LARGEST LANDPOWER EXPO AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FORUM SHOWCASES NEW TECHNOLOGY
There is no better place to see today’s defense technology on display than at the AUSA 2019 Expo, held October 4-6 in the Washington, D.C.-based Walter E. Washington Convention Center. This article provides a categorical sampling of some new noteworthy technologies.
Ammunition and Weapons
Textron, in partnership with Heckler and Koch and Winchester, has developed the next generation of cased-telescoped ammunition (with a focus on the 6.8mm projectile) and the special weapons suite necessary to fire it.
What exactly is cased-telescoped ammunition? Imagine a small semi-transparent polymer tube about 1 1/2 inches in length with a diameter of about 1/2 inch. On the closed bottom end, it has a conventional primer just like metallic-cased ammunition. On the muzzle end it has what looks like a second smaller tube inserted inside the larger outer tube. The smaller tube carries a 6.8mm bullet inside. It’s a very curious-looking ammunition design that doesn’t track with any conventional ammunition shape.
So how does it work? When the gun’s firing pin strikes the primer and ignites it, the cartridge’s powder charge is subsequently ignited, just like a conventional metallic cartridge. As the burning propellant’s gas pressure increases, the inside tube holding the conventional 6.8mm round extends forward, telescoping into the gun’s chamber, in turn, establishing the necessary gas check between the cartridge and firing chamber. As combustion pressure maximizes inside the cartridge case, the round (bullet) releases from its telescoped tube and begins its transit down the gun’s bore just like a conventional bullet.
About now you’re scratching your head thinking this ammunition seems complicated, maybe even fragile when compared to conventional metallic-cased ammunition. Plus, it requires a specially designed gun to fire it—what’s the advantage in that? And how about heat management? Conventional metallic ammunition extracts about 60% of the combustion-generated heat with each spent cartridge. The remaining 40% sinks into the gun barrel and receiver, and that’s why guns get hot when they’re fired rapidly. Polymer ammunition doesn’t carry (sink) heat, so how is the heat from propellant combustion managed and dissipated from the gun, especially the machine gun variant? Hmmm?
There are some advantages to cased-telescoped ammunition. Round for round, it’s about 40% lighter than metallic cased ammunition. It is approximately two thirds the length of comparative caliber metallic-cased ammunition with a slightly larger diameter—so it’s lighter and takes less overall space. Its ballistics is comparable to conventional ammunition of the same caliber, but its accuracy is touted to be vastly improved, especially at extreme range. However, accuracy is the sum total of several variables like the gun’s barrel quality, twist, caliber, bullet weight and aerodynamic form, sights, terrain, environmental conditions and, perhaps most important, the shooter’s ability. Accuracy, therefore, is not the product of ammunition or firearm alone.
There are some clear disadvantages to cased-telescoped ammunition as well. Cased-telescoped ammunition requires a special family of cased-telescoped weapons to fire it. Conventional weapons cannot be converted to fire cased-telescoped ammunition and vice versa. That means neither the ammunition nor the weapons are NATO interoperable and as such, fall outside the NATO Treaty requiring ammunition interoperability. Further, U.S. law dictates U.S. forces interoperability with our NATO allies. This leaves cased-telescoped weapons and ammunition in the “special use” category, and that in itself is a legal showstopper for its replacement as the DoD main battle rifle and NATO interoperable ammunition.
These concerns need to be addressed, but it appears that Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier is currently in denial. Nonetheless, even though we’re still firing a ballistic projectile downrange like we’ve been doing for centuries (except now it’s 6.8mm), cased-telescoped ammunition and the special weapons that fire it are a step forward in the world of firearms technology, and Textron is leading that charge. For more information see textronsystems.com.
Next Generation Squad Weapons
On September 3, 2019, SIG SAUER, Inc., Newington, NH, announced the official award of a U.S. Army contract for the Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW). The primary objectives set forth by the U.S. Army for the NGSW-AR was a weapon with the firepower and range of a machine gun, coupled with the precision and ergonomics of a rifle. The award encompassed the complete SIG SAUER system consisting of SIG’s unique 6.8mm hybrid ammunition, a lightweight machine gun and rifle (both include suppressors).
Of greatest interest, is SIG’s newly developed, high-pressure, 6.8mm hybrid ammunition that is designed for increased penetration at greater range. SIG’s hybrid ammunition also achieves an important 20% reduction in cartridge weight by bonding a brass cartridge case to a metal base. Yes–a bi-metal cartridge case using dissimilar metals (that otherwise looks like any other off-the-shelf metallic cartridge). In order to prevent metal seam separation resulting from dissimilar metal expansion coefficients when heated and stretched by firing stresses, a lock washer (of sorts) between the two metals prevents case and base separation. The method SIG SAUER is using to manufacture its hybrid ammunition is proprietary, and its guru who knows is not taking calls.
As outlined in the recent award issued by the U.S. Army, SIG SAUER will deliver a complete SIG SAUER system inclusive of the SIG SAUER 6.8mm hybrid ammunition, lightweight machine gun, rifle and suppressors. SIG has historically manufactured quality firearms, and we have no doubt in its ability to continue its stellar track record. See sigsauer.com.
Otis Defense acquired DRD Tactical on October 1, 2019, and has now become a firearms manufacturer in addition to offering its premier weapons cleaning product line.
DRD Tactical is a market leader in the design and manufacture of innovative modular tactical rifles (takedown guns). Each rifle is designed around three key characteristics: discretion, reliability and precision. They specialize in a patented Quick Takedown rifle that ensures the utmost concealment discretion when operators are traveling on covert missions. These rifles are designed specifically for the military’s SOF and law enforcement elite with a need for discreet carry. DRD will continue design and manufacturing of all its firearms in its Georgia facility while sales, marketing and administrative support will be run out of Otis headquarters in Lyons Falls, NY. Congratulations to Otis and DRD for a great union. We anxiously await your future offerings. See otisdefense.com.
One of the more interesting technologies showcased at AUSA was Marathon Targets’ T50 autonomous robotic target for outdoor use and the T10 for indoor use. These man-sized robot target platforms are programmed to act with tactical behaviors as they move autonomously about the practice range. The battery-powered wheeled platforms carry a life-size, human-looking mannequin that reacts to being shot, using live fire or sim-ammunition from any direction. When shot, the platform instantly stops and drops the mannequin to a full-flat position. Other platforms involved in the drill will either continue an assault toward the shooter(s) or turn and run for cover, realistically simulating combatant behavior in a firefight. Better yet, should the shot at the mannequin hit the platform control box below the mannequin, the box containing the motor, batteries and computer is armored to survive anything up to and including a .338 hit without penetration.
To add training realism, any number of autonomous units can be employed in any scenario desired, from a few adversaries to a platoon-sized force consisting of dozens. Since they autonomously communicate amongst one another to fill gaps resulting from those shot (killed), or to run for cover when shot at, imagination is the only limit on live-fire training scenarios using these targets. Interestingly, Marathon’s business model is built around renting these targets to the users, both short-term and long-term, rather than selling them. Consequently, you only rent them for the period you need them, and Marathon otherwise mechanically maintains them and keeps the software upgraded. See marathon-targets.com.
Optics and Power Management
Safran Optics 1 located in Bedford, NH, displayed its High Resolution Thermal Viewer (HRTV). The HRTV is the ultimate lightweight observation and targeting device that utilizes three channels: Cooled Thermal, Color Day and Low Light Level. This multiple role viewer additionally offers a 4k-color sensor and global leading laser rangefinder, making it perfect for sniper spotter use, advanced reconnaissance and target ID at greater ranges than previously achievable. This is made possible by its high performance thermal imager, extreme long-range optical observation with an optional lens extender, remote wireless observation, photo/video capture, fall-of-shot ballistic calculator and moving target speed indication. It additionally employs See-Spot Detection that allows the user to view laser designators from JTACs or other aircraft. It runs on CR-123s or the rechargeable Bentronics BT-70915 battery (37 mw) and weighs 4.4 pounds with battery. HRTV’s ruggedized case is both shock- and weather-resistant and designed to work reliably in the extremes of all warfare environments. The HRTV is worthy of close attention. See optics1.com.
Hailing from Newington, NH, Wilcox Industries Corporation showcased its Wilcox “Fusion System.” The Fusion System is a lightweight, integrated, modular power management system that is contained in the M16/M4 assault rifle’s forearm. Its purpose is to bring critical electro-optics and sensors together within a localized Bluetooth-enabled network. This unique system energizes a reflex sight, red visible laser, NIR laser and fixed NIR illuminator as well as a SureFire dual-spectrum head with white and NIR light. The Fusion System’s BlueforceTACTICAL (BTAC) module links into the BTAC mobile command center and provides, among other things, real-time location alignment, shot records and weapon health maintenance. It’s powered by a single CR-123 battery with a second battery chamber for backup. The entire system is designed with the weapon’s center of gravity in mind and so provides a “balanced feel” when aiming, shooting and carrying. See wilcoxind.com.
Aimpoint has created the new standard in pistol reflex sights. FNH was the first manufacturer to produce a pistol with the top of the slide already factory-milled and drilled to accept a top slide-mounted reflex sight. Since the FNP-45 debuted, a number of pistol manufacturers are now offering a factory-ready slide that readily accepts a top-mounted reflex sight. And that brings us to Aimpoint’s ACRO P-1. The ACRO P-1 is a ruggedly built, NVG-compatible, ultra-clear 3.5 MOA red dot sight. It’s submersible (Navy SEALs listen up) to a depth of 82 feet and is shock-tested to survive the recoil stroke of over 20,000 rounds of .40 S&W pistol ammunition. It’s powered by a standard CR-123 3V Lithium battery and only weighs 2.1 ounces. It is the only fully enclosed system in its category and boasts a fully sealed optical channel. Changing the battery is an operator’s dream because it can be easily accomplished without having to remove the ACRO P-1 from the pistol. See aimpoint.com.
B.E. Meyers & Company, Inc., based in Redmond, WA, is known for the advanced photonic systems they develop and manufacture for the defense and aerospace industry. The company’s core competencies include laser solutions for aiming, illumination, targeting and less-than-lethal visual disruption. B.E. Meyers recently added the MAWL®-X1 to the company’s highly successful MAWL® (Modular Advanced Weapon Laser) line of high-powered aiming and illumination laser systems for individual and crew-served weapons. This DoD-specific variant sports a truly modular design comprised of three separate Head, Body and End-Cap components. This modular design allows it to be field maintainable and sustainable at a supply chain level.
The superior ergonomics designed into the MAWL®-X1 provides intuitive operation in the dark, under stress and with gloves on. As an ambidextrous system, it can easily be configured for either right- or left-handed shooters. It features a simple finger-operated switch mechanism with finely balanced power and divergence presets that allow for target transitions from close to long range in under a second. The MAWL®-X1 also features balanced and stacked beams to increase situational awareness and overcome photonic barriers created by external light sources. It additionally delivers unparalleled range and clarity through optimized VCSEL (vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser) technology that vastly increases performance, beam quality, beam clarity and operational efficiency. Even better—it’s made in America by Americans. See bemeyers.com.
Team Wendy, of Cleveland, OH, is known for its lightweight ballistic helmets and face shield protection. Team Wendy showcased its EXFIL® Ballistic helmet consisting of high-grade components that include a level III-A ballistic shell, a foam impact liner with 16 individual comfort pads in two thicknesses and a boltless-design retaining system with cam-lock sliders for one-hand operation. As helmet systems go, the EXFIL Ballistic helmet provides unequalled protection, comfort and wear-resistance performance. Additionally available in its accessory offering is a fitted helmet cover that provides cable routing slots built into the cover’s loupe-portion. This simplistic solution serves to fully protect power and communications cables and completely eliminate cable snags. Team Wendy’s helmet design and material construction quality speaks for itself—try one, you’ll like it. See teamwendy.com.
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
In the world of Class II and Class III UASs , Aeronautics Group based in Yavne, Israel, offers a variety of fixed wing drones with tailorable mission-specific payload capabilities. Of specific note is its Orbiter 4 Small Tactical UAS. With a wingspan of 5.4 meters, a speed of 70kts and a 24-hour endurance capability, this low silhouette, silent flight, non-corrosive composite construction UAS is made for coastal and maritime surveillance. It possesses six autonomous flight modes and autonomously navigates with, or without, GPS or datalink. It is propelled by a spark ignition, internal combustion, multi-fuel engine and is fully operable in harsh weather conditions below the cloud base. Compared to most of the large payload UASs in use today, the Orbiter 4 possesses most of the same surveillance capabilities but in a small, low logistical footprint. This translates to a runway-free tactical UAS that’s easily launched and recovered with a 15-minute turn around cycle. See aeronautics-sys.com.
AI-Controlled Fully Autonomous Robotics
There was an obvious gap in fully autonomous robotic systems on display, save the semi-autonomous (operator-driven) explosive ordnance disposal platforms. It is no secret that AI-controlled fully autonomous robotic land, air, sea surface and underwater platforms are under intense development by numerous international high technology corporations. The U.S. Navy recently let a contract for the purchase of both fully autonomous surface and underwater vessels, and there will be more as computing capabilities continue to advance in speed and other quantum capabilities.
This brings us to considering “Left of Conflict” concepts and future surrogate warfare between AI-controlled robot warriors where AI, and its application, may determine who wins and loses. Another facet of future AI warfare, and a most disturbing one, will be the day that a fully autonomous robot soldier intentionally takes human life. Make no mistake, this scenario is within our technological grasp today, and it will debut in battle at some point in the coming decade.
Currently, the greatest showstopper for fully autonomous robot soldiers is a portable power source with enough energy to sustain operations. Most all-humanoid robots run on rechargeable battery power. Many larger wheeled and tracked robots, including 4-legged robots (mules), carry power generators onboard. But even those are limited by the available fuel quantity carried for their generators.
Battery-powered robots require a recharging capability. A strategy being considered for humanoid solider robots is to intermingle specialized power recharging robots among the soldier robots. The analogy is akin to fighter jets being aerial refueled by specialized tanker aircraft, or the U.S. Navy’s underway replenishment of its warships at sea by resupply ships. Nonetheless, an adequate source for robot power sustainment remains a problem that still needs solving before soldier robots can carry the fight to the enemy and win.
It’s a Wrap
In closing, AUSA never disappoints; however, some years are better than others. “Better” is a relative term applied to a well-attended expo, and/or an expo that just seems to have more new technologies presented. AUSA 2019 was such a show—it was overall well-attended; the active duty military was well-represented; and the defense contractors, technology providers and manufacturers seemed to display more new products than in previous years. This could be a sign of the times and a result of rebuilding of our military, or it could simply be coincidence as the stars align. Either way, AUSA 2019 was a great show. AUSA 2020 is scheduled for October 12–14, 2020, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. See you there.