Daewoo K11 Advanced Combat Rifle: The Future Has Arrived

Daewoo Precision, maker of the USAS12 combat shotgun, K1 and K2 battle rifles, and the K3 LMG, has manufactured well designed and robust weapon systems.  The Daewoo Precision systems often appeared similar to existing products, yet were distinct and unique in design.  Those familiar with use and operation of the K3 LMG will immediate identify the outward resemblance and manual of arms required for the Fabrique Nationale Minimi/M249, yet the design and most internal parts between the two weapon systems are not interchangeable.  Not to be deterred, the K3 is a very reliable weapon system, and is currently in use with Republic of (South) Korea armed forces.

Long absent from the U.S. and international arms market, Daewoo Precision was an unfortunate victim of the Asian credit crisis of the late 1990s.  Purchased in bankruptcy by Korean conglomerate S&T, the company has emerged from bankruptcy as S&T Daewoo.  Not surprisingly, the same high quality designs and manufacturing features that created the Daewoo Precision legacy have safely emerged as an asset from which to build new S&T Daewoo products.

Those familiar with innovations in U.S. weapon design will recall the OICW, the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, which integrated a 5.56mm battle rifle with a 20mm air-burst grenade system.  After spending hundreds of millions of dollars, industry titans in the U.S. were unable to produce a working model that met U.S. procurement requirements.  Over due and over budget, the U.S. based project was cut back, and has lingered for a number of years with limited success.  Based upon the similar design features as the OICW, the K11 has emerged as a real potential to the PICW puzzle.  Similar to the OICW, the K11 features an integrated 5.56mm battle rifle in conjunction with a 20mm bolt action airburst munition system.

The System
The K11 system features three main components – the 5.56mm battle rifle, the 20mm bolt action grenade launcher, and the integrated laser range finder/munition programming and arming system.  The design of the system is well thought out with fire controls placed in intuitive locations.

The 5.56mm Battle Rifle
At the core of the system is a 5.56 battle rifle.  The rifle was not disassembled during testing.  Nevertheless, the rifle (as tested) featured a 310 mm (12.2047 inch) barrel, with a four-prong flash hider.  The rifle appeared to be a piston based recoil design.  The twist rate of the barrel is unknown.

Fire controls are on the left side of the weapon in the traditional location for most western designed weapons.  The selector switch was easily accessed by the shooter’s thumb while gripping the pistol grip.  Utilizing a four position selector switch, the position descriptions were written in Korean Hangeul characters.  The selector switch, while common in shape and location, proved to be a little different than any other selector switch encountered on previous rifles.  The position for “safe” was in the traditional 9 o’clock position.  This is good to remember when the markings are not in English and are essentially undecipherable to non-Korean speakers.

From the safe position, the other three fire control positions were unique.  Moving counter clockwise, the 6 o’clock position puts the rifle into three-round burst mode.  Recoil was light, and allowed the weapon to stay on target throughout the burst.  Cyclic rate was not measured, but seemed comparable to the M4 carbine.  The three-round burst system appears to use an internal mechanism to count the number of rounds fired.  Releasing the trigger before three rounds have been fired results in the next burst being short by the number of fired rounds previously fired.  This type of mechanism is not unusual, and can be seen in the three-round burst mechanism used in the M16A2 rifle system.  Rotating the selector switch to the 3 o’clock position places the rifle into semiautomatic mode, allowing the rifle to fire a single round per pull of the trigger.  Rotating the selector switch to the 12 o’clock position places the 20mm system into firing mode, allowing a single trigger to control both the 5.56mm and 20mm systems.  While the two systems cannot be fired concurrently due to the common trigger, it would seem unlikely that an M203 would be fired at the same time as the M4 carbine host.  The use of a common trigger for firing the 5.56 and 20mm systems did not appear to be a detriment to the overall weapon system.

The weapon’s charging handle is on the left side of the weapon, above the trigger.  The charging handle is a non-reciprocating design that is held to the rear in conjunction with the bolt – that is, when the bolt is locked to the rear, the charging handle is also in the rearward position.  Brass ejects forcibly from the right side of the weapon in conjunction with an integrated brass deflector similar in size and shape of the M4 carbine brass deflector.  During testing, the brass ejected 15-20 feet to the 2 o’clock position of the shooter.  Persons standing directly to the right of the shooter would likely avoid a hot brass shower.

The bolt hold open switch is on the forward edge of the trigger guard; push the lever up from the bottom forward outside edge of the trigger guard while retracting the bolt to hold the bolt to the rear.  Pushing the lever down from the inside of the trigger guard releases the bolt and allows the bolt to close into battery.  The magazine release is to the right side of the weapon and features a small fence similar to an M4 to protect against accidentally releasing the magazine from the weapon.

Small Arms Defense Journal Editor Dan Shea (right) receiving instruction on use and operation of the K11.

The 20mm Weapon System
The 20mm weapon system is a magazine fed, single shot, bolt action weapon, utilizing a 405 mm (15.9449 inch) barrel.  When firing the 20mm munition, the trigger is double action only and suffers from the long trigger pull commonly associated with bullpup-type systems that utilize a transfer bar to fire the weapon.  Ammunition is being developed by Poongsan, a well-known Korean ammunition manufacturer that manufactures PMC ammunition sold within the United States.

While ammunition for the 20mm weapon system was not available during the test fire, the basic concepts of the system were explained and put into practice.  The magazine holds five rounds of training or high explosive ammunition.  Training ammunition contains no explosive.  The 20mm explosive rounds feature an internal fuze with four settings: point detonation, point detonation-delay, airburst, and self-destruct.  To load the system, one inserts a loaded 20mm magazine and manipulates the bolt for the 20mm system rearward.  Pushing the bolt forward engages a 20mm round from the magazine and provides a controlled feed of the round from the magazine to the chamber.  In this regard, the 20mm system is very similar to the common bolt action rifle.   The selector switch is rotated to the 12 o’clock position to fire the 20mm weapon; then the shooter takes aim, and pulls the trigger.  Unloading is accomplished by reversing the manual of arms.

The Optic System
The heart of the K11 system is the integrated weapon sight.  As the weapon sight for both the 5.56 and 20mm weapon systems, the weapon sight provides aiming solutions for both weapons.  To aim the weapon, one looks through the weapon sight.  It is presumed that the weapon sight has integrated night vision capability, but thermal capability is unknown.  The reticle features a number of aiming points; however the most important point is the upward pointing chevron at the lower center position of the reticle.  The chevron is the aiming point for the laser range finder.  Place the chevron on target, engage the laser range finder, and a red crosshair aiming point appears within the sight.  Using the new crosshair, the aiming solution is presented to the shooter and the shooter need only place the crosshair on target and pull the trigger.

The laser range finder is activated by pushing the forward most button on the right side of the weapon’s forward grip.  The range finder button has two small wings to the side of the button to allow tactile identification of the button without visual identification.  The system automatically compensates for 5.56 or 20mm, depending upon where the fire control selector switch is placed.  If the selector switch is in the semi-auto or burst position, the weapon sight will provide a firing solution for the 5.56 battle rifle.  If the selector is in the 12-o’clock position, the sight will provide an aiming point for the 20mm munition.

Arming and Programming the 20mm Munition
Recall that the fuze within the 20mm high explosive round has four settings: point detonation, point detonation-delay, airburst, and self-destruct.  The self-destruct feature is a backup to the three primary settings, and is automatically programmed into the high explosive round.  The fuze settings are programmed by the weapon sight, in conjunction with three additional buttons adjacent to the laser range finder button.

Small Arms Defense Journal Editor Dan Shea (right) receiving instruction on use and operation of the K11.

To program the type of burst desired from the 20mm munition, the shooter utilizes the left oval button on the weapon’s forward grip.  The button has a horizontal groove to allow tactile identification without visual cues.  With the weapon’s selector switch in the 12-o’clock position, the shooter pushes the program button.  In the upper left corner of the optic, Hangeul Korean characters appear, describing the type of fuze setting selected.

The point detonation selection is the most basic of settings; the munition detonates upon impact with the target.  Point Detonation-Delay is intended for breaching and penetrating soft targets, allowing the munition to burst inside the target.  Information regarding penetration of the 20mm munition when programmed for Point Detonation-Delay was not provided.  Finally, the airburst setting allows the shooter to program the munition to burst at a pre-determined point during flight.  To allow effective use of the PDD and Airburst functions, the shooter may program the 20mm munition to burst in front of, or behind the point identified by the laser range finder.

The two vertical buttons on the weapon’s forward grip allow the shooter to move the detonation point in one-meter increments.  In this manner, the shooter could use the laser range finder to determine the distance to a closed door.  By changing the detonation point, the shooter could elect to have the munition penetrate the closed door (via the PDD setting within the weapon sight) and program the munition to detonate several meters inside the building after penetrating the door.  Similarly, the same function could be used to program the munition to burst in front of the target, when placed in airburst mode.  If the munition is programmed but not fired within 2 minutes of being programmed, the munition will disarm itself.  The shooter must then wait a period of five-minutes to allow the electrical charge within the munition to fully dissipate prior to re-programming the round.  In the event that the round impacts a soft target (i.e., mud or sand) and does not detonate, the automatic safety mechanism within the fuze will detonate the munition within 2 seconds of the round coming to rest.  As a result, it is unlikely that the munition will cause or add unexploded ordnance to the battlefield.

Problems with the U.S. OICW included fragment size and dispersion radius upon detonation.  In simple terms, the fragments of the 20mm munition were too small to be very effective.  In addition, there was insufficient explosive material within the 20mm OICW round to create an effective killing radius.  Finally, when detonated in airburst mode, the rules of physics resulted in the majority of fragments being dispersed vertically and away from the intended target, rendering the fragments ineffective.  These three issues worked in conjunction to kill the U.S. OICW program.   It is unknown whether Poongsan has addressed this issue within the K11 20mm munition design.

Is the K11 for every soldier on the battlefield?  Arguably, no.  It goes without saying that weapons are built as a system, and specific features cannot be evaluated in a vacuum.  That said, the K11 is heavy, weighing in at 6.1 kg (13.448 pounds).  Nevertheless, there is a proper time and place for such a weapon, whether used in a static position, a mechanized role, or in a limited field engagement.  The ability to fire an airburst munition and defeat troops behind cover represents a revolutionary step in battlefield tactics and will necessitate changes to field defenses.  Similarly, the ability to penetrate concealment and light cover and detonate the munition within an enclosed space via the Point Detonation Delay fuze setting also has the ability to change the manner in which infantry and dismounted troops engage the enemy.

The question is bound to arise – why does the M4 carbine and M203 need to be replaced?  Both weapons function well and are combat proven.  Those following the discussion within the arms community realize that there are strong proponents and arguments for replacement and maintaining the current systems.  This article is not intended to support or deny either argument, but rather showcase current technology and demonstrate what is currently in development and available to potential government and military end users.