Infantry-portable fire support weapons

Fire support

1st Nov 2010

The changing nature of warfare is leading to a shift in the needs and requirements of infantry. A far cry from the traditional Cold War combat model, the asymmetrical nature of operations in Afghanistan and Iraqi are forcing armed forces to reassess the type of weapon systems required in order to engage effectively. Top of the list of these requirements are mobility, flexibility and precise engagement able to meet the constantly evolving challenges faced in battle.

A key requirement that is emerging from recent conflicts has arisen out of the tactics employed by insurgents on the ground. The use of human shields by insurgents, as well as the fact that warfare is being fought in enclosed, heavily populated urban areas, has highlighted the need for infantry to field weapon systems capable of very precise attack in order to minimise collateral damage.

Accurate warfare

Speaking to APDR, Patrick Choy, Chief Marketing Officer of St Kinetics, talked about how these changing requirements are moulding the direction of weapon technology development with their 40 mm automatic grenade launcher system.

‘The most important thing to enable warfighters to engage in effective warfare in unstable environments is accuracy’, he explains. ‘In order to provide this we are doing a few things. Importantly, it is vital to look at the weapon as a system, not a weapon. With our system you don’t just have a grenade launcher, you have a grenade launcher, a fire control system to ensure the ammunition explodes at a precise target, and insensitive munitions. All of these things together give the warfighter better accuracy to ensure he is minimising collateral damage, and not injuring and killing civilians, or damaging property as a side effect of attacking his target.’

The ST Kinetics 40 mm CIS 40GL multi-purpose grenade launcher itself can be used as a stand alone weapon, or as a rifle adaptor to various standard assault rifles. In use with many armed forces around the world, the CIS 40GL is able to fire a variety of 40 mm ammunition of different lengths including tear gas and baton rounds. The 40 mm Air Bursting Munition System (ABMS) is designed to fit onto current automatic grenade launchers and provide greater firepower, higher lethality and improved accuracy.

The system works with unique Air Bursting Munition (ABM) which uses programmable time based fuse technology; as the round passes through the ammunition programmer, the computed time to detonation is programmed into the time fuse. The timer then counts down to zero, and detonates at the intended point.

‘In addition to this,’ Choy says, ‘we are helping warfighter to preserve the environment so as to minimise collateral damage by reducing the amount of live ammunition left within the battlefield. The ABM has a built-in self-destruct feature, which ensures detonation even in the unlikely event of a programming failure or upon impact on soft ground. This reduces the incidence of unexploded rounds, and with it the likelihood of injuring innocent civilians. Our Insensitive Munitions (IM) also feature qualities that prevent it from exploding if exposed to heat or fire, or if accidentally dropped – it safer in terms of both transportation and storage; and all these things contribute to the preserving of the peace’.

Smarter weapons

For ST Kinetics, it’s not just about making infantry-portable weapons more capable, it’s about making them smarter. ‘We’re not just interested in giving the infantry fighter more bang,’ says Choy. ‘We want to enable him to do his job better and in a safer way.’

The company’s range of small calibre weapons, including the CIS 50 Machine Gun, SAR 21 Assualt Rifle and Ultimax 100 Light Machine Gun exhibit a number of ‘smart’ characteristics to enable warfighters to wage more intelligent warfare. A big part of this goal is to maximise the multi-purpose capabilities of every weapon the infantry soldier carries. The important thing is to not just load up the warfighter with multiple solutions for different purposes, as Choy says. ‘We are dealing with total weapon system solutions, to make the warfighter smarter than ever before’.

Mobile weapons

The ability for infantry weapons to be easily portable and lightweight is a central concern to development. (KYM TO TASHA / BPS). The nature of infantry level combat makes this necessary, but it is vital that firepower is not compromised in order to keep weapons as man-portable as possible. This need to increase lethality of the infantry fighter has resulted in a number of sophisticated weapons being developed for one-soldier operation in all environments.

Raytheon’s Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (ATGW) system, jointly developed with Lockheed Martin, is one such man-portable, compact and lightweight system. The fire and forget medium range missile has been selected by eleven armed forces, including Australia, to meet anti-armour requirements, and has been combat proven in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Originally developed for the US Army, the Australian Army selected the system in 2003, as part of the Land 40 Phase 1 programme to meet Direct Fire Guided Weapon System capability requirements, and has since been deployed by Australian troops in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. It has also been selected by other Asia-Pacific nations including New Zealand, Taiwan, and is currently under consideration by the Indian armed forces.

The Javelin ATGW system was selected for the Australian Army’s infantry, cavalry and commando units, and is capable of destroying all known armoured and light vehicles, small boats and slow moving helicopters, as well as striking buildings and bunkers – the latter being particularly important in current Australian forces operations in Afghanistan. The system is versatile, with low launch signature, close-in minimum engagement range and has the ability to fire from enclosed spaces for rapid reaction, special operations and light and mechanised infantry forces.

It has a weight of 22.1 kg, missile shelf life of 10 years, ready to fire time of less than 30 seconds and reload time of less than 15 seconds. The passive target and fire control command launch unit (CLU) gives fully integrated day/night all weather surveillance and targeting capability, and can be integrated on a number of platforms including tripods, trucks, light armoured vehicles and remotely piloted vehicles, due to its flexible remote fire control system. Its fire-and-forget capability ensures maximum survivability as it allows the soldier to fire, take cover, and reload or reposition.

In 2008 Raytheon demonstrated enhanced capabilities for the Javelin system, through the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to give the weapon operator increased situational awareness and target location. (KYM TO TASHA / BPS). The scenario demonstrated by Raytheon involved the Universal Ground Control Station (GCS) cross-cueing the Javelin gunner with a UAV. The Universal GCS enables the monitoring, display and control of multiple dissimilar UAVs concurrently through an open architecture capable of extending platform functionality with the use of Vehicle Specific Modules (VSMs) developed for UAVs, unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles. The potential for this to increase the lethality of the infantry soldier is significant.

The Javelin system uses an arched top-attack profile. On firing it climbs above its target for improved visibility and then strikes where the armour is weakest. To fire, the gunner places a cursor over the selected target, and the command launch unit then sends a ‘lock-on-before-launch’ signal to the missile. The sophistication of the long-wave IR seeker enables engagement in obscurants and reduced visibility, and also minimises the effects of countermeasures; giving extremely high lethality rates of 93 per cent missile reliability and up to 94 per cent probability of first time gunner hit.

The missiles themselves have a range of 2.5 km, and are guided by passive target acquisition and fire control system with integrated day/thermal site for visibility in all light conditions. The warhead is a tandem shaped charge, 11.8 kg missile (15.9 kg round with launch tube); 108.1 cm in length (119.8 cm with launch tube), and 12.7 cm in diameter (14.2 cm with launch tube). In 2007 qualification flight tests of the Block 1 missile were carried out, that featured an improved rocket motor increasing missile’s time of flight, improvements to the CLU, software enhancements, and an enhanced performance warhead that increases the Javelin system’s lethality against a wider range of targets, giving the ground commander additional flexibility and reliable firepower when and where he needs it.

In addition, the Australian regular Army and Special Forces continue to make use of the venerable Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle, which has been in service since the 1960s. (KYM TO TASHA / BPS). The original weapon was first fielded in Sweden an amazing 62 years ago and still remains in service in a large number of countries thanks to its reliability, accuracy and – especially – the continuous development of new ammunition. In recent years the fielding of a thermobaric warhead means that the weapon has been seen extensive combat use in Afghanistan in particular, where it has been devastatingly effective when used against insurgents hidden in caves.

Heckler and Koch are also developing equipment with the aim of increasing the capability of the infantry soldier. Their ‘Infantryman of the future’ new armament concept addresses the current asymmetric threat scenarios with the MG4 lightweight and compact machine gun. The MG4 enables high mobility, as it is able to be carried by a single soldier without fatigue over difficult terrain as well as within the urban environment due to its favourable dimensions and low weight, even over long distances. The weapon has high firepower, is compatible with all NATO standard ammunitions and works with commercially available ammunition boxes and pouches. Its low recoil allows for controlled shooting with high target precision.

Heckler and Koch also produce a range of lightweight grenade launchers aimed at reducing the logistical burden on the infantryman. One such product is the AG-C/EGLM grenade launcher developed from the company’s line of single shoot 40 mm launchers. The AG-C is a lightweight system with a fast side-loading breech configuration that provides superior combat capability over existing M203 grenade launchers. The AG G36 add-on grenade launcher, also by Heckler and Koch, has become a benchmark of modern add-on launchers, and is very similar to the M320 produced for the US Army as a replacement for the widely-deployed M203 grenade launcher. Many nations within the Asia-Pacific use the M203 or one of its variants, which may influence the future success of Heckler and Koch grenade launchers within the region as armed forces look to upgrade and enhance their weapon systems.

Multi-purpose weapons

The ability for infantry-portable weapons to be multi-purpose is also a major factor driving development within the market. Anne Devroye, spokesperson for FN Hertsal, spoke to APDR about how the company is meeting the evolving requirements of the battlespace.

‘The basic requirement of fire support weapons is that they have high fire power, outstanding reliability, and high portability’, she says. ‘The major challenge when looking at the use of these weapons within the battlespace is to combine reliability and light weight. In addition to this, within the coming decade we expect the technology to evolve to include even further weight reduction, sighting aids, and integrated electronics for logistic purposes’.

FN Herstal’s portfolio includes four different machine guns, three of which are widely deployed within the Asia-Pacific region; the MINIMI 5.56 Light Machine Gun (chambered in 5.56 calibre), the MAG General Purpose Machine Gun (chambered in 7.62 calibre), and the M2HB-QCB Heavy Machine Gun (chambered in .50 calibre). The weapons are currently being used intensively in Afghanistan, and according to the company, as the most widely used weapons in their respective categories.

The MINIMI 5.56 light machine gun is produced under licence on three continents, with more than 200,000 units supplied in more than 45 countries worldwide; it is has also been widely adopted by over 45 nations as standard issue for the Armed Forces and/or Special Forces. The standard weapon weighs 7.1 kg and is 1,040 mm long, and guarantees an area fire of up to 1,000 metres with SS109 ball ammunition. The weapon combines easy to shoot characteristics with high reliability in all combat conditions; it can be fitted with a hydraulic buffer for stabilised rate of fire and reduce recoil forces, and has a specially designed buttstock for easy, comfortable and accurate firing.

As well as being used by ground troops, the MAG can be mounted onto vehicles, aircraft, ships and boats, and is a worldwide standard as various designations including MAG58, GPMG, L7A1 and M240. The weapon features sustained fire capability due to its belt feeding that allows high volume of fire, and is fitted with a quick change barrel which makes replacement of the hot barrel possible in less than six seconds. It also fires from an open breech in order to suppress any risk of cook-off. The MAG is also capable of long range firing, effective up to 1,000 metres when fired from a bipod, and up to 1,500 metres when fired from a tripod. Due to its adjustable gas regulator, primary extraction, two-step feed and long life of major parts the weapon has proven reliability in all defence and offensive combat conditions.

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