21st Century Military Operations & Technology: NDIA Small Arms 2002

By Robert Bruce

So, you go to Knob Creek, S.H.O.T. and maybe a police expo or two. Good, these are great events and chock full of fine examples of old and new hardware. But, your professional development education in military weaponry is sadly lacking if haven’t regularly attended the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual International Infantry & Joint Services Small Arms Systems Section Symposium, Exhibition & Firing Demonstration. This is usually called “NDIA Small Arms” for short and the 2002 event was held 13-16 May in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

This year featured two radical departures from the norm; the first by scheduling live firing demonstrations on opening day. According to FNHUSA’s Sal Fanelli, NDIA’s traditional Range Ringmaster, industry reps asked for this change to increase participation by attendees who might otherwise be hurrying to catch planes on the last day. The second alteration was to scrap the customary series of 15-minute dog and pony shows in favor of open range time for all exhibitors. Thus, any attendees who were potential customers would be able to line up behind their choices on the firing line and have a better chance than in the past to actually get some trigger time.

Range 59C at Fort Dix, some 50 miles north of Atlantic City, was the venue this year hosting several major industry exhibitors and a military firepower demo. This enormous multipurpose range features a commanding view of thousands of acres of impact area. It is a favorite to showcase all sorts of weaponry including combined arms spectaculars with heavy artillery and close air support.

While the Army had long ago positioned many old tanks at various distances downrange as highly inviting but completely passive aiming points, a bit of showmanship was provided by LaRue Sniper Targets in support of industry demonstrators. Marc LaRue’s battleship-tough Mechanized Silhouettes were placed at increasingly challenging ranges to register hits with a loud clang then drop in a most satisfying manner. Battery powered motors kick in after a few seconds to automatically bring them up for more ballistic abuse.

FN showcased its growing line of precision rifles with emphasis on the exciting new “Nemesis,” a .50 caliber pit bull for urban warfare. Jim Owens, former Marine Gunny and master sharpshooter, exercised this remarkable 3-foot-long bolt-action blaster in two versions. Also on hand was a conventional A5 Tactical SPR in 7.62x51mm NATO, fitted with a 20-inch sound-suppressed barrel.

Striving mightily to never be outgunned, the affable and formidable J.D. Jones of SSK Industries was set up right next door with some more of his custom made big bore blasters as well as a World War II Red Army PTRS antitank rifle. Every time he touched off this suitably ugly 14.5x114mm shoulder-maiming semiautomatic, he sent a shockwave-induced sandstorm all over every gun and gunner for 10 meters on each side.

HK’s tough and capable infantry and special operations weapons were their usual big hit with long lines of hopefuls waiting to get their hands on such favorites as the .45 ACP cal. UMP, 5.56x45mm G36s and the pint-sized 4.6mm PDW. Ten minutes of quiet time was scheduled every half hour for firing only sound-suppressed weapons, whereupon Jim Schatz would break out can-equipped whisperers like SOCOM’s .45 cal. Mk23.

Teaming with ArmaLite, Trijicon rolled out a selection of scopes including the new TA55 ACOG, a bright and capable 5.5x day optic with dual source illuminated chevron reticle. This was mounted atop the powerful and far-reaching 7.62x51mm ArmaLite AR-10T with free-floating stainless steel barrel. Other Trijicon scopes on ArmaLite rifles and carbines in 5.56x45mm showcased a great combination of capabilities for most daylight tactical situations.

Frangible bullets (they break up on impact to eliminate ricochets) are big these days with the antiterrorism crowd, particularly around high-value installations like nuke plants. Remington has met the challenge with their new line of “Disintegrator” pistol and shotgun loads featuring a compacted lead free metal core sealed in copper. This stuff is fun to shoot at close range against popper plates.

The more gentlemanly activities of the Small Arms meeting kicked off the next morning in Atlantic City’s impressive Convention Center. The glitzy hotels and casinos of this lively seaside resort are only an hour or so from Range 56 at Fort Dix, but light years away from the often grim world of the muddy boots soldiers who stand between us and our many enemies

. Opening presentations by VIPs from the event host, US Army TACOM, and others set the stage by providing an overview of what some of the largest government and industry players are up to. Then, the prestigious Carlos Hathcock and George M. Chinn Awards were presented. This year’s Hathcock honoree for “significant contributions in operational employment and tactics” was retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jim Owens, now the Sultan of Sharpshooting for FNH USA. Herr Ernst Mauch of H&K received the Chinn Award for decades of work in all aspects of weapons development at this famous German firm.

Even three full days are not enough for all of the formal presentations and technical papers so two “concurrent sessions” are scheduled, forcing attendees to make sometimes painful choices between topics of intense interest. The Small Arms track included thirty topics running the full spectrum from Dr. Steven Small’s retrospective on the M1903 Springfield rifle to Lucian Sadowski’s report on “Seeker” projectiles for future warriors.

While all of this was going on, more than two dozen other subjects were being explored by those choosing the International Infantry sessions. This was the place to be for those who need to keep on top of the latest in mortars, mines, MOUT, and millennium milestones. Somewhat oddly, they slipped in a couple of crossover topics like HK’s new MG43 and Oerlikon’s 30mm ammo. Keen disappointment came when two promised presentations by foreign delegations were a no-show: Chinese Small Arms and Russian Shaped Charges.

Objective Force Warrior

Determined to ensure that American infantry of the year 2020 and beyond will exceed even Starship Trooper movie fantasies, US Army TACOM-ARDEC is projected to spend 50 million dollars to develop astonishing arms and equipment for soldiers and marines. When military day-care centers cost way more each year than this multi-year program, the “Objective Force Warrior” (OFW) sounds like a bargain to me.

This is where briefings on “seeker projectiles” and “soldier systems architecture” come into sharp focus. OFW and his son Future Warrior will someday slip on a climate-controlled, projectile-proof, camouflage-pattern-morphing, powered exoskeleton, featuring visor-projected “situational awareness” with more functions than an AWACS plane.

Traditional infantry style target termination will be accomplished with unprecedented finesse and lethality by locking on and sending the appropriate munitions. This might be something as archaic as kinetic energy components (bullets), or more intelligent stuff like smart air bursting munitions, or run-but-you-can’t-hide miniature cruise missiles that can follow militant miscreants as they zig and zag.

Compelling evidence was presented by highly credible sources that this heretofore science fiction stuff is not only technologically doable, but already in development for OFW and the follow-on Future Warrior programs.

Land Warrior

While we eagerly wait fielding of all this exciting new hardware years from now, Soldier Systems has long been busy applying the latest off-the-shelf hardware to the tough and dirty work of the foot soldier. Land Warrior is operating now in test and evaluation and may soon be found in real world special operations scenarios. From his Integrated Helmet Assembly to his better-than-your-average boots, this guy has some great stuff to move, shoot and communicate in ways only dreamed about a decade ago.


More than fifty booth spaces representing the best of industry and government programs were set up in a spacious exhibit hall nearby, readily accessible to attendees when not engrossed in formal presentations. This is where you get to belly up to the Brashear display and eyeball their new and improved fire control system for the Objective Individual Infantry Weapon, or crowd close to NSWC Crane’s robotic ROSAM.

Talk to Ronnie Barrett about his new 25mm sniper rifle, ask Volker Kurtz how the HK MG43 handles, get Ollie Daw to explain his remarkable metal finishing process, let Reed Knight give you a sneak peek at a rifle you can’t report on.... From Anniston Army Depot to Winchester Ammunition, this county fair of combat components is unequalled.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N9 (June 2003)
and was posted online on November 8, 2013


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