Tag Archives: resurrected weapons

Resurrected Weapons: A-6E Intruder

If my father’s generation wanted precision strike from the sea, they’d call up the ugly but effective Grumman A-6E Intruder. Looking like a drumstick with wings, the Intruder had a two-man crew, a radar-navigation system for night/all-weather guidance, and a FLIR system in a small turret under the nose for target identification. It was subsonic, had an approximately 600 nautical mile (a bit over 1,100 km) striking radius, and it could carry up to 18,000 lbs of bombs.

The long strike radius was a direct consequence of optimizations and the choice of subsonic speed. Grumman opted for subsonic speed, because even the big F-4 Phantom was subsonic when heavily laden with bombs. Accepting a lack of supersonic speed meant that more fuel efficient engines could be used, providing a long strike radius.

In the Intruder’s day, there were no smart weapons. The delivery vehicle was responsible for all of the precision (or lack thereof). This alternative is a lot easier, since the plane is a lot bigger and easier to fit sensors and targeting computers into. As a brief aside, this sort of precision-on-aircraft delivery of dumb munitions is still used by Russia, and was the delivery method of choice for the airstrikes in Syria.

The Intruder proved very effective in Vietnam, where it was the Navy’s most accurate bomber. It was also the primary Navy delivery platform for dropping laser guided bombs in Desert Storm, since the -E models had a laser designator in their FLIR turret.

Despite the Intruder fleet getting new wings in the early 90s and having a solid combat record, the Intruders were taken out of service in 1996. There really wasn’t a perfect replacement. It was supposed to be replaced by the A-12 Intruder II, a poster child for bad project management. This project was cancelled1 without anything new being proposed in its stead. In the late 90s, the Intruder’s role was supposed to be filled by F-14 Tomcats with LANTIRN pods, which could not match the payload capacity of the Intruder. In 2005, the Tomcats were also removed from naval service, and their roles were taken over by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. These could not match the range of the Tomcat or Intruder (both of which have a strike radius of about 600 nautical miles).

I really don’t like the loss of strike radius in the newer platforms. Super Hornets are nice otherwise, but they could really use longer legs. Yes, I know tankers have worked in recent conflicts, but the Navy shouldn’t rely on them. Or else what’s the point of naval aviation? If you can make tankers work, you can probably make land-based strike work. The whole point of naval strike is to be deployable quickly, and to come from additional vectors. In Vietnam, carriers at Yankee Station brought strikes from the east, in addition to the USAF strikes from the west out of bases in Thailand. If they required tankers, that makes life a lot more difficult for the planners, since tankers are fat and vulnerable.

The Intruder was cancelled to reduce the number of airframe types in the fleet. Understandable, but likely premature. The limited wars of the 2000s and 2010s would have been a good match for the capabilities of the Intruder. The A-6E isn’t very survivable in a high-threat environment, but Al Qaeda doesn’t have any serious SAMs. Long range would also make for long loiter time, and adapting a plane for JDAMs isn’t exactly hard.

On the one hand, restarting A-6 production would be silly. On the other, they were taken out of service way too early, and there’s no real replacement out there.

  1. The A-12 is a program that even I think deserved to get cancelled. 

Resurrected Weapons: CVAST turret

In my article on the many Bradley Variants, I mentioned that there have been a number of efforts to upgrade the gun on the Bradley, including utilizing the 35 x 228 mm caliber. One such design was the CVAST1 demonstrator. I found a good bit of detail on it in a 1986-1987 copy of Jane’s Armour and Artillery.

As a brief side note, I can’t recommend old copies of the Jane’s Information Group yearbooks enough. They’re packed with information, much of which you can’t get anywhere else, and while prices on the latest copies are eye-watering, older ones can be had for a song. This one came to my door for under $10, shipping included.

Anyway, the turret. The CVAST Bradley (there was also a CVAST turret on an M113) was designed around an ARES Talon 35 mm gun. This was a dual feed cannon, and it was compatible with all existing Oerlikon stocks of ammo, plus an (at the time) brand new APFSDS round. The CVAST turret was a “cleft turret” design, which put the turret in two separate manned sections with the gun in between. The gun mechanism itself was in a compartment behind the two crewed sections. This allowed the gun to have an elevation range of -10 degrees to + 60 degrees, and not have to worry about the turret roof getting in the way (or making the Bradley taller still) The commander sat on the left, and the gunner sat on the right. Elevation and traverse were all-electric. The 35 mm gun was fully stabilized.

The CVAST turret had an interesting wedge-shaped front and sides, and provided better protection than the then-current M2A1 turret (especially on the side where the TOW launcher took up some space for armor on the basic model). The CVAST turret could still mount the two-tube TOW launcher on the right side, but the launcher no longer folded down. It could pivot 45 degrees for loading, but remained in the horizontal “fire” position of the folding launcher during transit.

The CVAST turret matched the then-current Bradley for electrics and fire control components, having a thermal viewer, integrated laser rangefinder as well as cant, crosswind, air temperature, and propellant temperature sensors. A fully computerized fire control system was also provided. No independent commander’s thermal viewer was fitted yet (the M2 would not get this capability until the -A3 model was introduced in 2000).

Here’s where it gets very interesting. Listed ammunition capacity for the CVAST turret was 500 rounds. Five Hundred Rounds of the big 35 x 228 mm. Outstanding. That’s the same capacity of a BMP-2, but in a much bigger caliber. I’m not quite sure how this was done, since I don’t have internal turret diagrams. But there you have it. 500 rounds. Damn.

And that pretty much spoils what I think of the turret, doesn’t it? More rounds and bigger rounds? Sign me up. Even if we have to redo the optronics to bring them out of the 80s and augment the armor protection. I don’t care.

Verdict: Approved for Production by the Borgundy Armored Systems Board

1.) Combat Vehicle Armament System Technology

Resurrected Weapons: YAGM-169

You may have noticed some logistical inefficiencies in current missile procurement. I’ll use Western examples, but there are similar Russian ones. We have several missiles that are about the same size and have about the same role: engagement of a visually (possibly with the help of infrared) acquired target. These missiles include the BGM-71 TOW, which might be launched from helicopters or ground vehicles; the AGM-114 Hellfire, which might be launched from helicopters or UAVs; and the AGM-65 Maverick, which might be launched from fixed wing aircraft or fixed wing aircraft. The Maverick’s warhead is quite a bit bigger, which contributes to its larger size. Otherwise, they’re all used for about the same sort of fire mission. Could we replace all three with a single missile?

Enter the YAGM-169. Quit snickering in the back. This missile weighs 49 kg and is 177.5 cm long. This matches the weight, but is a bit longer than the Hellfire missile, which is 163 cm long. This is, however, smaller and lighter than the Maverick. The big difference between the Hellfire and the Maverick, aside from platform-induced range variations, is the larger warhead. Here is where some compromises come in. The standard target for the Maverick and the Hellfire is an armored vehicle. The toughest armored vehicle is the MBT. If a Hellfire can kill any tank you please, why have the heavier warhead? The Hellfire can get this done with a large and powerful tandem shaped-charge warhead, delivered from above. Adding a fragmentation jacket provides some measure of multipurpose capability. We have our warhead, and hence, our Hellfire-like size.

What about heavier targets? Since the development of the Maverick, we’ve developed a number of precision-guidance kits for conventional bombs. Combine with a glide bomb kit and some altitude, gives us equivalent range. Alternatively, for well-defended targets, we can get significantly better standoff range from a longer range cruise missile like the AGM-158. Plus, we can carry more of the lighter YAGM-169s.

Okay. So we’ve perhaps accepted the smaller warhead size. What about range? Well, we have more advanced rocket motors, plus it’s hard to compare the range of the Hellfire and the Maverick, since the aircraft that launch the Maverick do so from a higher altitude and higher airspeed than that of the helicopter launching the Hellfire. Still, we can improve the range with a variable-thrust solid-fuel rocket motor.

What about guidance? Well, the TOW uses an old school SACLOS wire guidance system. Which is outmoded, and will be difficult to integrate onto a fast-moving aircraft. So forget it. Beyond that, the Hellfire has a couple different guidance options: a semi-active laser homing seeker and an active millimeter-wave radar seeker. The Maverick is currently available with a semi-active laser homing seeker, an imaging infrared seeker, or an optical CCD seeker. You might expect different versions of YAGM-169 with different seekers, but you’d be wrong.

YAGM-169 was designed with a triple-mode seeker that combined imaging infrared. semi-active laser homing, and active millimeter-wave radar homing in one unit. This is the one part of the missile that I’m concerned about, at least as far as cost. Still, it’s easy enough to build versions with separate seekers if cost becomes an issue.

That said, the YAGM-169 was (shockingly) on time and on budget. But the US cancelled it during Operation Iraqi Freedom because of budget pressures.

So what do we think? YAGM-169 was on budget, and tested from both fixed- and rotary-wing platforms. Awesome. Large production runs should help keep costs down. I’m wondering if it can also replace the TOW as a missile on e.g. Bradley, but we could press Spike LR or Javelin into this role, and those would be much easier for troops to reload in the field, being lighter.

Veridct: Approved for immediate production by the Borgundy Ordnance Procurement Board

Resurrected Weapons: Marder 2 IFV

Ah, another wonderful late Cold War vehicle that didn’t survive peace. As a bonus, it’s super confusingly named. Do not confuse this vehicle with the Marder II tank destroyer of World War II. Thanks, Germany. I’ll use Roman numerals when referring to the tank destroyer, and arabic numerals for the IFV.

Anyway the Marder 2 is a look at what the Puma might have looked like if the Germans weren’t so hell bent on shoehorning the thing into a damn A400m. Let us suppose we worried about a proper, conventional war, and let us suppose we don’t care about overrated air deployability with a bunch of massively overpriced transports that have been consistently plagued with problems. And that we don’t have. Let us also suppose that we are German designers, and we love our armor properly heavy.1

We’d get the Marder 2. It weighs 44 tonnes kitted out. Hey, just like the Puma with the full armor kit. Unlike the Puma, the Marder 2 had a more conventional armor layout. It could withstand 40 mm APFSDS rounds on the frontal arc, and 20 mm APFSDS everywhere else. Pretty hardcore. Armor was composite right out of the gate, so it was also quite effective against HEAT rounds and ATGMs.

Marder 2 also had a proper manned turret for two. The main gun was a big 35 mm autocannon with a whopping 177 ready rounds, and another 110 stored in reserve. That’s some serious firepower. More than twice as many ready as a CV9035. I like it. I like it a lot. There was also the usual MG3 coax machine gun. As a further bonus, the cannon and feed system was designed to accommodate 50 mm Supershot with only a barrel change. A never-was round for a never-was vehicle.

There is something missing though. You guessed it: ATGM capability. I still really like having it.

The rest of the Marder 2 is pretty conventional. It had just under 1,000 hp in a V8, letting it keep pace with the Leopard 2. It also matched the Leopard 2’s road range of 500 km, which is nice. It had a crew of three and seven dismounts, just like the Marder 1 IFV. Not terrible, but not great either.

Some other numbers: It was 7.31 m long, 3.48 m wide, and 3.05 m high. It had a fuel capacity of 890 L. The commander had an independent, stabilized thermal sight. The gunner had all of the fancy fire control systems you’d expect from the early 90s, plus the ability to shoot at low flying aircraft.

Interestingly, the dismounts sat on seats in the middle facing outward. Each man had a vision block. No firing ports were provided, which is good. Those never worked as advertised, and just compromised protection. I’m not sold on the merits of this seating arrangement with the vision blocks. I’d much prefer benches along the outer sides of the troop compartment rather than in the middle. It simplifies the rear hatch setup, and ends up using the passenger compartment space more efficiently. This is one place that the Puma does well with its repeater displays. Small cameras are a lot less disruptive to armor too. Note that this is nothing that can’t be fixed. Most early IFVs, including the Bradley and later model BMPs, had firing ports plated over. We have much smaller breaches to deal with. And the original Bradley had a pretty goofy seating layout that was later made sensible. And a more conventional seating arrangement would give us some room for those ATGMs we like.

Unsurprisingly, we’re a big fan of this vehicle. Even with it’s 1991-vintage design, it’s almost exactly what we’d want. It’s got tons of firepower, great protection, good mobility, and good capacity.

1.) Or at least, German designers in certain eras. Early WW2 designers didn’t favor particularly heavy armor on Panzers. This of course changed with later models. And the Leopard 1 was reasonably armored, but not heavily like a Chieftain. The Marder 1 was well armored for it’s size, however, and the Leopard 2 is about the equal of the Abrams. Modern German armor is loaded with armor, as is good and proper. (Leopard 2A6/2E: 63 tonnes, Leopard 2A7: 69 tonnes, Puma: 42 tonnes, PzH 2000: 55 tonnes)

Resurrected Weapons: LRAC F1

There’s a relatively unsexy class of weapons out there that are critical, but don’t get any of the cool press of ATGMs. Behold, the humble rocket launcher/recoilless rifle. The HE Projector. They’re super useful, because there are plenty of targets on the battlefield that need a healthy dose of prescription HE, but don’t necessarily warrant the trouble of a guided round. Bunkers, for example, have a habit of not moving out of the way in time. These weapons are unsexy because there’s not a lot of room for whiz-bang gadgets. It’s a bazooka. Plain and simple.

A bunch of the use cases are conveniently used by disposable rocket launchers, like the AT4 or the M72 LAW. These tend to be lighter than the traditional recoilless rifle/unguided rocket launcher designs, and a lot less trouble. But they’re not reloadable. And you’re stuck with whatever round is in there; usually it’s a HEAT round. Which would be fine, except that these weapons aren’t going to punch through the front armor of a vanilla T-72, let alone a modern T-90 with ERA on the front. Other rounds might be more desirable. And here, the old recoilless rifles and rocket launchers still shine. Let’s look at one you might not be too familiar with: the French LRAC F1.1

The LRAC F1 is a reusable 89mm rocket launcher. The tube is mostly fiberglass, which keeps the weight down. It’s a 1970s-vintage design, but the launcher and sight weighs only 5 kg. This is very good, even compared to the modern versions of the venerable Carl Gustav recoilless rifle. The sight is a pretty simple fixed 3x optic with a stadiametric reticle. Gunner does his range estimation and chooses the point of aim by himself and fires. Pretty typical for this class of weapon. Rockets weigh 2.2 kg.

Available warhead types include a HEAT round, rated for 400mm of RHA penetration, which scares exactly no one these days. Oh well. We have Javelins for tank-killing. There’s also a HEAT-Frag Dual Purpose round, a smoke round, and an illumination round. These days, the most useful are the smoke round and the dual purpose round. The major use cases for this are first as a portable, short-range assault gun for infantry support, and second as a way of quickly throwing obscuring smoke a reasonable distance to break contact or hide an attack.

Rocket technology really hasn’t changed since the 70s, so the LRAC F1 is still a competitive system. Or it would be, if the French still used it.2 What changes would we want to make to update it?

Honestly, not many. Mostly produce new rockets, maybe integrate night sighting options. The launcher is plenty light already. The existing rockets aren’t very reliable anymore because of age, of course. Production should focus on the dual purpose rocket and the smoke rocket. Reformulating the smoke round to be infrared screening as well isn’t very hard, and would be very useful. Also, a thermobaric rocket would be an excellent idea. I’m a huge fan of the type. The tubes are rated for 130 launches, so they’d need to be made too. Pretty simple, and we can easily keep the cost down. No guidance system, no exotic materials. No gold plating.

There’s no good reason why the LRAC F1 can’t be successful on the arms market with good marketing. There’s plenty of demand for these systems, and not a lot of types that are still in production. Weight is a constant complaint, especially with the closest western competitor, the Carl Gustav. This does the same thing for about half the weight.

Verdict: Approved for production by the Borgundy Ordnance Procurement Board

1.) Also known as the LRAC 89 or the ACL STRIM.
2.) It’s been replaced by the AT4, a good (though somewhat limited) single-use rocket launcher, and the Eryx, which I’m not a fan of.

Resurrected Weapons: XM-8

And now time to examine another futuristic weapon, the XM-8. This was an offshoot of the failed XM-29 project, where some in the US Army tried to get a more direct replacement for the M-16.

The XM-8 was a carbine firing 5.56 mm rounds. No fancy caseless ammo, no airburst grenades, just bullets. The same bullets that cranky guy up the street shot in Vietnam, even. What was different here?

The XM-8 was designed to be lighter and more reliable than the M-16. Reliability would be improved in a number of ways. HK built the XM-8 around it’s highly successful short-stroke gas piston system that had been used in their G-36. The body of the weapon was entirely polymer, with easily swappable components, and design by the Udelhoven Design Studio.1 Plus, while there were a number of ergonomic and internal design improvements over the stock G-36, they used the G-36 magazine.

Let’s talk feed devices. Recall that the original AR-15/M-16 magazine was a 20 round box magazine with no curvature. The magwell was designed to accommodate this, and is also not curved. Army desires for a 30 round magazine required some amount of curvature to accommodate the taper of the 5.56mm cartridge. But the magazine had to be compatible with all M-16s, so the top had to be kept straight. So there’s a kink in the 30 round magazine where the curved section meets the non-curved section, and this can cause problems. The G-36 magazine has a continuous taper, and is made of translucent polymer, so you can see how many rounds are left.

The G-36 is pretty “European” with a paddle magazine release, and most bolt work being done with the charging handle, which is atop the gun under the raised sight rail. It can fold to either side for ambidextrous use, and can be locked to either side for use as a forward assist. The XM-8 made some improvements here too. A shoe, sort of like what’s on an HK pistol, was added to the mag release so you could press a lever on either side of the trigger guard with your trigger finger to release the mag. Bolt release was in the front of the trigger guard. The selector was the usual ambidextrous affair, with safe/semi/full auto on the trigger group.

The XM-8 also tried to improve accessory attachment methods. Picatinny rails are expensive to machine, and add weight to the weapon and height to the accessory mount. For the same reasons that we would see the development of Keymod and Mlok in the civilian world in 2014, HK and Picatinny came up with PCAP. Just like Keymod and Mlok, PCAP uses a bunch of negative attachment points2, but it was designed to totally replace Picatinny rails. Specifically, it was designed to be a superior sight attachment system. PCAP naturally mounts things in the same place each time, so sights naturally will hold zero when mounted and dismounted.

Further, the XM-8 had a new sight. The XM-8 had to be lighter than an M-16, so a sighting unit was designed to integrate a red dot sight and an infrared laser sight. This gives day/night capability in a single unit, with one battery, that’s lighter than the two separate units with two batteries and two sets of mounting hardware. Plus, the sight was synchronized so that sight adjustments to the red dot also adjusted the infrared laser sight. The military version was called the ISM-IR. If you’d like one with a visible laser sight, the civilian version is so equipped, and is the ISM-V.

Of course, then politics intervened. No army requirement was actually listed, so Congress started asking questions. HK’s competitors started asking why they hadn’t been given a shot to deliver something new if the army wanted that. Plus, some people had spent money earmarked for OICW on the XM-8, and that brought up more questions. In the end, the XM-8 was cancelled for being too expensive for what it was. At the end of the day, it was more reliable, but still fired 5.56 rounds downrange.

So what do we think? If you’re looking for a new carbine system, because you’re finally joining the 5.56 train or your previous issue carbine is old and busted and you want some new hotness, the XM-8 makes a good choice. Though, it does require new accessories because of the new attachment system.

Honestly, that might be one of the better parts of the XM-8. We really like PCAP, and we especially like the ISM-IR. That can be had in Picatinny railed form too if you want. Plus, at some point, you have to accept some development costs to get something better in the system. We’re seeing some forces go to Mlok3, and PCAP is better because it gives you a sight solution too. On the other hand, we’d really like to compare it to some of the more refined AR-15s and similar that have come out since the XM-8 program was cancelled.

Verdict: Funding Approved for program testing by the Borgundy War Department Ordnance Procurement Board

1.) They also do design work for Audi.
2.) Also known as holes. Precisely cut and aligned holes.
3.) Including Canada.

Resurrected Weapons: XM-29

The saga of attempting to improve the effectiveness of the average infantryman continues today. Now it’s the turn of the Americans. In the late 1990s, the US Military wanted to try to replace the M-16. Again. And the conclusion of the experts was that bullet-launching technology had peaked with the M-16, and there weren’t any good ways to improve it further. So more lethality would have to come elsewhere.

Considering the problem of an enemy behind cover, the committee decided that the right answer was to have some kind of man-portable airburst munition. And this led to the design of the XM-29 OICW.1

The XM-29 had three components. The critical one was the grenade launcher. It was a bullpup-looking affair, firing 20mm grenades from a six-round detachable box magazine. These were quite a bit smaller than everyone’s favorite 40 mm grenades, so as to be workable in a magazine, but there still weren’t many of them. Which led to the second component–the “KE Module”, which was a 5.56 carbine made by HK. It had a conventional configuration, and only an 8″ barrel. Further complicating things, the one trigger on the carbine had to also work the grenade launcher, but you had to be able to separate the two modules and use them individually (after a trigger unit was added to the grenade launcher. Plus, there was a massive thermal sight/laser rangefinder/fire control computer unit on top to coordinate the airburst over the head of the enemy. The idea was that the operator would use the rangefinder to determine range, manually program in the distance for airburst, and then fire a grenade.

Unsurprisingly, the result was big, heavy, and very expensive. Fully loaded, the XM29 weighed 8.2 kg, or a hair over 18 pounds. That’s ridiculous. It was big and unwieldy. Oh, and did I mention the cost? The XM-29 was projected to costvover $10,000 per unit. Plus, airburst grenades are roughly ten times as expensive as regular, contact-fused grenades.

All this might be forgiven if it worked. It didn’t. Oh, the carbine bit fired ok. But there were tons of problems with the airburst mechanism. And when it worked, it was judged insufficiently lethal. The 20mm round created fragments that were too small, there was insufficient explosive for a very large kill radius, and a whole bunch of fragments and energy are going to be directed upwards, away from the target. I can’t imagine that it would have been all that combat effective to have to manually program in airburst distances when enemies were firing back either.

After dumping a whole bunch of money into the airburst 20mm rounds, it was finally decided that they were unworkable. The only way to get sufficient lethality was to up the caliber. 25mm was settled on, but this would mean an even bigger grenade launcher unit. Between the ballooning weight and rapidly escalating cost, the project was terminated, and split into the XM-25 (which I’ve talked about here) and the XM-8 carbine (which I’ll talk about later).

So that’s the overview. What do we think of this project? Well, the basic concept might be sound, since I’m all in favor of raining death upon my enemies, but the execution is terrible. It would be much better if the grenade module could attach to an existing rifle to reduce costs, like the Korean K11 program. This also uses a 20 mm grenade module though, and I share the US Army’s concerns about inadequate killing capability of the 20 mm grenades.2 The 25 mm grenades of the XM-25 are more effective, and a 25 mm launcher is far too big to mount on a rifle.

An even better solution would be to get airburst 40 mm grenades. There, the launchers and the grenades are already in the system. Lethality has already been proven, and there’s already cheap grenades in the system. You simply have to work out the guidance and fusing, but you’d have to do that anyway with an XM29-type weapon.

Verdict: Funding Denied by Borgundy War Department Ordnance Procurement Board

1.) Objective Individual Combat Weapon. They chose the stupidest name they could.
2.) I have no idea if the South Koreans are satisfied with the performance of the 20 mm, or if they’re banking on the enemy being unarmored, malnourished North Koreans who are also easily frightened or something.

Resurrected Weapons: The HK G-11

We’re going to look at some prototype rifles that never got off the ground. First is the most exotic, the HK G11.

Back in the 80s, the Bundeswehr issued the G3. They hadn’t yet gone over to 5.56mm yet. And they noticed the classic problem of soldier marksmanship: Most soldiers are very poor shots in combat. But what to do about this problem? Automatic fire is hard to control. It can be done with sufficient training, but we’re talking about the average grunt here. A burst of three or so rounds might sound like the ticket, but subsequent shots tend to miss high and right (or left) based on body mechanics and how they interact with recoil. Consistent high right missing isn’t super helpful for getting a higher hit percentage out of a weapon. What if the burst was out of the gun before the recoil impulse got to the shooter? Three superquick rounds. That might give you the spread you’re looking for.

A brief side note: the US Army, with their cool guy M16s noticed a similar problem, and would launch a search for a similar solution, the Advanced Combat Rifle program, based on similar reasoning to the above.

So we want a burst mode that’s super quick. 2,100-rounds-per-minute quick. That’s gonna be tough. And we’re going to want regular rates of automatic fire if we set the selector to full auto. Here comes the complexity. The engineers at HK considered the problem, and decided on an enabling technology: caseless ammo.

Without that pesky case, there’s no extract/eject portion of a normal operating cycle. Less to do means it’s easier to do it all quickly. Yay! Plus, caseless ammo is way lighter than cased ammo. A gain for the logistics geeks. Plus, this would be a SCHV round: 4.73×33 mm1. This worked to to being significantly lighter than M855 5.56. Rough back of the envelope calculations shows that for about the same weight as a G-3 and 100 rounds of 7.62×51 mm, a soldier could carry a G-11 and 500 rounds of ammunition.

Now let’s get back to America. To get adoption, the US Army wanted the ACR rifle to have a 100% higher hit probability than an M16A2. The G-11 was one of the entrants. Plus it had to be durable and reliable, etc.

A few other notes on the G-11, the rifle to fire these tiny caseless rounds. It weighed about 3.6 kg empty, had a Hensholdt unmagnified reflex sight, and a 45 round box magazine. The G-11 had integrated storage for two additional magazines for quicker reloading, sort of like the redi-mag system. It also had a bottom ejection port for ejection of misfires, or administrative clearing. You might imagine the mechanism to handle the 2,100 round per minute hyperburst plus regular full auto would be complicated and it was. And caseless made it worse. But it worked.

For the hyperburst, the barrel, firing chamber, and magazine assembly were all free floated and recoiled together. Picture a modern howitzer, except much smaller. And the nature of the mechanism meant that you’d get the three projectiles out before that recoiling assembly hit the back of the receiver, which is how they avoided transmitting the recoil for a little while.

Reloading was an interesting design too. Cartridges were in a box magazine above the rotating chamber, and were dropped in tail-first and then rotated 90 degrees into firing position. Turning a cocking lever further would dump a cartridge out the bottom if needed.

Now, let’s talk about the problems. You see, the cartridge case, that pesky bit that we deleted to cut weight and simplify the firing cycle, actually gives us a lot. For one, the cartridge case makes it easy to unload the gun. You can pull pretty easily on the rim of a cartridge case. You can’t pull easily on a compressed powder block. And you’ll want to unload it if a round fails to discharge and you need to get rid of it, or if you’re just done at the range and putting your weapon back.

The cartridge also protects all of your propellant. A cartridge case is relatively durable, and is insensitive to scratches and nicks that might arise from rough handling. It is also reasonably water resistant. No such luck for the caseless round. There were problems with damaged cases and extraction was a pain.

Further, the mechanism got weird because there’s no case to provide a seal at the back of the chamber where the firing pin is, or to seal off the barrel behind the fired bullet. Enter more complexity and a little plastic bit that went at the end of the caseless round to seal the barrel. Barrel sealing problems persisted, though.

Less obviously, the cartridge also provides a great way of getting rid of heat. A bunch of heat from firing the gun goes into heating the cartridge, not the chamber, and then the hot spent cartridge is ejected. Goodbye heat! HK had to contract with Dynamit Nobel for some special insensitive propellant that was then lacquered and used that for the rounds.

Lots of engineering and testing got these problems sorted, more or less. And here’s where the story gets vague. Depending on who you ask, there may or may not have been some thing that weren’t quite sorted. But they were sorted to the satisfaction of the Bundeswehr, who was about to adopt the G-11 in 1990, and there are plenty of documents to back that up. But then the cold war ended. Goodbye Soviet Union, goodbye scary threat, hello expensive reunification. And here the Germans decided against the G-11, which would be massively expensive. Remember, you’d have to set up new weapon and ammo production lines, and the ammo production lines would be entirely new methods. It’s not just a different size of brass/steel cased bullets. NATO wasn’t about to retool with the Soviet Union gone. So instead the Germans moved to (finally) adopt 5.56.

As for the ACR project, well, that was really more of an investigation than a serious replacement effort. And even though soldiers liked the compactness,2 reliability, and capability of the G-11, and even though the G-11 exhibited a significantly higher hit probability than the M-16 (or the G-3 for that matter), it did not meet the 100% higher hit probability, and was not adopted.

Where does that leave us, then? Well, it’s time to decide how we rule on this. And the G-11 has an advantage over some of the other weapons we’ll look at in that it’s doing some things that an M-16/SCAR/whatever-5.56-carbine-you-issue-now can’t do. Namely, that fancy hyperburst, and way more ammo for the weight. Plus, since the ammo in question is square, it packs more compactly too. So there’s a logistics win and a weight of fire win. Both of which I really like. Some of the G-11K2 prototypes even were fitted with picatinny rails to mount different optics, so I don’t even have to worry about having that done.

That said, there are some concerns we’d like to put to rest. Since it’s been a while, let’s get a few LRIP guns to make sure the manufacturing process is still good, and do some high round count testing. Plus, I’d like to do some gel tests and intermediate barrier3 tests. Even if that means some projectile design updates to make the terminal effects satisfactory, I can’t forsee any major problems left.

Verdict: Approved for LRIP and phased adoption by the Borgundy War Department Ordnance Procurement Board

1.) Or thereabouts. I’ve seen some variation betwen 4.7-4.9 mm or so.
2.) Despite looking like a space 2×4, troops even liked the ergonomics
3.) Usually sheet metal and tempered glass, i.e. car parts.

Resurrected Weapons: Sprint ABM

Suppose you were to take on the challenge of defending against ballistic missiles. The big ones, mind–intercontinental ones with thermonuclear warheads. You might conclude that you’d need a layered defense, with different missiles to attack the ICBM in flight. Of course, the trickiest interception problem is the goaltender’s, i.e. the last line of defense. How to intercept a missile when your shot is the last one is a really tricky problem, and one such solution is the topic of today’s resurrected weapon post.

Behold, the Sprint antiballistic missile system!

It was a relatively short ranged system, with a claimed operational radius of 40 km, and a flight ceiling of 30 km. But that’s to be expected. It’s supposed to be the last attempt to stop an incoming warhead. Of course, since other missiles were to have had the first go, the incoming warhead was beginning its decent. In order to stop it, Sprint had to be mind-bogglingly fast.

The Sprint missile was a two-stage affair, which accelerated at 100 Gs. This sustained acceleration would turn any human passengers into paste. Good thing it doesn’t have any. Sprint would go from zero to Mach 10, or 3.4 kilometers per second, in under five seconds. Given this tremendous velocity, it would intercept a target it’s maximum interception altitude of 30 kilometers in less than fifteen seconds.

In order to make this speed work, Sprint had a number of interesting features for the time. It was cone shaped, and was sheathed in an ablative coating to withstand the extreme1 temperatures generated by the missile. The silo doors were blown off by explosive charges, and the missile was kicked from its silo by a second set of explosive charges, pushing a large piston. Once clear of the silo, the first stage burned for only 1.2 seconds before dropping away.

Sprint had a novel and rather dirty way of defeating incoming warheads. Sprint’s payload was a W66 enhanced-neutron warhead. This low-yield warhead was designed to spray high-energy neutrons, to disable the electronic systems of the incoming warhead, or to cause the warhead to fizzle2 prematurely. Of course, this neutron blast, and the resulting possible fizzle, is not exactly clean, so Sprint was intended for use as a terminal defense system for ICBM silos.

Guidance of Sprint was also a difficult challenge. To keep fragile electronics out of the missile, a large and powerful radar set was emplaced on the ground, and a radio command guidance system was used. At the speeds Sprint traveled, it would be enveloped in a plasma sheath, which would make radio communication difficult. To get around this, the radio beam was made very narrow and very powerful.

So what do we think? As is, it’s kind of specialized. But there’s a market for ABM systems these days, and it bears some further testing with a more conventional fragmentation warhead, and possibly more capacity for maneuvering at speed.

Verdict: Project approved for further research funding by Borgundy Air Force Procurement Board

1.) About 3,400 degrees Celsius or so. Very hot. That speed comes at a price.
2.) A technical term in this case for a subcritical nuclear reaction.

Resurrected Weapons: GPU-5/A Gunpod and the GAU-13/A

The US Air Force has hated the A-10 with a burning fiery passion, and has been doing their best to kill it since they got it. I guess they think of it like that ugly sweater you get at Christmas from your crazy relative that your parents make you not throw in the trash. This is because it takes pilots and money away from glorious aerial combat and nuclear weapons delivery and puts them to work moving mud for the ground pounders. One of their schemes from the late 80s to oust the Warthog centered around making an F-16 variant that could handle hardcore ground attack actions.

On paper, this seems easy. The F-16 can carry anything the Warthog can. The F-16 can sling Mavericks just as well as the A-10 can. And it would get precision guided bomb integration first. And it can carry regular iron bombs too. Perfect, right? Well, not quite. The A-10 has a massive gun, the aptly named GAU-8/A Avenger. This beast of a gatling gun is chambered for the 30x173mm round, and is absolutely massive. The A-10 was built around this beast, and it’s an accurate, powerful tank killer. It also has a terrifying buzz saw sound. This gun is sweet.

So, the USAF decided to try to put that gun on the F-16, since the F-16 had only a regular 20mm Vulcan cannon. The answer was the GPU-5/A gunpod. To work in a pod, they decided to scale back the Avenger a bit into the GAU-13/A. The GAU-13/A has four barrels instead of seven on the Avenger, and has the rate of fire reduced to about half that of the Avenger (2,400 rounds per minute instead of 4,200 rounds per minute). From a technical standpoint, the GAU-13/A is driven pneumatically using bleed air, instead of being driven by the A-10’s hydraulic system.

The pod held 353 rounds of ammunition, which isn’t a lot at 2,400 rounds per minute. But fully loaded it only weighs 862 kg, and it can be mounted on any NATO-standard large bomb rack. It was tested on the F-16, F-15, F-4, A-7, and even the small F-5.

What could be better? Well, they got tested during the first Gulf War, and all the illusions were shattered. The GPU-5/A pods were mounted on F-16s, but the accuracy was appalling. While a bomb mount can easily handle the weight, it was never designed to deal with the stresses of firing a massive gun like the GAU-13/A. Additionally, the integration with the F-16’s targeting systems was poor. It was used for all of a day and then removed and replaced with more effective stores. The A-10 can deliver accurate bursts from the Avenger; the F-16 just wasn’t able to match it. You’d need specialized pylons at least, which takes away some of the attraction of the GPU-5/A pod.

This is to be expected. These days, we’ve grown accustomed to multirole types and forgotten some things about dedicated designs. The F-16 was never designed to be a CAS plane, and it has a bunch of issues that are way more important than whether or not it carries a giant gun. The F-16 is fast, and burns fuel quickly. It can’t hang around low and slow for hours like the A-10 can. Slow is good for the A-10 because it helps the pilot spot targets visually. Fast is good for the F-16 because it needs to be able to catch MiGs. The F-16 can be tasked with short order CAS missions, but it can’t hang around without refueling. And that’s ok, it’s just silly to try to make it do something that it can’t. The Air Force scrapped the project shortly afterward.

For once I agree with them. Interestingly, if the US Air Force wanted to be rid of the A-10, they should just let the US Army operate fixed wing aircraft. Or even make a specific exemption for the A-10; the Army would love them. Were A-10s available in the procurement games, we would be all over them. As things are, we’ll make do with attack helicopters, like the US Army.

Verdict: Funding Request Denied by the Borgundy Air Ordnance Procurement Board