How Can We Break The Small Arms Plateau?

LSAT_light_machine_gun_with_Ammunition

In the comments section of my 6.8mm SPC article last year, I was asked what I thought about future infantry small arms. This is a subject that has dominated my thinking over the past several years, and much of the historical research I have undertaken has been in service to forming a better picture of the current state of small arms and how to improve it.

What could be done to promote the advancement of small arms technologies beyond the current state of the art? What are the areas of small arms development most in need of attention, and what do I think the future holds for the infantryman? Each of those questions deserves their own post, so today I just want to focus on small arms procurement, its history, and how the proverbial small arms “plateau” could be broken.

First, I want to talk about how US small arms procurement has changed in the recent past. Before 1968, US military small arms development was largely the responsibility of the Springfield Armory; after its closure, these duties were transferred to the Frankford, and then subsequently Picatinny Arsenals, but for the most part engineering and production of individual weapons has been left to the private sector. This changed the dynamic of small arms development in the US from one where a production-oriented government agency sought to continually renew its mandate and reinforce the necessity of its existence to one where civilian contractors are content to produce weapons of the current type.

It’s of note that, prior to 1968, the US government itself directly undertook engineering, development, and production of the standard individual arms carried by every soldier, a practice which led to such innovations as the M1 Garand rifle. This was augmented by developments from private companies like Winchester in the case of the M1 Carbine, or Colt in the case of the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. In recent years, however, engineering of new infantry small arms has been left to private companies, who – while they make considerable effort to produce the best product – fundamentally can only work within the existing framework of firearms as they do not have the means to make major strides without considerable risk. The Army’s recent Individual Carbine competition is an excellent example of this: The private sector brought the best rifles they had, but all participants were unwilling – due to the risk involved in an open-ended, no-commitment competition – to submit anything radically new, with all the rifles submitted being very conservative in design. It’s obvious that a government program could have had more freedom to explore more radical developments – not needing to worry about a secondary market should their project not come to fruition and eventually not be adopted – but similar advancements can also be encouraged in the private sector if the aforementioned risk is alleviated. One way to do this is through a guaranteed downselect process, with a government-funded pre-production phase and trials segment. This model incentivizes the private sector by promising government subsidization of at least part of the tooling and manufacturing development needed to produce new weapons or ammunition, that the company could then potentially take advantage of on the commercial market.

The nature of reorganization and restructuring of funding is a subject that is beyond my expertise; I am just a small arms hobbyist, and have neither the experience in government nor the training in management to make determinations of this kind. It does seem apparent to me, however, that expecting the commercial market alone to produce small arms solutions is misguided, due to the private sector’s aforementioned aversion to risk. This effect is most acutely visible in the small arms and ammunition sector, where the huge proliferation of arms and ammunition creates self-perpetuating standards within which any new invention must fit, or else it will fail to the detriment of its financiers. Numerous examples of this exist, one being the Boberg XR9 handgun, which, while innovative and offering measurable improvement over conventional pistols, is over-constrained by its reliance on existing 9mm ammunition which was never designed to work with its unique action. This problem would be trivial to solve if the manufacturer had control over the ammunition specifications, but this would be difficult to sell on the commercial market, nor would it be easy to approach a military customer with a proposal to change all ammunition production for the sake of a new design offering only incremental improvement. Regardless of the merits of the Boberg handgun, it is this sort of confinement to existing standards that presents a “chicken-and-egg” problem to private sector small arms developers. To solve this problem, small arms programs – either commercial or governmental – need to be adequately funded to offset the risk of developing a new, untried weapon system.

One of the keys to solving this problem and creating a quantum leap in small arms technology is to break some eggs. Cracking the ammunition side of the problem by funding advancements in ammunition technology could produce a new serviceable ammunition paradigm that itself would solicit weapon developments from the private sector to utilize it. There is light at the end of this tunnel, in fact: The Army’s LSAT program being developed by AAI is poised to, with luck, change the landscape of military small arms by offering cheaper, significantly lighter ammunition. Unfortunately, the benefits of cased telescoped and caseless ammunition hold little appeal on the commercial market; hunters are unlikely to care about the savings of a few grams in their hunting rifle, and the tactical market is not worried about how many pallets of ammunition can be stuffed inside a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane. Still, any private company that is able to produce a sound enough lightweight-cased-ammunition-firing weapon early enough in its proliferation stands to make a considerable profit on the military market. Indeed, big enough shifts in military small arms technology could cause gunmakers move away from their close courtship of the civilian market and back to a more competitive global military stance.

Fundamentally, the relationship between the military and the private sector has a great effect on how quickly and in what way small arms technology will progress. With a closely linked, well-funded, thoroughly incentivizing set of contracts to the private sector for both ammunition and weapon development, major strides in technology could probably be made much faster than many of those who adhere to the “plateau” theory think is possible. The good news is that these structures are already in place; military development arms already have relationships with the private sector that allow the government to fund them in such a way that they can take the risks necessary for a true advancement in small arms. The flip side of this coin, however, is that many of these projects are not getting funded, and with the end of the GWOT, that is likely to continue. While anti-insurgent campaigns have placed a renewed emphasis on small arms, they will still likely play third fiddle to bigger programs with longer food chains, such as F-35.



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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  • BattleshipGrey

    I think it would help innovation if the military was bound to the winning results of the tests they half-heartedly request samples for, even if they are loose on the control requirements.

    Companies have not put forth very innovative bids of late because Congress and DoD seem to be at odds on funding and even if tests are conducted, nothing is formally selected. What company would want to go spend millions on R&D just to have legislators say “sorry not this year” while the DoD kicks a sneaker in the dust and says “shucks”?

    As for the ammunition constraint, as long as there’s no change in how we launch projectiles, I think more compact bullpup platforms are the only way to go. Until then, the world seems to fine with the AR, even over bullpups.

    • tts

      Just because a item wins a competition doesn’t mean its good enough to adopt though.

      And companies still target the public too for arms sales so its not like they can’t find a interested market for innovation. If they won’t innovate unless the govt. pays for it, risk free, they just want their risks subsidized by the public while they pocket the profits is all.

      • Jay

        This competitions should come with binding requirements for the army to buy a mandatory minimum quantity.
        If you think you may not like what you will get, don’t ask for it in the first place.
        This BS attitude by the army is the reason only a handful of companies participate in the new handgun competition. There’s nothing forcing the army to buy what they asked for.

        • tts

          But if they aren’t good enough to bother with, even if they win the competition, you’re just wasting taxpayer money which is a big no no.

          The whole point of the competition is to determine what is good or not, you don’t know beforehand!! So to say “if you think you may not like what you get” is absurd.

          The recent handgun buy effort has problems but its problems have nothing to do with what you’re talking about.

        • Joshua

          Why would we adopt a weapon that doesn’t outperform what we have, just because it made it to the final phase and was submitted?

          • BattleshipGrey

            Basically what we’re getting at is that the military should know what they want, at least in concept. ALSO, they should work WITH Congress for approval (financially speaking) because if they’re not on the same page, they’re wasting private companies time and money. Even with innovative designs, it can be hard to recoup costs if the public can’t/won’t spend more than what a good AR can do (on the backside of the competition).

            It’s kind of like in 1984 (book) when Winston explains that the government must spend money on defense, even if it only dumps the new products into the ocean. They have to spend the money to justify producing things. That may work for a while in a militaristic/socialist country, but when you’re burning private companies in a capitalist country, we’ll end up with less and less innovation.

            If they actually want to make a competition to adopt a better weapon, good, go for it. But all this wishy-washy “yes-no-maybe-so” attitude between Congress and .mil is becoming a problem. That’s why I’m suggesting that they should be bound by whatever the outcome is in the next competitions, AND they can’t change the rules once it’s started.

          • tts

            Its common for them to give a list of things they’d like to see for the competitions already.

            Also Congress is a hot mess right now irregardless of what your political stance is. Trying to work with people determined to be stupid or politicking for self gain only is a disaster.

            Military procurement has major problems but if you think forcing the military to buy whatever wins a competition isn’t going to end up wasting huge amounts of money you’re fooling yourself.

          • BattleshipGrey

            Which is why I’m saying they should be more careful about the whole process, so they don’t end up with subpar equipment and a waste of money. But how else will it change the current up-in-the-air process? If there’s a better way I’m all ears.

          • tts

            I think the article was largely on point and the govt. does need to get back into funding small arms R&D in some manner to “break the plateau”.

            A small arms version of DARPA, with patents for successful ideas funded from the program held in part or fully by the govt. as “compensation” so it make some financial sense and wouldn’t just be subsidizing developer losses, would be my suggestion. That program has had a lot of success over the years and I don’t see why the same model couldn’t be applied elsewhere.

          • BattleshipGrey

            As long as the military could have oversight over what’s being developed it could work. However without it, we’d be in the same position as we are now without knowing what will be introduced as a bid for competition until it’s on the roster.

            In the other programs, have they found a fair way to distribute funds to separate companies?

          • tts

            Dang it! Its waiting for moderation anyways wth?!

            Whaaaateeevverrr…

            If you mean other military projects I’d just read the DOT&E reports. They’re public and you can find the site by googleing DOT&E.

          • BattleshipGrey

            Thanks.

          • tts

            No problem!

          • Kivaari

            Getting rid of the NFA 34 and lowering license requirements and costs would stimulate those with ideas. We have many people with great ideas all around us.

          • George

            Being contrarian…

            Despite NFA and 86, machinegun prices (new), demand from police etc. and from MG dealers for samples is supporting MG development. Most volume sales then are semi auto, but we have full auto R&D going on actively.

            Would be more with repeal of 86, but it’s not dead now.

          • Trey

            I agree with you in theory, but if one looks at the most recent attempts to produce a new rifle that the military wanted, well the results weren’t that great overall the OICW and the xm8 we’re both pretty much non starters really

    • jay

      I agree with this. The procurement system is completely broken. The military is not serious about procurement anymore. There are just selfish interests running the show. Look at the last few major “competitions” proposed by the military and it’s obvious. The SCAR competition was a joke and everyone got the shaft. The “carbine competition” same thing. Then it was the multibilion dollar waste “camuflage competition”. The list goes on and on. Nobody in his right mind would waste their own money to come up to something the military, PRETENDS it wants.
      The result is that nobody wastes their own money to come up with new things because the army wants only what the generals can milk.
      Now you have the sad picture of small arms world, where all this previously dynamic companies gave up innovating and they all make just another AR15.
      It’s pathetic what’s happening and this comes from the US military procurement system.

      • Zebra Dun

        The wait and see hope for a technology leap crowd are in charge.
        Afraid their Kill-O’Zap gun will be obsolete before it hits the battlefield.

    • n0truscotsman

      The ICC comes to mind.

      Basically it was an admission that they didn’t want to move away from 5.56, despite making appearances that they did with the catch that the company that did so would need to supply its own ammunition.

  • ARCNA442

    I’m not sure that I agree with your central argument (that more risks need to be taken and that the only way to do this is with government funding). The private market has produced numerous highly innovative designs that have gone nowhere for much the same reason that there have been no new military designs – the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

    Look at the proliferation of rifle cartridges that offer very little improvement over existing designs yet still find market niches. If slightly different ammunition offered noticeable benefits to firearms design, for instance, it would probably be adopted more quickly by civilians than by the military.

    Ultimately, the military operates under the same constrains as the civilian market (albeit with larger amounts of money) and they have no reason to fund and purchase new weapons when there is little if any improvement over their existing inventory.

    At the turn of the last century, we saw massive innovation because there were fundamental changes in technology and manufacturing and different methods of solving the problem of effective self-loading firearms had to be sorted out.

    Go back to the 18th and early 19th centuries and you had the same basic patterns of weapons serving for 150 years. Sure, there was plenty of innovation, but none of it really worked well. We could very well be in one of those periods now and, however unlikely, might not see revolutionary changes until 2100.

    • Think about how those changes were funded, though:

      Smokeless powder: Funded by the French gov’t.
      Selfloaders: Funded by the American, Russian, French, and German gov’ts.
      Small-caliber: Funded by the Swiss, French, German gov’ts
      SCHV: Funded by the American gov’t

      Even developments coming from the private sector, such as the M1 Carbine and BAR I mentioned above only resulted directly from a government contract.

      • ARCNA442

        However, most of the inventions you list had been floating around for awhile before they were adopted by militaries. Did they become successful because they finally received military funding, or did they receive military funding because they had finally reached the point where they were practical?

        • ostiariusalpha

          They were all practical before their creations, and probably inevitable for development for the civilian market, but that Government funding pushed it ahead by decades over what would have come from just private industry depending on commercial sales. Just take the autoloaders, JM Browning had designed the Model 8 well before most military self-loading rifles came along, but even as relatively successful as its commercial sales were, the Model 8 is dwarfed in overall numbers by the Garand and virtually every other military autoloader. It was the continual development from government programs (and considerable monetary investment by government in products from private industry) that produced the successively more reliable and capable rifles that came out in the 40’s and afterwards.

          • Took the words right out of my mouth, err fingers,

        • Tassiebush

          I’d argue that the legislative environment globally towards smallarms will mean that there is very little opportunity to perfect innovations in the civilian market. If a contract isn’t a high likelihood then it just isn’t going to be developed. Something like metalstorm in an unregulated civilian environment like early 20th century would have been able to be improved upon while being actively sold and probably making a profit, but in our current situation someone needs to have an unrelated income source to pursue innovation and we need only look at Colt and Winchester to see how that might turn out.
          The civilian market benefits the innovator because it is diverse in it’s desires and thrives on novelty but if a law restricts certain features then this can’t be exploited.

          • tts

            Most of the law restrictions don’t really matter at all for innovation though.

            Its stuff like full auto and barrel length and maybe magazine capacity being restricted here in the US for the most part. Restricting any of that stuff doesn’t stop someone from coming out with a more reliable action, or a lighter rifle, or a lower cost ammo, etc.

          • Tassiebush

            Those areas you mention are totally worthwhile but I think we have to think of what areas of innovation might be a step forward and there are more than those. There’s weight, bulk, accuracy, lethality, hit probability in all sorts of scenarios from static to moving targets, there’s target penetration (hehe penetration), there’s capacity, reliability etc. The laws restrict some solutions to these and not others.
            Sure innovation still occurs but a leap forward often is a combination of features rather than a single one and the law can stop that convergence. ammo that cycles happily at 2000-3000rpm might be great for a new hyper burst weapon system (hit probability) but pointless for a semi auto civilian rifle. if it then costs 10% more rather than 10% less than existing ammo it’s a stillborn concept.
            So laws definitely shape the areas of innovation and can stifle part of a winning combination.
            A heap of innovation has occured around the AR15 family of rifles simply because there is a strong civilian market in the states and the innovations can be carried over between military and civilian versions. In contrast there isn’t much small arms development happening here in Australia. Certainly not 1/12th of US innovation despite being about 1/12 of US population.
            I guess I’m thinking areas that can’t be innovated in the civilian market include hyperburst, electronic triggers and electronic ignition of superimposed load firearms (aka metalstorm), simultaneous round firing salvo weapons, machineguns and explosive projectiles and grenades.

          • tts

            All that stuff can still be researched though with current restrictions though so I’m not seeing where the stifling is coming from. Weapons that had some of those features (electronic trigger + electric primer) even made it to sale for the general public too (Remington 700 EtronX) yet failed dismally despite the advantages they offered.

            Plenty of R&D still goes into building better machine guns even those haven’t been legal to make new in the US for public sale for a long time now. Same thing for explosives of all sorts. There is just too much money being thrown around for it not to be.

            Most of the innovation with the AR15 has been highly incremental at best and often of dubious value at all. Its really not the best example to point to at all. Its actually the worst IMO.

          • Tassiebush

            I guess I think back to all of the innovation of that occurred in the 1800s and early 20th century. It was a time where heaps of designs were developed and sold across a large range of markets. I know things are different now as we’re on the other side of a lot of that innovation and carrying refined versions of those but if you applied that environment to our time I just think it’d be more conducive to news leaps.

          • tts

            Well I think you’re looking too hard at the regulation side of things of now vs then and not enough at the materials, engineering, and manufacturing advancements of now vs then is all.

            To a very large degree, if not entirely, I’d say the current small arms plateau is more of a reflection of a plateau in those latter areas instead.

            The other big factor geopolitical IMO. The end of the Cold War and a lack of a competent rival putting out large and practical advancements in small arms that are being fielded in large numbers (yes, lots of caveats there, but still relevant) means the US and EU haven’t really been feeling much pressure to upgrade from existing small arms too.

      • Dave

        “Smokeless powder: Funded by the French gov’t.
        Selfloaders: Funded by the American, Russian, French, and German gov’ts.
        Small-caliber: Funded by the Swiss, French, German gov’ts
        SCHV: Funded by the American gov’t”
        RESULT?
        Lebel 1886/93 rifle, superior ballistics to all known rifles, spurs huge hurdles in technological innovation… Deemed “good enough” long after obsolete, main French Rifle of WWI, possibly most-antiquated of the conflict. War decided largely by artillery.
        Self-loaders: U.S. adoption of U.S. rifle cal. .30 M1 … Soviets attempt SVT-40, erm, “revolution in military affairs” go back to obsolete late 19th C. rifle design and mass-issue of simple, low-cost blow back SMGs, French adopt most superior self-loading rifle design of the 1920s-20s in the late 1940s, use it until the 1980s… Germany hamstrings designers until first-hand experience of the SVT-40 and M1 Garand convinces that gas ports really aren’t that bad after all, “day late and reichsmark short.” (Thankfully.)
        Small-caliber research: Switzerland continues to use 7.5x55mm cartridge until 1990s, France continues to use 7.5x54mm cartridge until late 1980s, Germany uses NATO 7.62x51mm until 1990s, when, after a flurry of über-small caliber hyper velocity 4.36mm spoon-tipped bullets and 4.9mm caseless cartridges, the NATO standard 5.56mm is grudgingly adopted–“good enough!”
        SCHV ammunition: The M16 “accidental rifle” with its early ammunition debacle leading to Congressional investigation due to failures in Vietnam counterinsurgency, results in highly ergonomic M16A1, A2, A3, and, ultimately, M4 carbine version, which undercuts the original SCHV ballistics to a degree, but, like France in WWI, is deemed “good enough” until something über-superior comes along, and anyway, if there’s only one superpower, nay, “hyper-puissance!” in the world, namely the USA, and no real competitor (But wait! you say: The Chi-coms have 5.8x42mm!), the M4 is still deemed “good enough” for soldiers whose role is to serve as “bait” for ambush by ill-equipped insurgents slated for vaporization by the more expensive and lethal weapons in the arsenal…

        AND SO IT GOES… Incrementalism, not huge developments.

  • De Facto

    It does not help that the gun crowd itself is slavishly devoted to existing standards. Fanboys often refuse to even consider the merits of new systems, and when new systems are offered they are greeted by an internet chorus of “It’s not just like [x] therefore I don’t like it.” It’s taken decades for bullpups (a fairly modest and intuitive evolution of the rifle) to gain traction in the market. What manufacturer in their right mind would risk investing in a radically different platform, when the market is not interested and they can’t count on support from other manufacturers? And don’t even get me started on our inability to even consider such a simple convention as switching to a ballistically superior alternative to current NATO options (6.5 Grendel/Creedmoor >5.56 & 7.62×51)

    There’s also the fact that current gun regulations/taxes + the thin profit margins in the gun industry make it extremely difficult for smaller companies to get started. Which means if you’re a budding John Moses Browning, your only real option is to pitch your idea to a large company that can afford to produce your idea. And since large companies don’t like risk… Good luck with that.

    I am reminded of the US army’s reluctance to adopt the spencer repeating rifle, an obvious drastic improvement over muzzleloaders of the era, or perhaps of the third Reich’s reluctance to field the Sturmgewehr in appreciable numbers. Even with a clear and present need for innovation, the gun industry doesn’t like change. So short of a renewed small arms race between nations (unlikely) I don’t think we will see much (if any) innovation.

    • ExMachina1

      While you make good historic points, what is the present day analog to the Spencer, the Mauser, or the Sturmgewher? As the title says, small arm designs have plateaued and alternate configurations like bullpups only represent small tweaks to the already perfected box-magazine-fed, select fire, intermediate caliber rifle.

    • Tom

      But then who wants something new when A) you are then the beta tester for it and B) you are not guaranteed support if the platform does not take off – not sure how many people brought VEC-91 but those that did now how a great paper weight. Going for something new is a risky propitiation so why not just get an AR15 in 5.56 that you know you can get ammo, spares and accessories for.

      I would say we are at a point where unless we get radically new propellants or materials we are not going to come up with anything better than we already have. Bullpup Vs Conventional or .45 Vs 9mm are arguments we have been having for decades because simple put despite personal preferences one is not objectively better than the other.

    • Replace brass cased 5.56 & M4 with a polymer cased 6.5 Grendel in a bullpup config with computer assisted aiming/ranging/thermal/night vision device and IR/Laser/Light. Not sure if the increased range of 6.5 Grendel would reduce the need for a polymer cased .260/6.5 Creedmoor replacing the .308.

      • Sulaco

        Have to ask then in that case what exactly would the massive improvement in ballistic function, cost savings, ease of use and terminal ballistics which would justify such a change and the massive expenses involved over the current issue weapons? Just asking.

    • What would switching to a “ballistically superior” round like 6.5 Grendel or Creedmoor get us, exactly? Other than the pain and heartache of having another caliber in service.

      • Brian M

        6.5 Creedmoor and 25-06 gain 90%-95% of the performance of the 7.62×51 while still being similar and weight and controllability to 5.56×45, and if you allow more cartridges that may not come quite as high, there 243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, 270 WInchester, and 5.6×57. Here, I’ll give you an ordered table of rounds with energy and recoil.

        5.56×45—————————-1767J, 3.9

        243 Winchester (6.2×52)——-2051J, 7.2

        22-250 (5.7×48)——————2316J, 3.1

        220 Swift (5.7×56)—————-2403J, 5.3

        5.6×57——————————2596J, 6.9

        6mm Remington (6.2×57)——2926J, 10

        6.5×55——————————2962J, 10.6

        260 Remington (6.7×52)——–3088J, 11.9

        25-06 (6.5×63)——————–3230J, 11

        6.5 Creedmoor (6.5×49)——–3290J, 6.8

        7.62×51—————————-3304J, 15.8

        284 Winchester (7.21×55)—–3693J, 17.4

        270 Winchester (7×64)———4006J, 17

        As you can see, even the weakest alternate round performs 5.56 by at least 15%. 22-250, at 60gr, delivers a full 30% energy advantage over 5.56×45 while having a greater bullet diameter and even less recoil. 220 Swift measures just a bit heavier and hotter with still very light recoil, plus is a famed tack driver round that flies nearly dead flat.

        From just these rounds shown, for a replacement for 5.56×45, my first choice would be 22-250, because it is clearly superior to 5.5645 while still not being too large for the standard AR to be easily adapted to use it. If retrofitting were not a question, I would select the 220 swift, given the great increase in muzzle energy and only moderate increase in recoil vs 5.56×45.

        Several rounds come within 90% of 7.62×51 performance (goal: 3000K) while offering greatly reduced recoil, especially 6.5 Creedmoor, which performs 99% up to 7.62×51 at approx 40% of the recoil with a flatter trajectory while kicking not even twice as hard as 5.56×45. Even the rounds heavier than 7.62×51 achieve notably more energy, especially 270 Winchester, despite delivering a full 25% more energy.

        To replace 7.62×51, I would select the 270 Winchester. There is no two ways to say it — 25% power increase at minimal increase in recoil. The United States still has the schematics for 30-06 weapons and machines laying around somewhere; all that needs to be done is to simply scale up our existing 7.62×51 designs are we’re back in business.

        For a general purpose round, 6.5 Creedmoor looks like the ticket; great power, long range performance, and low recoil. It also works in short actions. It kicks like a 5.56×45, punches like a 7.62×51, and flies like a 12.7×99. There is no reason to not seriously consider this round.

        There are AR’s chambered in just about all of these calibers, so there is no need to worry about retraining.

        As far as barrel life concerns go, when people write about “barrel burning”, they typically mean that they’ll get an occasional flyer that goes 1MoA from PoA instead of .75MoA. No combat soldier is going to notice, nor would it matter to anyone but extreme long range shooters. Besides, if an M2, M249, or M240 gets sent into battle with a bevy of reserve barrels, it cannot be too difficult to have rear area armorers switch out barrels or rebarrel, especially if any trained gunsmith can do so; quick change barrel systems can even make this an entirely soldier-managed operation.

        In terms of cost, just remember that against things like the big ticket items such as computer systems, fighter aircraft, smart bombs, and armorer vehicles, small arms are practically pocket change. By gradual introduction, a new, single, universal caliber could be introduced over the course of a 10 year period in time with deployment and training cycles of active and reserve troops; no need to throw all the M4’s, M16’s, M249’s, M240’s, M21’s, and everything else in the ocean today and tell everyone to suck up the new gear. Just remember that each F22 costs $138,000,000, each F35 is going to cost at least $100,000,000, and both of those programs have together cost close to $2,000,000,000; what would a caliber change require? A few million dollars? At most, not even 1% of what just the F35 took. With economics of scale, it can be safely assumed that a rifle will run well under $1000, and an M4 currently goes for $600 to Uncle Sam. Given that just one of our hundreds of Black Hawk helicopters costs at least $6,000,000, a single one of those helos is equal to ten thousand rifles, and running them is likewise exponentially more expensive than running rifles.

        There really is no reason to not upgrade the beating heart of our military might with a cartridge that is clearly superior to anything we have currently fielded. For the price of perhaps not even a squadron of fighter planes, we could significantly increase the capabilities of our most important, basic, vital, assets, our ground troops. After all, unless you have your infantry standing on something, you don’t own it, and to make that happen, you make sure they have the tools they need — a concept as familiar to Sargon of Akkad as to General Norman Schwarzkopf.

    • Dave

      Very good points. Of course, to me the epitome of U.S. army conservatism in the 19th century wasn’t the reluctance to field the Spencer repeater. The all-time award was the refusal to generally adopt an easily manufactured–especially for the Union/Federal side–a paper cartridge made from “rocket paper” that could simply drop down the muzzle with a couple thumps of the butt instead of having to withdraw and return the ramrod. Such cartridges were privately purchased and greatly enhanced the rate of fire of the units so equipped. Ordnance hewed to the standard paper cartridges, albeit nodding toward increased production by omitting string and thread in their manufacture.

      • De Facto

        Thanks, I hadn’t heard of that before. That is probably a more apt example than the ones I mentioned. Another innovation passed over by “what we already have is good enough” logic.

    • Fegelein

      Has anyone here looked at 25-06? It’s pretty similar to 6.5 Creedmoor and 7.62×51, but it has more history behind it than Creemoor while being a very known game killer.

    • Hyok Kim

      “…perhaps of the third Reich’s reluctance to field the Sturmgewehr in appreciable numbers”
      No amount of sturmgewehr would have changed the outcome of the war, given everything else equal, or even further, even if Germany had started with ‘enough’ numbers of sturmgewehr at the beginning, given Hitler’s mistake of diluting Germany’s operational advantage at Balkans, Caucasus and Kiev.

      • De Facto

        I see where you’re coming from, though I’m not sure I can agree with that analysis. Particularly on the eastern front given the Red Army’s unimaginative and costly human wave tactics. If the STG44 had been present in Normandy, D-Day might have turned into a second Gallipoli. No way to know for certain, and I’m not given to historical conjecture. My point though, is that even in the face of overwhelming need for technological advances, the Military and the small arms industry prefers “good enough”.

        • Hyok Kim

          “Particularly on the eastern front given the Red Army’s unimaginative and costly human wave tactics.”
          Red Army was more concerned with operational strategy rather than just pure minor firefight tactics. Penny foolish, but dollar wise. One wins the war at the operational level, not at the firefight minor tactical level, which merely delays the inevitable for defense, and minor force multiplier on offense.
          Given huge superiority in artillery, tanks for the Red Army, it would not have mattered in the end, merely delayed the inevitable.
          “If the STG44 had been present in Normandy, D-Day might have turned into a second Gallipoli.”
          Not a chance, given the complete air dominance by the Allies in Normandy. German mistake in Normandy was not placing enough armor in Normandy close enough.
          “My point though, is that even in the face of overwhelming need for technological advances, the Military and the small arms industry prefers “good enough”.”
          Have always been the case, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are always right. Sometimes technological advance pays off, like the needle guns during German war of unification, it was the game changer for the day.

  • As far as military weapons is concerned the 1934 NFA act stifled innovation in the USA. Inventors like Browning had to have large scale backing after 1934 in order to afford the license requirements. Corporations rarely take huge leaps, at least in the firearms world, without having government offering money to specifically research and develop a certain innovations. The individual prior to 1934, at least in military arms, did not have any blocks to using their machine shop to explore new ideas.

    As far as innovation in the gun industry, I think, at least in the near future, gains will be in electro/optics/targeting systems for firearms. How long until ever new arm has built in ranging/range compensating optics. Also night/thermal vision and other electro-optical innovations will continue to gain.

    For the actual fire arm changes, it will take power storage and super conductor innovation to make the jump to some sort of rail gun or laser type systems. Technically these would not be a fire arm but would be the next logical step in projecting killing power over range. .

    • smartacus

      i think you’re right; electro/optics/targeting is probably the next “big gain”

    • Tassiebush

      your point about the 1934 NFA and it’s affect on innovation can be applied internationally too of course. Sheer population volume is very helpful for innovation. We live in a time of huge innovation exactly because there are so many people but as so few can explore and innovate in the space of smallarms it is not occuring as fast as we would otherwise expect.
      The other thing i think you alluded to is the lack of a civilian market for such innovations if a military contract is not achieved which was once a good fallback position.
      I am just realising that until the 90s my home Tasmania would have been a tinkerers dream. Anything over 26inches without a silencer was pretty much fine. full auto was no problem. You’d need a gun licence in the 90s but didn’t need one in the 80s from memory. But of course in that instance the innovation didn’t occur because everywhere else had more restrictions and there just weren’t the numbers to support it financially.

  • Major Tom

    The first change that needs to happen is changing the way military procurement works. The brass are notoriously risk-averse on the cheapest of things like small arms. They figure why innovate when that 30 year old M-16 they used in BCT 20 years ago was good enough?

    • Joshua

      It’s mostly because today, the M4A1 is good enough. Give it a free float rail and has proven to outperform practically every other rifle available today.

      LMT is a good example as their .308MWS and their MARS-L has been winning every competition they enter over in the eurozone, beating the biggest of names.

      LSAT is where the future of small arms is at.

  • Lew Siffer

    Government involvement will always skew toward profits for campaign donors, rather than best product development. The original M16 was a disaster in Vietnam, the FBI had a mess with the 10mm, and the Army had a disaster when they replaced RBC and LSA with CLP, resulting unclearable jams in the powder-fine sand of Iraq. On the flip side, Gaston Glock changed the pistol world. I do not want any of my tax money being given to private interests, as the bulk of it will go in someone’s pocket and whatever is produced will likely be junk that requires years of re-tooling.

  • Brian

    Small arms are not going to evolve all that much until we replace the metallic cartridge with something else. All modern firesrms have to feed, load, fire, extract and eject the mass of the metallic cartridge. What’s the next step? Laser? Energy based weapon? Also, emotion and politics gum up the progress. Where I see the progression in small arms tech. is the materials used for the construction of the weapon and parts. Progression in propellants and projectile design. Lastly, caliber/cartridge design. The success will be based on the cost of admission. I am not willing to pay $3,000 for an AR-15 especially when there is nothing progressive about it. The next step in small arms evolution is kind of like the clean energy technology. Why incure the cost associated with the new tech. when the current tech, i.e. fossil fuels/current design of small arms works well for intended purpose?

  • ExMachina1

    I’m likely missing the point here so I’ll ask: what exactly is the deficiency that the next generation of small arms would address?

    Armor, air power and artillery have ruled the battlefield thus far and (if I were to guess) the future battlefield will be decided more-and-more by advances in information networks, not small arms.

    • Uniform223

      Though something as seemingly simple as a standard issue rifle may not be glamorous compared to high tech main battle tanks, stealth fighters/bombs, missiles, and ships; the individual soldier/marine/seaman/airman is the basic component to any military force structure. In a way everything that is designed, engineered, and procured is meant to make that single person within a larger entity more effective and safer.
      Case and point.
      The current F-35 program garnished far more attention than the M855A1 EPR. Matter the fact this the first article at Breaking Defense where I have seen something other than ships, aircraft, tanks, military policy and strategy…

      http://breakingdefense.com/2016/02/biggest-change-for-infantry-since-wwii-xm25/

      To be honest I am surprised it hasn’t been mentioned here yet.

      • ExMachina1

        “In a way everything that is designed, engineered, and procured is meant to make that single person within a larger entity more effective and safer.”

        That’s what I was getting at and that’s the goal of network-informed warfighting. The biggest “improvements” to small arms are all going to be occur within the context of how those arms are implemented. If a soldier has a HUD that not only displays a weapon sight but also shows where enemies and friendlies are, then indirect munitions (like those for the XM25) suddenly become invaluable.

        • FarmerB

          …and add an electronic trigger and striker…

        • Uniform223

          If the US Army can really take its time and effort to develop and refine Land Warrior, that would change things SO much. It just seems like technology just isn’t there yet.

    • tts

      Easiest one I can think of is better logistics. If a weapon and/or ammo was developed that allowed soldiers to double or triple their ammo load on foot that would be a big deal. The force that can spray the most little pieces of metal tends to be the one that wins after all.

      Better armor or cover penetration would be a nice improvement too. Again would probably require a change of both ammo and weapons together to pull off.

      Bear in mind that I have no real idea what such a weapon or ammo would look like exactly. Just tossing out areas where improvements would make a significant difference.

      • That’s really what LSAT is tackling. The capabilities of small arms right now are pretty good, but it’d be nice if they were less of a burden both individually and logistically.

        Beyond that, you have things like XM25 that are trying to put new capabilities in the hands of the infantry.

        • tts

          Yes, its cool stuff.

          I hope it or something like it get adopted at some point. They certainly seem interested in funding it at least which is good.

  • ozzallos .

    Some elements of the industry are trying. Metal Storm was perhaps the biggest innovation in ammunition technology I’ve seen in a while…. That nobody wanted. The company lost its shorts when the predicted slam dunk military contracts failed to materialize and they didn’t have a viable civilian market to offset that loss.

    As BattleshipGrey mentioned, that sends messages. It’s not that the innovation isn’t happening, it’s just that the market is insanely fickle and the risk versus reward equation often doesn’t warrant the risk.

    • tts

      Innovation in of itself isn’t enough. The weapons have to be good enough to make replacing existing arms worthwhile. Which isn’t at all unreasonable.

      I don’t think MetalStorm ever would’ve been viable for use in small arms BTW. At best it would’ve been a special use weapon of sorts, CIWS of some sort maybe, but development never really went far enough to demonstrate what that would be exactly.

      • ozzallos .

        They had a working pistol prototype. It’s on Youtube. It doesn’t take much imagination to apply the concept to a full up battle rifle, but /shrug. I got out with my stock at a profit.

        Besides, I think “innovation isn’t enough” is almost the byline of this entire thread.

        • tts

          Yes I’ve seen it, but is it actually good though? Which is my point. We don’t really know.

          They certainly didn’t seem to be able to convince anyone to buy it.

          There are good weapons that just don’t seem to ever take off that well so the market isn’t perfect here but generally if something doesn’t sell or even make it to market that is a big indicator something is wrong there.

      • George

        MetalStorm shotguns replacing pump-action for home defence is an easy obvious experiment.

        • tts

          But is it a good one?

          Yes they did some small arms prototypes but that nothing ever came of them after years of development is telling.

          • Tom

            Plus whilst the 8 or so rounds you could fit in your shotgun would be fine for a defensive situation trying to reload such a weapon at the range would be a PITA to say the least.

            Now I may be wrong but I strongly think any advances in firearms technology will be in materials (lighter stronger etc.) and chemicals (better propellants) the basic methods of operation we have be it the gas operated rotating bolt or pump action shotgun are not going anywhere anytime soon.

          • tts

            Couldn’t agree more!

          • George

            The reload is a barrel liner unit. Just enough to contain the projectiles, with a fixed barrel handling the pressure. Just pops in/out the muzzle. …

  • zxcv

    The LSAT program offers more advantages than just being able to fit more ammo on planes for transport. While you may not think being able to carry 400 rounds of polymer cased 5.56 for the same weight as 240 rounds of brass cased 5.56 would make much of a difference now. With the XM25 airburst grenade launcher going into service next year and other countries likely following suit soon after, I see the suppressing fire that every rifleman can put out being significantly more important as the new air burst grenade launchers remove the need to maneuver closer to the enemy and if widely issued could turn most situations into suppress then destroy with airburst grenades which would remove the rifle’s main role and make suppressing fire even more important than it already is. Other advantages of the LSAT program are that the ammunition can be fed backwards out of the magazine as easily as it can be fed forward allowing for one to have a barrel about 4″ longer than rifles using current brass cased 5.56 with the magazine in the same location, the elimination of double feeds (as the round in the chamber is ejected by pushing it out instead of pulling), and the ammunition being the same length and diameter as .357 magnum potentially allowing for rifles where the magazine inserts into the grip which would allow for a shorter rifle/longer barrel and would place the magazine in a more natural location for reloading.

  • mosinman

    Railguns or lasers will be the nest big thing

    • tts

      For small arms?! Hope you’re teasing, if not then prepare for incredible disappointment.

      Big changes probably won’t happen until we switch ammo IMO or there are some incredible break throughs in materials production using something like laminated borophene-graphene.

      High strength 3D metal printing could possibly allow for some interesting things too but I think it’d be more of a benefit for those who wanted repoduction versions of old and unusual weapons that are impossible or too expensive to get.

      • mosinman

        yes for small arms. we are a long ways off, but technology continues to improve

        • tts

          Well yes but I didn’t say the tech wasn’t improving!

          The big improvements that are needed are in areas where development is typically slow (materials science + battery development) because it is so hard to do. We’re talking decades here at best.

          For instance: lithium batteries that make use of graphene to improve recharge durability and energy density are only now just starting to make it out of the lab for testing and manufacture development. But that was a relatively obvious improvement and it still took most of a decade to make it happen. And its still not one that is really viable for widespread usage in cars or weapons yet. They cost far too much at the moment.

          In a few years, sure, you’ll probably see them in your cellphone or car in one form or another. But by then you’re looking at over a decade for a “obvious” (scarequotes are here for a reason) improvement to make it to market.

      • Just Sayin’

        They are always off, but certainly on the distant horizon. The Navy is putting an operational rail gun on a ship this year, General Atomics is flying a laser weapon on a Reaper, USAF is looking to put one in an AC-130 by 2020. It’s only a matter of time before breakthroughs are made that make the tech man-portable. For the price of one F-35 you could have a heckuva Gov’t funded competition to speed things up.

        • ARCNA442

          I was looking at feasibility of battery-powered laser rifles and found some interesting numbers. Lithium-Ion batteries have a specific energy of around 0.5MJ/kg, which means a battery that weighs as much as a loaded STANAG magazine should have about 250,000 joules, so energy storage shouldn’t be a problem. Current lasers are approaching 50% efficiency, so you may even be able to get more shots out of a laser rifle than a conventional rifle.

          However, I am not an engineer so if I’m missing something, please point it out.

          • Joshua

            Laser rifles will never be feasible in a man portable general issue way.

            It’s just the way lasers function. Now plasma rifles are a different story.

          • ARCNA442

            Care to elaborate?

          • Joshua

            Because lasers don’t function like in movies.

            Lasers are affected by contaminants in the atmosphere, rain, fog, etc.

            Lasers require considerable time on target if they were to actually burn through the target, and the thicker their clothing/armor the more time is required to keep the laser on the exact same spot.

            Lasers also have considerable power draw at an exponentially increasing rate as distance increase to keep Wattage high enough to damage a enemy combatant.

            They make cool sci Fi weapons for soldiers they would also make exceptional vehicle mounted anti air weapons and for detonating missiles and rockets before they reach the target.

            A computer would be capable of tracking a missile or jet and keep the laser on target long enough to overheat the Explosive components.

            For a man portable general issue weapon though? They would be a horrible weapon.

          • n0truscotsman

            Yeah, the atmosphere issues are one of the ‘insurmountable obstacles’ in front of lasers. It isn’t as simple as ‘powering it up’ either.

            What is even more silly is the idea of a guided munition launched from a rail gun, which the military press is peddling as not only a surface-strike weapon, but also a CIWS-type weapon. Color me skeptical.

            The finite money available is best invested in evolutionary development of missiles and good ol fashioned guns.

          • mosinman

            i’m sure they felt that way about fully automatic infantry rifles 100 years ago too.

          • Joshua

            You misunderstand me. Lasers being man portable will happen one day.

            However the ways that lasers function will never work in a man portable weapon i f you intend to kill your target.

            Lasers just cannot and will never work as a general issue weapon.

            However a plasma thrower would. But do some research into lasers and it will make sense.

          • Uniform223

            sorry I had to do it before somebody else

          • tts

            That is too little energy density still.

            Lasers aren’t very efficient for killing (lots of steam + plasma is produced where they strike on tissue which fouls the laser beam) so you need a very powerful one, tens if not hundreds of KW worth of power, to do the job. Otherwise you just have maiming/blinding device, which is indeed useful on the battlefield but I think it has questionable utility.

            Especially since you’d still only get a “shot” or 2 per mag sized battery before you’d have to switch to a new one.

            Currently to get a laser with 10s-100s of KW energy you need something that mounts to a truck or a large freight aircraft and even then the lase time is very short with batteries. Usually only a few minutes at best but potentially as low as seconds.

          • ARCNA442

            This is one of the questions that I have been having about laser weapons. With all the focus on using them against drones, missiles, and boats, I haven’t been able to find any solid numbers on how much power is necessary for use against humans. If you have any sources, I would appreciate them.

          • tts

            I have no real good sources, only the limited public information you can google up about existing directed energy systems and test beds like the YAL-1 and HELMD. That and some off hand guess work from people who know a bit about the subject usually buried in some thread about what laser it’d take to completely vaporize a human (slashdot article says you’d need a Giga Joule class laser FWIW). Complete vaporization isn’t needed for a kill though.

            The numbers I mentioned (which is a large range) were what I’ve seen mentioned for very short bursts to do the job. If you can hold a beam on a single point for a decent amount of time (very hard) then much lower power levels are needed (~5KW gets tossed around as a number but who knows) but that generally isn’t considered realistic.

            Searching for this stuff is hard because there is a lot of money in developing but actually producing a usuable product was almost totally unrealistic until recently. You’ll see a lot of “gag” products which are really just there to fish for funding like the Stavatti SF-1 Gasdynamic Laser Rifle.

        • tts

          Lasers in large installations, ships, or aircraft will definitely be a thing in the short and mid term time frames. They have the space capacity for large enough batteries or generators to make it work.

          But for small arms there are gigantic fundamental problems that need to be solved and energy density is the big one. I don’t see that going away in my lifetime unfortunately.

        • n0truscotsman

          I wouldn’t get my hopes up with either lasers or rail guns.

          It is *FAR* outside my area of expertise, but they have been discussed ad nauseum in the military blogosphere and the arguments presented by engineers (and some people “in the laser and R&D development circle”) aren’t very encouraging.

          The power issue is insurmountable with current and forseeable technology. There needs to be something so revolutionary as a power source before that even gets addressed. And that is one problem.

  • You suggest one side of the government fund and/or subsidize small arms development while the other side of the government is currently trying to ban guns and put public firearms manufacturers out of business. If civilian firearms ownership went away there wouldn’t be very many firearms & ammunition manufacturers left to innovate and develop with very little incentive to do so.

  • Sam Green

    How Can We Break The Small Arms Plateau? The answer, at least in terms of the US military is simple; -You cannot-

    In the Armed Forces more often than not, the best product usually doesn’t get the military contract. For small arms at least, the ONLY way to break this arms procurement issue is to remove politics, kickbacks and favoritism, is to enact a INDEPENDENT PANEL of US ex military, shield who they are, and let them test, review and decide and then the DOD can place orders for the truly best of the best product.

    In the world of small arms procurement and politics, the soldier often is the loser and the winner is the manufacturer with the deepest pockets and the most friends that sit on advisory military boards.

    -That needs to change, but it won’t, as it’s to profitable.

    • Joshua

      Lol

  • Joshua

    LSAT also offers the benefits of one day being able to print cases for reloaders and since the cases cost a fraction of a cent….Yes I believe the current price is 10 cases for a penny, there is a huge price savings.

    • iksnilol

      Do you realize how long 3d printing takes?

      • ostiariusalpha

        Well, that’s true for the present, but the future only promises that they’ll get faster and cheaper.

        • iksnilol

          Sure, but saying 3d printing is cheap and quick to get those magic LSAT cases is quite frankly, silly.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Ha ha! True, but Joshua did put “some day” as a conditional on his statement. I wouldn’t trust a current 3-D printer to make case-telescoped hulls for me, regardless of how long they took.

          • iksnilol

            Eh, they’ve got the precision for it.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I’d be more concerned with split cases.

          • Joshua

            Well Textron isnt printing the cases. My point is, in 20 years 3d printers will be vastly superior than today’s, and LSAT promises dirt cheap cases that anyone can make.

            As of now it’s not feasible, but LSAT is still 10 years out from Military adoption.

          • iksnilol

            In other words: It promises what it can’t deliver. At least not yet.

          • Joshua

            Civilian market it’s not promising anything.

            At this moment Textron is producing LSAT cases 10/1¢

          • Tassiebush

            perhaps it might make it possible to print the moulds for those cases.

    • Jay

      It doesn’t have to be 3d printing. Companies that make reloading dies and that kind of this accessories, can make small, purpous built molds, that would help individuals make their own polymer cases. Just buy the required polymer pellets and mold your own.
      I’m sure it would be faster and cheaper than making your own brass cases.

      • Out of the Blue

        And a whole lot faster than 3D printing. It would take a couple of hours using current tech to print a case.

  • Kev

    In a way we are seeing a few breakthroughs such as the XM25 and similar weapon systems being developed as well as weapons like the raytheon PIKE grenade, General Dynamics 338 Norma machine gun, rheinmettall HYDRA, EXACTO etc their are some really advanced weapons and equipment being developed for the infantry at the moment however in the terms of rifles and pistols polymer cased ammunition that is being tested and The LSAT are a shining light.
    We always here about the F35 and all the big ticket weapons and its possible that so e of the technology developed from them may rickly down, but a weapon such as EXACTO guided bullets and LSAT will give a major boost to the infantry not to mention the weapons that are developed secretly. As for portable rail guns and lasers? Boeing has a compact laser weapon and a company called Umbra Applied technologies are apparently developing something called the P-KEW a portable coil gun apparently? The problem is investment and sadly innovation can be a victim of beuracracy.

    • John

      Lasers actually make for terrible weapons. They are only capable of direct fire, effectively turn any stationary and slow moving target into ablative armor, cauterize the wound, and require a ludicrously dense power supply to do as much damage as conventional small arms. I can’t find it, but I remember reading that a laser takes more than 20x as much energy to penetrate Kevlar as a bullet.

      • Kev

        You make an excellent point . I don’t in vision lasers as viable replacements for projectile weapon just yet, as power and thermal management improves perhaps in more defensive counter uav roles. Perhaps not beam weapons but laser induced plasma effects and ultrashort pulse laser may be adapted for scalable effects. However projectile and kinetic energy weapons are still and will continue to be the most effective option and we should build on that

  • Don Ward

    I just came to read the comments blaming everything on “brass” and politics while making vague hand-waving comments about caseless ammunition.

    • Joseph Smith

      What does brass have to do with caseless ammo?

      (Sorry man, you set yourself up too easy)

      • Don Ward

        It is – how the French say it – double entendre, no?

        • Tassiebush

          I am a simple and crass man. I prefer single entendres

  • dave

    epiphany!
    robot-controlled, small-yield, precision artillery.
    a man portable designator rifle on a kriss 45 acp platform (for close range threats). anything at medium to long range gets an artillery shell aka the hose.
    small arms stays the same, lethality does not.

  • RetroG

    If you want ideas for the “next big thing” in small arms development, go to sci-fi authors. The “dial-a-gun” from the Dorsai series comes immediately to mind, and I’m sure there are others besides the lasers and rail guns that have already been researched.

  • 7n6

    New calibers or telescoping ammo are never going to happen. Better bullets w/lower ballistic coefficients and scopes with integrated ballistic computers are the way forward.

    • ostiariusalpha

      Well, at least you’re in good company.

      “What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?”
      The Quarterly Review, March, 1825

      “Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires as may be done with dots and dashes of Morse code, and that, were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.”
      Unidentified Boston newspaper, 1865

      “Hence, if it requires, say, a thousand years to fit for easy flight a bird which started with rudimentary wings, or ten thousand for one which started with no wings at all and had to sprout them ab initio, it might be assumed that the flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years–provided, of course, we can meanwhile eliminate such little drawbacks and embarrassments as the existing relation between weight and strength in inorganic materials.”
      The New York Times, Oct 9, 1903

      “That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.”
      Scientific American, January 2, 1909

      ”That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”
      The New York Times, January 13, 1920

      To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth—all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.
      Lee De Forest in Lewiston Morning Tribune, February 25, 1957

      “With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.”
      Businessweek, August 2, 1968

      • Tassiebush

        I generally find I am on the wrong side of history. I felt less lonely reading those quotes!

      • Don Ward

        If we are using historical analogies, the question then is whether the current state of firearms is equivalent to buggy carriage manufacture in 1895 where the technology has been perfected and potential replacements are ridiculous, rattle-trap horseless carriages? Or is the current state of firearms technology analogous to 1965 where we have nearly perfected the art and are now simply wringing raw horsepower out of vehicles while honing safety and reliability?

      • Tassiebush

        I read an author in the 1860s expressing how the pinfire cartridge is a better option than centrefire ones as the latter requires a fragile complex extraction device while the former can be pulled out easily by the pins. What’s more the idea of a centrefire cartridge being more easily loaded quickly was exaggerated especially when taking the reliability of extraction into account. Just to finish off he also said he had never experienced an accidental firing despite this concern often being raised about the pinfire design. It made me wish there were still lots of newly made pinfire shotguns and ammo for them lol.

        • tts

          The powa of marketing compeeeelllls you!!

          • Tassiebush

            Completely agree. I feel hoodwinked into accepting modern fancy stuff. The vanity of Central fire cartridges coupled with decadent extractors is rapidly turning to shame for me.

    • Padmmegh Ambrela

      Well world is alive on hope. We can only hope that in the a midst of all those idiots who think that they are always right working in the DOD of various countries their are sane person who can foresee the future threats and can make advancement in the right direction

    • 7n6

      oops meant higher bc……

    • Joshua

      You do realize LSAT is practically ready for field trials right?

      Then again you wouldn’t know that, because your a internet gun scholar who gets all his info from gun forums.

    • Tassiebush

      I think those are an integral part of the way forward and they’re largely here but I think other ammo types still have potential.

  • Padmmegh Ambrela

    The LSAT program really is the light at the end of the tunnel currently for firearm industry but as we know it US military officials has always had the talent to screw it. This includes people who don’t want change and sticking to old rules (M16 and its derivatives)when they have already have their run. I am not saying that M16 is a bad gun but it can have improvements like transforming it to M27 IAR. M27 IAR is the perfect successor of M16 without retraining. People don’t want to accept but firearm industry is kind like fashion industry if somebody else have it why we don’t. That’s why we are stuck even if the design is under performing like M4, spec-ops used it because they mostly operated in closed ares like jungles of Vietnam and urban area in Iraq. But as soon as they were in Afghanistan they opted for SCAR-H or highly customized M16 in open or mountain operation. But the problem is you can’t have 2 primary guns for per soldier if you are maintaining an army as large as US military. Answer is bull-pup design but some of the readers might yank my chain but I wanna say that when bullets starts flying you want a gun which can outperform the guns carried by your enemy. Below I will stat the guns which can be the successor of currently issued firearms.
    Full size 5.56 NATO rifles by M27 IAR, AK 108, SCAR HAMR. All 5.56 or 5.45 or 7.62X39 rifles including carbine by FNF 2000 or other designs which are fully ambidextrous. All 7.62 rifles by keltec RFB or other designs which are fully ambidextrous. Full size 5.45 or 7.62X39 rifles by AK 107/109,A 545. Their is a whole list of firearms which improve shot to shot performance but militaries don’t adapt them sometimes because of funding or other times they are way ahead of their time and people doesn’t contemplate their effect on the battlefield.

    • Joshua

      What “Spec ops” are using a highly customized M16 as a general issue weapon, or the SCAR-H….because neither are being issued as a general purpose rifle.

      It’s still the Block II M4A1.

      Judging by your rifles to succeed the M4 I am going to suggest stop getting all your information from the internet and go join those “Spec Ops” units you have no trouble discussing equipment of.

      • Padmmegh Ambrela

        Afghanistan is a place where enemy combatants repeatedly have used range combined with hit and run tactics to successfully engage ISAF. Their main weapon for such purpose is PK machine gun and RPG 7 and its derivatives. Usually these weapons are used in their offensive operation. Sometimes they even use DSHK HMG. The main advantage of ISAF is its air power to negate that insurgents use high number of heavy weapons combined with hit and run tactics because aerial assets still need time to reach area of operation. By the time they have reached insurgents have long gone. To counter these ISAF forces started operating with armour as their individual weapon doesn’t have range to counter insurgents. Usually large ISAF units operate with armour i.e. USMC with M1A1 Abrams(south-western Afghanistan), Dutch and Norwegian allies with M113,CV90(Operation Harekate Yolo) and Leopard 2(Badghis and Helmand province). But when operating in mountainous region where armor can’t go through units have to depend on their personal weapons. Here US military units got that by adding more M240 and other designated marksman rifles, allied forces had done the same. Yes, I agree that M4A1 block II is the general issue weapon but spec ops units have freedom choice. At the start of operation in Afghanistan they used the above but as soon as they are operating in high mountainous region they opted for longer range weapons. The highly customized weapon I mentioned was Mk 12 SPR upper mated with the lower of M4A1. Now its up to you how you classify such weapon a derivative of M16 or M4?
        The problem of having either to choose maneuverability or range will always be their unless one chooses bullpup design. If one want to stick to conventional design you have to fire larger caliber bullet which means less ammo higher recoil. Certain 5.56 weapon can reach 600m+ range but all of those weapons are full size rifles(M27, Mk 12 SPR, Army SDMR, USMC SAMR, Sig SG 540).

        • tts

          One of TFB’s main mods or writers posted some links to articles about effective 1000yd shooting with standard M16A2’s and M4’s a few days back.

          Both were at looserounds dot com. One was called “What will the M4 do at 1000 yards?” posted 8/5/2013. The other was called “Can a rack grade AR15 and M855 make 1000 yard hits?” posted 6/10/2013.

          I don’t doubt that standard 5.56 ammo won’t be that deadly at that range (something like .22lr energy levels) but it need only do some effective wounding to offer defense from opposing shooters at that range.

        • Uniform223

          If bullpup designs are indeed the future (as you are suggesting)… why are there militaries that are abandoning the bullpup configuration and going to the more conventional? Example of this would be the NZDF adoption of the of an AR-15 platform by LMT? What about Australia? Their primary service rifle is the Steyr Aug but their SASR are always seen with M4 type derivatives? Same with the British SAS. France is thinking about dropping their FAMAS and going down the route of conventional again.

          If you can give me a GOOD full proof answer without pointing to the Israel’s Tavor rifle; than I would believe you. Outside of that its all your own opinion.

          • Tom

            I would not read too much into the fact that the SAS (be they UK, Aussie or New Zeland) use M4s rather than bullpups. A special forces missions are different and they often want something a bit different from the big army so its not IMHO a useful argument.

            That said with the exception of Israel the trend does seem to be for conventional though its not exactly a large number of armies re-equipping so might be too early to call it.

            Personally I do not see one [bullpup or conventional] as objectively better than the other there are pros and cons to each which are sometimes exaggerated by the fans of each platform.

            For the US there is just no real incentive to replace the M4 in general service it does the job well enough and whilst some might want a return to .30 cal rounds no one knows where the next conflict is going to occur. It could just as easily be in a jungle or urban environment as mountains.

          • Padmmegh Ambrela

            .30 cal or 7.62 NATO rounds are high performance rounds and needs high level of skills combined with proper tools to take their full advantage. The ratio of 556 to 762 weapons changes with change in area of operation. Bullpup design has advantage when the troops are fighting in a rapidly changing environment from urban or jungle terrain to open terrain or mountainous region in a week. Otherwise one can stick to their conventional rifle for long period deployment in a particular region.

          • Padmmegh Ambrela

            Australia is replacing their steyr aug with Thales ef88/f90 which is itself an improved derivative of aug in regular units. In SASR they are sticking with m4 derivatives. Singapore uses SAR 21. China uses QBZ 95-1 for front line units while QBZ 3 for second line units to reduce the cost of retraining. Poland is adopting msbs random in bullpup(spec ops) and conventional(regular units) form. Indian para-commandos and spec ops units uses tavor while regular units insas. Croatia adopting VHS. Iran adopted KH-2002. Russian bullpup design like a91, ads(navy frogmen), svu(omon) are used by spec ops units. China with largest ground forces in the world uses mostly bullpup designs(QBZ 95-1, QBB 95, QCW 05 , QBU 88). Cost is the main driving force behind any procurement like m9 over p226. NZDF adoption of AR 15 platform is because of parts commonality and reduce costs with its NATO allies, while offering similar performance to steyr aug. French is also considering Croatian VHS. Sometimes only spec units uses bullpup while regular units stick to conventional rifle (reducing retraining costs)(Russia, India,Poland) sometimes main force uses bullpup while rear troops or militia uses conventional rifle(reducing retraining costs)(China,Israel) spec unit uses conventional rifle (more accessories can be mounted or being reliable AR 15 platform vs steyr aug,l85a2)(SASR, SAS) whereas regular units stick to bullpup. FAMAS F1 vs FAMAS G2 vs M16 will be a good comparison if one want to know the pro and cons of FAMAS. In the end it all depends on costs and how far one sees in the future?
            What if UNION army had Spencer repeating rifle for all its soldier instead of rifled muskets?

          • Adam Jones

            The L85A2 has been very reliable since the early 2000s after they were rebuilt and rejigged by H&K, they also have Daniel Defense hand guards with rails as standard since 2008/9. Aside from the usual problems associate with bull pups it works and with the armed forces shrinking and the defence budget shrinking it won’t be replaced for at least a further 20 years unless something forces all NATO to change to a new calibre.

        • Joshua

          No one wants a bullpup. Second again, the M4A1 is still the rifle we all chose to go out using in Afghanistan.

          The Mk12 was never mated to a M4A1 lower, it has it’s own receiver as it is it’s own weapon and not a modification of the M4.

          Seriously…where do you get your information from? It’s full of inconsistencies on how SF and SoF equipment is used.

          • Padmmegh Ambrela

            As a sniper, Chris Kyle was often asked about his weapons. While in
            training, he used four different rifles in order to know which weapon
            was the most useful in the given situation. In the field, he used the
            following:(American sniper)

            a semi-automatic 7.62 NATO Mk 11 sniper rifle (patrol)
            a 5.56 NATO Mk 12 Designated Marksman Rifle modified with the lower receiver off a M-4 to get a collapsible stock and allow full auto (for urban patrol)
            a .300 Winchester Magnum M24 sniper rifle with McMillan stocks and customized barrels, later replaced with a .300 Winchester Magnum Accuracy International. These two rifles were the ones he mostly used while in overwatch.
            And on the question of whether bullpups are any use or not is up to adopting militaries(Israel, Australia, Croatia,Poland) or to individuals in spec ops units(OMON, Russian navy frogmen).

          • Joshua

            Please stop. You’re trying to quote books to someone who retired from SoF.

            The Mk12 was a complete rifle platform, did Chris put a M4A1 lower on it? I have no idea, I never met the guy during his patrols in Fallujah. I also want to point out that there is a difference between the M4 and M4A1, and his book had a number of inconsistencies which is pretty common with guys who publish their careers.

            But the weapon as a whole is a rifle platform which has it’s own lower receiver.

  • Xeno Da Morph

    The future is phasers, and the future is UGLY!!

    • Tassiebush

      what the dickens is that?

      • Beomoose

        Its a laser dazzler in a really dumb looking shroud designed by someone in marketing.

  • Ed

    Question is too why bother breaking the plateau? Current weapons work fine and continued improvements make them lighter and more reliable. Why not wait to firearms become obsolete and replaced laser or phaser weapons could replace them.

    • tts

      Improvements to small arms could save our soldiers lives and the increase their effectiveness in combat which potentially could shorten a given conflict thereby potentially reducing fatalities to civilians and greatly reducing the cost of the conflict.

      If it hadn’t been for the wars the US’s deficit wouldn’t be that bad even after the whole GFC and bank bailout mess.

      Small arms versions of directed energy weapons probably won’t be practical in our lifetimes. If ever. Over long stretches of time like that continued improvements make a lot of sense since we can’t expect the current M16 variants to function for that duration.

  • Tassiebush

    Okay it looks like it’s time for wild speculation. My speculation is that metal storm could get dusted off and brought out with the following improvements.
    1. It would be matched to a smart sight which compensates for trajectory as it shoots it’s way down the collumn and adjusts rate of fire as needed for hit probabilty at different ranges.
    2. It could have an automated cartridge tube loader using computer controlled magnets instead of a mechanical loading system thereby hugely reducing mechanical complexity (weight, manufacturing cost, material cost) and relaxing the spacial limitations of the design. Most of the buttstock would probably be a huge magazine housing many stacks of ammo collumns.
    An automated ammo collumn tube swap might occur in a similar timeframe to a very long conventional automatic action such as a .50bmg .
    Because it is so electronics based but mechanically simple it’d become cheaper per unit than current smallarms being essentially polymer printings and castings with inlaid electronics and far fewer machined part. The breach bolt and barrel would just about be the only machined components.
    It might either become cheap enough to throw away the whole gun instead of repairing or specific sections might become swapable.
    If the electricity requirements were excessive it could probably regenerate extra power off chamber heat, recoil or muzzle blast.

  • mosinman

    this is sorta off topic, but i think powered armor will be a driving force to improve current firearms

    • Kyle

      You know that’s isn’t far of the mark. If those exoframes they are prototyping go standard issue carrying around an M16 is pretty meaningless. I mean why carry an M16 when I can sling around an M240B like an assault rifle.

      • mosinman

        or a man portable 7.62×51 Minigun

        • BattleshipGrey

          While we’re at it, might as well mount a 20mm cannon on it too.

          • mosinman

            why not? since we’re talking about future powered armor here.

      • hikerguy

        Or perhaps those shoulder mounted beam weapons aimed with an eye sight on your helmet like the Predator alien does. Now that would be cool. Seriously, however, I think the U.S. Army has put off getting a new carbine until they see how telescoped rounds work out.

      • Joshua

        How do you plan to reload those M240’s with the dexterity of a elephant…

        • iksnilol

          How do you plan on reloading an M16 with the dexterity of an elephant?

          At least the belt feds can have their entire ammo load linked at once.

          • tts

            I guess the best way to tackle that issue is to design into irrelevancy: just do 1 super long belt of thousand+ rounds for whatever weapon you intend (belt fed uppers exist for M16’s, so its doable, M240 would be fine though) so reloads can be avoided altogether in combat.

            The problem then is fixing failures of whatever sort. A possibly way to address at least some jams is put a solenoid on the charging handle and have it cycle when a jam is detected automatically to clear it.

            Making the charging handle bigger and stronger so it could be manipulated safely and effectively by the suit operator could be a decent idea too. 1 less solenoid to service at least.

            Even better would be to use a chain gun of some sort. Those are virtually unjammable and will even automatically clear stuff like dud rounds so you’re not reliant on the action cycling to keep firing.

            All depends on the budget and what weight the suit can handle in the end I guess.

          • In the book “Snowcrash,” one of the weapons is a mini minigun (microgun?) that fired 3mm depleted uranium rounds. A triple barrel microgun, combined with a lightweight, straight wall cartridge (5.7×28) could certainly be made, and might even be man portable even without the exoskeleton. 1000 rds of 5.7×28 weighs 14lbs, so a person could carry 2,000, and a exoskeleton perhaps as many as 6000?

          • tts

            Yeah now that you brought it up I remember it. IIRC it could be fired handheld but really needed some sort of small exo-frame a la a steadicam to use properly in the book.

            Really cool idea, dunno how feasible it’d be though IRL. I know the military is trying to move away from DP ammo in general right now though due to toxicity issues (ie. Gulf War Syndrome).

            In the book they made a point to mention that it was incredibly heavy, can’t remember the exact weight, but I remember the book mentioning it was tough for a single strong person to lug around. So well over 14lbs if you want to stick with DP ammo.

            For exosuits the sky is the limit for weight in theory. Actual IRL limits would all depend on power supply and budgets. Currently power supply issues totally nix the idea unfortunately.

          • If you swapped out DU for 31gr, 4mm tungsten sabots (as used by the 6.5 CBJ) you could still use a 5.7×28 platform and weight. 5.7×28 is both 1/2 the weight of 9mm/5.56, and it has a thin, non-tapered case, so a tremendous amount of ammo could be stored in a compact size – 500 rounds fits into the size of college textbook, for example.

            The “minigun backpack” could likely hold 2000-4000 rounds, depending on how the linkless feeding system works. If the minigun was limited to 10-20 round bursts to keep recoil down, it could be fielded even without the exosuit. Similar to how the flamethrower men were employed in WW2.

          • tts

            It sounds like that idea could almost work with a strong person unaided. With a stronger-than-human exosuit it could be pretty effective!

          • Or just employ battlefield steroids, the poor mans exosuit 😉

          • tts

            Yea sure speed could do it, I’d hate to see what effect it would have on the soldiers though. I know you’re teasing but they’d be a mess even if they survive combat.

            Peactime treatment of vets is better than it used to be in decades past but still isn’t as good as it needs to be with just current issues. Adding severe drug addiction couldn’t help things at all.

          • Joshua

            It’s a major issue with power armor fans that has never been explained.

          • mosinman

            of course it’s got a lot of question marks, but i think powered armor will end up being used in some fashion once the technology it would rely on is mature, and that will drive further firearm innovation to defeat it. the suit i posted comes from the Battletech universe, and in that lore, the Power armored soldiers do not replace conventional infantry, but operate as a sort of “super” infantry that kinda fits in between the roles of the infantry and armored vehicles and act as a force multiplier against conventional infantry but can crack hardened targets such as APCs and tanks

          • Joshua

            Interesting. Are they books? Sounds like a fascinating premise.

          • mosinman

            yeah there are books, but the genre started out as a table top. the books are pretty good imo, especially if you like sci fi

          • Joshua

            Thanks, I’ll have to hunt down some of them and give the books a try. SciFi is my jam when it comes to books. Never got into table top games.

          • Padmmegh Ambrela

            Sci Fi had given us lot of ideas regarding powered walking armor but what about the size it can range from individual armor(crisis, ironman) to individual heavy weapons platforms(iron monger, avatar) to crew served platform(pacific rim, warhammer) capable of transforming into something else(transformers, gundam,macross).If the problem of power can be solved;
            Individual armor will be the standard individual worn armor which can also serve as a conduit for linking and controlling with other heavier platforms, fighters, afvs, droids.
            Individual heavy weapons platform will serve as storm troopers or space droped infantry and support for basic soldiers in extreme terrains inaccessible to vehicles (mountains, jungles).
            Last category is quite difficult to describe;
            It can be tanks and afvs with tracks divided into four groups which can be extended like legged squad support system. This is the near term solution. If one wants to make huge walking platforms it is better to depend on something more based on organics like legs made of artificial fibers than merged with mechanical weapons torso(metal gear solid). Transforming is quite far fetched, it is better to have a platform with dual capabilties like hovering weapons platform a cross between tank and helicopter, but i think it is not efficient.
            What about genetically enhanced soldiers with faster brain processing and enhanced skeleton and muscles and faster healing?
            In nature their are several creature with such capabilities why not augment that or evolve human limits.

          • mosinman

            well in the picture i posted of the power armor, the soldiers who man these suits are genetically modified and are 7 feet tall or so and incredibly strong

          • iksnilol

            I presumed we’d just have ridicilously oversized controls.

      • Tom

        Because someone has got to supply the ammo. Whilst it works great in SciFi I am not sure power armour is that practical in the real world for most tasks. You need a pretty impressive power source to keep it running, its going to need a lot of maintenance and its going to be heavier and bulkier than regular kit so your power armoured troops are a much bigger target and will struggle the moment they are not operating on paved roads. Even if the armour value negates the first problem the second is a pretty big thing if you want your troops to operate in the snow, marshland or mountains.

        I concede that for certain types of work, urban combat and EOD the idea of a heavily armoured suit that allows the user to move has advantages but I can not see it will ever be worth the trade off for most application. I am of course making a distinction between power amour and powered frames/exo skeletons.

    • n0truscotsman

      Yes, provided the power sourcing/storage issue is solved, which hinders many potentially powerful weapons currently in testing.

      • Tassiebush

        my ultimate energy intensive cool thing idea is a nuclear powered zepplin! 🙂

      • mosinman

        yeah it seems like the bottleneck is battery technology

  • aka_mythos

    As others have said here Government regulation has stifled small arms development. The Kriss for example is innovative, but you’d be hard pressed to point to any other truly innovative American design since the 80’s… Meanwhile the Army has voiced an interest in reliable hyperburst fire which would require innovation.

    I think the lack of innovation has put the military in a position where they want the next weapon to be a big leap over current arms. We will see broader use of things like the Xm-25 and adoption of things like tracking point rather than a better assault rifle.

    • Joshua

      No one wants hyperburst anymore. It’s been done and it has far more negatives than positives.

      The weapons that can do hyperburst are overly complicated and maintenance intensive.

      • aka_mythos

        First that’s why the operative word was “reliable.” Second I wasn’t saying they’d end up with hyperburst fire I was merely parsing it as the sort of big leap the Army wants and then giving other similar examples.

  • Joshua

    I will say this, it is possible LSAT will never make it out of field trials.

    So far LSAT has seen scientific testing, and testing by the 75th and Battle Maneuver Labs, both said it was an amazing system and preferred it across the board. However all trials took place on a square range and a shoot house designed to test maneuverability.

    Field trials will require the weapons and ammunition to function in environments that range from rain forests, swamps, deserts. Temperatures will range from -60 to +145 and it will be tested in all types of weather from rain, snow, etc.

    So far LSAT has shown to be a game changer, but that could change in field trials. It’s possible the ammunition or chamber/gun design may not stand up to the stresses of field trials.

    • I can’t say whether LSAT will make it to prime time, but I think it shows the way for future lightweight cased ammunition configurations, even if those end up being more conventional.

      I really think the days of brass-cased ammo are numbered.

  • El Duderino

    The next big thing IMO is the use of smart HUD (goggles/helmet or optic) to identify targets and supersonic guided munitions — the vaunted “smart bullet” to score hits. Even a ten shot weapon would be more effective than a 30 or 40 shot conventional rifle. Now that the ammo is 95% going to hit, more can be invested in terminal effectiveness i.e. explosive or AP. In one fell swoop the private straight out of training can outshoot a trained sniper with a decade of experience.

    • tts

      A HUD of sorts, either googles or as a sight, will be doable for mass use in the near term. They already sorta exist as “smart” scopes in the civie market but are currently way to expensive and probably delicate for adoption right now.

      A “smart bullet” probably won’t be around for a loooong time if ever for common small arm use anywhere. Lots of fundamental physics and manufacturing problems to solve to cram the necessary hardware into a 5.56mm or similar sized bullet. “Smart” guided explosive munitions are already becoming a thing (ie. XM25) though and will likely improve dramatically over the next decade.

      That won’t be something every soldier will have of course but put 1 or 2 in a squad and their lethality improves dramatically.

      • El Duderino

        Sure…can’t beat physics. Angle of deflection will always be an issue. You can’t hit a bad guy at 25 meters pointing at the dirt.

        So the HUD (for example) identifies possible targets in red and those that can be hit in green.

        Putting bullets on bodies at extended ranges is still the toughest thing to accomplish in combat, and this would help solve a lot of that. XM25 is a stutter step…the real thing will be much lighter and more reliable. It has to be.

        • tts

          I think a HUD that ID’s targets or points out possibles would be very hard to do right now or in the near term. The compute power and the batteries needed to run it for any decent length of time would be a big problem.

          Something assists with aim or allows text communication from spoters guiding a shooter or team remotely while still in the soldier’s field of view would be a pretty big deal though. It should be doable with minimal power and batteries too.

          I’d agree with the rest of your comment BTW

          • El Duderino

            Not IDs as friend of foe…yeah, not in the near term. But a sight that overlays thermal and stereoscopic vision and delivers up the useful stuff is not far-future gear. It would still be up to a trigger puller to ID the target and make that call. With this system, they just won’t miss.

          • tts

            OK misunderstood you then, sorry.

            Yes you’re right that sort of thing would definitely be doable now. I think the price would limit how many soldiers you could issue it to though. Bolometers and the necessary sapphire lenses (those are needed for thermal sights/scopes) are just damn hard to produce even today.

  • The_Champ

    Ok this is my admittedly late night thought that is probably way off base and a product of sleep deprivation, but here goes…..I know little about the LSAT program but the big thing about it everyone seems to be highlighting is lighter weight ammo. Thus my thought is this. Of all of the things a soldier humps around the battlefield, is there something among his gear that we could lighten up as much or more than fancy LSAT ammo would, and for less cost?

    If so then it would follow that we keep the old brass cartridges and just carry more of them after we’ve lightened up the sleeping bags or ruck sacks or batteries or boots or uniforms or armor or whatever.

    Thoughts?

    And yes I have been around the military and I know that inevitably if the kit got lighter they would just find something else for soldiers to carry 🙂

    • tts

      LSAT ammo is supposed to be pretty cheap though. Supposedly the cases are going for 10 to a penny which is amazingly cheap if true.

      If you use some modern materials maaaaybe you could lighten the gun enough where you could get most of the weight advantage LSAT offers. Of course the price of the gun would then sky rocket. And you could always apply the same weight saving methods to LSAT too (current models seem to be fairly conservative for the most part with materials usage, no fancy titanium or super ultra lightweight steel) which muddles that approach too.

      Lightening up other things the soldier has to carry will probably require a big advance in materials and manufacturing which takes so long to accomplish its almost not even worth theory-crafting about.

      • The_Champ

        I believe you could pull many things right off the shelf right now and significantly lighten a soldiers load. Just off the top of my head I’m sure you could take pounds off the issued ruck sacks. GPS devices like the old PLGR or ‘new’ DAGR I think could easily be smaller than a smart phone rather than the monstrosities that they are. Look at how the latest generation of Harris Falcon radios (the ‘PRC-117’) is half the size and weight of the previous generation of radios. I can go to Cabelas today and get sleeping bags and parkas that are far lighter, more compact, and warmer than what was issued to me.

        Of course if you can lighten up everything including guns and ammo that’s great, but from an economy side of things, I’m just wondering if it would be cheaper to lighten up other kit, and avoiding introducing entirely new weapons systems and ammo in the name of lightness and cost.

        I know light weight ruck sacks and GPS aren’t as sexy as new guns, but it should be food for thought.

        • tts

          Lots of that stuff isn’t very durable though. Not saying its flimsy but soldiers beat stuff up. What might be fine the civies will fall apart in less than a year for a soldier which is a big problem. Durability always costs you weight and size and usually extra money on top of all that.

    • Right now, soldiers carry so much in the way of gear, that EVERYTHING needs to get lighter, before we start talking about having them carry any more of any one thing.

      Also notable, LSAT isn’t just about lightening the ammunition, but also the weapons, belt links, and magazines. At the end of the day, that shakes out to several kilograms off the soldier’s load… Well, if they don’t derp out and decide to go with a comfort bullet, that is.

  • n0truscotsman

    I think any advancements will be evolutionary, not necessary revolutionary. the key concept will be the same: containing an explosion in order for the projectile to be forced out of a tube.

    Any evolutionary breakthrough, of course, will be a diminishing return, requiring more money for increasingly less decisive capability. Although advancements will be made to reduce weight in ammunition, weapon weight, etc

  • tts

    This seems to be a pretty cool idea to me! Thanks for the interesting post, I had totally forgotten about the ACR and flechette concept.

  • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

    My conclusion is we have almost completely optimized the centerfire rifle cartridge and its delivery systems. In order to make any significant advances in the base weapon itself (excluding any removable attachments: optics, lasers, ergonomic aids, etc) we need a new type of ammunition, and you can bet that the government will try to prevent civilian ownership of whatever new ammunition system is created (treating it the same way as other “advanced military technologies” like grenades, bombs, and missiles) and with the way the government does their weapon replacement competitions, the losers of the competitions have to count on the civilian market to pay for their R&D, but if the civilian market might not exist then the participants run a huge risk (made even larger by the development of a new ammunition type as well as delivery system) if they dont get the contract. The only other solution is to design in house or commission a contractor to R&D a new system and then you get something like the can of worms that is the F35…

  • Uniform223

    There were plenty of things that the Advance Combat Rifle Program that were considered ahead of its time in its day (and to an extent still today). Caseless ammunition, hyperburst, optional optic mounting ect. Yet despite their advanced designs none of them vastly out performed the M16A2 under more realistic conditions. IMO the ability to mount optics was indeed a step in the right direction. The flechette round looks like a good concept/idea but the cost of manufacturing I think would out weigh the benefit especially given the what is already in use.

    • I think part of the problem was that the ACR program demanded a “100% increase in performance” over the M16A2 – specifically, doubling the hit probability under stress.

      While there is still room to improve over the AR in many ways, its hard to think of any mechanical solution that will be 100% better – especially when it comes to hit probability under stress, which really is a function of the shooter more than the rifle.

      However I still feel that the Steyr ACR, combined with modern optics, and a heavier projectile (30-50gr,) would offer a significant improvement. I especially think that if its hyperburst flechette feature were combined with a “Tracking Point style” sight and electronic trigger, it would approach the 100% goal.

      In terms of cost of flechettes, I think the easiest option would be a 2-piece construction similar to the m855a1 EPR. The rear fin section would be made out of diecast Zinc, which is cheap, lightweight, and offers precision similar to plastic injection moulding, while the front tip is made of sintered tungsten carbide rod. The two parts are then press-fit/crimped together like the M855A1. Because the rest of the shell/sabot is plastic, I think this could keep the cost to comparable levels to existing M855A1.

  • Tom

    As I understand it the very thing that makes flechette’s highly lethal (light weight, very high velocity and very fast yawing) makes them unsuitable to actual use as they have virtually zero barrier penetration.

    If you increase the size/mass of the projectile you start negating those advantages as the rounds, and thus weapon become bigger and recoil more of an issue you loose the accuracy advantage.

    • As I understood it, the flechettes offered incredible performance against steel and body armor. The main concern was that at 10grains, the flechette could be knocked off course, especially by rain. With a higher weight of 30-50grains that should not be an issue; the 5.7×28 and 4.6×30 do not experience this rain deflection with their 31gr projectiles.

      In terms of size and mass, I think by swapping out the front 1/2 of the flechette with tungsten, as opposed to steel, we can easily hit the 30-50gr weight goal. Meanwhile the cartridge itself would be slightly longer, but due to the cased telescopic design, should still be shorter than 7.62×51, and quite possibly shorter than standard 5.56. For example the LSAT produces 5.56 ballistics in a cartridge the size of .357, so this “ACR 2.0 Flechette” shouldn’t be unusually bulky.

      In terms of lethality, I think having it in a 2 piece construction similar to the M855A1 should cause it to rapidly yaw and then fragment, while also making the projectile easier to manufacture.

      In terms of barrier penetration, I do not know what would happen. Certainly thin car bodies should be fine, and flechettes have excellent penetration through sandbags. However through brick and concrete walls? Well, that’s when you deploy your underbarrel 40mm launcher with Raytheon Pike missile 😉

      • Tom

        As I understand it the issue with penetration for flechettes is that as they are so light weight they basically yaw at the slightest contact.

        Problem is so much of what is written is subject to bias and hyperbole so it could well be not a problem, or even just my imagination (been known to happen).

        Though I think overall you are correct that we already have advanced designs we just need to work out the bugs. The question is will the end result be significantly better than what we have. And in an age of decreasing budgets can the military afford it when they have to pay for the latest stealth fighters and drones.

      • tts

        Tungsten would probably work but its very expensive and supplies are getting limited world wide.

        I think for a common ammo it’d have to be made of mild steel or composite of some sort to be practical in the same weight range you mention. Maybe harden the tip a bit for armor penetration. Cover the outside with a thin layer of aluminum to get it to deform on body entry so that it’ll yaw inside of the person and cause major damage for rapid lethality instead of ice-pick style wounds that allow them to keep going for 10-20min before collapsing or dying of wounds.

        For defeating cover yeah you’re right you’d probably need a different weapon, but that is already true. That is what the XM25 or future variant is for.

        • If Tungsten becomes too expensive, engineering grade ceramics might work, as they are extremely hard, and can be made in complex shapes via sintering. However that would require a slightly thicker, heavier base due to the lower mass of ceramic.

          My concern is that hardened steel would be unable to defeat level IV armor, even in flechette form. Since most modern militaries already employ hard armor, and the cost of production gets cheaper by the day (currently $200 per plate retail and dropping) any future rifle/ammo design must be built around defeating this standard.

          • tts

            Your concerns, and idea to address them, sure make sense to me.

            Only other thing you could really do to improve effect vs better armor is to look at implementing hyperburst again somehow.

            Trying to do hyperburst with a standard mag seems to be too complicated though. Maybe use a tandem feed design magazine? Or just allow the gun to have 2 standard mags loaded and have it pull from 1 at a time in “standard” (semi or full auto) mode and then feed from both during hyperburst mode? Additional rounds would always come in handy even in “standard” modes of fire.

            I have no idea if either concept would work well but as long as we’re spitballin’ here might as well throw it out there.

          • Well thats the beauty of the Steyr ACR design – it already comes with a 2200rpm, 3 shot hyperburst 🙂 It really is so ahead of its time in that regard.

            However, if we bump up the projectile weight to 30-50grains, recoil will be pretty brisk.

          • tts

            Aww I didn’t know that! 3 shot hyperburst with heavier flechettes would probably make short work of nearly all body armor that is practical to lug around.

            How much recoil did the original version have do you know?

          • I was only able to find videos of the ACR firing in semi-auto, which looked quite mild.

            However the videos of the HK G11 (which I suggest checking out, really cool) show the 2400rpm hyper burst w/ 51gr bullets @ 3100fps. Recoil looks to be similar to a 12 gauge 3″ magnum, albeit it looks more of a “push” then a sharp shove like a 12 gauge.

          • tts

            Ouch. Yeah that is pushing the limit of what is practical for most people to tolerate and still aim well.

  • George

    Going to approach this from the features rather than tech side…

    1. Ammo cost – for active gun users, already the dominant cost now. LSAT shows that there are ways to do it cheaper.

    2. Firearms capital cost – despite being lower than ammo cost over time, this is still high enough to discourage buyers. If you believe the more guns better society paradigm this area needs work. AKs for foreign militaries at $50 indicates price distortion here, but even accounting for US buyers wanting better quality than that we can do better with the system.

    3. Reliability. Why do we keep getting junk models and individual guns through quality control?

    4. Reliability 2. More resistant to dirt, crap, need for cleaning etc. we have models you can fire 10k rounds through while exposing to dirt and sand. Why is the industry not making this the norm?

    Edging techwise a bit…

    5. Electrical and electronics in mechanism. Electrical primer ignition and triggers, electrical powered actions. Solenoids just work. Energy density for batteries and needs to cycle action are not a big deal.

    6. Electrothermal-chemical ammo – using electric discharges not just to ignite, but add considerable energy into the hot gas and increase energy.

    7. Subsonic drag optimized bullets. Aviation and sub R&D has developed shapes we could use in bullets and reduce drag very significantly. Nobody paying much attention.

    Away from tech again:
    8. Customers. Not reaching out effectively to the third of the populace who aren’t viscerally anti-gun and yet don’t now own one. Even in our community, not reaching out to those mostly content with a home defense 12 ga, a revolver, a single .22 rifle, etc.

    • Great list. Could you expand a bit more on #6 and #7?

      • George

        While my shape post is wading through moderation due to a Url; the electrothermal-chemical systems are also known as PCAP – “Plasma Combustion Assisist Propellant” I think. It has advantages of being able to use propellant that’s unreactive at low temps, cheaper, and anywhere from some to most of the total energy can be electric input from capacitors.

        You just dump a big capacitor through an arc in the chamber, basically. Dirt simple.

        Better than lasers (~100% efficient), railguns (bore erosion like normal guns), etc. it’s a good impedance match to bringing electricity into play.

        A couple of KJ of electric energy doubles the energy of a 5.56 for example. Or lets you take half or more the powder out. Etc.

        • Very cool. Given what is available today, is that level of energy man/rifle portable, or is it more suited to vehicle and ship mounted platforms?

          • George

            For normal rifles… The 2 KJ example with 5.56alike is about .55 watt-hour (3600 sec times 1 watt). Laptop batteries are up to about 250 W-H/kg now. So 1 kg of battery (2.2 lb) is the energy in 500 or so rounds. Say 250 (240, equiv 8×30 rnd) if energy transfer sucks.

            As normal .223 ammo and magazines, that 240 rounds are 3.5 or so kilos of ammo…

            You still need bullets, ETC propellant, and so forth. But round weight can drop 2-3 fold. So 3.5 kilos of ammo goes to say 1.8 kg of ammo, 1 kg battery. But the ammo density goes way up, so all 240 rounds may fit in a bulk magazine or drum (.22 LR or .22 magnum volume, but heavier, say). And that’s fairly conservative, and better batteries are coming.

            And action weight and size are driven mostly by ammo volume, so they drop a huge amount. And an inch of action length or more…

            Battery discharge rate is finite so making machineguns this way is harder, but if you want to fire aimed fire all day, that 1 kg Li-Ion can run 300 watts or more, so one shot every say 6 sec (100% efficient energy transfer) to 12 sec (50% efficient). 2 kg battery gets you one every 3-6 sec, 3 kg every 2-4 sec, etc. Snd battery can be in pack or on LBE with an armored cable.

            Again, that’s a *conservative* battery. Bleeding edge batteries are 10x that energy discharge rate at similar energy density. 1 shot/sec at 1 kg, 5 shots/sec at 5 kg, and energy for 1200 plus rounds in that 11 pound battery pack. Without reload.

            Oh, and with electricity at a field cost of $.50/KWH, that’s less than a buck’s worth of electricity. For either an epic 4 minute low cyclic burst or semi auto rapid fire for 20 min straight without reloading.

            Got your attention yet?

          • You’ve got my attention and my money good sir 🙂 Seriously, one of the coolest things I’ve read about future firearms designs ever. Any chance you are secretly working on one of these in you garage?

      • Padmmegh Ambrela

        6.Electrothermal-chemical (ETC) technology is an attempt to increase accuracy and muzzle energy of future tank, artillery, and close-in weapon system guns by improving the predictability and rate of expansion of propellants inside the barrel.
        An electrothermal-chemical gun uses a plasma cartridge to ignite and
        control the ammunition’s propellant, using electrical energy to trigger
        the process. ETC increases the performance of conventional solid
        propellants, reduces the effect of temperature on propellant expansion
        and allows for more advanced, higher density propellants to be used.
        7. I think it means either very low drag bullets or high performance subsonic bullet for suppressed operation. Russians have quite the experience in development and fielding of latter’s as well as the weapons like SP-3(MSP pistol),PZAM(S4M pistol),SP-4(PSS pistol),
        SP-5(VSS sniper rifle),SP-6(AS assault rifle),12.7x54mm(VKS sniper rifle).

    • 4. How is the AR-15 not the norm?

      7. Subsonic bullets are of extremely limited usefulness, and there’s frankly not much point in drag-optimizing a bullet that’s only effective to 100 meters due to its low muzzle velocity, anyway.

      • George

        The cheapest AR parts are still over $200 all up, cheapest rifles much more. I’m trying to put a floor on cost and see why most have much higher prices.

        Cheaper AR would also be interesting. Very interesting in fact. But not my initial point.

        Regarding subsonic bullets… How far do you think a 308 is supersonic for? 1100 meters? Bit farther? Considered shooting farther than that? Pros do.

        Hunters won’t ever need something like this (I hope…). Doesn’t mean it should not be looked at.

    • Tassiebush

      Interesting points. On 2 I think it’s actually complex because there is AK price distortion in the cheapness of the AK because so many were made just to prop up the state arsenals without regard to the need or market so basically they are probably below cost in many cases.

  • Trey

    The technology plateau for firearms is more a function of the excellence in the field now for the job they are required to do now. not to say there are not improvements that can be made or even radical ideas that might work the problem is the task at hand the tools at hand seem to work awfully well. Personally I believe the larger caliber would be advantageous for most purposes, but to do that one must offset the weight somewhere else has the average in from infantryman now carries far too much already. Case less ammunition has been tried have been found wanting, smaller diameter hypervelocity ammunition has also been tried but it also does not seem to have a great advantage. There comes a point when a good new technology is not good enough to replace a good old technology.

  • George

    A lot of people are focusing on the flechette about the Steyr ACR. That’s only a small part of it. The cased telescoped lightweight ammo, push-through reload etc were more important. This would work fine with the LSAT 5.56 ammo (and moving the firing pin, I think).

  • Sulaco

    Lately I have been wondering just how much “innovation” we need. Don’t get me wrong I love a new rifle, but the current platforms like the AR and AK are at the plateau of innovation for a reason, current technology. A radically new platform would require a real paradigm shift in chemistry, physics and metallurgy or something similar. The Brown Bess was in service for what? Three hundred years because it’s abilities on the graphs of the battlefield use were high enough to meet the needs, was economically feasible and supportable by field technology for repairs. Tinkering around the edges of the current rifle cartridges is fun but until the above noted shift takes place really benefits no one on the large scale. Too often in my view the demands for something “new” is a reflex of having something that works around “too long” and is no longer exciting, it just works…

  • Max Popenker

    “It’s of note that, prior to 1968, the US government itself directly undertook engineering, development, and production of the standard individual arms carried by every soldier, a practice which led to such innovations as the M1 Garand rifle”
    It also lead to M14, M60, M73, the SPIW and eventually to the deimse of the Springfield armory.

    • I was certainly not arguing that Springfield Armory was not broken or didn’t deserve to be shut down, hahah.

  • gunsandrockets

    Oh there’s been plenty of innovation in military small arms. Just not so much in the realms of handguns, rifles and machine-guns.

    And that’s not so surprising either. The big deal in land warfare during the 20th century wasn’t infantry and infantry weapons, but artillery, aircraft, gas, tanks, rockets, radar, and nuclear weapons. Small arms development gets the scraps.

  • gunsandrockets

    With starvation diet budgets the U.S. military is getting subjected to, and white elephant projects like LCS and JSF gobbling up money, I fear the extremely promising LSAT project will get cast aside. What a damned shame.

  • GearHeadTony

    Amateurs talk hardware, professionals talk software. One of the primary considerations of this “software” is logistics. Until you can convince the rest of the free world to switch to a new cartridge nothing is going to change. Don’t hold your breath.

  • toms

    The thing that has prevented small arms development more than anything was the fall of the Soviet Union and lack of a serious threat to security. Now that Russia and China are randy we will see this stuff move forward. We were very close to adopting caseless ammo in the late 80’s early 90’s. In fact Germany did but the fall of the iron curtain killed it almost out the get go. By the final iterations, the caseless problems had been sorted out. Armor penetration will rule the next small arms race and short of explosives or lasers nothing works better than flechettes or small diameter heavy for caliber projectiles at penetrating armor. Its just a fact and is the endless circle of warfare development since ancient times.

  • noob

    Arms are just a tool for a purpose. The purpose is to immediately stop somebody from doing something that could endanger your life (and in a military context repeat the stopping operation on many somebodies at scale).

    It appears that the ideal weapon system for the global war on terror would use big data to identify individual human targets and then be able to stop them anywhere they may be found in the world, no matter what kind of defenses they may be behind. It may look radically unlike a firearm.

    Perhaps it could be something like a secret command that causes the high density battery inside the target’s mobile phone to cause a fatal house fire, or some kind of genetically individualized disease.

    Such a system would tilt the balance of force overwhelmingly towards state power. I am not sure what the private right to bear such a system would look like. Maybe like the proverbial button that allows one to punch somebody in the face via the internet.

  • greensoup

    I think people that like guns make poor judgements on what actually needs to be improved. Watch a modern war documentary, look how much ammo is going down range hitless, mostly because the shooters can’t see the target or can’t look long enough to find the target. Also its quite chaotic and noisy.

    Advancements should be in high speed target direction and location. Newer fancy guns are a waste if you can’t see what you want to hit, which is why trying to solve the problem by changing the gun has never yielded meaningful improvement. Also gun companies are electronics scared and seem to be entrenched in decades old tradition. Electronic optics come from one company, guns from another, lasers from a third, barrels another, magazines another.

    Also the R&D budget of a gun company compared to the advancements people desire are a joke. It the budget is probably a few million when the need is probably from $100+.

  • Flechettes are attractive for several reasons, but they have some major limitations, those being that they are hard to make, tend to have very limited terminal effectiveness, and things like tracers get a bit tricky.

    • I think those problems could be overcome. In terms of manufacturing, I the tail fin section could be die cast out of zinc/zamak alloy, and then the front shaft/ arrowhead could be made out of either sintered tungsten or cermamic, or swiss machined steel. Then press fit/swaged together similar to how the M855A1 is constructed.

      For low cost ball ammo, the whole flechette could be die cast from Zinc, likely for less than it costs to make .224 FMJ. (ZAMAK is less than $2 per/lb, and so $2 = 700 10gr Flechettes; 233 30gr flechettes; 140 50gr flechettes.) Even a small die casting factory could produce a huge quantity of flechettes using multi-cavity molds.

      Die casting the tail fin section would also allow for a hollow base model that could be filled with tracer compound. However in the age of optics and IR/Green lasers, I’m not sure how necessary tracers are any more, especially for rifles and LMGs?

      The terminal effectiveness is the big question. I think that so long as the flechette yaws within 3,” it would be quite effective. Hard to go wrong at 4900ft/s, 3000 ft/s at 600 yards. And with a 2-part, M855A1 style construction, that will hopefully solve any issues with fleet yaw.

      I would love to see the ACR pulled out of the museum for a little gel testing.

  • Jason Wolfe

    Its the bullets. The form built around the bullets has evolved to peak ergonomic efficiency for a certain bullet form and explosive power (M4/M16 family). Until the reaction going on inside the gun substantively changes, these are the guns we are going to have.

    Now some commentators are pointing to optics updating. Yes, this will be amazing. There should be auto-range finding and shot prediction technologies in the future.

  • That is very interesting shape. It could potentially be fired out of a Sabot, assuming it could be spin staballized.

    Now if it’s a subsonic drag shape, would it still be low-drag as supersonic velocities?

  • savaze

    We need something like kickstarter for gun development.

  • Anomanom

    Military size may be an issue as well, at least in the US, as well. No one starts the process of researching a newtype weapon because no one wants to have to pay for it later.
    Let’s say congress gives DARPA or some other agency the billion dollars to develop a new individual weapon paradigm, and they actually do it. They develop a 10mm caseless armour piercing electronic ignition automatic rifle with 99rd magazine and 30mm underbarrel pump action grenade projector. (yes that was an aliens joke) It passes all the tests and trials.
    Now comes the real expenditure. We have something like 450000 active military, so that’s 450000 rifles minimum, plus 200000 more for backups, war emergency and so forth. 3x electric batteries for same. Then comes lets say a conservative billion and a half rounds of 10mm CAP. Another 1.5 million 20mm grenades. Cleaning tools and replacement components, storage, and battery chargers for all of those. Then you have to retrain every soldier that has been using a m16/m4 rifle on how to shoot, clean, and care for his/her new rifle. Before that happens you have to train armourers, service personnel, instructors, and quartermasters to do all of those things.

    I could continue, but i think it’s clear how daunting the expenditure and effort would be to command staff and policymakers alike. Not that it doesn’t need to happen. But daunting nonetheless.

  • Alex Nicolin

    Generally, if private companies don’t throw money at a problem of their own accord, and need incentives to do it, it’s probably not worth doing it. During the last 70 years the importance of individual small arms on the battlefield has declined, and has declined even faster in the last 30, with the proliferation of man portable explosive weapons, like multiple grenade launchers. It will probably decline further, especially in well funded armies like those of the US and rich European and Asian countries (ROK, Japan) with the advent and proliferation of powered exoskeletons that allow individual soldiers to carry such weapons in larger numbers. And of course the weapons themselves become lighter, more accurate and “smarter” grenade launchers, like the HK (X)M25. It’s also predictable that similar and more powerful weapons will be carried by (semi)autonomous mechanical units in combat or at least combat support. So the AR15, HK G36, various AKM derivatives, Tavor, Steyr AUG etc. in carbine configuration could soldier on well into this century as ancillary weapons for soldiers mostly equipped with more powerful weapons.

  • Zobeid

    I agree with Mongo that the legal environment has really suppressed the sort of tinkerers who used to bubble up in the industry all the time with innovative ideas. And small arms technology development has really stalled out.

    Caseless ammo doesn’t need to be invented. It’s been done already, but the military was too conservative to embrace it, arguing (as they often have, historically) that the new technology’s benefits weren’t great enough to justify the great costs of retooling and replacing everything. If they ever break out of their fossilized mindset, this technology is ready to be dusted off and deployed.

    Its high time that we saw more electronic control systems in firearms. Several years ago I got a CO2 power BB submachinegun, made in Russia, that had an electronic trigger and switch-selectable semi-auto, full auto, 3 round burst and 6 round burst modes, and a choice of 300 or 600 RPM cyclic rate. This was not much more than a toy, but it was nuts to see this done in a BB gun while nothing like it (as far as I know) has been attempted with real firearms.

    As far as infantry rifle caliber or power is concerned. . . The 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Grendel are really “intermediate-intermediate” cartridges. The original assault rifle concept was designed to be effective to a range of 300 yards, and the cartridge was intermediate between a conventional (at the time) battle rifle and a SMG. (One might argue the HK11 would have been the ultimate development of that paradigm, if it had been adopted.)

    Today we’ve found the need for something intermediate between an assault rifle and a SAW (and, incidentally, marksman rifles) that we would like to fill both roles. That means it won’t be optimal for either role. It’s just another refactoring of the small arms mix rather than a technological advance.

    • Mazryonh

      The reason why we can’t pull a switch to alter cyclic rate is because modern fully-automatic firearms are composed of mechanical parts set to fire at an “optimal” rate that is fixed in place once it leaves the factory (changing the cyclic rate would mean changing the mechanical parts responsible for the cyclic rate).

      Electrically-fired firearms wouldn’t have this problem, as they could be programmed to change cyclic rates (in other words how often it provides the electrical energy needed to fire a cartridge) with the flip of a switch, but they haven’t come into common use yet. And if you want bursts of a length that a switch’s setting won’t provide you, the current answer is to just train up your trigger control in full-auto until you can reliably fire bursts of so-many rounds that you want. But burst settings are being moved away from because they don’t provide a trigger pull as consistent as firearms with just safe/semi/auto settings.

      As for “intermediate-intermediate,” you could just call them “compromise” or “general purpose” cartridges. Are you saying that the G11 would have been closer to an SMG than an assault rifle?

  • Zebra Dun

    An old magazine asked this question back in 1978 about handguns.
    They felt the future handgun would be a polymer framed, aluminum slide, squeeze cocker that was double action only and striker fired in 9 mm with a large magazine.

    I believe the rifle will evolve into a smooth bore, AR style platform, bull pup with a disposable magazine that comes preloaded and hold up to 50 to 100 rds. It will have a selector switch for single, bursts and full auto. This may be made to be preset by the Plt Co. via wireless command.
    It will have an attached Grenade launcher of around 25 mm.
    The rifle projectiles will be sabot loaded, less than .22 caliber though not as small as a Flechette.
    The projectile will be a dense material possibly depleted Uranium with a steel penetration ability and no lead, it will be case less, it could be steel surrounded by copper.
    It will have special tracer devices that work in IR or passive NV.
    It will come with rails and attachments to change the color of the weapon.
    Full range optics and emergency fixed sights.
    It will have a bayonet.
    It will be silenced from the factory.
    It will have a bottle and can opener and a little whistle as well.
    Might have a cell phone or laptop charger.

    • Billca

      Let’s see… caseless ammo mounting a sabot-loaded 4.5mm (to 5.56mm) steel-cored, depleted uranium projectile that’s subsonic so it can be suppressed from the factory. Better plan on shipping plane loads of ammo to the combat theater then. The grunts on the ground will be shouting “Stop! Or I’ll annoy you again!” with that kind of performance. (Hint: those “other guys” are likely to be wearing body armor too.)

      The idea of a 25mm grenade launcher might be viable if we can pack enough boom into the projectile’s warhead. If you’re going to incorporate it, then consider the idea of a 3-5 round magazine for it.

      • Zebra Dun

        Well I forgot to add the case less ammo will be select-able for ultra hi speed super sonic or subsonic, the 25 mm GL would be a dial a yield by the operator all this is the future so anything goes unless you drift into science fiction. :^D

        One can read “Genetic General” by Gordon R. Dickson where in their future the Laser, Phaser’s, blasters and death rays existed but the common Infantry was carrying a spring rifle that shot a tiny sliver of unobtanium at incredible speed from a thousand round magazine because the hi tech weapons could be nullified or gimmick ed to not work.
        The book related the average criminal and Policeman on the streets had more lethal and hi tech weapons than the Soldier.
        The Name of the Dorasi soldier was a springrifleman.

        The future is here now and no one back in 1978 even thought about the handguns of today nor the fact that a rifleman would now be called a RIFLEPERSON and would be gay, or female even transgender.
        To state the POTUS would be black and have an Islamic name?
        To have predicted such would have gotten some strange looks and laughs LOL yet it did occur.
        We shall see I look forward to what they come up with.

        • Billca

          And here I was being pragmatic and only looking about 10-12 years into the future. grin Vaguely remember the Dorasi. One reason to resist electronic arms for ground troops is the difficulty in shielding them against external neutralization. I’d lean more to Niven’s Strakkaker (shooting hypervelocity glass needles). On a more serious note, I’d think the armies using your wonder weapons might be easily defeated simply due to the cost & complexity factor. They couldn’t afford to shoot enough ammunition to combat a large scale attack nor produce it fast enough (we had trouble making enough ammo in WW-II to meet demand).
          FYI: I suggest picking up Rogue Bolo by Keith Laumer as an excellent read. He delves into the problems with self-aware armored divisions.

  • Billca

    There are a number of reasons we aren’t advancing small arms development as fast as other areas. I think many of these limitations can be removed rather easily.

    First, DoD needs to treat small arms development like they treat other weapons systems development. RFPs are solicited and reviewed. The most promising proposals are given funding to proceed with a testing prototype. Prototypes are subjected to testing (not field trials) and poor designs eliminated. The remaining 2-4 designs are funded for n prototypes for more rigorous testing (field trials) and review. At the end, the best design gets selected.

    This isn’t and shouldn’t be decried by some as a corporate “profit insurance” scheme at all. The government is paying companies for their expertise and creativity to meet their specific needs. Because those needs are unorthodox and could require partnering with non-gun industry partners the government is paying for customized work. This is similar to what a GM or Ford contracting with a company to write a radical new automotive management system.

    Out of the process the arms companies keep their own patents for new ideas and some of those may enter civilian use. Speaking of which, a fundamental change from Congress would be to not only allow but promote civilian adoption of a new small-arms system, even if some components may be omitted due to restrictions (e.g. electronics that allow the use of time-fused explosive ordnance). This may require altering or abolishing NFA-34 to allow select fire/burst fire civilian arms.

    Since the politics of DoD play a part in this process (and always have), companies need to be guaranteed that their efforts will not be “stolen” and given to a larger player to produce, thus leaving them with a poor ROI. This has happened in other areas of DoD procurement where the winner is judged “too small” to meet production needs so the DoD assigns projection to a favored contractor (*cough*General Dynamics*cough*) who reaps the profits while the originator sees their portion nibbled away by the fine print.

  • Hyok Kim

    Short of smart ammo, it doesn’t really matter.

  • whamprod

    What I am curious about is whether or not our military will ever deviate away from the 5.56 NATO cartridge, assuming a new weapon system would still be firing brass or steel cased ammunition. In the age old battle between the .30 caliber dinosaurs and the .22 caliber spacemen, it seems to me that there is a pretty big middle ground for a cartridge that hits harder, further, than 5.56, but doesn’t have the weight penalty of 7.62. In our recent wars, we’ve seen the introduction of new weapons platforms in both existing 5.56 and 7.62 calibers (thinking of FN SCAR at the moment), but also the introduction of specialty calibers for special operations command, like the .300 Blackout, 6.8 SPC, etc., to meet the needs of differing terrain on the battlefield. The tiny 5.56 might be fine in a CQB/urban close contact role, but it isn’t nearly as effect on a flat, windy desert, or shooting from one mountain slope across a valley to the facing slope. I’m no expert, have no personal experience with 6.8 SPC, and have zero combat experience, but I know rifles and I can shoot OK, and it seems to me that the 6.8 SPC cartridge (or one similar to it) would bridge that gap handily.

    Obviously, there are inventory issues, both for the weapons, and the ammo on hand for them. I don’t know how many billions of rounds of 5.56 are currently in the collective inventory of all the service branches, but it has to be a crap ton worth a LOT of money, and .mil is going to be reluctant to either destroy it, sell it to allies client nations, or sell it on the surplus market. If they did sell it off however, it would at least partially fund the acquisition of the replacement cartridge in volume. The other issue is, what happens to the existing inventory of weapons? Surplus? Unlikely because most are going to be NFA items. Sell to client states? Maybe. What’s more practical from a cost standpoint is upgrading existing systems….. for instance from DI to GP gas systems, or replacing existing barreled upper receivers with uppers in the new caliber.

    I like the 5.56 cartridge for light hunting and self-defense, but I’m not convinced that it is the best choice to go to war with. On the other hand, like I said, I’m no expert in war.

    • Mazryonh

      The 5.56mm NATO might be a bit much in CQB as well. You can read reports on the net that show how short-barrelled carbines in that caliber wear out gas systems and attached suppressors quicker, not to mention the huge amount of noise created and wasted powder. Have you given Anthony William’s “General Purpose Cartridge” article a read?

  • Brian M

    Repost of something I stated further down in a reply chain, but I would like for more people to read.

    6.5 Creedmoor and 25-06 gain 90%-95% of the performance of the 7.62×51 while still being similar and weight and controllability to 5.56×45, and if you allow more cartridges that may not come quite as high, there 243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, 270 WInchester, and 5.6×57. Here, I’ll give you an ordered table of rounds with energy and recoil.

    5.56×45—————————-1767J, 3.9

    243 Winchester (6.2×52)——-2051J, 7.2

    22-250 (5.7×48)——————2316J, 3.1

    220 Swift (5.7×56)—————-2403J, 5.3

    5.6×57——————————2596J, 6.9

    6mm Remington (6.2×57)——2926J, 10

    6.5×55——————————2962J, 10.6

    260 Remington (6.7×52)——–3088J, 11.9

    25-06 (6.5×63)——————–3230J, 11

    6.5 Creedmoor (6.5×49)——–3290J, 6.8

    7.62×51—————————-3304J, 15.8

    284 Winchester (7.21×55)—–3693J, 17.4

    270 Winchester (7×64)———4006J, 17

    As you can see, even the weakest alternate round performs 5.56 by at least 15%. 22-250, at 60gr, delivers a full 30% energy advantage over 5.56×45 while having a greater bullet diameter and even less recoil. 220 Swift measures just a bit heavier and hotter with still very light recoil, plus is a famed tack driver round that flies nearly dead flat.

    From just these rounds shown, for a replacement for 5.56×45, my first choice would be 22-250, because it is clearly superior to 5.5645 while still not being too large for the standard AR to be easily adapted to use it. If retrofitting were not a question, I would select the 220 swift, given the great increase in muzzle energy and only moderate increase in recoil vs 5.56×45.

    Several rounds come within 90% of 7.62×51 performance (goal: 3000K) while offering greatly reduced recoil, especially 6.5 Creedmoor, which performs 99% up to 7.62×51 at approx 40% of the recoil with a flatter trajectory while kicking not even twice as hard as 5.56×45. Even the rounds heavier than 7.62×51 achieve notably more energy, especially 270 Winchester, despite delivering a full 25% more energy.

    To replace 7.62×51, I would select the 270 Winchester. There is no two ways to say it — 25% power increase at minimal increase in recoil. The United States still has the schematics for 30-06 weapons and machines laying around somewhere; all that needs to be done is to simply scale up our existing 7.62×51 designs are we’re back in business.

    For a general purpose round, 6.5 Creedmoor looks like the ticket; great power, long range performance, and low recoil. It also works in short actions. It kicks like a 5.56×45, punches like a 7.62×51, and flies like a 12.7×99. There is no reason to not seriously consider this round.

    There are AR’s chambered in just about all of these calibers, so there is no need to worry about retraining.

    As far as barrel life concerns go, when people write about “barrel burning”, they typically mean that they’ll get an occasional flyer that goes 1MoA from PoA instead of .75MoA. No combat soldier is going to notice, nor would it matter to anyone but extreme long range shooters. Besides, if an M2, M249, or M240 gets sent into battle with a bevy of reserve barrels, it cannot be too difficult to have rear area armorers switch out barrels or rebarrel, especially if any trained gunsmith can do so; quick change barrel systems can even make this an entirely soldier-managed operation.

    In terms of cost, just remember that against things like the big ticket items such as computer systems, fighter aircraft, smart bombs, and armorer vehicles, small arms are practically pocket change. By gradual introduction, a new, single, universal caliber could be introduced over the course of a 10 year period in time with deployment and training cycles of active and reserve troops; no need to throw all the M4’s, M16’s, M249’s, M240’s, M21’s, and everything else in the ocean today and tell everyone to suck up the new gear. Just remember that each F22 costs $138,000,000, each F35 is going to cost at least $100,000,000, and both of those programs have together cost close to $2,000,000,000; what would a caliber change require? A few million dollars? At most, not even 1% of what just the F35 took. With economics of scale, it can be safely assumed that a rifle will run well under $1000, and an M4 currently goes for $600 to Uncle Sam. Given that just one of our hundreds of Black Hawk helicopters costs at least $6,000,000, a single one of those helos is equal to ten thousand rifles, and running them is likewise exponentially more expensive than running rifles.

    There really is no reason to not upgrade the beating heart of our military might with a cartridge that is clearly superior to anything we have currently fielded. For the price of perhaps not even a squadron of fighter planes, we could significantly increase the capabilities of our most important, basic, vital, assets, our ground troops. After all, unless you have your infantry standing on something, you don’t own it, and to make that happen, you make sure they have the tools they need — a concept as familiar to Sargon of Akkad as to General Norman Schwarzkopf.

  • fmike15

    Until someone invents a death ray, they’ll keep pouring perfume on the pig. Now with transportation and logistics the way they are we need to go back to the 7.62 NATO round. It solves all the problems with current weaponry without reinventing anything.

    • Mazryonh

      And how would we handle CQB or the need for compact carbines? Have NATO forces buy SCAR-H CQCs? Or go back to SMGs for CQB, a la WWII?

  • Mazryonh

    Hi Jim, have you read Anthony William’s article about his General Purpose Cartridge proposal? What’s your take on that? And are you going to write an article about whether or not the increased adoption of the M4 is going to be beneficial overall or not?