Category Archives: Future Weapons

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.

What TrackingPoint Must Do to Sell to SOF

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

So, Who Do You Hit First?

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

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

Who Don’t You Hit?

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

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

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

What’s Missing From 1st-Gen Tracking Point

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

Emission Control / Encryption / ECCM

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

Two-way communications

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

Intelligence gathering MASINT capability

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

A Ballistic Development Interface, SDK or App

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


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

Demonstrated, Documented Durability

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

Demonstrated “Fail Safe” mode.

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

Full Auto Stabilization Mode

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

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

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

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

What’s After Black Hawk?

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

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

Future Helicopter JMR

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew J. Grandy, Circa 1975.

Andrew J. Grandy, circa 1970s.

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

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

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

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

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

Folded triplex ammo

And then, a whole line of colorful triplexes:

5.56 Folded Live ammo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Folded ammo concepts

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

30mm Folded Ammo Frankford Arsenal

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


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

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

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

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

Tracking Tease

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

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

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

Quick take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

HMS QE Christening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HMS QE plaque

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Electromagnetic Pulse, Scaremongering, and You

People keep saying that an EMP attack on America could kill 90% of Americans. Last month, for example, in Investors Business Daily, not usually a fever swamp of paranoia. But it sounds a little paranoid to us:

That dire warning came from Peter Vincent Pry, a member of the Congressional EMP Commission and executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.

He testified in front of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event could wipe out 90% of America’s population.

These frightening reports and scary numbers are reminiscent, for those of us sufficiently “seasoned” to remember, of the hysteria surrounding nuclear weapons in the Cold War. Hawks amped up the threat to justify our defensive measures, from SAMs to Civil Defense. Doves amped up the threat to justify a preemptive surrender: since resistance is futile, we might as well lie back and enjoy being assimilated. “Better red than dead,” some of them intoned, while one always had a deep-seated suspicion that for many of them the closely-held imperative was “better red than anything,” actually. The Doves were once distributed across parties, with pinks on the Democrat side matched by isolationists on the Republican, and the Hawks were similarly spread. The sixties and seventies, and mostly, the Vietnam War, sped a process of assortation that has made today’s hawk-dove axis a largely partisan one.

RIght now, the EMP threat is being promoted by two groups, those for whom it is a big issue: a mix of scaremongers who have a solution to sell you, and the press, who are always up for a round of predictions of disaster and decline.

Some attention has been paid to the potential cataclysmic effects of a natural phenomenon such as a massive solar storm, an event that has occurred in America’s horse-and-buggy era when it did not matter.

Today an electromagnetic pulse event would be devastating. It wouldn’t need a solar storm, just a solitary nuke detonated in the atmosphere above the American heartland. We would envy the horse-and-buggy era.

As we’ve reported here before, there are qualitative differences between a Carrington Event and a nuclear-generated EMP.

In any event, it would take a complete societal collapse and a passive lack of reaction by institutions and even individuals to produce the sort of societal collapse that these guys fear. One of the more realistic fictional renditions of an EMP attack is William Forstchen’s best-selling One Second After from a couple years ago. But even Forstchen underestimates the degree to which people will survive and recover from such an attack. The human impulse to survival is very strong, and it’s a social impulse: people up against the wall tend to cooperate to the extent that they can, even victims of horrible natural and man-made disasters.

But the EMP fright industry never lets up:

“Natural EMP from a geomagnetic superstorm, like the 1859 Carrington Event or 1921 Railroad Storm, and nuclear EMP attack from terrorists or rogue states, as practiced by North Korea during the nuclear crisis of 2013, are both existential threats that could kill 9-of-10 Americans through starvation, disease and societal collapse,” the Washington Free Beacon quoted Pry as saying.

As we reported early last year, Pry, a former CIA nuclear weapons analyst, believes that North Korea’s recent seemingly low-yield nuclear tests and launch of a low-orbit satellite may in fact be preparations for a future electromagnetic pulse attack.

via EMP Attack On Power Grid Could Kill 9-In-10 Americans –

Are the Norks preparing an EMP? Maybe. But how do they test it? How do they know it works?

A copy of a report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security for the Defense Department, obtained by Pry from sources within DHS, finds North Korea could use its Unha-3 space launch vehicle to deliver a nuclear warhead as a satellite over the South Pole to attack America from the south.

But that understates, or fails to state, the Nork problem. Testing an EMP warhead is a tough thing to do, as is testing any kind of nuclear warhead, compounded by the fact that the foreign supporters of the Nork program, who have included at times Russia China and Pakistan, haven’t ever solved this conundrum, either. And even though the Norks have made this their national priority, they’re still a poor, badly-organized, and ill-led country.

Also, there are some American infrastructure elements, including most military weapons systems and command and control networks, that are already EMP-hardened. So you might succeed in taking down the power grid, but you won’t prevent massive retaliation.

EMP links & Videos

Here are a few more EMP resources. All of these are of the Chicken Little variety, including other takes on Pry’s testimony, and his actual written testimony (as opposed to some newshound’s version of what he said).

Here’s a brief video showing how an EMP would take place.

This is a longer (and more alarmist) video. Bill Forstchen, mentioned above, is interviewed in this. (His book is a worst-case scenario, but quite readable, unlike most didactic literature). He has some unpleasant comments about Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, a standout even in a Senate where every single member is a crook.

Pry’s testimony:,%20Homeland%20Security.pdf

But even if the EMP scenario is overstated…

…as we think it is, you might still be well served by preparing for it. One thing to think about is this: most of the measures you would take to protect your family from the consequences of an EMP attack would also protect your family many times over from such more common disasters as flooding, urban riots, or a worst-season power outage that lasts several days. That’s why you owe it to yourself to read Bill Forstchen and other survival writers like John Wesley, Rawles.

Why the Honeycombed Nuts are a Big Deal

It dawns on us that in our announcement of the honeycombed howitzer nuts developed by New Jersey firm Imperial Tool with SLM additive manufacturing, we did not elaborate on why we think it’s a big deal.

lighter M777 howitzer nuts

Let us walk you through it by the numbers:

  1. Until now, it’s been hard to build hollow parts.
  2. Most of the loads borne by steel parts are borne by their surfaces and perimeters. This is true of loads in tension and compression alike.
  3. What that means is: most of the loads bearing on the internal metal of the part (say, a nut or bolt) are just the shear forces between the different surfaces that are bearing different loads.
  4. Therefore, the vast majority of this internal structure is superfluous. An optimum shear web would not be solid and fill 100% of the space between, say, tensive surfaces and compressive surfaces (that is why buildings are built with I-beams rather than square solid beams)
  5. The internal solidity of, inter alia, a nut, only exists because manufacturing processes have always subtracted material from a solid (and, to a lesser extent, engineering analyses have been little developed for hollow and honeycombed parts).

So additive lets us save weight — in the case of the nuts, honeycombing the interior rather than making it solid saved 50% of the net weight of the part — and lets us save material.

The advantages of weight savings should be obvious. If you can reduce weight for the same strength, almost any application benefits. There’s also the flip side of weight savings: you can make a stronger part within the envelope of the original weight budget.

If your part is a common aluminum or steel alloy, material saving probably doesn’t offset some of the disadvantages of using additive: given present technologies, subtractive methods and precision casting are much faster and produce a superior surface finish. But material savings are a different thing with exotic alloys such as Inconel or titanium alloys.

Hollow, weight- and material-saving parts take advantage of the fact that additive manufacturing enable parts with topologies and structures that are literally impossible, using manufacturing methods used from antiquity through the 20th Century.  One other current use of this potential is in rocket nozzles, allowing parts to be manufactured with internal cooling channels.

This suggests some possibilities for future small arms:

  • A lightweight, insulated barrel comprising an outer sleeve and inner honeycomb compression web, printed around a thin hammer-forged liner.
  • Stronger, lighter stocks and furniture.
  • Weight of rails interfaces reduced by half.
  • Weapons that include printed-in electronic circuitry for fire control (further reduced lock time) and target acquisition and designation. (Imagine a Tracking Point rig, built into the weapon, and the size of a conventional ACOG).
  • 50% reduction in the weight of a heavy machine gun.
  • MG with an evaporative-recovery liquid cooling system built into the rear area of the barrel.
  • 75% reduction the weight of a mortar’s cannon (tube) and baseplate.
  • Improved fragmentation sleeves in grenade launcher and mortar rounds.
  • Built-in recoil compensation for instantaneous second shots or sustained on-target bursts.

Some of these technologies will require engineering not yet done, but none of them appears to require an invention not yet made.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Office of Naval Research

Screenshot 2014-05-22 02.27.55Why do a bunch of gun guys want to look at what the ONR is doing? Because the ONR is working on one of our favorite themes: what’s next? By that we mean that current projectile weapons technology is a very evolved version of late 19th century breakthroughs such as breech loading, smokeless powder, fixed ammunition, gas- and recoil-operated automatic weapons, and (for artillery) recoil-managing carriages.

Those inventions revolutionized the weapons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they continue to be exploited even in the latest designs, but the pace of innovation is slower, the effect of innovation is more peripheral or marginal, and the character of innovation is evolutionary, not revolutionary. We could say we’re at a technological plateau, or apogee. (Think of where the internal combustion piston engine was circa 1945 — at a pinnacle of power and efficiency.

Some other trends can be perceived if you look at things in the long (real long) haul. These include a centuries-long trend for projectiles to be launched with smaller calibers, higher velocities, and greater accuracy. But these trends too have hit a plateau.

So the ONR is looking for breakthrough technologies. One thing that they, and the Army, have explored in the past is liquid propellants. We may write something about that, but the bottom line there is that the great potential runs up against insuperable (so far) safety issues. There are many things the next great gun should do, but one thing it should not do is blow itself up.

WNUS_Rail_Gun_Theory_picSo the breakthrough currently being explored is the electromagnetic rail gun. Here is their overview of the program on a single page and here’s a web version. The potential is staggering: 50-100 nm range initially (230 nm stretch goal); Mach 7.5 (5,600 mph). In  gunnery terms, feet per second, that’s 8,370 (2550 m/sec for those of you still using Robespierre’s revolutionary units).  The fastest common To give you some velocity comparisons, that’s not quite as fast as the X-43 scramjet experimental platform, and not quite the orbital speed a geostationary satellite is going. It covers a kilometer in 392 milliseconds. (For comparison’s sake, the fastest guns issued today are smoothbore tank guns firing discarding-sabot fin-stabilized subcaliber penetrators. The APFSDS round in the 120mm M256 gun on the Abrams is pretty fast at 5,500 fps, and the Russian 125mm makes 5,900 fps).




This is the most recent test video ONR published (last month). Their gun accelerates an irregular shaped projectile to hypersonic speed.

This image, from RIA/Novosti (!) shows the principle of operation in more detail than the image above:

How Railgun works

Its current weakness is its power consumption, but the Navy has the most experience in the world with one potential source of unlimited power: shipboard reactors. The Army, too, is working on railguns, but doesn’t have that handy reactor in its tanks.

The ONR railgun program is now well into Phase II. The Phase I objectives were set, and the Phase II objective is, broadly stated, to transition from a research and development program to an evaluation and acquisition one.

But the railgun isn’t the only thing the ONR is up to, by any means. Writing in the Wall Street Journal this week, ONR head RADM Matthew Klunder reports that, while the railgun will be going to sea in a couple of years, the Navy is already planning to test a laser cannon at sea this year, and is working on other innovations, like unmanned helicopters for supply delivery or medevac.

Advanced technologies that were once the stuff of science fiction are also in the pipeline. This summer the Navy will deploy a laser cannon at sea for the first time and plans to test an electromagnetic railgun on a ship in 2016. The laser cannon delivers an invisible beam of energy with pinpoint accuracy that can take out an incoming plane, drone or boat. The electromagnetic railgun—using electricity rather than gunpowder—will defend against incoming missiles and opposing ships, and project power far inland by launching low-cost guided projectiles hundreds of miles at hypervelocity speeds over Mach 7.

Breakthrough technologies like these give commanders the option to deter, disable or destroy threats from greater distances. In addition, there is no limit to how many rounds a laser can fire, and at just $1 per shot, laser cannons will save the Pentagon (and taxpayers) many millions once fully deployed.

Both the railgun and the laser have the potential to save future ships from the fate of such naval tragedies as HMS Hood, or the USS Maine for that matter, where detonation of a ship’s magazine was a key factor in the loss of ship and men. The railgun can be effective with dumb metal kinetic-energy projectiles, and the laser fires a beam of light — neither is as hazardous to store as plain old HE shells.

Here’s the website, and here’s their YouTube channel (warning, annoying autoplay).