Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): June 2001

By Nick Steadman

SADW is a monthly electronic publication from Nick Steadman Features. Nick, intrepid world traveling reporter for much of the arms industry, files this 40,000 to 50,000 word report once a month to his loyal subscribers. Those lucky ones pay a mere $50 (US) £32.50 (UK) per year for the privilege of getting the hot tips and insights from one of the industry’s insiders. Nick’s unique perspective is globally based, as is his wit. Each issue is full of insight and information for those with an interest in Small Arms, as well as his observations on world travel.

F2000 ‘MODULAR’ RIFLE FROM FN HERSTAL: FN Herstal is touting a new modular rifle, the F2000, Armed Forces Journal International (AFJI) reported, which bears a close conceptual resemblance to the OICW, with some design features borrowed from the FN P-90 personal defence weapon. The rifle itself is a very stylish-looking, polymer-bodied 5.56mm bullpup with electronically-regulated rate of fire and an integral 1.6x optical sight in a detachable housing secured to a Picatinny rail which will also accept alternative sighting systems. And the weapon can also be integrated with a 40mm single-shot grenade-launcher; this requires the polymer handguard to be detached.

Grenades are fired using a large, weapon-mounted programmable fire control unit (aka ballistic computer) with laser rangefinder, the whole thing reportedly still in development at Noptel in Finland. Alternative bolt-ons include a three-shot grenade launcher (remember the SPIW?) an underbarrel shotgun for doorbusting or FN’s new XM303 non-lethal, compressed air ‘paintball gun’ (see previous issues).

Overall system and design integration is visually better than for the OICW. The cocking handle is on the left side, and emergency open sights are formed in the top of the scope housing. The ambidextrous fire-selector follows P-90 styling and the short slotted flash-hider is dished at about a 30-degree angle at the front, suggesting it also does double-duty as a compensator of sorts. There is also evidence of heat-dissipating microfluting on the section of barrel immediately behind the flash hider.

However, far & away the most significant design breakthrough is the manner in which the F2000 handles ejection. We have been saying for years that the first bullpup to dispense with left/right ejection problems would, at a stroke, counter most of the common objections to compact rifles of this type - the obvious one being the impossibility of accurately-aimed fire for right-handed troops trying to shoot around right-hand cover. Global-defence.com explained that the F2000 ejects its fired cases forward of the weapon through a tube above the barrel; apparently this holds at least four empties and ejection therefore only starts once the tube is full. An unusual approach to the problem, admittedly, but one that also overcomes the main disadvantage of bottom ejection (the only other alternative), which is the risk of troops engaged in CQB operations slipping on fired cases falling around their feet when walking over hard surfaces such as tiled floors. And as all experienced users know, hot fired brass can be a real pain if cases drop down your sleeves or (worse) inside your Y-fronts.

The same source stated that the electronic rate controller was actually still under development; apparently the idea is to limit the cyclic rate to around 300-400rpm for most applications, but with the option of reverting to the weapon’s native rate of 850rpm when required.

Others, including Bushman’s George Ealovega and Gordon Ingram (of SMG fame) have developed their own electronic or hydraulic rate controllers in the past. And the basic idea’s not new - look for example at the hydraulic rate-damping plunger system on the Czech Skorpion machine-pistol, which delays the return of the bolt.

We have used Ealovega’s own hydraulic damper system in the M16A2 and found it of some help in keeping the weapon on target, though in well-braced short bursts of two or three rounds (all one ever usually needs to fire) the benefits are probably minimal. Due to the relatively high recoil & jump factors with most 5.56mm weapons, this kind of device is considerably more useful on small 9mm SMGs.....like the Bushman, aka the 9mm IDW.

That said, retaining the option on the F2000 of reverting to 850rpm also answers those critics of rate-controlled systems (mostly, we find, from the US special forces) who argue that in CQB they need to be able to pump the maximum rounds possible into every target in the time allowed, so they don’t get back up again. This was not practical with most earlier systems, which required a different controller unit to be fitted in order to vary the rate.

We also wonder whether the low end of 300rpm on the F2000 is not maybe a little slow - historically many of the more efficient, older-style LMGs and SMGs have delivered optimum full-auto control somewhere around the 450rpm mark, the rate that was chosen (for example) for the H&K 4.7mm G11, as opposed to its 2,200rpm+ rate for three-shot bursts.

Other existing or planned F2000 options include a bipod, bayonet interface, a laser aiming pointer, video camera, environmental sensors, an electronic compass, a target tracker, a thermal module, collimator sights, a flashlight and a laser training system.

FN reportedly sees itself as a contender for the US forces’ Modular Weapon System requirements, and though it is apparently not company policy to press the F2000 as an alternative to the OICW, the temptation to compare the two is still compelling.

Not least because of pricing - the F2000 is said to cost anything from $700 (basic configuration, without grenade-launcher) up to possibly $5,000 for the fully tricked-out system with 40mm launcher and electronic fire control. The extra cost of adding a five-round shotgun and XM303 to the basic rifle was given as $500 to $1,200.

Or weight, since the top-level configuration of the F2000 is claimed to weigh in at 13.6 pounds fully loaded, compared to the 14 pound target weight of the OICW (not nearly yet achieved). Bare F2000 rifle weight with scope is said to be eight pounds, or nine pounds with full 30-round magazine. Furthermore, without its grenade launcher, the F2000 still looks like a real assault rifle, unlike the OICW, which is technically also modular.

The whole caboodle (presumably including the cyclic rate/burstfire controller) is said to be powered by a nine-volt battery in the stock, but simple emergency ladder sights are provided on the F2000 in lieu of the grenade-launcher’s fire control unit, in case of the battery dying.

AFJI reported F2000 grenade accuracy during Belgian army tests of plus or minus two metres at 300m, which is uncommonly good. However, we imagine any three-shot launcher in 40mm for the F2000 will be a monster (that proposed for the SPIW certainly was), but FN is also reported to be planning, by about 2004, a new bolt-on launcher to fire the 20mm OICW HE ammunition.

Taking all these factors together, and even if FN doesn’t expect to displace the OICW itself, it would be logical to assume, as AFJI has done, that there might still be an opening amongst that majority of infantry troops which doesn’t really need (and never did) all the OICW’s new bells & whistles.

The ‘Modular Weapon System’ (MWS) reference we believe to be a bit of a red herring, since the existing flat-top M16 rifles & carbines with the additional new MWS mounting rails around the handguard are quite adequate for the purpose, and - for some years at least - it would be hard to justify superseding this expensive programme, which is still under way, in favour of an entirely new weapon.

Yet there could well be an F2000 market down the road for some or all of those army & marine riflemen in the front-line infantry squads of (say) 2010 onwards who will not now be receiving the OICW, its high projected cost having essentially now relegated it to replacing only the M203-equipped rifles carried by grenadiers.

Leaving aside the US market, FN will undeniably open up many new doors with a front-ejecting design; armies which like the idea of a handy, compact rifle design but have so far held back on all bullpups because of the left/right ejection handicap may now want to take a closer look at this interesting new alternative.

After all, making left-handed troops fire from the right shoulder, as is done for SA80 in the UK forces, is plainly daft, and unlikely ever to get the best from the user. Nor do user-reversible ejection systems (as on the AUG) help with occasional shots round cover the inconvenient side of the firer. Of course, in these days of sharply-reduced defence budgets, none of this guarantees a huge market for the F2000 - timing is everything, and among most armies there is no longer the urgency to re-equip with the very latest kit which typified the Cold War era.

In many ways, it would have been much more to FN’s advantage if the F2000 had appeared a a decade or so ago, when several European countries might well have gone for it in preference to the Steyr AUG, the M16A2 or the Diemaco C7.

And if we were running the UK MOD, we’d certainly have flagged the F2000 as a possible SA80 replacement. Water under the bridge, unfortunately, but if FN’s new offering does all its claimed to do, it’s definitely going to take future business from its competitors. It might even help enliven the company’s P-90 and FiveSeven pistol sales along the way.

UK MOD SEEKS .50 LONG-RANGE EOD WEAPONS: the UK MOD seeks approx Qty 73 weapons in .50 calibre to be used by EOD personnel for long-range deflagration, in other words the remote destruction of unexploded ordnance, particularly large bombs, without provoking high-order detonation. The weapon, it would appear, must be able to be fired both directly and by remote control. It’s not been specifically stated that it will be a .50 rifle, but that’s the obvious conclusion, since these guns have been successfully used for some years with .50 Raufoss Multi-Purpose (MP) ammunition for destroying mines. Usually, .50 MP will blow the mine casing apart and scatter the contents without the mine’s HE charge exploding, though the remote scattering of live fuzes due to the use of this technique was a problem we recall emerged from Gulf operations; we’re not sure how this was overcome, if at all. Interested companies must contact the MOD by 31 Mar 01. This requirement, albeit differently worded, first appeared back in May 2000, but even if you replied to that trawl, you now need to reapply. UK contact: Tel (0117) 913-1415, Fax 1908, e-mail; Mob3c@dpa.mod.uk Sample weapons may have to be loaned to the UK MOD if it’s decided to hold competitive trials. Final tenders are due to be invited in the period Apr/May 2001.

BAN ON BALLISTIC VESTS PROPOSED FOR MARYLAND: ‘Police agencies from across the state threw their support yesterday behind a bill to restrict the sale and possession of body armor, a measure that faces equally strong opposition from members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.....Under the law, it would be illegal for most people to own body armor, or bullet-resistant vests, unless they obtained a permit.’ (Baltimore Sun, Maryland, 14 Mar 01)

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N9 (June 2001)
and was posted online on May 9, 2014


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