As warfighting has evolved in the last decade and a half, so has the conception of warfighters and their weapons. Warfighters these days are managed as systems that include the integration of weapons, ammunition and accessories, even down to the ensemble the warfighter wears, from helmet, armor and uniform to sunglasses and knee pads. All these items allow warfighters to fight in various environments, especially in urban areas.
Likewise, the warfighter-carried weapon is not merely an armament—it is a platform. The integration of rail systems on weapons has enabled warfighters to switch out accessories as needed for particular situations, perhaps most notably for night vision equipment. Weapons will continue to evolve along those lines to integrate a variety of new capabilities, including non-lethal options.
Today’s soldier, and moreso, the soldier of the future, will be called upon to perform longer, more challenging and more diverse tasks in a variety of different environments and situations.
“Weapons have become smaller, lighter, more modular and more capable,” said Pete Altavilla, assistant vice president for program management at Alion Science & Technology. “They are capable of extended standoff ranges and precision strikes with a minimum of collateral damage. They also provide the ability to fight under all weather conditions and at night, while many others can’t.”
“The combat theater of the future could include everything from open territory to close quarter battle in a single operation,” said Amihai Dekel, a project manager at Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) and a former special forces officer in the Israel Defense Forces. “In the past, soldiers might go out on a 16-hour mission, do their work, and come back to base to reallocate their ammunition and equipment for the next mission. Future missions are likely to be longer, 72 hours, a week or a month, and without the opportunity to change equipment. These conditions require more capable weapons.”
“Individual solider weapons like the M4 carbine are continually being enhanced,” said Altavilla. “Rail systems have made weapons modular as soldiers can swap out different sensors and designators as missions require. The Army has introduced close combat optics onto the M4 via the rail system, which has allowed more effective engagement of adversaries at longer distances.” Alion provides science and technology support to several Department of Defense organizations in the armaments arena. One study Alion conducted brought about improvements in the dust resistance, and therefore the reliability, of the M4.
The company that invented the standard 1913 Picatinny rail system for the M4 rifle is Knight’s Armament Co. “That has been our biggest contribution,” said C. Reed Knight III, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We have delivered over one million of those to the U.S. Army and it has made a pretty big impact.”
Before the advent of the 1913 rail, accessories had to be affixed to weapons permanently or in some sort of ad hoc fashion. Some armaments manufacturers had their own proprietary rail systems which didn’t include interoperability with other platforms. “The 1913 Picatinny rail was standardized not only on the M4 and the M16,” said Knight, “but to all platforms and weapons systems and even internationally.”
One trend that has become apparent in the realm of solider weapons is that armaments originally designed for special units or specialized personnel such as as snipers have transitioned over to more generalized use. One example is Knight’s M110, the first semiautomatic gun built as a sniper weapon from the beginning. “Accuracy is what characterizes a sniper rifle,” Knight said. “Traditionally it has been difficult to achieve a balance between accuracy and reliability. But that is what we accomplished with the M110. It took over 10 years of development.”
Reliability in this context includes being able to accelerate the firing schedule beyond what is usual for sniper fire. That is the attraction of the M110 for the larger army. Since it can get off more shots than the typical sniper rifle with greater accuracy, it has found its place among more generalized soldier usage.
“It became more of a weapon for a designated marksman role,” said Knight. “They can get more follow-up shots than the usual sniper weapon. This is a product that changed what a soldier can do in the field. The Army wanted fast follow-up shots in target-rich urban environments and for that, they needed a higher firing rate as well as capacity.” Another example of this phenomenon is ArmaLite Inc.’s AR-10. “The AR-10 design is an ArmaLite original and is world-renowned for use as a precision rifle in a sniper support role,” said Walt Hasser, ArmaLite’s vice president of product management. “It is fast becoming the sniper’s primary choice of firearm on the modern battlefield.”
At the present time, ArmaLite does not have products in the U.S. military arsenal. “However, many of our designs are suited specifically for that application,” said Hasser. “The AR-10 is a versatile platform that gives the soldier extended range and power without a severe increase in weight or maneuverability. The added advantage of maintaining familiar architecture to the M4 or M16 keeps training requirements at a reasonable level. In any operating environment where engagement distances average beyond 300 meters, the AR-10’s 7.62-by-51 mm NATO cartridge outperforms its 5.56-by-45 mm counterpart in effective range, accuracy and lethality.”
ArmaLite has sold the AR-10 in the domestic commercial market as well as to domestic and international law enforcement organizations. “The AR-10 was recently adopted by certain police units in Brazil and has been very effective there in its role as a primary patrol rifle,” said Hasser.
Dekel sees IWI’s weapons as suitable to meet many of the demands of future combat conditions. One example is the Negev machine gun, originally manufactured as a 5.56 caliber weapon and which recently was adapted to 7.62 caliber.
“The Negev was designed to be a manhandled weapon,” said Dekel. “Soldiers can run with it because of its light weight. It weighs a little over 8 kilos (around 18 pounds), and has low recoil and a high rate of fire. The Negev is an operational machine gun that can be used for heavy fire support to maneuvering forces, yet it can also be operated one-handed. The barrels change easily and if the operator is out of machine belts, it can take a 5.56 magazine.”
IWI’s Tavor and X95 rifles are examples of more capable and diversified weapons coming in smaller packages. “We understood we needed to make smaller weapons,” said Dekel, “and we came to the conclusion that the bullpup configuration solves that problem.” In a bullpup configuration, the magazine is located behind the trigger, shortening the overall length of the weapon while keeping the length of the barrel.
“The center of weight is towards the back. This allows the operator to handle the weapon more smoothly when standing or prone,” said Dekel. “It makes the weapon more suitable to close-quarters battle. The weapons have an ambidextrous safety catch and the magazine can be changed from the left or the right. The Tavor, because it is in a bullpup configuration, is a short weapon with a long barrel. The size of the weapon makes it efficient for close-quarters battle and the longer barrel allows the user to deal with longer distances.”
IWI’s Dan sniper rifle was designed to address shots at longer and shorter distances. “This reflects our understanding of the modern battlefield,” said Dekel. “Shooters need to deal with both sides of the spectrum. Close-quarters combat requires precise shooting at shorter distances. The Dan 338 provides precision at all distances in a weapon that weighs under 15 pounds.”
IWI’s legacy weapon, the world-renowned Uzi, has also been upgraded over the years. What started out as an Israeli paratrooper weapon has now been adapted to a variety of special forces as well as homeland security missions. “It is a small weapon with a high rate of fire,” said Dekel. “We have made it more lightweight by incorporating more polymers and easier to use by applying ergonomics. The weapon is easy to handle while climbing up and down and can be worn under a civilian suit with the stock folded.”
ArmaLite’s engineering teams have been busy increasing the functionality and features of the company’s product lines, noted Hasser. “They are creating concepts that solve problems our end-users are faced with,” he said. “In the last year we have developed a recoil management capability that allows shooters to easily tune the system to their individual ammunition and shooting styles by adjusting the gas system and compensator. This allows the shooter to stay on target by recovering instantly during rapid fire strings, a feature appreciated by competitors and professional operators alike. The same system allows the shooter to adjust rate of fire to be optimal for suppressed mode shooting, adverse conditions or a specific ammunition type.”
ArmaLite has also enhanced the architecture of its firearms to be optimized for modern shooting techniques and compatibility with current accessories. “Our hand guards are extended in length and reduced in outside diameter, providing a very comfortable grip, more surface area for braced shooting and maximum rail and keymod space for mounting optics and accessories,” said Hasser. “We’ve partnered with the best accessory providers in the business for pistol grips and buttstocks that incorporate modern design and technology. Our guns are light, fast, accurate and comfortable to shoot.”
ArmaLite is constantly pushing its designers and developers to create next-level products that eliminate problems end-users face. “In firearm design, that always means lighter, faster, stronger and more accurate,” said Hasser. “It also means versatility and multi-function features. Our designs integrate advanced coatings, materials and features that create better reliability with less maintenance and increased accuracy with less weight.”
The sniper rifle of the future, according to Altavilla, will be equipped with embedded electronic fire control systems. “It will take into account environmental factors, such as wind speed and humidity, all of which are currently calculated manually or by working with a spotter,” he said.
Altavilla also expects weapons to be equipped for scalable effects. “We will see a lot more in the realm of lethal versus nonlethal and disabling technologies in a single system,” he said. “This will give the soldier the ability to deal with different situations without necessarily having to use lethal force.”
In the near term, this could be accomplished with an accessory that is attached to the individual weapon, such as a laser, that has the effect of disorienting or dazzling, or some sort of sonic device. “In the longer term,” said Altavilla, “these options will likely be more integrated on the weapon platform.”
Optics will become more sophisticated with the addition of capabilities that will allow for the acquisition and transmission of tactical information over tactical networks. “Weapons will be equipped with more powerful electronics for fire control and will evolve as a sensor platform as well as a lethal instrument,” said Altavilla.
“We are increasing our capability to provide a true custom shop by investing in our existing Premier Services Division,” said Hasser. “This advancement elevates our research and development capacity and fosters an environment of constant evolution within our product lines and our company. The agility of the Premier Services Division allows us to get in and out of the development cycle quickly and integrate concepts laterally into existing product lines without pulling resources away from production. The Premier Services Division gives us an avenue to support the niche needs of very specific end-users.”
Knight would like to see the Army become more open to engineering improvements suggested by the company. “We put in over 30 engineering change proposals on the M110 over the seven years it has been in use and the Army did not accept any of them,” he said. “It wasn’t for budget reasons, because we also made cost improvements. The Army could have a much better rifle. The Army needs to do more to motivate industry to make improvements.” ♦
- Issue: 5
- Volume: 5