Army investigating powered rail systems

PEO Solider is giving powered rail systems a serious look. Gear Scout reports

β€œIt hooks into the 1913 rail system. And what that allows you to do is put a system on [the weapon] and do away with the battery pack. And what you can do is on the buttstock of the weapon or the hand grip you can put batteries in there. So everything you put on this system is already hot wired and can run off that. And you get a lot more battery life out of that too.”

I think incorporating a large backup battery in the rifle which all accessories could tap into when their primary battery dies would be a win.

Last year I reported that NATO is also investigating powered accessory rails.

[ Many thanks to Lance for emailing me the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Monty

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the backup battery in the accessory and the big primary battery on the weapon? One battery you charge regularly and several that you shouldn’t need to replace would make more sense then the other way around…

  • Mike S

    Nice to see the Swedish AK5 in the illustration πŸ™‚

  • JonMac

    Maybe this could be combined with electronic ignition.

  • SpudGun

    I’m with you Steve, I think a big primary battery would be a win. Carrying different sized, small batteries from a variety of manufacturers to power the various electro-gizmos is counter-intuitive to KISS.

    I don’t want to get into the ‘What if…’ game as my answer would be – carry a spare primary battery.

  • Sian

    @monty yeah, you’d need a small, rechargeable backup battery in the device, but could rely on the rail system for primary power. I bet you could even attach an accessory battery pack to the rail itself if need-be, though obviously having the primary battery in the pistol grip and/or stock would be best for balance.

  • WeaponBuilder

    I foresee a great deal of FAIL in this system.

    Monty is right – it would make a great deal of sense for each individual component to have a battery backup, and the primary battery on the weapon itself. However, that increase in weight may cause the powered rail systems to be cumbersome, with added weight due to the redundancy of the systems.

    Therefore – if you’re going to have sealed backup batteries in every accessory / component / optic, then why have the powered rail in the first place? It’s added weight.

    Another major flaw is the potential for this weapon system to catastrophically fail resulting from accidental discharge of the battery system due to an electronic short! Let’s face it – our Soldiers & Marines need a weapon system that WILL FIRE each and every time they press the trigger! They need weapon OPTICS and ACCESSORIES that WILL help them put rounds on target and be functional at the moment of truth.

    In a wet or jungle environment any weapon exposed to rainfall, a river crossing, MARINE or SEAL water-borne deployment, or any other notable lengthy exposure to water – and the system could begin discharging the battery inadvertantly. Your battery pack may be cut from 85% charge to 25% charge if such a moisture condition wasn’t noticed overnight. By the next morning the batteries could be totally spent.

    There are countless battery operated devices which rely upon water-tight seals to keep their integrity. Likewise those same countless devices fail due to water infiltration.

    An electronic ignition would be the LAST thing I’d ever want on a military rifle due to unreliability. Even with a micro-piezo ignition backup – it would be full of fail as the crystals used to spark ignition wear out quickly.

    Additionally, it could prove interesting trying to keep these weapons light weight while also having to shield their systems from EMP or other radiative interference.

  • Lance

    There is already speculation this will be part of the M-4 upgrade competition. As part of the improved rail requirement.

  • Martin (M)

    It’s an interesting concept, at least from an engineering standpoint. I still doubt they can make a system that is resistant to malfunction caused by combat/environment/soldier. Ultimately, I think anything of this sort would only serve to give soldiers fits, and armorers even bigger headaches. It’s the modular nature of rail systems that makes it impractical. Too many places for shorts to occur and drain batteries. This could be mitigated by making it decidedly un-modular and built into the weapon, but only by a small margin.

    Ultimately, I think taping wires to a weapon would be a better solution. At least then it could be repaired on the spot and for almost no cost. I know it sounds crude, but at lest then a rifleman would have some modicum of ownership and control over the inevitable electrical problems.

    Let’s be honest here. There is no perfect no-fault no-fail rifle. There’s no telling what problems will arise once you add electrons.

  • zincorium


    Making batteries watertight isn’t impossible, as you seem to be implying, nor is it particularly difficult now. There is an issue with doing so while making it field replaceable, but you don’t have to break the laws of physics or anything.

    Electrical ignition will probably come into it’s own in the next few decades. Just because the current design is bad doesn’t mean a good design can’t be made. The advantage of electrical priming is that it could be both simpler and more reliable if a good system is developed, as the entire trigger/firing pin/sear system is then replaced, and that’s a system that suffers from a lot of failures as it is.

  • sadlerbw

    You could probably head off a good number of problems if you used induction rather than contacts to power the accessories. I’m not sure if you could power an induction system effectively off batteries or not, but if you can it would probably be pretty easy to run a big loop under a 1913 rail. That way the accessories don’t need a good physical contact, they just need to be reasonably close to the rail, or whatever the indiction coil is mounted in. I’m not sure about electric ignition, but induction would probably make a whole lot of sense in a rail.

    Shielding should be much of an issue, and its pretty obvious why. I imagine all of the current accessories ALREADY have to be hardened to some extent. I mean, IR lasers, lights and Eotechs are already electrical devices so if they are vulnerable to EMP, it doesn’t matter what the power source is. If the Military has requirements for resisting interference, then wouldn’t you expect the accessories we are using right now to meet those requirements?

    – Bret

  • Jake Davis

    Should be possible to have recoil operated recharging system much like hybrid vehicles or crank radios

    • Jake, that an idea! Energy could be generated from the bolt movement, but it would not be very much and would be heavy and bulky.

  • In January 2008 the US Army awarded a small SBIR contract award to our firm for the improvement of the Picatinny rail as part of their dual contract intiative for the M4 rifle. This award has resulted in the successful development and deployment of the M4 powered rail solution (buttstock battery) as designed by our firm. We have patented a proprietary bus board that uses 2 A contacts that are only active with engagement of the accessory. This improvement is SOCOM MilSpec to 20 meters and is completely waterproof. Our solution reduces overall warfighter weight, improves accessory performance, improves balance and greatly reduces cost. For redundancy, we also provide a back up battery in the pistol grip. The contract required an in theatre, non machined, no manufacturer drop in solution. Please check out for more information. We have recently deployed our product and welcome all comments and thoughts.

  • bob

    What is the powered rail system used for?

  • charles222

    The myriad accessories that you see on rifles today; lasers and lights to be specific.