By Marsh Gelbart
Various armies are spending a great deal of time and effort in an attempt to increase the effectiveness of the individual rifleman. Since the general demise of bolt action weapons and their replacement by the assault rifle, the lethality of the average rifleman has peaked. Long term measures to increase the killing power of the individual infantryman center around futuristic weapons. These are intended to combine the precision of a rifle caliber weapon, with the area effect of a rifle grenade. Several major armies are working along these lines; the most advanced project is the U. S Army’s Individual Combat Weapon. This new weapon – if it ever comes into service – will integrate the ability to fire a rifle caliber round and a 20 to 30 mm fragmentation round from the same weapon. As part of the 21st Century Land Warrior program, the U. S infantryman will have miniaturized thermal cameras and laser sights mounted on his weapon. In addition, sophisticated targeting displays will be attached to his helmet. A great deal of complex technology is required, in order to maximize the accuracy of the projected double-punch small arm. Hmmm! This author has no doubt that given the enormous resources available to the U. S military; the Individual Combat Weapon is feasible.
However, despite the U. S army’s lead in cutting edge technology, it will be several years until a glitch free version of the new advanced weapon will be ready for service. When it does arrive, it is likely to be prohibitively expensive. So what can lesser armies do in the interim, in order to improve the lethality of the average rifleman?
Some armies have adopted integral optical sights for their service rifle. The best known of these weapons are the Austrian Steyr AUG with its X1.4 sight, and the British SA80 with its X4 sight. There is no doubt that these relatively simple, robust, sights have improved marksmanship. The use of optical sights on battle rifles has its detractors. It has been pointed out that by using such a sight, a soldier disengages his peripheral vision and misses what is happening around him. Situational awareness – the ability to read the “big picture – suffers, and the soldier is at risk. Another problem with optical sights is that they tend to be positioned quite high on the weapon. A soldier peering through the optics has a raised silhouette and produces a tempting target.
A recent visit to the Israeli defence Forces, (IDF), demonstrated a different route to accuracy, one which doesn’t have any of the above disadvantages. The Israelis have fitted a tiny “head up” display, the same type of display as fitted to aircraft, on to their battle rifles. The sight is built by Elbit, and is known as the Falcon. The Falcon sight projects a brilliant red dot, not on to the target itself, but on to a miniature optical screen. Parallax is eliminated; the alignment of the soldier’s head and the perceived position of the red dot is not a problem. As long as the rifleman can see the red dot, and positions it on to the target, he will hit. The red dot is 1.3 mm in radius, the power to produce the dot comes from a lithium battery which lasts for 250 hours of intensive usage. Luminosity is automatically adjustable for a wide variety of conditions; Falcon performs well in low light conditions. The aiming dot is only visible to the rifleman, and it can not be detected by enemy night-sights. Falcon is easy to both fix and remove from a weapon, taking a matter of seconds, no machining is required to fit the sight. The sight is adjustable for windage and elevation and is simple to calibrate.
The Falcon has some distinct advantages over similar reflex, collimated sights. Its unique tubeless design, allows easier aiming with both eyes open, permitting superior situation awareness and swifter acquisition of targets. The sight can of course be used with one eye shut; often those soldiers previously trained on conventional sights can be seen using the Falcon in this manner. The Falcon does not interfere with a rifle’s standard sights; these can be used in an emergency. As the Falcon is fitted to the front end of the rifle, it is not necessary for a marksman to adopt a dangerously high firing signature when taking aim; unlike some optical sights.
The Falcon has been issued to front-line Israeli units. I witnessed its use by the Golani Brigade, the IDF’s premier infantry unit. I saw its use on both the muddy Golan Heights and in the dusty, abrasive environment of the Negev desert. The sight appears to be sturdy, reliable and soldier proof. It not only copes with the harsh surroundings, but with the accustomed response of Israeli infantry to tinker with and “improve” issued kit. The Golani Brigade is very keen on the Falcon. They refer to it as the Elbit – after the manufacturer – as it has led to a noticeable improvement in accuracy and thus killing power by the average rifleman. The manufacturers claim a threefold increase in accuracy with Falcon.
There has been one disadvantage of the Falcon’s introduction into service. Although the Falcon only weighs 300 g, the additional weight proved to be the last straw for the Galil. The Galil ARM weighs in at a substantial 4.35 kg without magazine, the M16A2 a mere 3.40 kg without magazine. The Falcon was designed to fit either the Galil or M16, but the Galil/Falcon combination was judged to be too heavy. This author believes the rugged Galil to be the better weapon. It has all the advantages of the Kalashnikov – and with improved ergonomics and accuracy – none of the drawbacks. However in an era where efforts are being made to cut the infantryman’s burden, there is no doubt that the M16 is easier to lug around under the hot sun of the Middle East. Another point in the M16A2’s favor is that it’s cheaper for the IDF to purchase the weapon on favorable terms from the U. S, than to produce the Galil domestically. Ultimately in all front-line infantry units, the Galil will be replaced by the M16A2/Falcon combination. In due time the Galil will be carried only by rear echelon troops and reservists. The major exception amongst combat arms will be the Armoured Corps. The Galil is a compact package when its stock is folded, and is ideal for use by the crews of armoured vehicles.
It is notable that in those units where the M16/Falcon has been adopted, officers, radiomen and other specialists, carry the Colt M4 (Model 720) carbine, as this weapon is handier than the M16A2. Issuing the carbine in such a manner may prove to be a mistake, as it identifies platoon leaders to enemy marksmen. Both the M16A2 and M4 are often seen with the M203 grenade launcher attached. As the accompanying photographs illustrate, Israeli infantry sections seem to have a liberal supply of M 203 grenade launchers. Firepower is enhanced by the issue of the occasional M21 – an M14 fitted with a sniper scope – and captured RPG 7s for extra punch.
It is unclear if the M16/Falcon combination will be the ultimate assault rifle issued to the IDF before the end of the millennium. There is a rumoured Israel Military Industries bullpup design, which incorporates an integral optical sight. The new weapon, emphasizes ergonomic design, matching the weapon to the user’s anatomy. The bullpup predates the similar South African CR 21 rifle produced by Vektor. Economic considerations will no doubt decide if the new weapon comes into service. For the foreseeable future, the IDF in the shape of the M16A2/Falcon combination, has a formidable alternative.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N6 (March 1999)