a common cartridge for both weapons, utilising government provided 6.8mm projectiles.
The weapons include the Next Generation Squad Weapon-Rifle (NGSW-R) and the Next Generation Squad Weapon-Automatic Rifle (NGSW-AR).
The NGSW-R is the planned replacement for the M4/M4A1 carbine and the NGSW-AR is the planned replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) in the automatic rifleman role in Brigade Combat Teams (BCT).
One version must be provided that includes a rechargeable battery within the lines of the rifle. Industry sources suggest that to meet the requirements laid out, the ammunition provided must achieve a muzzle velocity of 3,000 feet per second.
Five companies are understood to have delivered NGSW-R rifle and NGSW-AR weapons. These include:
- Textron Systems
- FN America
- General Dynamics-OTS
- PCP Tactical
- Sig Sauer
In most cases specific details have not be fully released on what exact configurations have been provided due to competitive concerns.
Candidate weapons are now being evaluated by the Army with a down-select to three for further evaluation anticipated around early August 2019. Brigadier General David Hodne, director of the Army’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, indicated at a recent conference that the Army’s intent is to begin to field the selected weapons beginning in 2023.