Infantry: January 8, 2000

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: NEW RIFLE LEAVES ENEMIES NO PLACE TO HIDE -- IF IT WORKS: The US Army's new rifle, the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, can for all practical purposes shoot around corners. The soldier can sight on an obstacle (the corner of a building, a log-reinforced foxhole) and determine the range with high precision. The soldier then aims just to one side of (or above) the obstacle and programs one of the 20mm grenades from his weapon to explode 1m beyond it. The resulting shrapnel burst would kill or wound any enemy soldier hiding there. The OICW is advertised as particularly useful in Somalia, Bosnia, or Chechnya, where cover (from city buildings or rocky mountains) is plentiful. The Army notes that a rifle company may fire 50,000 rounds in a two-hour battle, and that 95% of this will be suppressive fire intended to keep the enemy's head down, not to hit him. And yet, this wonder weapon, this real-world version of "Johnny 7: The One Man Army", has problems. First, it is expensive, costing $10,000+ per weapon, compared to $586 for the M16. One could presume that an enemy would be able to equip 16 soldiers for the price of equipping one American, and there are plenty of places in the world where soldiers are paid 1/16 of what an American is paid. The rifle is thought to make an American soldier five times more effective than one with an M16. Due to cost, the weapon will initially be issued only to the two "grenadiers" in each squad (who now carry an M16 fitted with a 40mm grenade launcher). Second, it is heavy, weighing 18.6 pounds compared to 8.5 pounds for the M16. Making it worse, adding a 20mm grenade launcher means adding a pouch of two of 20mm grenades to the 210 rounds of 5.56mm rifle ammunition the soldier is already carrying. Advocates expect the production version of the weapon to weigh in at 12 pounds due to the use of advanced materials. It takes 30 days of intensive training just to be able to operate the complicated laser-aiming system and computer controls. These skills become lost quickly if the soldier cannot practice frequently with a rifle connected to a simulator. Infantrymen who have tested the prototypes report that they break down too easily when roughly handled on a battlefield. They also noted that the laser aiming device overheated and had to be cooled by ice packs. The laser also consumes batteries at a high rate. Whatever technological advantage the US gains will not be kept forever. The French and Australians are developing similar weapons. It could be assumed that in a decade, the Russians and Chinese will also offer similar weapons, and they are notoriously un-choosy about their customers. The chances of such a weapon being captured on the battlefield are high, as rifles are the most common of weapons and the most frequently captured. Enemy troops will have to develop tactics to avoid the main effects of the weapon. Firing from loopholes too small for the grenade to target, or from battle positions with overhead cover, could reduce the effects considerably. --Stephen V Cole

 


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