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6 Major Problems with Modern Infantry Weapons (and how to solve them)

Defence IQ takes a look into some of the most common problems for modern infantry weapons, and what is being done about them. By no means a definitive list, the following aims to provide a broad overview ahead of this year’s Infantry Weapons 2012 event…

1. Too heavy

The problem  

Reducing overall system weight without comprising  the “soldier proof” factor (i.e. the likelihood of your weapon continuing to function despite the rigours of use, impact, and heavy-handed infantrymen) continues to present a puzzle to small arms manufacturers. Go for lighter materials and you increase the risk of watching your rifle succumb to short-term stress, not to mention compromising valuable aspects from lower speed to increased recoil. In this era of worldwide soldier transformation programmes, achieving this balance is a decisive factor for many materiel decision-makers.
 
What can be done about it?
 
Current solutions pivot around use of polymers (hard, durable plastics), waving goodbye to traditional metals for some rifle components, such as the magazine. Others are focusing on reducing the accessory and battery weight, as in the use of powered rails which removes the need for individual batteries. Rifle plus sights, rails, bipods, and other add-ons can be incrementally scaled down, owing to the fact that this does not impact the robustness of the overall frame of the weapon and offers something of a buffer period between now and a time when future solutions can address the main components, such as the barrel and receiver.
 2. Weak Ammo

The problem
 
Weight of the firearm is not the only concern. Ammunition weight is also in need of attention in order to lighten the load as ammo is never expendable. However, lighter ammunition obviously means that stopping power is often sacrificed.
 
5.56 mm ammo doesn’t burden the soldier much, but it’s little use at long range. Meanwhile, 7.62 mm can drop a bear at 100 yards but it will sap energy if you have to carry several magazines around. The question as to where the balance lies is an old one, but is still open to the floor.
 
What can be done about it?
 
Multi-calibre solutions are coming to the forefront. The Indian Army, for example, is planning to roll out a hugely improved modular standard rifle that incorporates both 5.56 and 7.62, while Colt introduced its similarly capable LE901-16S Winchester in early 2012.
 
Meanwhile, Remington Arms rolled out a 6.8 mm SPC cartridge for US Special Operations to bridge the gap and the 6.5 mm Grendel has emerged, thanks to British engineer Bill Alexander, which boasts a flatter trajectory and retains greater terminal energy at extended ranges than either of its predecessors.
 
NATO continues to consider the possibility of an intermediate round to overcome this issue of two standard cartridges.
 

3. Too much recoil

The problem

For sustained fire, getting back on target can be an issue, particularly when every second counts. Reducing the recoil, especially in larger calibre weapons, enables significant improvements to the volume of fire on a target, but with lighter materials and higher stopping power on most wish lists, kick can be difficult to manage.
 
What can be done about it?
 
Quite simply, time and technological advances. Recoil is an equation that is being solved through restructuring of the internal and external mechanics of the weapon as much as the materials being used to build them.
 
For instance, KRISS Vector submachine guns place the barrel in line with both the shoulder and hand, reducing the distance between the hand and bore axis. When combined with a mechanism that forces the block and bolt to recoil off-axis into a recess behind the magazine well, the overall recoil and muzzle climb are significantly minimized.
 
Heavier shoulder-mounted and multirole weapons offering the likes of anti-tank capabilities of course require an even greater engineering effort to ensure low or no recoil. SAAB’s Carl-Gustaf M3 is a recoilless rifle and has been in use for more than 50 years across more than 40 countries. Owing to continuous improvements, re-orders continue to come in from the likes of the US Army and SOCOM.
 

4. Not accurate enough

The problem
 
Moving from close quarters battle (CQB) to long range, the need to be able to maintain accurate engagement at distance is a key requirement. More forces are bringing in Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) to combat the inability of standard issue firearms to reach out to long distances accurately enough, but this may not remain the case forever.
 
What can be done about it?
 
Accuracy of the system could be improved by rebarreling the rifles, although this is a costly process. Instead, most nations are looking to purchase advanced fire control systems to reduce “user error” to a minimum, making the rifle perform as accurately as possible.
 
Improved durability in the material being used can lengthen the life of a barrel, or in other words, can delay the time it takes for the barrel to erode through extended use, abrasion, and heat or chemical factors. Likewise, high quality cleaning tools are a must for users when ensuring the internal surface of the rifle is clear, where anything less can cause damage over time.
 
More accurate targeting sights are also making waves, such as Raytheon’s ELCAN Specter Sights, which provides wider viewing angles, long eye relief and high resolution under low light conditions, as well as options to switch between red dot and telescopic.
 

5. The full-auto dilemma

The problem
 
Here’s another question pondered by the land force requirement chiefs: should weapons be made with full automatic use in mind, or should this remain the responsibility of the dedicated SAW gunner?
 
Full auto generally means carrying more ammo, not to mention burning through more of it. It also increases the heat of the weapon and generally limits accuracy. All of this – next to a long list of other drawbacks – means full auto is rarely used in theatre. On the other hand, the option of at least having it available to every soldier would provide them with greater suppressive fire, the ability to clear small rooms and spaces, and gifts a psychological edge to the user that could make all the difference in a CQB scenario. Without it, soldiers are arguably lacking a fully-rounded capability…
 
What can be done about it?
 
To counter some of the technological drawbacks, weapons could be designed differently, such as in firing from an open bolt or thicker barrel (though this would increase the weight). The question however is more to do with strategic requirements. At present, the cons of full auto outweigh the pros, and only a proven need for such a wildcard capability in the future – such as increased need for suppression – should sway the decision-makers.
 

6. Undertrained users 

The problem
 
Fully priming the user as much as the weapon he or she carries is as vital to modern militaries as the technology to hand. Today’s forces are approaching a “soldier as a system” format, in which the human element is closely integrated with the equipment, thereby making the need for familiarity and instant decision-making one of paramount importance.
 
Live fire training has been the most common of methods in bringing the infantryman up to speed for as long as firearms have existed. While essential in familiarising the soldier with the very weapon they will be responsible for in-theatre, it does demand extensive time, cost and maintenance efforts to develop, presents a danger if the zone is encroached upon, is reliant on environmental conditions, and often does not portray an accurate picture of the real battlefield.
 
What can be done about it?
 
Simulated training for the dismounted soldier is now entering standard training programmes, offering the benefits that a synthetic environment has already provided the military pilot or vehicle operator.
 
Laser Shot, one US-based training solutions provider, offers simulated trainers of this kind that incorporates instructor input, defined attributes and variables, and even graphic animations to properly accustom soldiers to the reality of CQB. View this video for an idea of its capabilities.
 

Trainers like this often integrate with other highly-developed software packages – including the ever-popular Virtual Battlespace 2 (VB2) – but can also be made easily mobile while reducing the need for large open space.

 

We’re keen to hear your thoughts – do you agree or disagree with this post? Email comments or article submissions to: haveyoursay@defenceiq.com or comment below.

One response to “6 Major Problems with Modern Infantry Weapons (and how to solve them)

  1. m.j.malone July 8, 2013 at 5:44 am

    yes, improvements in projectile weapons is a continuing necessity but the neglect of close quarter combat weapons i.e. blades,is a concern.e.g. the esprit d’ corps and fearsome psychological power generated by the ancient curved blade of the nepalese ghurka,not to mention the weapon’s instant killing power.very relavent in the modern unpredictable battlefield

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