Whenever the topic of future small arms comes up, a mention of the caseless ammunition concept is sure to follow. The benefits – lighter ammunition weight and reduced use of strategic materials – of the concept are obvious. The drawbacks, however, don’t see nearly as much time in the spotlight. Fortunately, Jim Schatz, former H&K Vice President of Military Programs, did a presentation in 2012 on his colored experiences trying to bring the idea from concept to reality. The PowerPoint file for that presentation is available on DTIC, and despite lacking Schatz’s narration, seems fairly complete.
The presentation, creatively titled “Caseless Ammunition Small Arms: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly”, documents some of the rather dramatic problems experienced with H&K’s G11 rifle and its 4.7×33 caseless ammunition. These include everything from the rifles taking rough or improper handling poorly, to malfunctions during the ignition of the ammunition causing total weapon write-offs. In particular, Schatz emphasizes the importance of the cartridge case – playfully called the “Exoskeleton Pressure Vessel”, or “EPV” – in protecting the ammunition during handling and feeding, and in sealing the breech to prevent the escape of dangerous high pressure gases that can wreck the action of a firearm.
Schatz’s presentation definitely makes a convincing argument for a great distance facing caseless ammunition before it will be ready for active duty. It’s probable that the technology may never be ready before it is passed up by less ambitious concepts, like plastic-cased ammunition.