Ghosts of the Supernova

Why gun companies can not create a “rifle of the future”

Leading manufacturers of weapons have repeatedly announced the creation of “rifles of the future”, but over the past 30-40 years, none of the revolutionary concepts have not reached mass production. Actions in the conditions of local conflicts and anti-terrorist operations require new solutions in small arms.

“Smart rifles”, guided bullets and machine guns for caseless cartridges could be called “concept guns”, by analogy with concept cars in the automotive industry. Extreme models, which run on the most daring ideas, but unsuitable for the “roads” of general use.

At the end of the 80s of the last century, the American program promised a coup in the “shooter” ACR (Advanced Combat Rifle, advanced combat rifle). It was a response to the demand of the military to increase the effectiveness of individual small arms at least twice as compared with the M16A2 rifle in service (in the Russian classification, an automatic rifle). As experts have calculated, the shooter in combat conditions hits a target at a distance of 40 meters with a probability of 100 percent, and at a distance of 260 meters – with a probability of only 10 percent.

During the program, it was supposed to test several new concepts that promise, among other things, to increase the probability of hitting the target with one shot. Four companies submitted their samples to the competition: German Heckler & Koch, Austrian Steyr-daimler-puch and two American firms – Colt and AAI.

“Quick-fired cuckoo clock”

American gunsmiths were conservative: Colt offered a slightly modified rifle M16 under the caliber of 5.56 millimeter, equipped with two bullets, and the company AAI – A traditional rifle for ammunition with a subcaliber arrow-shaped bullet.

But the German concept G11 (developed in the mid-80s) from Heckler & Koch was truly revolutionary. Fantastic design – the plastic body of the rifle resembled an elongated parallelepiped with a fire control grip. The unique cartridgeless cartridge is a block of compressed gunpowder, in which a 4.7-mm caliber bullet is “sunk”. Unusual device: bullpup scheme (fire control knob is in front of the store and trigger), a 45-seater store is located above the barrel, the cartridges from it were fed into the breech broom vertically downwards, after which the cam was turned 90 degrees, the cartridge turned out to be on the barrel line and there was a shot. The barrel, breech and the store are mounted on one base that moved inside the hull – the so-called fire station (the same used on the Russian AN-94). When firing a fixed burst of three rounds, the entire system came to the rear position only after the third shot, and only then did the shooter feel recoil.

This increased the accuracy of fire, but the complexity of the design was beyond the limits of the military model.

“I was holding a rifle G11, held by the program ACR, for me it was a deep shock. The most complicated mechanism with a large number of springs, gears and other things, enclosed in a thin plastic case that could be pushed through with fingers ”. For design features brainchild Heckler & Koch got the informal nickname “quick-firing cuckoo clock,” recalls arms expert Maxim Popenker.

Moreover, German engineers could not solve the problem of gas breakthrough between the chamber and the barrel and the problem of overheating of the ammunition in the chamber during intensive firing. The system resource was low — about six thousand shots (for comparison, the gross barrel life AK-74 – 15 thousand shots). And finally, the fragility of the case without cartridge. As the former expert noted in his report Heckler & Koch Jim Schatz, a blow that was safe for a cartridge with a metal sleeve, could split a caseless ammunition, or worse, lead to a crack, and then the cartridge broke up at the moment of discharging into the chamber.

Russian experts familiar with the project claim that the futility of G11 It was obvious from the very beginning of work on it. It was even rumored that the whole “case-less topic” was started in the West only to force the Soviet military-industrial complex to spend time and money on research in a deliberately dead-end direction.

The Germans themselves in the 90s quietly turned the program, citing the high cost of the transition to a new cartridgeless cartridge and its incompatibility with NATO standards.

Grenade instead of a bullet

Another “nail” ACR became an austrian rifle from Steyr, created specifically for the competition. The concept was based on sub-caliber ammunition – a light, less than one gram, tungsten needle with a length of 41 millimeters and a diameter of one and a half millimeters. Her initial speed was about 1500 meters per second. The weapons were arranged according to the bullpup scheme (like G11), the plastic case of futuristic design was divided into two parts. The gate, or rather, the breech with the chamber, did not move back and forth, but up and down. When the rifle is cocked, the breech is lowered down one level with the top cartridge in the magazine. When pressing the trigger, a special pusher sends the cartridge from the store forward to the chamber, the breech goes up under the influence of the mainspring and at the moment of alignment with the axis of the barrel a shot occurs.

Steyr acr showed himself well at the shooting range, but could not provide a two-fold superiority over M16. In addition, all swept ammunition has a common drawback – after the bullet a detachable container / pan flies out of the barrel, which poses a threat to its own soldiers who are in front of the shooter. Finally, the potential advantages of arrow-shaped bullets did not pay back the huge costs of their implementation.

As a result, the project ACR was curtailed, and the US military was already thinking about moving from experiments with high-precision bullets to small-caliber shells. The authors of the new program Objective weapon believed that the main means of destruction on the battlefield in the twenty-first century will be a small-caliber self-loading grenade launcher module with a wide range of “smart” ammunition. After all, the most high-precision bullet that flew in a couple of centimeters from the target will not harm it, and a grenade that exploded in a meter will hit it. Soon the company Heckler & Koch and Alliant Techsystems presented a joint development – the system XM29 OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon). This is a “hybrid” of a slightly modified rifle. G36, which was attached to the bottom of the self-loading 20-mm grenade launcher, arranged according to the bullpup scheme. A box store was equipped with 20 remote-controlled grenades. The whole complex was driven by a single trigger.

A separate module was a fire control system consisting of day and night sights, a laser range finder and a ballistic computer (it also determined the time of the grenade detonation).

The developers hoped that XM29 will be about five times more effective than a rifle M16 with grenade launcher M203. At the same time, the cost of one serial sample will not exceed 10 thousand dollars (for comparison, M16A2 It costs about 700 dollars), and the cost of a 20-millimeter grenade is 25 dollars.

Failed revolution

In the course of work on XM29 it became clear that the complex would not replace the traditional rifle – the weapon was too bulky and heavy, the shot was too expensive, and the ammunition was small. As a result, the Americans decided to separately refine the grenade launcher module, increasing its caliber to 25 millimeters. But before in the USA they stopped experimenting with Oicw, Chinese and South Koreans managed to acquire such systems – apparently, to keep up with the fashion trend.

Very unsuccessful projects of combined weapons have been developed in the last five to six years in Russia – the chief editor of the Kalashnikov magazine, Mikhail Degtyarev, told about this. For example, there was an attempt to create a modular design with a Dragunov sniper rifle and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Developed and 12.7-millimeter ammunition with a remote undermining, which would be carried out with the help of wires laid in the sleeve.

Experts formulate the interim result of the programs for creating the “rifle of the future”: a revolution in the industry is possible only with the advent of new methods of throwing projectile or fundamentally new methods of hitting the target. Simply put, when the beam “blaster” comes to replace the rifle. In the meantime, the main areas of work of designers will be the ergonomics and design of weapons, the creation of so-called modular and multi-caliber rifles (when a quick change of the barrel and bolt allows you to switch to another cartridge).

Aviation technology

The most promising trend in the “shooter” – the empowerment of existing systems through new materials and sighting systems. To, without changing the characteristics of the weapon itself, to increase the effectiveness of its use. This will allow to pull up relatively outdated systems to the modern level and expand the capabilities of modern ones.

For example, the Kalashnikov concern developed a special kit for upgrading AK-74 (improves the ergonomics of weapons, allows you to install modern sights, tactical lights, etc.), which, according to the company’s marketing director Vladimir Dmitriev, increases the efficiency of the use of the machine gun one and a half times. Today, the concern carries out a state order for the modernization of a part of the weapon that is in the warehouses of the Ministry of Defense.

But the introduction of “smart” electronic sighting systems promises a real revolution in the industry – similar technologies are now used in aviation. Combat aviation has already been a technology donor for the rifle industry. For example, collimator sights, which stood on fighters since the Second World War, and at the turn of the XX-XXI centuries began to be massively introduced into small arms. According to various estimates, such a sight increases the effectiveness of firing a half to two times. A “smart” sighting system will allow the average shooter to surpass an experienced sniper.

At the end of 2015, an American company Trackingpoint (works in the segment of hunting and sniper weapons) announced that her “smart rifle” defeated one of America’s best shooters, multiple champion of the National Rifle Association of the USA (NRA) Bruce Piatt. His opponent, the rifle operator Trackingpoint, was Taya Kyle (Taya Kyle), widow of Chris Kyle – one of the most respected snipers in the United States. The shooters competed in three classes of weapons: regular, high accuracy and sniper. Pyatt used M4A1, M110 and M2010 with optical sights and range finder. Kyle shot from various models Trackingpoint. Shooting was carried out from the sitting, lying, from the knees. Targets could move randomly, and the shooters created additional stressful conditions – fog, explosions. As a result, Bruce hit 58.6 percent of goals, Taya – 100 percent.

Complex Trackingpoint It consists of a completely traditional rifle and an aiming system, including a camera, a ballistic computer, a laser rangefinder, a set of sensors (environment, weapon position), a computer with Linux operating system, an interface unit and a display that displays images from a camera and information from a computer. The principle of the system is as follows: the shooter pulls the trigger and, according to the navigator’s prompts, accompanies the target, and the rifle itself chooses the most opportune moment for the shot.

While similar systems are extremely expensive (complex Trackingpoint costs an average of 10-15 thousand dollars) and are not reliable enough to be placed on military weapons. However, experts are confident that over time, “smart” sights will spread first to army sniper rifles, and then, perhaps, to mass samples.

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