Weekly DTIC: Jim Schatz on Caseless Ammunition

Caseless

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.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • bbmg

    Surely the title should read “Jim Schitz on caseless ammunition”.

  • dp

    Case-less-case-less we hear the clamoring… and how about liquid propellant. Once in company I worked someone (very enthusiastically) gave presentation of LP technology for small arms. It all looked so doable… but where is it?

    • bbmg

      Gas propellant certainly seems to be an option for higher performance in larger guns: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combustion_light_gas_gun

      If they get that sorted out then it might be practical to scale it down, and front line soldiers will feel the same pain that paintball players do when their bottle starts leaking.

      • Sam Schifo

        Somehow I don’t think carrying around compressed bottles of a highly combustible gas in a warzone is a particularly good idea.

        • noob

          it may not be very healthy, but if it’s effective you’ll get ordered to do it anyway. think about the poor flamethrower operators of ww2?

          • Sam Schifo

            Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Flamethrower operators in WW2 had an average life expectancy of around four minutes. Now, imagine EVERY soldier carrying a small flamethrower tank around. Even if it’s just a theoretical idea, it’s a really bad one.

    • There was a neat variation on the concept where the liquid propellant was encapsulated and loaded into conventional cases.

      • dp

        Exactly, now I read what you say! What was the outcome?

    • dan citizen

      A brief scan of youtube shows that teenagers experimenting have achieved decent results thanks to easily accessed computer modelling and good old fashioned ingenuity.

      “Guns” charged with compressed air and acetylene/propane mixes are pushing a “c” battery projectile over the speed of sound.

      A nice DARPA project could probably produce something pretty neat.

      • bbmg

        The CLGGs I linked to in a previous comment are pretty much teenage hybrid spudguns with proper funding 🙂

        • dan citizen

          It was a great read, thank you.

      • dp

        That is what I am thinking (albeit just for myself) long time. Gaseous state of propellant must be most convenient because of straight conversion; although energy density might be better with ‘solid fuel’. Of course, with any such thing we have so much more the seal issue. Who then says, that gas/liquid cannot be in old fashioned shell.

        • noob

          I always thought it was odd that my car engine can make 6000 little explosions in a quarter of a minute and run all day without me needing to take it apart and clean out the carbon fouling. A gun is just like the cylinder of a internal combustion engine, except the bullet is a piston that flies out the end of the cylinder and goes downrange.

  • Kevin Harron

    I like the idea of caseless, but I think we need some advances in material science to happen for it to actually work. I think we’ll see something like telescoping polymer ammo first.

    • I dunno, caseless really does seem to be fighting against physics.

    • Were not the big guns on ships essentially caseless ammo in WW2?
      They load a projectile, add powder, and primer separately, right?
      Surprised this cannot be downsized yet……

      • There is a very large, very deep metaphorical chasm between caseless ammunition used in large caliber cannons and caseless ammunition used in automatic small arms.

  • somebody

    The new telescoped polymer cased ammunition that is being worked on for the LSAT machine gun (and is mentioned by the author is an alternative to caseless ammunition) is a much better idea. For those unaware, instead of simply taking existing ammunition and making the case out of polymer instead of brass they went with taking caseless ammunition and adding a polymer case to keep it from breaking apart, this eliminates almost all of the class I stoppages listed, it also makes the class II stoppages listed not as bad as you don’t have to worry about the problems caused by the loose pieces of propellent and would simply use a cleaning rod to shove the bullet backwards and then eject the round. It also eliminates the problems with case separation that exist when you simply give normal ammunition a polymer case. The telescoped polymer cased ammunition is also less likely to cook off than brass cased ammunition as the polymer case insulates the chamber and doesn’t allow as much heat transfer as a brass case. As mentioned in the powerpoint, the telescoped polymer cased ammunition also reduces the weight by 41% when compared to the caseless ammunition’s 50%, the current design also reduces the length to about that of .357 magnum or pdw rounds like the 5.7x28mm while keeping the case diameter the same as 5.56x45mm so grip inserted magazines would become a possibility.

    • Unfortunately, the PCT configuration used in the LSAT program doesn’t solve the forward breech sealing issue. Because of this, a lot of gas escapes past the bullet during firing, which reduces efficiency and greatly increases barrel wear.

      Now, if only I could find the PDF where I first read about this issue…

      I suspect plastic-cased ammunition will eventually catch on, probably in a form not that dissimilar to what we have now, but with dimensions optimized for the new material.

    • dp

      If I did not miss something from what you say, we have two sticky issues remaining. One is smooth and reliable feed from usual magazine in usual way; not easy to do and rotary transfer is too complex for a carbine. Next one is removal of unfired cartridge/ clearing of weapon. Well, the base can have groove for extractor, right?

      • dp

        Actually, this vertical transfer can be done with suitable ramp; it will just have to be longer and more gradual. That means little longer receiver. Longer receiver will add to lower ROF and that’s good thing.

        • A longer receiver will also necessarily be heavier.

      • somebody

        I take it as you are talking about how the G11 feeds ammunition. The LSAT machine gun uses a push though feeding mechanism, best way to describe it is to imagine a revolver that is loaded from the front of the cylinder instead of the rear, and spent casings are pushed out the rear of the cylinder by the next round (the LSAT machine gun would only have one chamber though and not 5 or 6). There is also the G11 PDW’s way of feeding, which is similar to the LSAT except the chamber drops instead of flips out like a revolver. Here is a link that shows how the G11 PDW feeds: http://www.hkpro.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=25:the-g11-pdw-caseless-handgun&catid=11:rare-prototypes&Itemid=5

        • IIRC, the G11 was also push-through.

          • noob

            just thinking, how do you clear the chamber on a push through weapon? the rammer would be only long enough to put a round in the chamber. do you open the action and push the unfired round out of a hot chamber with your finger?

          • I am not sure. I have never handled one. It does seem tricky, though.

  • Lance

    Case less ammo….. naw! Me want the phase plasma rifle in the 40 kilowatt range LOL.

    • Seth Hill

      I have a feeling that we will see rail, laser, and plasma rifles/pistols before anything happens with caseless ammo. Other than H&K, who is doing anything with it?

      As for the rifles not able to handle rough or improper handling, they should expect that for a weapon that will be used by military. I think that if they develop something like what is used on artillery, where the breach is locked and sealed after loading a round there may be some hope for it. They also need to make sure that the rounds can handle rough/improper handling and still work.

  • eddie d.

    I’m kind of careful with topics like this because the discussion can easily
    lift off and leave the ground of reality, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

    I do think that the future of small arms will be an electronic solution.
    Like it or not, it’s just the way it is, like with Tracking Point.
    Electronic gadgets are just going to sneak into the world of firearms without any bells and whistles, like everywhere else in life.

    A couple of years ago I’ve seen an experiment from a young guy involving electromagnetic coils and propellant-less ammunition, much like the Navy’s railgun,
    only smaller, evidently.
    He achieved ca. 127 ft/s speed with a heavy, 509 gr. projectile and relatively weak current generating parts. With industrial grade accumulators (meaning a lot more energy), extremely efficient chip technology counting in nanometers and rapidly advancing microelectronic engineering I think electromagnetic firearms could be the long term directon of ammunition/firearms development.
    Of course, there are issues to be solved, like stabilizing the projectile without rifling, but I think generating enough energy and insulating the system are tougher problems.

    • Electrically powered ammunition is dependent on having good enough batteries. Currently, nitrocellulose is a much more weight efficient way to store energy than any current battery.

      Now, electrically primed ammunition is probably in store for the future, and not even that far off. That’s just my personal opinion, though.

      • Limonata

        Didn’t Remington experiment and even sell something with an electronic primer?

        • Zachary marrs

          Yup, the Remington e-tronix, was a massive flop

      • eddie d.

        20 years ago we had almost none of the technology our lives are based and absolutely dependent on today, just take the gadgets or the internet itself for example.
        Hospitals, government facilities, traffic control, basically every important facility uses technology we didn’t even have 20-25 years ago.
        This is also true to the batteries (and their efficiency) current devices use, even very high performance ones, just take portable defibrillators for example. Or, to stick with defense ind. examples, red dots or polyamid armor plates. 20 years back and nothing. Two decades from an individual’s standpoint is a considerable amount of time, but for technology it’s just a blink of the eye.

        Efficiency is the result of both energy efficient circuitry (power consumer) and battery technology (provider). For instance, a decent cellphone today gives you better perfomance with a ludicrously small battery than an early ’90s super PC with a 1.5kW PSU, constantly plugged in, devouring electricity. It’s just a question of time to double, triple etc, the performance (Moore’s law may ring a bell here).

        IMHO the conservative, inside the box thinking of the firearms industry and the revulsion of high ranking people towards radical change is more of a hinderance to development than technological hurdles, witness the calvary of the then space age XM16.
        It’s the same story as the fossil fuel dispute nowadays.
        Some people are the “yes we can” type, and some are the “no, we can’t”. Or at least that’s the way I see things, but I was always a “madman” when it comes to technology, so please bear with me and my blabbering.

      • As a guy who does HERO work for the Navy, the idea of electrically primed small arms ammo bugs the crap out of me. Google up a copy of NAVSEA OP3565, OP4, and OP5, and you’ll *start* to get an insight as to why. . .

        • I have heard this argument before; I’m not sure I buy it. Electrical priming is standard on almost all weapons used with on-board power. As rifles become “powered”, so too do I expect their ammunition to be.

          Nevertheless, there’s a discussion to be had here, and I certainly wouldn’t consider your caution on the subject to be misplaced.

          • Look at the loading procedures for handling CIWS ammo. Those procedures are there for a reason. That’s also why the Army prefers percussion primed ammo. (The Navy wanted ammo compatibility with the M61 aircraft cannon as their priority. But there’s a *very* good reason why later ATFP weapons like the Mk38 and Mk46 are percussion primed, and why those calibers were developed as percussion primed in the first place, despite being *exclusively* used when developed in externally powered guns that *had* to have electrical power.)

            One RF spike, and ALL electrically primed ammunition that isn’t in an RF shielded container can go off.

            Designing those flaws out of systems is quite literally my job.

          • Add to that, what does electric priming actually buy you in line infantry small arms?

            Nothing that will be a war winning game changer, and nothing that 90% of the trigger pullers can actually take advantage of, *plus* you’ve introduced more failure points and failure modes into what preciously was a very mature, robust, and reliable system. (For one, now the *rifle* needs reliable bonding and grounding, or RF *and* electrical isolation from the outside environment… And the best barrel and bolt group materials are still highly conductive metal…)

            The silliest argument I have heard used for electrical priming in small arms is “adjustable ROF”. PVT Skippy doesn’t need ” dial an RPM” with a bunch of settings, and even Semi/Slow Auto/Fast Auto is readily achievable through the mechanical trigger group. John Browning managed it about 100 years ago, and no one credibly claims the BAR trigger groups are fragile or unreliable. Nor will an electrical ignition speed things up to any practical level – the limiting factor is cycling rounds into the chamber, not lock time.

          • Hmmm. This is a very good argument, much more well thought out than similar ones I’ve heard before. Congratulations, you might have actually changed my mind! 😉

          • I’ve been looking at electrical ignition for about 25 years (since I was a bushy tailed young NCO), and been making these arguments for about the whole time. 🙂

          • Now, in an honest to God *sniper* rifle (not a DMR), different story… highly trained specialist in a specialist role, able to both mitigate the risks and take full advantage of a trigger pull adjustable down to effectively zero…

      • noob

        don’t the avenger and vulcan cannons use electrically primed cartridges?

        • Yes

        • Most Vulcan cannon use electrically primed ammo. There was a percussion primed variant, and while they may still be in service somewhere, they are entirely out if US inventory.

          Electrical priming wasn’t a bad idea for the intended role- aircraft guns where the ammo was basically in a Faraday cage an will ever be serviced or reloaded in combat. (Too hard to turn wrenches at 600 knots and 15K feet. LOL. )

    • Zachary marrs

      Really, last week I made a laser gun that can pop balloons and almost start a fire, so I imagine once case less ammo becomes feasible, their will be other options.

      Of course I could be wrong, iirc, the german leopard tank uses case less ammo

    • Mark N.

      Fin stabilized sabotted round, as are being currently developed for ship cannon sized projectiles. But with the power requirements, I can’t see the development of anything smaller than a vehicle mounted system, but with the benefit of ranges measured in miles beyond that of our current generation 155s. Shoulder fired weapons are a pipe dream absent development of a highly efficient and lightweight power supply.

  • If I might point a few things out.

    As far as I know, Jim Schatz has had NO direct experience with the caseless ammunition he is criticizing — his experience relates to a much earlier generation, when he was involved with the program about 30 years ago. AFAIK, the very problems he notes in his brief were specifically addressed in follow on iterations, *especially* once the LSAT program started messing around with it. (One really obvious example — one of the MAJOR reasons for propellant cracking was cracks starting at the stress points created by HK’s insistance on a square profile body. The LSAT caseless round is cylindrical for that very reason, despite not storing as efficiently volumewise, as HK insisted.

    I’m not saying he’s *wrong*, necessarily. I am saying he doesn’t have the latest data.

    • I believe he notes this in the presentation, or at least I’d never been under the impression he worked on LSAT.

      However, I am given to understand that LSAT hasn’t had much more luck with the idea, and Schatz’s criticisms are thorough enough to cool off enthusiasm for the concept, to me.

      • Rusty Shackleford

        Have you been following the development of the LSAT LMG? With a 44% reduction in weight over the SAW and the Cased-Telescoped ammo weighs 40% less than conventional brass ammo. The barrel is stiffer and more heat resistant, accuracy is improved and the action is more robust and easier to maintain than the SAW. It also happens to cost the same as the SAW to produce. Testing has gone so well with the Telescoped variant (preparing to enter TRL8) that a 7.62 version has been given the green light. The Caseless variant has an added mechanism to seal the chamber during firing to prevent unsupported detonation, and while admittedly needs a few more years to reach battle readiness, the USMC has put their limited funds into it, which shows it is clearly a viable option, thanks in part to all the hard work from HK and Dynamit Nobel.

        • I have been following its development. To my knowledge, the barrel life of those weapons is atrocious due to gas escape.

          I suspect LSAT will pave the way for a more conventional looking – but new – plastic-cased chambering with specifications optimized for that material.

          • Rusty Shackleford

            I’m not sure about the approximate round count for the barrel life on the Telescoped variant, although I am curious about the Caseless variant and its “mechanism to seal the chamber”. I would like to know more about its specs and lifespan. Maybe we’ll get more in-depth info the next time LSAT asks for more funding for it.

          • mcducky

            I’ve spent a lot of time (too much maybe!) looking at the various DTIC proceedings and saw a presentation on how they plan to seal the chamber for caseless ammo. It’s really quite simple. The chamber has a sleeve that is pressed against a wall by expanding gas and the other end is the chamber itself. See slide 8 in this link:

            http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2009infantrysmallarms/wednesdaysessioniv8536.pdf

            I don’t know how well it works, but it has possibilities.

          • I believe that’s the same design the G11 used. It has some technical issues

          • Jim Schatz

            This is the same sealing design concept as used in the G11 and ACR both for the expanding chamber and firing pin – nothing new there. Thing is if ANYTHING restricts the complete expansion of that two part expanding chamber the propellant gas jet cuts a groove in the chamber thus destroying the most important part of the weapon and placing the operator at risk from that gas jet. “Things” like debris and fouling, lack of lube, heat build up, swapping chamber parts, can cause the chamber not to fully sealing and you end up with countless broken pieces of your caseless round to try and clear or the gas jet scenario. In combat this is game over. Unless you can guarantee 100% correct function ALL THE TIME caseless will never be ready for prime time. Ammo with cases can be quickly rejected with immediate action unlike a misfire in the caseless world.
            Anyone with more than 3 years full-time hands on experience with caseless small arms ammo and weapons in the hands of GI’s can question this.

          • noob

            is the plastic case ammo subject to the same gas escape problems? or is the barrel life comparable to metallic cases?

            EDIT: ah wait, it does have the same problems – I just read your comment lower down in the thread.

          • One PDF, which I seem to be unable to find again, said the PCT LSAT was having a pretty gnarly gas escape problem.

            It doesn’t seem unsolvable for the PCT configuration, I just suspect it’ll end up being more convenient to go with a more conventional-looking non-telescoped configuration.

            Regardless, LSAT is doing very important research on plastic-cased ammo.

      • What I’ve seen with LSAT is that the program *has* managed to address the primary concerns Schatz lists — the big hump they are facing right now is cost of mass production of ammunition, which is still biting caseless in teh ass.

        The telescoped cased ammo for LSAT is very good, as well. I’d say that they are ready to start tinkering around with different calibers and bullet weights, to try and figure the appropriate bullets for adoption. I DO NOT expect them to find a “one size fits all” solution — physics is still a thing, and something small enough and low enough recoil to be a really good choice for rifle/LMG is unlikely to be an adequate performer for “GPMG” roles.

        I am REALLY looking forward to the final caliber selections. Remember, the ONLY reason they are restricting themselves to M855 family bullets at M249 SAW performance (in the LMG) is to ensure they have a TRUE apples to apples performance comparison with legacy weapons. I suspect the “light” (“rifle/LMG”) bullet will be something between 6 – 6.5mm, long for caliber (but SD in the neighborhood of current US military 5.56mm, maybe like the Mk318), and the “medium” (“GPMG”) bullet path will look an awful lot like .338 Lapua in design and performance

    • Jim Schatz

      The fundamental issues I explained apply to LSAT caseless as well – ANY caseless ammo where the propellant body makes up the round. This is why the caseless LSAT work have ceased. The technical complexity, risk, field issues and cost issues are not worth the additional 10% in weight savings over polymer cased ammo.

  • Marty Ewer

    Whenever the topic of ceaseless ammunition comes up, I’m always reminded of the Daisy VL rifle and ammo. Pretty neat system for what it was IMHO. But I might be the only one who thinks so.

    • bbmg

      Ceaseless ammunition… you mean hollywood magazines 😀

  • bbmg

    One idea that was not mentioned was the possibility of having the propellant inside the bullet, an idea that goes back a long time (see “Rocket Ball” bullets) but was experimented with by Benelli in the 80s:

    http://www.municion.org/Aupo/Aupo.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benelli_CB_M2

    • Works horribly in practice. Low SD, etc.
      Which is why it was abandoned.

      • bbmg

        If only tungsten was cheaper…

        • Tungsten doesn’t help much (you need a softer jacket or driving band, or you’ll have an overbires smoothbore in short order.). And it reduces lethality and effectiveness on soft targets.

          Various proposals I have reviewed for mitigating the lethality issue run smack into clear cut abandonment of Hague, and dramatically up the cost of producing ammo, irrespective of flat materials cost.

          • bbmg

            Surely a brass or copper projectile with a tungsten insert would match the weight of a traditional lead cored round in the same caliber without damaging the rifling, and you would have a similar dynamic to recent Russian AP pistol rounds on impact, making them effective against both hard and soft targets: http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/RussianAP.jpg

          • Right.

            1. Thick, soft, copper jacket, just as I said.

            2. War crime, just as I said, based on intended performance characteristics.

            3. Getting that penetrator perfectly centered, with no flaws in the thick jacket is going to be expensive (especially with rifle bullets), just as I said.

            If these rounds function as illustrated against soft targets, they are clearly in violation of the basic Hague standards (which even non-signatories have accepted). Because an expanding jacket is legally no different than just loading expanding bullets like hollow points.

  • Joshz

    I really feel caseless or plastic ammo will be the way to bring prices down. But no one has been able to do it properly yet.