The US Army, US Marine Corps and British Army are collaborating on developing new lightweight small arms ammunition. In recent years there has been an increasing interest in hybrid ammunition, especially those using polymer case components. Todd Townsend, supervisor of the research, development, test and evaluation for the Product Manager for Small Caliber Ammunition recently gave an update on US efforts to develop lightweight ammunition. He explained the Army, USMC and UK are working together to evaluate and refine lightweight ammunition including 5.56x45mm, 7.62x51mm and .50 BMG.
The effort to lighten a soldier’s load has been ongoing for sometime with small arms ammunition always being a key element to consider. In a statement last week, the US Army noted that lighter ammunition “will enhance warfighters’ readiness and increase mobility, survivability and lethality.” However, while the load may be lightened in theory the temptation to carry more ammunition for the same weight is a considerable factor.
Lightweight and hybrid ammunition has been the subject of numerous US programmes over the last few years but the new effort aims to bring these efforts together. As a result the Army and USMC formed the Joint Lightweight Ammunition Integrated Product Team to synchronise efforts to reduce ammo weight by at least 10%. The British Ministry of Defence has also become involved with efforts being split between the partners, the Army is examining lighter 7.62x51mm ammunition while the USMC is tackling .50 caliber ammunition leaving the British Ministry of Defence to investigate lightening 5.56x45mm ammo.
As we can see from the US Army Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition photo below, the efforts have not focused solely on polymer concepts, brass and steel hybrids have also been explored alongside stainless steel cased ammunition.
This month testing of early production designs for a lightweight 7.62 case will take place. In the meantime the USMC is examining the lightweight MK 323 Mod 0 polymer .50 BMG ammunition produced by MAC LLC, with a indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract reported to be forthcoming.
At the same time, the US Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program is set to also evaluate a number of ammunition concepts developed around their 6.8mm general purpose projectile. The three down-selected companies contracted to produce NGSW prototypes, SIG Sauer, General Dynamics OTS and AAI/Textron Systems, have each developed their own approach to creating a lighter weight round based on the 6.8mm projectile with SIG Sauer developing a hybrid metal cartridge case combining brass and a steel base. In our exclusive interview with SIG’s CEO, Ron Cohen, he justified this choice of more traditional materials by arguing that they did not want to fight 180 years of ammunition development or disrupt NATO ammunition synergy. Textron, of course, have a polymer case-telescopic round while General Dynamics have partnered with commercial polymer case specialists True Velocity to develop their round, which we recently got our first look at.