Uhlan 21: The Polish Future Soldier Project

Future Soldier with all Uhlan 21 gimmicks and gadgets inside one of the Polish Army’s Rosomak APCs – still comfortably with all those objects on him. (Michal Sitarski)

Radon from Radom
So far, the most publicized of the Uhlan 21 components is the new Polish battle rifle, called first the MSBS-5.56 for Modulowy System Broni Strzeleckiej or Modular Small Arms System, 5.56mm being the caliber.  The official cryptonym for the MSBS is now ‘Radon’ (Rn, a radioactive gas with atomic number of 86).  This rifle is an attempt at leaving the Kalashnikov legacy behind once and for all, giving the soldiers a tangible proof of the new beginning.  Besides, the AK platform already hit a stone wall development-wise with the current-issue Polish M96 Beryl rifle.  A totally new battle rifle was required, for the very architecture of the AK platform does not meet the requirements of the modern battlefield.  The top-mounted receiver cover precludes mounting any decently anchored rail interface, able to provide long enough stable bases for tandem-mounted optical and electronic sighting devices, so popular and useful nowadays.  These could be – at best – semi rigid, prone to un-zero itself during use, as the history of the complicated and troublesome Beryl top rail provides enough proof.  The AK is also significantly anti-ergonomic, its right-side cocking handle is obsolete and awkward to use – especially with all the gadgets mounted on the top rail.  The barrel can’t be made quick-changeable – so you can have it either long or chopped, but you need two separate weapons to accommodate them.  It is virtually impossible to make it ambidextrous as well, and despite being chambered for the 5.56mm round, like Beryl, the magazine is not interchangeable with the STANAG weapons.

What was needed was a fully modern, novel platform with monolithic rail, which is not only modular and ambidextrous, but also capable of getting user-defined and user-level-configurable to a hitherto unheard of extent.  The user was to be able not only to put on a barrel of a different length or weight, but his freedom went to the extent of changing the basic layout of the rifle between the two possible configurations: classic ‘lock, stock and barrel’ gun, and a bull-pup.  Having considered that, the Military Technology University (WAT) of Warsaw in co-operation with the Fabryka Broni Lucznik-Radom of Radom designed, manufactured and tested two technology demonstrators of the new 5.56mm basic combat rifle, one in classical layout, the other in butt-less (bull-pup) configuration.  Objective ‘Radon’ in both configurations would be a whole system comprising of: Battle Rifle, Automatic Carbine (CQB weapon), bipod mounted Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR), Grenade Launching Rifle (fitted with under-barrel GLM) and an Infantry Automatic Rifle (a hi-cap magazine-fed support weapon).  All of these are to offer 80-90% parts interchangeability.

Modest beginnings – 1st Gen technology demonstrators of the MSBS rifle in classic and buttless trim. Still blocky, still sketchy, but already showing potential. (Leszek Erenfeicht)

The main component of a thus configured system would be a common upper receiver, which is to be mated with different barrel modules, lower receiver modules, and buttstock or buttplate (bull-pup) modules.  The upper receiver in both TDs and final production model is to be made of light alloy – lighter and cheaper to manufacture than the previously used stamped sheet-metal receivers.  The receiver is fitted with attachment points for all of the interchangeable modules, as well as ejection ports, and bolt carrier hold-open mechanism.  Both ports and hold-open levers are fully-ambidextrous, by being doubled and fitted to both sides of the receiver, to enable equally ergonomic operation by both left- and right-handed shooters or suiting the tactical situation (e.g. shooting to the left/right of the barricade with minimum exposure).

A polymer lower receiver module has a magazine interface for the STANAG 4179-compatible magazine and the fire-control group giving the shooter a choice of semiautomatic and fully automatic fire or safety (or FIRE and SAFE in semiautomatic variant).  The FCG has safety/fire-selector levers on both sides of the lower receiver for fully ambidextrous operation.  The magazine catch is also ambidextrous and ergonomically positioned.  The lower receiver module governs the configuration of the weapon, and comes in two different types: one with classical folding butt configuration and the other in butt-less (or bull-pup) one.  Permanent re-configuration from right-hand to left-hand operation is limited to relocating a cover from one of the two ejection ports to another and relocating (actually turning by 180°) the bolt.  All of that can be performed at user level without the use of tools other than perhaps an Allen wrench.

Wrist-mounted Integrator control panel enables the Soldier to control much more than his own equipment. (Michal Sitarski)

The MSBS-5.56 is to offer the user a choice of different interchangeable barrel modules, complete with muzzle device, gas chamber, piston and locking chamber.  Individual barrel modules differ in length and thermal capacity or contour (e.g. the IAR or DMR barrels).  The buttstock or buttplate module interacts with the choice of the lower receiver.  If the classical configuration lower is chosen, a buttstock is attached, with a choice of folding telescoping or fixed telescoping stocks, both with an adjustable cheek piece capability.  The bullpup lower can only accommodate the buttplate module, as governed by the weapon’s ‘canard’ configuration.

The modular rifle fires the NATO-standard 5.56×45 intermediate round, fed from various plastic or metal magazines.  Additionally, it can be fed from a large-capacity drum magazine, dedicated to the IAR support weapon.  In the future, a similar 7.62×51 NATO sibling system is being considered.

Modular rifles’ TDs have undergone a rigorous two-years testing program, aimed at achieving total reliability in various operational environments.  As these demonstrators are still more of the test appliances rather, than weapons ready for issue, efforts are being made at enhancing their ergonomics and aesthetics.  It seems that the current program is capable of spawning a finalized design within a couple of years.  Now a new generation of the prototypes, with much enhanced, ‘Low-Drag-High-Speed’ looks, are being readied for their share of testing.  So far only Battle Rifle prototypes were actually manufactured and tested, these to become models for all the other variants.  A new under-barrel GLM is also being designed for the MSBS/Radon in grenade-launcher rifle role.

Mock up of the 2nd Gen Battle Rifle in bullpup configuration. (Leszek Erenfeicht)

The Battlefield Nerd
The electronics of the Polish Future Soldier system – or the C4I(R) circuit – would be governed by a wrist- or vest-mounted palmtop-size highly integrated computer, called the Integrator.  The Integrator would be the heart and brain of all the electronic systems, a soldier’s interface with the machine, enabling him to user-define what sort of data he wants to be displayed non-stop, which he would like to access, while enabling easy, intuitive navigation with large, user-defined and glove-friendly keys.  Wireless two-way data transmission through the Integrator enables the warrior to take part in a ‘larger picture:’ display maps, overlaid with tactical situation, get a peek at the BFT and check if the guy who briefly appeared there to the left, behind those trees, is a friend or foe, have a look through the cameras of the airborne asset overhead if there is no one lurking on the opposite side of this concrete fence to shoot at him if he scales it, see through the rifle-mounted sight without having to stick his head from behind the cover, etc.  At the same time it enables the command to maintain a hold of a soldier – control his ammunition expenditure to optimize the logistics, stream a video from his rifle sight, NV goggles or other means of observation, as well as read-outs from his NBC and other sensors, pinpoint his position on the map and do a remote medical check-up if he doesn’t answer the radio.  The Integrator also serves as a personal comms center, enabling voice and short text connection.  All of the hardware and software needed to run the Integrator are already available, and most are locally-manufactured.  Phase 2 would try to get rid of the cables and integrate the Integrator with a transmitter, eliminating the need for a separate radio.  So far, the ISW encompasses the highly advanced Radmor R35010 hand-held radio both as a means of tactical communication and data transmitter.

Of course, getting hold of such a gadget would be a real treat to any enemy scout, so there’s also a hidden panic button – here called the ‘P.O.W. Button’ – instantly deleting all software and data, and disabling the Integrator, with an option of activating it remotely.

What the Future Holds
No one knows where the development of the Uhlan/Tytan system as well as the whole Future Soldier program would lead, but so far the results are very encouraging.  This was but a Phase 1, initial reconnaissance into what can be achieved – now is the time for real work and implementation of the system.  How long would it take, and what would be the scale of the actual implementation, no one seems to know, but the beginning is already made.

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