The 23rd Annual European Small Arms & Cannons Symposium

Light Weight Ammunition Design
Saving weight on soldier equipment is a hot button issue across the globe today as it should be.  With up to 40% of the soldier’s total combat load made up of ammunition, there has been a great deal of focus on lightening the load by lightening the weight of the ammunition.  Most of these efforts today obviously focus on the weight of the cartridge case itself and various attempts are underway or have been attempted to create lightweight cases made from steel, thin walled stainless steel, various types of polymer and of course the Holy Grail: caseless ammunition.  While the US Army through its ARDEC and JSSAP offices continues to experiment with both polymer and stainless steel cases, and caseless ammunition, the US National Small Arms Center is working with Colt Defense LLC and BML Tool Manufacturing Corporation to develop a novel type of polymer case that the developers believe may address the many inherent problems with using conventional polymer material and case design.  Vincent Battaglia of BML Tool’s was on hand to brief their results to date.

Unique Spiral Case Development
While most attempts with polymer small arms ammunition use a smooth exterior case, the latest iteration of their lightweight 5.56mm round has taken the form of a “Spiral Case” configuration wherein flutes, similar to those found in fluted barrels, are formed in the case as part of the molding process.  The manufacturer claims this provides various novel advantages in the reduction of surface friction and thus both improved ease of extraction (70%) and reduction in the possibility for cook off due to the additional surface area.  The radial flutes also, and most importantly, increase the structural rigidity and strength of the round, most notably at the joint between the polymer case body and the metallic base component, a common failing of earlier polymer rounds, especially after prolonged exposure in a hot chamber.  Other notable advantages include the modular design that eases assembly and demil operations, improved single-shot accuracy of telescoped polymer 5.56mm rounds and the important fact that the Spiral Case cartridge can be loaded on existing US Army-owned and operated high speed SCAMP loading machines as found at Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence Missouri.

One notable disadvantage in this spiral case design as explained by Mr. Battaglia is the reduction in the available propellant volume (case capacity) within the case, which will require the use of a unique “hotter” propellant to create comparable chamber pressure as conventional brass cased ammunition and the need for a dedicated link for machine gun employment.  Time will tell of course, like all light weight ammunition concepts, if there is true promise for the war fighter in ammo weight savings of up to 40-47% as claimed.  Tests of the Spiral Case 5.56mm round are scheduled to commence in 7-8 months at the US Army’s Picatinny Arsenal.  More info at www.dtic.mil/ndia/2009infantrysmallarms/tuesdaysessioniii8550.pdf.

Thin-Walled Stainless Steel Cases
A competing design being developed by the US Army Armaments, Research, Development and Contracting Center (ARDEC) is a thin-walled stainless steel case currently being developed by General Dynamics OTS in Canada.  Using a material specifically selected for the “spring back” nature similar to brass, not unlike that used in light bulb bases, along with a 20% weight savings over brass cases (45% for the entire assembled cartridge in 7.62x51mm NATO caliber), this light weight alternative to polymer material is proceeding through to development and testing in an attempt to reduce the load of the already overburdened infantryman.  The case design offers cook off performance similar to brass cases, no weapon modifications are required and standard links for machine gun applications can be used, and includes an aluminum base plug in its assembled state to deal with the relatively violent, unforgiving extraction and ejection forces of legacy weapons that have doomed so many polymer candidates to the scrap pile.  At the present time 100,000 rounds of 7.62mm thin-walled stainless steel cased ammunition is being prepared for technical assessment by the US Army at a time still to be determined.  While this author is on record that caseless small arms ammunition is likely outside the realm of current ammunition and materials technology, these light weight options using more conventional cartridge case configurations are well worth chasing after for the overall benefit that will hopefully one day be realized for the guys and gals that must carry it.  Visit the GD-OTS Canada website at www.gd-otscanada.com/html/en/home/index.php.

New Ammunition, Old Ammunition
NAMMO, with four papers covering new offering and concepts during this symposium, also covered enhancements to the venerable .50 BMG round, America’s longest serving (continuous issue) military small arms cartridge.  Hard to improve on perfection you say?  Not so in the minds of those ever-creative and innovative folks from NAMMO Sweden.  NAMMO, in response to user inquires for a more precise .50 BMG ball round for use in anti-material rifles, are now offering the new .50 BMG SG (Special Grade) ammunition.  Able to provide accuracy potential of ten round groups of 350 mm (13.8 inches) at 900 meters (fired from both Barrett M95 and AI AS-50 platforms), and ballistically matched to the their Multi-purpose, Multi-purpose Tracer and “Armor-Piercing Super” rounds, the NAMMO Special Grade ammunition brings the so-called “.50 caliber sniper rifle” closer to that sometimes inaccurate misnomer.  New in the NAMMO line up is the Armor-Piercing Super (AP-S) round in their ever expanding suite of .50 BMG caliber ordnance.  The AP-S round can defeat 15mm (.59 inches) of armor plating at a 40% angle at a range of up to 1,000 meters, 2 times the penetration of standard US M8 AP-I ammunition.  The 3-component AP-S projectile is said to be fantastic against car engines, demonstrated in graphic detail in the briefers video on what else, a Volvo.

Miscellaneous Concepts and New Technologies
While there always is a necessary mix of salesmanship in almost any technical paper presented by a commercial venture, most papers presented that spoke about new or existing products concentrated on technical data and features and wisely stayed clear of operational employment of the materials.  Most that is.  One briefer wanted to convince the attendees that their reduced range 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition, developed for short range training in urban environments and for use on compact firing ranges, had combat use applications.  The scenario provided described the safe 360 degree combat use during a vehicle convoy in an urban environment out to the maximum effective range of the ammunition (200 meters) where it then destabilizes and begins to fall to the ground in an attempt to lessen collateral damage caused by conventional small arms ammunition.  As a result of the unique projectile design, after 250 meters the bullet turns base first and thus has greatly reduced terminal effects and penetration ability.  Problem was the briefer did not address the “what if” problem for the convoy machine gunner when a target appears at 400 meters or beyond the MER of this special purpose training ammunition.  Change out ammunition?  Not likely or desirable.  It was a point not missed by the audience that overshadowed an otherwise good, informative paper.

How about new materials and forming methods for small arms?  Polymer rifles may not be the latest and greatest methods for forming modern weapons.  Long used in the automotive industry, Hydroform technology has more recently been offered in the small arms arena by the German company the Schuler Group.  Established in 1839, the Schuler Group is well known and highly respected for its high precision and high speed manufacturing machines.  Hydroforming allows pliable materials to include aluminum and steel to be formed from the inside out using high pressure water injected into special molds.  This process provides for a strong end product, 20-30% over castings and even stamped components.  While papers like this seem on the fringe of relevance to small arms, those design engineers sitting quietly amongst the crowd were listening closely indeed.

Subject Matter Expert Presentations:

Personal Small Arms and Ammunition: Issues and Prospects
This excellent overview by Anthony Williams (www.quarry.nildram.co.uk), coauthor of the outstanding reference book entitled Assault Rifle and many other authoritative works on small and medium caliber ammunition, started the juices flowing in the audience.  He covered the history and purpose of modern service rifle cartridges from the present day back to the 7.92x57mm Mauser cartridge touching on the missed opportunities to field excellent intermediate rounds like the .276 Pederson and later .280 British rounds to name a few.  He mentioned that the US LSAT (Lightweight Small Arms Technology) program has been experimenting with a LSAT-style telescopic polymer case round loaded with a 120 grain 6.5mm projectile with exterior ballistics similar to the commercial 6.5 Grendel cartridge.  An interesting development indeed.

He concluded his briefing with an overview of the resurrection of the Swedish 6.5x25mm CBJ PDW round (available from CBJ Tech AB out of Sweden, the round was named for the developer and founder of the company Carl Bertil Johansson), now offered in the excellent B&T MP9 machine pistol.  Basically a 9x19mm NATO round necked down to accept a wide variety of 6.5mm saboted projectiles to include Ball (31 grain bullet moving at 730 mps/2,395 fps from a 120mm/4.7 inch barrel) Subsonic AP (123 grain bullet launched at 300 mps or 984 fps), Reduced Penetration Training (14 grain), High Energy Transfer (39 grain) and 31 grain “Spoon Tip” rounds, the combination of this high performance round in a versatile and cost effective COTS weapon means the operator could use readily available 9x19mm NATO ammunition for training and general use and switch to the 6.5mm CBJ round (without modification to the host weapon) when enhanced target effects are desired.  This is one combination to watch closely.  Visit their excellent web site at www.cbjtech.com for more information on this recent development.

New Product and Exhibitions
In a world of various 40mmm low-velocity grenade launcher designs could there be in fact room for another?  Well move over HK GLM and Colt M203, there is in fact a new 40x46mm LV launcher on the market.  Meet the AG77A1 Multi-functional Grenade Launcher from Madritsch KG Waffentechnik in Rustorf, Austria.  The team lead by former Steyr action man Wolfgang Stadler, an interesting and in fact entertaining briefer in his on league, has created a purpose-built underbarrel or stand-alone grenade launcher with left side-swinging barrel, 45 N (10 pound) DA-Only trigger, 7 and 9 inch barrel options weighing only 1,340 grams (3 pounds) without sight.  The AG77A1 can be attached to a series of host rifles using available adapters or used from the shoulder direct by means of an adjustable retractable buttstock.  Wolfgang briefed that even a new and small start up company like Madritsch has been able to subject the AG77A1 to the mandatory full battery of NATO AC/225 tests to include drop and rough handling and environmental tests, not a simple task but one that the AG77A1 has performed well in as it is prepared for future user assessments.  More information is available on this new launcher, now in series production, at www.madritsch.eu.

The exhibit hall this year included 42 vendors showing a host of modern materials to include weapons, ammunition, ancillary equipment and various types of state-of-the-art sighting devices, some already in service and other brand new and first time on display for the public.  Displays were available all week in the break and lunch area from firms like Accuracy International (AI), Aimpoint, ELCAN, Oerlikon, NAMMO and various UK equipment distributors who expertly service the needs of the UK police and MoD.  The cost for a booth at the 2009 event was $909 for a single booth or $1,458 for a double booth or outside display area.  The 2009 registration fee for attendees was $1,033 for a “normal” delegate, $405 for military/government delegates and just $289 for speakers.  Abstract papers are generally due in by the end of June and the submission instructions are available at the symposium web site usually by May.

During the breaks and at lunch the organizers and hosts for the event serve up lots of piping hot tea (of course) and coffee, offer snacks and lunch each day, provide bus transportation to and from the host hotels and the Heathrow and Gatwick airports and sponsor a formal “dining in” supper on the second day of the symposium in Kitchners Hall Officers Mess complete with a toast to the Queen and Heads of State, all included in the modest registration fee.  A lovely experience indeed for those who have never had the chance to participate in a formal dining-in and a great place to discuss the topics of the day and common interests with some of the world’s brightest minds in small arms and ammunition.

If you are a student of small arms, enjoy the friendly British people, their cooking, afternoon tea and beautiful countryside, and plan to be in the UK in August 2010, consider a road trip to Swindon and the nearby village of Shrivenham for the 24th annual Small Arms and Cannons Symposium planned for the dates of 24-26 August 2010.  You won’t be disappointed.  More information at www.symposiaatshrivenham.com.

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