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]

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance July 6, 2011 at 11:10 am

Good some new weapons that are new. But with BIG cuts comming I doubt they go far for a while.

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mpower6428 July 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm

usable, practical, reliable cased ammo is a priority in military circles. thats just my hunch. the front line tactical leap ahead for small units is hard to miss. testing is cheap, manufacture will be… "fairly" cheap.

if this stuff actually works… it wont get cancelled.

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charles williams July 6, 2011 at 11:30 am

combine this new weapon and ammo with the machine gunner's assault pack and you'll have a beast of a system

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tomaso July 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm

bullpup designs seem to hit more politcal stone walling with out any solid facts…..heck no soldier would ever want a rifle with an 18" barrel in 28" overall length….its a shame

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SleepyDave July 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Troopers see: "Same ammo, less weight, easier load carriage." Brass sees: "more ammo, same weight, thats why we make things lighter, so you can carry more stuff!" Basic ammo load for a SAW gunner is going to be 5000 rounds by the time this is over.

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Old SOF Hand July 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm

This isn't anything new. LSAT has been in development for years.

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Kole July 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm

This will be the next rifle/automatic weapon for the Army I think. I believe the the carbine competition will result with the improved M4 to hold over for a couple of years until these LSAT weapons are ready.

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FormerSFMedic July 6, 2011 at 4:35 pm

We tested a boatload of this ammo in .50 BMG weapons last year at NSWC Crane. We had some outstanding results. Keep in mind that the weapon in this article has brand new operating systems, which should be cool to see if they hold up. But the .50 ammo we ran was from conventional M2's, and M107's. It's exciting to see these advances. There was a noticeable difference in weight just in picking up the wooden cases of this stuff. If they run in conventional weapons and are substantially lighter, then this is a win win. If they also run in new state of the art weapons, then we have a no brainer!

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MaxM July 7, 2011 at 2:03 am

What about heat conduction, do they get as hot as brass?

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FormerSFMedic July 7, 2011 at 8:17 am

No, the spent casings are not even close to as hot as brass. The case is subjected to the same heat as brass inside the gun, but do to the physical properties of polymer, it cools almost as soon as it is ejected. Very cool tech. I hope we see something come out of this, it would make a HUGE difference for operators in the field.

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MaxM July 7, 2011 at 12:12 pm

If I understand what you are saying correctly the polymer casings take away heat from the chamber when the gun is fired just as well as brass does (and caseless does not!), but once on the ground they cool much quicker than brass. That sounds like the perfect crime to me. It's evolutionary technology at its best and I think it would make a huge difference too.

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bbb July 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Heat transfer in polymer is very bad, so while the casings would not get very hot, they wouldn't be removing any heat from the chamber.

This is the same reason why astronauts can survive in space even when the temperature is -400 degrees… because heat transfers very slowly in a vacuum.

Metal has extremely high heat transfer, which is why a metal object left in a hot car will burn you while a plastic object will just be really warm.

Jay July 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm

If they go through all this and still make them in 5.56mm this will be the biggest wasted oportunity in history of weapon technology.

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moose July 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm

The good news is that they've started working on a not-5.56mm round. Most likely will be around 6.5mm and designed from scratch to be have superior ballistics.

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michael July 7, 2011 at 5:20 am

not the 6.5….

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Jon July 6, 2011 at 10:30 pm

5.56 worked just fine for me.

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Jeffrey July 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm

looks like a solid concept, it would also ensure ammo incompatibility with other nations…
lol, if this is the way the US is going, it looks like STANAG 4179 was a pipe dream after all…

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Jon July 6, 2011 at 10:33 pm

With all the name calling against NATO by the White House (notably Gates), I wouldn't be surprised if there was no longer a STANAG guideline to follow anymore. Its 60 year old tech anyway, better magazine, ammo, and over all weapon systems and designs are available to local LE and civies for decades now, time for the military to catch up and dump STANAG (and NATO alltogether, but thats another argument for another day).

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Jon July 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm

With that much ammo they'll soon be replacing the trigger with a switch so you can just leave it on during a mission.

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MarkM July 7, 2011 at 5:02 am

1) Twice the ammo – and a straight feed magazine with less mag well challenges designed specifically for it, not like the M16/M4 getting a curved mag jacked into a straight well. This sidesteps the whole legacy issue with it and it's compromise design, which is the #1 cause of stoppages, too.

2) You don't need a long barrel advantage, the bullpup is the '60's answer to their ballistic limitations. The 6.8SPC has shown you can get 40% more power downrange and don't need to move the magazine back where the operator is out of action, no sight picture, no hand on the trigger for a lengthy mag change. Do you see bullpups winning three gun matches? The AUG has been out for 25 years and has yet to deliver on the promise, Steyr can't force a design with major ergonomic flaws to be better than it is.

3) Plastic cases don't transmit heat energy because they don't have the mass – their density is so much less, burns are much less likely if one gets down your collar.

4) Don't forget the follow on cost reductions – if the ammo weighs 40% less, shipping, handling, and transportation is significantly reduced in the logistics train. Range cleanup will still go on, but the entire recycling process and bidding on scrap becomes an entirely different issue – it likely can't be reliably reloaded at all, just processed.

5) That alone means the anti's prefer it so their tax dollars don't go to literally supplying their opponents. They tried killing off scrap brass sales once, supporting this looks good for the soldier and gets them their cake, too.

6) It forces the whole DI vs Piston debate off the plate, however the shuttle bolt action is working right now is what they are using. The Big Question is WHO is helping develop this – and I've seen noone mentioned. There's always a private contractor involved, and they will lobby for more funding to help themselves keep the program moving along. It really is a great leap forward, not some space fantasy toy like a Star Trek communicator or something. Oh, yeah, that did work out, didn't it?

So maybe all the foot dragging is like getting DOT to approve halogen headlights in the 80's – Europe had been using them for ten years, but Sylvania and others on the Headlight Board needed to plan the conversion to the smaller bulbs, eh?

When US ammo makers place orders for high speed composite molding machines, the handwriting will be on the wall in Neon Orange. What will be a serious contention is if the cartridge is judged to have no sporting intent, or the mechanism is too easily made full auto. Then you might actually see a major AWB on the whole concept.

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txcitizensoldier July 7, 2011 at 6:20 am

To answer the who question- look up AAI Corporation's Armament Systems.

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bbb July 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm

A bullpup isn't great for competition, but in the battlefield it helps to have a gun that's a eight inches shorter with the same barrel length, with a design that works great for left handed shooters too.

Real life shooting isn't about the ability to change a magazine in one second, or have a three-pound match trigger pull.

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Harry balzz July 7, 2011 at 6:40 am

Like anything new the problems will show up once it's out in the field with real combat proving grounds.I don't care how much "they" test it even in small numbers out in combat the real problems show up when the let out a the whole item. Then and only then they will be able to work out the bugs.This type of ammo has been milked "aka" worked on since the late 60's-early 70's so somebody has been making cash off of Uncle Sam for a very very long time. The whole nature of combat is changing and most won't even recognize it 20 years from now.It will take less troops doing more with less effort.We have been doing this now but at very high secret levels such as in S.A.D. the others like Delta and so on don't even get these toys yet.Robotics have the biggest play in this and yes it will save American troop lives in the long run. So todays wonder ammo really isn't sorry to break that news to some. Yes i am ready for the thumbs down for saying the truth.

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Harry July 7, 2011 at 6:45 am

nothing new

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Mr. Negative July 7, 2011 at 7:33 am

So, plastic is made from petroleum yes? And oil prices are high as it is, so wouldn't this dramatically increase the demand for petroleum if it was introduced on a military wide scale? As far as reducing shipping costs, I doubt that. More likely we'll just ship more. Not to be a tree hugger too, but plastic doesn't biodegrade quite like brass. As others have stated I also imagine that you won't be able to reload so much as have to recycle.

Seems like a mixed bag to me.

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TwoZero July 7, 2011 at 9:26 am

You can also make plastic from soy. Soybean based plastics have been around since the turn of the last century – in fact at one point Henry Ford had a soy plastic trunk lid on one of his early cars.

These plastics do biodegrade, however it depends on what magic polymer they are making the cases out of to see if petrolium based plastics are a nessicary part of the process…

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Zach July 7, 2011 at 7:40 am

There are problems that come with the bullpup design internet commandos always mention, read this: http://anarchangel.blogspot.com/2005/03/why-bullp

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Kevin July 7, 2011 at 8:18 am

Anthony Williams makes a pretty interesting case for bullpups :
http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/bullpups.htm http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/future%20small%20http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/The%20Next%20Gene

And he's a bit more military rifle design-savyy than your average "internet commando".
Though, of course, all of this is a moot point, even without the US ingrained distate of "bullpups", given the current global economic climate, procurement is going to be a very conservative, risk-adverse affair, all over the world, and for quite some time.

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michael July 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I don't get it….what happens with sand, dust etc in the telescoping case? heat transference, pressure issues, etc etc…..if they've worked on this since the 60s and we still don't have it??????

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moose July 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm

The case doesn't telescope mechanically, Telescoped ammunition is an ammunition design in which the projectile is partly or completely enveloped by the propellant. Materials technologies have advanced pretty far since the 60s.

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michael July 8, 2011 at 5:19 am

thx!

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jim July 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Hey if you don't say anything postive about the products or articles you get a thumbs down all the time and if you kiss some big time azz like sfmoron you get the plus even when he doesn't have a clue. I bet if there was an article about plastic ducks and how they work he would be all for it and used it.Lame as always.I bet one of the clowns will get on and talk a bunch of smack kissing azz also

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FormerSFMedic July 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Who exactly are you referring to?

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SleepyDave July 10, 2011 at 9:14 am

Don't feed the trolls. Just don't.

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FormerSFMedic July 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I know Dave, your right. It's just so hard sometimes to ignore.

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Jon July 10, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Modern rifles with the mag forward of the grip are just as ambi as bullpups. Yes, you get a longer barrel, but reloading in one second does count in combat. A lot.

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FormerSFMedic July 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I agree Jon…..Reloading as fast as possible while maintaining awareness is very important. Tactical shooters can (and have) learn a lot from competition shooters. A steady onslaught of effective fire can mean the difference between living and dying. I don't really care about bullpups vs traditional rifles. But the fact is, traditional rifles have proven to be more effective no matter what kind of shooting you're doing.

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bbb July 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm

You can do an emergency reload with an AUG in about two seconds if you're good enough and have the right load bearing equipment. It's not THAT slow.

But nothing can really compare to an M4 with an extended flared magazine well… especially with friction-retention shingle pouches.

By 'modern rifles' I assume you mean the SCAR, which is only in the hands of special forces on account of costing $2,500.

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hugh July 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm

case looks like ammo fired in the nagant revolver.

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Ethan July 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Making oil and plastics out of food is a horrible idea. When the price to feed livestock goes up because of it, then all other food products dependent on them get pricier. Just look at what ethanol did to Nebraska a couple years ago, almost every farmer planted corn because the demand was so high. This jacked up the balance and demand of nearly everything planted in the ground. Especially milk and other dairy products. Dairies hardly ever grass feed their cattle, they buy feed. When there is a shortage of farmers planting alfalfa and soybeans then that feed gets expensive and drives the price of milk to over four dollars.

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TomG July 23, 2011 at 7:03 am

More expensive crap…

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