The Army is set to test a radically-designed new machine gun that fires space-aged ammo that’s half the weight of today’s cartridges.

The so-called “cased telescoped” ammunition program, which is part of the Army’s Lightweight Small Arms Technologies program, has shown promise over the past couple years and earned some funding for an initial usability test with Joes at the Maneuver Battle Lab at Benning.

The engineers at Picatinny are sending eight M249 SAW-like prototype machine guns that are specially-designed to fire the cased telescoped ammo for testers to put through the paces, including shoot house runs, field maneuvers and range quals at the squad and individual level. They’ll have 50,000 rounds on hand for the tests.

“They’re setting up some testing that’s going to show us if we’re on the right track, and if the weapon system does what it’s supposed to do and also if the reduced weight of the system is beneficial to the individual and the squad,” said lead engineer Kori Phillips, in an exclusive interview with Kit Up! on June 30.

As we noted back in our post last year, the cased telescoped ammo uses a plastic case rather than a brass one to hold the propellant — kind of like a conventional shotgun shell. It has a rotating action that ejects the link and plastic case from its own port, a design engineers say completely eliminates the failure to feed/failure to eject problem with rapid firing a conventional SAW.

Phillips said the tests at Benning will begin in September and last about three weeks. Then the program is in limbo since it received no money for fiscal 2012. Phillips hopes that if the tests go well, it will get the notice of Army weapons developers and get some cash funneled its way for more weapons and a bigger trial.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen with this program,” Phillips said. “If we want to do something additional, we basically have to pass the coffee can.”

Testers also just finished evaluating the critical action of an M4 variant that fires cased telescoped ammo (it’s not a full weapon, just the parts that fire rounds), and Phillips said the program is funded to build a prototype for field trials next fiscal year. Phillips also said her engineers have veered away from a Bullpup design for the M4 variant, explaining that it was “causing them some complications that made it not worth doing.”

Engineers with LSAT are also putting the idea of caseless ammo (which derives its rigidity from a hardened propellant) on the back burner (no pun intended) since the chemistry of the propellant that’s safe enough for Joes to use is so-far too expensive to make in bulk.

“It’s very slow going,” Phillips said, “that’s the only way to describe it.”

[Photos: U.S. Army photo by Eric Kowal, Picatinny Arsenal Public Affairs]

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