Category Archives: Future Weapons

MarkForged: Only Government Can Have Guns

A People’s Republic of Massachusetts company, MarkForged, has taken an interesting position in a dispute with, who else, Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed in Austin, Texas: MarkForged has refused to sell a 3D printer, the Mark One, to Wilson or DD. Its reason? According to its attorney, they fear he will make a gun, and “only the US Government or government contractors can make guns.”

Of course, the US Government hasn’t made a gun since Springfield Armory closed its doors in 1968 (absent some closed-door lab tinkering, which MarkForged apparently doesn’t support, either).

It’s uncertain whether this comes from pure anti-gun animus from the staff of MarkForged; or whether this (like the FedEx/UPS attack on Defense Distributed) is driven by some clandestine Operation Choke Point; or whether their attorney is simply the Judas Goat of The Higher Education Bubble, Legal Department, and is rocking a sheepskin (to mix our ovines and caprines) from the Matchbook University School of Law and HVAC Technology.

What is certain? Wilson is pissed. And he’s not taking “no” for an answer.

(You know, that printer looks like it might be violating a 3D Systems patent on the enclosed print area, especially if they’re rocking any form of climate control. It would be amusing for open source advocates to set a couple closed-source firms’ IP attorneys at each others’ throats).

Wired got a similar tale from the company, and found that they were, shall we say, somewhat integrity-challenged:

In a statement to WIRED, MarkForged cited terms of service that “limit experimentation with ordnance to the United States Government and its authorized contractors.” In fact, the company’s terms of service page doesn’t include that statement. But it does reserve the right for the company to refuse sale to anyone, even after an order is placed.

“Our website automatically took Mr. Wilson’s pre-order, and we certainly regret that we did not catch this sooner,” MarkForged’s statement continues. “We are expediting his refund with interest.”

It’s a free country, and they can sell, or not sell, to whomever they please, of course. And everyone else can buy, or not buy.

There are other questions about MarkForged’s equipment. The guys pimping it in the video on the website are more communications and investment dudes than actual developers — the suits, not the t-shirts. That’s never a good sign, when your initial promo video has at least two guys from your venture capitalists in it. The machine, and its software, appear to require cloud connectivity, which means you can’t use it in an airgapped secure site. So much for using it for R&D on a defense contract. (That central control and storage of software will probably kneecap Wilson, even if he gets a bootleg MarkOne — no way these guys, or their “Government and its authorized contractors,” aren’t coonfingering their customers’ files). Also, they’ve been shipping printers for a while, and yet their web site is full of the sort of glowing but nonspecific testimonials that are used to sell phony diet supplements, penny stocks, and other snake oils. Where’s the real satisfied customers doing real stuff with this thing? They’ve been showing the same rice-boy car cosmetic wing parts for 18 months now, where are the applications?

And finally, there’s the fact that they might just pull the plug on you, and then lie to you and to the press about what their own paperwork says, without even giving you the merest iota of respect that would induce them to Orwell the paperwork into what they’re now saying it always said.

There’s a shakeout coming in the 3D printer world, and few tears will be shed if this firm is one that gets shaken out. But hey, they can always sell to “the United States Government and its authorized contractors.” The ones whose labs are all on the public internet. Oh, wait.

3D Printed Fire Control Group

We’ve seen several of the WarFairy designed 3D-printed AR lowers being put through their paces, but here’s something we weren’t expecting to achieve test-fire status so soon — the Deimos 3D-printed fire control group.

The printer used was a Rostock Max V2, a deltabot style printer. An E3D hotend was used. The material was ABS filament and was treated with acetone vapor after printing. The same printer printed the lower receiver (which had mods to accept this FCG) and the FCG itself.

The FCG design is based on general best practices, adapted for 3D printing and for ABS plastic as a material. Before it is manufactured, it is rendered, both bare:

Deimos FCG rendering no receiver

And in a rendering of the lower receiver:

Deimos FCG rendering

By “general best practices,” we mean a trigger with hook or hooks, hammer (with places for the hooks to engage) and disconnector (also with hook) of the type designed by Browning over 100 years ago for such semi-auto firearms as the Auto 5 shotgun and the Remington Model 8 rifle. This general Browning design was adapted by Garand, Kalashnikov, Stoner and many other subsequent designers. (If you examine an AK and AR closely, you’ll see their kinship in this area. Both inherited the Browning fire control, the AR via Garand and the AK via Remington Model 8). This FCG has three parts in semi-auto form: a trigger, a hammer, and a disconnector.

Deimos FCG parts w springs

By”‘adapted for 3D printing and ABS plastic” we refer to changes required by this material and means of manufacture. Each of the parts is printed on the Rostock Max before getting its acetone vapor bath. And each part has some base and support material that must be removed.

Deimos FCG disconnector as printed

ABS is a strong plastic, but a brittle one. Nylon may be better; an FCG printed in white nylon (presumably Taulman 618) is shown here. It’s unknown why this version has not been given the test-fire treatment, yet; perhaps there are yet undisclosed problems with it. But the nylon works better “on paper.”

Deimos FCG nylon

Here’s the FCG in the lower, cocked:

Deimos FCG in place

And here it is, decocked:

Deimos FCG in place hammer down

The “wet look” of the plastic is a result of the acetone-vapor bath.

Home manufacturing is just getting started, and right now, it’s still for tinkerers and fiddlers, not for end users. It’s a bit like computers were in the early years — it’s in the hands of a shadowy priesthood, guardians of abstruse knowledge. But it turns out the priests are very friendly and helpful once you show a sincere interest.

It’s still harder than (and easier to go wrong with), say, starting up a new Mac or assembling an Ikea table. But so were earlier versions of the same products.

Some people will try to stop this. Lotsa luck. You can’t stop the signal.

This isn’t just about one single design for an AR fire control group. It’s about putting the tools of design, testing, and iteration — the whole RDT&E cycle, really — into the hands of anyone who’s got the nerve to pick them up.

John Browning had to file metal into shape, largely by hand, to transfer his ideas into real prototype firearms. But that was a century ago. Today, we don’t have to any more.

What’s Up in the 3D Printed Gun World?

Time for an update, eh?

WarFairy Lower Banner

We’ve been seeing really creative AR lowers for a while now. A lot of the greatest ingenuity, like the FN-inspired creations above, come from the innovator who calls himself Shanrilivan and his creative entity WarFairy Arms. Watching his Twitter feed, or @FOSSCAD’s, is a good way to keep up with what’s coming from the community. (Coming soon: AR and AK fire control groups, for example):

AR fire control group

If you think there’s no innovation happening in firearms, you’re not tapped into the maker community inside the gun community — or is it, the gun community inside the maker community?

Some Words about Development

These lowers are not being “engineered” in any real sense of the word. Instead they’re being designed, and are then being tested, in a very tight closed-loop development cycle. From lowers that busted in a couple of shots, we’ve got lowers that have endured thousands of rounds. And that look stylish. This pastel AR has a printed lower and printed magazine.

printed lower and mag

It’s ready for its close-up, Mr De Mille:

printed lower and mag closeup

To see about 15 more pictures of printed-gun developments, including magazines, a 7.62mm lower, a revolver, and more, click the “More” button.

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Some Sniper Rifle Happenings

There’s a few things going on in the world of sniper rifles.

Remington

We hear that Remington has abandoned its plan to sell the M24 sniper rifles in its inventory to serving soldiers and veterans, and sold the remaining inventory to a Sturgis, South Dakota FFL who is auctioning them off to all bidders, a couple at a time. Reportedly, Remington unloaded the guns because the pressure of layoffs (which continue) at Ilion, NY, made it impossible to continue the veterans program. This image is one of the auction guns:

M24 SWS on GunBroker

 

We recently saw one of these rifles, acquired by a friend through the complicated Remington paperwork drill. It was indistinguishable from a new rifle, with a new barrel, receiver and stock and a nearly new scope; only the rings and case looked used. He’s only fired some ball ammo through it, but it’s more accurate than the ones we had at the unit, so far.

Because the dealer is selling them to collectors and hobbyists, he’s making a lot of money on each one and they’re selling for a premium over what Remington was charging. But part of Remington’s deal with the Army was, apparently, that they weren’t allowed to sell the parts they reacquired from decommissioned Army M24s directly to “the public.” By selling to an FFL they get around that restriction, inserted into the M2010 contract by antigun US Army lawyers.

US Army

The Army (especially SOCOM elements) is generally pleased with the KAC M110 Semi Automatic Sniper System (SASS), but the guys in the field have been bitching about one thing — the gun’s size, and especially its length, which ranges from “too long” to “ridiculously long with the suppressor on.” (This has also driven the popularity of the Mk17 SCAR-H to some degree). Even in Afghanistan, where there’s a premium on long-range terminal performance and where much of the country has been deforested by lack of land management,  there are places where you have to maneuver the thing between trees (the locations used for the movie Lone Survivor really do resemble a lot of the terrain in RC-East, for example). And it’s always a bear to get in and out of vehicles.

The FN entry is based on the SCAR-H. Images taken at AUSA by Soldier Systems Daily.

The FN entry is based on the SCAR-H. Images taken at AUSA by Soldier Systems Daily.

So naturally, there’s a solicitation for a CSASS, a Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System. Basically, what they’re looking for is a short M110. We learned of this via The Firearm Blog (update here on the FNH contestant, which is SCAR based) which you really should be reading regularly, and have been following it idly, only to find the solicitation closed on 6 November 2014 (Note that this may not be up indefinitely; sooner or later they take solicitations down). A number of vendors are submitting ten sample guns. There is a bit of a crapshoot in it, as the guns will be tested with M118LR ammunition, and the vendors wanted to tune their guns to the specific lot to be used — which was pointedly not made available to them.

FN, at least, got "Compact" largely from a shorter suppressor than the M110.

FN, at least, got “Compact” largely from a shorter suppressor than the M110.

Because these weapons are semi only, expect the losing bidders to put some of their ten sample entrants on the market, sooner or later. (Knight’s, at least, has done this in previous years, as well as make small quantities of contract overruns available). FNH has already pledged to sell their version, a very similar version of which is in production in FNH’s South Carolina plant as the SOF Mk20, to the public). The package will be an NFA weapon because of the suppressor.

USMC

The Marines have decided they want a modular stock for their M40 sniper rifle, and they’ve granted a contract to Remington. There is some Marine tilt on it here and there, but basically it’s  the short-action version of the modular stock that Remington developed back in XM2010 days for the Army’s .300 Win Mag sniper rifle, which replaced the M24s that Remington rebuilt for the GI and vet market, before letting that project drop to chase more GI contracts.

This is typically Marine frugal. They’ll hang on to their old .308s, but they have been casting envious eyes at the Army’s and Navy’s modular chassis guns.

What’s the Opposite of “Advanced”?

We leave answering the question as an exercise for the reader after watching this video, about 15 minutes long. Here you see the 1989-90 contenders for the Advanced Combat Rifle, a program that would have replaced the issue M16A2 rifle which was still being fielded into some low-priority units, replacing 20-25 year old M16A1s, at the time.

The video begins with a rather sloppy three-minute history of American infantry weapons (you’ll cringe at the assertion that the first Army bolt-action was “made by Krag-Jorgensen,” or that the 1903 Springfield “wasn’t much better than the Krag.”  The video also makes a curious claim — one not seen in the doctrinal literature — that the M16A2 had an effective range of 550 meters.

The reason for the program is explained: the actual combat accuracy of the rifle in soldiers’ hands degrades far below its mechanical potential. So the ACR program was hoping to double the real-world effectiveness of the individual weapon.

The four vendors trying to grab the contractual brass ring were:

  • AAI, with a flechette-firing M16 cousin, complete with early ACOG;
  • Colt, with a product-improved M16, including an adjustable carbine-like stock, four-position selector, duplex (two-bullet) ammunition, and an available Elcan scope (similar to the model later adopted as the M145 machine-gun optic);
  • H&K, with an Americanized version of their ill-fated caseless G11; and,
  • Steyr-Mannlicher, with an oddball AUG derivative firing polymer-cased rounds with flechette projectiles.

At about 10 minutes in, the video presents the modifications made to Buckner Range on Fort Benning to evaluate the novel weapons.

In the end, none of them was sufficiently superior to the issue M16A2, or sufficiently well-developed already, to justify further development.

We thought for sure we’d put this video up before, but while we’ve talked about some other boneheaded procurement events — like in this post on the Objective Family of Weapons two years ago — we don’t appear to have actually done it.

What TrackingPoint Must Do to Sell to SOF

Tracking Point ProductsWe think the guys running TrackingPoint know what they have to do. In fact, we think they’re already doing these things. But here’s what, from our point of view, is missing from the current iteration of TrackingPoint hardware and software for real penetration into the upper tier SOF market.

So, Who Do You Hit First?

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upIf we were their marketing consultants (we use our MBA, but not like that), we’d also press them to focus on sell-in to certain SOF elements that are image leaders in the international SOF community. Sell, for example, to SAS, and you will have Peru, the UAE, the Netherlands, and many other nations very interested in your product line (Indeed, sell to SAS or to their US counterparts, and you’ll get sale after sale, worldwide). It’s important, also, not to over-discount the stuff to your lead customers: confidentiality agreements are fine and good, but they probably can’t keep, say, American shooters from telling the foreign shooters they’re training with or competing against, what a good deal you gave ‘em.

Another possible launch customer is FBI HRT. As their history of reckless shots and whacked non-targets shows, they could use the marksmanship boost. Meanwhile, despite their record, they’re very influential on local police procurement. Tag/track/release technology is just the ticket for police marksmen who never get enough time for training, and yet have to make more consequential and more constrained shots than a lot of military snipers. (A military sniper, outside of some rarefied CT or HR gigs, almost always has the option to no-shoot. FBI or police sniper, scope-on a crim threatening a hostage, might lack that luxury).

Who Don’t You Hit?

While the Marine Scout Snipers could use the hell out of this thing, it’s too foreign to Marine marksmanship culture, which is a master-and-apprentice culture that demands effort, even hardship, and eschews automation or corner-cutting of any kind. So we’d put these excellent Marine precision marksmen way down the list, right now. We’ve worked with enough 8541s to know that they like to do things the hard way, and they take particular joy in doing it the hard way faster than an Army guy can do it the easy way, and take a positively indecent glee in breaking the dogface’s easy-way technology. Bringing this to the Marines first means that they will use their considerable intellect and energy to break your machine and send you away with a duffel bag of expensive pieces (so they’re great for finding unimagined points of failure — there is that). Bringing it to them after selling it to the Army is not a panacea. It might be even harder, because they will be energized to demonstrate that the Army did Something Stupid, because if Marines believe three things about the Army it’s that: we have too much money, too little guts, and way too little brains.

You’ll probably need a Marine sniper on board to sell to Marine snipers. Once you do, you won’t get quite the global reach that you do by selling to SAS or its American counterparts. But you get in with the world’s greatest military image machine, and there is that. 

You have to be very careful about selling in to Hollywood. (One TrackingPoint precision guided rifle is already in the hands of the most successful firm that supplies movie and TV weapons and armorers). The reason is that an inept display of your product can hurt sales. (It would be very Hollywood to put the TrackingPoint system in the hands of a villain, to be overcome by someone like a Marine sniper or James Bond willing to use superior skill and old school firearms).

What’s Missing From 1st-Gen Tracking Point

While the extant system has undeniable SOF applications, it also has limits, and some technical improvements — none of which are impossible or require TrackingPoint engineers to schedule an invention — would increase its marketability in military precision riflery circles.

Emission Control / Encryption / ECCM

It’s great that you have a computer in a scope, and it’s the wave of the future. But the computer can be located by enemy SIGINT. The video and wifi links need strong encryption, and in addition they need to be controllable so that emissions can be closed down. Even third world enemies often use electronic support measures these days, and so you need some RF low-observability measures, and you also need to have electronic counter countermeasures to ensure usability of the system in an electronic environment.

Two-way communications

This one engenders some risk, but there should be a capability for the opetator to hand off control of the PGM’s optoelectronic systems to someone’s telepresence from a support station. Or even from another field station.

Intelligence gathering MASINT capability

There is everything in this weapons system that’s needed, for instance, to remotely measure a prison camp or a suspected SS-20 missile TEL. This capability would also tie in beautifully with the improved communications and encryption capabilities mentioned above.

A Ballistic Development Interface, SDK or App

Now that we have that in-scope computer, fully integrated with the hardware of the firearm, we need to have a way to make it more adaptable to different ammunition loadings, including one-time, single-mission loads. And that has to be done at the unit level; otherwise you’ve got a potential breach of compartmentation.

tracking_point_trad_mode

This is a sales stopper with top tier units. They develop their own long range capabilities, including, at times, loads, and they do it because they think they, like benchrest shooters, can handload a more consistent, higher-precision round than even premium ammo suppliers can do.

Demonstrated, Documented Durability

The running joke is that a soldier or marine can break a ball from a ball-bearing — just leave him alone in a room with it, and you’re a half hour from looking at a broken ball, and hearing, “Uh, I dunno, sarge. It just broke!” (Bearing-ball, hell, these guys could do that with a wrecking ball). You want your machine to be wrecking-ball strong.

Demonstrated “Fail Safe” mode.

The capability of the system has to degrade gracefully. If you’re sneakin and peekin’ on Day 38 of a “14-day mission,” dead batteries can’t leave you in shoot-randomly mode (let alone, can’t-shoot mode). Even an ACOG, which is probably harder to break than the gun it’s atop, has cast-in backup sights. But with a TrackingPoint gun’s scope being dependent on a CCD display at the shooter end, you can’t afford to have dead batteries.

Full Auto Stabilization Mode

We can’t be the only ones who looked at this and thought, “tag, track & x-act really could up the game of a door gunner and/or Boat Guy.” Hell, those Chenoweth sandrails might come back from the dead, if the gunners in them could actually hit things instead of just contribute morale-raising decibels to a fight. Imagine this Hollywood concoction, except real, and with the boost in hit probability than TrackingPoint promises.

You know you want one (more on the movie gun soon).

Note that these are just for the military employment of tracking point, as combat weapons technology. We haven’t even addressed the utility of tracking point for big game hunting, which is what the thing was developed for in the first place. Its applications for everything from African plains game to heliborne predator control seem self-evident. We haven’t even hinted at the potential for a rimfire TrackingPoint squirrel slaughter system, something that would sell itself once the price comes down.

As we all know, the guys running TrackingPoint are not stupid. They are probably thinking of most if not all of these things already. If not, hey, our rates are reasonable; drop us a line.

What’s After Black Hawk?

We still think of the Sikorsky Black Hawk as a modern helicopter, and the Bell Huey as an artifact of the 60s (it actually first flew in the 1950s as the YUH-40!). But the Marines continue to use Hueys, although theirs have been modified about as far as an aircraft can get. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard have all the “new” Black Hawks. But the Black Hawk is itself an old bird: we first saw one at Mott Lake Compound in the winter of 1981 or 1982, about 32 years ago. Since then, we’ve seen what they could do, even in Afghan density models, going into the field in ancient A-models and riding an ultramodern Q-model medevac bird back to Bagram.

Sure, we were still jumping, rappelling and fast-roping from Hueys 10 years after our first Black Hawk sighting, but the UH-60 came in on the UTTAS program of the 1970s (the program that took it to the Navy was, we think, LAMPS). A Sikorsky proposal edged a Bell proposal. Well, now it’s time for a new competition to demonstrate technology, as the first step towards developing a replacement for the Black Hawk, a helicopter that came to be as loved and respected as its predecessor. And the same two firms are going head-to-head again. Here’s what one of the contenders, the Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant, looks like:

Future Helicopter JMR

The contenders are both more than just helicopters. The Sikorsky entry (above), for which the venerable chopper builder teams with Boeing, is a compound helicopter, with a thrust propeller in the back, and counterrotating rotors to handle both torque and the µ-1 problem at high speeds (when the forward speed of the aircraft in air is great enough to reverse airflow on the retreating blade). The first aircraft we know of to exceed µ-1 in level flight was the Carter Copter Technology Demonstrator, a hybrid gyroplane/airplane which used rigid rotors largely unloaded in flight, and small wings suitable for cruise only and stalled at lower speeds. The CCTD concept is unsuited for a military helicopter replacement because it cannot hover, although it can land and take off vertically; military requirements include the ability to conduct sling load and fast rope operations.

The Bell entry is a convertiplane of the tiltrotor type, the V-280 Valor.

Bell-V280

It looks like they have simplified the V-22 concept by having only the rotors, not the entire engine pods, tilt.

It’s a joint program, so maybe the Marines will get out of the 1950s and 1960s, finally.

Both aircraft show that the basic vision is something with a Black Hawk’s interior volume and carrying capability, but faster (and presumably, more-efficient thus longer-range) cruise. The Joint Military Rotorcraft program is primarily an Army one, although if the Army develops worthwhile new aircraft the Navy and Air Force will be right there to join in. The JMR is a technology program only, and the contracts that Sikorsky and Bell now have are for flying prototypes with no assurance of production. Army and Navy have long-term rotorcraft programs that are primarily technological and budgetary at this point.

The basic problem with conventional helicopters is cruise speed: the µ-1 limitation holds them to well under 200 knots. That’s the key problem JMR will try to address. For decades, a wild variety of VTOL aircraft configurations have attempted to address this, and both Bell and Sikorsky have been involved deeply in those experiments, as have a number of lesser-known firms such as Carter, Piasecki (which continued as an R&D shop after selling their tandem-rotor plant and designs to Boeing in the 1960s), Groen Brothers, and others.

Folded Ammunition of the 1970s – It’s FABRL!

5.56 Folded DummyWhen you find one of these cartridges — like a black plastic commemorative one, made for a cartridge collectors’ club, now up for auction on GunBroker, or the blue dummy on the left — it just looks weird. Made in several calibers (at least 5.56, 7.62, and 30mm) and simplex (one bullet) and triplex (three) versions, it offered benefits from both the standpoint of internal ballistics (in theory, more complete combustion before projectile exits from the barrel) and packaging (a substantially shorter round, a big deal with aerial cannons and other on-board weapons), and potentially lighter weights.

Andrew J. Grandy, Circa 1975.

Andrew J. Grandy, circa 1970s.

The conceptual designer, Andrew J. Grandy, of Philadelphia suburb North Hills, obtained several patents on his technology: 3,857,339 of 31 Dec 74, which described both the rounds and a variety of belts, revolver chambers, and other feeding mechanisms for the unusual rounds; and several that appear very similar if not identical to to the 31 Dec 74 patent, including at least three from 24 Jun 74: 3,890,730,  3,890,732, and 3,890,878, plus 3,913,445 of 21 Oct 75. (There are other seemingly duplicative patents under Grandy’s name).

Grandy made quite a few other patent claims, either while employed at Frankford Arsenal or after he left and founded his own company, “GTG”. One of his more unusual claims was a pivoting/folding stock, illustrated on an M14, that folded up and over the receiver, with the belly of the skeletonized stock forming a carrying handle; another was a prestressed-metal-lined fiberglass barrel. It’s unknown if either of these inventions ever rose off the drawing board to be reduced to practice. Most of his patents grant free use to the Army, suggesting that his research remained Army-funded even after he left the staff.

As the design of the folded ammunition matured, the cases, originally problematic steel weldments, came to be made of a polymer, which offered the well-known weight advantages over a brass case, despite the folded ammunition’s more complex shapes. (This was a serendipitious benefit; the complex shape required the cases to be made by a process like injection molding; it was not a simple drawn cylinder that could be made of brass by 19th-Century processes).

But the benefits of the round were hard up against the costs they imposed on manufacture and functioning of the weapon, and the limitations of the materials. The manufacture problem relates to the odd shape of the chamber, the functioning issues (which were worked out) relate to the fact that an axisymmetric item of ammunition, a round that is indeed “round” in section, doesn’t have to go into the barrel in any orientation except point-forward; a folded round has only one right orientation, and the other 359º of the compass are wrong.

If the folded round itself wasn’t odd enough for you, Grandy came out of the SPIW and SALVO era and would design a triplex version that appears to have fired three bullets from three barrels, using a single combustion chamber. We know little about these rounds, but the ammo collector who is selling a few individual folded-ammo rounds has pictures of the triplexes, too. First, compared to a SPIW-era triplex tandem round:

Folded triplex ammo

And then, a whole line of colorful triplexes:

5.56 Folded Live ammo

We’d really like to know more about this. It looks like that sort of 1960s invention that was the Thing of the Future™ then, and still is today. “Dude, where’s my jetpack, and my triplex blaster?”

The cost problem is, as the auction hints, largely in the development of compatible firearms. We have nearly 200 years’ experience with fixed ammunition in an axial arrangement of round cross-section and cylindrical or polycylindrical form. That’s a lot of catching up to do.

Today, polymer cases are again drawing interest as a way to reduce ammunition size and weight without taking on the complexities of caseless ammunition. But today’s polymer cases are axisymmetric. If they’re folded, they’re symmetrically folded, with the combustion chamber around the projectile, giving some of Grandy’s promised benefits without some of the loading and ejection challenges.

The Achilles’s heel of polymer cases is and has always been obturation, or lack of it; militaries that can afford it continue to stay with brass cases for the safety, storage integrity, and increased barrel life it brings, compared to plastic and steel alternatives. Despite that, many engineers and designers think we may see effective synthetic cases of some type replacing brass sometime in this century, and if that happens, designers will be freed from the limitations of brass-drawing in cartridge (and firearm) design. So pay attention, as your teachers said; you may see this again.

FOLDED, U-SHAPED OR ENCAPSULATED AMMUNITION WAS ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAMS CONDUCTED DURING THE 1960s and 70s AT FRANKFORD ARSENAL. Invented by Andrew Grandy (seen below in this FA publicity photo) the concept provided a separate combustion chamber. This allowed gases only to be conveyed to the base of the projectile instead of the unburned powder and gases which are typical of the traditional “in line” cartridge design. The concept was tried in several calibers. Production and chambering problems for a nonsymmetrical case undermined the development. Mr. Grandy was a long time ICCA member. The ICCA – International Cartridge Collectors association was the prior name for the current IAA – International Ammunition Association. In 1984 he produced commemorative sets of his folded ammunition design for the ICCA. After retiring from Frankford Arsenal Mr. Grandy went into business for a short time as GTG Inc. to promote his designs. THIS AUCTION: This is a LIVE black plastic ball with .55 grain projectile and GTG headstamp. Includes a descriptive flyer which explains the concept and a CD copy of the original design report.

via 5.56(.223) EXPERIMENTAL FOLDED U-SHAPED AMMO-2 : Vintage Ammo at GunBroker.com.

In addition to that auction, the same retiring collector is auctioning one identical round, and numerous other ammunition collectors’ items in his full set of auctions. He is also auctioning these rounds at GunAuction.com (We cite GunBroker a lot more than GunAuction out of force of habit, but we have nothing against GunAuction).

The feasibility of this folded ammunition in 5.56 mm was studied by Frankford Arsenal in the 1970s. The study was Document Number FA-TR-76061, available on DTIC as Document ADA039156.

The benefits the Frankford investigators, Reed Donnard, Richard Rhodes and Thomas Hennessy, saw in the ammunition included reduction of ammunition packing volume, length, and weight, and several benefits that flowed from that, including vehicle space utilization and reduced logistic costs. The abstract of their paper explains why:

Folded Ammunition is a unique concept in ammunition design that relocates the propellant charge from the conventional position behind and coaxial with the projectile to one beside the projectile. For a given energy output, conventional axially symmetric amiltlnLtlon cartridges do not provide the most efficient geometrical shape for a minimum system parametric profile (system length, weight and bulk). Reconfiguration of the cartridge using the Folded Ammunition approach makes possible now what had previously been unattainable in the way of weapon/ ammunition system optimization. This report describes the concept, outlines its advantages and presents the results of a short-term analytical and experimental program that successfully demonstrated the feasibility of Folded Ammunition.

Andrew Grandy, the inventor of the folded-ammunition concept, was credited for “concept description” in the study.

At first, the capsule/cartridge design was wide open, with many possibilities under consideration.

Folded ammo concepts

The final decision was to use an oval-section capsule with the projectile on one arm of a U and the powder container on the other. This experimental 30mm round illustrates the general arrangement, as does the blue dummy 5.56 at the head of the article.

30mm Folded Ammo Frankford Arsenal

This picture shows the packing volumetric efficiency advantage of the folded 5.56 over a conventional round with the same projectile (you will also note that the projo is a lot longer than the then-issue M193. This bullet is an experimental low-density bullet Frankford was experimenting with at the time).

folded_round_volumetric_efficiency

They named the 5.56 round the FABRL (Frankford Arsenal – Ballistic Research Laboratory) 5.56. The report is interesting for, among other things, one of the earliest small arms uses of finite element analysis, something that even at a crude 2D level required a big mainframe computer in the 1970s.

The early experiments used test barrels in test fixtures, but they graduated to M16A1 and Belgian FAL rifles modified for the FABRL cartridge.  Unfortunately, because DTIC’s copies come from binary-pixel microfiche, the pictures of the firearms in the tech report are illegible .

Initially, they decided to use steel for the cartridge cases. This didn’t work out entirely well. And by the end of the testing they’d made a grim discovery: while they could make a 5.56 round that was essentially a clone of the then-issue M193, they couldn’t make one that was enormously better. They could make some marginal improvements in the parameters that folded ammunition promised in theory, but not significant ones; not improvements big enough to justify a huge changeover, even if engineers could be sure there were more performance improvements to come.

And by then, it was the late 1970s era of the Hollow Army, and there was no money for research. Frankford Arsenal itself would soon go the way of Harper’s Ferry and Springfield before it. Folded ammunition “coulda be a contenda” but wound up, instead, as a curiosity for ammo collectors and readers of WeaponsMan.com.

Tracking Tease

Got a phone call yesterday from a friend at a range in West Virginia. Three guys including a former SF man, a former SEAL (range officer), and a dealer/gunsmith/armorer without military service cracked the box on a new TrackingPoint .300 WM rifle on a long range.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don't know yet what exact model our guys had.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don’t know yet what exact model our guys had.

Quick take-aways:

  • Best packaged gun any of them had ever seen. In the gunsmith’s experience, that’s out of thousands of new guns.
  • Favorably impressed with the quality of the gun and the optic. It “feels” robust.
  • It’s premium priced, but with premium quality. Rifle resembles a Surgeon rifle. “The whole thing is top quality all the way, no corners cut, no expense spared.” They throw in an iPad. The scope itself serves its images up as wifi.
  • First shot, cold bore, no attempt to zero, 350 meters, IPSC sized metal silhouette: “ding!” They all laughed like maniacs. It does what the ads say.
  • Here’s how the zero-zero capability works:  they zero at the factory, no $#!+, and use a laser barrel reference system to make automatic, no-man-in-the-loop, corrections. Slick.
  • The gun did a much better job of absorbing .300WM recoil than any 300WM any of them have shot. With painful memories of developmental .300WM M24 variants, that was interesting. “Seriously, it’s like shooting my .308.”
  • By the day’s end, the least experienced long-range shooter, who’d never fired a round at over 200 meters, was hitting moving silhouettes at 850 yards. In the world of fiction where all snipers take head shots at 2000m with a .308, that’s nothing, but in the world of real lead on target, it’s huge. 
  • It requires you to unlearn some processes and learn some new ones, particularly with respect to trigger control. But that’s not impossible, or even very hard.
  • They didn’t put wind speed into the system, and used Kentucky windage while placing the “tag.” This worked perfectly well.
  • An experienced sniper or long range match shooter, once he gets over the muscle memory differences, will get even more out of the TrackingPoint system than a novice, but
  • A novice can be made very effective, very fast, at ranges outside of the engagement norm, with this system.

As Porky Pig says, for now, “Ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-That’s all, folks!” But we’re promised more, soon.

Everybody is really impressed with the Tracking Point system. No TP representative was there and as far as we know this is the first report on a customer gun in the field, not some massaged handpicked gunwriter version. And as far as we know this is the first report on a customer’s experience with both experienced school-trained snipers and an inexperienced long-range shooter. The key take-away is the novice’s ringing of the 850m bell on moving targets. That’s Hollywood results without the special effects budget, and with real lead on real target. No marketing, no bullshit, just hits.

We asked about robustness. This isn’t like the ACOG you can use as a toboggan on an Afghan stairway and hold zero (don’t ask us how we know that one). But it seemed robust to the pretty critical gang shooting it Friday.

We wish Chris Kyle were here to see this. Maybe he already has!

Stand by for more on TrackingPoint, and on more on this range complex when the principals are willing to have some publicity.

A New Capital Ship for the Royal Navy: HMS Queen Elizabeth

The story reads like a press release from the Admiralty and the Air Staff, maybe because it is. The signatories are the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford. But the op-ed in Britain’s daily Telegraph also gives some feeds and speeds of the freshly-christened HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest and most capable aircraft carrier to ever fly the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.

class-at-sea_preview

At 65,000 tonnes, HMS Queen Elizabeth will pack a heavyweight military punch.
In the years ahead, she will be equipped with the Lightning II. Placing the UK at the forefront of fighter jet technology, Lightning II will provide a true multi-role aircraft that will surpass the majority of weapons systems in production today, or envisaged in the foreseeable future.
A fifth generation, survivable, low observable, multi-role aircraft, Lightning II will be able to undertake a wide range of mission types from both Land and Sea. In addition to the Carrier Strike role, the new aircraft carrier also has a deck big enough to airlift one thousand Royal Marine commandos or soldiers ashore by helicopter.

The naming of the ship is one thing; her building is still far from complete, and then she must be armed, manned, and equipped. She is two to four years from being an effective unit in the Royal Navy, depending on how things go with the inevitable budget cuts.

The Lightning II is the jet we know in the States as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The RAF/RN version will be V/STOL capable, using technology roughly similar to that in the now-retired Harrier and Sea Harrier aircraft that were the technological marvels of the Falklands War over 30 years ago. (The USMC still operates Harriers, as do some other navies, but the British ). A mock-up of the aircraft was present at the christening.

HMS QE Christening

As well as military flexibility, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her embarked forces provide political and diplomatic choice, from a piece of independent, sovereign territory.

In disaster relief operations, she can be placed close in, to offer help in rebuilding shattered lives.

In times of crisis and tension, she can offer a visible coercive presence or position out of sight, a flexible means of escalating and de-escalating as the national or international will dictates.

And, able to roam across the international waters, she will offer a mobile sovereign air base.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will be the centre-piece of Defence’s Joint approach to warfare.

The air group which will operate from her 4-acre deck will be manned by both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots. But her air missions will not be confined to fast jet carrier strike.

The embarkation of Army Apache attack helicopters in HMS Ocean for operations in Libya in 2011 already provides a blueprint for other types of inter-Service cooperation in the years ahead.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only host UK assets; we will work with our key allies to maximize our future capability.

The US long ago worked out joint maritime helo ops, initially in special operations, but increasingly across all services’ aviation arms. The British used V/STOL fighter-bombers and seagoing helicopters imaginatively and effectively in the Falklands, and they could get up to some quite interesting things with a powerful ship like this.

HMS-Queen-Elizabeth-deck-plan

Indeed, HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only be the centre-piece of the nation’s maritime armada (named ‘the Response Force Task Group’), but the beating heart of the United Kingdom’s Joint Expeditionary Force.

And with her lifespan of 50 years she will enjoy a lengthy reign at the head of the nation’s future joint expeditionary capability.

During this long, value for money, working life she will be a platform for innovative technologies, both manned and unmanned. And, from a nation known for its inventiveness, this will include technology not yet imagined – after all, her last Commanding Officer has yet to be born!

HMS Queen Elizabeth is also serving as a turbocharger for deeper international partnership and coalition building.

Already Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel are being trained in ‘carrier skills’ in the United States. Our personnel are also serving within the French Carrier Strike Group.

These international exchanges — select American and French officers also serve exchange tours with allied air arms — serve the dual purpose of lubricating alliances with bonds of friendship forged on operations, and disseminating operational developments alliance-wide.

Of course, no British ship goes to sea without British traditions. In the case of HMS QE, this plaque shows that joint operations are built into her in the very shipyard:

HMS QE plaque

As part of the arrangements with the US, the first UK Lightning squadron will form up in the United States in 2016, prior to returning to the UK in 2018.

Not only is this generosity of partnership enabling the UK to regenerate its carrier strike capability, it is also laying strong foundations with our key strategic partners as we look to share responsibilities in the years which lie ahead.

via HMS Queen Elizabeth: The jewel in the crown of UK Defence – Telegraph.

The ship is the latest in a line of illustrious British capital ships to bear this name. The second carrier in the class, well under construction, also will bear a historic name: HMS Prince of Wales. The most famous prior Prince of Wales, of course, was the ill-fated King George V class battleship which survived a gunfight with DKM Bismarck (unlike her squadronmate, the weakly-armored battlecruiser Hood) only to be sunk in October December 1941 (Ugh. Embarrasing — Ed.) by Japanese land-based torpedo bombers.

The Telegraph also has a more technical description of the ship, likely to be of interest to us, linked in that article. Another excellent source of information on the ship is the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, an industry group of her builders.

While the ship is the first carrier of this size ever built by Britain (she is first of a class of two, and is approximately two to three years from commissioning and service), the USA has been building carriers this size or larger since the late 1940s, and the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov and former Russian carrier Liaoning (China, former Russian Varyag and Soviet Riga) are in this class.

 

Of course, not all the media is, shall we say, on board with HMS QE. The BBC irritated retired sailors and officers by referring to the HMS Queen Elizabeth as a “boat.” Well, that’s what you get with layers and layers of editors, one supposes.