The 23rd Annual European Small Arms & Cannons Symposium

The early IdZ concept resulted in an integrated sight with video, thermal and I2 night sighting functions, digital compass, FS/FCS for the 40x46mm AG36 under barrel grenade launcher, not to mention the means to send and receive target info (friend and foe) to squad members and higher headquarters, weighed in at 2 kg (4.4 pounds).  While four and a half pounds may not seem excessive, its predictable location mounted on top of the weapon radically upsets the handling characteristics and balance of the soldiers primary defensive and offensive weapon – an extension of the combatants “lethal arm” that he is seldom willing to accept compromise on.  IdZ user tests completed in 2008 confirmed that.  Rather than push forward and hope for revolutionary developments to drop into their laps based upon an endless infusion of limited funding, the joint IdZ team redirected their efforts on a modular “stackable” variant of the fully integrated sighting system and thus was born “IdZ eS” or IdZ “Extended System”.

The IdZ eS team, comprised of AIM (“WBZG” thermal sight), Aimpoint (“BR8” and “CEU” 40mm FCS), H&K (IdZ Team Leader, weapon systems and system integration), JOP (“WBBG” thermal recce sight), Qioptiq (“VIPIR2” I2 night sight), Vectronix (“MOSKITO” night vision binoculars and “VECTOR21” laser range finder), Zeiss (4×30 optical sight with piggyback “RSA” reflex sight, “NSV 600” I2 sight and IR attachment), combines the best subsystems available or under development into a fully modular system where the operator can pick and choose the right tools for the mission.  The confusing series of four activation buttons integrated into the weapon housing (G36A2, AG36A1, and MG4) have been simplified to improve operator use.

The original IdZ concept included a single purpose-designed lithium battery within the redesigned buttstock.  Power from this source, along with operator commands sent via the integrated push buttons, was transmitted to the various targeting devices via hard wire molded into the weapon.  Where there were necessary breaks required for weapon disassembly, such as between the receiver and forearm, coil-type contacts were added.  However, these coils proved to be somewhat fragile during user tests and have been eliminated from the eS configuration.  The single lithium battery approach was also scrapped as even with the very latest battery technology it could only power the thermal sight for 4 hours in a 20 degree C (68 degrees F) environment and far less in a cold weather region.  In addition, 20% of the battery power is used or “lost” during the transmission process further reducing available operating time of the powered accessories.

Symposium attendees in the Lefroy lecture hall listen intently to speakers in a small and intimate setting.

The team pressed on and now is in the final stages of integration of the various components of IdZ eS.  With these changes a full kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight has been shaved off the complete system and the center of balance improved substantially.  In addition to sight integration, the IdZ team has addressed ergonomics of the host G36 rifle with a fully adjustable buttstock, to include adjustable length of pull and cheek piece options.  Commands and data are now relayed via inductive transmission, specifically “Bluetooth” technology, which eliminates the need for connections and a wiring harness between the powered components and within the weapon.  The Hensoldt dual sight first seen on the G36 rifle in the mid-1990s, with combined 1:1 optical sight and electronic reflex sight, will be replaced with a Picatinny top rail with a compact Zeiss 4×30 optical sight topped with the Zeiss RSA mini red dot reflex sight.  First test samples will be ready in September 2009.

And finally, while there are no fully qualified medium-velocity 40x46mm grenades yet available, the IdZ eS team continues to work towards giving the war fighter the means to accurately engage point targets with first round 40mm MV accuracy out to 800 meters from a shoulder-fired underbarrel launcher.  IdZ eS tests continue through the next 18 months.  We will keep a close watch on this R&D effort, first started in 1997.

Commercial Presentations: NAMMO Air-Bursting Munitions Update
John Brown, Marketing Manager for the NAMMO group, leaders in air-bursting munitions, gave a good summary and update on their efforts in 40mm air-bursting munitions, which started some years back with the USSOCOM MK47 “Striker” ALGL effort and continues today.  The 40x53mm HV US MK285 preprogrammed air-bursting grenade has recently passed its final verification tests and is in production with the first 40,000 rounds due to the customer this year with another 50,000 rounds planned for user fielding in 2010.  NAMMO has also developed an air-bursting HEDP round for the US MK47 ALGL that will be fully safety certified by December 2009.   NAMMO has built on this technology with a Radio Frequency (RF) air-bursting 40x53mm ammunition option for legacy automatic grenade launchers such as the US MK19 and HK GMG as well as the development for the US Marine Corps of an improved M430A1 HEDP round now termed the MK315.  More information at www.nammo.com.

Rheinmetall Medium Velocity 40mm Munitions
Not to be out-done by the competition, Karsten Stern, Special Projects Program Manager for Rheinmetall Weapons and Munitions GmbH, Germany presented detailed technical information on a wide range of high and low velocity 40mm ammunition, an area where there is an immense amount of activity at the moment.  He discussed their 40x46mm “Medium Velocity” round that provides a MER of 700 meters from conventional low velocity 40mm grenade launchers like the US M203 and HK AG36.  Borrowing the unique NAMMO modular propulsion system and high explosive warhead design as described herein, this new round has a chamber pressure of 170 to 180 bar (2,466 to 2,611 psi) muzzle velocity of 100 meters per second (328 feet per second) and exhibits a recoil force of approximately 20 Ns (at 60 joules, or 45 foot pounds), depending of course on the type of round and the launch platform.  For comparison, a standard 40x46mm low velocity HE fragmentation round develops between 14 Ns for TP rounds up to just over 18 Ns for a US MK313 HEDP round fired from an US M320 underbarrel grenade launcher attached to a SCAR Light (MK16), a difference in operator felt recoil of 24-60 %.  While obviously not a round that troops may relish firing a great deal of in training (one must remember that the NATO muzzle energy minimum threshold for small arms ammunition “lethality” is only 80 joules or 59 foot pounds) the additional 300 to 400 meters of range and improved blast effects should be welcome additions in combat.  Planned Rheinmetall medium velocity offerings include Practice Training (PT with orange impact), PT with Tracer, HEDP, various Smoke and Illumination rounds and IR Marker and IR Illumination rounds.

Stern detailed the 40x53mm family of ammunition offered by his firm, focusing on an assembly methodology that utilizes interchangeable modular propulsion and warhead components (propulsion components from NAMMO) to custom tailor the end product to the needs of the customer.  This includes new developments in medium and high velocity air-bursting “Programming – ESD” rounds, both HE Frag and HEDP types.  For competition sensitivity reasons he was unwilling to describe the programming function but did specify that it could not be jammed, would be affordable at $100 per round and that the programming device is provided with the ammunition.  The “ESD” (Electronic Self Destruct) feature of this round will eliminate or at least reduce the chances of unexploded ordnance, especially in areas where the soft terrain (snow, sand) may not provide an opportunity for reliable point detonation.

One must remember that air-bursting munitions fired from small arms are new to the battlefield and are as of yet unproven.  Combat fielding of these very latest air-bursting 40mm systems in 2010 should prove very interesting indeed.  Will it be the technological leap forward as some have described it or something else altogether?  Time and rounds down range will tell.

Rheinmetall is also a source for the US XM1110 Day/Night 40x46mm Practice Training round and 40x53mm US MK281 MOD 1 Day/Night Impact round that cleverly utilizes a Cyalume (glow stick) element to denote the trace and point of impact.  Learn more about these items and the expansive product line from European defense giant Rheinmetall at www.rheinmetall-defence.com.

The new Oerlikon Contraves 40x46mm low velocity Fire Control Unit (FCU) was well received in Shrivenham.

40MM Fire Control Systems and Sights
Ever since the introduction of the underbarrel US XM148 and M203 40mm grenade launchers and stand-alone US M79 in the 1960s, they have been used with great effect on this nation’s battlefields.  Ironically, or maybe based upon available technological solutions, the night time use of 40mm grenade launchers has been severely hampered by available day time only sighting devices.  Even with the addition of self-luminous tritium inserts into the iron sights or the use of reflex sights like the Ring Sight, the grenadier’s ability for first round hits under low light conditions has been uncertain at best, especially past 200 meters.  With the recent advent of miniature laser range finders and ballistic computers, and the propensity of US and allied forces to fight at night, this issue has received a good deal of attention over the past 10 years.  New and possible material solutions to this capability gap exist in various full-solution fire control systems (FS/FSC), the newest one to this writer is the Oerlikon Contraves 40x46mm low velocity Fire Control Unit (FCU) that was presented and available for inspection at Shrivenham this year.

Like other competing designs the FCU mounts on 40mm LV grenade launchers and includes a ballistic computer that provides an adjusted aiming point to the operator based on ammunition data, atmospheric conditions as well as back-up iron sights, a means to attach reflex sights, and integral IR and visible lasers to allow the soldier to aim the launcher under nighttime conditions.  However, the early 40mm grenade launcher sights lack a key component, the ingredient per se that is mandatory for accurate first round kills within the 5 to15 meter bursting radius of most conventional 40x46mm HE Frag rounds, that being exact range to the target.  The Oerlikon Contraves Fire Control Unit addresses that deficiency with the inclusion of a miniature laser range finder integrated into both the sight itself and the ballistic solution computing function of the unit.  A simple press of the activation button lazes the target, feeds that data to the ballistic computer and an adjusted aiming point is instantly presented to the operator.  It is that simple.  The FCU laser range finder has an effective range of 800 meters and the IR laser at 500 meters, with an accuracy capability of within 1.5 meters at 200 meters, meaning that this device could be utilized for the new arrival of medium velocity 40x46mm grenades currently under development.  What sets this product aside from the others on the market is its size and weight.  The entire self-contained unit weighs just 700 grams (1.54 pounds) and measures just 54x93x150 mm (2.2×3.7×4.7 inches) without the optional reflex sight of your choosing.  Any existing 40x46mm grenade launcher could instantly benefit from the use of this new sight, to include the newly fielded US M320 GLM that has a day/night sight but without the range finding capability or automatically adjusted aiming point.  While not cheap at $4,500 a copy, this is certainly one to check out.  Currently there is no US importer for this sight.  Additional information on the general products of Oerlikon Contraves, a member of the Rheinmetall Group, can be found at www.rheinmetall-detec.de/index.php?lang=3&fid=4097.  For detailed information on the 40mm FCU contact Product Manager at Gerhard.Wieland@rheinmetall.com.

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