Monthly Archives: October 2018

EAPS: The US Army’s New 50mm Cannon?

Over at AUSA 2018, General Dynamics showed off their Griffin III demonstrator vehicle, which was armed with, among other things, a new 50mm cannon. At first, I thought this was simply someone actually executing on the old 50mm Supershot idea, but this is only half true.

What’s carried over from the Supershot program is the basic cartridge shape1, i.e. that of a 35x228mm cartridge ‘necked out’ into a straight-walled case. The gun, which is basically a Bushmaster III with a new barrel and slightly revised feed system, is still externally driven. Nothing super new there. What is new is the goal.

50mm Supershot was designed to have a way to get a more powerful APFSDS round out of the 35mm cannon. A quick barrel change, add new rounds, and you could smash up a tougher Soviet IFV, since 50mm Supershot got you about as much propellant as a 40mm Bofors round, but in a smaller package. Of course, the Soviet Union is no more, and now they have much smaller armored forces. What they do have are precision guided munitions, UAVs, and the traditional giant artillery park.

The new Extended Area Protection System (EAPS–yeah, it’s a stupid name) worked to adapt modern technology and the capacious 50mm round to attack the problem of C-RAM (Counter Rockets, Artillery, and Mortars) as well as countering larger UAVs. What they’ve settled on is a Course Corrected Projectile, fired out of the 50mm gun, equipped with command guidance and a fragmentation warhead.

EAPS and its guided projectiles have passed some basic proof-of-concept testing. It remains to be seen how well the system will shake out. I kinda like the idea, and it’s a better reason than most to increase the autocannon caliber. I’m skeptical that it will work all that well in practice, but it’s at least a new idea.

As for the gun, we can extrapolate a little from the Bushmaster III. Still no word on the capacity of a mounted one yet.

  1. Though the devil lurks in the details. I have no idea if the old rounds would also fit in the chamber for the new gun. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 10, 2018)

A long one this week, courtesy primarily of the Association of the United States Army and the plans to replace the Bradley.

AUSA 2018

Other Defense



Technology and Other

Let’s Bash: The Ribbon Gun

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.

Let’s Bash: the Laugo Alien pistol

Today’s obscure piece of firearms technology is the Laugo Alien, a fascinating handgun whose slide rides between the frame and an interchangeable top strap.

This is objectively cool, and in the same way that CZ’s low-ride slides yield a nice straight-back recoil impulse, I can see how this design would do the same. It has the added benefit of fixing the sights to a non-moving platform, which is good both for tracking sights, and for not subjecting electronic sights to quite as severe conditions. All told, I think it’s a worthwhile experiment, and could very well be the next thing to catch on.

That said, as ever, we have to ask ourselves what the gun is for. The answer is pretty clearly ‘competition’. For one, just look at the colors. Subtle this ain’t. For another, look at the front iron sight: a big, delicate fiber-optic jobber. Finally, read the text in the second link. Laugo is planning an Open-division kit, which includes a Picatinny top strap, a flared magazine well, and a compensator. (No pictures of the comp, unfortunately.)

So, is it a good choice for competition? The answer is pretty clearly no. Let us count the reasons why.

One: caliber choice. The Alien teased so far is a 9mm pistol. That means USPSA Limited is out, at least as a serious contender. .40 is the sweet spot there, as in any sport with a major/minor distinction. USPSA Production? I think the iron-sight version would technically be Production-legal, but Laugo has to sell a few thousand, then get them on the Production list, and buying one for Production prior to that is a bit chicken-and-egg. USPSA Open? They seem to be leaning in that direction, with a pistol a full half a pound heavier than a Beretta 92 which has an optional Open-division kit. I wouldn’t want to be the first to put a few thousand rounds of 9mm Major through it, though. Carry Optics? Also no, because the sight is frame-mounted.

There might be some room for it in other shooting sports without a major-minor distinction, but then you run into problem two.

Two: magazine choice. Catastrophically, the Alien uses proprietary magazines. This is never, ever a good idea, especially if you’re building something in the technological avant garde. Magazines are hard to get right, and the best answer is almost always, “Use Glock, Beretta 92, or CZ 75 mags.” Proprietary magazines also limit you to 17 rounds of 9mm, which is insufficient for any sort of competition use besides Production division. Too, they’re expensive, they can be hard to find, and they’re a big part of problem three.

Three: no aftermarket. The best competition guns are those you either have custom made to have irresponsibly light triggers, those with custom shops which will do irresponsibly light trigger jobs, and those you can buy irresponsibly-light trigger parts for. Laugo is probably not going to sell a pistol out of the box with a two-pound trigger, and until such time as parts are available, it’s going to be a less-optimal choice.

All that being said, I can’t deny the coolness. Furthermore, like I said above, I think it’s very likely to end up being a good idea. I just don’t think it’s quite ready for the crucible of competition yet.

(If you’re reading this and want to prove us wrong, Laugo, we’ll give you our local FFL’s address.)

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 3, 2018)

Lots of F-35 news today.


Guns (etc.)


Looking for STARS

No, this doesn’t involve a trip to the Arklay mountains. Today, we’re looking into aerial systems for monitoring ground combat and enemy forces, also known as ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance). This is an often-overlooked capability, and while such systems are not foolproof, not having them can lead to a lot of embarrassment. The notion was a key part of late-Cold War Airland Battle tactics, where ISR platforms could provide targeting data for long range weapons to atrit Soviet forces before they made contact with friendly ground troops.

In terms of current capabilities, the United States has the only serious capability worth writing home about, using the E-8C JSTARS. These put a powerful, GMTI/SAR capable radar on a Boeing 707 airframe. They have proven to be extremely effective when deployed, and were sorely missed by the Europeans during their recent Libya “intervention.”1 Of course, we can’t just buy these, because the 707 is long since out of production. Also, the USAF hasn’t really decided how it wants to proceed to replace or recondition the E-8Cs. We’ll look at other people’s ISR platforms as well as things that were proposed to replace the JSTARS.

The UK operates four Sentinel R1s, built by adding the appropriate radar systems to a Bombardier Global Express business jet. This is a relatively low-cost airframe, being a business jet, though the usual UK small orders means the net result is still going to be expensive. Also, lots of the analysis and battle management workstations are ground-based, for better and for worse. A Global Express 6000 derivative was one of the proposals for a JSTARS replacement.

Brazil has deployed three R-99s, ERJ-145 conversions with the appropriate SAR capable radar, to monitor illicit narcotics tracking and other illegal activities in the Amazon basin as part of the SIVAM. Unfortunately, I don’t know that much about the radar system deployed, and this one wasn’t proposed for the JSTARS replacement, so it’s not using that particular radar package.

Gulfstream also has an offering to replace the JSTARS that is based on their G550 SEMA variant, though with more radar focus than EW-focus. The SEMA version of the G550 is in use by the Israeli air force and has recently been purchased by Australia. There’s also a significantly reworked G550 variant, originally used with Conformal Early Warning2 arrays by the Israeli air force in the AEW&C role. The CAEW variant has also been purchased by the US Navy for monitoring their missile test ranges, and is to be reworked by L3 with electronic warfare systems in the conformal fairings to replace the EC-130H Compass Call in USAF service.

Boeing has a 737-derivative, which is pretty similar to the P-8, other than having a radar optimized for a different mission. Radar options for the JSTARS replacement proposal were similar to those of the bizjets. Annoyingly, the product page for this is no longer on Boeing’s website. The strangest thing about Boeing’s proposal (sparse as the details are) is that it didn’t do all that much to take advantage of the extra space, weight, and power capabilities of the 737 platform.

At the end of the day, 8-10 analysts doesn’t require a 737, and if you’re not going to load it up with a big radar, you can go with a smaller, more fuel-efficient jet.

Let’s also talk about the Global Hawk. The RQ-4B Block 40/RQ-4D variants come equipped with a small version of the MP-RTIP radar originally intended for the E-10A. That’s a pretty fantastic radar, and the RQ-4D3 is the highest-flying option. It does not operate in adverse weather conditions though.

Alright, let’s get picking. We’re going to want some RQ-4Ds because of that fantastic radar and because it’s a pretty natural fit for a UAV. There’s a big NATO buy at the moment, and we’d like to get in on that model. We’re also going to want a manned option though, which means we’re going to have to sort through the business jet contenders. In terms of radar systems, all of the JSTARS replacement offerings had a similar radar fit, which doesn’t help us much. According to the Business & Commercial Aviation 2018 buyer’s guide, the G550 is a little cheaper than the Global Express 6000, but the difference is probably too small to matter.

What is different is that there are a lot more military G550 variants in service. There’s also the flight tested CAEW airframe, which is useful for a few other purposes besides the AEW&C role it was originally intended for. So we’ll go with that one, since it gives us a few more options for related aircraft down the line. We especially like the idea of an electronic attack version.

  1. Or whatever we’re calling “it’s not a war because shut up” these days. 
  2. If I was going to go with a business jet derivative for AEW&C the G550 CAEW would be it, because it has a pretty nice radar, and the conformal array fit is cool. But the Wedgetail radar is a more powerful one. 
  3. The RQ-4B Block 40 that a bunch of NATO partner nations are buying. Because that totally deserves a new designation.