Category Archives: Future Weapons

Do We Need A Bigger Bullet?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Daniau, Emeric. Toward a 600 M Lightweight General Purpose Cartridge. September 2014. Retrieved from: ; this is a uniquely French view of this same challenge, hosted online by Anthony Williams.

Schatz, Jim. Where to Now? 3 June 2015. Retrieved from:

Williams, Anthony. Assault Rifles and Ammunition: History and Prospects. Nov 2014. Retrieved from:

Williams, Anthony. The Case for a General-Purpose Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge (GPC). Nov 2014. Retrieved from: ; an earlier version was presented at NDIA in 2010:

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


It’s About Time: Army Looking at JHP Ammo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Get Too Excited

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

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

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


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

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

What’s After Tracking Point?

We’ve been pretty high on precision guided weapons technology since the first time we saw a TOW do its thing. (And Javelin and other current weapons have answered most of the complaints about TOW since then). But in recent years, the promise of PGWs has migrated down into the small arms world, thanks to the same combination of Moore’s Law, free-flying science and nitty-gritty engineering that gives us everything from rapid genome sequencing to haptics and 3D printing.

We’ve been pretty impressed with the precision-guided rifles and Tag / Track / XACT technology of Tracking Point. So what comes after that? DARPA says: precision-guided, steerable bullets. They call the program, in a felicitous acronym, EXACTO, Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance. Like the Javelin and the Tracking Point PGW, it seems to tag a target and then pursue it relentlessly.

DARPA recently released the above video, along with this blurb:

DARPA’s Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program, which developed a self-steering bullet to increase hit rates for difficult, long-distance shots, completed in February its most successful round of live-fire tests to date. An experienced shooter using the technology demonstration system repeatedly hit moving and evading targets. Additionally, a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target.

This is not too different from what TrackingPoint does now, in terms of results. What is different is how the EXACTO round functions.

This video shows EXACTO rounds maneuvering in flight to hit targets that are moving and accelerating. EXACTO’s specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets by compensating for weather, wind, target movement and other factors that can impede successful hits.

You can see from the video that they’re getting hits on their e-type silhouette, but they don’t appear to be getting center of mass hits. Still, it’s an admirable case of the dog walking on his hind legs, and this suggests that the science is licked, and what remains from here on out is simply engineering. (Not trivial, engineering, but once the science has shown that something is possible, it’s up to the engineers to find elegant and practical ways of doing it).

One significant difference between this and Tracking Point’s technology (so far) is that TP uses a bespoke or customized weapon; according to DARPA, EXACTO works with an ordinary rifle, only the optoelectronics and ammunition are changed.

It’s not rifle-caliber, as usually designated, yet; this demo is with a .50 caliber smart projectile.

“True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager. “This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds. Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”

The EXACTO program developed new approaches and advanced capabilities to improve the range and accuracy of sniper systems beyond the current state of the art. The program sought to improve sniper effectiveness and enhance troop safety by allowing greater shooter standoff range and reduction in target engagement timelines. For more information, please visit the program page.

via 2015/04/27 EXACTO Guided Bullet Demonstrates Repeatable Performance against Moving Targets.

OK, so let’s visit the program page, shall we?

Turns out, there’s not all that much there. We do get an uninformative 3D rendering of an EXACTO projectile, but that’s about it. There is a suggestion that the steering of the bullet is aerodynamic in principle.

exacto projectile_fullThere is this brief update on where the project stands:

The EXACTO 50- caliber round and optical sighting technology was developed to greatly extend the day and nighttime range over current state-of-the-art sniper systems. The system combined a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance system to track and deliver the projectile to the target, allowing the bullet to change path during flight to compensate for any unexpected factors that may drive it off course.

Technology development in Phase II included the design, integration and demonstration of aero-actuation controls, power sources, optical guidance systems, and sensors. The program concluded with a system-level live-fire test.

In 2009, the project was described as follows [.pdf]:

Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO)* *Formerly Laser Guided Bullet.

(U) The Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program is developing a system that provides sniper teams with the ability to identify and engage targets with heretofore unobtainable range and accuracy against stationary and moving targets under difficult environmental conditions, either day or night. The system uses a combination of a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance system to track the target and deliver the projectile to target. Technology development includes the design and integration of aero-actuation controls, power sources, and sensors. The components must fit into the limited volume (2cm to the third power) of a 50-caliber projectile and be designed to withstand a high acceleration environment. When integrated and tested, this system will greatly increase the effectiveness of two-man sniper teams, regardless of the environmental conditions and the time of day. The EXACTO technology is planned for transition to the Army by FY 2012.

FY 2009 Plans:

– Design guidance system.
– Design maneuverable projectile.
– Construct all novel 1x scale components.
– Measure component and subsystem performance in appropriate environments.

An Air University paper said this of EXACTO, comparing it to aviation precision guided munitions programs:

Foot soldiers are often left out of consideration when money is spent on precision weapons. The DARPA Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) is a command-guided .50 Cal sniper round designed to put long range, pinpoint precision in the hands of a common soldier. The system works by tracking a target with an infrared spotter’s scope that doubles as a command- guidance tracker. The .50 Cal bullet is fired and responds to trajectory commands sent by the scope (which tracks the target and bullet). The system accounts for wind, moving targets, and provides accuracy at range that normally requires years of sniper training to achieve. The EXACTO program not only gives sniper capabilities to common foot soldiers, it ensures a kill on the first shot, and enables moving target capabilities that have until now only been available to tactical aircraft and UAVs. In this case, the range is far shorter than HTV-21 or T32, but the strategic implications of super-sniper-battalions may prove even more deterring to an enemy force. For years, the real practical advantage US soldiers held over adversary soldiers came in the form of the air power watching over. EXACTO aims to enable America’s soldiers to enjoy technological advantages its airmen have enjoyed for decades.3

Although EXACTO was indeed scheduled to conclude in 2012 [.pdf], and some DARPA pages refer to it in the past tense, but the live fire test video shown here was shot in 2015 and only released in April (in-house, 10 Apr 15, to the public, 27 Apr 15).


  1. HTV-2: Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2.
  2. T3: Triple Target Terminator-3, an experimental missile that combined a ramjet sustainer with a rocket booster in the form factor of a pre-existing missile.
  3. Nielsen, Michael B. (Maj., USAF). Addressing Future Technology Challenges through Innovation and Investment . March, 2012: Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

Ghost Gunner is Shipping

Cody Wilson sent an update to Ghost Gunner buyers, along with this atmospheric video:

The Defense Distributed email says:

Today [24 April] the first wave of orders has finally shipped for our pre-order campaign that began all the way back in October! It’s difficult to even count the obstacles we’ve faced since almost that very month, but by your patience and support we are today able to announce our product’s shipment and the release of its design files and operation software to the public. We thank you immensely.

Over 100 units are shipping/will have shipped since the end of last week. Our output is at such a pace that we estimate current backorders from the original campaign will all be fulfilled within six to ten weeks’ time. Our manufacturing processes were difficult to engineer and perfect since December because of our troubled part stream, but we now realize our capacity and are doubling our work force to increase throughput even more than in the past two weeks.

They’ve also opened up orders for the first 200 of those on the wait list, as opposed to those who already paid and are in the queue (wait list members paid a small sum for a place on the list).

The biggest news, perhaps, is the release of the design files, software and manual.  These files are contained in a .zip that can be downloaded from here or here. (Note: this does not work with the Safari browser; Safari users will need a Plan B). The manual looks like this:


It is 30 pages long, although you only need the first six of them if all you plan to do is run .DD files created by others. The rest of the manual is an intro to creating .DD files and otherwise using Grbl to control the machine.

And we strongly urge you to read it now if you have a GG coming. It contains several things you’ll want to know before unboxing, like system requirements (in this initial version, “it’s complicated”), and what not to use as a handhold when pulling the machine from its box (the stepper motors!).

The machine’s planned cross-platform promise is not delivered yet, with the initial version of DDCut software, the automated software that runs a .DD file off on the router, initially live only on Windows 7 (and, if you’re brain-dead or your computer is, Windows 8). They still plan to make this work on Linux and MacOS, but it’s not there yet.

Users of the unix-like systems are not completely out in the cold, however. You can run g-code on these computers, controlling the mill by using GRBL. There’s much more of a learning code than that.

One of the problems with relying on someone else to write your DD file is that g-code is extremely powerful. A miscreant, then, could, if not exactly brick a Ghost Gunner, at least cause a head or spindle crash — not a good thing. Fortunately, Wilson and his merry men have included a short set of instructions about what g-code commands are usually safe and which are potentially hazardous, allowing any user to evaluate a .DD file’s safety. For better security yet, they suggest using only files from trusted sources.

We’ve been following this for a while (and yes, we have one on order, but we’re well down the list). We see real potential in g-code and .DD files.

UPDATE 0930R 20150425

This post was written rather rapidly last night when we came in from a long drive at 2300 with no 0600 post in the queue, so we have a few more points (both ours, and Cody’s) to get across to you.

How are the machines shipping? The answer seems to be, via US Mail.

When we say we see real potential in g-code and .DD files, here are some of the things we could see people developing and sharing:

  • Profiling files, for converting an M16A2-profile lower to an A1 profile for a vintage/retro repro.
  • Engraving files, to duplicate retro markings or to make custom designs.
  • Lightening files, to remove metal and skeletonize a lower (which, we must stress, saves no significant weight; it’s a style thing. Imagine a steampunk AR… now it can be done, and the design shared).
  • Things we can’t even imagine yet. If that doesn’t make you squee, what will?

Wilson sees that, too, maybe clearer than we do. Re the closed forum for owners only, he says:

As you receive your machine in the mail, you will find in your package a card with credentials to give you access to the Ghost Gunner forums. We expect this will be a place of exchange and development that will quickly travel more adventurously afield of DD to see just the range and extent of Ghost Gunner’s capabilities.

We note that Ghost Gunner does not require internet access to run, unlike some other modern manufacturing technologies. (MarkForged, we’re lookin’ at you, although we’ve been told they will be selling an extension to their software that will let MarkOne buyers opt out of the MarkForged cloud and run their own servers, in that pungent Silicon Valleyism, “Real Soon Now”). Yes, there is a forum for  Ghost Gunner users, but you don’t ever need to go there. You bought the machine, you own it. What you do with it is your business. (We suspect Wilson shares our loathing for hardware and software involuntary “licenses”).

[F]orum membership is not a must! Everything you need to operate the machine comes in the box, software and guide included. No need to connect to the internet to access what you’ve purchased.

And, in a very important and (to us) unanticapated update, the Ghost Gunner will now be offered Internationally, outside the USA as well. Release of the software was held up for months because:

[T]he Feds literally took until last week to give GG a commodity classification.

It’s anyone’s guess where the hold-up was. It could have been Fed animus towards Wilson personally, but Occam’s Razor suggests that it’s just Feds moving at their usual snail’s pace. But an aside of the classification and approval is this:

[W]e will begin selling and shipping Ghost Gunner outside of the United States. Many of you are not from the US and have inquired for months about access to the machine. Well, we now have the clearance to ship to over 30 countries, of which you are likely a citizen. Our international backers will be reached out to individually at this time, but you will note a separate path to get on the wait list if you’re outside the US when you now visit

Finally, it seems meet to close with Cody’s own elegiac closing, expressing as it does gratitude to those of us who have waited through all the Ghost Gunner drama.

Above all else, THANK YOU for your support. We’re a small shop of friends and relative kids from Texas (and parts) around who had no business opening a manufacturing operation. But we wanted to see this concept succeed, and we wanted it to succeed on bold and defiant terms.

Though it will still be some weeks before we’re caught up with orders, we know it was you, our backers, with your patience and good will that allowed us to get to this moment.

I for one will not forget it.

It’s unclear from the email when ours will ship. It looks like the first hundred is well in hand, but we’re just barely into the third hundred.

Jets (and Vehicles) with Frickin’ Lasers on They Heads

Doctor Evil’s technological dreams, not to mention Auric Goldfinger’s and Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s, are inching closer to reality. That’s the only possible conclusion an avid movie-goer will draw from a fascinating Bill Sweetman article in Aviation Week. 

Today, on an armored vehicle as an air defense weapon that doesn't need to "lead" a target; tomorrow, an aerial precision-strike capability? (Bill Sweetman AWST photo).

Today, on an armored vehicle as an air defense weapon with a functional MV of infinity, so it doesn’t need to “lead” a target; tomorrow, an aerial precision-strike capability? (Bill Sweetman AWST photo).

In fact, Sweetman deploys a bunch of pungent prose that sounds like something out of The Strategy Page, but with the essential difference that Sweetman knows what he’s talking about and has been wired into defense RDT&E since the second coming of laser weaponry (and the first serious, non-Bond-villain one) in the 1980s. Sweetman starts with a dismissive swipe at US and USSR laser weapons programs of the 1980s (“The only thing of consequence that any of them destroyed was confidence in laser weapons”), and then leaps into “that was then, this is now”-ville.

New HEL [High-Energy Laser] weapons are smaller than the 1980s monsters, with a goal of 100-150 kw, and powered by electricity rather than rocket-like chemical systems. Modest power permits more precise optics and—in some cases—the use of commercial off-the-shelf fiber-laser sources, improving beam quality (that is, focus) and reducing cost.

Star Wars lasers were intended to hit things that missiles could not touch. The new generation exploits different characteristics: a magazine as deep and easily replenished as the fuel tank, and a low cost per shot (about $1, says Rheinmetall). The idea is to deal with targets that missiles cannot engage affordably.

A mini-UAV is a threat because it can target ground forces for artillery. It is cheaper than any surface-to-air missile, but a laser can blind it, destroy its payload or shoot it down. Rocket and mortar defense is another application. Rafael’s Iron Beam laser is a logical follow-on to Iron Dome, which is practical and affordable only because it ignores rockets that will fall on open ground; that will no longer work when weapons are guided.

Hmmm. Thinking about the implications of what Sweetman is saying here, there are several paths around Iron Dome which the Palestinian terrorists may choose to adopt: they could try overwhelming it with quality, overwhelming it with accuracy (by guidance, as he suggests, or simply by increased ballistic accuracy and precision of aim), or overwhelming it with speed by using gun artillery instead of relatively-slow rockets.

Wile-E-Coyote-Genius-Business-CardNo doubt the cagey Israelis (has any nation’s paranoia ever been more justified?) have already thought this through and have counter-countermeasures in development (one of which certainly is a laser system). The Palestinians, in their ongoing attempts to outsmart the smarter Israelis, are the Wile E. Coyote of weapons development.

Anyway, let’s return to Sweetman’s rundown of current and very-near-future directed energy weaponry.

Close behind the systems already shown by Rheinmetall, Rafael and MBDA—certainly not a technological leap away—is the new Gen 3 HEL being developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to fit on an Avenger unmanned air vehicle (AW&ST Feb. 16-March 1, p. 30). If what we hear is correct, it combines an output as high as 300 kw with high beam quality; it can fire 10 times between 3-min. recharges; and a version might fit in the 3,400-lb. pod that Boeing designed for the Advanced Super Hornet (see photo). A bomber or a special-operations C-130 could carry it easily.

This is a tipping point, because what you can do with 300 kw also depends on what you are trying to protect. If the goal is to knock down a supersonic antiship cruise missile (ASCM), there are two problems: water in the atmosphere (which attenuates laser energy) and the fact that a damaged ASCM can still hit the target. But if the target is an evasively maneuvering aircraft, it will often be in clear, dry air; and it is enough to destroy the missile’s seeker, put a hole in the radome, even at well-sub-kilometer range or weaken the motor tube to cause a miss, even at well-sub-kilometer range.

This is one where you’ll find it rewarding, we think, to open the mind and  Read The Whole Thing™. Sweetman is no more infallible than any of us, but he is a more informed aerospace analyst than almost any of us, and bears close watching.

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.


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.


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.