Few would argue that the important element in any military service is the individual warfighter. Whether soldier, Marine, airman, sailor, or Coast Guardsman, it is the individual who serves as the true “tip of the spear” in military operations. While some actions are still conducted “from afar,” many of the modern operations conducted across the military spectrum still rely on the small arms systems provided to those soldiers.
As in past years, the last 12 months have witnessed a broad range of military small arms developments, with military planners and their industry partners applying new technologies against emerging combat lessons learned to achieve the optimum lethality solution for today’s warfighters.
Examples of these enhanced lethality solutions can be seen in efforts as diverse as the development of new 7.62 mm and .300 Winchester Magnum sniper rounds by Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division (NSWC Crane), to the ongoing limited fielding and combat assessment of a small number of XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement Systems (CDTE) by the U.S. Army Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier.
Most recently, the task of small arms developers has been further complicated by relatively small geographic changes in operational theaters.
An example of these operational complications was recently highlighted by Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, U.S. Army PEO Soldier. Speaking to the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Joint Small Arms Symposium and Demonstration held in Las Vegas, Nev., during mid-May 2009, Fuller explained that his office was attempting to “increase lethality, increase survivability, and increase the soldier’s ability to operate in any operating environment. Especially as we talk about the transition of forces from the theater in Iraq to the theater in Afghanistan, there’s a lot of discussion that ‘what worked in one theater is not necessarily going to work as well in another theater.’
“Weight is the biggest issue that we have as a topic of discussion in the second environment,” he added.
Against that backdrop of changing user priorities and potential new technologies, Fuller was one of many participants utilizing the NDIA event to offer a glimpse at the impressively wide range of developments taking place in the military small arms arena.
Many of the new developments were noted by representatives of the Joint Service Small Arms Synchronization Team (JSSAST).
Chaired by the commander of the U.S. Army’s Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) Enterprise and Systems Integration Center (ESIC), JSSAST has one voting member from six principal entities: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and U.S. Special Operations Command. Additional “associate” members participate from PEO Soldier’s Project Manager, Soldier Weapons as well as the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate. Team members formally meet twice a year and are tasked with reviewing each service’s small arms needs and providing guidance on how to apply the best available resources to meet those needs.
Speaking to the NDIA symposium attendees, JSSAST Chairman Col. Karl S. Flynn pointed to a mission statement that encompassed: intensive management of the DoD small arms tech base; harmonization of requirements; transition to service project managers for System Development and Demonstration (SDD); long-range plans and strategies; and influence of international small arms activities.
Reflective of the weight issue previously identified by Fuller, Flynn noted that FY 08-10 JSSAST themes included the establishment of a joint requirement and transition strategy for Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) and building a jointly funded program for the SDD and production phases.
Technology explorations currently focus on both “caseless” and “cased telescoped” versions of rifle and light machine gun ammunition. Using the M249 5.56 mm Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) as current baseline, the LSAT identifies a weapon weight of 17.5 pounds and 600-round ammo weight of 20.8 pounds, for a combined 38.3-pound warfighter burden. Against today’s figures, the project has identified “goal” weights of 11.3 pounds for the weapon and 12.5 pounds for the ammo, reducing the total system burden to 23.8 pounds. Significantly, current examinations seem to indicate that the use of caseless and cased telescoped ammunition designs can actually reduce total system weight (with ammunition) to 19.9 and 24.4 pounds, respectively.