The US Army’s Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) has developed an integral surface treatment for infantry small arms that could augment or supplant the existing applicated Cleaning, Lubricating, Preserving (CLP) lubricant on small arms components. The new lubricant is applied during the manufacturing of small arms and promises a permanent solution for weapons lubrication and environmental resistance. From Army.mil:
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — Although weapon maintenance may seem tedious to the unencumbered civilian, Picatinny Arsenal engineers know a clean weapon could save the warfighter’s life.
That’s why they are developing an advanced surface treatment for armament components that not only mitigates weapon maintenance but also provides increased reliability and durability.
Currently, when cleaning a weapon, warfighters use a conventional wet lubricant known as CLP (cleaner, lubricant, and preservative) that is continuously reapplied.
As early as 2003, the Army was experiencing problems with weapon stoppages in sand and dust environments if proper lubrication procedures and cleaning methods were not followed.
Army engineers recognized the importance of weapon maintenance in these extreme environments.
Thus, they set out to identify a materiel solution, which resulted in a Durable Solid Lubricant.
“The new technology eliminates CLP and uses a dry surface treatment known as durable solid lubricant, or DSL, that is applied during armament component manufacturing,” said Adam Foltz, an experimental engineer at the U.S. Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.
“So far the DSL has been applied to small and medium caliber weapons, such as rifles, like the M4A1 Carbine, and machine guns like the M240 to demonstrate the technology capability,” Foltz continued.
As a result of using the durable solid lubricant, weapons function properly, require less maintenance, and the war-fighter has more peace of mind regarding possible weapon malfunctions.
The DSL solution achieves three ideal outputs: a lower friction coefficient, better wear resistance, and improved corrosion protection. “Friction coefficient” describes how a weapon slides; a low coefficient means the weapon slides easily, a high coefficient suggests sliding resistance.
“With typical wet lubricants, Soldiers need to reapply in order for the weapon system to function properly. Soldiers also have to regularly clean off carbon residue that builds up from firing and it can be tough to clean,” explained Foltz.
“Our DSL has a high wear resistance and a low friction coefficient, so it’s easy to clean off anything that builds up. You can use a steel brush to knock off any residue, and you don’t even have to worry about reapplying anything.”
Additionally, the current industry standards for preventing corrosion on armament components involves treating steel parts with phosphate and oil while aluminum parts are anodized (coated with an oxide layer.)
DSL uses a benign material that eliminates the need for a phosphate/oil coating process, making it an environmentally friendly solution.
In the ambient environment, the project team shot 15,000 rounds per weapon. The baseline weapons with the CLP showed wear and complete loss of the phosphate on approximately 75 percent of the bolt carrier sliding surfaces and 90 percent of the bolt.
Meanwhile, the DSL material showed less than 5 percent wear on both the bolt carrier and bolt.
In every instance, the DSL material showed either an improved or an equivalent performance to the CLP baseline. Results demonstrated increased wear resistance, increased reliability, and improved maintainability.
While a lubricating surface treatment would be a major advance for small arms technology, cutting down on time-consuming routine maintenance, history shows that a cautious approach is best. DSL, if it proves successful, should be applied to firearms that then still receive routine CLP applications, further improving a rifle’s functionality and ensuring no reduction in function. During Vietnam, the new M16 rifle with its aluminum receiver and direct impingement gas system was advertised as “self-cleaning by Colt, and the US Army failed to issue the weapons with requisite cleaning kits. As a result, the weapons – to a degree “self-cleaning”, but by no means impervious to the humidity of Southeast Asia – failed in combat, which resulted in the deaths of many riflemen. Colt’s claims about the M16 were not false, but the treatment of the M16’s advancements in corrosion resistance and environmental resilience were taken as a panacea to all maintenance worries, with fatal results.
With that warning out of the way, DSL appears to be a very promising innovation that could not only save time, but lives… But I wouldn’t sound the deathknell of CLP just yet.