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Subject: INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER
AMTP10E    10/5/2005 8:23:07 AM
JANE'S DEFENCE WEEKLY - OCTOBER 05, 2005 INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER Anthony Williams *The US Army's intention to replace its 5.56 mm weapons presents a rare opportunity for change in NATO *Other armies are increasingly adopting rifles in bullpup configuration *Whichever cartridge is chosen by the US will be in service for decades to come The US Army's intention to replace its entire family of 5.56 mm weapons will have repercussions for all future NATO small-arms calibres. Anthony Williams reports For the past quarter of a century, NATO has relied upon two different rifle/machine gun cartridges: the 7.62 x 51 mm and the 5.56 x 45 mm. The US Army's present intention to replace its entire family of 5.56 mm weapons with new equipment provides a rare opportunity to reconsider that choice. Evidence from recent conflicts questions the effectiveness of the 5.56 mm round and suggests that the opportunity for a review should not be ignored. What is clear is that the decisions taken by the US over the next few months will determine NATO small-arms calibres for the foreseeable future. New small arms for the 21st century The US Army uses two distinct families of weapons in 5.56 x 45 mm calibre: the M16 rifle and the derivative M4 carbine form one group, the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon the other. The M249, a licence-produced and much-modified version of the highly successful Belgian FN Herstal Minimi light machine gun, was purchased in the 1980s and the guns are now wearing out and need replacing. The US Army has also decided to replace the M16/M4 family with a different design, for more complex reasons. The constant search for a more effective infantry weapon led in the 1990s to the concept of small-calibre high-explosive fragmentation grenade shells designed to burst over the heads of their targets, thereby permitting the attack of troops in defilade, ie hiding behind cover. Studies indicated a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of small-arms fire. Ensuring that the shells explode at precisely the correct point involves some sophisticated technology. This includes a laser rangefinder coupled to a ballistic computer linked to the sights to ensure that the user aims the weapon accurately. The computer also provides data to electronically set the shell's time fuze as it is fired so that it detonates after travelling the correct distance. Two different weapon projects were initiated to use the new high-explosive airburst technology. One was the Objective Crew Served Weapon, now known as the Advanced Crew Served Weapon and designated XM307; this is a machine gun in 25 mm calibre. The other was the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, also known as the Selective Assault Battle Rifle and designated XM29. The XM29 was intended to be a shoulder-fired, semi-automatic grenade launcher in 20 mm calibre and to incorporate a compact, lightweight 5.56 mm rifle as a back-up weapon. The development team, led by Alliant Techsystems Corp, included Heckler & Koch (H&K) of Germany, which won the contest to supply the 20 mm and 5.56 mm gun mechanisms. The XM29 ran into difficulties when it proved impossible to reduce theweight any lower than 18 lbs (8.2 kg), the target being 15 lbs. A decision was therefore taken to continue separate development of the rifle and grenade launcher elements, while at the same time increasing the calibre of the grenades to 25 mm to improve their effectiveness against troops in body armour. Development of the grenade launcher is proceeding as the XM25, while the rifle element was redesignated XM8. The XM8 design is based on H&K's successful G36 rifle, with various modifications required by the US Army. It is clearly a much lower-risk project than the grenade launcher and is already close to maturity; plans to carry out large-scale troop trials have been drawn up. The XM8 is of modular construction and barrels of different lengths and weights can be interchanged to meet tactical needs, producing carbine, compact carbine, sharpshooter, and - with a long heavy barrel, a bipod and a large-capacity magazine - an automatic rifle. However, it was decided to include a belt-fed light machine gun variant in the programme, instead of the automatic rifle, to replace the M249. In view of this change another competition was announced for the new family of weapons rather than automatically selecting the XM8. A request for proposals was published in May 2005 with a timescale of 180 days in which to respond with written submissions along with four examples of each variant for testing. In July this was superseded by a further decision to suspend the competition in order to consider the needs of all of the services, not just the army. To complicate matters further, a different competition has been running in parallel for a new rifle for US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) forces under the designation Special Operations Forces Combat Assaul
 
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Yimmy    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   10/5/2005 8:43:30 AM
Nice read.
 
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doggtag    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   10/5/2005 11:58:44 AM
VERY NICE! Thanks AMTP10E. I read a lot on both rounds (6.8 & 6.5), but never having fired them all alongside each other (including 5.56), I personally can't say which is better. But doing the math definitely suggests either of the 6+mm rounds are the best choice. One benefit I haven't seen hit on: what is the potential of a dedicated AP round for either caliber (as in, how capable against the latest soldier personal protective gear?) I've read that certain match grade ammo from the Grendel borderline outperforms the 7.62 up to a certain range. Also, blended metal bullets from the 6.8 have shown to be very capable during the annual Armed Forces Journal Blackwater Shoot-Outs. Even though now is a prime time to do the comparison testing, I seriously don't think the US DoD is concerned enough about small arms deficiencies to do anything. No, the last thing they want is another "less significant" program that competes for a chunk of the defense budget that already isn't going to buy enough super fighters and future AFVs to keep everyone happy. I think we're going to see more political paper promises than we are going to get practical solutions.
 
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Yimmy    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   10/5/2005 12:19:29 PM
On paper, the 6.5mm Grendel is far superior to the 6.8mm SPC. That said, I think it should be noted that 6.5mm as a military round has a reputation even worse than 5.5mm current rounds. Both the Italians and Japanese started WWII with 6.5mm rounds, and both proved very poor at wounding compared to contemporary ammunition, with both nations moving to 7.7mm rounds by the middle of the war. (However it should be noted that the Italian 6.5mm round was an obsolete round nosed type). The 6.5x55mm Swedish round on the other hand is famous for its flat trajectory and long range accuracy, while being the equivilent of the American .30-06 to European hunters, with great success. However I do not think the round has ever seen a significant war.
 
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doggtag    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   10/5/2005 1:15:24 PM
You bring up good points, Yimmy. But caliber alone does not make up the effectiveness of any given ammunition. It depends just as much on the ballistic shape of the projectile as well as its center of gravity (for balance and flight stability), the propellant load, and certainly also depends on the rifling of the barrel it's being launched from. We can just as easily find poor examples of other ammunition throughout the ages, so we can't really use the argument that, just because past expirements with any given caliber created poor performers, that's no indication modern technology can't create a winner in the same caliber. In a way, we are seeing that with the issue of making current US assualt rifles' barrels shorter and losing bullet terminal performance at range (or losing range but keeping similar terminal performance.) You have to match the muzzle velocity to the round you're firing to get the best effect. That could be the reason those previous 6.5mm weapons failed: they didn't match the proper bullet dynamics with the correct muzzle velocities. The 6.5mm Grendel seems to have gotten it right, or at least gotten it better.
 
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bou boy    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   10/5/2005 7:18:59 PM
Yimmy, "The 6.5x55mm Swedish round on the other hand is famous for its flat trajectory and long range accuracy, while being the equivilent of the American .30-06 to European hunters, with great success. However I do not think the round has ever seen a significant war." The 30/06 is a more powerful round than the swedish 6.5mm. As to wars? Ask the russians who invaded Finland during WW2, they received massive casulties on the receiving end of this round. The Fins had very good marksman, it was a significant war to them.....
 
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AussieEngineer    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   10/6/2005 3:38:15 AM
It will be good to see if that AICW program comes to anything.
 
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Yimmy    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   10/6/2005 11:39:13 AM
"The 30/06 is a more powerful round than the swedish 6.5mm. As to wars? Ask the russians who invaded Finland during WW2, they received massive casulties on the receiving end of this round. The Fins had very good marksman, it was a significant war to them....." I was not aware Finland used the Swede round. And you are right that the .30-06 round is "more powerful", than 6.5x55mm. However it goes slower, bleeds speed and energy faster, and is less inherintly accurate.
 
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DropBear    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   11/30/2005 3:32:58 AM
Small arms? Are we breeding midgets?
 
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Lawman    RE:INFANTRY WEAPONS - SMALL ARMS AND THE SOLDIER   12/1/2005 5:11:21 PM
DB: Yes, the uniforms are cheaper...
 
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