An Insider’s History of HK USA

Not from us, but from HK USA’s former Government Sales guy (later, VP of Military Programs), Jim Schatz. Jim spent 20 years with HK, and was on the inside of almost every single significant H&K development during that period. He prepared these slides for an HKPro gathering in 2008. Like Schatz’s presentations at NDIA, it’s direct, informative and has the potential to be controversial. Of course, since it’s six years old, the H&K buffs have wrung all the controversy out of it by now. He calls it The HK Decades(.pdf), but it’s really an insider’s history of the company’s USA growth through its long “Because you suck. And we hate you” period.

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During this period, Heckler & Koch went from a supplier of military arms primarily to European NATO countries, to a world trendsetter. They came this close (Maxwell smart hand gesture) to selling the USA their not-ready-for-prime-time G11 caseless rifle, and then this close again to selling the Army the XM8, and Schatz was at the center of these projects.

In the first case, HK simply pushed the technology farther than it was able to go. The G11 offered some interesting theoretical benefits, both tactically with its very-high-rate three-round burst, and logistically with its compact caseless ammunition. But it fell short of delivering the theory as something practically useful in the hands of ordinary riflemen.  

In the second, it’s hard to pin down exactly what happened, but it does look like a group of US Army senior leaders nearly inflicted on the service a new infantry rifle which was, by most measures, no better (and perhaps, no worse) than the existing arm. The project petered out when the XM8 underdelivered on its proponents’ overpromises, and its in-house champions rotated out into retirement before installing it as the service rifle. Schatz still defends the XM8 quite vigorously in this presentation.

His comments on the rise and fall of the MP5 are right on. CT elements used to work with handguns in CQB, and discovered that going to an MP5A3 gave them more rounds (both before a reload and total), and more importantly, more hits. But a few incidents — never having to do with the reliability of the gun, more with the limitations of the round — made US military SOF dust off Vietnam-vintage Colt carbines and call for a renewed version of that platform. SOF-driven updates and upgrades to the M16 carbine (later, M4) raised the bar that any US service rifle replacement must meet, leaving H&K and many other vendors of quality assault rifles with weapons that may be better than the M4, but are not better enough to justify a massive rearmament program. (They did secure the Marine M27 IAR program with a variant of the 416, so there is that).

Unfortunately, this document is the slides without the (undoubtedly more interesting) talk that went with them. But it is frank and unfiltered output from an industry insider, that some of you may never have seen. How cool is that?

4 thoughts on “An Insider’s History of HK USA

  1. Y.

    What was the issue with G11?
    Cooling and durability?

    IIRC, they solved the cookoff problem by switching to more stable propellants.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Ammunition stabilty was another, lack of an obturating seal, and there was the little problem with removing a dud round. There were quite a lot of problems in the end. Caseless was the ammo of the future inn the 1980s, and it will be the ammo of the future in 2030. It’s a future that doesn’t get here.

      Especially if someone can design a polymer case (70-80% of the weight savings?) system that replaces the obturating brass gas-seal system that’s been used for the past 150 years or so.

      ETA: Here’s Jim Schatz’s own critique of the caseless project in general and the G11 (for which, as HK’s ACR candidate circa 1989-90, he was PM). http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2012armaments/Wednesday13614JimSchatz.pdf

        1. Hognose Post author

          There’s some low-level experimentation going on, it’s not heavily funded right now.

          You notice that many of the world’s militaries are staying with much more expensive brass casings rather than much cheaper steel. Why? Obturation, primarily, but also heat exchange. Each casing takes about 10% of the waste heat of a shot out the ejection port with it. Big consequences for design if you go to something that retains heat less well.

          Russia, China etc. have gone to steel casings which seems to be a cost-vs-raw-materials decision. Andrew Tuohy has documented excess wear from steel cases.

          Brass isn’t just better than steel, it’s the best stuff so far. There are other properties of brass alloys that make them superior to aluminum alloys in this, also, but the heat sink advantage is a real one.

          An ideal composite or polymer cased round might not look like the cartridges of today. It might not have a circular cross-section (HK’s caseless rounds didn’t, their cross-section was square with rounded corners). But heat’s a real problem in caseless, and in every kind of case, too.

          You might gain some heat control by having the chamber area of the barrel discontiguous with the rifled area, a la M60. They keep the chamber cool longer by having a small air gap engineered into the barrel between the chamber area and rifled area, the gap is bridged by the Stellite partial liner (which IIRC runs for about 9″, call it 22 cm or so).

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