By Jason R. Gillis
This year’s Small Arms System Symposium and Firing Demonstration, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), was heated by more than just the Texas sun. The event, an international and joint services forum, saw a variety of topics related to small arms, often with opposing viewpoints. Participants ranged from the regular Defense Industry and Military Procurement personnel, a Senatorial aid, and even an Israeli Defense Forces officer fresh from an obscure Jerusalem base. What brought these small arms professionals to the Fairmont Hotel and Convention Center in Dallas is that the NDIA symposium is the one place to see relevant equipment, evaluate new products, and hear a multitude of professional presentations about the current status of the nation’s small arms industry. Many came to look to the horizon and gain a sense of future requirements, others came to stay informed on what their industry partners and the military services are doing, while others came simply to step back and observe what would come from the amalgamation of so many ideas.
The symposium objective was simple: bring together all aspects of the small arms community in order to bring the best small arms enhancements to the warfighter, whether it be “incremental enhancements to fielded legacy small arms systems to enabling technologies, such as fire control improvements, use of robotics, and digitization of small arms systems on the battlefield.” The major contention point, however, became the focus on defining the meaning and importance of the symposium objective and trying to sort out the relationship between incremental changes and leap ahead technology. This lead to some very interesting insight from every point of view imaginable as a simple guiding theme turned the 2008 NDIA event into a hotbed of debate that had some walking on eggshells from the event’s opening remarks.
The NDIA Small Arms Symposium historically has drawn many of the finest and most respected personalities in the defense community as speakers and this year was no different. The Honorable James R. Ambrose, former Under Secretary of the Army (October 1981-February 1988) was the keynote speaker following the initial opening announcements. Seasoned with experience and flavored with modest humor, Ambrose commented on his personal experiences as Under Secretary during the turbulent Cold War years of President Reagan’s administration. While touching on the relevancy of the past and the importance of communication between the military and industry, Under Secretary Ambrose preempted the week’s forum with a tremendous thought: the Soldiers on the ground are a wealth of operational knowledge to keep in consideration when planning, a point that would surface again and again. Under Secretary Ambrose himself specifically mentioned the professionalism and skill of the Army’s NCO Corps and made it clear that despite some of the thinking he encountered in some during his time in office, the Soldier is more than a “pack animal.” As he left the stage he was saluted with a standing ovation.
Following the Under Secretary’s words was a brief but potent address by Mr. Bryan O’Leary, Legislative Assistant for Military Affairs representing the office of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). Senator Coburn has become a common name in the small arms community after becoming an aggressive advocate for open competition among carbine manufacturers. Sen. Coburn’s office has often expressed concerns that United States service men and women may not be armed with the best available individual weapon. Though there are varied interpretations of test data and questions of relevancy, especially from the Army, Mr. O’Leary assured the industry and military attendees that in a competition, “We don’t care who wins.” referring to Senator Coburn and his staff. “In the end the taxpayers are going to win and the Soldiers are going to win and they are going to be carrying the best weapon you can produce.” Mr. O’ Leary further elaborated that the issue of small arms is largely neglected by Congress because of a variety of factors including constituency concerns and small unit price. O’Leary’s opening remarks brought the spotlight on an issue that would linger peripherally around the symposium hall for the duration of the event.
The Vision of the Services
At the beginning of the first session, the Joint Services Small Arms Synchronization Team (JSSAST) took the podium consisting of a chief representative from the four branches of service as well as the Coast Guard. Each member of the panel took an opportunity to address industry and military personnel on the current status of small arms programs and the future of vision of their organization. Col. Robert Radcliffe, representing the U.S. Army Infantry Center (USAIC) kicked things off with the longest portion of the session.
Col. Radcliffe quickly enforced the Army’s position on the current M4 carbine calling it, in his view, “a world class weapon” and suggested the Army may be contemplating “pure fleeting” the carbine to replace M16 variants currently in circulation. Citing post combat surveys that show soldier satisfaction with the M4, Col. Radcliffe focused most of his time explaining how the Infantry Center develops combat requirements for small arms using a five point method of assessment known as “Soldier as a System” (SAS) that addresses the soldier, training, weapon, optic, and ammunition as an entire package. As presented, the USAIC has, and continues to be, heavily focused on training, optics, and ammunition as substantial combat multipliers and Col. Radcliffe stated that of the five factors applied in SAS, their findings suggest the weapon is the least important at this time.
The USAIC presentation emphasized the combatant demand for heavy and general purpose machine guns identifying the renowned M2 .50 cal. and M240B as the two weapons topping the charts with Soldiers in post combat surveys. The demand for such weapon systems has lead to further developments including the M2 Enhanced Gun and the XM312 Lightweight .50. Both weapons were developed to address long identified issues with the M2 such as the need to set headspace and timing after barrel changes and hefty weight when dismounted. While the M2 Enhanced offers the M2 package with a quick change barrel and fixed headspace and timing, the XM312 is of particular interest, especially to light infantry and small team units. With a system weight of 53 pounds including the full ground mount system, half of the comparable configuration weight for the M2, the XM312 has the potential to add a whole new level of lethal capability to the dismounted warfighter.
Col. Radcliffe put substantial emphasis on precision fire capability and capability gaps. One focal point is a Squad Designated Marksman (SDM) rifle that is a “carbine look-a-like.” The premise is that an SDM rifle that mimics that standard carbine will not draw attention to the DM who, despite his roll as a marksman capable of precision well aimed fire, is still primarily an Infantry Rifleman. Currently the Army fields a hodge-podge of different solutions for the SDM that vary from unit to unit and are mostly based on the M14 and a few Army Marksmanship Unit built 5.56mm weapons. The M14 EBR, selected for accuracy and modified with a sage stock, is currently being fielded to fulfill the SDM capability and may bring some standardization across the service. When coupled with a good optic and proper training, the EBR is quite accurate at range but ergonomically challenging in close quarters.
The brief further addressed the M110 SASS (Semi Automatic Sniper System); a 7.62mm self-loading sniper rifle based on the Knight’s Armament SR-25, and identified it as an example of successful Army small arms fielding. The M110 is currently being fielded to augment and possibly fully replace the venerable M24 bolt action sniper systems currently filling most sniper roles in the Army. According to LTC (USMC ret) David Lutz of Knight’s Armament, the M110 recently performed well in a random lot sample test in which over 5,000 rounds were fired without a failure. A sniper capability gap was also identified demanding the requirement for a longer range anti-personnel sniper weapon out to 1,500 meters. Radcliffe also refined the requirement for a “sub compact” weapon system emphasizing an effective range of 150m-200m from a 5.56mm NATO platform.
Following the Army was the USMC’s LTC Tracy Tafolla who gave a focused no nonsense look at what Marine Corps Systems Command has in sight for the future. Among the more interesting goals, the Marines will be gathering a consensus of opinion on a possible replacement rifle caliber, a talking point that had many heads turning during the brief. The USMC has also been working towards completion of a sniper rifle document for a weapon system that has a 1,500-1,800 meter anti-personnel capability. LTC Tafolla also gave a detailed brief on the highly successful Marine Corps 60mm and 81mm mortar upgrades that have utilized state of the art materials and technology to cut system weights by nearly one third while maintaining previous capabilities at a lower cost. In the realm of heavy weapons in the light infantry, ounces make pounds, and mortar men across the Marine Corps are benefiting greatly from what would seem a trivial engineering improvement to those outside of the infantry community, but prized within.
Surprising many was the vigor seen in the US Air Force (USAF) as the current search for a new Modular Handgun System was detailed. Colonel Charles Beck explained that despite the Army being the overall executive agent, the Air Force is providing the requirement characteristics that will capitalize on emerging technologies in order to provide a weapon that will “ensure the combat needs of all USAF users.” Some of the more interesting features in the Air Force requirement are mandates that include a larger wound channel than produced using M882 (9mm NATO) from an FMJ non-expanding ball round, interchangeable modular hand grips, incorporated M1913 rails, external safety controls on the receiver, and a minimum service life of 25,000 rounds. One more unique note on the USAF weapon was that it must be a commercially available off the shelf item and not a start-from-scratch internal development program leaving the possibilities broad. One thing is for sure, the current service pistol does not make the cut lacking several key features listed in the requirement document. At 100,600 weapons, it is no small order and certainly has the eye of numerous manufacturers. The full solicitation can be found at www.fbo.gov.
Other JSSAST presenters included Capt. Pat Sullivan of the Navy, Capt Scott Genovese of the Coast Guard, and Mr. Kevin Swenson of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD). Mostly, these briefs followed ground work previously laid in the past and did not shine light on any major new developments. Of interest however was an update on the Coast Guard Transition from the M9 Beretta 9mm to SIGARMS P229R-DAK in .40 caliber. The Coast Guard projects full transition to the SIG by 2010. The Coast Guard is making other incremental changes as well to include adoption of the Barrett M107 semiautomatic .50 cal. rifle with a shortened barrel to replace the Robar RC50 Bolt Action; transition from the aged M60 machine Gun to the M240, and introducing the M14T to the inventory in support of the airborne use of force role. Despite the significant change in the Coast Guard line up, the USCG has no plans to replace the current issue service rifle/carbine.
The JSSAST session set the tone for the rest of the symposium. It was not difficult when exploring the exhibition floor to see the results of industry’s response to the services needs. Many of the items briefed by the JSSAST were present in various forms in the vendor booths, even recently identified requirements. Many other indicators of industry’s ability to respond to the needs of the warfighter could be seen by the many fine examples of currently fielded incrementally improved equipment. The theme of the conference transitioned well into the exhibition hall and demonstration range as if it had been meticulously scripted.
A Break for Awards
Every year’s symposium has a special time when men and women of the international defense community are recognized for substantial contributions above and beyond the call of duty. This year’s awards, the Hathcock and Chinn, were presented by NDIA to well deserving recipients FBI Special Agent Buford Boone and Mr. Troy Smith of the Navy’s Crane Special Warfare Center. They joined a long list of notable recipients over the years including C. Reed Knight (Chinn 96), L. James Sullivan (Chinn 01), Larry Vickers (Hathcock 03), and USA MSG Steve Holland (Hathcock 04). The pool of professionals in the small arms community that exemplify selfless service and achievement is not a small one and the recipients are selected only after a nomination and voting process by the NDIA Small Arms Division Executive Board. The board assesses the character and contributions of all nominees before arriving at what is some times a difficult decision.
The Hathcock award is named after USMC Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, the famed sniper and respected trainer. The award that bears his name recognizes an individual who “has made significant contributions in operational employment and tactics of small arms weapons systems which have impacted the readiness and capabilities of the U.S. Military or Law Enforcement.” Special Agent Boone undoubtedly meets the criteria with countless man-hours dedicated to ballistic analysis at the FBI Ballistics Lab at Quantico, VA. Fruit of SA Boone’s work go well beyond Federal Law Enforcement and has impacted both the Armed Forces and local law enforcement communities by influencing improvements in body armor and ammunition performance.
The Chinn award, named after LTC (USMC) George Chinn, noted for his passion for machine guns, is presented to an individual that “has made significant contributions to the field of small arms and/or infantry weapons systems.” This year’s award was received by Mr. Troy Smith, SOF Weapons Program Manager for US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Mr. Smith has played a major role in fielding notable weapons to the Special Warfare community in a timely manner and often in response to unique needs. Weapons and accessories like the MK46 and MK48 machine guns, the SCAR series, and the well used SOPMOD system for the M4 carbine have all been directly associated with his efforts. It is certain that much of what the special operations and conventional operators rely upon today have been influenced by Mr. Smith whether it is the newest SF carbine or some real estate for the line grunt to hang his sure-fire on.
Also presented was the Ambrose Award, which recognized St. Marks Powder in the small arms community for their industrial excellence, and is annually given to an industrial firm that stands out in contributions to the defense community. The Ambrose Award recipient is selected in a similar manner as the individual awards and considers areas such as technology development, delivery of superior material, enhancement of production capabilities, and innovative weapons integration and concepts. St. Marks in particular has been a major contributor when meeting the demand for various propellants demanded in the Global War on Terror.
Face to Face on the Vendor Floor
The convention center ball room at the Fairmont was filled with display boards and hardware as the site of the vendor exhibition booths. After only a few minutes any new spectator would find that this is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of SHOT Show. The vendors at NDIA are faced with a well informed and experienced group from all over the international small arms community. The relatively small size when compared to larger events makes NDIA the ideal place to engage in prolonged networking and fact finding about products, and many of the vendor representatives coming from a military background themselves, communicate fluidly – professionalism at its best.
As with any show, the new products get the most attention, and certainly getting its share of it was the new prototype Masood 7.62mm rifle developed by Magpul, Industries. Similar in appearance to the company’s Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR), the Masood was built with functionality first and foremost in mind. “We were trying to make a rifle to fit the purpose,” explained Magpul’s Drake Clark, “and not be linked to interchangeable parts.” This development concept means that the interchangeability between the Masood and its 5.56mm little brother may not be as prevalent as with similar weapon families, but allows for the weapon to be designed from the ground up for optimum performance. Currently, the Masood is in preliminary development and only time will tell where Magpul will take their 7.62 rifle. The first range reports from Magpul representatives suggest the Masood is a performer, and a very early stage concept for a M1913 tri-rail has been discussed as an addition to the design. As for the ACR, current projections for commercial availability are not until first quarter of 2009. Mr. Clark enthusiastically commented on the wait: “We want it to be right the first time, even if it means delaying production a couple of months.”
Another 7.62 NATO system on the floor fit very well into the USAIC vision for a carbine look-a-like designated marksman rifle. Based on the SR-25 design and built with ninety percent interchangeability with the Army’s new M110 SASS sniper rifle was the Knight’s Armament M-110 Squad Designated Marksman (SDM) Rifle. The weapon features an M4 type collapsible stock and an 18 inch barrel making it ergonomically fit for general use, yet with its free float quad M1913 rail, 7.62mm projectile, and ability to mate with the M110 suppressor suite, the SDM rifle is fully capable of filling the gap as a precision fire weapon. David Lutz of Knight’s Armament was enthusiastic about the project, especially in light of an aforementioned requirement.
With precision fire and bigger bullets featuring so prominently on the showroom floor it was easy to find a company with their eyes set on the capability for a long range anti-personnel system. Ashbury International Group, Inc. is poised to contend with their impressive precision rifle suite. The Asymmetric Warrior, the SXL-A2 being the latest of their unique rifle and component line, incorporates state of the art materials and operator input into a rigid and usable platform. Ashbury representative Richard Hall discussed the features of Asymmetric Warrior line citing an average weight of 18.5 pounds per system and consistent 1/2 MOA accuracy with top quality match ammunition. The Ashbury weapons utilize a proprietary chamber designed for the .338 LAPUA cartridge giving the Asymmetric Warrior a potent long distance capability in a small package similar in size to most 7.62 systems. Ashbury also produces a chassis system to upgrade weapons built on the Remington 700 Long Action.
On the modern battlefield, no weapon system seems complete without optical and laser devices that enhance the user’s lethality. Looking past the realm of their famous Comp series military sights and the small compact package of their new micro, Aimpoint unveiled a new and unusual optic that focuses on the often neglected realm of 40mm launcher fired grenades and other area weapons. Known as the BR-8 Self Contained Laser Range Finder System, Aimpoint President Mr. Lennart Ljungfelt exhibited the prototype during a personal demonstration. The optic is designed to be mounted on the standard M1913 rail, and as the name describes, features an internal laser rangefinder. The BR-8 projects the common Aimpoint red dot for rifle and can range targets at the push of a button. The sight then projects a second flashing dot as the aiming aide for the secondary weapon, in this case the M203. The more unusual feature of this system in the side viewed display as opposed to the typical top view, which was necessary to achieve a field of view that exploits the system’s enhanced aiming capabilities when mounted on a standard carbine platform. Other characteristics of the BR-8 include a rechargeable battery as well as the ability to program the system with other ballistic data like that of the 84mm Carl Gustaf. As the BR-8 is still a prototype there was still much left unsaid, but when asked when to expect the system to come to complete fruition Mr. Ljungfelt wasted no time replying, “I believe in doing things fast. It’s crucial that a product make you more dangerous to the enemy.”
Also notable from Aimpoint, though not so new, is the System-of-Systems, or SoS. This modular system incorporates mounting attachments for the PVS-14 Night Vision Monocular, Aimpoint 3x magnifier, and the Concealed Engagement Unit (CEU), into one quickly interchangeable package incorporated with the standard Aimpoint reflex sight. Using a simple male and female portioned twist-to-lock bracket an operator has the ability to switch between night vision, precision fire, and shooting around corners while concealed in a matter of seconds. Taking a more primitive and lighter approach to the hi-tech bulk of Land Warrior, and requiring no extra batteries, the System-of-Systems is a not so difficult solution to quickly optimizing one’s platform for the conditions at hand; an example of incremental improvement to an existing capability.
Many other eye catchers that represented incremental change were on display, including the XM307 and M2 Enhanced .50 from General Dynamics as well as FN’s light weight M240E6 and the now well known SCAR series. The Army’s developmental LSAT machine gun from AAI, Smith & Wesson’s new mid size .45 caliber M&P pistol, and the newly released 7.62mm C-MAG designed for use with M14/M1A or AR-10 platforms also merit mention. One thing is clear to the attendee: the commercial side of the Defense Small Arms community is ready and capable of producing high quality products to meet the demand of ever changing missions.
At the Range
The NDIA Firepower demonstration gives vendors and attendees alike a chance to put lead on steel and this year the firing line was full. Nearly a two hour drive from Dallas, the Tac Pro Shooting Center proved to be an excellent facility and its proprietor Mr. Bill Davison an animated and appropriate host. Mr. Sal Fanelli of the USMC was the mastermind for the 2008 demonstration and graciously imparted his time as OIC for the duration. Also praise worthy was the donation of nearly 35,000 rounds of small arms ammunition by ATK systems, which insured more than enough for vendors to keep hungry weapons from running dry. Already aware of the products available, attendees selected vendors and the shooting began. Safety was paramount: marking tape and vigilant RSOs, as well as keen participants kept the demonstration running smooth.
Of the nearly thirty vendors some were familiar favorites like Colt with their M4 carbine, while others like Command Action Arms (CAA) with their line of AR type weapons and accessories are fairly new to the spotlight. Attention getters this year included a hefty interest in Fabrique Nationale with the MK16 (SCAR-L) and MK17 (SCAR-H), Milkor USA’s rotary 40mm grenade launcher (firing training ammunition at the demonstration), and Talley Defense Systems’ upgraded M72 training launcher that accurately portrays the concussion, noise, and back-blast of the real thing while sending a training round down range.
Drake Clark and Nick Booras of Magpul Industries took the opportunity to run an unofficial test on the P-MAG incorporated with the M249 SAW. Over 5,000 rounds were fired with zero failures to feed and only one misfire (literally a primer failed to detonate when struck). The Polymer magazine held up well and showed no signs of succumbing to hard use and heat, which is quite impressive on a belt fed weapon not renowned for its reliability feeding from magazines. Certainly this kind of unofficial test is not empirical data, but it is an interesting gauge of the product’s performance.
In the optics arena, NVS Systems with their Medium Thermal Weapons Sight (MTWS), modeled on the Army’s AN/PAS-13D MWTS, saw heavy use. The sights replicate the systems currently replacing the bulky and cumbersome PAS-13B in Army BCTs and provide a marked ergonomic advantage due to their compact size. The medium weight model was utilized mounted on a 7.62mm MK48 machine gun throughout the demonstration and never missed a beat. The simple push pad on top of the sight simplifies operations that were difficult with the previous PAS-13Bs and allows a soldier to switch from white to black hot, adjust contrast, and change aiming reticles all from a centralized location on the device. Battery size is also nearly half of the original PAS-13B system with an improved life span. With an all-weather day and night aiming ability, the MTWS is a valuable battlefield asset whether used for engagement or observation and a shining example of incremental improvement when compared to its predecessors of only a few short years ago.
After the demonstration was well underway, some observers would have noted a mysterious white van and the large metal container it delivered surrounded by franticly busy representatives from Israel Weapons Industry. As soon as a break in firing occurred, the containers imprisoned contents found its way to the firing line despite a delay at U.S. customs. The Negev and Tavor had arrived at the range. The low recoil and innovative Negev was a show stealer attracting attendees from across the range that were drawn to the first few sustained one hundred round burst fired by an ambitious Israeli operator. Easily maintained on target even from the shoulder the open bolt, select-fire Negev produces a distinctive report reminiscent of an MG42. Complimented by IWI’s TA21 Tavor and MicroTavor Bullpup assault rifles which were both handy and accurate, the Israeli contingent featured an impressive suite.
The Professional Paper Presentations
Possibly the biggest draw to the NDIA Small Arms Symposium is the variety of professional papers delivered during the forum sessions. Besides the aforementioned JSSAST update, this year’s event saw industry professionals from the military and commercial side of the house deliver a salvo of topical briefs highlighting emerging technology in arms and ammunition, critical analysis of the testing and acquisition process, and statuses of current programs. Topics ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other and had relevant information for developer and user alike. The push for both leap ahead and incremental technology gains was clearly demonstrated with presentations like “ JSSAP’s Future Technology Plan: The Fusion of Science and Science Fiction,” which touched the outer fringes of sci-fi writers in order to glean information for weapons programs contrasted others like “Time for a Change: U.S. Incremental Small Arms Fielding-Failures and Solutions.” The latter supports rapid fielding of currently available superior small arms technology while the question of where military small arms acquisition is and should head lingered as an underlying issue throughout the sessions. Comments and PowerPoint bullets drew both eerie silence and fiery criticism depending on how they addressed any relevance to the ad hoc main issue, most often put into context by the now infamous carbine controversy.
The debate stirred high emotions for some during a brief by Col. Walter Mattes, USAF, of the Comparative Testing Office, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, after commentary during his brief suggested merit in the idea of a comparative small arms testing. With references to the SCAR program, Col. Mattes’ comments proved the high water mark drawing a passionate response from MG (ret) James Battaglini of Colt Defense LLC, maker of the M4 carbine. Battaglini’s comments addressed several parties in the current debate and stated that results from a recent Aberdeen Proving Ground Extreme Sand and Dust Test had been spun by what he called, “those that have an agenda.” MG (ret) Battaglini also offered criticism towards The Army Times newspaper, which has covered the debate extensively in the past 18 months and preemptively addressed the “Time for a Change” brief by Mr. Jim Schatz and Dr. Gary Roberts scheduled for later in the day. Battaglini has been vocal in his concerns that the current issue carbine be accurately represented and previously detailed his opinions in an editorial featured in The Army Times. Despite the sharp words, Col Mattes held to his previous convictions before the crowd.
Another sticking point related to the big debate was Mr. Schatz’s previously mentioned “Time for a Change” paper. Extensive in its composition, and touted by the author as his personal educated opinion, the paper meticulously documented the historical timeline of failures to field superior small arms by the United States from the period of the American Revolution until the present. Going further, he elaborated on the current status of U.S. small arms acquisition and noted the similarities to historical failures while pointing out the underlying issues are not related to a specific vendor or weapon type. Using the example of the brewing carbine debate and citing three Sand and Dust Tests conducted by the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground as well as the 2006 CNAC study “Soldier Perspectives on Small Arms”, Mr. Schatz made his case that as a military and nation we are at a critical juncture where superior small arms exist that the United States has not adopted for conventional units despite other countries and Special Operations Forces fielding the incremental improvements available and that this is a repeating trend in our nation’s small arms history. He finished by offering solutions to the audience while encouraging listeners to actively fix the “system dysfunction” that he believes hinders supplying superior weapons to the end user.
Dr. Gary Roberts DDS, using DoD/DoT ballistic studies in which he was personally involved, presented a joint session as part of “Time for a Change” relaying data about the debate between intermediate calibers such as 6.8mm SPC and 5.56mm NATO. Dr. Roberts left little doubt that he believed 6.8mm SPC offers the warfighter significant advantages and presented a slew of graphs, data, and photos from ballistic gelatin testing. Mr. Roberts also criticized the ammunition restrictions of the Hague convention while highlighting the ability of modern ammunition types to make soldiers more effective while contributing more to the overall humane objective of the Hague convention than standard ball ammunition does.
Regardless of the outcome of future events it is certain that the carbine debate is simply a picture of a larger discussion about the way the industry functions both on the military and commercial side. Despite being an emotional topic for some, there is no doubt the presentation accomplished the end of stimulating more interest in the issue. To this day, the topic remains one that inspires many otherwise bashful people to state strong and confident opinions. Only time will tell what the next development will be. At the moment, the ball is in both courts.
Despite the over shadowing carbine controversy, other papers had a large impact, but probably none so much as LTC Michael Hartman’s presentation on the development of the Negev light machine. LTC Hartman gave a dirty boot presentation in true infantry soldier fashion. As a former NCO turned officer, Hartman’s background is steeped in experience as a member of the Israel Defense Force’s Givati Infantry Brigade. In regards to the Negev, Hartman illustrated the features of the weapon and the combat demands that inspired them noting it was only developed after extensive comparative testing of available LMG’s to include the Minimi. This development approach lead to the weapon’s prominent features including a low profile feed tray cover half the length of the M249, which allows a soldier to stay more covered and concealed while utilizing the weapon, a selector switch enabling semiautomatic fire inspired by unique Israeli small unit tactics, and a high but controllable cyclic rate empowering Negev gunners to advance through near ambush scenarios. Other features of the Negev include a left folding stock for vehicle use, a built-in diagonal mounted assault handle providing troops a second control point, rifle grenade compatibility, ability to fire less-than-lethal ammunition, a quick change barrel, an adjustable gas regulator, and an internal safety that prevents the bolt from closing from any position other than fully cocked. After the presentation LTC Hartman took the time to elaborate further in a one-on-one discussion explaining that part of the goal in the Negev’s development was to create a durable, light, and effective LMG that can also serve in the assault rifle role if need be. Emphasis was given to ease of use and maintenance for the operator while making the weapon light, short, and reliable.
Hartman followed the Negev brief with yet another unique weapon, the Israel Weapons Industry (IWI) MicroTavor, Israel’s latest assault rifle configuration. With the standard Tavor-21 assault rifle already replacing Israel’s mixed fleet of M16 and M4 type weapons, the MicroTavor is a smaller, more ergonomically friendly version of the current Tavor design. The Tavor captured the interest of the crowd particularly because of the relevance of a combat proven army replacing their current systems with a new long stroke gas piston Bullpup design. During his brief, LTC Hartman explained, “We love the M4, our country would not exist with out it.” but noted the weapon was a stop gap measure until the IDF and Israeli industry could produce a weapon specific to the nation’s needs. Hartman emphasized smaller and lighter has become the focus of the IDF infantry which often fights in confined battle spaces. “There are no more long weapons in Israel, we take the old M16s and make them into short weapons.” he added. The Tavor and MicroTavor are only three quarters the length of the M16 and M4 comparatively yet maintain nearly equal barrel lengths. Hartman also cited increasing stoppages with the older weapons in the inventory as an indicator it was time for a replacement.
A rapid departure from the conventional platform, the IDF integrates the Tavor Bullpup on the initial training level to recruits. This method has born fruit as it avoids building habits that must be changed when switching from a conventional platform to a Bullpup. LTC Hartman noted that the change over to the Tavor has proceeded smoothly and, once retrained, soldiers and commanders alike praise the weapon and its performance. The MicroTavor itself was developed for specialized use and can be converted from the standard 5.56mm configuration into a 9mm select-fire submachine gun. A true modular system, the Tavor incorporates the optics mounting platform integrated with the barrel as a one-piece unit assuring zero retention when devices are remounted. Israel Weapons Industry (IWI) sought to address the commonly known faults with Bullpup designs by producing a weapon that takes minutes to change from left and right hand configuration and incorporating a thumb actuated ambidextrous bolt catch just behind the magazine well combining magazine changes and rechambering the weapon into one smooth motion. The MicroTavor even incorporates a feature most American users would immediately appreciate: a magazine release button operable by the firing hand while holding the weapon, which when paired with the location of the MicroTavor selector, give the weapon’s ergonomics a familiar M16 feel. Over all, the Israeli small arms upgrade seems to be a fine example of soldier inspired incremental improvements while the tiny nation of Israel is fielding one of the most modern and mission relevant squad level small arms fleets in the world.
It should be noted that the staff of NDIA small arms did a fantastic job preparing and providing support to the briefing. Other presentations were delivered throughout the duration of the symposium besides those mentioned here, far too many to address, especially with any detail. A full listing of presentations and their associated visual aids can be found on-line at NDIA’s website. It is important when planning for this event to utilize the NDIA supplied program to manage your time. Between time on the exhibition floor with the vendors, the firepower demonstration, and professional papers, there is little room for anything else.
At the end of the week, as participants headed home, there was a sense that high intensity topics at this years Small Arms Symposium had turned up as many new questions as they had new answers. Spawning dialogue is exactly what this forum is about. It’s unquestionable that this event is influential in molding the nation’s small arms vision and provides the basis for coordinating military and commercial assets to achieve the most important goal as stated on the 2008 symposium program, “Enhancing Small Arms Effectiveness in Current and Future Operations.” It is interesting to see the “system” in action and the many committed people, both military and civilian, both developer and operator, all united for the common interest of giving the dirty boot warfighter what he needs to do the job of defending freedom across the globe.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V12N1 (October 2008)|