By Robert Bruce
“Today’s soldiers are equipped with the best weapons that industry has to offer, resulting in decisive overmatch capability through increased lethality and range, as well as decreased weight.” PEO Soldier
Program Executive Officer Soldier was created by the Army in 2002 with the primary purpose of developing the best equipment and then fielding it as quickly as possible. Prominent among these are the best protective clothing, the best communications systems and the finest individual and crew served weaponry. Equipped and armed on the cutting edge of technology, the American fighter will remain second to none in missions that span the full spectrum of military operations.
PEO Soldier oversees several specialized Program Manager (PM) groups, most notably PM Soldier Warrior, PM Soldier Equipment, and PM Soldier Weapons, the focus of this report.
PM Soldier Weapons supports soldiers through the development, production and procurement of future and current weapons systems, ammunition and associated target acquisition/fire control products. Two Product Managers drive this mission – one each for Individual Weapons and Crew Served Weapons.
These offices have been turning out plenty of good stuff for the good guys and some notable items have recently been profiled in depth for SAR’s readers. Status reports on Knight’s Armament’s 7.62mm XM110 Semiautomatic Sniper System and C-More’s 12 gauge XM26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System have provided exciting previews of weapons planned for fielding in the near future.
Unfortunately, the good news about these and other combat multipliers doesn’t seem to be getting out to the American public and to others worldwide. So the Army decided it was time to call in some reporters and put on a show.
Nearly a dozen media representatives were treated to exciting live fire demonstrations of six systems, plus the opportunity to speak directly with program officials and then a chance to personally send some metal downrange.
Colonel Carl Lipsit, PM Soldier Weapons, introduced key officers of his staff, who provided introductory briefings on the role and capability of each weapon, setting the stage for the live fire portion of the event.
CROWS on the Fly
Instead of sticking your head out the top of a vehicle to shoot its heavy armament, why not sit comfortably inside and do the job with a video screen, joystick and all weather sensors? That’s just what the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS) does for Hummvee gun trucks and other vehicles on patrol and in convoys.
Designed to mount on a variety of vehicle platforms, CROWS supports the 40mm MK19 and MK46 grenade chunkers as well as belt fed machine guns from 5.56mm to .50 caliber. Cradling and moving the weapon on a three-axis stabilized mount that also carries the ultra-sophisticated sensor suite, it allows on-the-move target detection and first burst hits at extreme range.
A daytime video camera, thermal imaging camera, laser rangefinder, and programmable ballistic computer combine to give gunners super powers in all weather conditions day and night.
Safety restrictions limited the CROWS demonstration at Aberdeen to short runs downrange and engagement on the move of marker panels on each side of the road. But this didn’t diminish the impressive sight and sound of the Hummvee’s .50 M2HB swinging around and locking down on its targets, punching thumb sized holes with burst after burst.
A “victory run” followed, with an unloaded and cleared weapon station spinning 360 degrees in each direction while elevating and dropping the muzzle with uncanny smoothness and stability. Little imagination is required to understand how this capability translates to fast and accurate fire as a speeding vehicle moves through an urban ambush or a rural firefight.
.50 Caliber Sniping
The .50 caliber M107 Semiautomatic Long Range Sniper Rifle has been in service for several years now, but its awesome launch signature with extreme reach and target penetration commanded a place on the stage at Aberdeen. Cover your ears tightly, open your mouth to equalize overpressure, and stand way back when Sergeant Nathaniel Cianno cuts loose with this shoulder cannon.
Independently developed by Barrett Rifles and quickly finding favor in various special operations units, it is now proudly serving throughout the US Army as an anti-materiel/counter sniper, precision engagement weapon.
The weapon’s standard issue variable power Leupold day scope was mounted on top for the demonstration, allowing highly accurate shooting out to 2,000 meters. Optional thermal or image intensifier night scopes give the sniper dominance over hundreds of meters of the battlefield in low light situations.
Semiautomatic operation allows fast follow-up shots when needed and detachable 10-round box magazines facilitate switching ammo types for efficient neutralization of different types of targets.
7.62mm Semiauto Sniping
It has taken the Army several years to get around to fielding a modern semiautomatic rifle that is chambered for the efficient .308 caliber/7.62mm NATO standard rifle and machine gun cartridge.
Responding to the tactical realities of multiple targets at long range that have arisen in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the first response was to pull Vietnam War era M14 rifles out of storage. Meanwhile, special operations units were having much better success with MK11 semiautomatic sniper rifles from Knight’s Armament.
PM Soldier Weapons got the message and sponsored further development of the MK11, resulting in the new M110 Semiautomatic Sniper System (SASS). Similar in configuration and operation to the M16 family of rifles, these fast-firing, hardy and highly accurate new 7.62mm rifles are used for anti-personnel and light anti-materiel applications out to 800 meters.
The apparent decision by Major Mark Meeker, Assistant Product Manager for Soldier Weapons, to demonstrate this weapon with its sausage-like sound and flash suppressor in place proved to be highly impressive. It reduced the perceived firing noise to levels easily tolerable without hearing protection when Sergeant First Class Reginald Freeman started firing. This quick mount standard accessory, we were told, helps to hide the sniper from enemy detection day and night.
Long runs of Mil-Std 1913 rails on top, sides and underneath allow attachment of various day and night scopes, laser aiming devices, and other accessories in any number of combinations. Detachable box magazines loaded with different types of cartridges may be instantly swapped to suit specialized targets.
Venerable 12 gauge pump action shotguns, unchanged in form and function for more than a century, are still in Army service for urban combat use by “breachers” who specialize in blowing locks off doors and clearing the rooms behind them. This will soon change, M26 Product Manager Thomas Vass told reporters, with fielding of the new M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System (MASS).
“Modular” means that it is equally at home clamped under an M4 carbine or rigged as a stand-alone weapon with a special buttstock. Its straight pull bolt contributes to high reliability under all conditions and allows fast manual cycling of the action after each shot. It handily feeds and fires any variety of 12 gauge cartridge, so it is well suited for use with less-lethal riot control loads. A detachable polymer box magazine means fast reloads and flexibility in ammo type.
Sergeant First Class William Kone showed how light and handy the new scattergun is by firing both underslung and stand alone versions of the M26.
A Better “Bloop Tube”
40mm grenade launchers, nicknamed “bloop tubes” for their distinctive noise on firing, were introduced in the Vietnam War and the Army’s current M203 dates back to the latter years of that conflict. Clamped underneath an M16 rifle or M4 carbine, this single shot weapon is slow to reload and unable to handle the newest long case munitions.
Many 203s are slated for replacement soon by another single shooter, but one with more efficient side loading, a double action trigger and integral day/night sighting system. This is the M320 Grenade Launcher Module, independently developed by the German firm of Heckler & Koch and further refined in a PM Soldier Weapons program.
The M320 will also ride nicely under M16s and M4s, but can also be configured as a stand-alone weapon with a skeletonized buttstock. The weapon’s integral electronic day/night sighting system, developed by Insight Technology, has a backup ladder sight and is located on the side of the launcher to avoid interference with the host weapon’s sights.
The Aberdeen demonstration was done only with the stand alone version, but Sergeant First Class James Edington proved to be quite proficient with this handy little rig.
The 5.56mm belt fed M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) has also been around for quite awhile, providing infantry squads with high volume firepower at close to medium range. This Belgian designed gun, now made in the US by FN Manufacturing, is relatively light and acceptably reliable when properly maintained.
Plenty of 249s are in the thick of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and many of the GIs who carry them have asked for some modifications to increase combat efficiency. A length of Mil-Std 1913 rail is now standard atop the SAW’s receiver, allowing attachment of a variety of day and night sights. This point was emphasized by designated gunner Staff Sergeant Eric Hines, who showed how the demonstration 249 could be quickly fitted with either a 4 power ACOG or a zero magnification M68 red dot sight.
He also pointed out that PM Soldier Weapons has fielded several new accessories including a short barrel, improved bipod, beefy M4 style telescoping buttstock, and a soft side 200 round magazine.
With the puzzling omission of the soft pouch, these weapon enhancements were readily apparent and appreciated during the live fire that followed. Hines, aided by an electronic red dot M68 Close Combat Optic (Aimpoint Comp M) clamped on top, hammered belt after belt downrange, ruthlessly knocking down sets of silhouettes at various ranges.
CROWS Technical Specifications
Weapons capability: 40mm to 5.56mm
Traverse: Continuous 360 degrees
Elevation: -20 to +60 degrees
Fire control: Three axis vector stabilization with auto tracker, auto lead and auto scan
Weight: 305 pounds w/o weapon and ammunition
Status: Operational now
M107 Technical Specifications
Caliber: .50 caliber BMG cartridge
Operation: Short recoil operated, semiautomatic
Weight: 35 pounds combat ready
Length: 57 inches
Status: Operational now
M110 Technical Specifications
Caliber: 7.62mm NATO (.308 caliber)
Operation: Direct gas operated, semiautomatic
Weight: 17.3 pounds combat ready
Length: 46.5 inches with suppressor in place
Status: Initial fielding has begun
M26 Technical Specifications
Caliber: 12 gauge
Operation: Manual straight pull, single shot
Weight: 3 pounds in underbarrel configuration
Length: 16.5 inches
Status: Ready for fielding
M320 Technical Specifications
Operation: Manual, single shot
Weight: 3.3 pounds stand alone
Length: 13.7 inches
Status: Ready for fielding
M249 Technical Specifications
Operation: Gas piston, full automatic
Weight: 22 pounds combat ready
Length: 31 inches with short barrel
Status: Operational now
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V12N3 (December 2008)|