Weapons: June 29, 2005

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: New infantry rifles are entering service. Some of these weapons are replacing classics, like the M-16. The fact is, rifle designs get old, and need to be replaced. While the basics have not changed, there is always new technology to use.

For instance, rifles these days are more likely to be made with a lot of plastic and composites in a number of areas (stocks, hand guards) where wood or metal was once used. This makes the rifle a lot lighter, which the grunts appreciate. Also, the composites tend to be a lot tougher and resistant to corrosion. There are also many new electronic components for combat rifles. 

The United States is one of the countries getting a new rifle. The XM8 is a variation of the German G36. It fired the 5.56mm cartridge, and has a 30-round clip. It comes in four configurations: A compact gun for combat support units or armored vehicle crewmen, a standard rifle for the average infantry grunt, an automatic rifle with a longer barrel and a bipod, and a sniper (for designated marksman). The modular XM8 will be easily converted from one format to another. For the Special Forces, the rifle is the SCAR which comes in 5.56 NATO, 7.62x39mm, or 7.62 NATO. The 5.56 NATO and 7.62x39mm versions come with 30-round clips, the 7.62 NATO version will have a 20-round clip.

Russia has the new AN-94 Abakan rifle. This rifle uses the 5.45mm round first used in the AK-74, and has a 30-round clip (45-round and 60-round clips are also used). The Abakan adds a feature common on guns like the MP5 and M16A2:  burst fire. Unlike the MP5 and M16A2s burst fire, the Abakans bursts are two shots. The Abakan was slated to replace all AK-74s in Russian service, but due to budget constraints, it has been limited to elite forces. The AK-47s descendents have been finding export orders. The AK-101/103 are two of these. The AK-101 fires the 5.56mm NATO round and has a 30-round clip. This picked up an export order from Venezuela (100,000 rifles). The AK-103 fires the 7.62x39mm round used in the original AK-47 this was because some concerns were expressed about the ability of the 5.45mm round to stop someone. The AK-102, 104, and 105 are compact rifles designed for the export market in 5.56mm NATO, 7.62x39mm, and 5.45x39mm. All have 30-round clips.

Belgium has unveiled the new F2000. This is a compact (28 inches long) bullpup rifle that still carries the same firepower (30 5.56mm NATO rounds in the clip) as the M16 or M4. It has a unique ejection system that kicks spent cartridges out at a safe distance from the shooters face. This makes the F2000 a truly ambidextrous gun.

China has also gone with a bullpup rifle. The QBZ-95 (Type 95) comes in Chinas proprietary 5.8x42mm cartridge, which is a little wider than the 5.56 NATO, but shorter in overall length. It has a 30-round clip. This was first seen in Hong Kong when China took over in 1997. Like the XM8, the Type 95 comes in a variety of weapons (including a compact version, an automatic rifle, and a sniper rifle). A version in 5.56mm NATO is called the Type 97 and will probably compete on the export market. The Type 95 fires single shots or bursts.

The American XM29 SABR, or the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) was supposed to replace the M16 and M4, but a weight problem (it was pushing 18 pounds) forced a split. This rifle was to have a modified XM8 firng 5.56mm bullets, and a 20mm semiautomatic grenade launcher with a six-round clip, for distant targets. It is also was to have a lot of the latest technology, including a ballistic computer, laser rangefinder, video camera, and a day-night scope. However, it had a weight problem staying at 18 pounds, it was too heavy for grunts, and lightening it to the objective of 14 pounds would have made it too fragile for combat conditions. So, it was split into the XM8 and the XM25, which was modified to use the 25mm smart shell for the XM307 (the Objective Crew-Served Weapon), and the XM25 will have a five-round clip for the 25mm grenades (with an optional ten-round clip). Ironically, the XM25 weighs about as much as the XM29 did (about 18 pounds), which is about 20 percent more than the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (a little over 15 pounds). The XM8 is entering service this year, and the XM25 is schedules to enter service in 2007. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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