Category Archives: Weapons of Tomorrow

Silencerco SWR Radius Rangefinder

Silencerco says the objective of its Silencerco Weapons Research subsidiary is “to bring advanced technology to the public at an attainable price.” We had not heard of that, or of SWR for that matter, until they came up claiming mission accomplished: “with the announcement of a capability-heavy range finder for only $999, we’ve done just that.”

Have they? Here’s a silent (apart from music and maybe gunshots) video of the SWR Radius in action.

This video describes some of the capabilities:

Sure, it’s not TrackingPoint, but TrackingPoint is not available for pre-order at $995, either.

The Tracking Point system includes several other modules, such as an air data computer that accounts for atmospherics (density, ambient pressure, altitude, temperature), a ballistics computer that knows the bullet performance at a given range, an aiming point module that adjusts the digital reticle on to target, a target reference module that “understands” where a marked (“tagged”) target is in three dimensions, and trigger control that, in a digital update to the way a Contstantinesco gear interrupted fire of a World War I fighter plane unless the propeller was clear of the trajectory, only allows the trigger to fire when the aimpoint is on target.

A unit like this, if it were able to output data through an RS232/RS422 port or something like that,  could be a component of such a system, and if the rangefinder alone succeeds, the likelihood that SWR builds in this direction is increased.

Of course, the one nut that even TrackingPoint has yet to crack is wind.

None of these developments are really, in the truest sense of the word, inventions. They’ve all been around for a century, manually calculated and optically ranged, in naval gunnery, and for most of a half century (including laser ranging) in tank gunnery. The new development is this technology reaching levels of portability and affordability where it can be installed on (or in) an individual weapon.

There are  couple less in-your-face developments embedded in the Radius. One of these is the display of not just one, but the top three range returns. This is a big deal if you’re engaging a target screened by vegetation, a chain link fence, or any of the other embuggerments that give a laser rangefinder a false return.

Another is the selectable use of visible and IR laser. The two lasers coalign, so that the laser can be boresighted or sighted-in with the visible laser, and then switch to the IR for actual field use, and use it with confidence.

This suggests that, while full firing system integration à la TrackingPoint is one way this can go, there are other ways. For example, a unit integrating this laser capability (in milspec strength) with current IR/visible laser floodlight and point illumination would be catnip to the military services.

How would you use this? No manual is posted yet, but a .pdf spec sheet is available.

And as an exit video: here, they’re hinting at some future capabilities.

Dude, where’s my jetpack?

3D Update for 8 April 2016

Here’s a few things that may be useful or entertaining to people working with, exploring, or just interested in this technology.

AR-15 Printed Lower: Print Bed to Ready to Load in 20 min

This video shows what appears to be the real time assembly of a FOSSCAD Vanguard lower from the print bed to a complete (if sightless) AR.

We’d quibble about some of his shortcuts and techniques — no, a piece of copper wire is not a suitable substitute for a roll pin, and while it’s neat that he used 3D printed pivot and takedown pins, how are they retained? Oh, they’re not — but we’ve been telling you for years that this technology was maturing, and now we’re showing you.

We suspect this fellow’s channel is going to be worth watching in the future.

Shuty MP-1 by Derwood Night Fire (10 sec. video).

We’ve discussed the gun before, here’s a video of it shooting at night.

Unlike his earlier versions of the Shuty, Derwood won’t be publishing these files on SendSpace. He also notes that the MP-1 still is limited; 18 rounds is all it takes to soften the thermoplastic around the barrel. Of course, he’s already working on improvements, as an intellectual exercise in home workshop engineering.

The media reaction to his firearm has been… interesting. Even 3D Printing industry journalists are journalists at heart, and can’t see this except through the prism of their anti-gun politics. For example, Benedict at 3Ders.org tut-tuts that “the relatively new phenomenon of open-source, downloadable firearms seems to promise a greater deal of harm than good,” whines that, “the maker circumvented all gun control laws, creating a totally legal weapon without so much as an ID check,” and closes with, “So is it sensible to put lethal weapons in the hands of all and sundry with an internet connection and 3D printer?” Andy Greenberg at Wired, long prone to involuntary incontinence in his Aeron over this issue, hyperventilates similarly: “Deadly, working guns that anyone can generate with a download,” that have “spooked gun control advocates” — those unnamed “gun control advocates” being named, naturally, “Andy Greenberg” — and “successfully circumvented all gun control laws”.  Our only question to Benedict and Greenberg is, “With your string of pearls in one hand and your blankie in the other, how do you type your articles?”

3D Printed Rimfire Stuff

We had been unaware of the 3D action over on RimfireCentral.com, a membership forum. Lots of 3DP based threads there, including:

 

Spud Gun Camera Module

GoPro Spudgun roundNow we get silly. Here’s a “projectile” that lets you fire a GoPro camera from a spud gun and recover the camera, rather than see it dashed to pieces. Well-engineered, with spring-loaded stabilizing fins just like “real” FS smoothbore rounds. You’re on your own for more martial applications, and mind the Destructive Device laws.

Yes, this is very silly. And?

Mark One Reinforced Printing

This is the Mark One in action. This is not ours, it’s Sumdood’s, but we finally have time to work on ours this week! The Mark Two is even cooler as it can winkle the reinforcing fiber into smaller areas… the Mark One can’t turn the reinforcing around a corner any smaller than the size of a quarter.

 

Exotic Fibers for Everyday Printers

Of course, the Mark Forged printers require proprietary fibers. But exotic fibers are becoming available to open-source printer users as well. Here’s an enthusiastic young Australian named Angus showing off a quadcopter frame with arms of four different materials: common ABS and PLA, and exotic Thermoplastic Polyurethane (rubbery) and Colorfabb Carbon Fiber (rigid).

One of Angus’s really good ideas: using a raft of ABS as the basis for the exotic print. (A “raft” is an expendable base laid down underneath the “money” print). The sales page for the TPU says don’t use rafts, and that’s because they mean, rafts of TPU. He also didn’t heed the warning about using steel nozzles with the carbon fiber, and he explains why.

Instead of laying continuous fiber reinforcement like the Mark Forged printers, the Colorfabb XT-CF20 “Carbon Fiber” filament seems to have sort of chopper gun microfilaments in it. The trade off is less reinforcement strength vs. more flexibility of employment.

Of course, the Mark Forged printers also use nylon as their basic material. Nylon. as we have seen, has significant advantages over PLA or ABS. (One of the nicest things about it is it does not emit a noxious smell).

Check out his channel, Maker’s Muse, it’s full of interesting stuff. He also has a video on “metal” filaments that you may have seen advertised.

Taulman3D Materials

Speaking of materials, especially nylon variations, but also a “better” PLA and an elastomer, all kinds of new stuff from taulman3D. Lots of horses for lots of courses there, and that link’s just their new stuff.

Update

Know those Shuty 4.0 MP-1 files that derwood wasn’t going to release? Well, he didn’t, but….

 

Some 3D Printed Firearms Updates

It’s been a long time since we did one of these updates, so here are a few things we’ve picked up here and there.

Print Now, Rest Later

Here’s a practical print task: a 3D printable cheek rest for an AR-15 pistol. (Well, to the extent that an AR pistol is practical). As we understand it, if you shoulder the weapon (say, with a SIG brace) you are violating the SBR laws, but if you’re cheek-resting you’re all tickety-boo. This image is a rendering; a final print will have some striations to it, from most printers using the most common 3DP technologies.

3D Printable AR pistol cheek rest

Checked as of last night, the files are here: https://www.sendspace.com/file/386tvq

Happy printing & shooting.

About those striated parts

One of the problems with 3D printing, especially the Fused Filament Fabrication / Fused Deposition Molding type that is common, is that the parts often display layering, striations, and other artifacts that add up to a lousy surface finish. There are several ways to smooth 3D prints.

These include:

  • Mechanical Smoothing — this can be sanding or particle blasting; each has its pros and cons. Sanding is limited in how small a part you can do, bead blasting in how large. Bead blasting always produces a matte finish, although the coarseness or fineness of the finish depends on the blasting media. On a part large enough to be practically sanded, sanding can produce a finish limited primarily by time and the cost of skilled labor.
  • Chemical Solvent Smoothing — this involves exposing the part to solvent vapor. For example, for ABS, acetone vapor either cold or hot (hot vapor has definite safety limitations and concerns, but can produce a superior finish). Acetone doesn’t work with PLA as it’s not acetone-soluble. Acetone also reduces the strength of the part: its stiffness is reduced, and it fails under a lower load.
  • Finish Coating — for a cosmetic finish, a thick paint can be used to fill layer striations. This will, often enough, loop you back to sanding. This is cosmetic only and subject to wear.
  • Epoxy Coating — this does require some skill to pull off, but both fills and reinforces the part. This can be important with some liquid-based and powder-based laser 3D printers whose parts tend to be brittle; coating them with epoxy can make the printed part, in effect, a shear web and form inside a tough, flexible epoxy shell. This is good when the part needs to be employed as is, and not so good if the part is intended to be, say, a sacrificial casting pattern. (In that case, for lost-PLA casting for example, use one of the other procedures). Smooth-on sells an epoxy that’s optimized for this type of use and has several how-to and application videos on the web page.

For more information:

  1. Lindsey Frick in Machine Design on “How to Smooth 3D-Printed Parts.”
  2. Smooth-on’s gaudy page on their XTC-3D 3D Print Coating has lots of examples and tutorials.
  3. Here’s Make Magazine and Instructables with a pair of acetone-vapor tutorials.
  4. And here’s the story of a guy who went whole hog and built an ultrasonic vapor fogging chamber in hopes it would increase the strength of his prints (it actually weakened them). There’s a link in that article to an Instructable on building his fogger, too.

100 Rounds from a 3DP Pistol

Remember the original Liberator (well, the original 3D Printed Liberator, not the original original Liberator)? It was only good for a few shots. (Unless you were the New South Wales Police, and printed it without reading the instructions, in which case it blew up first shot). What use was it? But as Franklin said on being asked that of the invention of the French aeronauts, the Montgolfier brothers, “What use is a newborn baby?”

Well, here’s a 3D Printed pistol that has fired 100 rounds and is still going. 3D printed AR lowers long ago beat that number, but here’s a pistol that’s all 3D printed on consumer equipment, except for the mandatory weight and firing pin.

100-round-songbirdWe’re not sure whether this colorful print of this James R. Patrick design wants to be a toy, or whether it wants to be a Glock when it grows up.

A Practical Print for Almost Everyone

What’s this? It’s an AR Hammer Block. Use it when you want to function-check that lower you just monkeyed with, without running aground on the Scylla of letting the hammer slam into your expensive piece of aluminum (very expensive if it comes with a stamp), and the Charybdis of using your delicate pink (brown, whatever) thumb to intercept the falling hammer.

printed AR hammer block

A great, practical print. (The website it’s advertising is for a training device to use with your SIRT, not available to the general public yet). Hmmm… the “files” link at PrintedFirearm.com, went to a malware site: adf.ly! And downloaded a malware .exe! We’re not giving you that link.

OK, here’s another one instead, by Charles Lacey:

AR trigger pull test block

Files here, Grabcad is not a malware site: https://grabcad.com/library/ar-15-trigger-pull-test-block-all-set-for-3d-printing-1 (You do have to join Grabcad to download files, though).

Lacey also has a chamber flag, or as he calls it, a bore flag, on Grabcad, and a couple of Magpul mag floor plates, including a whimsical Flying Tigers version. We leave finding those as an exercise for the reader.

Large Format Printed Pistol Now Speaks Glock

shuty mp-1 pistolWe’ve showed the Shuty MP-1 before, a 3D printed pistol inspired by the designs of Luty. The pistol made a splash in the media some time ago, with the usual alarums and excursions, dogs and cats lying down together, and all the usual drivel you usually only hear in an election year. (This happened twice, actually — in February 2015 with the original Shuty, and in February 2016 with the improved MP-1).

Less publicized has been the Gluty — as you can see from the image below, it’s a Shuty reengineered for Glock mags. The image tells us it’s been printed but we’re not aware of how successfully it has been test fired — unlike the Shuty.

Gluty 3DP pistol

One of the biggest limitations of the Shuty is its magazine. Adapting to commodity Glock magazines is the easiest way to increase the magazine capacity of  this novel firearm. At the same time, the original files, with their included magazine files, allow the creation of a firearm where even the mags are unobtainable.

Of course, that still leaves the barrel as a tough nut to crack. Shuty and Gluty use the standard pistol barrels.

Printed AR Lower

This FOSSCAD JT Vanguard has been around for a while. This recent print, in ABS thermoplastic, shows some of the strengths of the design, and how the venerable AR form factor has had to change to adapt to these new materials and new processes. First shot shows it with an upper in the white. The grip and magazine are also printed.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT ABS

The grip is also ABS. We’re not sure about the materials of the mag, and wonder if the buttstock is printed also. This next picture shows you just a few of the changes, including the bulkier pivot area, the much beefier buffer tower, and the thick reinforcements along the receiver outboard of the trigger group.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT ABS CloseThis picture shows the trigger group in place. The reinforcement is clearly visible.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT internal

There have been experiments with printed trigger-group components, but so far, they haven’t been very impressive. Materials and processes need further improvements.

Exotic Lower-stock Bipod Combination

This is the Atlas AR-15 lower, by WarFairy CAD. It has a certain FN P90 vibe to it. It’s meant to be used with a free-floating barrel and suitable handguard/rails system.

WarFairy Atlas

When one looks at some of these designs, one is reminded of Donald Sutherland’s character in The Dirty Dozen, impersonating a general. “Pretty, but can it fight?”

Atlas Files: https://www.sendspace.com/file/6f0cfo

Finally — MakerBot Hates You

MakerBot continues its extreme antigun position. How extreme? A design for a powder knob for a Dillon progressive reloader was banished to 404.

Funny, their 404 page says, “There is nothing awesome here… yet.” Well, there was before they deleted it!

MakerBot does not want our business? Transmission received.

Consider Ultimaker. Ultimaker advertises on PrintedFirearm.com, which is an interesting site to check from time to time. Beware of any of their links to adf.ly. Two we observed were both delivering malware yesterday, and probably still are.

Tracking Point. .300 BLK. Night Capable. $6995.

They’re positioning the new Tracking Point NightHawk as a Homestead Defense gun, but we’re seeing the king of all hog harvesters.

night hawk

This latest iteration of TP tech is supposed to list at a that’s-what-my-truck-cost $15.5k or so, but they’re jump-starting sales by selling the first 100 for $6995. Tracking Point writes:

The… NightHawk .300 Blackout. Designed for homestead defense, NightHawk has a fully integrated night vision capability and is offered at an introductory price of $6995 for the first 100 purchases – the lowest price ever offered for a Precision-Guided Firearm.

To us, the NightHawk seems like a slightly-decontented .300 version of their 5.56 M600 SR service rifle. Unlike the M600,  the NightHawk is limited to engaging targets at speeds of 7 mph.

A follow-up email had more on the special offer:

The TrackingPoint team would like to thank everyone for a tremendous response to our NightHawk product launch. We were overwhelmed by the genuine interest in our night vision system designed for homestead defense. The NightHawks have literally been soaring off the shelves!

“Literally soaring?” What, it’s a drone, too? Or is Vice President Biden, the National Mangler of “Literally,” writing TrackingPoint’s ad copy these days?

This is a notification that we have a limited supply of the first 100 NightHawks for the exclusive offer price of $6,995*. Place your order today to guarantee this discounted price and receive the most advanced Precision-Guided Firearm to date for the lowest price ever offered.

To place an order, please call (512) 354-2114

*MSRP $15,490

Tracking Point also offers financing now, which may make some of their pricy firearms more accessible to regular Joes. $7k is a lot for an AR, but considering that the scope and night vision are included, the delta between NightHawk and a build-it-yourself day/night rig is not as big as it seems at first.

Technically, the night vision is an add-on to the TrackingPoint system that uses an infrared illuminator (as in early active night-vision products, like the M3 Carbine and Infrared Snooperscope, or the infrared driving light on a 1960s Russian tank), but they claim it gives Generation II equivalent performance. The night vision capability is available as an option (including as a retrofit) for the rest of the TrackingPoint line. Here’s what they say about it:

NightHawk includes fully integrated Night Vision Kit which enables CMOS sensor technology to deliver Gen2-like night vision performance. After dark you are able to acquire and track targets just as you would in daylight. Nighthawk also includes a rail-mounted IR Illuminator.

Also, in a first as far as we know, the NightHawk has programs for TrackingPoint branded ammunition but also off-the-shelf ammunition using the Barnes 110 bullet. Previous TrackingPoint precision guided firearms have required TrackingPoint ammunition for predictable ballistic performance.

Other new capabilities (or perhaps, new description of an old capability) include a mode making the “tag” on a target automatically seek center of mass on that target, and using the TrackingPoint precision-guided system to enable image-stabilized shots from offhand to provide “firing supported” levels of precision and accuracy. The tagging system and guided trigger also increases hit probability on moving targets or on shot at stationary targets while shooting on the move.

The one question still open in our mind is this: how does it fare with a suppressor? Seems to be leaving a signature capability of 300 BLK behind, if it’s not suppressor-ready and can’t account for the point-of-impact shift that comes with most suppressors.

More information on the NightHawk is available on TrackingPoint’s website.

“The Soldier got a good cheek weld on the soft, warm fur of the stock.”

 

3d_printed_hairScience fiction? Right now it is, but it’s now science fact that it’s possible to add integral hair to 3D-printed items. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University illustrated this using the most common form of plastic 3D printing, fused deposition modeling (also called Fused Filament Fabrication by some vendors).

They can make short, thick, rigid bristles, or soft, downy hair. The result makes hairs, fibers or bristles that taper naturally, almost organically, to a point. They write:

In this work, we introduce a technique for 3D printing soft strands, fibers, and bristles (Figure 1), using conventional fused deposition modeling (FDM). Our work was inspired by the peculiar phenomenon that occurs during the opera- tion of a handheld glue gun: when a person extrudes hot glue material and moves the gun away, a “string” of residue often forms unintentionally (Figure 2). The shape, length, and thickness of the resulting stringy material varies based on how much glue was extruded and how fast the user moves away from the extrusion point. This artifact often annoys users, but in this work, we exploit the phenomenon.

The scientists, Gierad Laput, Xiang ‘Anthony’ Chen, and Chris Harrison came at the problem from a human-computer interaction background and approach (they all work at CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute).

The bristles are deposited integrally as the brush is produced.

The bristles are deposited integrally as the brush is produced.

They did not use a high-end printer, but achieved their results with a Printrbot Simple, a ~$350 kit printer. They found that one way or another they could control the density, length, thickness, color, and distribution of the hairs or fibers. The hairs are also amenable to many kinds of post-processing. For the best results, they extrude the hairs horizontally, in the X or Y axis.

You can easily imagine some potential future developments, like a bespoke “hair” extruder that would lay down an array of hairs at once. Laput, Chen and Harrison have demonstrated the concept; now it’s up to the rest of the world to reduce it to practical applications.

Like a fur-bearing rifle stock. That’s perfectly and individually sculpted to your cheek weld.

They have also named the process: furbrication. Perfect!

The pre-publication paper (it is to be presented at a conference this month) is here on Laput’s server.  Hat tip, Caleb Garling at MIT Technology Review.

There are people who are not in the gun culture that think we are too attached to our firearms now. What’s going to happen when our guns are as soft and warm as a cuddly bunny?

Cyber Gun Aimed at Low-Information Generals

This image comes to you from the US Cyber Command’s booth at the AUSA convention, basically like SHOT show for the Army, complete with a keyword where the Chief of Staff sets the tone and introduces the buzzwords for the next year.

army_cyber_rifle

Wuzzzat he’s holding? A phased pulse rifle in the 40-megawatt range? Not exactly. This year, the Chief’s thunder has been stolen by that futuristic gadget, the Cyber Rifle. It’s a promotional gimmick from — who else? — the Army Cyber Institute at West Point. Appropriately enough it has been promoted by tweet.

It can open doors!

And zap drones! (If the Army gig doesn’t work out, they could sell this thing to every celebrity wedding planner from Malibu to Montauk).

The Cyber Gun isn’t a real weapon, although as you can see from the close-up, it’s built on AR-15 receivers. It’s more of a technology demonstrator, but even more than that, it’s a capabilities briefing in memorable, physical form. Captain Brent Chapman (the grinning fellow wielding the “rifle” in the “bunker lights and door” video) built it from COTS components, including a Raspberry Pi1, Wi-Fi module2, Kali Linux3, and Yagi antenna4 (since those may be terra incognita to some of our more firearm-oriented readers, there are definitions in the notes). It cost $150 to buy the parts, and 10 hours to build and test the Cyber Rifle.

Captain Chapman wasn’t entirely breaking new ground here. A very similar rig, made for mobile penetration testing, is in this 2013 blog post. Of course, it doesn’t look like a rifle.

So why does the Cyber Rifle, which is really a simple computer running some hacking tools with an antenna, look like a rifle?

Well, we mentioned how the Chief of Staff uses his speech to give impetus to ethe Army’s newest, shiniest buzzwords. No buzzword is shinier, now, than cyber. The Army has created a Cyber Branch (it took 35 years for SF to get a branch, but we didn’t offer the possibility of non-fighting slots for Academy grads that incline that way), and has selected its initial cadre of officers and NCOs. And here’s how we know that cyber’s a big deal with this Chief of Staff:

COS Milley visits ARCYBER

That’s the new boss, Mark Milley, in the Army Blue uniform, an outfit that looks like it’s on loan from the guards at Lenin’s Tomb. (He’s got a lot of sparkly baubles. Which one is the Hero of Socialist Labor?). Gen. Milley looks a bit bemused by the whole thing, but cyber is big with Big Green (source).

One of the many stories written about the Cyber Rifle in the last few days hints at the reason:

All of the tech was placed onto the rifle frame, making it easier for senior military leaders to appreciate.

“Easier for senior leaders to appreciate…” gee, that sounds a lot like “Generals are thick, make it look like a rifle or they’ll never understand how a computer can be an offensive weapon.”

But they wouldn’t really say that, would they?

Well, here’s another story with a quote from Capt. Brent Chapman:

The rifle shape, meanwhile, is mostly for kicks. ” By putting all of this stuff on the rifle frame, it also makes it very easy for senior leaders to consume,” Chapman says. “Aim. Shoot. Crash. “

In a last-ditch defense of Capt. Chapman’s career, he said that before General Milley visited his display; the Chief of Staff didn’t inspire the statement.

As far as we know.

Notes

  1. A low-cost single-board computer made originally to promote programming education to kids. Same idea (single-board comp) as Arduino, but oriented to programming, not sensing and control of physical stuff.
  2. This is the same circuit that’s in your phone and computer for getting on your WiFi network. It’s available in various forms, a USB dongle is usually used with Raspberry Pi and other small circuit boards. To support the Yagi, you need a dongle that supports an external antenna.
  3. Probably best explained by Adafruit:

    Kali Linux is a distribution especially aimed at penetration testing and network security applications. (It’s a successor to Backtrack Linux.) Kali isn’t intended as a general-purpose desktop OS for end users. Instead, it’s a collection of useful tools for monitoring, exploring, and attacking networks. It comes out of the box with tools like Wiresharknmap, and Aircrack-ng, and is particularly useful in situations where you just want a disposable machine/installation with some network tools.
    This is the software that runs on the computer, it includes the operating system and integrated hacking tools.

  4. A Yagi is a highly directional antenna array that works best for a narrow frequency range (or a single frequency). In fact, if you’re of a certain age, you’ve seen or owned one: the traditional TV antenna. The Yagi has a long axis, which is structural, not electronic; it is crossed by orthogonal elements, one of which is the actual transmitting element (or driven element, a dipole), one of which (behind the dipole) is a reflector, the remainder of which are towards the direction of transmission (or direction of the transmitter, for a receiving antenna) and are called directors.
    The thing on the nose end of the Cyber Rifle that looks like the rostrum of a sawfish? That’s the yagi, and the black nubs are the elements — the rearmost one is the reflector, the one just before it is the driven element — the only one wired to the transmitter — and all the ones forward of that are directors. WiFi is a perfect application for a Yagi because of the known, fixed frequency. (It would also be an antenna you’d consider for GPS meaconing, for the same reason).
    Fun fact: The Yagi wasn’t invented by Yagi, a Todai professor. It was invented, mostly, by his colleague Uda. But Yagi wound up with the credit. Make of that what you will.

     

“Impossible” Alloys of the Near Future

Steel-Aluminum alloy? Any metallurgist would tag you as a n00b for bringing it up. “Can’t do it. Incompatible. It’s the metallurgical equivalent of dogs and cats lying down together. Winds up with crystallized, embrittled aluminum weakening the steel.” Three Korean scientists, all stereotypically named Kim, from the Pohang University of Science and Technology have almost managed to pull it off — after many years of theory, trial, and error, and standing on the shoulders of previous researchers, as always. The lead investigator is Hansoo Kim.

The resulting material has properties that sound like Ayn Rand’s fictional Rearden Metal — light, strong, potentially cheap. It exceeds titanium alloys, hitherto the lightest and strongest alloys known, for lightness and strength. Yet the aluminum that lightens the alloy doesn’t embrittle it — it leaves it ductile, or workable. That’s why this research has potential outside of the metallurgist’s lab.

The secret appears to be accepting that Fe-Al “intermetallic compound” inclusions (they call this compound B2)  within the metal will be somewhat brittle, and managing their size and dispersion so that they lighten the resulting steel without embrittling it. They did this by adding nickel, which “catalyses the precipitation of nanometre-sized B2 particles in the face-centred cubic matrix of high-aluminium low-density steel during heat treatment of cold-rolled sheet steel.” In much the way that windows don’t break and make a skyscraper fall because they’re not load-bearing structures, these fracture-prone B2 particles are individually so small and so widely and evenly dispersed that a crack has no pathway to propagate. Think of it as rip-stop steel at the nanometer scale.

This work is evolutionary as much as it is revolutionary. It builds on previous work on TRIPLEX steels, which are steels with significant amounts of manganese, aluminum and carbon serving to modify iron’s physical properties (and that in turn builds on 1970s research in the USSR). Previous TRIPLEX research by Springer and Raabe (details linked below) found that while holding manganese and carbon content constant at 30% and 1.2% respectively, strength went up as up to 8% aluminum displaced some of the iron in the balance.

steel strength with aluminum

strength with various levels of aluminum in alloy (Springer & Raabe).

Springer and Raabe, and others, built on Soviet work that developed high-strength but very brittle iron-aluminum steels.

How can a material be strong and brittle? They’re separate properties. Strong suggests how far you have to go to make the metal fail. Brittle suggests a material that then fails abruptly by breaking. It doesn’t deform. (Imagine a car that, crashed into a tree, shattered into shards rather than got dented). But that’s not just a problem for designers: it’s a hell of a problem for manufacturers, for many of our steel-processing approaches expect steel to be ductile. We bend it on anvils or stamp it in dies; we shear it with cutting tools; we curve pipes around; we hydroform it. All of those processes depend on the ductility of the metal.

The tables and graphs in the paper in Nature (one of the two most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in the world) suggests that this novel aluminum-bearing steel alloy not only has superior balance of strength and ductility to TRIPLEX, but also offers real ductility advantages over typical titanium-aluminum-vanadium alloy. (If you’ve ever worked with titanium, you know ductility is not its strong point).

nature steel-AL alloy figure 1

What do alloys like this mean for firearms? The three Dr Kims are excited about automotive and aviation applications, because those are the primary users of large quantities of lightweight alloys (and have been turning increasingly to more exotic materials, like carbon fiber, carbon-carbon, and lithium alloys, in pursuit of lighter strong materials). But the technology that shows up on the auto line and in the aerospace factory does make it to firearms, especially as every firearms designer now alive is alert to how 1940s aviation technology enabled Stoner, Sullivan et. al. to revolutionize firearms design in the 1950s and early 60s. If nobody in your engineering shop is getting SAE’s Aerospace Engineering, you’re either committed to traditional materials and processes, or a me-too design shop.

While the material itself is of great interest, the scientists think that the process will be, in the long run, far more important because it will allow the invention of entire classes of previously “impossible” alloys.

The process has one major hurdle before it can be commercialized: a method must be found to prevent the oxidation of the steel, in-process. Technologies used on conventional steels won’t work, and building the foundry on an airless asteroid solves the oxidation problem, but leaves you with the steel somewhere other than the planet where it’s required.

And right about now, perhaps in some unexpected corner of the world, a grad student is mulling this problem, and sometime soon a light will go on in his head….

For more information

Popular Mechanics article for laymen: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/news/a13919/new-steel-alloy-titanium/?1443670416676=1

Nature article (abstract, references and tables only w/o subscription): http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v518/n7537/full/nature14144.html

Information on TRIPLEX steel-AL alloys (Forerunner of this research): http://www.dierk-raabe.com/triplex-steels/

BREAKING: Tracking Point is Back!

TrackingPoint ARWe received minutes ago the word that Tracking Point, last seen nearing belly-up in bankruptcy protection, is back in business, accepting orders, shipping product, and resuming development. In fact, founder and new CEO John McHale is so enthusiastic about the relaunch that we’ve received, if we’re counting right, (3) releases in a matter of minutes around 0930 Eastern Daylight Savings Time (including one link that 404’d. Patience, John).

Rather than plus up McHale’s comments with our opinions, and further delay getting this up (and thereby getting beaten by our friends at TFB, which we probably will anyway because there’s a small army of them), here’s the release:

TrackingPoint Emerges From Restructuring a Leaner and Stronger Company
Founding Management Team Returns To Lead TrackingPoint Forward

Pflugerville, Texas (September 15, 2015) – TrackingPoint announced today the successful completion of a financial and operational restructuring. The company is accepting new orders while fulfilling its backlog of existing orders. In the spring of 2015, TrackingPoint temporarily suspended production and deliveries in order to put the company back on a strong financial footing. TrackingPoint previously announced 2014 year-on-year unit growth of 281%, and its management indicated that the rapid growth subsequently outstripped the company’s ability to manage its operations.

TrackingPoint’s founding team of John Lupher and John McHale has returned to manage the company going forward. John Lupher reassumes his founding role as Vice President of Engineering, while John McHale, formerly Chairman, returns to his original role as CEO. “We were successful early on, so John Lupher and I decided to go back to our roots and take TrackingPoint to the next level”, said McHale. Frank Bruno, Chief Operation Officer, and Richard Wierzbicki, Chief Financial Officer, bolster the team to ensure the company operates efficiently going forward.

The company has a five person board of directors that includes Eric Olson, the first Navy Seal to rise to the rank of four-star Admiral. Olson, a Navy Seal for 38 years and retired former Commander of the US Special Operations Forces, helps lead TrackingPoint’s defense strategy and initiatives. “I’m glad to see TrackPoint moving forward with renewed focus on law enforcement and the military. “This is innovation at its best, with a real and meaningful purpose for security forces and war fighters”, said Olson.

“This is a new beginning for TrackingPoint,” said McHale. “We will focus intently on the consumer, continue to innovate, and operate in a way that ensures long term success.” The company’s investors include the Friedkin Group, Goff Capital Partners, and McHale Labs.

About TrackingPoint

TrackingPoint is based in Austin, Texas, and created the first Precision-Guided Firearm, a revolutionary new shooting system that puts fighter jet lock-and-launch technology in small arms, enabling shooters to make shots previously considered beyond human ability. For more information, please visit tracking-point.com.

tracking_point_advanced_modeWe’ll be digging further into this, but in our opinion this is good technology; a glimpse of the future for hunters, snipers, and in time, combat troops; and innovation that deserves to be rewarded in the marketplace.

Update:

The biggest obstacle to wider adoption of the TP technology is price (they have a lot of RDT&E to amortize). McHale has made a small nod in the direction of affordability with the announcement of a $500 discount on any TP precision-guided firearm system purchased between now and year’s end.

Do We Need A Bigger Bullet?

Jim Schatz, former HK USA manager (during the period of peak Because-You-Suck-And-We-Hate-You customer service, actually) always has one of the most interesting presentations when he’s up at an NDIA1 conference. The slides from this years’ NDIA are up (here), and Jim’s presentation, interesting as ever, is up here (.pdf). Jim wants us launching bigger bullets, to longer ranges.

Jim’s basic beef is probably best encapsulated in this quote from an SF team sergeant:

Few enemies would even consider taking America on in a naval, air or tank battle but every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.

To boil down his argument to a single-sentence thesis: The US lacks small-arms overmatch, and only changing cartridges can get it for us. He defines overmatch by effective range. As he sees it, this is what the world looks like today:

schatz_slide_overmatch_now

As a former infantryman, Jim knows that weapons don’t square off one-against-one. On the battlefield, units from corps to squad size all maneuver to bring their organic, attached and support firepower to bear on the enemy (who is doing the same, inversely). It’s a common fallacy that (for example) because every squad in the Ruritanian army has a designated marksman, our squads should have one too. (Maybe they should, but not directly because of what the Ruritanians are doing). As you can see, Jim’s focus on range leads him to pair off sniper rifles with light machine guns, weapons which have similar effective ranges for completely different reasons, even when they fire dimensionally identical ammo.

As far as his 1000m effective range of the SVD is concerned… he must have shot one?

Here is one of his proposals for overmatch. There’s a few things screwy here (the SVD has grown  an even-more-ludicrous 500m of range, to 1500m), but that’s not important. What is important is the argument that going to an Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (something like the 6.5 or 6.8 or something all new in the 6-7mm neighborhood) for rifles and to .338 for support weapons will provide significant range overmatch.

schatz_slide_overmatch_future

The increased ammo weight can be made up in part by polymer or semi-polymer (i.e. with a metallic base) cases.

Jim at least partially neutralizes the cost-in-times-of-drawdown argument by suggesting that the new weapons go only to the tip of the spear, the guys whose mission it is to produce casualties, and take and hold ground, with these weapons. That’s only about 140k actual shooters out of the much larger service. A finance clerk needs a rifle, sure, but he or she can live with the latest-but-one.

Bear in mind that the target set is also not static, while we’re developing all these new weapons the Russians, the Chinese, and even the ragtag insurgents of the world (who have definitely, like Russia, pushed more 7.62mm weapons down to squad-equivalent level than heretofore) are acting, adapting, and changing, too. We don’t need to overmatch the enemy today with the weapons we’ll have in ten years. We need to overmatch the set of weapons the enemy will have ten years from now, in ten years.

Men can disagree about how best to get there. Assuming we stick with the M16/M4 platform, Our Traveling Reporter would have us go to the 6.8 x 43. (It was news to him that the Saudi Royal Guard has adopted this platform, in LWRC carbines, or that military 6.8 is in production for export now by Federal — formerly ATK). We would probably go with the 6.5 (x38, although the length designator is seldom spoken aloud) Grendel for its lower BC and higher sectional density (=longer effective range, flatter trajectory, more energy on target). The 90 grain Federal load in the 6.8 is very effective closer in (the 6.8 was developed with SF input as a CQB cartridge).

Some current contenders --  M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out the historical context.

Some current contenders — M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out assault rifle ammo in historical context, including many old, obscure, and outright forgotten attempts. Shape of the 6.5 suggests a superior BC. The 6.8 is compromised by its 5.56 ancestry and packaging (bolt head size/overall length).

This is not an entirely new or novel idea. As mentioned in the caption to the photo above, British researcher Anthony Williams has a very fine article on Assault Rifle History with lots and lots of ammunition comparison photos. Back in the 1970s, a guy whose business was called Old Sarge, based in the highway intersection of Lytle, Texas, made a quantity of 6 x 45 guns and uppers. Based closely on the 5.56, these guns (most of them were built as what we’d now call carbines) were completely conventional, but like today’s 6.8 SPC the intent was to create superior terminal ballistics. We don’t know what happened to him or what seemed to be, when we stopped in, his one-man business (he talked us out of a mod he’d done for others, an M60 bipod on an XM177).

If we have a serious criticism of Schatz’s work here, it’s that its focus solely on range as an indicator of overmatch understates the problem. Hadji with his AK and mandress has a lack of fear of our troops that stems only partly from his belief that range makes him safe (and only partly from his paradise-bound indifference to being safe). His feeling of impunity stems from a belief he won’t be engaged at all, won’t be hit if engaged, and won’t be killed or suffer significantly if hit. We need to increase the certainty that our guys will fire back, not just increase our pH, and we need to increase our pK as well. The first of these is far outside the scope of weapons and ammunition design, but it is, in our view, the most serious shortfall of US and Allied forces.

We have another beef that’s not specific to this, but that arise with any attempt to pursue range or other small-arms overmatch: it never works. There are only two ways pursuit of overmatch can finish. Either your new weapon does not constitute an overwhelming advantage, or it does — in which case everybody copies it most ricky-tick. Mikhail Kalashnikov died bothered by the fact that he never got royalties on any of the millions and millions of AKs made outside of his homeland, but the guys who really got copied were the engineers who built the StG.44. (True, the AK was better adapted to Soviet expectations, traditions, manufacturing capabilities, and training modes, but it was certainly inspired, conceptually, by the first assault rifle). It was a good idea. It was exclusive to Germany for mere months (of course, that they were losing the war may be a factor, but that the war ended was certainly a factor in slowing the adoption of assault rifles in Russia (a little) and the West (a lot).

In all seriousness, if you look at the history of firearms, you see a punctuated equilibrium. For centuries the flintlock is the infantry weapon, then the percussion lock sweeps the flints away in a period of 30 years or so (faster for major powers, or anybody actively at war). Then the breechloader dethrones the percussion rifle-musket in a couple of decades… to itself be overthrown by repeaters in 10 to 20 years. Calibers go from 11-13 mm to 7-8 mm to 5-6 mm at the same time all over the world. We’ve had a very long period now of equilibrium around the SCHV (Small Caliber, High Velocity) concept. Is it time for that equilibrium to be punctuated? Schatz says yes.

Notes

  1. NDIA: National Defense Industrial Association, a trade and lobbying group for defense contractors. Formerly the American Defense Preparedness Association (when Your Humble Blogger was a member, and they were fighting a rear-guard action to preserve a defense industrial base during the Clinton disarmament/drawdown cycle), and before that the Ordnance Association.

Sources:

Daniau, Emeric. Toward a 600 M Lightweight General Purpose Cartridge. September 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Toward%20a%20600%20m%20GP%20round.pdf ; this is a uniquely French view of this same challenge, hosted online by Anthony Williams.

Schatz, Jim. Where to Now? 3 June 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2015smallarms/17354_Schatz.pdf

Williams, Anthony. Assault Rifles and Ammunition: History and Prospects. Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Assault.htm

Williams, Anthony. The Case for a General-Purpose Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge (GPC). Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/The%20Next%20Generation.htm ; an earlier version was presented at NDIA in 2010: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2010armament/WednesdayLandmarkBAnthonyWilliams.pdf

(Note that Williams’s work on this matter was sponsored by H&K, a fact that is not invariably disclosed in all documents but that Williams publicly discloses on his website).

 

It’s About Time: Army Looking at JHP Ammo

9mm_124grain_jhpThis week industry contenders met with Army evaluators in the final Industry Day for the XM17 Modular Handgun Program, and the most interesting news is that the JAGs are finally on board with using jacketed hollow point ammunition in the new pistol.

This has several consequences, assuming that these lawyers are overruled by other lawyers somewhere down the line:

  1. It increases the defensive utility of the firearm against unarmored enemies, although not nearly to the level of a rifle or rifle-caliber carbine.
  2. It just about guarantees that, modular or not, our next service pistol will be firing the 9mm. The 9mm is as effective — with modern JHPs — and much easier to shoot than .40 S&W or .45 ACP, and it offers greater magazine capacity. (See Loose Rounds’ repop of the FBI report that justified the Bureau’s return to 9mm from .40).
  3. It means that most of the “modular” advantages the XM17 proposal wants are kind of pointless. The Army wants a service pistol and a max-commonality concealment/compact pistol. Since users seldom go from requiring one to requiring the other and back — the set of concealment/compact pistol users is small, as M11 procurement numbers show — the whole “modular” theme of the procurement is a bagatelle.

Bob says these are the criteria, apart from improved ergonomics relative to current service pistols.

  • non-caliber specific
  • modular grips
  • grip that accepts a wide-range of hand-sizes (5th to 95th percentile)
  • ability to accept different fire-control devices/action types
  • ability to accept various magazine sizes
  • suppressor compatible
  • ability to mount “target enablers” (lights, lasers, etc) on a picatinny rail
  • match-grade accuracy (90% or better chance 4″ circle at 50 meters)
  • low felt recoil impulse

Not all of these are widely useful (explain to us why a military unit will need their pistols “to accept different fire-control devices/action types”?) but some clearly are. The ones that are most clearly useful, of course, are widespread in modern handguns.

As far as the pistols go, according to Owens, the interesting contenders are the STI/Detonics, the SIG P320, and the Beretta APX. We find it hard to believe that the 1911-based STI/D is seriously in the game, or that the brand-new APX is sufficiently developed. The 320 (with a safety) does seem to meet all the requirements. Unlike Owens, we’re not ready to write Glock and S&W off, and would be very surprised if both of them didn’t  make serious and credible proposals.

Here’s Bob’s story on the JHP reveal at the briefing, and here’s his story on what he considers the leaders of the modular handgun competition. Note that there is one small error or oversight in his JHP story, and that’s his statement that US SOF have used 9mm and .45 JHPs. To that, we’d add .40s. (Certain specific units use this caliber). The Gun Zone’s Dean Speir wrote a post years ago on the legalities as observed by SOF since 1985.

Don’t Get Too Excited

Given the marginal role handguns play in combat, the adequate supply of current M9 and M11 service pistols (as well as non-standard pistols in some units), and given the rampant downsizing of the Army (it has less than half the combat power it did in Cold War days, and is scheduled to lose another 40,000 men, mostly “tooth” not “tail”), this entire program is a waste of time and money. If the contract goes forward, the Army will buy about a half-million service pistols plus some tens of thousands of compact variants for all services. The Air Force and Navy are accustomed to having the Army do their small-arms purchasing. The Army plans to force-feed the new modular pistol to the Marines, who are explicit about their lack of interest in it.

We’d be very surprised if this proposed procurement came to pass. If the Army doesn’t kill it, Congress will.

But the final approval of JHP ammunition for non-SOF pistol users is long overdue. In fact, it’s the single biggest thing they can do to improve the utility of current service pistols, and it can be done without out tests and contract disputes (hollow-points are already in the supply system for DOD police).

Update

Soldier Systems Daily has the PEO Soldier press release with direct quotes from Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War.

Debi Dawson, PEO Soldier spokeswoman, also noted that by “modular” the Army means “allows adjustments to fit all hand sizes.”