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Infantry Rifles Unsuitable For Many Modern Missions


the patriot

Jane‘s Information Group
Infantry Weapons 2001 - 2002
Terry Gander
March 2001

Last year‘s Market Review of Jane‘s Infantry Weapons contained several mentions of how the infantry weapon world is likely to develop during the coming years. This year‘s contents will be little different but one aspect of infantry weapons that has only recently begun to be appreciated is that the infantry rifle, the standard service weapon of any armed force, is unsuitable for many of the roles its users are now called upon to fulfil.

Until only a relatively few years ago, the service rifle was needed for but one role, that of all-out war. Further roles, that of training for war and the use of the rifle to guard government locations and facilities,
were very much secondary. The classifications are still prevalent and the standard rifle can cater well for all, although it seems that the likelihood of all-out war on the scale once envisaged during the Cold War
years is thankfully receding year by year. Those two base requirements have now been joined by new roles that almost any armed force anywhere on the planet could now encounter.

One of the most prevalent of these is that of policing and the maintenance of civil order, when soldiers have to keep the peace in support of local civil authorities by their disciplined conduct and presence. This is not a new role for the military for it has been around for many years, but it is one that requires special training and equipment, and the service rifle does not necessarily meet the low-key or softly-softly requirements that police operations dictate much of the time.

Closely allied to the policing role, United Nations duties are now almost commonplace wherever local disagreements might escalate into more serious potential conflicts. It is rare for military personnel carrying out UN operations, many of them soldiers untrained for their new role, to be popular to all the
adversaries involved in most local disputes, the reasons for which usually date back into the mists of time. Recent years have shown that calls for UN military personnel can arise from almost anywhere, with political executives keen to gain kudos by sending contingents from their armed forces to somehow keep the peace, no matter how far from home. Very rarely are such contingents able to do little other than contain situations (at best) and it is even rarer for UN personnel to be able to resolve the causes of the
initial arguments.

Then come humanitarian operations, where armed forces personnel might be feeding the hungry one moment and fighting off determined and unruly mobs the next. Perhaps the only certain thing about humanitarian operations, and UN operations for that matter, is that virtually anything might happen when
least expected and usually does. The point is that the current service rifle, no matter what its origins, is not really suitable for carrying out
the vast bulk of the policing, UN and humanitarian tasks that armed forces are increasingly called upon to conduct, often at short notice and all too often within uncertain and badly defined command structures.
In any one of these three `new‘ military roles, the employment of service rifles for their primary role, namely that of suppressing an adversary, is always likely to be highly counter-productive in political, social acceptance and primary objective roles, but a rifle is usually all the soldier will have. To add to this, the sight of soldiers waving around rifles and other weapons in a threatening manner in the face of hostile mobs who know only too well that those rifles will not be fired at them, is equally unwelcome to those who wish to maintain order and harmful to the morale and commitment of the soldiers involved.

It is difficult to determine how the service rifle can be adapted to meet all these roles, from high-intensity war to crowd control. Soldiers cannot be expected to quell civil disturbances by their presence alone, and neither can they be expected to remain defenceless in the case of determined attack. Yet the fact
remains that the rifle, and even the tactical shotgun, is all too often not the weapon that can be employed in many of the order maintenance situations now current around the world.

We are entering the world of the less-than-lethal weapon concepts now under investigation within many nations. To date, little better than variations of baton rounds or bean bags seem to be on offer, many of
them with effective ranges less than that of an active stone-thrower. The major drawback with such basic kinetic energy measures is that to be effective against really determined opponents, the degree of on-target energy transfer has to be very close to lethal levels. For most less-than-lethal fire situations, all
that is required is a sharp and unmistakable indication that an alteration of conduct on the part of thetarget is required.

The solution may be some way off as yet and its final form may take time to define but it seems almost certain that some less-than-lethal measures will involve some form of add-on device that can be added to a standard service rifle. This approach has the advantage, for the user at least, that if matters do turn really nasty, there is always the option of using the rifle for its main intended purpose, that of delivering
lethal fire. The trouble with the add-on approach is that the unbalanced rifle can end up looking like a Christmas tree with all the corresponding complexity, handling and ergonomic disadvantages.

Perhaps the solution might emerge with some form of modular rifle, on which all the many and various combat accessories, including less-than-lethal systems, can be closely integrated with the host weapon for handling and employment, while being capable of being added or removed in the field, by the end
user, according to the type of mission involved. Several current weapon systems claim this type of advantage already, but close examination of such systems, and discussions with the end users, will often
reveal that most current add-on arrangements usually end up as less than satisfactory, while their capabilities are rarely devised with policing and crowd control applications in mind.


It has now become an accepted fact that electronics are an important aspect of the infantry weapon scene, although to date most applications have been in the realm of sighting systems. A number of attempts have been made to introduce various forms of fire rate limiters and several programmes are
underway to determine exactly how various weapon state monitoring sensors can interface with the various soldier equipment and command systems now under development. Electronics are also about to
extend their capabilities to individual weapon fire control, the best current example being that involved with the US Army‘s Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW). On the OICW the Brashear LP fire-control module has capabilities not far removed from those available to battle tank commanders,
capabilities extending to thermal imaging and target tracking.

The drawbacks of the OICW fire-control approach are in the realms of bulk and cost. Getting all the OICW fire-control capabilities into a package as small as that used on OICW models seen to date has already been a major technical achievement but Brashear is determined to reduce the physical confines
of its fire-control module even further. Comparing the illustration of what hopes to achieve with the photograph illustrating the OICW entry will provide an indication of how compact advanced electronic circuits will become. The cost factor still remains apparently unsolved.

There are now indications, however tenuous they might seem, that electronics are about to invade the weapon operation sphere. Although it will seem outlandish to many, the first tentative steps towards using electronics to control the way infantry weapons are fired have already appeared. In the vanguard of
this movement has been Australian Metal Storm Limited.

For many, the very mention of Metal Storm conjures visions of huge masses of projectiles being released at cyclic fire rates of up to one million rounds a minute. Such fire rates have indeed been achieved by the introduction of electronically controlled ignition systems involving no moving parts. These projectile swarms have diverted attention away from the fact that the electronic systems involved
in the concept need not be confined to rapid fire. They can just as easily be utilised to deliver single shots.

The Metal Storm concept involves pre-loaded barrels with the individual projectiles separated by propellant charges spaced between them. Igniting the front charge of propellant under electronic control
propels the first projectile out of the muzzle while pressing back the following projectile to seal the following charge against premature ignition. Only when the second charge is ignited electronically will it discharge the next projectile, and so on for as long as required. A rapid ignition sequence will result in an
equally rapid fire rate. Single ignitions will produce single shots.

Metal Storm Limited has already developed and demonstrated an electronically controlled pistol with a single barrel containing up to 10 projectiles. Once the barrel is empty it is replaced by another, so no magazines or their associated mechanical adjuncts are involved. A second Metal Storm pistol is already
under development, with two 10-round barrels plus two more barrels containing less-than-lethal bean bag loads to allow the pistol to be used for paramilitary and police applications. Also under development, and funded by a US DARPA contract, is a twin-barrel rifle intended to investigate future technologies, with
possible applications for the future Objective Sniper Rifle intended to replace the US Army‘s existing in-service sniper rifles. It is probable that this latter project will be used as an advanced technology demonstrator only, but it provides an indication of the seriousness of interest that some agencies are directing towards all-electronic firearms.

It may well be that the electronic firearm is destined for an uncertain immediate future. The very prospect that firearms may be about to assume a new form could be enough to raise conservative hackles and general non-acceptance of the very notion of pistols and rifles (to say nothing of automatic weapons)
without moving parts. No matter how familiar and reliable they might be when applied to personal computers and consumer goods, electronic chips and their continually discovered commercial and leisure applications somehow seem foreign to the infantry weapon. Despite this reaction, it is increasingly
probable that all-electronic firearms will be introduced and gun buffs will have to get used to the idea.

This forecast is not one that seems likely to be rewarded with immediate or even near-term results. It will be years (and probably several more Jane‘s Infantry Weapons editors to come) before electronic firearms enter military service on any significant scale. Yet when they do arrive their integrated circuits
will probably introduce some novel features. One already demonstrated feature will almost certainly be a `smart‘ individual control capability, so only the intended user will be able to actually fire the weapon. This could be accomplished using one or more sensor systems on a pistol grip pad acting on an
individual user‘s thumb print identification, ultrasonics from some form of responder worn on webbing or a uniform, or some other form of radiating device. If the weapon is taken from the intended user, or lost by some other method, it will not fire. Electronics could further prevent the weapon from being fired when it is aimed at a friendly target wearing some form of Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) responder.

Another forecast innovation already under serious consideration is a fire rate limiter that will automatically respond to target range. Studies have long demonstrated that to enhance infantry weapon on-target hit probabilities at longer ranges, low and controlled fire rates or single shots produce better results than rapid fire. Electronics could produce a suitable device very simply by employing a laser range-finder output to adjust automatically the fire rate accordingly. Other fire-control innovations will probably progress along already established lines while becoming simpler, lighter and less costly as time proceeds. If all this were not enough, electronic weapons could automatically transmit their ammunition and operational status to a central command or supply position for replenishment or replacements to be effected.

As yet, much of this still seems far-fetched and highly improbable but there are now no technical reasons why electronics cannot further invade the world of infantry weapons. It may take years for the above
forecasts to become reality but they are definitely on the way. We will just have to get used to the idea.

Calibres reconsidered

To turn from an uncertain future to the present, the past year has provided several indication, to add to those already present, that all is not well in the accepted field of rifle calibre ammunition selection. With only a handful of standard service calibres in both the East and the West it would have been thought that matters had been decided for the indefinite future but it is becoming apparent that this is not so.

The level of discussion of the effectiveness of the smaller rifle calibres, 5.45mm and 5.56mm, seems to indicate that for many tactical applications such small rounds are unsatisfactory. Leaving aside the fact
that these smaller calibre rounds were not meant to have a long-range capability in the first place, it has become apparent that in the field of fire support, larger calibre ammunition, including the most widely deployed round of all, the ex-Soviet 7.62 × 39mm, is infinitely preferential to the smaller equivalents.
This was highlighted during several of the recent small-scale conflicts, such as those in the Balkans. In most instances the relatively recent `rifle family‘ concept of individual weapon backed by a similar squad
fire support weapon with a heavier barrel has not produced the level of firepower required in many tactical situations.

There are many other indications that the small calibres cannot always deliver what is required, especially in areas where vegetation is thick. In practical terms, the small calibres cannot always hack their way through to an intended target. It is for this reason that some nations, Finland being but one example, have never adopted the small calibres.

The general opinion is that in the longer term, there will be a move away from the current dominance of the smaller calibres back towards something heavier. This will probably not happen for years for any move from an accepted norm towards something different is bound to have many ramifications along the
way. For many users there may be no need to move away from the well-established 5.45 or 5.56, just as the 7.62 × 51mm NATO round remains firmly entrenched with many current rifle users. Yet it seems certain that squad fire support weapons could well move away from 5.45 or 5.56 towards something heavier, while special forces will eventually carry rifles with calibres heavier that most of those now in
service. This tendency will probably take years to become widely apparent but it seems that the initial moves are already in progress.

-the patriot-