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  • #175448
    John D Salt
    Participant

    It’s that time of year again when an assortment of serving officers, Small Arms School instructors, defence industry consultants, DSTL scientists, and freeloading academics (like me) get on a bus to West Lavington and spend a day on the ranges eating bacon butties and a range barbecue between trying out various offerings from defence manufacturers.

    This year I made a bee-line for the FN tent, as I had seen a couple of new LMGs on their stand the day before. This is all part of the Close Combat Symposium at Shrivenham, which I haven’t been able to attend since 2019, when I made a presentation, “Precision versus Rate”, pointing out from historical data that faster-firing weapons use more ammunition per casualty, but inflict them faster (not really surprising), and deplored the innovation in both the USMC and the British Army of removing LMGs from the rifle squad/section. I am pleased to see that there has been a change of tune since then, and the British Army at least is in the market for a new section LMG, and a bunch of other stuff in view of the L85’s out-of-service date of 2030. FN’s LMGs seem well fitted to fill that niche. They were offered in NATO 5.56mm and 7.62mm, but could be done in any calibre from 7.62mm down. Belt feed is used, feeding into the left side, and as there is no belt cover on top (as in the GPMG) there is room for a really long Picatinny rail to hold sights of the users’ choice. The weight was less than half that of the dear old GPMG; muscly soldiers had no difficulty firing it steadily from the shoulder standing. Even I managed it with the 5.56mm version, although my sight picture was a bit wobbly as it’s about forty years since I last did pokey drill. Still managed to put short bursts on a Figure 11 target quite easily at about 150 metres, and I am not at all used to new-fangled modern sights. I also had a go with the smallest of the SCAR family, a 5.56mm personal defence weapon, and as that was a good deal lighter even an old wreck like me had no trouble putting singles and bursts into the Fig. 11s at the same range. FN do make nice weapons, and they felt right in the shoulder, and I’m sure with more than three minutes training time people would be able to put bullets pretty much where they wanted, even if, like me, they couldn’t normally hit a cow on the arse with a banjo. The concept of use for the LMG was as a single-man weapon in the rifle section, with no spare barrel. The barrel could be changed, but I was told that there would be no need until one had fired more than 500 rounds in five minutes.

    I had a nice chat with some people from Rheinmetall about their simulation software, and caught up with my pal Nick who has been contributing some good stuff to the Wavell Room, and told me a story I plan to use in my Weapons System Performance Assessment course that involved a 66mm LAW and an unfortunate gazelle. The nice people from Ultimate Training Munitions let me have a go with their training ammo — military paintball — from both an L85 and an AK-74, neither of them weapons I have ever fired before. Both seemed fine, although the method of pulling the cocking lever on the L85 felt awkward to me. It was a weird kind of relief to see the old-fashioned iron sights on the AK-74, and, as the bus was about to go at that point, I was encouraged to empty the mag in one long burst, which was certainly fun, but perhaps would have been less so if the ammunition produced realisitic amounts of recoil.

    One of the arguments I had heard used for not needing section LMGs was the increased accuracy available from modern sighting technology, which the director of ITDU claimed had “changed the paradigm.” I have in a previous report mentioned the miraculous abilities of the Smart Sight, which fires the weapon only when the sights are properly aligned, and they were there again this year but I didn’t have another go. What I did have a go on were a couple of devices on the Elcan Raytheon stand, which were most impressive. A red dot sight on a 5.56mm rifle of some kind improved my shooting considerably, and would have been very much better if I had the time to get used to it. The real miracles, however, were performed by a telescopic laser sight with a ballistic computer, fitted on an HK 417 on a bipod. I was getting first-round hits on a smaller-than-man-size black square painted on the side of a rusty old tank at a range I was told was over 700 metres, making that the longest range I’ve ever hit anything at. Again, I would have done better given more time to get familiar with the way the sights worked, and consistently getting the right eye relief, but it was impressive enough just on my beginner’s efforts. Mr. Luddite had to ask about the battery life of the miraculous sights, but even if left on the whole time you would have run out of almost everything else days before this device ran out of juice.

    One weapon I would dearly have loved to see in action, but which unfortunately could not be fired on the day, was a .338 calibre belt-fed LMG. It looked an absolute beast of a weapon, definitely a BFG. The sparkling ballistic performance of the .338 Lapua bullet (better than 0.5 HMG) combined with the sort of sighting technology on display would be enough to cause an enemy to worry well over into the next map square. From some of the discussion, especially from Royal Marines, there seems to be a definite interest in extending the effective range of infantry platoon weapons to 600m or 800m, and there was some talk of bringing back what I think of as traditional machine gunnery with tripod-mounted weapons. If the .303 Vickers could be used up to 4,500 yards, think what a .338 MMG might be able to do.

    Some days I love my job.

    All the best,

    John.

    #175452
    Mike Headden
    Participant

    Interesting stuff, John.

    Things like this make me realise most sci-fi rules writers are not being ambitious enough with their extrapolated weaponry!

    Thanks for posting this.

    There are 100 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who can work from incomplete data

    #175453
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Jammy beggar, never hit anything much over 300metres.  700+! Cant’ see that far now much less hit anything. (probably never could!)

    All this 5.56mm and 7.62 NATO standard is going to last how long with the US 6.8mm XM5 and XM520 rifle?

    Is the US as usual going to dictate NATO procurement?

    Does it make a difference or are we just talking about retooling FN etc production to fit in?

    #175456
    Thomaston
    Participant

    Interesting read. Do you think the Royal Marines wanting to extend range to 600+, might be a case of train for the last war mentality? Isn’t shooting at 700 meters realm of the snipers and mortars?

    I thought US army moving to 6.8mm was weird, what are other branches going to do stick with 5.56mm or follow suit? I hope it doesn’t turn out like their ACU uniforms.

    Tired is enough.

    #175460
    Paint it Pink
    Participant

    Jammy beggar, never hit anything much over 300metres. 700+! Cant’ see that far now much less hit anything. (probably never could!) All this 5.56mm and 7.62 NATO standard is going to last how long with the US 6.8mm XM5 and XM520 rifle? Is the US as usual going to dictate NATO procurement? Does it make a difference or are we just talking about retooling FN etc production to fit in?

    As a bit of a gun geek, and military tech nerd excuse me wading in.

    The new 6.8mm ammo will come in two versions. General purpose everyday shooting, and high power military round. The latter for use when needed to reach out and touch someone in that special way that warfare requires.

    Now, I can’t predict that there will be a total roll-out across all the services, but that’s the current plan. Nato 5.56mm will be available for non-infantry rear echelon troops. I imagine as always it is about the money.

    Interesting read. Do you think the Royal Marines wanting to extend range to 600+, might be a case of train for the last war mentality? Isn’t shooting at 700 meters realm of the snipers and mortars? I thought US army moving to 6.8mm was weird, what are other branches going to do stick with 5.56mm or follow suit? I hope it doesn’t turn out like their ACU uniforms.

    Again, apropos of what I said above, the new sights that are being introduced for the SPEAR rifle, and the new night vision and augmented reality goggles allow even standard infantry to increase their chances of first time hit at extended ranges.

    Snipers etc are still on the table, this is about increasing the combat radius of a unit.

    Interesting stuff, John. Things like this make me realise most sci-fi rules writers are not being ambitious enough with their extrapolated weaponry! Thanks for posting this.

    And as to SF writers keeping up with modern developments… I glad you asked.

    I have a first draft of a set of rules using the Chain-of-Command C2 mechanics with some interesting weapons and hit mechanics I’ve carefully crafted (yikes) to simulate being able to see everything, but with EW counter-measures that doesn’t make everything a guaranteed hit or kill.

    Volunteers who are interested in play-testing can contact me for a copy.

    One is good, more is better
    http://panther6actual.blogspot.co.uk/
    http://ashleyrpollard.blogspot.co.uk/

    #175462
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    Fantastic report, Mr. Salt.  You’re a lucky lad to get to partake in such fun.  An MG in .338… that’s REALLY interesting.

    Nato 5.56mm will be available for non-infantry rear echelon troops. I imagine as always it is about the money.

      You’d have thought that we learned 100+ years ago that the more complex the supply requirements the larger the chance for breakdowns and shortages.

    Of course, all this said, it would be a shame to have to cut down the the variety of weapons available for out table-top troops if all armies switched to the exact same systems!

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #175477
    Mike Headden
    Participant

    Volunteers who are interested in play-testing can contact me for a copy.

    Colour me interested 🙂

    There are 100 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who can work from incomplete data

    #175485
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Last day of the conference yesterday. I gave my talk, “100 years of tiny mortars”, which seemed to go down well. One of the presentations included some exceptionally interesting details from Ukraine which, unfortunately, cannot be shared for reasons of the personal security of the people involved, but let’s just say there was good news, there is one fewer FSB agent causing trouble, and the words “Sin loi MF” appeared on one of the slides.

    As to the business of future calibres, the British Army and Marines folks were clear that they were “calibre agnostic” when it came to capabilities for 2030. One view I heard was that the extreme chamber pressure of the military-grade 6.8×51 (.277 Fury for Brad Pitt fans) was a bad feature, and this person had a lot of time for 6.5 Creedmoor. My problem with both of these is that there is no real weight saving compared with 7.62 NATO. At least .276 Pedersen was lighter than the .30-06 it should have replaced (thanks for nothing, General MacArthur).

    I imagine as always it is about the money.

    Indeed. It was mentioned more than once that there just isn’t a huge amount of money sloshing about in the defence budget for small arms right now.

    Jammy beggar, never hit anything much over 300metres. 700+! Cant’ see that far now much less hit anything. (probably never could!)

    I can’t see that far, or at least cannot identify targets that far, without help. Powerful magnifying optics and a steer from the bloke on the spotting scope were necessary for me to understand that the rust-brown blob I was looking at was, or had once been, a tank.

    Do you think the Royal Marines wanting to extend range to 600+, might be a case of train for the last war mentality? Isn’t shooting at 700 meters realm of the snipers and mortars?

    I don’t worry about a “last war mentality” in this case because the Royal Marines introduced the idea of stand-off troops, mixed in with close-combat troops in a non-traditional way, in the Commando 21 organisation proposed before most of the recent fuss in Afghanistan and Iraq happened. Stand-off troops would probably do well from the resurgence of traditional machine gunnery I mentioned earlier, where 800m would be regarded as a perfectly reasonable engagement range. This might also explain why a Marine I overheard seemed a little disappointed that FN were not offering their LMGs in .338.

    As Guy mentioned above, I think one of the big problems is seeing targets at this range in the first place, if those targets are infantry properly trained in fieldcraft. A beige target in beige terrain against a beige background is always going to be a challenge to see. Magnifying optics are great, but one quickly runs into the problem of staring at the whole wide world through a very thin straw. It is possible to calculate the “Goldilocks” balance of just the right amount of scan rate with just the right amount of magnification — I’ve written a simulation to do so — but human operators are typically quite poor at getting this right. This explains how, in a Australian exercise about the turn of the century, a UAV equipped with optics easily capable of detecting it managed to overfly and miss an entire brigade group lurking in the barcoo.

    Of course the problem of spotting and identifying targets is a swine to write wargames rules for, so one can see why it is attractive to write SF rules where future technology has fixed this problem.

    All the best,

    John.

    #175489
    Paint it Pink
    Participant

    Volunteers who are interested in play-testing can contact me for a copy.

    Colour me interested 🙂

    Email me: ashley (at) ashley-pollard (dot) com

    One is good, more is better
    http://panther6actual.blogspot.co.uk/
    http://ashleyrpollard.blogspot.co.uk/

    #175490
    Thomaston
    Participant

    Thanks for the explanation. Is the Royal Marine stand-off troops akin to designated marksman or machineguns attached to sections?

    Does anyone know why US Army went with 6.8mm?
    I did a brief looking into 6.8mm and like John D Salt said, little weight saving vs 7.62 NATO and has similar recoil. With all the development that produced half a dozen 5.56mm variants, why didn’t they improve on 7.62 NATO, steel core, polymer casing, etc wouldn’t that give similar or better performance on existing weapons?

    Tired is enough.

    #175498
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    I wonder what the profit margin is on existing ammunition development vice a new small arms ‘system’?

    #175499
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    and the words “Sin loi MF” appeared on one of the slides.

      Xin loi… someone is REALLY old school!  Guess they’d been to Vung Tau or through Bien Hoa a time or 2.

    Was there any talk about performance of the various systems vs current or expected body armor developments?

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #175500
    Jim Webster
    Participant

    A beige target in beige terrain against a beige background is always going to be a challenge to see. Magnifying optics are great, but one quickly runs into the problem of staring at the whole wide world through a very thin straw. It is possible to calculate the “Goldilocks” balance of just the right amount of scan rate with just the right amount of magnification — I’ve written a simulation to do so — but human operators are typically quite poor at getting this right. This explains how, in a Australian exercise about the turn of the century, a UAV equipped with optics easily capable of detecting it managed to overfly and miss an entire brigade group lurking in the barcoo. Of course the problem of spotting and identifying targets is a swine to write wargames rules for, so one can see why it is attractive to write SF rules where future technology has fixed this problem. All the best, John.

    I confess I’ve always felt that our future will be filled with systems which worked really well in the lab, modestly well on exercises, and were little better than mediocre in combat 🙂
    Any weapon system devised must be capable of being fixed by an infantryman hitting it repeatedly with his rifle butt to get the damned piece back into place 🙂

    Jim

     

    https://jimssfnovelsandwargamerules.wordpress.com/

    #175530
    Paint it Pink
    Participant

    Thanks for the explanation. Is the Royal Marine stand-off troops akin to designated marksman or machineguns attached to sections? Does anyone know why US Army went with 6.8mm? I did a brief looking into 6.8mm and like John D Salt said, little weight saving vs 7.62 NATO and has similar recoil. With all the development that produced half a dozen 5.56mm variants, why didn’t they improve on 7.62 NATO, steel core, polymer casing, etc wouldn’t that give similar or better performance on existing weapons?

    Here’s a fairly reliable (as in trusted expert) source discussing the SPEAR 6.8 x 51mm.

    One is good, more is better
    http://panther6actual.blogspot.co.uk/
    http://ashleyrpollard.blogspot.co.uk/

    #175559
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Is the Royal Marine stand-off troops akin to designated marksman or machineguns attached to sections?

    “Troop” here is the Royal Marine term for a platoon. Infantry uses “platoon”, but, like the Marines, the Royal Artillery, Royal Armoured Corps and Household Cavalry, Royal Engineers, Royal Signals and Royal Logistic Corps, and Special Air Service use “troop”. Most of them also use “squadron” for a company-sized force element, although the Royal Artillery of course use “battery”.

    All the best,

    John.

    #175560
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Xin loi… someone is REALLY old school! Guess they’d been to Vung Tau or through Bien Hoa a time or 2.

    Well, yes. The man in question also told me how they removed the ladder sights from their M-79s when moving through the boonies because the things made very un-tactical clicking noises, but with a bit of practice you could still hit what you wanted without the sight.

    Was there any talk about performance of the various systems vs current or expected body armor developments?

    Not really, although some of the Army’s future requirements were to be able to defeat body armour at 800m.

    All the best,

    John.

    #175589
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    Not really, although some of the Army’s future requirements were to be able to defeat body armour at 800m.

      That’s a heck of a lot of energy at that range, and probably some serious material and shape advancements.  It’s going to be interesting to see which armor makers go the “survive artillery” or the “survive a bullet” route.  Study of the current conflicts might take them either direction.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #175590
    Jim Webster
    Participant

    Not really, although some of the Army’s future requirements were to be able to defeat body armour at 800m.

    That’s a heck of a lot of energy at that range, and probably some serious material and shape advancements. It’s going to be interesting to see which armor makers go the “survive artillery” or the “survive a bullet” route. Study of the current conflicts might take them either direction.

    You said what I was thinking 🙂
    I wonder if this means that future armour will have to be ‘rigid’ and ‘spaced’ so that it not merely stops the bullet but also stops transmission of the energy as well.  I’m trying to get my head round it. If you stop the bullet and prevent the energy being transferred to the wearer, given conservation of ‘both this and that’ is the choice going to be having your infantryman thrown twenty feet across the battlefield, but able to pick himself up again. Or perhaps the energy could be dissipated as heat or light, neither particularly useful on a battlefield.
    From a Sci Fi perspective I’ve pondered this before and decided that I needed somebody better briefed than me 🙂

     

    https://jimssfnovelsandwargamerules.wordpress.com/

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