Weapons: November 20, 2002


What is the outlook for submachine guns and assault rifles? Particularly submachine guns, do they have any future in military operations? That question remains open, but in 1980 Fabrique Nationale of Herstal took a new look at the problem. Infantry need assault rifles but an army has many support personnel who occasionally have to look to their own personal defense. Current submachine guns have neither the range needed nor the power to penetrate evolving body armor. To address this problem FN developed the P90 PDW (personal defense weapon). It is a blowback design firing from a closed bolt, using a new low pressure 5.7X28mm cartridge and though clever design of the bullet, can defeat 48 layers of Kevlar body armor at 200 meters. 

This weapon is made with high impact plastic along with steel stamping. It is very ergonomically friendly and completely ambidextrous. The magazine holds 50 rounds and the bullet, steel tipped with a follow on aluminum core tumbles upon impact, imparts 90 of its energy to the target. Loaded it weights about five and half pounds and uses an optical dot-in-ring sight. The P90 is a good solution to a known self defense problem but military organizations are not lining up to buy it. At present it is in use by Saudi Arabia, the special forces of Peru and Cyprus, the U.S. INS and some Asian nations.

In the 1990s the Russians brought out the AN94 in 5.45X39mm. This was to be the new standard assault rifle but budgetary considerations make deployment doubtful. The weapon is slightly lighter in weight than the AK74 and uses the same pressed metal, spot welding, rivet design as its predecessor but with a new blow back, shift pulse operating system. Reportedly highly reliable at 10,000 rounds between failures it will fire a burst of 2-3 rounds before the user feels any recoil, reducing round dispersion. On full auto it fires the first two rounds at 1800 rpm and all succeeding at the more controllable rate of 600 rpm.

I would be remiss not to mention the Heckler and Koch G11. This German weapon began development in 1969 and fires a 4.7X33mm caseless cartridge from a 50 round magazine. Caseless ammunition eliminates the reciprocating portions of the firing cycle and the concept was to fire three round bursts before feeling any recoil, keeping round dispersion low. Due to budgetary problems after reunification, this weapon seems to have dropped completely off the radar screen.

The Americans are presently developing the ATK (Alliant Techsystems) OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon)slated to replace the M16, M4, M203 and M249. It is a combination weapon of 5.56 and 20mm modularized so that they can be separated and fired individually with a loaded weight of almost 18 pounds. The planned deployment weight should be fourteen pounds.

The weapon has a laser range finder and the 20mm ammunition will air burst at plus or minus 1m out to 1000m. The cyclic rate of fire for the 5.56 is 850 rpm with a two round burst mode and 10 rpm for the 20mm. The plan is to field test in FY 2009 and deploy four men out of nine with this weapon in an infantry squad. The weapon also has a combat ID system and a digital camera. Draw your own conclusions as to which features are combat essential. 

Development and deployment of the ATK will be a significant expenditure; will the ATK be a significant contributor to tactical dominance? It provides point and area attack capabilities, thats good. But are all its options must have or gadgets waiting to cause problems? The burst fire before felt recoil is a nice idea but one that will have to be coupled with the same old good fire control training as always and does it provide significantly better first round kills than aimed fire? Retaining the 5.56mm round doesnt give the weapon any more point range than the M16.

Consider the real tactical situation of this rifle at Chosin, Korea with the marines, suffering from grinding cold and logistics problems in 1950. What significant contribution would it have made to Fox/7 holding Toktong Pass? Would you have called for an air drop of more mortar rounds with their better reach and effect on reverse slopes or 20mm? Would burst fire have knocked down more attacks or caused logistical shortages? Would it have worked at all in the cold? During this retreat only the M1 remained relatively stoppage free.

In the hasty attacks the marines made to clear ridges, the 20mm and burst fire would have been welcome. But again, would everything have worked in the cold, would the thin supply situation have gotten you enough ammunition for this to have made a consistent, significant difference? In the sub zero temperatures, snow, falling on rocks and beating peoples brains out would this be your weapon of first choice? Its a good question because although is a supporting weapon it will fill the slots of 44 percent of your squads fire power. --Peter38




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