Boots on the Ground: AUSA 2006 Show Report - Part I
By Jim Schatz
In this two-part series, we will explore the status and existence of the very latest small arms programs and hardware that were on display at the annual AUSA Show. Part I describes the ongoing Army initiatives and provides up-to-date status on these efforts. Part II will cover those from the industry prospective, both already under contract with the U.S. Government and new commercial offerings.
Washington, DC - October 2006
Each year the US Army “invades” the nation’s capitol for their Annual Meeting of Army leadership, service members both past and present, active and reserve component members, and representatives from the Army community. This includes soldier’s families and the many contractors that provide the materials and services the Army runs on. This event, in its 52nd year, is organized by the Association of the United States Army, commonly known as “AUSA,” and is referred to simply as “The Army Show” by most regular attendees. The event is nearly a week long and includes an untold number of meetings and social events, both official and unofficial.
During the week the Army recognizes the service, sacrifice and successes of its military and civilian members. In 2006, there was once again a great deal of recognition to be made. The Army has arguably been carrying the greatest load of the current Global War on Terror (GWOT) and deserves the right for self-recognition and “release” that the Army show always provides. In-the-know annual visitors to the show can “read” the recent past history of the Army and its warriors by the casual observance and tabulation of uniform decorations, tabs, right shoulder “combat” patches, badges and service stripes. Stars and reefs abound today on the Army uniforms of young sergeants and captains denoting second and even third tours in combat. CIB’s (Combat Infantryman’s Badges), and the relatively new CAB (Combat Action Badge), for deserving non-infantry types who have proven themselves in direct combat actions, adorn many uniforms of the service members on the show floor. According to one enlisted Army CAB recipient, the CAB originated in 2003 and requires that the awardee served in an area of “eminent danger.” This fact must be supported by two letters of confirmation before the award can be presented.
This year’s show motto “Boots on the Ground” is clearly evident by the focus and deservedly high priority the Army places on its soldiers, be they infantry types or truck drivers. “The Most Deployed System,” a past motto of PEO Soldier, succinctly states the obvious. It is the human species adorned with boots, camouflage fatigues and a rifle that is everywhere all the time. No other Army “system” can make that claim. It was once said that when the world ends it will be the cockroach, and dogface in a well prepared fighting position, that survives sheer hell on earth. This, the soldier and his or her individual equipment, will be the primary focus of this report.
An Army in Transition
The highlight of the show for students of military hardware is the 3-day exposition held at the expansive Washington, DC Convention Center. Open to active and past members of the US Army and the AUSA, and their family members at select times, and exhibiting contactors, the 2006 event drew 518 exhibitors and more than 26,000 attendees. It is the largest military show and exposition of it kind in North America. While many readers of Small Arms Review would find the computer technology, vehicles and aircraft of interest, the small arms and related ancillary equipment items would demand the greatest attention from those with a love of all things small arms related. The 2006 AUSA Show was rich with small arms innovation and product worthy of attention. It is clear that 5 years of carrying the war to the enemy in the GWOT has infused industry with the funding and direction required to push the envelope and look beyond today’s technology and the past frustrations of “just good enough.” It has been decades, since the post-Vietnam era 1980s, that so many Army weapons and equipment items have either been, or are in the process of, being replaced. It’s not your fathers Army any longer. The urgent non-conventional combat-inspired demands of today’s Army have been met with great enthusiasm and success by industry and academia.
PEO Soldier - “Geared to Go!”
When one ventures into the many AUSA booths full of the “beans and bullets” used by today’s Army war fighters, the first stop has to be at the expansive “PEO Soldier” booth. The PEO (Program Executive Office) for soldier items was formed in April 2002 and is headed by an Army Brigadier General. The PEO is responsible for the development, acquisition, fielding and sustainment for virtually all items that the soldier wears, carries and operates, and fights with, on an individual basis. A visit to the very informative PEO Solider website will explain that the PEO is broken down into ten Product and PM (Product Manager) sections, one of which is PM Soldier Weapons (PM SW), located at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ. Lead by a full-bird Army Colonel, former infantry type, one each, PM SW today is staffed by highly experienced and professional military and civilian cadre, many of which have combat arms experience, some with recent combat experience. The PM is split into two halves; Individual Weapons and Crew-Served Weapons.
Colonel Carl Lipsit is the current Product Manager for Soldier Weapons (PM SW), and a former Infantry Officer in the 24th Armored Division and PM for the Apache Longbow program. Colonel Lipsit provided a status report on the new and emerging small arms for which his organization is responsible. The PM SW mandate is real time, and to the point. Specifically, to provide the war fighter with “the best products industry has to offer, resulting in decisive overmatch capability through the increased lethality and range, as well as decreased weight.” The Army itself produces very few of the items PM SW provides to the war fighter. Thus, the PM shop is responsible for working closely with commercial industry, academia and various Government owned facilities, such as Anniston Army Depot and Rock Island Arsenal, to insure timely and successful product development, testing, procurement and life-cycle material support and that all this happens at or under budget. The PM has been busy.
All of this begins with a properly executed user requirement that the PM responds to. These requirements come from user proponents, such as the US Army Infantry Center, located at Fort Benning Georgia, the lead user representative for small arms for all parts of the Army. This part of the procurement process may be the most challenging as it requires a great deal to occur very quickly if material items are to be fielded rapidly and when they are most needed. The end items must also address exactly what the end user needs and not the wishes or desires of those who will not employ them in the field.
PEO Soldier has more than 375 current ongoing programs and this number changes constantly. The PM SW section of the AUSA exhibit was full of a host of new weapons and equipment items to include new sights, tripods and mounts, belt bags, remote weapon systems and new rounds in various calibers, most of which have been spawned, to some degree, by combat requirements from the current GWOT. Let’s review the newest small arms developments and their status by listing them in near, mid and far term categories.
Near Term - Need it Now! (< 3 years out)
More of the same thank you!
While the PM is ground zero for the fielding of new small arms, sustaining the Army and the other military services that the Army supports with existing fielded weapons is their first priority. Few know that the Army is the lead service and “Item Manager” for many of the standard-issue small arms and ancillary items purchased for and used by all branches of the US military, the US Special Operations Command, various federal agencies and specific civilian security contractors for the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, occasionally state and local law enforcement agencies and foreign governments through the US run Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The increased training and combat use of issue weapons such as the M249, M240, MK19 and M2HB has required additional, new and sometimes urgent procurements of these weapons in large numbers from their US and foreign suppliers.
MK19 and M2HB crew-served weapons are once again rolling off of the assembly lines at the General Dynamics Armament and Technologies Products (GDATP) facilities. According to Colonel Lipsit, more than 4,000 MK19s, not long ago out of production, are once again on order for delivery to various end users at a rate of 180 per month. M2HB repair/overhaul kits are provided by GDATP to Anniston Army Depot for refurbishment of tired “Ma Deuces” needing a refresh. The PM is also working on an M2E2 version that will include a quick change barrel (QCB) system with improved barrel retention, fixed headspace and timing, Vortex-style prong flash hider to improve the performance of night vision equipment, and a manual safety, all of which can reportedly be fitted to current M2HBs. These improvements are in the final stages of testing and will be ready for series production by the time this article is in print. With these changes, the M2HB will surely soldier on for decades to come until something better comes along to replace it, likely as a result of the hard work of PM SW.
Well worn SAWs continue to be rebuilt and replaced by the Army to continue to meet current operational demands. According to sources at FNMfg, the makers of the M249, the production facility for SAWs, spare barrels and spare parts is presently running 24/7 to keep up with the demands of US and foreign military customers. Various ECP (Engineering Change Proposal) improvements continue to be made to the old veteran M249, to include efforts to lighten the overall weight of the gun. However, at this time no new user requirements document currently exists for a replacement to the SAW within the US Army.
Tens of thousands of light, shoulder-fired weapons are also being procured in support of the U.S. war fighter. M4 Carbines continue rolling off the production line at the Colt Defense facilities. Rumor has it that the US Army will become an all-carbine force in the future so the lifeline for the M4, or M4-like carbine, looks healthy and strong for years to come. An expected recompete of the current M4 Carbine contract in 2009 should yield some very interesting “alternatives” to the current Colt M4, both from Colt and other industry competitors, as it will likely be open to all US and possibly even foreign producers who meet the current, or revised, specifications for a 5.56mm carbine. CROWS “Protector”
One of the great success stories of recent years for PM SW is the immediate combat success of the M101 Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS) and CROWS “Lightning” vehicular weapon stations. Calls from the field from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) were for a means to observe and fight from behind armored protection and effectively engage targets at long ranges with magnified optics even during low light conditions. Essentially, the CROWS is a top-mounted turret that can be fitted to a wide variety of vehicular platforms. It enables the soldier to observe, identify and effectively engage threat targets from the relative safety of inside armored and unarmored vehicles. Using a video game-like screen and targeting joystick, the fire control system includes a wide variety of sensors that include daylight video, second generation FLIR, and a laser rangefinder that allows for 24 hour target engagements even while on the move. The programming even allows for preprogrammed reference points and no-fire zones: an electronic weapon “range card” per se. For “teeth” CROWS can mount an M2HB (with 500 rounds), MK19 (with 96 grenades), M240 (with 1,000 rounds) or M249 (with 1,200 rounds). The “Lightning” version of CROWS is a lighter (> 50%) variant of the full up version that can be easily employed on smaller, lighter vehicles but cannot mount the M2HB or MK19. More than 200 CROWS systems are currently fielded, mostly armed, we are told, with John Moses Browning’s’ eternally famous and feared Ma Deuce.
XM26 MASS and XM110 SASS
Both the MASS (Modular Accessory Shotgun System) and SASS (Semi-Automatic Sniper System) are ongoing initiatives at PM SW that have already resulted in limited fielding to meet urgent user combat requirements from OEF/OIF. Both systems were procured as COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) items from existing, proven US vendors as a result of competitive procurements.
The XM26 is a 12 gauge shotgun “module” that can be easily attached to the M4 Carbine to be used as a breaching tool or less-than-lethal riot control secondary weapon. The XM26 can also be employed in a stand-alone mode with detachable M4-style butt stock. Firing from a detachable 5-round or new 3-round polymer magazine, the manually operated XM26 sports a muzzle-mounted stand off device for use when breaching door hardware and the like. More than 200 XM26s have been successfully fielded with units in the 10th Mountain Division. Early user assessments have been utilized to improve the final product before it enters near term series production in FY07 after the required pending Milestone C (fielding) decision.
The XM110 SASS is already fielded in very limited numbers in Iraq to deal with the target rich environment that exists there for the Army sniper. While the bolt action M24 continues to perform well, the multiple, fleeting personnel targets that exist in the OEF/OIF theater requires fast firing semiautomatic operation without a sacrifice in accuracy or reliability. The successful offering from Knight’s Armament Company (KAC), of Titusville, Florida fits the bill nearly perfectly. Already fielded in large numbers within US Special Operations units as the SR-25 or MK11 Mod 0, the XM110 has completed final testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD and with the users and is expected to enter into series production as early as April 2007. PM SW reports that the semiautomatic XM110 has provided accuracy as good as or better than bolt action M24 rifle presently fielded with Army snipers. This being the case, the plan is to field the XM110 as the “M110” as soon as production weapons are available. A one-to-one exchange with the M24 has also been mentioned at approximately 500-700 per year up to the total requirement of 3,000 rifle systems. (An excellent and more detailed review of the XM110 SASS by Robert Bruce can be found in Vol. 10, No. 2, November 2006 issue of Small Arms Review.)
XM320 Grenade Launcher Module (GLM)
The intended replacement for the 40mm veteran U.S M203 and M79 grenade launchers, the latter still serving in limited numbers in some U.S. special units, the XM320 GLM (Grenade Launcher Module) has also been selected by PM SW as the best COTS modular 40mm low velocity launcher industry has to offer. Produced by H&K and fielded in a slightly different configuration with 8 or more countries to include the UK, Germany, Spain and Norway since 2000, the XM320 was selected again as a result of fair and open competition amongst multiple industry participants that also included candidates from Colt Defense and C-More Systems, maker of the XM26 MASS. The XM320 is truly modular in that by using a set of operator-attachable host weapon adapters, the launcher can be easily and quickly attached to an almost unlimited assortment of rifles and carbines. This includes variants with and without rail systems of the U.S. M4 and M16 and similar weapons from other manufacturers. There is even an adapter set that allows the GLM to be attached to a light machine gun. The XM320 can also be used in the stand-alone configuration by attaching a retractable multi-position butt stock. Using the removable folding vertical fore grip, which attaches to an integral Picatinny rail forward of the trigger guard, the XM320 can be fired effectively as a “grenade pistol” without the butt stock. This is especially handy from the tight confines of vehicles. From a bungee sling this offers the user the option of having the 40mm capability right at hand without the extra weight of the 3 pound launcher fitted to the front end of his or her rifle. The left side-opening barrel of the GLM allows a wide range of ammunition types to be utilized in the launcher to include the longer pyrotechnic rounds that cannot be loaded into the M203. A constant trigger pull double-action-only (DAO) trigger system simplifies use and increases the reliability and the safe handling of the launcher for the operator.
One of the great deficiencies of the 40mm “bloop” guns since their arrival on the scene in the late 1960s was the inherent system inaccuracy caused by the operator not easily able to hit the target without first walking rounds on to the target. A lack of night fighting capability has also limited the 40mm grenade launchers usefulness on the modern battlefield. At only 250 fps muzzle velocity, the slow moving 40x46mm low pressure, low velocity round is especially sensitive to range estimation errors, wind deflection, round to round dispersion and other marksmanship related factors, especially at ranges in excess of 200 meters. Part of the XM320 system is as Day/Night Sighting (DNS) device that helps improve effective target engagements even under night time conditions by using click adjustable range-to-target settings accurate to 350 meters in 5 meter increments. This insures that once the correct and accurate range to the target is determined, the operator has the means to adjust the sight to within 5 meters and within the usual 15 meter bursting radius of the round without having to use Kentucky windage and elevation. Most common 40mm launchers, such as the U.S. M203, provide only 50 meter sighting increments so placing first or subsequent rounds on a point target for maximum effect was a “WAG” at best.
A third component of the XM320 GLM package is a separate hand held COTS mini laser rangefinder that can provide the exact range to target to insure “steel on target” for the very first round launched before the intended recipients can take cover. Future expected improvements to the XM320 GLM include improved medium velocity ammunition with a maximum effective range (MER) of up to 800 meters and integrated fire control components. The current schedule for the XM320 fielding as the “M320” is planned for the 4th quarter FY07.
Mid-Term(< 3 years out)
M9 Pistol Replacement
COL Lipsit stated that there were no plans for a replacement of the 9mm M9 pistol in the foreseeable future as PM SW does not have a formal requirement from the user proponent to replace the Beretta service pistol. There was a great flurry of activity within the Army during 2005 and 2006 on teaming with the US Special Operations Command and the US Marine Corps on their now cancelled .45 caliber “Joint Combat Pistol” requirement, later called “Combat Pistol,” that included a limited caliber study wherein the .45 ACP was “selected” over the 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 GAP and other pistol calibers by soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia. Currently, the Army plans to stay with the M9, and newer M9A1 with integral Picatinny accessory rail, for the coming years though talk within the community seems to indicate the JCP/CP program will “go active” once again, likely even before this article is published. Movement by the US Coast Guard and select US special operations units to .40 S&W caliber handguns, and some PDW caliber weapons in 5.7mm and 4.6mm, over existing 9mm and .45 ACP pistols could certainly influence the future caliber decision by USSOCOM and “Big Army.”
New Rifle, Carbine?
While there are no official user requirement documents yet, COL Lipsit did say that there is a need for a more compact weapon for confined spaces use within the cab of a truck or aircraft. Loosely termed a “PDW” (not to be confused with the current M9 pistol often referred to as the Army’s Personal Defense Weapon), the new PDW would likely be chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge so that it could share common ammunition types and magazines with the M4 carbines and M16 rifles already in service throughout the US military. The primary driver for this PDW would be its desired reduced overall length and weight, less than that of an M4 Carbine. A formal requirements document for this new weapon is presently being written at Fort Benning.
From sources within the Army it is believed that this requirement for a compact carbine might be best met with a compact variant of an M4-style weapon, of which there are many relatively new and successful candidates to choose from. Something with a 10-inch or shorter barrel and folding or fully retractable M3 Grease Gun-style butt stock is envisioned as a potential COTS material solution. This would insure interchangeability of inventoried and costly spare parts, tools, accessories and sighting devices and share in the already established user training inherent in today’s Armed Forces. Ongoing initiatives to improve the terminal effectiveness of short-barreled 5.56mm carbines are yielding promising results. Newly developed 5.56mm rounds can provide muzzle velocities and terminal effects from short 10 inch barrels that are comparable or superior to those from longer 14.5 inch barrels. Accuracy of select short barreled compact carbines like the 10 inch HK416 fielded with some USSOCOM units, would provide the accuracy and terminal effects equal to or better than that from the M4 carbine but in a smaller, more compact package, and can be fielded as a complete weapon or as a simple upper receiver “upgrade” to M4s and M16s.
As a root from the tree described above, the sole-source contract for the M4 Carbine that currently resides with Colt Defense expires in mid 2009. The XM8 program is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Thus, it is suspected by most experts that the Army will recompete the M4 contract well enough in advance to insure the required uninterrupted flow of new carbines remains intact. COL Lipsit stated this would likely happen after the sunset of the Colt M4 contract. A “dry run” during 2005 to find suitable “NDI” (Non Developmental Item) 5.56mm carbines that would meet the original 1980’s era M4 specifications, from which today’s M4 is procured, was cancelled with little fanfare after being active for nearly half a year. When one considers the time required to write and fully staff a new user requirement under the current DoD JCIDS acquisition process, solicit industry for proposals, receive and fully test the compliant candidates, make and negotiate contract award (pending the likely protests on a contract this important and valuable, especially considering that the Army may become an “all carbine” force) and start receiving production weapons, this writer believes this process would have to, and should thus, begin within the next 18 months.
There is already a great deal of available competition within the small arms industry for the future replacement for the M4, or alternatively for a new vendor for the M4. FN Mfg. continues production of the M16 at their Columbia, South Carolina facility and has already produced samples of M4-style carbines having once bid on the M4 contract later awarded to Colt. There is a great deal of R&D activity at Colt Defense along the lines of a product improved M4 (see Colt Defense section in Part II). FN has their user inspired and selected “SCAR” family of weapons to offer the Army. HK416s have faired well in combat within select units within USSOCOM and there are easily more than 15 AR-style vendors in the U.S. and abroad who build or could build M4-style weapons and could compete for this business. The last quarter of this decade will indeed be interesting to watch!
Work continues on the development and testing of a lightweight version of the highly respected M240B Medium Machine Gun (MMG). Universally loved by users for its reliability, the M240B is still a heavy gun at over 27 pounds unloaded and has for some time been placed on a “weight reduction program” for its ground role variants. This effort by PM SW to greatly lighten the M240 will include a shorter barrel, a modified charging handle, pistol grip and bipod, a new retractable butt stock and unique titanium alloy receiver. (See centerfold on pages 60-61 in this issue of Small Arms Review). It is hoped that through this effort the overall weight of the M240 can be reduced a full 4 to 7 pounds without a reduction in service life or reliability. In weapons design, often the better materials selected for extended service life are those that are also heavier. “Barrel steel” makes the very best barrels from a standpoint of durability and user safety in the event of a catastrophic failure caused by bore obstruction, but there is the obvious weight penalty. While the use of lightweight metal alloys are not new in firearms, their use in a sustained fire weapon like the M240, in particular in the receiver itself, is a first and thus somewhat risky, so this program remains at present in the exploratory phase of development. An exact time frame for the completion of M240A6 testing and potential fielding was unavailable at the time of writing.
“Soldier Warrior” - The Digitized Grunt
One of the most difficult aspects of infantry movement under battlefield-like conditions is the difficulty of coordinating the movement and actions, and determining the real time locations, of the members and elements of the unit, whether that is a fire team or battalion size element. Knowing the minute by minute location of the enemy has long been a difficult task at best and getting that intel to the front line elements quickly and precisely has always been even more of a challenge. This challenge, to better integrate the soldier as part of the overall and newly digitized combined arms system, is the job of the Program Manager for Soldier Warrior. One of the eight PMs under PEO Soldier, this organization may be one of the least known or understood. This PM is divided into three Project Manager elements; Air Warrior, Land Warrior and Future Force Warrior. All are tasked with leveraging available and new technology in hopes of improving tactical awareness, lethality, survivability, mobility and sustainment of today’s and tomorrow’s warriors, whether they travel via LPC (leather personnel carriers, e.g. boots), in armored vehicles or via helicopters. In the interest of time, this article will focus on Land Warrior and Future Force Warrior.
The current Program Manager for Soldier Warrior is Army Colonel Richard Hansen. We spoke with Colonel Hansen at length during the AUSA show and learned the following on the success to date and status of these programs. Land Warrior (LW) can be described as a first generation, integrated modular fighting ensemble for dismounted soldiers. “A “Mounted Warrior” variant for vehicle crewmen has also been developed. This soldier “system” includes a “wearable” computer, helmet mounted heads-up display, multi-function visible and IR lasers for range determination, marking and aiming, geo-location and navigation modules, “voice over IP” radios and of course a soldier control unit to access the functions of the LW system. The “lethality” component of LW consists of three primary components that currently are attached to the M4 Carbine, but due to their modularity, can be used with most small arms. A daylight video sight with 6-16X magnification and aiming reticle allows the LW soldier to view, target and access the effects of his or her fire on the recipient down range. As the sight is linked to the heads-up display the user need not fire the weapon from a conventional shoulder firing position using the weapon mounted iron or optical sights. This allows accurate and instantaneous targeting even when the soldier stays behind cover.
A multi-functional laser device is attached to the weapon that includes visible and IR laser aimers and illuminators and a GPS that has a transmitting range of more than 10 kilometers. This allows the Land Warrior to send and receive situational information from elements of his deployed unit. Large-scale map displays with the soldier and at command centers will show his location and that of other elements of his unit, as well as known enemy locations. This would be a first for the combined arms fight. A vertical fore grip with integrated “mouse” represent the third and final component of the LW system and allows the soldier to control and access the data within the computer through the heads-up display while still maintaining some degree of situational awareness.
While the advantages of this capability are easily realized, there are at least perceived concerns by some should this device and its data fall into the hands of the enemy. Colonel Hansen explained that the data is password protected and that should a LW system fall in the hands of an unauthorized user, the system can be remotely shutdown and all the data instantly erased. He also addressed concerns about the soldier being bombarded with excessive data and having the heads-up display down during close combat. Colonel Hansen stated once the soldier engages or even expects to engage in close combat with enemy forces, the heads-up display is swept out of the line of sight or removed and he gets down to the business of engaging with and destroying the enemy. The device is used primarily in the planning and post engagement phases of the operation.
The current ongoing contracting effort began in earnest in 2003 but the concept of Land Warrior dates back as far as 1989. The current contracting team includes big defense hitters like GD, CSC, Raytheon and others. It has already resulted in LW systems being successfully fielded with Army units for comprehensive assessments since 2004. The program is fully supported by the Army’s Infantry Center user proponent and has been well received by all of the combatants who have been involved in the assessments conducted at Fort Benning, Fort Lewis, Aberdeen and Yuma Proving Grounds and other locations. Under the current schedule 440 second generation “Land Warrior II” and 147 Mounted Warrior systems are issued to Stryker armored infantry vehicle units at Fort Lewis, Washington. Presently, the Army has funding to fully field enough LW systems to outfit three complete Stryker brigades for combat deployment. Milestone C, the formal Army decision to field, is expected around 2QFY07.
Providing a constant source of power to the system seems to be the greatest limiting element of these warrior systems. The current LW battery can provide enough power at full charge to operate the LW system for a full 8 hours before it needs to be replaced or recharged from a transport vehicle. Thus, at least at present, there needs to be direct access to an external power source for recharging such as from the Stryker vehicle, or the system becomes useless after only 8 hours use unless spare batteries are available. Like those who rely on GPSs for navigation, one better carry plenty of batteries AND know how to use a map and compass as Murphy robs battery power constantly and at the worst times. Power management is still the greatest technological obstacle that today’s designers must deal with and address as it prevents vast improvements in those weapon systems that include electrically powered subsystems. Forget man-portable and truly battlefield ready lethal lasers and “phasers” until revolutionary power management technologies are found and perfected. Not surprisingly this technology is also being investigated by the U.S. Army developers as part of the follow-on “Future Force Warrior.”
Future Force Warrior - Leveraging Technology For the Land Warrior
Not satisfied with resting on its laurels, PM Soldier Warrior also has a follow-on, Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) program ongoing called “Future Force Warrior” (FFW). Managed by the Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts and expected to be integrated into the Army’s “Future Force” with First Units Equipped (FUE) in 2012, FFW will integrate the latest technology into the already proven Land Warrior ensemble. This will include new technologies in wireless weapon/user interface, miniaturization of existing modules and capabilities, mission extension fuel cells and hybrid power sources, head-to-toe individual protection, physiological monitoring and reporting, “fused” visible and infrared headgear sensor and a host of other scientific fiction “Predator-like” devices and capabilities. Science fiction becoming science fact (again). Most interesting to the readers it should be noted that even with all this new and emerging technology on board, the infantryman still, and maybe always will, be “putting a bullet through the bad guy” to win the battle, certainly for the foreseeable future.
Long-Term (> 5 years out)
The long term programs of PEO Soldier are those that are most notably still being handled primarily within the “Tech Base” of the Army’s extensive weapons development and testing infrastructure. These include newly emerging technologies that could revolutionize the battlefield. While some may say these R&D efforts are a waste of tax payer dollars, applying the same mentality to the development of commercial electronics and electronic media might mean we would still be listening to music on LP’s or 8 tracks. One has to “play to win”, or more accurately in this case “pay” to win.
Advanced Crew Served Weapon (ACSW)
Also known as the XM307, the 25mm ACSW is the intended eventual replacement for select MK19s and M2HBs. Offering the user air bursting munitions and extremely light overall system weight, the XM307 is currently under development by General Dynamics OTS located in St. Petersburg, Florida for PM SW as the crew-served “counter defilade” compliment to the individual XM25 air bursting weapon described below. The current XM307 funding source is the Army’s “Future Combat Systems” (FCS) program as the XM307 is expected to be the remotely operated close combat support weapon for the future family of FCS vehicles and because at present there is no formal, approved US Army Infantry Center requirement for XM307 in a ground role. The FCS variant of the XM307, termed the XM307ROV, is scheduled for a Milestone C decision in 2QFY09 with production to commence in FY12-FY13.
With a gun weight of only 29 pounds (compare that to a MK19 at 78 pounds and M2HB at 84 pounds) the XM307 system with fire control and light weight tripod is a two-man portable crew-served weapon system weighing in at just over 50 pounds. The author has witnessed various live-fire Army demonstrations of the XM307 and air bursting ammunition and it is effective indeed. The unique design of the weapon and buffered lightweight mount allows the operator to place his or her head and eye directly against the fire control system and actually watch the effects of the rounds on target even during full-auto firing. Dispersion downrange, especially when firing TP or .50 caliber ammunition, is minimal and impressive for a belt-fed weapon weighing in at less than 30 pounds soaking wet and not secured to the ground by means of heavy sandbags normally employed to stabilize conventional crew-served weapons.
Its family of 25mm ammunition includes the XM1019 High Explosive Air Burst (HEAB) round that can defeat personnel targets behind cover (in the defilade) out to 2,000 meters. The XM1049 Armor Piercing (AP) round can easily defeat lightly armored targets as far away as 2,000 meters. The XM1050 Target Practice (TP) cartridge is a ballistic match to the HEAB round for low cost zeroing and gunner practice. The XM307 shares common 25mm components with the shoulder-fired XM25 air bursting weapon to reduce, to some degree, logistical burdens. With the user exchange of only 4 components, the 25mm XM307 can be converted in minutes to fire linked .50 BMG cartridge belts.
XM25 “No Place to Hide”
In the early 1990s, the Army solicited industry for a weapon known as “OICW” (Objective Individual Combat Weapon). This modular “one gun does all” platform was intended to bring shoulder-fired air bursting capability to the individual combatant for the very first time in history. Thus far that has only been a capability of indirect fire weapons like mortars and artillery, yet based on casualty studies from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, a large percentage of battlefield casualties and wounds result from the shrapnel created by indirect fire weapons with their time-fused warheads. Their unique ability to draw blood on protected soldiers hiding behind berms and vehicles, inside rooms and around corners and in foxhole fighting positions has been a capability that many infantrymen had only dreamed about. Counter defilade technology is real today and allows High Explosive Air Bursting (HEAB) rounds to be accurately dropped in, over and around cover making there almost “no place to hide” now on the future battlefield. No longer does one have to see the enemy and have a direct line of fire required for direct engagement kinetic energy weapons like rifles and machine guns. The air bursting round is simply delivered by a fire control system accurately (generally within 1 meter + or -) at or into the otherwise protected location of the intended recipient. This capability has been successfully and repeatedly demonstrated in combat simulated conditions and is even nearing combat deployment in the near term (less than 1 year) in weapons like the GD/USSOCOM MK47 “Striker” Advanced Lightweight Grenade Launcher (see the GD section in Part II). Back to XM25.
The OICW development effort was competitively awarded to Alliant Techsystems (ATK) of Minneapolis, MN. Teamed with ATK has been H&K for the weapon and Contraves for the Fire Control System (FCS). The original specifications required that the OICW include not only a 20mm semiautomatic grenade launcher but also a 5.56mm “kinetic energy” bullet launcher. It was hoped that this could all be done within the same overall weight arena as the current M16/M203 system, specifically at 14.5 pounds unloaded. When the impossibility of this objective goal finally hit home after years of effort, the program changed, and then changed again. Over the past decade the OICW program has changed and mutated from a combined 20mm/5.56mm system to separate weapons. The air bursting component changed from 20mm to 25mm to increase the effectiveness of the air bursting round and the size, number and saturation of the fragments it creates as the lethal killing mechanism of the bi-modal (front and rear) high explosive warhead. The ill-fated XM8 effort was a spin-off of one of these iterations of the original OICW program.
Today the XM25 has been returned to the “tech base” while the user proponent rewrites the requirements document along the guidelines of the new DoD JCIDS process. The Army/industry team continues design and testing in the continued effort to reduce the weight and size of the weapon, FCS and system battery. The time and effort is paying off though. The overall weight of the system with FCS and battery has dropped from the 1st phase prototype at 15.6 pounds and over 30 inches in length to the current 3rd phase prototype weighing in at less than 13 pounds unloaded and less than 29 inches in overall length. Of course, this does not, and cannot possibly, include a secondary 5.56mm carbine. This is where Sir Isaac Newton “drops the apple on your head” and tells you we are just not far enough along in area of materials technology to stuff the capabilities of 30 pounds of equipment into a durable and combat capable 15 pound gun arrangement. Materials technology is pushed to the utter limit now in small arms development much like the accomplishments of the world class middle distance runner has slowed to a crawl since man first broke the 4 minute mile. The great leaps are more mere baby steps today when it comes to new small arms advancements, yet industry still exceeds expectations.
The current XM25 is a bull-pup weapon firing from a detachable 5-round polymer box magazine. The fully integrated, full solution, day/night TAFC (Target Acquisition Fire Control) system for XM25 includes a 2X direct view optic with zoom capability, ballistic computer, thermal imager, fuse setter, compass (bearing and cant), laser range finder, environmental sensors and user display. The current 25mm ammunition family includes a programmable HEAB round and TP round. Future cartridges include Armor Piercing, Breaching, Anti-Personnel and Non-Lethal rounds.
How Does the XM25 Stack Up Against Current 40mm Weapons?
The 25mm XM25 ammunition has a maximum effective range (MER) that is directly limited to the magnification of the optic. With the current 2X sight, the MER is limited to 600 meters. However, due to the high muzzle velocity and relatively flat trajectory of the 25mm projectile compared to the slower and heavier 40mm grenade, the MER can be extended to 800 or even 1,000 meters with a slightly heavier 4X or 6X sight. Based on U.S. Army testing thus far, the 1st generation XM25 prototype demonstrated 18 times greater effects on target than the U.S. M203 at 300 meters. This is a direct result of the XM25 system that delivers the projectile to the target on a flat trajectory. Super elevation of the XM25 at 300 meters is 2.2 degrees with a time of flight of 1.5 seconds compared to the U.S. M203 super elevation of 20.32 degrees and time of flight 4.97 seconds. The target also remains in the field of view of the XM25 TAFC system out to its maximum effective range so operator aiming is easier and more precise.
It is presently not anticipated that the first units will be equipped with the XM25 before FY12. It needs to be noted that this timeframe is strictly due to the JCIDS requirements process and not the maturity of the XM25 technology. The current XM25 fielding is tentatively set at two per infantry squad. However, the capability can be applied across the entire Army. For example, in support of the evolving convoy protection doctrine, there exists a need to increase the self protection capabilities of combat support and combat service support units operating in a noncontiguous battlefield. The possible fielding of the XM25 significantly enhances the self protection capability of units on a non-linear battlefield. The XM25 possesses unmatched lethality in the close and mid range bands (0-600 meters) and is easily deployable from either the inside the cab of any military vehicle or outside of a vehicle in all required firing positions.
Progress marches on for this promising new technology weapons system. Only time will tell if the infantry of the next decade will be able to strike enemy combatants that cannot be seen due to the protection of cover, with a shoulder-fired weapon like XM25, or will the infantryman still be reliant upon supporting indirect fire weapons for this service.
Other PEO Soldier Items
In addition to the exciting small arms items described above coming from the PM for Soldier Weapons, there were a countless number of cleaver and troop-useful equipment items from the other Project Managers of the PEO Soldier organization worth mentioning here. Fantastic, effective and lightweight equipment items such as the new Army Combat Uniform (ACU), an adaptation of an elite Army SOF unit pattern, the Army Combat Helmet with improved (and comfortable!) suspending system, new Advanced Tactical Parachute System (ATPS), Generation III Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS), night vision devices for each and every front line war fighter, be they Gen IIB/III passive, thermal and the newest “fused” (passive and thermal combined) devices, a tactical flash light that can be mounted on the current M9 pistol (a simple and mandatory requirement for building search/clearing, but a more recent offering) and better small unit communications. How about a lightweight machine gun tripod that doesn’t weigh more than the gun itself and doesn’t rust like untreated bare steel at high tide! Then check out the 11.5 pound “M192 Lightweight Ground Mount for Machine Guns.” These are great advancements for soldiers across the board that are now and will continue to make the American soldier safer, more comfortable in extreme environments and, to a great extent, more effective to successfully complete his or her assigned mission and come home later.
Another very important responsibility of PEO Soldier, working in conjunction with TRADOC’s (Training and Doctrine Command) System Manager Soldier (TSM), is to manage the day to day activities of the Congressionally mandated “Soldier Enhancement Program” (SEP) for the U.S. Army. Started in 1989, the forerunner in fact to the current Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) described below, the SEP program mandate is to identify and evaluate commercially available technologies in the areas of individual weapons, munitions, optics, individual equipment and clothing, water supply, shelters, communications and navigational aids, that can be issued to soldiers in less than 3 years. Successes of the SEP are many and include the XM110 SASS, XM320 GLM, XM26 MASS, Family of Small Arms Suppressors, Laser Eye Protection, Universal Bore Sighting Device, and a host of equipment kits such as those for use by Sappers, Fuel Handlers and Close Combat personnel.
New SEP ideas are solicited from Army personnel, to include soldiers, commanders, material developers and industry leaders. More than 100 concepts are evaluated for their merit each year and the most promising proposals that meet soldier needs are then selected for further action by the SEP Executive Counsel twice yearly. To offer ideas for SEP consideration, visit the PEO Soldier web site at email@example.com, or contact Mr. Charlie Tamez at (703) 704-4073.
Rapid Fielding Initiative
The best news is that many or most of these new individual PEO Soldier items are being fielded in rapid fashion as part of the “Rapid Fielding Initiative” (RFI), which was launched by PEO Soldier in 2002. Considered a great success by all involved, the RFI has provided 58 new material items to more than 750,000 active and reserve Army personnel to date. That’s more than 24,000 each month. This re-equipping happens well in advance of unit deployment so there is sufficient time to train with and adjust the new equipment before the real-time use in the combat zone. User input constantly flows in to the RFI staff resulting in adjustments to the RFI equipment list. Training on the new equipment is also provided by RFI staff during the issuing process. By the end of FY07, the entire Army and associated “deployers” will have received this new equipment.
It goes without saying, it is undisputable in this authors opinion, that today’s soldiers are the best equipped in possibly the entire 231 year history of the U.S. Army. The level of attention to detail from knee pads to proper cold weather gear and good boots speaks volumes for the efforts of the men and women of PEO Soldier, the dedication of Army and DoD leadership to insure the soldiers have the best America can provide and the conviction of the American taxpayer to foot the bill to win the GWOT. The professional folks at PEO Soldier deserve the commendation of the American public. Small Arms Review magazine, and this writer, wish to thank each and every one of you for your efforts to support and equip the American war fighter, the best in the world!
One of the more interesting displays at AUSA this year was likely overlooked by most visitors, except those with a keen eye and possibly overzealous interest in all things small arms. At the Army’s Joint Munitions Command booth this writer found an item of great interest in the flat sheet metal “tape” from which the disintegrating metal 7.62x51mm M13 is made at Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP), located in Independence, Missouri. The necessary ramping up of ammunition for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq revealed the decay of the critically needed link producing component of the ammunition supply system. Army contractor ATK, who presently runs the plant for the U.S. government, fixed, restarted and energized the link production section of LCAAP to keep up with the critical demand for linked ammunition for pre-deployment training and actual combat operations. (www.peoammo.army.mil and www.jmc.army.mil)
This writer would like to thank COL Carl Lipsit, PM Soldier Weapons, COL Richard Hansen, PM Soldier Warrior, Mr. Andy Cline, Chief, Airburst Weapons Division, PM SW, Ms. Kathy Roa, Media and Public Relations for PM Soldiers Weapons and Ms. Catherine DeRan, PEO Soldier Strategic Communications, and the many industry representatives for their time and assistance in preparing this article.
About the author
Jim Schatz has been a contributing writer for SAR, and other defense and small arms periodicals, for more than a decade. A former Army airborne infantryman and member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, Schatz was, until May 2006, a key member of Heckler & Koch for more than 20 years where he initiated and/or managed countless new small arms programs to successful user fielding to include the USP line of pistols, HK/Benelli M1014 Combat Shotgun and more recently the COTS family of HK416/HK417 and GLM weapons. Runner up to Ronnie Barrett for the 2004 NDIA Chinn award and recipient of the NDIA Professional Service Award, Jim Schatz is now an independent consultant for industry and the U.S. Government in the area of small arms technical support.
Next month in Part II of this series, see what the small arms industry had to show at AUSA this year.
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