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Army and Marines speed up improvements for small arms.

Faced with the possibility of continuing ground combat in coming years, the U.S. Army and Marines are stepping up their efforts to improve the small arms used by their infantry.

In recent months, many of the combat operations in Afghanistan have been conducted by elements of the U.s. 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, using small arms, such as M-4 carbines, 7.62 mm sniper rifles and squad automatic weapons. During Operation Anaconda, "I actually witnessed some of my guys raking out al Qaeda targets out to ranges of 500 meters," Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe, from the 10th, told a telephone press conference.

Driving the remaining al Qaeda out of their caves and fortified positions is "a light infantry fight," Grippe said.

With this in mind, the Army and Marines are speeding up their work to give the infantry better weapons. "We want to reduce the size and weight and increase the lethality and survivability of all weapons," said Lt. Col. Gilbert Z. Brown, small arms program manager at the Army's Armament Research and Development Center (ARDEC), at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

Many light infantry units in the two services are exchanging M-16A2 rifles for M-4 carbines, said Lt. Col. A.J. Diehl, program manager for infantry weapons at the Marine Corps Systems Command, in Quanrico, Va.

The M-4s, made by Colt's Manufacturing Company Inc., of Hartford, Conn., fire the same 5.56 mm rounds as the M-16s, built by FN Manufacturing, of Columbia, S.C. But the M-4s are 5 1/2 inches shorter than the M-16s, Diehl said. The carbines have a collapsible butt-stock, and, at 5.65 pounds, the M-4s are almost two pounds lighter than the M-16s.

Those attributes are particularly attractive for light infantry troops, such as Rangers and Marine reconnaissance units, who are "always jumping out of C-130s and helicopters and climbing through building windows during urban combat," Diehl said.

Rail System

Both the M-4 and the M-16--which remains the rifle of choice for many standard military units--can be outfitted with a system of rails, Diehl explained. This modular system allows the two weapons to accept a wide array of auxiliary devices, such as a day or night sight, laser target designator, flashlight and even an M-203 40 mm grenade launcher.

"Right now, I'm buying thermal sights," said Diehl. "For the first time, we're giving our infantry the ability to see through dust, smoke, all the fog of war. This is a great capability that we need to be pushing through, and we will."

The Army, meanwhile, is trying to pick up the pace of development for its futuristic, but problem-plagued objective individual combat weapon, which eventually is scheduled to replace many of the rifles, carbines and grenade launchers carried by soldiers and Marines.

The OICW is being developed by a team headed by ATK Integrated Defense Company, of Plymouth, Minn., which has a $105 million contract from ARDEC. The team includes Brashear Ltd., of Pittsburgh; Heckler & Koch GmbH, of Oberndorf, Germany; Ocrec, of Bracknell, in the United Kingdom, and Dynamit Nobel AG, of Cologne, Germany.

Like the M-16 and the M-4 with an attached M-203, the OICW can both fire 5.56 mm rifle bullets and launch grenades. A major difference between the two systems is the nature of their grenades. The M-203 shoots a traditional 40 mm grenade, which explodes on impact. The OICW launches a newer, 20 mm version, which can be timed to explode in the air above a target, spraying lethal fragments into an enemy hidden behind a wall.

Originally, the OICW had been scheduled to begin production in 2005. That date was pushed back to 2009 after tests at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds, in Maryland, turned up design problems. During one of the tests, a 20 mm round detonated in an OICW chamber, injuring two testers.

Since then, the ATK team has made changes in the weapon's design to prevent a reoccurrence, officials said. In January, ATK completed a new series of test firings of the 20 mm rounds. More than 60 were fired successfully, said Randy Strobush, ATK's OICW program director. There were no misfires.

Furthermore, the weapon's accuracy "far exceeded customer expectations," he said. "We tested at ranges our to 500 meters, and the OICW consistently delivered airbursts within a very tight pattern." The successful rest results demonstrate the OICW's readiness to proceed to the next step of development, Strobush said.

The Army apparently agreed. In March, the services small arms program officials decided to accelerate the OICW's schedule by two years and begin production of block I of the weapon in 2007, rather than 2009, according to Barbara Muldowney, acting OICW product manager at Picatinny.

Meanwhile, efforts to reduce the weapon's weight would continue, she said. The original prototype of the 01GW weighed 18 pounds, which the Army said was too heavy for an infantryman's personal weapon, she noted.

Weight Reduction

Currently, plans call for the weapon to weigh "no more than 17.5 pounds" when production of block I begins in 2007, she said. In block II, scheduled for 2010, the OICW's weight is scheduled to drop to 15.5 pounds.

Contractors plan to achieve this reduction by raking advantage of technical advances in electronic and power-source miniaturization, lighter composite materials and plastic, rather than glass optics, Muldowney said.

Contractors defended the OICW's weight, claiming that it already is comparable to that of the M-4 or M-16, equipped with the grenade launcher and a full package of optics. They noted that the OICW's 20 mm round weighs only one quarter of a pound, compared to half a pound for the M-203's 40 mm round.

The current M-4/M-16 system is modular, allowing soldiers to attach only those accessories that they need at the moment, Muldowney said. The 01GW, by comparison, operates as a single piece in its present design. Eventually, the Army plans to redesign the OICW to allow the rifle and grenade launcher portions to be detached and operated separately, Muldowney explained. But that won't happen until block III, "sometime after 2010," she said.

The OICW's estimated cost--perhaps as high as $18,000 apiece--is disturbing to many who cite a unit price of $586 for the M-16. But contractors assert that when the grenade launcher and all the other add-ons are included, the M16/MA systems cost more than $35,000 each. OICW critics challenge that claim.

Still, Muldowney points out, the Army doesn't plan to issue an OICW to every soldier. Only four members of every nine-member infantry squad will get one. The others will retain their M-4s or M-16s, she said.

At present, the Marine Corps has no plans to adopt the OICW, said Diehl. "We're pretty much raking a wait and see attitude," he told National Defense.

"My personal opinion is that the Army needs to focus more on the ergonomics of the weapon," he said. "You need to be able to handle that thing with one hand, and you can't now. I'm convinced until they address that issue, they're not going to get the interest of the Marine Corps."

The Corps is slowly replacing its M-40A1 sniper rifles with the newer M-40A3 version, Diehl said. The A1 was put into service during the 1970s as the Marines' primary long-range sniper weapon, Diehl explained. As the old rifles come in for reconditioning, they are being retired in favor of the A3s.

Each of the weapons is hand-built by craftsmen at the Marine Corps Marksmanship Training Unit at Quantico, Diehl said. The A3 stock has been modified to accommodate a wider variety of body sizes and proportions, Diehl said. A bipod and accessory rail now is fitted, as well.

The M-40 series is essentially a Remington 700 with a fiberglass stock and day and night scopes specially built for the Marines. It fires a 7.62 mm NATO round, which "has more staying power than the 5.56 mm," Diehl said. It is a bolt-action rifle, rather than automatic, which locks the round in place better and provides mote consistent accuracy.

"In some situations--such as hostage situations--accuracy is more important than numbers of rounds," Diehl said.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Corps Gets Ready to 'Fix Bayonets'

The Marines are looking for a few good bayonets--more than a 100,000 of them--but they aren't sure yet what the weapons should look like, according to James Riordan, director of combat equipment and support systems at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.

The bayonet, named for the city in France where it is said to have originated in 1647, is one of the oldest weapons in warfare, but the Marines are convinced that it still has an important role to play, even in an era of precision-guided munitions, Riordan said.

In fact, the service-citing a continuing series of bloody ground actions, such as Afghanistan and Somalia-is increasing its emphasis on close-combat training, including use of the bayonet and combat knives.

"Sometimes, infantry still finds itself in situations where it can't shoot and there are still enemy soldiers to fight," he said, In those cases, bayonets--affixed to the barrels of rifles and carbines--can be formidable weapons, he said. Bayonets are also useful in peacekeeping operations, such as crowd and not control, where casualties need to be limited.

What the Marines want to do, Riordan said, is replace their 1 1960s-era M-7 bayonet, which is primarily a stabbing weapon, with a new version, having a cutting edge, that also can serve as a combat knife.

"Right now, Marines who need a combat knife and a bayonet have to carry around two blades, which is awkward," Riordan explained.

The service wants to fix that problem, and it wants to do it quickly, he said. Last fall, the Marines announced plans to award a sole-source contract to the German-based company, Eickhom-Solingen.

The firm was "the only known source capable of delivering bayonets with the Marine eagle, globe and anchor markings at a rate of 5,000 per month beginning 30 days after acceptance of the first 50 limited production units," the notice said.

The result, however, was a barrage of letters, email and phone calls from U.S. manufacturers--including many of those who made the M-7 and the Arm/s M-9 bayonet-- demanding a chance to compete.

"They were outraged," said retired Marine Maj. Homer M. Brett, author of 'The Military Knife & Bayonet," who helped design the M-9.

So the Marines cancelled their original plans and announced a new competition for the contract A total of 17 firms responded.

The Corps wants to field the weapon within six months of awarding the contract, Riordan said. "We hope to buy an existing design," he said. "We're trying to take advantage of the state of the art."
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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