As the contemporary operating environment continues to witness the growing emergence and influence of so-called ‘near peer’ adversaries, armed forces around the world continue to demand even greater fire support capabilities to suppress enemy forces.
There are few areas where this is as important as for dismounted and mounted infantry whose job it is to find, fix and close with adversaries who today have a greater chance of overmatch in regards to munitions and weapon systems. Witness the materiel which Russia deployed in support of its annexation of Crimea during the Ukrainian Civil War in March 2014. Direct fire support technology can range from automatic and underslung grenade launchers and anti-tank shoulder-fired munitions; through to machine guns, sniper and sharpshooter weapons. Definitions differ, but sharpshooters general operate within a squad of troops, while snipers tend to operate independently.
One of the most novel direct fire support capabilities of recent years includes the being considered over recent years included the US Army’s Heckler and Koch (HK) XM-25 Counter-Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) weapon, also known as ‘The Punisher’ which saw Orbital ATK and HK designing a shoulder-fired 25mm airburst round. The XM-25 had been expected to provide a next-generation capability for dismounted squads seeking the firepower to target enemy combatants hiding behind cover. However, it appears infantry teams will not be benefiting from this technology in the foreseeable future with industry sources informing AMR that the programme had been cancelled in late April 2017. However, there remains multiple direct fire support weapons currently in the market and expected to be made available in the near future, which could adequately fill similar capability gaps currently affecting many of the world’s leading armed forces.
Anti-Tank Munitions (ATMs) remain a preferred weapon of choice for infantry. On 27th March 2017, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced it would be progressing with a $1 billion deal to purchase Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Spike optronically-guided Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs). The Indian Army had been pursuing an ATM capability since 2014 and, as AMR went to press, confirmation of the deal lay with the Indian government’s Cabinet Committee of Security. The deal, according to industry sources, will see the army purchasing a total of 321 launchers and more than 8300 rounds of ammunition as well as training simulators. Rafael’s Spike is understood to have beaten competition from a Raytheon and Lockheed Martin joint venture which manufactures the FGM-148 Javelin infrared (IR) guided ATGM. Initial deliveries of the Spike are due to take place over the next year, sources added.
However, as part of a technology transfer deal between Rafael and Bharat Dynamics, a further 1500 launchers and 30000 munitions are scheduled to be manufactured in India for the army. The Indian government is still understood to be considering the indigenous manufacture of the FGM-148 and continues to pursue the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO’s) own Nag/Cobra IR/active radar homing ATGM programme. Speaking to AMR, company representatives from Rafael described how the Spike comprised a: “fourth generation multi-purpose missile family,” capable of meeting a multitude of challenges presented by enemy forces across an increasingly complex and contested battlefield: “Spike has sophisticated optronic sensors for operation during the day, at night and in adverse weather conditions. Their lofted trajectories enable the warhead to hit the target at its most vulnerable part with pinpoint precision,” a company source explained.
The Spike Medium Range and Long Range (MR/LR) variants comprise a maximum effective range of 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) and four kilometres (2.5 miles) respectively, with both rounds weighing 14 kilogram/kg (30.8 pounds/lb). Both missiles can be fired in a ‘fire and forget’ mode although the Spike-LR variant is also capable of conducting fire, observe and update as well as fire and steer missions against main battle tank and protected targets. The Spike-MR is more suited to dismounted operations while the Spike-LR is optimised for mobility operations, mounted on-board vehicles, Rafael sources told AMR. Both variants share a common Command Launch Unit and Thermal Imaging Sight. Finally, Rafael is promoting its Spike Short Range (SR) variant which includes a third-generation optronics seeker and lightweight multi-purpose munition to destroy static and mobile targets: “The Spike-SR is tailored to the needs of infantry forces in current and future conflicts and is optimised for use in a large variety of operational and environmental scenarios,” the source continued: “The short time interval from power-up to operational readiness enables engagement of targets which are exposed for brief time intervals. The Spike-SR’s rugged design and operational simplicity provide the infantry soldier with the versatility and rapid response capabilities which are essential in modern asymmetric combat,” the sources added.
Elsewhere, MBDA used the Special Operations Forces Innovation Network Seminar (SOFINS) event at Camp de Souge, in southwest France in March 2017 to promote its MMP Land Combat Missile System. According to Francis Bordachar, MBDA’s military advisor, the MMP comprises the first uncooled missile seeker of its kind, providing the capability for the weapon to be quickly and quietly activated for fire missions. The munition comprises a double charge with main element designed to penetrate up to a metre (three feet/ft) of homogenous armour or two metres (6.6ft) of concrete; and a second charge designed to detonate at the same time for anti-personnel and anti-tank missions or with a delayed fuse for anti-structure targets. Such a requirement was introduced due to changing concepts of operations after engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and North Africa against mobile soft top trucks, and urban and rural engagements, MBDA officials described to AMR.
Available in tripod, vehicle and vessel-mounted configurations, the MMP is capable of conducting Lock On Before Launch (LOBL); lock on after launch; top attack; and third party designation fire missions, with the latter mission potentially including fire control information provided from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Additionally, Mr. Bordachar explained how the ATGM could lock onto a third party laser target designator signal allowing joint terminal attack controllers to call in MMP fire missions. According to Major Jean-Luc Dietler, of the Section Technique de L’Armee de Terre (French Army Technical Section), the MMP was certified and qualified for operations with the force at the end of April 2017. In its vehicle-mounted configuration (a variant of which was displayed at the event on board Renault’s PLFS heavy special forces vehicle), proof of concept was certified and qualified on board the Nexter AMX-10 wheeled infantry fighting vehicle two years ago, Maj. Dietler added. The PLFS-mounted MMP is expected to be certified during July 2017 with the French ministry of defence also considering its integration onboard its Renault VLFS light special forces vehicle. The French Army is committed to an initial delivery of 405 MMP firing units and 2500 missiles, comprising half of a total French requirement for 5000 missiles, official sources confirmed. The force is due to begin live fire training with the weapon in January 2018, and it will be made available for operations in June 2018 and beyond, Maj. Dietler continued. However, the French Special Operations Command is understood to be preparing to field the MMP much earlier in light of ongoing operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Sahel region of north Africa, and in the Iraqi and Syrian theatres, with French Army commandos expected to receive their first tripod-mounted MMP systems in December.
MBDA officials also explained to AMR that the company was positioning itself for other ATM requirements globally, including Australia’s Land-400 initative which seeks to integrate an ATM capability onboard the force’s forthcoming Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV); as well as the Canadian Defence Forces which at present, lack any ATM capability. Meanwhile the firm continues to develop another next-generation ATM capability, known as the Enforcer. Also speaking to AMR at the SOFINS event company officials described how the programme had initially been designed to equip the Heer (German Army) Special Forces Command (KSK) with an ATM capable of penetrating armour as thick as 30mm as well as soft-skinned vehicles. Since this initial requirement, MBDA has turned its attention to a second phase in the development of the Enforcer, to include the design of an optimised munition capable of penetrating 650mm of armour for the export market. This is still in development although MBDA said it would retain the same rocket and launcher form factor with only changes made to the explosive charges carried within the ATM itself. Nevertheless, MBDA officials admitted to AMR that the Enforcer would not be ready for the market for a further one or two years, with only ten munitions having been fired to date in direct and top attack modes across both day light and low light conditions in LOBL modes. According to company officials, the Enforcer has a maximum range of two kilometres (1.2 miles), and it features a passive seeker with infrared sight for low light targeting.
Elsewhere, Saab and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) continue to consider future applications for the Massive Overmatch Assault Round (MOAR) concept study. On 3rd October 2016, DARPA awarded Saab a contract of an undisclosed value to consider future applications for a precision-engagement capability using shoulder-fired weapons. The partnership has been formalised to analyse: “possible concepts and propose solutions, or highlight areas where future investigations are needed … This research is crucial to improving the power of small military units. Today’s short-range weapons lack active guidance, while long-range weapons are extremely expensive, physically burdensome, and often require teams of operators that smaller units do not have,” said Görgen Johansson, head of Saab’s dynamics business area/ “Saab is investigating a possible solution: a precision-guided munition for shoulder-fired weapons that provides a long-range, high-precision, multi-target capability. Analysing already-established platforms allows the research to remain focused on the munition itself. Rather than developing a completely new solution, we are seeking to apply improved capabilities to existing systems, and that would translate to lower costs and faster availability,” he described with reference to possible upgrade of the company’s M4 Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle.
According to the contract, which is expected to comprise a 15-month effort, Saab and DARPA will use the M4 and AT4 (the firm’s single-shot 84mm ATM weapons) products to consider the future development of multi-use ammunition to counter personnel, structural, vehicular, armoured and UAV targets through to multi-function ammunition which could be networked to third party designators, similar in fashion to MBDA’s MMP solution (see above). According to DARPA literature obtained by AMR, the MOAR concept: “seeks to leverage commercial technologies to provide a low-cost, multi-use, and multi-function precision engagement capability.” The literature continues that: “Current short-range weapons are used against a variety of targets using different munitions and launchers without the benefit of active guidance. Current long-range weapons in support of dismounted operations are highly effective against a specific target set at range, but come with a heavy physical burden, high cost per shot/procurement, and often require teams of operators (sometimes dedicated) for employment. The desired MOAR capability could significantly increase the combat power of small units, while significantly reducing cost relative to near-peer and peer adversaries.”
Automatic Grenade Launchers
According to a Broad Agency Announcement (BBA) update of 5th May issued by the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), US Special Forces are seeking an increase in direct fire capabilities, with the Special Operations Forces Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Directorate of Science and Technology (SOF ATL) announcing that it is seeking different technologies capable of supplying: “an asymmetric advantage for Special Operations Forces” in the contemporary operating environment. Specifically, the USSOCOM is considering advanced developments in regards to 40mm x 46mm grenade ammunition, capable of being fired from vehicle-mounted and tripod-mounted Automatic Grenade Launchers (AGLs) as well as multiple grenade launchers and Underslung Grenade Launchers (UGLs) fitted to the underside of assault rifles or fired in a standalone configuration. USSOCOM is considering the development of an Enhanced Fragmentation Grenade, according to the BAA solicitation, which could be able to carry larger amounts of payload at extended ranges but still within current form factor restrictions, pressure and recoil parameters, USSOCOM documents revealed: “USSOCOM is interested in increasing the lethal area of a 40mm x 46mm fragmentation projectile with enhanced energetics and optimised controlled fragmentation. USSOCOM defines lethal area as having a minimum of two fragments per square metre (10.7 square feet) and 90 percent of those fragments penetrating twelve inches (304.8mm) of ten percent tissue simulant,” documents continued.
Meanwhile, armed forces continue to consider lighter weight machine gun technologies which retain the capability to provide heavy and accurate direct fire support to dismounted and mounted troops. One such option was displayed at SOFINS by Knight Armaments, designed to provide special forces and infantry units with a more mobile solution for organic fire support missions. According to industry sources at the event, the 5.56mm x 45mm Stoner Light Machine Gun (XLMG) represents an even smaller version of FN Herstal’s Minimi LMG which remains a popular option for armies globally. The technology is understood to be scheduled for evaluation by French and Danish special Forces later in 2017, defence sources confirmed to AMR.
Finally, sniper systems continue to provide a popular force-multiplying effect for mounted and dismounted infantry combat teams, with the latest market trends witnessing growing requirements for multi-calibre capabilities. Another USSOCOM programme illustrates such demands with the Advanced Sniper Rifle (ASR) solicitation publicly disclosed to industry for the first time on 6th April. According to official documents the concept is seeking a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) bolt-action sniper rifle capable of being switched between 7.62mm x 51mm NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation); .300 Norma Magnum (.300NM); and .338 Norma Magnum (.338NM) calibres. The decision by USSOCOM to pursue this concept follows the cancellation of previous efforts to procure a multi-calibre capability, including the Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) which was cancelled following its inception in 2009. The ASR programme is likely to include the participation of Accuracy International’s AX-Series sniper products; SAKO’s TRG-42; Barrett’s Multi-Role Adaptive Design (MRAD); and Remington’s Modular Sniper Rifle which originally won the PSR solicitation before the programme was cancelled. Defence sources explained to AMR how such a modular and multi-calibre capability would allow special forces and infantry sniper teams to hand pick sniper calibres suited to the mission in hand, with the consideration of parameters including range and lethality. As this article has illustrated a growing number of direct fire options are available to infantry and special forces, providing them with an ever-increasing range of capabilities.
by Andrew White