Caseless Wonder: The VEC-91

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It all started when I was at my local hardware store that also sells firearms and firearm accessories. I was looking around on the ammo isle and on the very bottom shelf I saw a dusty label that said “Caseless .223″. I did a double take and opened one of the boxes. Sure enough, a dozen odd little caseless rounds were packed neatly in a foam retaining block. The boxes were covered in a thick layer of dust and priced decently, so I bought them as a curio. It wasn’t long until my curiosity got the best of me and I found a VEC-91 for sale and just had to have it to write about. I was happy to have this strange little Austrian rifle!

So what if I told you that this unassuming little bolt action rifle caused the ATF and proponents of gun control in the United States to freak out and cause a whirl of controversy:

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Well, that is exactly what happened when Voere, the small Austrian firearm manufacturer decided to create and export the VEC-91 rifle. The fear was over the rifle’s unique caseless ammunition that would make criminal investigations dependent on spent shell casings impossible. A study by the Violence Policy Center even recomended the following:

  • 1) Congress immediately direct the federal Office of Technology Assessment to study caseless ammunition and its possible effect on criminal investigations;
  • 2) the appropriate congressional committees conduct hearings to examine the problems that caseless ammo may present;
  • 3) the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) request of Voere that it indefinitely postpone export of its rifle and ammunition to the United States until the possible public safety risks posed by the new technology are determined;
  • 4) Congress give ATF statutory authority to regulate the availability, manufacture, distribution, and sale of fireams technology that poses a possible threat to public safety.

 

So all of this buzz over this little rifle, but the gun was brought in to the USA anyway.

The rifle was costly when it was first imported in 1993, coming in at $2,200.00 for the gun and nearly $2.00 per round of ammunition. Regardless of how innovative the gun was, it was a spectacular flop. So much so that I couldn’t find any info on it at all. I emailed Voere to try and get some information:

“Hello,

My name is Alex C. and I am a writer for The Firearm Blog and I have bought a VEC-91 rifle to test and evaluate for an article.

Would it be possible to get a safety manual or talk with someone who could tell me more about this special rifle that is of great historical interest?

Thank you”

They responded with this:

“Dear Sir,

Unfortunately Vec91 is not in production anymore. Production has stopped more than 15 years ago.

Therefore the is no material available anymore.”

Voere seems to have written the gun off as a loss despite its significance as one of the only caseless rifles to have been available to consumers. Shame too, as the potential for accuracy is incredible due to numerous factors:

  • The trigger feels like pressing a button on a video game controller (because it is just a trigger with a small button behind it)
  • Rounds are ignited electronically, so there is no lock time
  • Rifle has a match grade premium barrel
  • All ammunition came from one source and as such all rounds are identical

The rifle was so accurate in fact, that Kenny Jarrett (the benchrest king) shot a 5 round 0.070 inch (1.8 mm) group at 100 meters with a VEC-91. A pistol version was also produced:

3 - VEC 2011 10

So lets have a look at this thing. The gun looks rather unassuming:

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A quick detach scope mount is a neat feature:

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Note the low serial number. This gun is 0009, making it one of the first guns to have graced us:

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Taking the gun apart makes it look more like a pinball machine than a rifle:

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And the ammo I found for it:

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All in all, the gun is neat as can be but the last round of the ammunition has already been made, and as such once it is all shot up, the rifles will be silent forever (I can’t help but think of the Gyrojet pistols when I factor in ammo scarcity).

I was going to do a shooting review of this gun and sacrifice a box of ammunition, but when I got to the range and pulled the trigger, nothing happened. I pulled it again, and again and still no report rang out. Disappointed, I went back to my shop and tried to see what was wrong. I busted out a voltage tester and the batteries were dead (a problem that a conventional rifle would never have). While Voere said that the batteries are good for 5,000 rounds, the tester showed extremely low voltage. The batteries also said “Made in West Germany” on them and are a pair of very odd 15 volt dry cells. As a result, I assume the batteries’ age and perhaps leaving the safety off over the years had drained them.

So with that, one of the drawbacks of a caseless rifle became apparent: if the batteries fail, your hunt is over. All in all however I believe the concept was innovative and that the VEC-91 should stand in history as a valiant attempt to take us beyond conventional ammunition.

Related

Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog who was born and raised in Texas with years of experience in hunting, shooting competitions, and general collecting. A degree in History from Baylor University has contributed to his love of both early and modern firearms technology, but Alex is most fond of machine guns and other NFA toys. Alex also owns a firearm manufacturing business licensed to produce title I and II weapons.
You can reach Alex at [email protected].


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  • Alex

    Should have used a piezo element like you find in disposable lighters

    • Tom

      Would result in a very stiff trigger pull fine in an RPG not so good for a match rifle.

      • allannon

        Only if it’s in the trigger. A charging element with an external handle charging a capacitor might have made for a neat, solid state device. Might be able to build the piezo into the bolt channel, so when the bolt is cycled it charges the firing capacitor.

        • Tom

          I like your thinking. But one potential issue how long would the capacitor hold a charge? Of course since this is a target rifle might be easier to use a conventional battery.

          • allannon

            As long as a cap is not connected to a live circuit, it basically holds it’s charge forever.

            Practically there’s some drain even of a disconnected cap, but it’s still very slow. However, we’re still talking a charge retention of weeks or better.

        • Whiskey hammer

          I was thinking of pizeo generated current too. Focusing more on the self-loading applications, you could use a conventional hammer to strike the crystal to set off the charge. Then have the system cycle like normal. All the ignition reliability of the current technology, most of the major advantages of the caselss technology.

          • MrDakka

            Piezoelectric materials can generate a lot of voltage, but not many amps, so if the propellant requires a lot of amperage for ignition, piezoelectric materials cannot solely be used for ignition. As for a capacitor, it may work especially with new advances in materials technology.

            However, I keep imagining the following when you talk about charging a gun with a crank.

  • George H Hill

    15 Volts? I wonder if you can jury rig a battery that can give you that much and wire it in.

    • patrickiv

      10 AA batteries in series would do the trick. OP, could you show us where the batteries are located on the rifle and what kind of connection they use?

      • Guy

        Or use a lithium battery (3.6V) and a step-up DC-DC voltage converter.

  • Gabe

    If you can’t find a battery you can always get an external power source. Variable voltage DC power supplies can be had for less than $80 on eBay. I have been modding PCs for a long time and have to come up with many ‘creatively’ engineered solutions to make things work. Shouldn’t be too difficult.

  • dp

    Good work Alex C.! I came to know this design number of years ago and it was a stout argument against my old case-less scepticism. But as you see for yourself, it died out and probably for good reason (more than unique batteries).

  • Giolli Joker

    Very interesting article and rather disappointing outcome.
    Maybe it’s not your field of expertise (nor mine, actually) but I believe the electrical issue could be easily solved by an electrician, giving you the chance to really test this cool rifle.
    It’d be a pity not to try. :-)
    The VPC recommendations are hilarious… apparently police cases involving revolvers cannot be solved… (very reliable prediction of Voere commercial success from VPC as well).

  • John

    Alex, I have a Vec-91 too. The battery is cheap and available on eBay for $10 each. You need two. Th battery is Varta 10LR54. I was able to find 6 boxes for $25 a box. I also have the instruction manual in English. You aren’t missing much. They come in both full metal jacket and hollow point. Please do a review of the Vec-91 once you get it to work. Thanks.

  • Matrix_3692

    Is it ok if i translate this article and share it?

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      Absolutely OK with me. Thank you for reading!

  • Daniel M. Ramos

    Wow, that accuracy is impressive. Alex, would it be possible do a review of the ammo you purchased until you get the gun shooting? You could at least give us the physical specs and how it compares to conventional 5.56 ammo. Also, how does it stack up against other caseless ammo that has been experimented with? Have the patents on the technology expired? Would it be possible for a modern sporting manufacturer to adopt the technology and run with it today? Gosh, I just have so many questions. Great job on an interesting article.

    • dp

      I like to see more detail too. There must be a reason for that “miraculous” accuracy. One would imagine the chamber has a forcing cone of sort otherwise the pressure would not be obtained. It may be that casing is culprit behind lack of it with conventional design. From what I learned in past, the bullet inlet (its uniformity) into rifling is of extreme importance.

      • Y-man

        I think this group was meant to be 18mm?
        1.8mm is barely the size of this “~”. Impressive to put five .223s into “~” !
        dp, I caught you out on the sarcasm!

        • dp

          You know, Y-man…. it is kind of funny; some people did not absorb yet mm, cm & metre in INCH/FOOT/MILE land. I recall as I met once a young German immigrant down South. He looked me with slight grin of envy: “…you in Canada, you are metric, right?”
          As for myself I am fluent (have actual feel for) with both systems, although have a slight hang-up with degrees F, BTUs and that kind of crap.

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

          Nope, he shot a true 1.8mm group! Benchrest shooters can do even better, and the world record is 0.19 mm! It was set in Texas last year:
          http://bulletin.accurateshooter.com/2013/08/mike-stinnett-breaks-the-unbreakable-record-with-0077-group/

        • Giolli Joker

          As Alex C. said, the number is right.
          It’s measured center to center: group size minus bullet caliber.
          The perfect group would measure 0 (no matter the unit of measure)! :-)

          • HSR47

            In other words, it’s not the size of the holes, it’s the distance between the center of each hit.

  • iksnilol

    You do know you can buy a 15 volt battery?

    • Chrome Dragon

      I think I’ve seen those at Radio Shack – they’re a stack of 10 button-cells in a shrink wrap tube.

  • An Interested Person

    Very cool! I`m pretty jealous you got this, but thanks for the write up. ;-)

  • chead

    Is it not possible to “reload” these by replicating the propellant?

    • Ken

      Probably incredibly difficult and time consuming with stuff you can buy off the shelf. The ammo wasn’t even cheap when the company was mass producing it, so expect it to cost more without the benefit of economy of scale.

      • neoconfection

        It would probably involve putting the bullet in a mold of the case size and pouring in liquid propellant around it, and then letting it settle in the air.

    • MR

      Been too long since I messed with my inline muzzle-loader, what’s the term for those pre-measured black powder substitute pellets? Anyway, I’d imagine handloads could be accomplished through some alteration of that technique. If you get my drift… I need coffee.

  • kev

    Frankenstein….sorry Feinstein are one of the reasons why caseless weapons are going to be a long time coming. Along with the technical challenges, the though of a GHOST GUN that leaves no trace some people jumpy. kudos to Voere for their attempt their x3 rifle is a marvel of Austrian engineering.

    • Billca

      A ghost gun with caseless ammo would be 100x scarier to the hoplophobes if it was equipped with one of those “30 caliber magazine clips”.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Very nice job on an informative and well-written article, Alex — many thanks! I seem to recall a discussion on Forgotten Weapons quite a while back that included the VEC-91, and your article expands upon, and adds a great deal to, that topic.

  • FYI Guy

    Just a mention that Daisy made a caseless 22 caliber rifle called the Daisy Heddon VL 22. Made about 19,000 of them from 1967/68 before the ATF shut them down for not having a manufacturing FFL. They were kinda cool little rifles. Had a neighbor with one. We shot it a lot. Ammo is still readily available for them

  • IXLR8

    I vote this rifle, the find of the year. You could never manufacture a semi-automatic version, because it would be way too easy to convert to full-auto with a simple timing circuit. But how cool would it be to be able to infinitly adjust the rate of fire up to the capability of the mechanism? The trigger replacement could potentially be breaking a light beam, or zero lbs of pull.
    So many potential novel innovations lost forever.

    • Chrome Dragon

      Consider the sort of microswitches used in high-end, custom arcade joysticks – some are capacitive, some are optical, and judging by the look of the mechanism in the “pinball machine” photo, all should be drop-in replacements. :D

  • Jimbo

    Any half way skilled electronics tech, electrical engineer, or electronics hobbyist could design a simple inverter to convert a 9V battery or AA cells to 15V. If the firing pin is activated by a solenoid, they could rewind it to operate on a lower voltage.

    • Chrome Dragon

      No firing pin, I think. Just an electric spark igniting a specially sensitized primer.

  • dan citizen

    great article, thank you.

  • MichaelZWilliamson

    “Spent shell casing.”

    I stopped reading as soon as I read that. The correct term is “cartridge case.” “Shell casing” is what the mouthbreathers in the mass media and antis call them.

    Recoil, not “kickback.”

    Utility carbine, not “Assault weapon.”

    JHP, not “expanding killing rounds.”

    “Cartridge case,” not “Shell casing.”

    • neoconfection

      You must be fun at parties.

      • Billca

        Words and phrases matter.

        • Owl

          He’s quoting, he shouldn’t be penalized for something someone else says. And “spent shell casing” is probably a forensics term stolen by the media for their own purposes.
          Please shoot the right person at least. And keep collateral damage to a minimum. Go shoot public media, not someone referencing them to what someone else has done.

  • Smiddywesson

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a graphene rifle becoming the battle rifle of the future and employ this caseless technology. Graphene is the lightest, strongest, material known to man. At 200 times the strength of steel, you could make a lightweight battle rifle with orders of magnitude higher chamber pressures, and thereby carry ammo much smaller than 5.56mm due to the higher velocity (saving weight). Caseless technology cuts weight too, so I see it as inevitable. We may live to see soldiers fitted out with large caliber battle rifles and thousands of rounds totalling much less than their ARs and ammo weigh today.

  • Owl

    Not being a downer on US research, but how much was spent on LSAT? And now we find that this thing has been invented before. So we could have gotten the plans for this and focused on designing a SAW that can generate it’s own charge after an initial battery boost or a real charging handle in case of battery drain…
    Need to point this out to some manufacturers.
    How are the round stats? The only thing on wiki (yes, wiki) is an mv of 930m/s, comparable to the old M-16s (980m/s iirc), but doesn’t state the round weight or energy.

    • http://realskill.ru Ayur Sandanov

      Now YOU find that this thing has been invented before.

      • Owl

        Well, you got me there.
        There was also the G-11, but that was extremely complicated. This has a bit more potential.

        • http://realskill.ru Ayur Sandanov

          Just in case, no offense (at least I didn’t mean to). As to potential, maybe, but the LSAT project you mentioned shows that this is an iterative wandering in the dark just now, not a straight path to new heights. They find some pros, but those come with cons, and the financial and psychological stakes of a changeover are very high (not only for militaries, but for civilian sector as well). So maybe about a decade before the breakthrough, then extremely quick spread?

  • corey

    all batteries have a limited shelf life due to internal resistance, self discharge and seal failure… It doesn’t matter if they are in the gun with the safety on, or sitting in a drawer. Some battery types self discharge faster than others. Not even a CR123 could be expected to last 15 years and still retain any energy… However, since ammunition is much harder to find that the battery, not sure it matters much.

  • Chris U

    OK, so 12 rounds is $33. What is the white part that looks exactly like a case? It’s a case.

    • Isaac O

      The white part is the propellant for the bullet, which completely burns up upon firing. The rifle ejects no case, therefore the ammunition is caseless.

  • Mehul Kamdar

    The VEC-91 was a brilliant idea which piggy-backed on Heckler und Koch’s G 11 rifle design. sadly, the price as well as the reluctance of buyers to try such a radically different product (caseless ammo meant you couldn’t tinker with handloads etc) killed it. That said, I find it particularly strange that Voere do not have any archival material on it. You would think that they would hold on to their own R&D data at least in case an opportunity arose to develop and market an updated version of the rifle at a future date.

  • Great_Baldung

    Actually, you only need batteries if the ignition is of the electronic type. Otherwise, you just shoot until you run out of ammo.

  • bobdvb

    I’m not a gun owner but I was just thinking about case-less round theory/practice and found this article.

    If I were so inclined to upgrade this rifle I would probably replace the 15V batteries with a super-capacitor. I see it has a decent discharge cap to drive the ignition but with a supercap you remove the battery and it would be at least 10-15 years before servicing was required and they can be recharged near instantly. You could possibly charge it from a dynamo in the field of an evening or recharge it from your vehicle.

    Back when the rifle was made supercaps weren’t really viable but now are much more cost effective. A quick check of the current demand on firing would allow one to determine the best capacitor selection and it might be lighter as a result.