“The Third Offset Initiative: Armament System Challenges—Advancing Capability”
In its second year at the impressive Fredericksburg (Virginia) Expo and Conference Center, this annual event is a 4-in-1 extravaganza, characterized by an information-packed agenda with presentations directly supporting the Armaments Division’s three committees: Small Arms; Guns, Ammunition, Rockets & Missiles; and Unconventional Emerging Technology Armament Systems. All leading up to exciting and informative live-fire range demos with trigger time for all attendees.
In his opening remarks to the 2017 Forum, Dave Broden, President of Broden Resource Solutions and Armament Division Chairman, provided this perspective.
“The Department of Defense’s First Offset focused on the Nuclear Triad and the Second Offset on Precision Guidance,” Broden said. “The Armament System Community’s thrust is to meet ‘Third Offset’ objectives with innovative, technology-driven solutions for new armament systems with advanced technology in all subsystems. Some examples are robotics, UAV/UAS, sensors, modularity, communications, artificial intelligence, materials, nano-materials, smart fuzing and more. These applications are achieved in parallel with Electromagnetic guns, laser systems, directed energy systems and hypervelocity capability.”
With more than 100 agenda items again this year including scholarly technical/engineering papers, introduction of new concepts, updates for ongoing projects, sobering assessments of harsh battlefield realities now and in the near future, panel discussions and more, doing justice to this necessitates far more space than is available here.
Fortunately for all interested parties, NDIA has a generous policy of free access online to unclassified presentations. Actual briefing slides from many of the unclassified presentations are posted online by DTIC (Defense Technical Information Center) for public access at https://ndia.dtic.mil/2017/armament/2017armament.html.
Or, go to NDIA’s main page http://www.ndia.org/, click EVENTS, then PROCEEDINGS, then 2017 Armament Systems Forum & Firing Demonstrations.
While you’re there, take time to note the wealth of information on a myriad of other NDIA events available by date and title, an invaluable resource for the widest variety of interested parties–friend and foe alike.
Briefings Big and Small
Here are a few highlights to whet your appetite for online study, or better yet, a resolution to be there in person at the 2018 Forum.
While the main event kicked off at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2nd, Monday’s early registrants were rewarded with five tutorials including ARDEC’s “Tissue Damage Model,” offering the non-squeamish an unclassified look at some standardized wound ballistics that are useful for developers of weapons and ammunition. See DTIC for as much of this as you can handle.
Supporting the Armament Division’s overall theme, Tuesday’s general session for all attendees showcased VIP Keynote speakers from DOD, ARDEC, USASOCOM, Navy RDT&E and DARPA. These presentations offered high level perspectives on what US and Allied forces have now and will soon need to meet evolving threats worldwide.
Over the next two days, committee-specific sessions ran concurrently in separate meeting rooms.
While a challenge for those with a variety of interests, this arrangement gives attendees the option to move about as desired to sit in on selected topics.
The Guns, Ammunition, Rockets and Missiles (GARM) committee’s Third Offset unifying theme this year is “Evolving Legacy System Enhancements–Establishing a Vision for Next Generation Armament Systems.” 33 presentations followed, beginning with a government and industry VIP panel discussing “Multi Role Armament Systems” and rolling on with “Guided Projectiles, Next Generation Concepts, Advanced Shoulder Launched Missiles” and more.
A closed session on Thursday (US citizens only) offered eye-opening insights into “Chemical Supply Vulnerabilities, Munition Technical Development” and the rapidly evolving challenge of “Countering Unmanned Aerial Systems.”
All 18 presentations on the Unconventional and Emerging Technology Armament (UEA) Systems track drove right up to the edge of science fiction: “Realizing Visionary Technology and Armament Systems–Addressing and Applying Third Offset Capabilities.”
Dr. Bart Halperin, Chief Technical Officer for US Army’s ARDEC, led off on Wednesday morning with “Future Concepts for the Next Fight,” followed by colleague Ralph Tillinghast’s well-informed speculation on “When Will Weapon Systems Think for Themselves?”
UAE Systems’ closed-to-foreign-nationals examinations included “Directed Energy, Electromagnetic Rail Gun & Hypervelocity Projectiles, Disruptive Energetics, Cyber Risk Management,” and those kinder, gentler “Next Generation Non-Lethal Weapons.”
Small Arms Systems
Of course, most of our time was well spent in the company of industry and military proponents of man-portable projectile pushers. We were richly rewarded over three days with a wealth of presentations unified by the theme “Warfighter Capability Advancing through Evolution of Third Offset Resources.”
As previously noted, many of the PowerPoints in this target-rich environment of 57 small arms-focused papers and panel discussions are online at DTIC, but let’s single out a handful that we found particularly provocative.
PM Soldier Weapons
The Army is the “Big Dog” in the firearms pack so close attention is always given to what PMSW has to say. On the heels of a detailed presentation by Army Special Operations Command and closely overlaying that Green Beret road map, Colonel Brian Stehle’s panel provided an in-depth look beginning with the Army’s current inventory of “legacy” arms as well as what’s ahead near and far.
Notable items in production and in development include fielding the long-awaited M17 Modular Handgun from SIG and continuing upgrades to stalwart M4 Carbines so everybody will be carrying a “pure fleet” of M4A1s by 2022 (cue the groans from many grunts). Work proceeds toward a Compact Semi-auto Sniper System, Advanced Sniper Rifle, putting the Apache helo’s 30mm Chain Gun on wheeled vehicles and upgrading the Carl Gustaf rocket launcher.
Soldiers will be getting a better Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, and an Interim Combat Service Rifle may be on the way. Caliber is to be determined, perhaps based on long-awaited recommendations from the Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study.
Future initiatives call for a Next Generation Carbine Squad Weapon, Tactical Compact Shotgun, Subcompact Carbine, Suppressors, Intelligent Rail System and a Next Generation Squad Auto Rifle as well as Next Gen Light, Medium and Heavy Machine Guns.
How the work of PM Soldier Weapons and other major players feeds the needs of all branches of the US Armed Forces came in briefings by members of the Joint Service Small Arms Synchronization Team (JSSAST).
The Air Force plans to adopt the M17 handgun and an Aircrew Survival Carbine is needed. The Coast Guard wants more non-lethal capability, stabilized platforms and directed energy weapons. The Navy continues on track with selective deletions from its latest catalog of 29 legacy weapons toward the goal of just eight. The lean, mean Marines are being necessarily practical in sticking with what they’ve got for the next several years.
The Army’s plans are as briefed earlier by PM Soldier Weapons with the notable announcement of an Industry Day at Fort Benning in July for what’s called the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle. It will be useful to see “The Case for Cased Telescoped” below for more on what this might end up looking like.
When America’s Special Operations Command speaks, everybody listens. Intently. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Owens, Program Manager for Weapons and Ammunition, laid it all out in no uncertain terms. “Mobility, Survival, Lethality” for elite warriors from the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines demand the best that industry can provide, he said.
On the weapons side, looks like SOCOM’s various 5.56mm carbines need to be replaced by new ones firing some form of 6.5mm to 7mm ammo. SURG (Suppressed Upper Receiver Group) is back to life as is a Personal Defense Weapon of yet-to-be determined caliber and configuration. Meanwhile, Glock pistols continue in service, enhanced with miniature red dot sights, suppressors and lots of highly effective 147 grain Speer Gold Dot G2 ammo.
A long-range medium machine gun (not necessarily the one pioneered by GD-OTS), powered by the hard-hitting .338 Norma Magnum cartridge, is high on the list, as is development of an assault machine gun in whatever 6.5-7mm cartridge works best. An Advanced Sniper Rifle with ever more sophisticated electro-optical sighting system is another priority.
“Non-standard arms” is bureaucrat-speak for AKs, PKMs, NSVs, RPGs and the like that are commonly used in Third World conflicts. USSOCOM wants to buy lots of them plus ammo to feed ‘em for training and other purposes best left to the imagination. While they’re cheap, serviceable and readily available from lots of foreign sources, Uncle Sam wants his snake eaters to buy them from US manufacturers.
This is one of 18 “Ammo and Weapon Business Opportunities” Owens has thoughtfully provided in his briefing package on DTIC. Check it out and then go to FedBizOpps.Gov (www.fbo.gov/) for these solicitations and lots more from SOCOM and all the other US government players represented at the Forum.
Now 31 Nations
NATO’s Weapons and Sensors Working Panel is doing some of the heavy lifting for all member nations for issues related to dismountable soldier weapons and their suppressors, grenades, shoulder launched and guided anti-tank weapons. Also, dedicated sensors–including day and night sights–laser designators, tactical lights and fire control systems. Dig deep with 60 briefing slides on DTIC.
More the Merrier
Not to slight non-government presentations, we’re naturally partial to new and often better ideas from industry sources large and small.
One of these came from David Zhou in “Maintaining Overmatch and Standardization for Future NATO Small Arms.” When we saw Zhou’s opening slide with an iconic image honoring the late, great Jim Schatz, we hoped for something in the manner of Jim’s numerous, fact-based challenges to small arms bureaucratic orthodoxy. We were not disappointed.
Zhou’s 36-slide presentation is impressively illustrated, heavily referenced and footnoted citing authoritative sources, notably including numerous communications with Schatz. In it, the case for markedly superior combat effectiveness of modern projectiles in the range of 6.5mm to 7mm was irrefutable.
And no iteration of the Armaments Forum would be fully satisfying without a tip of the hat to historical giants in the world of small arms; particularly when great inventions of the past can be made “new and improved” by the latest technology.
This is what made “Phase Change Micro-Barrel Jacked Liquid Cooling Machine Gun for Continuous Fire” so compelling. Armor Development Group’s Howard Kent (with no small amount of technical inspiration from Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as historical perspective from gun gurus George Kontis and Robert Landies) showed how the well proven concept of water cooled machine guns from Hiram Maxim and John Browning gets mega-improvement by use of a graphite foam jacket.
The practical application of this is readily seen in a number of ways; particularly in vastly improving the efficiency of machine guns in robotic and remote turret applications where changing overheated barrels in action is in the range of seriously problematic to well-nigh impossible.
The Case for Cased Telescoped
Hope continues for those of us who have watched the ups and downs of what began nearly two decades ago as the Lightweight Machine Gun and Ammunition Program, then LSAT (Lightweight Small Arms Technologies). It is now CT (Cased Telescoped) for the polymer “lipstick tube” cartridges that have long characterized it and innovative light weapons that fire them.
Textron/AAI’s Paul Shipley reported “Advances in 6.5mm and 7.62mm Cased Telescoped Small Arms Systems,” citing extensive comparison testing of CT cartridges with 5.56mm, 7.62mm and 6.5mm projectiles. As also validated in other recent government and industry testing, the 125 grain, 6.5mm Low Drag Profile version clearly beat M855 and M80A1 projos, giving “best downrange velocity and energy with lower recoil.”
This high performance 6.5mm loading is scalable to whatever standard emerges from the Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study. It’s said to be readily adaptable to AAI’s current 5.56mm CT Squad Auto Weapon and 7.62mm CT Medium Machine Gun and figures prominently in development of the CT Carbine.
Dan Shea’s Latest World Tour
Fresh from the singular honor of receiving this year’s George M. Chinn Award, Dan Shea, Director of Phoenix Defense, took attendees on a whirlwind tour of his latest small arms discoveries from travels to remote corners of the globe.
An eagerly awaited update was provided from more lab and field tests on Russia’s remarkable silica-embedded armor piercing projectile for the integrally suppressed 9 x 39mm VSS Vintorez, a Spetsnaz favorite. “Subsonic–less than a thousand fps–it went right through our best XSAPI plate at 25 meters. I’d say that was a significant threat that we need to pay attention to.”
Interfacing with MIC in Northern Sudan, he learned of 60mm HE frag mortar rounds put on PG-7 rockets. “Clears the eyes and ears off a tank as well as reactive armor, or adds better fragmentation than the OG-7 does.”
In Indonesia, Shea found that Komodo Armaments offers a Minigun for about a third of the cost of American competitors. “Fairly crudely made, but a working 7.62mm Minigun.”
For any number of really good reasons, his massive 100+ slide presentation and accompanying explanatory remarks are not posted on DTIC. You had to be there to get a lot of latest stuff that most spooky agencies don’t often get on their own and won’t share if they do. Patriotically, Shea shares it when asked by worthy requestors.
Exhibits and Networking Breaks
Participation by government and industry entities in the Forum’s exhibits is strong as evidenced by 17 booths, once again dominated by defense giant General Dynamics–Ordnance and Tactical Systems.
In joining noted gun makers Barrett, FN America, Glock and HK Defense, Century Arms showed off its recent move to manufacturing capabilities with 100% American-made versions of classic select-fire Kalashnikov rifles. Other exhibitors enticed examination of the latest developments in red-dot sights (Aimpoint), electro-optics (American Rheinmetall), ammo design and analysis (Arrow Tech), ordnance, pyrotechnics and munitions (Chemring) and ballistic pressure sensors (Kistler Instrument).
Sierra Bullets was on hand again, celebrating decades of success with its MatchKing projectiles. Wilcox Industries and Bull Dog Equipment were back, proudly showing mission-critical gear that’s finding increasing favor with tip-of-the-spear military. And the Government Contracts Team from the law firm of BakerHostetler stands ready in fending off “lawfare” in its many forms.
NDIA’s exhibit promoted the organization’s vital mission, offering complimentary copies of National Defense magazine, along with the Chipotle Publications team handing out hundreds of free copies of SAR and SADJ.
Once again well-situated in the main area where regular coffee breaks, sumptuous daily luncheons and happy hour networking socials were enjoyed, exhibit staffers were kept busy all day doing show ‘n tell for a steady flow of knowledgeable and engaged visitors.
“Poster Presentations” are logically located here as well, and the concept has proven so popular that there were more than twice as many this time. These are stand-alone graphic representations of specific subjects giving attendees the opportunity to casually browse and then talk directly with subject matter experts from government and industry. Twenty-two selections were offered, ranging from small arms flash reduction to enhanced ballistic breaching.
With the inimitable Sal Fanelli taking a well-deserved break this year, Al Matthews, Fanelli’s colleague at Marine Corps Systems Command’s PM Weapons, stepped forward to shoulder the task of coordinating the “Technology Demonstration Session,” emphasizing not only weapons, but also inclusion of “enablers”—things that optimize their effects on targets.
Around noon on Thursday, after all the indoor sessions had run their course, chartered buses rolled out for the short ride from Fredericksburg to nearby US Army Fort A.P. Hill’s Multi-Purpose Range 33.
Again facilitated by Captain Joseph Fyfe of the Army’s elite Asymmetric Warfare Group, and sternly overseen by Marine RSOs from PM Weapons, the afternoon’s demonstrators included Barrett, Century, FN, Glock, HK and PEO Soldier.
Following brief presentations at each station on the firing line, attendees lined up behind their weapons of choice, getting bragging rights and selfies from trigger time with free ammo (much of it generously donated once again by Orbital ATK), behind a remarkable selection of the latest in pistols and PDWs, assault rifles, sniper weapons and machine guns.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: What accompanies the in-print version of this feature is a necessarily short photo essay zeroing in on some notable highlights from the Forum and its live fire range component. For a close look and lots of information on these weapons and sights, as well as Forum activities and exhibits, check out Robert Bruce’s online slide show with 196 photos from this event, posted at https://www.smallarmsreview.com/archive/reference.12-2017.cfm#12192017.
NDIA Small Arms Committee’s 2017 Honors and Awards
AUTHOR’S NOTE: A comprehensive article by the late, great Jim Schatz on this year’s Chinn and Hathcock Awards is available in SADJ’s Archives at www.sadefensejournal.com.
The Chinn Award is named in honor of LtCol George M. Chinn, USMC, a career Marine who dedicated his life to the study, development and refinement of machine gun mechanisms. Each year, the Small Arms Committee Executive Board honors a government or industry individual who, in the Board’s opinion, has made significant contributions to the field of small arms and/or infantry weapons systems.
This year’s recipient is Dan Shea, General Director of Phoenix Defense, Publisher of Small Arms Defense Journal, and member of NDIA Small Arms Steering Committee. Nominated by the late, great Jim Schatz, 2015 Chinn Award recipient, “For contributions made to the military and law enforcement community and the end user; advancing the state of small arms technology, initiating foreign ordnance technology discovery, providing unmatched threat weapons training to uniformed service members, technical analysts, combat developers and trainers and for many readers, the cataloging and preservation of valuable small arms historical and technical materials and collections from countless notable small arms experts and organizations.”
Named in honor of USMC Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock, II, a career Marine who dedicated his life to the service of this country in both the military and law enforcement communities, the Hathcock Award recognizes an individual who, in the opinion of the Small Arms Committee Executive Board, has made significant contributions in operational employment and tactics of small arms weapons systems which have impacted the readiness and capabilities of the U.S. military or law enforcement.
Todd Hodnett, Training Division honcho and much more for Accuracy 1st, is NDIA’s 2017 Hathcock honoree. “Hodnett, was quite an influence teaching instructors from all elements of Special Operations Command and Joint Special Operations Command. This quickly led to Federal Law Enforcement with FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Secret Service Counter Sniper and entities within the Intelligence Community signing up for this coveted opportunity. Today, Todd teaches every sniper instructor group in the US Military.”
The Ambrose Award is established and presented periodically to recognize an Industrial Firm which, in the opinion of the Small Arms Committee Executive Board, has made outstanding contributions to the Armed Forces in the field of small arms systems. This is characterized by delivering superior materiel that meets required operational capabilities and supports a high level of force readiness in the conduct of warfighting activities or homeland defense.
This year’s Ambrose Award goes to Dr. Kenneth Oehler, founder of Oehler Research, Inc., innovator and industry leader in chronographs and other ballistic instrumentation for sportsmen, law enforcement and military applications.
The Trifiletti Award is presented by the NDIA Gun & Missile Executive Committee to Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s Mike Till, “recognizing and honoring an individual who has made significant contributions benefiting the warfighter, thus strengthening national defense.”
NDIA’s Armaments Division
NDIA’s Armament Systems Forum provides the U.S. and International Allied Armament government and industry framework understanding of the evolving global requirements and capabilities. The forum agenda communicates the trends in armament systems and technology which are shaping the enterprise today and in the future. Speakers, presentations, exhibits and demonstrations are planned to enable communication, networking and collaboration to seek solutions to challenges in systems, technology, manufacturing and warfighter application.
The primary purpose of the forum is to provide attendees content that will shape the evolution of new capability to ensure readiness in the complex world environment. Forum participation is focused to strengthen the government-industry partnership across the full life cycle from requirement to fielding.
The Division’s activity is directed through three very active components: Small Arms Committee; Guns, Ammunition, Rockets & Missiles Committee; and Unconventional Emerging Technology Armament Systems.
Objectives of the Armaments Division are to:
Provide focus on integrated armament systems including those used by individual soldiers; utilized on crew-served systems; and integrated into land, sea and air platforms.
Provide assessment of current armaments and a vision of emerging military equipment and operational capability applying advanced technology in total armament systems.
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2018 Armaments Forum