Category Archives: Future Weapons

“Rifle of Tomorrow,” As Seen Yesterday (1982)

There’s always a market for prediction about the future, and they’re always hostages to fate. So, today, we’ll open a time capsule from 1982 (specifically, from the November-December issue of the US Army’s branch magazine, Infantry, as seen at right) and see how whether one officer’s prediction panned out — or whether it just panned. Subject of prediction, or perhaps more honestly, subject of advocacy: a new rifle for the Army in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

The officer in question was a Texas Army National Guard officer named Noyes Burton Livingston III, about whom we know only that he’s still alive, was married at least three times (triumph of hope over repeated experience, or maybe he went SF), and is well-remembered as a writer for Iron Horse, a motorcycle magazine.

The United States infantryman has fought on many battlefields over the years, always doing his best on each with whatever rifle he happened to have at the time. And his potential battlefield continues to change and expand.

Through the use of thermal energy, ground surveillance radar, night vision devices, and intrusion warning systems, detection and engagement ranges are increasing in distance but decreasing in time. As a result, the U.S. infantryman will no doubt eventually get a new rifle to carry into battle — and he will need it.

So far, so good. Not a bad prediction for 1982. Indeed, the observation that “detection and engagement ranges are increasing in distance but decreasing in time,” for the grand European battle that the Army of 1982 was fixated upon, was a keen insight.

His present rifle, the M 16A1, is a good weapon. It is well made, lightweight, and accurate at battlefield ranges. It is handy to shoot, and it disassembles easily. In fact, it is almost everything a marksman or a service support soldier could ask for. Unfortunately, though, it is not designed to fill the basic requirements of the soldier who has to stake his life on it, the infantryman. So we need to begin thinking now about what kind of rifle we would like to have to replace it. We must not leave it to chance, as we have sometimes done in the past.

Of course, at that time the Army and Marines were both experimenting with new rifles, a project that would lead in less than a year to USMC and later Army adoption of the M16A2. But Livingston had no way to know that at the time.

No matter how much warfare changes, though, the infantryman’s war will still be brutal and intimate, and his rifle must be designed with that in mind. He must also believe in its capabilities and should be encouraged to use it. Besides shooting rapidly and accurately every time it is called on, an infantryman’s rifle must be able to double as a club, a spear, or a crutch. It may also have to help make a litter, form part of a hasty ladder, or scoop out a hurried fighting position. In short, it must function when everything else has failed.

That seems to sum up his requirements, and as you see, he’s putting a lot of weight on non-rifle functionality. Now he gets into specifics:

How should an infantry rifle be made to meet these high expectations? First of all, it cannot I;le encumbered with a carrying handle. We have all seen the classic example of a soldier running in training, one hand on his helmet and the other clutching his MI6 by the carrying handle, like a commuter with his lunch pail chasing a departing bus.. The handle makes the weapon easy to carry, but not easy to fire quickly.

A rifle must be built to fit naturally in a carry that lends itself to an attitude and position of readiness. The firing hand must grasp the small of the stock near the trigger, and the off hand must grab it slightly forward of its center of balance. A soldier should have to move only one hand to point and fire his weapon, not both.

He’s missing the main purpose of the “carrying handle,” which is not, mirabile dictu, to carry the firearm. It’s there to provide a home for the rear site that works with anthropometric dimensions and the desire to provide a straight-line stock.

Initial Armalite military rifle designs had ordinary drop-heel stocks, but then evolved into the straight-line stock, and the first model of what would become the AR-10 provided a front sight on a Johnson-inspired triangular base and a rear sight on an FG-42-like folding stalk. Here’s the 1944 Johnson for comparison.

The “carrying handle” was an attempt to make a virtue out of the necessity of making a more rigid rear sight base.

We ought to mention that at this particular point in time, the Army’s culture, and particularly Ranger and Infantry culture, was absolute death on slings. Why? Well, slings encourage the soldier to carry the rifle some way other than at the ready.

Of course, this fixation on ready carry suggests that every soldier is always and everywhere mere moments from a small arms engagement, and at that, so few mere moments that he would not have time to change his grip on his gun.

It also assumes that a soldier would be so suicidally stupid as to not carry the gun at the ready whilst in the presence of the enemy. But then, Infantry is primarily written and read by officers, who are aware that enlisted men are stupid, but sly and cunning, and bear considerable watching.

Likewise, while a pistol grip may be necessary for a light machinegun, it is a liability on a rifle. Given a rifle with a pistol grip, a soldier cannot drop to the ground into the prone position without removing one hand from his weapon to break his fall. If he does not use the pistol grip, but holds onto the stock to let the butt of the rifle strike the ground instead, he must release his hold before he can reach the grip and shoot. The same soldier cannot cease firing and jump up to rush forward without removing his firing hand completely from his weapon to grab the stock and push off with it. It is extremely difficult to hold onto a pistol grip and get up another way.

Once up and running, this soldier cannot fire his remaining rounds and then lunge effectively at his opponent with his bayonet, or follow up with a butt stroke, without completely losing hold of his rifle with his strongest hand. Although bayonet fighting may be a relatively small thing,when it is all an infantryman has left, it is everything, and close combat is no place for changing hands or coming in second best.

OK, he’s really stressing the heck out of the non-rifle applications of rifles, isn’t he? But we’d suppose he would argue that you can make a better club and halberd out of a rifle without compromising its rifle functionality. His rifle now looks like this:

Let’s get a little deeper into his conceptual design.

TECHNIQUES

A pistol grip also discourages the use of several important shooting techniques. With such a grip, a soldier’s arm follows the angle of his firing hand when he is holding onto his rifle, causing his elbow to press against the side of his body while he fires. This eliminates the shoulder pocket that the weapon’s butt is supposed to fit into to lessen the effect of recoil, steady the weapon, and keep it from slipping off his shoulder. Without a good shoulder pocket, it is hard for a soldier to maintain a firm stock weld with his cheek, to make his head move with the rifle as it recoils, and to keep his eye aligned with the sights.

A rifle should have a semi-pistol grip to improve marksmanship and to allow the soldier to hold it while running, leaping, and crawling and still have his firing hand in position to pull the trigger. It should also have a semi-straightline stock with a raised comb. The gas cylinder and operating rod should be above the barrel to reduce muzzle climb when the rifle is fired. Because the small of the stock would drop to form the semi-pistol grip, the rifle cannot have a buffer behind the receiver as the MI6 does. There are many existing weapon designs, such as the FN-FAL, the AK, the AR18, the SiG 540, and the Valmet M62, that can be modified to fit a traditional rifle stock.

In a rifle of this type, there would be no gas tube — as in the MI6 — to blow contaminants into the rifle’s action or gas and excess lubricant into the firer’s eyes. The bolt would lock fully until it was withdrawn by the operating mechanism, instead of using a delayed blowback principle, so varying qualities of ammunition could be used.

Actually, if you want to use a wide range of ammo pressures (because the pressure is what the gun “feels”, and what influences the gun), it’s hard to beat the HK roller-delayed system. Blowback and gas-unlocked systems both have narrower ranges of impulses that they can tolerate — at least, as far as they’ve been designed so far.

The barrel would be heavy enough to support a bayonet, and its bore and chamber would be chrome-plated to resist corrosion and wear.

The rifle would share many of the beneficial features of the M16 and its contemporaries. The receiver would be split into an upper and lower group held together by takedown and pivot pins. This would allow placing the rear sight at the back of the receiver, instead of at the front, by doing away with a bolt cover like the one found on the AK. This placement would permit using a rear sight aperture and a longer sight radius.

The lower receiver group would incorporate a sturdy integral magazine well and a winter trigger guard that would swing forward against the magazine when released. It would accept MI6 aluminum or nylon magazines and would have all the weapon’s controls accessible from the firing position. The selector lever would be manipulated with the firing hand thumb, and the magazine catch button would be worked by the trigger finger. The bolt catch would be released by the thumb of the loading hand after a loaded magazine was inserted.

When the firer pulled back on the charging handle to lock the bolt to the rear, the bolt catch would be engaged with the firing hand thumb.

That would actually be an ergonomic improvement on the AR-15’s generally excellent ergs, would it not?

EJECTION

The upper receiver would have a covered ejection port on its right side and a charging handle fixed to the bolt carrier on its left. There would be no bolt forward assist on the receiver as the charging handle could be pushed forward to close the bolt. Placing the charging handle on the left side would allow the action to be cycled from a firing position without the firer moving his firing hand or the weapon, as must be done with the MI4 or MI6. The charging handle would be at the left front of the receiver where it would not strike the non-firing hand. Its motion would be hidden from the firer’s view by its speed and by the rear sight’s elevation drum, which would also be on the left.

The rifle would be a little longer and slightly heavier than the MI6. It should fire at a moderate cyclic rate from the closed bolt position with the bolt remaining open after the last round was ejected. Automatic fire should be limited by a 3- or 4-round burst control mechanism. It would have a concave recoil pad to hold it in place during automatic fire, and it would accept an MI6 clothespin bipod.

Heh. We see the 1980s fad of the burst control raising its ugly head. Bad substitution for training troops. The military has finally, if not completely, killed this bad idea 35 years later. Bring more fire, lest it respawn.

The new rifle’s flash suppressor, sling swivels, bayonet, bayonet—stud, and front sight assembly would be the same as those on the MI6. Its rear sight would be similar to the one on the MI4. The fiberglass stock would be made like the MI6’s, and the easily gripped triangular handguards would be held on with a slipring in the same way. The stock should not be constructed to fold or collapse because that feature would make it less rigid. In addition to the standard 20- and 30-round MI6 magazines, a short magazine that fits flush with the bottom of the magazine well should be issued for civil disturbance and ceremonial duties.

A couple of interesting ideas there, including the need for robustness of the stock. But then again, he sees it as primarily a club with a sideline in shooting, so why not? The flush magazine, delete the useless 3-round-burst, and it would even be NY/CA legal! (They’d surely find some way to ban it).

Many excellent weapons made by friendly nations, and some by not so friendly ones, are available that we can examine and test during the process of developing our own rifle. It is important to keep in mind that our rifleman does not need the most sophisticated design possible, one such as the Austrian STG 77, the French MAS, or the Swedish MKS, but he does deserve an infantry weapon that fits the conditions under which he must fight.

He makes an interesting point. In the M16A2 tests no foreign weapon was seriously compared or tested. Indeed, no systematic survey of the field has been made before any recent American small arms procurement decision.

This proposed rifle is offered to support, not replace, the squad and platoon automatic weapons. It would first serve the rifleman with aimed semiautomatic or limited burst fire, Its adoption would result from the recognition that infantry combat is more than a “mad minute” fought by individuals. An updated yet traditional rifle would reaffirm the infantryman’s role and signal a return to the tactics of soldiers fighting together. Fire superiority would become the product of superior fire by the unit, not random fire by its members.

If we begin now to plan for the rifle of the future, perhaps when the time comes for a quick decision on a replacement for our present rifle, we will have the right one waiting in the wings.

M16A1 (top) and M16A2

Well, we got the M16A2 at the time, so make of that what you will.

Sources

You can download the Army Infantry magazine for Nov-Dec 82 here, or see the archive as a whole here. However, that version is pdf image only. We have an OCRd copy of the Nov-Dec 82 issue here: NOV-DEC1982.pdf

President’s Day Sale on Precision Guided Rifles

Received from Tracking Point, and we thought we’d pass it on to all of you. The biggest single objection people have had to a Tracking Point Precision Guided Firearm has been cost — and that’s not going away; it’s the price of being an early adopter of future technology in any milieu. (People are still amazed to hear what a Mac IIcx cost us in 1987). Still, the cost has come down to much closer to the cost of a premium AR and a premium scope at these discounted prices… price-wise, they don’t bear comparison to a bottom-tier AR at $500 or less, but then, they offer a completely different capability you can’t just pluck off any LGS shelf.

Presidents Day Pricing on .300BLK, 5.56 and 7.62… Limited Time Only!

Call to Order: 512.354.2114

M400 XHDR

  • .300 BlackOut
  • 400-Yard Lock Range
  • 2-14x Zoom
  • 10 MPH Target Velocity
  • * Combat Tan + $495
  • * 50% off Ext. Warranty
  • Learn More Now

M600 SR

  • 5.56MM NATO
  • 600-Yard Lock Range
  • 2-14x Zoom
  • 15 MPH Target Velocity
  • * Combat Tan + $495
  • * 50% off Ext. Warranty
  • Learn More Now

M800 DMR

    • 7.62MM NATO
    • 800-Yard Lock Range
    • 3-21x Zoom
    • 20 MPH Target Velocity
    • * Combat Tan + $495
    • * 50% off Ext. Warranty
    • Learn More Now

Remember! Limited time offer  – Call Today!<
Line busy or want a call back at a later date?   Click Here

That’s TrackingPoint’s pitch, and as we said, we’re passing it on.

Obviously we’re fans of the technology and the company, so you might ask, why don’t we own one of these things? What, are we hypocrites?

We don’t think so, we have reasons for not buying, yet. First, it is a lot of money for a firearm. Second, you have to have a reason to shoot it to justify spending that money. (It also works best with Tracking Point;s own ammo, which is, to put it mildly, premium priced). Third, you have to have a place to shoot it.

If we were javelina assassins working the ranches and fields of Texas we would be all over this offer like ugly on a Womyn’s Studies convention. But as it is, we have a selection of 100-yard ranges to shoot at, and hunting around here tends to be a close-in sport, with a long shot being 200 yards, and most shots with a firearm taking place at a range where archery would do the job. However, there is a 1000-yard range complex fighting its way through zoning less than two hours away, in the southwestern corner of NH.

So, What Use is TrackingPoint?

Here’s the deal that’s currently on. Tuesday they let us know that they’re down to 50 of them left, so they might be gone by now.

And here’s what it can do. Duel 1: 350 Yards, Off Hand, on a windy Texas day. Bruce Piatt is a National Champion — dude can shoot. But he gets one miss and one on the edge. (He’s using decent combat gear, including what looks like an FN carbine, and a 4×32 ACOG). Taya Kyle was at the time a novice shooter. She puts two in center of mass, using the Precision Guided Weapon.

Here’s a capability that you just don’t have without the PGM. Duel 2: Blind Shots, 200 Yards. Being able to engage the target without exposing yourself to enemy observation and fire is a completely novel thing. Sure, we’ve seen Talibs shoot at our guys like this, but these “Blind Shots” are aimed shots.

Yes, this is a completely unfair test, because it asks Bruce Piatt to do the impossible. With the ShotGlass, for Taya Kyle it’s possible.

Several of you have asked, why not spend the money on training and improve your skills? Bruce did that. He’s world-class good. (Yeah, soldiers and Marines shoot at this distance, but we’re shooting larger targets, and from a prone or foxhole supported position.

Taya didn’t do that, and yet, by exploiting the technology, she outshot Bruce. That is not to say Bruce’s skill acquisition was wasted time! After all, he’s lethal without all the gear. And he’d just be even better (more accurate and faster) if he was using the technology.

What use is Tracking Point? When we first started writing about it, we reminded you all of something Ben Franklin said. During his residence in Paris, one morning he was on his way to see an ascent of the pioneering French aeronauts, the Montgolfier brothers. And an intelligent lady, bemused by the American’s enthusiasm for this novel applied science, asked the great man, “What use is it?”

“My dear lady,” the prescient Philadelphian replied, “what use is a newborn baby?”

A century from now, weapons that don’t range and track targets for you, whether you’re a soldier or a hunter, will be nostalgia items, like muzzleloaders today.

Update:

Here’s the Shooter’s Calculator, a way to work your dope (at least initially) if you’re still doing the math somewhere other than inside your Tracking Point Precision Guided Weapon. Sent in by a reader who prefers to remain anonymous.

Update II:

If the embeds do not work (at least one Eurostani reports they are blocked at his location) then these raw HTML links to Vimeo might work.

https://vimeo.com/193109385/

https://vimeo.com/193110497/193109385

https://vimeo.com/193394792/

If the raw links don’t work, we don’t know what to try next.

Tracking Point: Precision has a Lower Price

We’ve been big boosters of Tracking Point throughout all its business and technical drama, and why not? The company leverages technology to make a rifleman (or -woman, or gelding, even) more effective at that first, cold-bore shot, night or day.

That’s a big thing.

There’s a big real-world gap between potential and performance, and it’s very apparent on that cold-bore shot.

The thing that’s limited (to put it mildly) take-up of the technology has been the sting of early-adopter prices: $20-30k for a Tracking Point Precision Guided Firearm.

m300-price

Now the company has an offer that brings Tracking Point ballistic potential closer to the average AR-toting schlub’s financial potential. For a limited time, their M300FE 5.56 mm Precision Guided Firearm is for sale with the most popular options, night vision, included for under $6k.

tracking_point_m300fe_table_1

We didn’t get around to blogging this the first time they sent it to us this week, so they enlisted a new spokesman: St. Nicholas.

tracking_point_santa

 

They point out:

Santa is a conservative. He wears red and never wishes anyone “Happy Holidays!” He’s bringing you Christmas early because he is concerned about what will happen after November 8th. It’s time to get ready – for Christmas and whatever else might be coming our way.

 

The lower price is temporary, officially, and the best deal is only available to the first hundred buyers. That includes a grab bag of extras and further deals:

 

First 100 Orders 

  • FREE Gen-2 Night Vision $2495 value!
  • Immediate Delivery –  Order Today, Ships Today!
  • $200 off ShotGlassTM!
  • Special Financing 90 days same as cash!*
    *Extended Financing available with payments as low as $137 per month

As they put it in their email, “Don’t becwait for the tree to go up! Santa will be backlogged.”

The capabilities of the M300FE are a combination of the full-house Tracking Point technology and some simplification to reduce costs. For example, special low-trajectory high-velocity ammunition is required (which is sold by Tracking Point, naturally). Because of the ammo’s point-blank to 300 m capability, they can dispense with integrating a laser ranger into the 22 calculations used in setting up every shot.

Some of the capabilities are software-limited, like target speed and lock range. You can track a target at a target velocity of up to 10 MPH — sufficient for foot-borne humans, certainly, but likely to fall short when taking shots on running hogs.

Utilizing TrackingPoint’s new high-velocity UltraFlatTM ammunition the M300-FE shoots point-blank range out to 300 yards so there is no need for an internal laser range finder.

The operation of the system sounds like it’s a little simplified from the earlier tag, track, exact system:

tracking_point_m300fe_table_2

As a shooter pulls the trigger the target is acquired, tracked, and measured for velocity.  By the time the shooter completes his squeeze the target is inescapably captured and instantly eliminated.

It does, however, include the four modes of all current TP firearms: Suppressive Fire, Precision Fire, Auto-Acquire and Night.

Suppressive Fire mode video:

Precision Fire video:

Auto-Acquire Mode (useful for multiple shots on single targets):

Night Mode with Gen2 NV (as included with the first 100 M300FEs, free of charge):

 

This mode does not seem to be included in the M300FE: Precision Movers.

The ShotGlass system is an unusual extension of the rifle’s capability. Essentially, there’s no need to be behind the rifle to shoot it (although you do have to have access to the controls, especially the trigger). There’s no need for the shooter to expose himself, just the rifle. He sees in the ShotGlass glasses exactly what he’d see looking through the rifle’s digital “scope.” It’s an extra-cost option (

For more information:

And no, this doesn’t make snipers obsolete. Actually, technology like this should increase the advantage of the trained sniper, both in his shooting and scouting

We’d Have Called it the Drone Dropper… or Drone-B-Gon

This anti-drone device is going viral. They’ve clickbaited it well by calling it the Skynet anti-drone rifle, and it can directionally jam the GPS signals a drone needs to navigate, and the wireless video downlink.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-3The two white and black “barrels” are directional antennae in two separate GHz ranges. The backpack is the necessary power source. Anyone who’s got Electronic Warfare experience will tell you jamming is a power-intensive activity.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-1If you look at all the pictures available on the company’s website, and watch the video (below), the whole thing appears to be built on a (partial? modified?) AR-15 receiver, with a standard M4 receiver extension and stock. A bit overkill for just something to hang an arduino, a transmitter, and some highly directional (< 10º) antennae on, but it kind of makes sense to give people a familiar interface, and the AR-15 is the point and click interface for the 21st Century.

Along with this video, there’s a new one showing a live test. They claim a “suppression ratio” (difference between the range from the Skynet operator to the drone and the drone controller to the drone) of 8:1, which means (thinking of power squares here) that this jammer has vastly more power than the controller.

The two signal rangess it can jam are 1.450 GHz – 1.650 GHz and 2.380 GHz – 2.483 GHz, but it can only jam one at a time. Available hacks for, for example, the DJI Phantom drone (the one in the video) can take the drone control out of the target range, and could practically be developed for the video range.

There are a few other problems with it, to wit:

  1. As a jammer, it is almost certainly illegal to use in the USA. The Federal Communications Commission takes a dim view of jamming, and has considerable technical and legal resources it deploys to punish violators.
  2. It’s only effective against some common commercial drones and is unlikely to have any impact on a more sophisticated government or military system, which is likely to use robust, high-availability communications, and have backup onboard navigation (usually inertial) that’s immune to jamming or meaconing.
  3. It requires clear line-of-sight to the drone, ergo, it’s only useful as a point-defense weapon.
  4. It requires a human operator and visibility of the target. (How would it work in the dark, against a drone deploying LLLTV? We suppose there’s a Picatinny rail upon which you can mount an image intensifier or thermal sight).
  5. It has the scent of early prototype all over it, and is a long way from a commercial product or (alternatively) a flexible R&D platform. But even experimenting with this thing brings you back around into the sights of the FCC.

Finally, this is, we think, the firm’s first video, from May.

All in all, it smells to us like a gimmick. And within the range of this thing, there are other ways to take out a drone (one lady pestered by paparazzi drones seeking spy shots of a celebrity neighbor demonstrated her wingshooting skills and blew the drone to Kingdom Come. The paparazzi boarded their Range Rover — apparently invading privacy pays well — and were last seen heading back for Gawker HQ or whatever glutinous sump whence they emerged).

This is not the only anti-drone product out there. As well as other jammers, there are counter-drone drones that ram them or drop nets or cables onto their rotors. All of them are similarly immature at present, and no one knows if they represent a real market segment or just hobbyists tinkering.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

They’re not just working on a real world Invisibility Cloak. They’re working to make the message the shadowy IMF sent Jim Phelps back in 1966 a reality:

And not only messages that self-destruct in five seconds. Things that do.

DARPA is working on two separate programs here. One of them is called VAPR, or Vanishing Programmable Resources, and, as the agency itself tells the story, it…

…seeks electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. These transient electronics should have performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, but with limited device persistence that can be programmed, adjusted in real-time, triggered, and/or be sensitive to the deployment environment.

This is not just a way of ensuring the non-propagation of the boss’s message to Jim Phelps, here, but also:

Transient electronics may enable a number of revolutionary military capabilities including degradable environmental sensors or medical devices for diagnosis, treatment and health monitoring in the field. Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment (eco-resorbable) could provide critical data for a specified duration, but no longer. Alternatively, devices that resorb into the body may aid in continuous health monitoring and treatment in the field.

Any imaginative person interested in military and intelligence affairs can think of some uses for such a thing. Imagine, for instance, a cryptological device that self-destructs if it doesn’t exchange a “proof of life” heartbeat signal from its encrypted network at intervals. Losing a crypto unit would no longer require a wholesale rekeying of an entire unit or operation. By the time it’s on an enemy cryptologist’s bench, it’s an inert lump — or, even, completely vanished — VAPR-ized, you might say. There are more sinister and kinetic applications as well. How do you put someone on trial for a shooting if his gun vanishes from the evidence locker? Or, you could secure a flank with scatterable mines, secure in the knowledge that they will evanesce before your counterattack.

DARPA has been working on this kind of technology since 2013.

VAPR has shown products — no-kidding vanishing materials — that a follow-on article describes as:

…small polymer panels that sublimate directly from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use.

(Prince Rupert called. He likes what you’re doing with his Drops).

The same project manager who is in charge of the more general program, DARPA’s Troy Olsson, runs a specific instantiation of the idea as well. Project ICARUS (Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems) is spending some millions on delivery vehicles that would be based on the vanishing polymer technology developed under VAPR, such as drones or parachutes. The “Inbound” means they’re initially working at a way to deliver things to individuals or groups in denied areas, such as agents, guerillas, etc., so at this point the vanishing drones and chutes are meant to go into friendly areas.

darpa icarus comic

They held a proposer’s day in 2015 for Icarus (and here); the contract was awarded to MORSE Corp. in June.

The specific contract (Amendment 2) says that its object is this:

DARPA seeks proposals for the design and prototyping of vanishing air delivery vehicles capable of precise, gentle drops of small payloads. These precision vehicles must be guaranteed to rapidly physically disappear following safe payload delivery. Proposed efforts must integrate engineered vanishing materials into advanced aerodynamic designs to produce an autonomously vanishing, field- testable prototype vehicle by the end of the two-year program.

DARPA goes on to explain the problem at some length.

Precise air delivery to resupply operators or humanitarian teams on the ground requires disposable, low-cost, systems capable of carrying small payloads. This capability does not currently exist as the state-of-the-art systems are expensive (UAVs) or require pack-out of the system by the recipients (parachute-based systems). To resolve this capability gap for the nation, DARPA seeks innovative research proposals in the area of vanishing, precision air delivery vehicles capable of carrying small (up to ~3 lbs.) payloads. These systems should be capable of release from high altitude and must vanish while safely delivering their payload. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice.

That last line is classic DARPA. They don’t want incremental or evolutionary, they want moon shots. Here’s how they explain the mission (one mission) at an UNCLAS level, and identify the credibility gap:

Supply and re-supply of small military and civilian teams in difficult to access territory currently requires the use of large, parachute-based delivery systems that must be packed-out after receipt of the payload both for operational security and environmental concerns. Small items including additional batteries, communications devices, or medical supplies – especially those requiring cold storage – could be supplied/resupplied using low-cost, disposable aircraft to sniper or Special Forces teams operating in difficult to access areas. These small teams aggressively minimize their loads and carry only the most critical supplies. Often extenuating circumstances warrants emergency supply such as critical combat casualty care in remote locations where medical evacuation is delayed. Even the availability of a small, 10 lbs. ventilator could significantly improve critical care outcomes downrange. The medical supply problem can be especially problematic in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions where the storage requirements of insulin, anti-venom treatments, and blood/plasma products limit their availability in remote locations or infrastructure-poor regions. For operators and even HADR personnel, delivery vehicles that do not require pack-out can simplify their operations and limit the environmental impact of a widespread response. Finally, operators in hostile territories require protection of their team’s location. As such, maintaining operational security forbids leaving behind supply vehicles. Weighed against the load concerns of pack-out this presents a logistical conundrum.

A critical capability gap exists in eliminating the leave-behind of air vehicles used to deliver supplies to personnel on the ground without requiring pack-out. Such pack-out of these systems is cumbersome, time-consuming, and adds significant weight to the individuals’ loads. DARPA is seeking to develop autonomous, precision, air delivery vehicles that both safely deliver their package(s) and physically vanish, i.e. the vehicle’s physical disappearance is part of its mission specification. Such a system would enable efficient resupply to teams in distributed locations, eliminate the need to repack/pack-out delivery parachutes resupplying small operating forces downrange, and create a capability to safely, and without detritus, deliver time-critical humanitarian supplies (e.g. food, perishable medical supplies) to civilian/NGO personnel serving in remote or dangerous areas.

Challenging, isn’t it? Wait till they get to specifics:

The Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems program (ICARUS) aims to develop a core capability to fill this gap for the DoD and nation through the development of vanishing, precision, air delivery vehicles for small (< 3 lb.) packages. These systems should:

  1. Fully vanish within four hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes of morning civil twilight (assuming a night drop), whichever is earlier.

    "I don't understand... it was here five minutes ago!"

    “I don’t understand… it was here five minutes ago!”

  2. Precisely drop an up to 3 lb. payload within 10 m of the target landing spot programmed prior to air release.
  3. Exert < 100 G (1 ms peak, half sine wave) on the payload throughout its delivery.
  4. Cover a lateral distance of > 150 km when released from a stationary balloon at 35,000 feet.
  5. Span fewer than 3 m in its longest dimension.

#4 seems to exclude most traditional air-delivery parachutes, as well as unpowered gyrogliders (too low a glide ratio, approximately 4:1 in the case of the unpowered gyro). So you’re looking at an improvement in the capability of that technology of a very great degree, or you’re looking at a fixed or ram air wing, probably with significant on-board thrust of some kind.

No system currently exists that fulfills the complete specifications described above. State-of-the- art precision delivery using Tandem Offset Resupply Delivery Systems (TORDS), Joint Precision Airdrop Systems (JPADS), or civilian quadcopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) typically require complex materials and/or controllers to meet the aerodynamic requirements, but simply cannot vanish. Furthermore, precision notwithstanding, no air delivery vehicles have been fielded with a disappearing or transience capability. Recent advances produced in both DARPA’s Vanishing, Programmable Resources (VAPR) program and in the wider materials science literature indicate the potential for triggered, transient structural materials that may be applied to the aeronautics problem posed herein. DARPA defines transience as full and complete physical disappearance (to the naked eye) of a complete system and its constituent materials – independent of the surrounding environment. As such, any remnants must be < 100 μm on the longest dimension. Implementation of the transient materials in the VAPR program has advanced the transience characteristics (e.g., rate, triggering) while simultaneously improving the structural properties (e.g., Young’s modulus) for their application to various types of electronic packaging and substrates. The VAPR program has partially de-risked the main materials tradeoffs between transience rate, stability and modulus. Further innovations in materials engineering, subsequent materials scale-up, and incorporation into a high-precision aerodynamic design will require cohesive, multidisciplinary teams working in a well-integrated fashion to produce a working design and fabricate a field-testable prototype.

DARPA is interested in the fundamental question of whether a large, functional structure can be made transient. This will have impact in many different core areas where a leave behind will have environmental and/or unintended logistical consequence. There is a potential future where systems can be made cheap enough to be disposable limiting the logistics trail, and maximizing range for a given flight system.

We’ll give you one more block-o-text from the DARPA proposal Amendment 2, but there’s more there:

ICARUS seeks to design, prototype, and demonstrate an autonomous, guided, precision, vanishing air delivery vehicle capable of delivering a small package (up to 3 lbs.) to a GPS-programmed location (10 m accuracy). Following a night drop, the air delivery vehicle must completely, physically disappear within 4 hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes after morning civil twilight, whichever is earlier. To be considered not visible to the naked eye, DARPA nominally quantifies physical disappearance, or transience, as producing remnants not exceeding 100 μm on the longest dimension. Preferably, the orientation of the payload with respect to the ground will be maintained after delivery (i.e. the payload will be delivered right side up). Since transient electronic microsystems are currently under development in the VAPR program, this BAA allows for the proposed vehicles to carry a guidance/control system exempt from the transience requirements provided it is housed in a package no larger than a tennis ball (max. volume 146 cm3) with a maximum ellipsoidal aspect ratio of 3:1. Any components of the vehicle existing outside of the tennis ball package must be transient. Camouflaging schemes, removal or departure of the vehicle, and other approaches that would be described as “technically disappeared” are not of interest to DARPA and are considered non-responsive. Delivery vehicles may land with the payload at the landing zone (LZ) or proceed to a different location after safely dropping the payload. In both cases, the vehicle must be completely transient. Multi-stage implementations (analogous to multi-stage rockets) are within scope, again provided all stages are fully transient regardless of whether initial stages land at a distance from the payload LZ. Simply put, if the proposed delivery system does not fully vanish it will be deemed non-responsive – transience is the highest priority design requirement. Prototypes developed under ICARUS must be field- testable in the specified environmental conditions by program end. As such, while ICARUS will include some limited fundamental research, the program’s overall objective is to demonstrate a field-testable prototype by the end of its second year and is not considered a fundamental research program.

They want applied research, not lab tomfoolery. But man, it definitely is a moonshot.

Along with MORSE, the Bettinger Group and the Matyjaszewski Polymer Group (ventures of two Carnegie-Mellon University engineering professors) are working on ICARUS technologies. Both have experience with degradable and time-limited materials. CMU calls it “sci-fi tech.” A contract has also been awarded to DZYNE Technologies of Fairfax, VA and Irvine, California.

Faster, please!

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?

If your Level of Serum Clue Drops Too Low…

You write stuff like this. Some clown named Franz-Stefan Gady at the Asia-Pac website The Diplomat was let loose with the sort of minimal and wrong understanding of infantry combat that comes from too much reading and not any doing. (His source of expertise? He has traveled to “war zones” as a reporter. Oooooh. Can we touch the hem of his garment?)

Anyway, he concluded, and some readers thought he really had something, that the US Army is about to revolutionize warfare:

The U.S. Army is introducing a new shoulder-fired weapon that has the potential to change infantry tactics and revolutionize infantry warfare in a way unseen since the Battle of Königgrätz in July 1866. That battle, which marked the beginning of the end of the line infantry attack, saw Austrian troops carrying muzzle-loaders outgunned by Prussian infantrymen carrying breech-loading needle guns.

via Will This Weapon Change Infantry Warfare Forever? | The Diplomat.

One aside, that should be right in Gady’s lane if he’s the reader he wants us to think he is — If Königgratz revolutionized warfare, why were tactics entirely unrevolutionized as so-sophisticated Europe blundered into the Great War?

For that matter, if changing to breechloaders is so revolutionary, how long did it take Austria (and all the other nations of the world) to catch up. True or False: every nation worthy of the term “power” was breechloading by 1870?

But wait, we haven’t told you what weapon Gady thinks is going to, we quote, “Change Infantry Warfare Forever.”

Hey, it works in the laboratory!

Hey, it works in the laboratory!

The XM-25 counter-defilade weapon, the rump end of the OICW boondoggle, which was simply SPIW dragged into the 21st Century and placed across the shoulders of the rifleman like Christ’s Cross, as if that poor devil — the infantryman, not Jesus — needed another burden.

The Army’s going to blow $100 million on these things over the next five years, Gady tells us.  His story is a bit inconsistent internally, at one point suggesting that it makes cover obsolete (!) and at another, quoting a PEO Soldier booster — from 2010, before the weapon’s utterly inconclusive combat deployment — that “our soldiers can remain covered/protected and use their XM25….”

We’re serious about his claims:

…the impact of the XM25 could be revolutionary and fundamentally change small infantry tactics. The XM25 will essentially destroy the value of cover and with it the necessity of long-drawn out firefights. It will also make the old infantry tactic of firing and maneuvering to eliminate an enemy hiding behind cover obsolete.

“Small infantry tactics?” Crap, he’s heard about Colonel Tattoo’s Dwarf Brigade, “Death from Below.” Twenty years of black-budget midgetry down the drain….

More seriously, even if this bloated, intricate gadget works, it’s going to change “small infantry combat” (Lord love a duck!) about as much as any of the other weapons has, from the Macedonian bronze-headed sarissa to the Roman’s Iron Age gladius to the rifle-musket to the machine gun.

Somebody’s been reading too many press releases (and, indeed, Gady’s sources for  the capabilities of the awesome XM25 are the manufacturer’s own website, and an anonymous “senior U.S. military official.”)

About the only things that the XM25 claims to do that the 60mm mortar doesn’t already do are:

  1. Transfer a large sum of money to a defense contractor; and,
  2. Work (supposedly) without requiring the shooter to learn via expending ammo in training.

The 60 is, of course, going to be too heavy for our new generation of female infantrymen, but this thing isn’t much better.  And the 60, as a good old muzzle-loading mortar, is going to work damn near 100% of the time you ask it for a whoonk…. wait for it… BLAM! on demand.

Fortunately, we’re not going to need riflemen (or female riflemen) any more because Ash Carter has redefined the US as a non-fighting power. In fact, we’re not only through fighting, said Carter on a trip where he seemed to accept China’s extended sovereignty of the South China Sea, we’re not even going to be intimidating anyone anymore.

So, why not female infantrymen? It’s not like the current DOD management is planning to fight a war again, ever. And after all, the world has a great record with politicians’ declarations of Peace For Our Time™.

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….

 

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.