Canadian Small Arms Programs
Like their British counterparts, the Canadian military is busy planning for sweeping upgrades to most of their legacy small arms with a replacement of “Infantry Assault Weapons” (the briefers term, not the authors) to include the rifle, carbine and machine guns during the period of 2018-2022. This estimated 1 billion Canadian dollar ($920M USD) effort includes various ongoing studies into the human factors that influence weapon use and thus design, such as weapon balance, weapon interface with the shooter, and the location of operating controls and ancillary device use and power management. Ammunition lethality is also being investigated with the intent to determine whether or not the current Canadian small arms calibers are still the best choice for future warfare.
Each Army has the same issue; that of excessive soldier combat load. The Canadian forces are no different with the average weight for the combat load of a Canadian rifleman being 37 kg (82 pounds), an appreciable amount of it in batteries. In current combat operations in Afghanistan, an average Canadian infantryman can expend 15 AA and 2 CR123 batteries each day to power his assortment of aiming lasers, lights and reflex and night sights, strobes, flashlights, etc. (this does not include the more specialized, and heavy, radio batteries). This amounts to a staggering 17,000 AA batteries in 2 weeks for the entire Canadian infantry company.
NATO Dismounted Soldier Weapon Systems
A representative from the NATO Land Capability Group 1 (Dismounted Soldier), responsible for NATO efforts for the ground combatant, provided an update of ongoing efforts within that group to address the needs of soldiers in NATO. In addition to studies on human factors as they pertain to soldier small arms use, in May 2009 NATO adopted a slightly modified and improved Picatinny accessory rail as the new NATO STANAG 4694. Similar to the US Picatinny (Mil-Std 1913) rail, the new NATO rail includes minor enhancements to improve sight zero retention and remains fully interchangeable (reverse compatible) with the original US variant. Key changes in the NATO Accessory Rail include metric dimensions, the addition of new measurements and tolerances, slight adjustments to some measurements and a reduction in the straightness tolerance. Wherein the US Picatinny rail “grabs” or indexes on the two angles of the rail surface (the side “V” angles), which with production variances do not always insure true return-to-zero performance, the STANAG 4694 rail indexes on the top surface using the lower V angle surfaces for secure and repeatable sight attachment. Manufacturers of rails and accessories should pay close attention to this change to insure full compatibility of products in their global market. Complete drawings and specifications document for the new NATO rail can be obtained by contacting your country’s NATO point of contact.
Capability Group 1 conducted surveys of NATO troops recently. To no ones surprise troops indentified their priorities as being combat identification (friend and foe), range to target data, and rounds and power remaining data so one knows what is liable to run out first: ammunition or the means to brings those remaining rounds on target using powered sights. Of course weight is still a common issue though balance, where that weight is “hung” on the weapon, is greatly dependent on the user’s perception of weight. Poor balance actually makes the weapon feel heavier to the operator and induces accelerated fatigue. Unfortunately, we tend to place accessory weight to include rail systems, targeting devices and muzzle devices, on the front portion of the weapon exactly where it is most detrimental to the person carrying it. Studies have shown that keeping the weight of accessories closest to the center of balance of the weapon (within 7 cm/2.8 inches), and not forward of the support hand, helps to lessen the fatigue of the operator and thus improve hit performance during long duration missions. There are ways to accomplish this without sacrificing system capabilities. One proven COTS solution is to integrate aiming lasers and reflex sights together, such as in the Insight Technology ISM (Integrated Sight Module) developed for the US XM8 rifle, and finding alternate means to attach accessories without adding a complete 1+ pound rail system to the weapon (wherein only 30% of the rail surface is utilized) yet the full weight (and cost) burden is unnecessarily added to the soldiers load. Proven COTS solutions in this area include the add-on rails as employed on the US SCAR and Remington ACR rifles and the “negative accessory mounting” PCAPs as developed again for and proven on the US XM8 rifle. One study revealed that there is in fact a direct relationship between the overall weight of the weapon, in this case the rifle, and that very often the lighter weapon was actually harder to accurately aim at the target than one that is heavier, especially in unsupported positions – a fact known by competitive rifles shooters for decades. The conclusion of this NATO study was that the fully accessorized and loaded rifle should not exceed 6.9 kg (15.2 pounds).
One subtest conducted dealt with the sight position as it is mounted on the rifle and considered its effect on soldier/system accuracy. The test results indicated that adjustable sight locations did not markedly improve accuracy results downrange but was more of a comfort issue for the user. Of course shooter comfort can play a deciding role on the effective use of a weapon especially during prolonged periods of armed alert or actual use. Not surprisingly it was concluded that legacy weapons, those in service with test personnel, often used as baseline weapons for comparison to new candidate hardware, almost always were preferred by the soldiers and country or unit-specific training preferences always had an important impact on test results and test personnel choice.
Myths Dispelled – NATO Standardization
Of interest to many, the NATO presenter also dispelled the long standing myths concerning “NATO Standard” or “STANAG” small arms items. We often hear statements that certain items, such as M4/M16 magazines are “NATO standard.” While there is a draft STANAG (4179) for such a NATO magazine (and 4181 for the stripper clip to go with it) these draft documents have never been finalized. There are only two recognized NATO STANAG’s (STANdarization AGreements) for small arms. One is a somewhat obscure sight mounting interface rarely seen and the very recent May 2009 STANAG 4694 for the Picatinny-like NATO Accessory Rail. Contrary to popular belief there is no NATO standard for muzzle threads, flash suppressors or bayonets, though there is a formal process that “qualifies” such items for use in NATO country weapons. While there are NATO standards for Belgian-style SS109 5.56x45mm ammunition (4172) and 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition (2310), in order to receive the well known NATO head stamp marking (a cross in a closed circle) the ammunition must have been successfully tested (“qualified”) in the list of NATO Nominated Weapons. In the case of 5.56mm rifles that includes the US M16A2, UK SA80A2 (L85A2), Belgian FNC, Italian AR70/90, and German G36. However, even when this is done it is not always fully compatible across all weapons chambered for that cartridge. A good example being the UK 5.56mm NATO L2A2 round that is banned for use in the US M4 Carbine by the US Army. Presently there are 20 NATO qualified 5.56x45mm rounds from 13 NATO countries. An interesting related change is that NATO will also replace the NATO CRISAT threat target (former Soviet Union Titanium/Kevlar panel) with modern soft and ceramic plate body armor panels more commonly seen today.
While not overwhelming in its participation, the US military was in fact present and accounted for at the 2009 event. Representatives from the US Army and US Marine Corps were there in attendance to learn about things afoot across the pond. It was not a wasted trip by any means as most attendees at this event find that the subjects presented there are often not covered at the US events. The 2009 symposium did not disappoint. American engineer Eric Binter, from the US Army ARDEC, presented a well prepared paper entitled Virtual Development and Testing of Small Arms through the use of Advanced Modeling and Simulation. The discussion included accounts of various successes through this non-firing process to include valuable data obtained on barrel whip, heat transfer through small arms and the actual failure analysis and recommended resolution to one in-service US Army weapon experiencing drop-induced unintentional discharges during troop combat use. ARDEC worked with the manufacturer to resolve this important safety issue and is on record offering their services to those in the industry that have a need for their appreciable modeling and simulation capabilities. You can contact ARDEC at www.pica.army.mil/PicatinnyPublic/organizations/ardec/index.asp.
The German IdZ eS “Infantryman of the Future” Program
Considered by many to be the most mature of the Soldier Modernization/Future Warrior-type efforts that include the US “Land Warrior,” the UK “FIST,” the Spanish “COMFUT,” Swiss “IMESS” and French “FELIN” programs, with components first fielded in 2004, these “digitize the soldier” technology programs have thus far seen limited success in fielding actionable technologies and capabilities to the front line combatant. Briefed by the weapons system prime contractor and Project Leader Wolfgang Bantle from Heckler & Koch GmbH, Oberndorf am Neckar, Germany, the German MoD has come to the realization that “you just can’t get there from here” – at least at this time in history. Rather than dump millions of Euros into chasing a dream, the Germans have with IdZ (pronounced “I D Zed”) done what they have done so well with Bundeswehr small arms in general since the mid-1990s and incrementally morphed and modified the program, and resulting hardware, based upon technical barriers encountered, and most importantly the desires and direction of the actual end users.
The concept, like all Future Warrior programs, is to create a fully integrated “Soldier as System” ensemble to include the soldier, his primary weapon and 24 hour sighting/fire control systems, communications and personal or “wearable” computer. Allowing day/night visualization and targeting of enemy personnel even around corners requires real time computing power, links from the weapon to the soldier’s heads-up display and most importantly battery power, and lots of it. It is in fact that latter element that is possibly the biggest deterrent to meaningful progress in this area. Like all Future Warrior programs, the idea has been to incorporate all of the aiming and targeting functions into a single integrated full-solution sighting system. One example is the FS/FCS system envisioned for the US OICW more than 15 years ago, but Future Warrior ensembles add to that the hard wired or wireless link to the operator and his wearable personal computer. Problem is these integrated sighting systems are simply far too bulky and heavy to make them field and/or combat ready, at least with today’s technology barriers firmly in place.