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Small Arms Data by Wire (SADW): January 2000

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.

GREEK ARMY RE-EQUIPMENT: according to Jane’s IDR, Hellenic Defence Industries (EBO) is to start licensed production of the 5.56mm FN Minimi LMG; Greece reportedly has ten sample guns already (presumably from FN), but Greek special forces are said to want about 740 in all. Separately, the magazine said that EBO was to deliver the first 1,050 of 7,500 Colt M16s required by the Greek MOD (also for special forces, we believe), but we assume these are coming from the USA rather than being made locally. In addition, local part-production of the Barrett M82A1 rifle is still in the mill.

We are not sure that local production is justified by the size of the domestic orders for any of these weapons, though one assumes EBO also has third party sales in mind. If so, they will of course have just as tough a time finding new customers as existing suppliers. Some years ago, EBO took a licence for the 5.56mm HK33 - apparently, in part at least, to meet the same requirement now being filled by M16s, but it doesn’t seem to have done much with it; the only guns we saw on past Greek visits were from Germany. EBO has already made H&K G3s, MP5s, MG3s and P7 pistols fully or partly in Greece.

BARRETT US ARMY ORDER: National Defense also said that Barrett Firearms had secured a US army order for up to 1,600 of its bullpup M95 bolt-action .50 rifles, to be known as the XM107; they reportedly incorporate some extra bells & whistles such as adjustable triggers not offered on the commercial version.

Barrett’s official release on this deal says:

‘The United States Army has recently selected a new long range .50 caliber sniper rifle designated XM107. After a competitive evaluation, a variant of the Barrett Model 95 bolt action rifle was chosen as the candidate offering the “best value” to the government. The criterion for the evaluation was based on reliability, accuracy, user friendliness and supportability.

The new XM107 rifle will feature an adjustable trigger, Mil-Std-1913 optical rail, detachable 5-shot magazine, and has the capability of cycling a minimum of 6 rounds in less than one minute. The Army requirement for the weapon system includes a hard carrying case, soft case, and powered optic.

Producer of the winning candidate, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Inc. of Murfreesboro, TN, is already well-known in military circles around the world as a producer of .50 caliber rifles as more than 35 countries have adopted either the semi-automatic Model 82A1 or the bolt-action Model 95. In the U.S. the Model 82A1 is presently in use as a combat weapon by the U.S. Marine Corps and as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) tool by U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army units.

A multi-year contract will follow pending the evaluation of the first production weapons slated for delivery later this year.’

Currently pre-production XM107s are being tested in extreme conditions, while the US army continues to work with Barrett on additional refinements to ergonomics and other aspects, including harsh environment performance. The scope mounting rail has also been extended, to 11”. We understand users are enthusiastic about the rifle, particularly its accuracy, described as ‘excellent’, and its take-down capability - it easily breaks down into two main assemblies just 34” long, dimensions which happen to meet long-standing parachuting requirements. At this time we are unsure exactly who the users are to be, but we assume - from the purpose to which earlier Barrett purchases have already been put - that the army will utilise the XM107 as a general anti-materiel/anti-personnel weapon. But due to its small size and big capabilities, it would clearly also be ideal for special forces.

CANADIANS OUTDO SS109 WITH STEEL-CORED AMMO: SNC Technologies in Canada is probably the most active small-calibre military ammunition developer in the West just now. In the past few years it has already come up with a considerable number of new natures and also acquired Simunition’s paint-marking, rubber bullet and frangible training ammunition. SNC is a leading player in the US army’s requirements both for ‘Green’ (non-toxic), reduced-range and limited-penetration ammunition. SNC’s new family of improved 5.56mm ammunition, to whit the IP (Improved Penetration) and matched TP (Training Practice) cartridge, is a contender for the US Green ammo programme, though - as yet - there is no official Canadian forces requirement.

Both of these designs employ one-piece, copper-jacketed, steel bullet cores and (apart from the fact that the IP core is hardened) the two cartridges are identical. The 5.56mm ‘soft-core’ TP costs less than the IP round, and should do less damage to targetry on firing ranges. Since neither of the new bullets contains any lead, the environmentalists and the health & safety boys should all be happy too.

Initially the Canadian Defence Research Establishment Valcartier tested a tungsten-based metal matrix composite (MMC) bullet core, made using powder injection moulding techniques, but this approach was found to be unsuitable. It was determined that a compacted, sintered core would have done the job, but it was more cost effective to go for steel; tungsten is pricey, and the cost fluctuates conspicuously. When steel was adopted, it was found that, when compared to the Canadian NATO-pattern C77 bullet (with steel penetrator tip & rear lead filler), the new IP bullet with one-piece steel core achieved the same (43%) increase in aluminium penetration as an MMC-cored projectile, but penetrated nearly three times as far (291%) in mild steel.

The 5.56mm IP is also virtually a perfect ballistic match to the C77; however, in order to compensate for the absence of lead filler, the steel-cored bullet is the same length as the current NATO tracer projectile.

In 20% gelatine testing, at simulated ranges of 25 and 100 metres (achieved by downloading) almost half the 5.56mm IP bullets passed right through the gelatine target block, which was 46cm (18”) deep, whereas at both simulated ranges all the Belgian SS109 bullets used for comparison broke up into many pieces in the target. None of the IP projectiles fragmented. Further IP bullet integrity tests were performed at simulated ranges of 0.1, 2.5 and 25 metres. All bullets destabilised and began tumbling 10-15cm into the gelatine target blocks, and all rotated 180 degrees during travel through the target material.

There was no fragmentation, except that - at 0.1 metres, small amounts of material sheared off some of the bullet tips, due to the yaw angle at the muzzle. But photos show one of the recovered bullets fired at 0.1m with no obvious evidence of deformation at all. This is a great improvement over the excessively frangible NATO bullet, and will probably attract the interest of other countries who are privately less than happy with the gratuitously vicious wound ballistics of the existing design (which ape those of the 5.56mm M193, we might add).

In barrel wear tests of the SNC IP round, excessive bullet yaw initially developed after 4,400 shots, but following some minor redesign this was increased to 5,000 rounds, with an overall velocity drop of just 2% (19.6m/s), with only six shots showing slight yaw. This is considered satisfactory.

Overall, by comparison with the Canadian C77 (SS109) round, the 5.56m IP cartridge has the same external shape & weight, the same interior & external ballistics, the same penetrator hardness, uses the same propellant and meets all the standard NATO proof criteria. However, the Mean Point of Impact (MPI) for the IP at 550 metres is 10cm lower. The maximum 50% penetration range (where half of all bullets penetrate) for 6.4mm Rolled Homogenous Armour (RHA) is 190 metres for IP but just 16 metres for the C77. The penetration ratio (compared to 7.62mm M80 ball) in 6061-T6 Aluminium of semi-infinite depth is 1.92 for IP and 1.24 for C77. IP velocity at 24 metres is 908m/s, muzzle energy 1,653 Joules, chamber pressure 312 MPa, port pressure 97 MPa and dispersion 14.9cm x 15.2cm at 550 metres.

As at end-Aug 99, SNC was making 100,000 rounds of 5.56mm IP plus 200,000 rounds of the softer-cored TP ammunition for testing by interested customers, including the Canadian forces, the USA and Scandinavian states. At present the new cartridges are still being loaded with standard SNC primers, but from next year they will also be available with the SNC TOXFREE non-toxic primer.

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