With the advancement in equipment and technology associated with “Near Peer” states including Russia, NATO members and other allied nations are becoming increasingly concerned with regards to being overmatched.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Iain Moodie of the dismounted close combat capability directorate at the UK’s Ministry of Defence, many NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) countries are now “trying to keep our heads above the water rather than overmatching anybody at the moment.” Referring to a resurgence in the capabilities of the Russian armed forces over recent years, Lt. Col. Moodie explained to delegates at London’s SETAF (Soldier Equipment and Technology) event on 14 March how NATO members were in danger of being overmatched “pretty quickly”.
Additionally, US Army officials have explained an ongoing desire to equip soldiers with an “immediate overmatch” capability with US Army Lt. Col. John Vest of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command asking at the SETAF event whether current weaponry and supporting technologies can provide such capacity to end a contact as soon as possible and not in 25 to 30 minutes.
Referring to future integration of counter-defilade weapon systems such as the experimental XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) system, Lt. Col. Vest questioned whether this particular weapon would provide a capability for one round to be fired in order to quickly end a fire fight.
According to US Army sources, the XM25 will soon begin its final phase of acceptance testing ahead of entry into service. It is designed to provide soldiers with a “revolutionary weapon system that breaks the current small arms direct fire parity,” according to the US Army.
US Army sources described how pre-production qualification testing would occur later in 2016 followed by limited user tests in the third quarter, with Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) by the end of the year. Should the weapon system receive the go-ahead from the army, initial units could receive the technology in 2019. According to the US Department of Defence budget request for 2017, the XM25 is described as a “number one materiel solution to mitigate a critical capability gap” in ground-based force elements TTPs. The army’s plan for 2017 could see up to 105 weapon systems procured under the LRIP.
The weapon system was first deployed to support US operations in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013 with tactical formations satisfied regarding the XM25’s ability to end fire fights more quickly than traditional weapon systems. However, development was put on hold due to a personal injury situation regarding a weapon malfunction. Describing the XM25’s game-changing capability, a spokesperson for the US Army’s Soldier Programme Executive Office (PEO) explained to Armada, “It dramatically increases soldier lethality and range with a family of 25mm programmable ammunition.”
Comprising a semi-automatic, individually-fired weapon, the XM25 provides soldiers with a maximum range of 500m (1640ft) for point targets (700m/2296ft for area targets), allowing them to engage targets “quickly and accurately”, army officials explained. However, similar to 40mm grenades currently in service worldwide with armed forces, the XM25’s ammunition requires an arming distance of 35m (14ft), thereby reducing its effectiveness for Close Quarter Battle (CQB). “It produces an adjusted aim point based on range, environmental factors, weapon elevation and cant. The target acquisition/fire control integrates thermal capability with direct view optics, laser rangefinder, fuse setter, ballistic computer and an internal display,” an army official added.
The weapon has been designed to not only enhance the lethality of the squad, fire team and individual soldier but also to minimise reliance of small units on non-organic fire support such as mortars, close air support and artillery, particularly with the time associated for the provision and successful execution of these joint fires missions. The weapon is manufactured by Orbital ATK with Heckler and Koch responsible for assisting the development of its 25mm airburst ammunition while L3 Integrated Optical Systems has designed target acquisition and fire control system features. Speaking to Armada at January’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas, defence sources explained how the small arms market was witnessing little advancement in technology beyond more standard assault rifle and Bullpup rifle designs in terms of ergonomics. However, what has become a now common belief across armed forces worldwide is the requirement to enhance lethality through the integration of advanced accessories, sensors and payloads on board weapon systems as well as enhanced training regimes for soldiers.
According to speakers at the SETAF event in London, optimised lethality can be achieved by “greater precision” of small arms and their operators. However, it has emerged that the British Army is now considering equipping sections with just semi-automatic assault rifles and no belt-fed machine gun support weapon capability in order to respond to these calls for improved precision across the battlefield. Speaking to delegates at SETAF, Lt. Col. Moodie explained how sections operating under the command of infantry platoons could have FN Herstal 5.56mm x 45mm Light Machine Guns (LMGs) withdrawn from service while platoons could soon lose the capability of the FN Herstal L7A2 7.62mm x 51mm General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), a stalwart of the British Army going back decades. He explained how the MoD was seeking to implement a “precision-versus-suppression” mindset, stating that “we are looking at replacing (the LMG) with more precision.”
Options for the British Army included the revival of the 5.56mm x 45mm Light Support Weapon (LSW) or equipping of all soldiers in a section with BAE Systems’ L85A2/SA80A2 assault rifles and the Lewis Machine and Tool L129A1 7.62mm sharpshooter rifle, brought into service with sections as an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) during Operation HERRICK, the UK deployment to Afghanistan. According to Lt. Col. Moodie, the LSW outperformed the LMG in field tests, a series of which were conducted in 2015. However, the British Army appears to be waiting in line alongside much of NATO, regarding the US Army’s next-generation calibre selection. With an out-of-service date for the L85A2 projected to be in 2025, any suggestion regarding switching away from 5.56mm x 45mm to alternative ammunition such as 7.62mm and 6.5mm would heavily rely upon a US decision to do likewise.
Elsewhere, British Army sources suggested to Armada that “woeful” 60mm mortar systems could be replaced in the future with the Saab Carl Gustaf anti-tank recoilless rifle and its associated family of munitions. Saab’s M4 Carl Gustaf could be an option for the British Army, particularly after the company informed Armada how the latest variant in its family of anti tank weapons would be qualified in “early 2016”. The Slovakian Armed Forces are already a customer for the M4 with initial deliveries understood to be planned throughout 2016. Company literature describes the M4 as a “man-portable, multi-role weapon system that provides high tactical flexibility through its wide range of ammunition types”. A Saab spokesperson added that the “Carl-Gustaf M4 represents an evolution in the capabilities of infantrymen. To see its multi-role flexibility in action is to understand the true impact that this new system will have on tomorrow’s ground combat operations.”
The 84mm M4 comprises an all up weight of less than seven kilograms (15.4lbs) (compared to ten kilograms/22lbs for the M3 variant) with improved ergonomics over its M3 predecessor, as well as the introduction of an intelligent sighting system (providing connectivity between the optic and round for automatic selection of ammunition type) and reduced “action time” for an operator to bring the weapon to bear onto a target. Additionally, an ammunition counter has been integrated for optimised logistics and maintenance support. The M4 also includes a red dot sight option: “On the modern battlefield, speed can mean the difference between life and death for dismounted infantry. Operational success depends upon soldiers that can react quickly and effectively in any tactical situation … As technologies evolve, weaponry needs to keep pace over cutting-edge capabilities. Programmable ammo is just one innovation that is set to revolutionise the battlefield for dismounted infantry. Today’s dismounted infantry face a broader range of battlefield challenges than ever before. Having a single weapon for all situations increases their tactical flexibility and reduces the amount of equipment that they carry,” the spokesperson added. The M4 has been designed to provide troops with a capability to destroy armoured targets as well as enemy personnel in cover, and to provide route clearance of obstacles and anti-materiel fire missions to clear buildings during Military Operations in Urban Terrain. A total of eleven ammunition options are available to customers including the high explosive anti tank, multi-role/anti-structure, anti-armour, illumination, smoke, support and anti-personnel munitions. Rounds are capable of penetrating 500mm of armour and can also be launched from confined spaces in line emerging MOUT requirements.
However, Saab sources explained to Armada how it was continuing to future-proof its Carl Gustaf technology with increased warhead efficiency; further capabilities for firing in confined spaces; increased range; increased precision; reduced reaction time; and increased tactical flexibility. Finally, Lt. Col. Moodie suggested that the British Army could soon switch out its Heckler and Koch M320 Underslung Grenade Launchers with Milkor’s M32A 140mm Multi Shot Grenade Launcher, as used by the US Marine Corps and US Special Operations Command.
The gas plug operated, semi-automatic and revolving action weapon comprises a medium and low velocity system capable of firing six grenades within three seconds or less, Milkor explained to Armada. Firing low velocity ammunition, the weapon has a maximum range for point targets out to 125m (410ft) and 400m (1312ft) for area targets. When firing medium velocity ammunition, it is capable of hitting point targets at 250m (620ft) and area targets out to 800m (2624ft).
Elsewhere, Pakistan’s armed forces are looking at options to replace its legacy Heckler and Koch G3 7.62mm and Norinco Type 56 assault rifles following recent consideration of FN Herstal’s Special Operations Combat Assault Rifle, Beretta’s ARX-200, the Zastava’s M21, Česká Zbrojovka’s CZ-806 BREN-2, and Kalashnikov’s AK-103. This was revealed by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif upon a visit to the state-owned Pakistan Ordnance Factories in March. According to Pakistan defence sources, consideration of a small arms programme began in November 2015 with a test programme understood to have been initiated in January 2016, comprising the aforementioned weapons. Any requirement could see up to 500,000 weapons demanded to equip the entire armed forces (the country’s army, navy, air force, marines and paramilitary forces). In June 2015, the Pakistan government revealed it planned to increase investment in defence and security with eleven percent increases on 2015/2016 figures as the Ministry of Defence seek to continue COIN operations in the north-eastern Federal Assisted Tribal Areas (FATA).
Elsewhere, the Chilean Army has revealed plans to upgrade its inventory of Sig SG540 (5.56mm) and SG542-1 (7.62mm) assault rifles. Announcing the news at the FIDAE event on 29 March, Fábricas y Maestranzas del Ejército de Chile (FAMAE) unveiled upgraded versions of the rifles which will be called the SG540-1M and SG542-1M respectively. The upgraded weapons will be used by the army in support of its Israel Weapons Industries’ Galil ACE-22 assault rifle (also 5.56mm x 45mm) which was down-selected by the service in 2014. The Chilean Army will receive 22000 weapons from IWI this year. The upgrade decision will allow the army to retain flexibility to select 5.56mm and/or 7.62mm weapons dependent upon mission specifications. The upgrades will be carried out at FAMAE’s factory in Talagante, Chile, with work expected to begin in 2016/2017. A total of 50000 rifles will be upgraded under the contract agreement which includes new foregrips/bipod and variable stocks, a rail adaptor system allowing for the integration of an underslung grenade launcher, and an optical gun sight.