NEWS

The Army says these new weapons will help America win its next war

The US Army has been looking to swap out the M4/M16 rifle platform carried by US soldiers in one form or another since the 1960s.


The service currently has its eye on the Next Generation Squad Weapon, but its arrival is years away, and doubts about the Interim Combat Service Rifle make it unclear if US troops will get a new weapon in the intervening period.

Despite that uncertainty, the Army is looking at a number of upgrades to the weapons and ammunition currently carried by its soldiers.

Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Warkentin Eugen

A recent Army study examining existing threats analyzed how to build the new rifle, its ammunition, and its fire-control system in tandem to enhance its capabilities, all while fitting it into the service's overarching modernization strategy.

According to Army Times, the study has produced several important findings — chief among them that fire control, or how the weapon is aimed, would have the largest impact on the new rifle's development. But the service also wants to avoid needing constant upgrades.

"For the next generation, we wanted to make one end-all solution," Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings, head of the Army's Program Executive Office Soldier, told Army Times. "With the M4, when you look at it, it's got all these things hanging on top of it. We keep evolving it by putting things on it."

Army researchers are evaluating new designs for bullets and casings, as well as new materials for both rounds and propellants. Private firms have researched using polymers in weapons systems for some time, and one firm, Textron Systems, is now working on developing and refining polymer weapons and cartridges to lighten the load carried by US troops.

The M17 and M18 use the same polymer grip module and trigger group, with new slides and barrels for full-sized or compact models. (Photo from We Are The Mighty)

The company says its 6.5 mm carbine — an intermediate caliber the Army has its eye on — has the lethality of a 7.62 mm weapon and is lighter than many 5.56 mm rifles, the caliber the Army currently uses.

New sighting technology is also under consideration, meant to make it as hard as possible for soldiers to miss what they aim at. Some devices being reviewed would allow soldiers to aim a rifle without bringing it to their face. Other additions in mind are thermal imaging and range finders that evaluate wind, distance, and ballistics.

Personnel at the US Army's Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center are currently working on four programs focused on optics systems that identify and track targets, provide guidance and compensate for environmental conditions, improve firing speed and hit probability, and evaluate wind conditions.

An official overseeing the rifle's development likened the initiative to a "mini-Manhattan project," in reference to the World War II program that developed nuclear weapons. He said advancements in rifle technology over the next few years could outstrip those made over the last 40.

A version of the NGSW could see the field by 2022, with more advancements coming by 2025.

The Army is poised to introduce a new sidearm much sooner, however.

Cummings, the Army PEO chief, told Army Times that the first 2,000 of 195,000 new M17 handguns will be distributed among members of the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell in Kentucky in November.

By the end of the year, the new sidearm will be given to 3rd Cavalry Regiment troops stationed at Fort Hood in Texas and to members of the Security Force Assistance Brigades.

The M17, a Sig Sauer-made 9 mm pistol, was picked as the Army's new Modular Handgun System in January, and it's meant to offer improvements in accuracy and ergonomics. It will be compatible with a silencer and will have interchangeable grips and standard or extended-capacity magazines.

The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps all plan to adopt the M17, though the Marines are looking at a compact version, the M18.

The Army has said it's looking at a new weapon for snipers in both the short- and near-term as part of its development of the NGSW. And upgrades are also under consideration for the service's machine guns.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tom Liscomb checks his ammo for his M240 during an Mi-17 helicopter training flight, Oct. 30, 2012, over Afghanistan. Liscomb is an advisor flight engineer deployed to the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisor Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Quinton Russ/RELEASED)

The Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and some special Navy units are testing a new sight for the venerable M2 .50-caliber machine gun and the M240 medium machine gun.

The Machine Gun Reflex Sight, made by Trijicon, will fill a "huge capability gap," a company program manager said, and switch easily between the M240 and the M2, the latter of which now only has iron sights limited by the strength of the gunner's vision.

The new sight will make the M2 more deadly and precise by "increasing the probability of first-round effects," the program manager told Army Times. The sight costs a steep $4,500 a unit, however, with night-capable models running closer to $5,000.

The Navy Surface Warfare Center is also testing a new kind of ammunition for the .50-caliber machine gun that will be able to travel 65 yards underwater.

Lance Cpl. Jarod L. Smith, a crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365, fires a mounted M2 Browning .50-caliber machine gun from the back of the MV-22B Osprey during a live fire training session off the coast of Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., Feb 10, 2016. Marines with VMM-365 flew to a landing zone, which allowed pilots to pratice CALs in their Osprey's and then flew several miles off the coast to practice their proficiency with the .50-caliber maching gun. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Fiala/Released)

The company behind it, DSG Technology, says the new rounds, which also come in 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm variants, use special technology to create a bubble and travel through water. That ability is advantageous at sea because it will reduce the likelihood rounds fired at the water will ricochet and hit friendly forces.

The evaluation of new technology and potential upgrades comes as the Army is looking to reorganize how it buys, builds, and tests new weapons. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has said the service needs to centralize the disparate processes involved in development and deployment to regain its competitive advantage against emerging threats.

"Today, our Army is not institutionally organized to deliver modem critical capabilities to Soldiers and combat formations quickly. Our current modernization system is an Industrial Age model," Milley said in letter sent to general officers earlier this month. "Our recent focus on fighting wars of insurgency and terrorism allowed our adversaries to make improvements on their modernization efforts and erode our advantages enjoyed since World War II."

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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