The Latest in Textron Systems’ LSAT Program
Small Arms Defense Journal was granted a unique interview with Textron Systems about the company’s most recent developments with the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) program that the U.S. Army Program Executive Office is currently running. Speaking with Wayne Prender, the current Vice President of Applied Technology and Advanced Programs from Textron Systems, we were able to shed some light on one of the more advanced small arms development programs of today.
Small Arms Defense Journal: How are things going with the LSAT Program?
Textron Systems: Along with some other competitors that are competing in the program, we were recently awarded a 12-month prototype contract. That award came on June 25 (2018), and we’ve been very excited about it. We will be producing one prototype and delivering that to the Army a year from now (Fall 2019). This product is a continuation of LSAT. Since 2004 we’ve been working on maturing and improving upon our cased telescoped (CT) ammunition that is a component of this program. One of the Army’s modernization priorities has been soldier lethality, and this is one of the first contracts to have been put in line with this. We’re very excited to be providing the Army with a system that is capable of not only meeting the objectives they have but also the growth that is necessary to enable a generational weapon to grow with the Army. We do believe that we have a very good technical approach, and a very good team assembled to complete this work.
SADJ: Right now the focus is on replacing the M249 SAW, but ultimately one of the goals of this is to produce a family of weapon systems, such as a rifle, carbine and designated marksman’s rifle, all at the squad level?
TS: That is correct, not just ourselves; the Army has laid out the plans for a family of weapon systems. We will continually optimize our prototype not only for the automatic rifle but also for a potential carbine version. Last year at AUSA we did release a carbine version of our CT Weapon, and we’ll continue to evaluate how to best improve upon that system for the future. Of course we also are looking at the family of belt-fed machine guns, whether they are light, medium or heavy machine guns. Something that we have incorporated into our design is that it is scalable depending on the operational requirement.
SADJ: Seeing that the Marine Corps has had a controversial switch to the magazine-fed M27 IAR, is there an interest in a magazine-fed SAW for the Army, essentially a magazine-fed LSAT?
TS: Right now there is nothing about the CT Weapon that makes it belt-fed only. In fact our carbine version is of course a magazine-fed system. We can go with either should the requirements change. But we are also not unveiling our particular design for the prototype; we are evaluating and going through the trace studies to determine what the best approach is to meet the Army’s stated requirements as well as their goals and objectives. Both configurations (belt-fed and magazine-fed) will be a part of our evaluation.
SADJ: Is there any possibility of an interchangeable feed system being implemented, such as was used with the Stoner 63 designs?
TS: No, I do not believe that is a solution set that we are exploring at this point in time. It would be overly complicated for a 12-month program. Again, we are primarily focused on showcasing the capabilities of the weapon and fire control system.
SADJ: Could you expand on the ammunition that you are using for the program right now?
TS: Cased telescoped is the technique of embedding the round into the overall cartridge of the ammunition. We do continue to use a polymer material to form that case. That provides a lot of technical advantages, but it also decreases the overall weight of the ammunition, in addition to the actual weapon system. We’ve also developed new techniques for firing this cased telescoped ammunition. As a result we’ve been able to reduce the overall weight of the system and improve its maneuverability, accuracy and, ultimately, the lethality. Really the prototype competition is about that lethality requirement. Currently we are focused on meeting or even beating the Army’s objectives with respect to performance as well as overall size and weight.
SADJ: Previously Textron Systems had been experimenting with caseless ammunition, but that appears to have stopped?
TS: Caseless development has actually not been dropped; we continue to explore caseless ammunition through a variety of contracts, but that is not at a state of maturity where the cased telescoped polymer ammunition is today. The Prototype Opportunity Notice (PON) does require a certain level of maturity and technology-readiness level. Our polymer cased telescoped ammunition and weapon systems do have that maturity. But in the meantime we continue to do research and development not only on caseless but other advanced small arms technologies.
SADJ: With the polymer cased telescoped ammunition, could you talk about some of the challenges in development?
TS: Anything new of course comes with some of its own unique challenges. But in the case of polymer cases, polymer actually provides a number of advantages. We cannot comment on some of the issues we’ve had, but we can discuss the advantages that we’ve come across. Not only is there a weight saving but quite honestly it is also strength of the case in addition to ease of manufacturability. Now, that may sound odd that the strength of the plastic is in fact better than current brass, but in conjunction with the weapon and how the weapon operates and handles that ammunition, the polymer cased telescopic ammunition is in fact a better solution than a conventional brass setup. It really isn’t about just the ammunition or just the weapon system; it is a system of systems that has to interact together. With that we’ve been able to make it successful. Obviously challenges occur on any development program, but obviously we’ve had 14 years of lessons learned on this type of weapon system. We’ve spent a large amount of time learning to develop weapon systems like this.
SADJ: Should LSAT and cased telescoped ammunition be successful, is there any avenue to converting current U.S. Army small arms into the system?
TS: Because of the way the ammunition and the weapon interact there really isn’t any feasible way to convert a standard brass-cased 5.56 or 7.62 chambered weapon system into a cased telescoped platform. While they look similar from the outside, function exactly the same from a user’s perspective to include firing and clearing, the internals of the weapons and how it handles [sic] is just too drastic to convert from the older platform to the newer.
SADJ: What is the next hurdle/step for Textron Systems down the line?
TS: We continue to execute the programs that we have on contract today. They are very critical and important contracts. This PON is the next step for the Army’s Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle Program, and we are laser-focused on that.
Cased Telescoped Weapons and Ammunition
(Being developed in Hunt Valley, MD)
Game-Changing Weight Reduction
Textron Systems has a long, proven history as a designer and manufacturer of armament and ammunition technologies, having been involved in many Army small arms development programs over the past 50 years. The LSAT has undergone Military Utility Assessment (MUA) with the U.S. Army Maneuver Battle Lab, evaluation with U.S. Special Operations Command, and completed the Dismounted Non-Network Enabled Limited Objective Experiment with the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC).
Textron Systems oversees an experienced team of companies for the program including: ARES, Inc. of Port Clinton, OH; Orbital ATK of Independence, MO; General Dynamics company St. Marks Powder of St. Marks, FL; MSC Software of Santa Ana, CA; and Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, OH.
The next generation of CT weapons and ammunition systems delivers improved maneuverability and performance at 40-percent less weight than current systems. CT weapons and ammo are offered in a 5.56mm CT Light Machine Gun (LMG), a 7.62mm CT Medium (MMG) Machine Gun and a 6.5mm CT Carbine. Numerous military assessments and technical evaluations of our 5.56mm CT LMG have validated system maturity, performance and weight reduction benefits. These proven benefits are also present in the 6.5mm and 7.62mm CT systems. When it comes to equipping the warfighter, less is definitely more.
- Cased Telescoped Weapons & Ammunition
- Carry more ammo while reducing the load
- 5.56mm LMG proven to Technology Readiness Level 7
- Improves short-range engagement times
- Provides more first-round hits at long range
- Increases accuracy and maneuverability