By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetDecember 11, 2009
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The Small Arms Branch of the Soldier Requirements Division rolled out more than 30 weapon systems - including pistols, rifles, sniper weapons, machine guns and grenade launchers - for a special live-fire demonstration Tuesday at Red Cloud Range.
The weapons, including new sniper technology, weapons upgrades and an air burst rifle prototype, represent 60 percent of the Army's small arms strategy, said Lt. Col. Thomas Henthorn, chief of the small arms branch.
The demonstration was to familiarize Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, Fort Benning's commanding general, with new and future technologies the branch is pursuing for warfighters, Henthorn said.
"We've found the focus is on accuracy, function and making (weapons) lighter for our Soldiers," Ferriter said. "We continue to refine the inner workings of the weapons."
Ferriter had the opportunity to shoot weapons and prototypes still in development.
One of the weapons showcased was the M240L medium machine gun, a lighter alternative to the M240B machine gun. The M240L weighs 21-and-a-half pounds, six pounds lighter than the M240B.
"Lightening Soldiers' loads is a key element of what we want to do," Henthorn said. "We are carrying a lot of weight downrange on missions because we want capability. Every pound we take off a guy is a pound he doesn't have to carry up and down a hill."
Along with reduced weight, the branch is shortening the barrel and providing a collapsible butt stock for the M240 L, said Troy Harris, deputy chief of the small arms branch.
Henthorn said Army-wide fielding could begin in 10 months.
Other featured weapons included the M2 A1 .50-caliber machine gun, the XM 25 air burst rifle and several sniper systems.
The M2 A1 is an upgrade to the M2 machine gun. It provides a quick-change barrel and fixed head space and timing to reduce Soldier errors and associated safety risks, according to a report prepared by the Small Arms Branch. The Army is also working on a lightweight .50-caliber machine gun to augment the M2 A1, Henthorn said.
The XM 25 air burst rifle would allow Soldiers to engage targets in defilade with precision fire using high-explosive air-burst munitions. The prototype rifle is still in development, but Sam Wansack of the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., said he expects the weapon to have broad implications on the battlefield.
"This will be our leap-ahead technology to take out targets we can't defeat with a bullet from a rifle, said Wansack, an engineer at ARL, which is responsible for developing the weapon.
Sniper systems featured at the demonstration included the M110 semiautomatic sniper system, the M24 A2 sniper weapon system, the M107 long-range sniper rifle and the precision sniper rifle, which is in development.
Mike Cassidy, a sniper project officer with the Small Arms Branch and former sniper with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, said all four weapons would have big impacts in the sniper community.
"The biggest benefit snipers are getting is overmatch against the enemy's capabilities," said Cassidy, of future projects, such as the precision sniper rifle, to extend the range of sniper weapons. "We're making the enemy stand off further so they can't engage but we are still able to reach them."
"We're doing the right things," said Ferriter at the conclusion of the live fire. "We're making more accurate systems, fitting them better to our gear and making them lighter."