I was going to write a nice answer to Chris’ question about this new thing, but then I thought “Why not write an article instead?” So let’s do that.
The Ribbon Gun is the latest in a long line of “Space Age Future Rifles”. It has four 6mm barrels side-by-side in one big block, and it shoots ammunition stored in blocks that keep all the bullets in a neat little row. It’s supposed to have a theoretical cyclic rate of something like 250 rounds per second. Ignition is electronic, but it sill uses (supposedly) some sort of gunpowder to drive the projectiles.
So let’s get on to my opinion. As you may have guessed from the title, I’m not a fan. Here we have a rifle that supposedly capable of some sort of ludicrous cyclic rate of fire. There’s no word on how it’s going to eject those ammo “blocks” fast enough, or how a solider is going to carry enough ammo. The ammo magazine looks big, bulky and heavy. Which is perfect for soldiers who are already overburdened with electronics, body armor, and batteries. Let’s give them more ammo weight; that’s the ticket to success. Perhaps they just mean it as some sort of “hyperburst,” but that comes with its own problems.
Electronic ignition is nothing new. The advantages of such are frequently touted, but the success and popularity of designs featuring electric ignition is just not there. The VEC-91 was a market failure, and had its share of problems. It’s the gun of the future, and it always will be. Or so the joke goes. Electronic ignition should be simpler, but do we really need more batteries? They better at least be standard batteries. Does it lag?
And of course, any kind of rate of fire that’s quite fast will have the problem of waste heat. This design shows very little appreciation for how it will be cooled, though it is just a prototype. That’s always a problem with high rates of fire or so-called “hyperbursts”. One of the things seen in previous programs was trying to figure out just the right amount of dispersion in a hyperburst to get enough spread at expected combat ranges to make up for aiming errors. It’s a very difficult problem to solve, and no one quite has it figure out.
We’ve seen a number of high rate of fire weapons before. I have a book full of fantastic future rifles. They went no where. There are significant technical problems inherent in such a design, and the tradeoffs really aren’t worth the costs. Perhaps they can make a soldier “more accurate.” Or perhaps they’ll just enable him to miss faster. And nobody ever talks about keeping Pfc. Schmuckatelli supplied with enough ammo to sustain the rate of fire. Could every man in the Werhmacht Heer have carried an MG42? I think not. And no, it’s not the weight of the weapon that’s a problem; it’s the weight of the quantity of ammo.
I’d rather buy JDAMs. Maybe I’m missing out on another SPIW. Maybe I’m missing out on the next Lebel. If it proves to be good, it’s a lot easier to make the second of something. But that’s really not all that likely to be needed. Existing carbines are pretty good, when you look at them as a whole.