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Archive for the ‘SOF’ Category

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Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

NSWC-Crane Mid-Length Gas System Testing Shows Increased Performance & Service Life For M4 Carbines

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Last week’s NDIA Armaments Forum ended with a briefing by Naval Surface Warfare Center – Crane, of what is this year’s most applicable topic, for both the US military as well as manufacturers of commercial AR variants. Last year Crane unveiled their findings regarding KeyMod vs M-Lok. This year it’s the performance of a mid-gas system on an M4 carbine.

NSWC-Crane, or Crane as it is commonly known, is located in rural Indiana. In addition to providing a wide range of acquisition services for the US Navy, they are also responsible for the test, evaluation, procurement and life-cycle management of SOF weapons. It’s in this role that they evaluated the mid-length gas system for United States Army Special Operations Command M4A1 carbines.

Gas System History

The M16 Rifle and variants use a 20” barrel and gas system. This rifle length gas system uses a gas tube 15” in length with gas port at 13”. The well distance is approximately 7”.


When the M4 was developed, research concluded the Army should utilize a 14.5” barrel for the M4 & M4A1 carbines

This necessitated redesign of the M16 gas system because a 14.5” barrel with a rifle length gas system had only 1.3” dwell distance. Consequently, they gas port was moved to 7.8” from bolt face on M4 offering 6.7” dwell distance.

This decrease in distance from the bolt face to the gas port resulted in an increased port pressure in the M4 carbine when compared to M16 rifle. The port pressure of the M4 at 7.8” from the bolt face is 17,000 psi, while port pressure at 13” from bolt face of the M16 is 10,000 psi.

Mid-Gas Testing included:

– Endurance
– Reliability
– Precision
– Muzzle Velocity
– Terminal Velocity (@100 yards)
– Bolt Speed
– Low Temperature (-60F)
– High Temperature (160F)
– Barrel Erosion

However, the briefing did not address every area of testing.

Endurance & Reliability

So far, Crane has put 30,400 rounds of M855A1 through three M4A1s equipped with 14.5″ cold hammer forged barrels and a mid-gas system with a gas block approximately 9.8″ from the bolt face.


They stated SOF M4A1s normally start to see accuracy degradation at around 6,000 rounds. But during testing of the mid-gas system, they’d hit 12,600 and still hadn’t seen any changes.

They also have only broken one bolt so far in testing, although I don’t think they’re ready to attribute the improved bolt performance to the mid-gas system.

The Crane team will finish testing up with 34,000 rounds per upper. It’s not that they don’t think the barrels can’t take more, but rather that they had to use the same lot of M855A1 to satisfy the accuracy portions of testing.

USSOCOM Accuracy Testing & Protocol

With this mid-gas system they are getting 5 MOA groups while the standard is 7 MOA. One of the three uppers was shooting 1 MOA, except for the tenth round which was still within limits.

Interestingly, USSOCOM tests accuracy differently than most others. They fire 10 rounds suppressed and another 10 rounds unsuppressed. They measure the extremes of the spread of impacts, rather than their closest points. Then, they do it again two more times and average the results to determine accuracy.

Muzzle Velocity

These measurements are averaged and validate what we know about the use of suppressors increasing muzzle velocity.


Terminal Velocity

The velocity at 100 yards for mid-length weapons is 32.6 fps or 1.2%, higher for suppressed fire and 41.7 fps or 1.6%, higher for unsuppressed fire.


Cyclic Rate

Mid-length cyclic rate of automatic fire was 62.7 rounds per minute (rpm), or 7%, lower than carbine-length for suppressed fire and 127.2 rpm, or 16%, lower for unsuppressed fire.


Temperature High & Low

960 rounds were fired at 160F for Reliability at High Temp and another at -60F for Reliability at Low Temp.

For carbine-length weapons, 5 out of 65 malfunctions occurred during high temperature testing. For mid-length weapons, 1 out of 30 malfunctions occurred during high temperature testing. For high temperature testing, carbine-length weapons had 576.0 mean rounds between failures (MRBF) compared to 836.1 MRBF for ambient temperature testing and mid-length weapons had 2800 MRBF compared to 1993.8 MRBF for ambient temperature testing.

For carbine-length weapons, 27 out of 65 malfunctions occurred during low temperature testing. For mid-length weapons, 16 out of 30 malfunctions occurred during low temperature testing. For low temperature testing, carbine-length weapons had 333.3 mean rounds between failures (MRBF) compared to 836.1 MRBF for ambient temperature testing and mid-length weapons had 562.5 MRBF compared to 1993.8 MRBF for ambient temperature testing. Approximately half of the total malfunctions recorded for both carbine-length and mid-length weapons occurred during low temperature testing, so the relative rate of malfunctions between carbine-length and mid-length remained similar to that of ambient temperature testing.


Although testing to 34,000 rounds isn’t yet complete, the conclusion is simple. Use of a mid-gas system significantly extends the life of the overall weapon system. It also offers increased performance over a carbine-length gas system.


This information is particularly important for the US Air Force’s Improved Modular Rifle – Blue program which templates off of upper receiver group improvements adopted by USASOC (Brownells is offering a similar package for reference). While USASOC will upgrade up to 15,000 carbines, the AF wants to modify around 50,000 guns. That could be enough to force a major Technical Data Package update applicable to all services and creation of a GOTS upgrade for all M4s, regardless of service.

This government testing also validates what many commercial vendors have been offering for years.

USSOCOM Small Arms Modernization Update

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Yesterday, LTC Mark Owens, USSOCOM’s PM for Ammo, Weapons and Visual Augmentation Systems, briefed SOF Small Arms modernization efforts at NDIA’s annual Armaments Conference.  Unfortunately, he only had 10 minutes on the schedule to brief his programs. Consequently, like LTC Owens, I’m going to hit the wave tops and not go over everything on the slides.


The most significant thing he briefed was the Precision Intermediate Caliber Effort which resulted in the adoption of 6.5 Creedmoor, something we’ve covered several times.  A lot of effort is being put into producing the Technical Data Package for that ammunition which tells industry how to produce it. He also mentioned that its adoption is cost neutral as it will cost about the same per round as the accurized 7.62 rounds they already procure.  Although LTC Owens didn’t discuss it, 6.5 CM machine gun ammo (i.e. linked) is also under development in the event they decide to procure a lightweight assault machine gun in that caliber. One thing he cleared up is that SOCOM considers the 6.5 CM conversion for USASOC’s M110s as a SOF unique program and will pay for their rebarreling.


Additionally, LTC Owens explained the different Upper Receiver options available for the M4A1 Carbine, including the Suppressed Upper Reciever Group which is still in source selection, Personal Defense Weapon which is a .300 BLK Upper, and Upper Receiver enhancements (a similar item is commercially available from Geissele as the URG-I).  He also briefly mentioned the Advanced Sniper Rifle, a recently released solicitation.  He went in to clarify that development of the ammunition for the 338 Norma Mag Lightweight Medium Machine Gun had begun ahead of the weapon because reducing its weight is the bigger challenge and the weapon can’t be fully developed until the ammo is ready.  He finished up this slide with mention of the enhancements for the GLOCK 19s in the command including suppressor, red dot optics and 9mm Speer Gold Dot G2 ammo.


This slide amplifies the ammunition issues already covered, but two other items are of particular interest.  First, is the Scalable Offensive Hand Grenade which allows the user to select the charge.  Second, is the 9 Bang Flashbang which fires nine times in rapid succession.


Finally, is the Visual Augmentation System update.  As you can see, SOCOM is working to adopt a wide variety of new optics.

Crane Issues Intent To Extend Sole Source 5 Year Contract For Combat Assault Rifle

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Late last month, Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, issued an intent to extend a sole source contract to FN Herstal, to procure the Combat Assault Rifle (CAR), engineering services and PIO Spares and data in accordance with the Performance Specification and the Statement of Work. Once known as the SOF Combat Assault Rifle, this Modular weapon system lost the SOF designator (at least funding-wise) a few years back. The program goes back 15 years, it known in Acquisition circles as CAR and is comprised of the Mk 16, Mk 17 and Mk 20 Sniper Support Rifle.

The contract currently in place runs out this month. An extension will keep the guns running which are already in service and offer the ability to buy more if the need arises. But most interestingly, this contract can be used to modify the Mk 20 SSRs used by Naval Special Warfare from 7.62 NATO to the newly adopted 6.5 Creedmoor round.

USSOCOM plans to convert their fleet of Sniper Support Rifles to 6.5 CM. For NSW, that means the Mk 20. With this contract, the process is pretty straight forward. They are weapons acquired under Major Force Program 11, USSOCOM’s procurement budget. The move to 6.5 CM is also a SOF requirement. However, Army SOF uses the M110, the US Army’s version of the Knights Armament Corp’s SR25 which also currently fires the 7.62 NATO cartridge. As the USASOC M110s are provided by the Army, but the move to 6.5 CM is a SOF unique requirement, there is question as to who will pay for the 6.5 CM conversion and what role the US Army might play in the conversion. It’s an Army rifle, but the caliber is a SOF requirement. A similar situation may face Marine Special Operations Command for their M110s which SOCOM recently modified to the K-1 configuration. Having said that, Knight’s, Geissele Automatics and CGS have all demonstrated complete 6.5 CM upper receiver groups compatible with the M110.

In other 6.5 CM news, word is that we should expect the Advanced Sniper Rifle to undergo an Engineering Change Proposal once a weapon is selected. Current requirements include 7.62 NATO along with 300 Norma Magnum and 338 NM. The 7.62 NATO requirement facilitates shorter training ranges and ensures the weapon is compatible with the Sniper Support Rifle. But with the SSRs converting to 6.5 CM, it doesn’t make any sense to have a 7.62 capability with ASR. Luckily, the conversion to 6.5 CM is simple.

Finally, an as-yet-unnamed federal agency has also committed to 6.5 CM for its rifles. We expect more to follow suit.

USSOCOM Releases Advanced Sniper Rifle Solicitation

Monday, May 7th, 2018

Late last week, USSOCOM issued a solicitation to industry for an Advanced Sniper Rifle.  According to the Indistry Day announcement issued on 21 November, 2017, ASR is a modular, multi-caliber bolt action sniper rifle capable of engagements to beyond 1,500 m. The rifle will be chambered in 7.62×51 mm NATO, .300 Norma Magnum, and .338 Norma Magnum with caliber conversions occurring at the user level. The program is also a total small business set aside.  

Product Samples (PS) are due by 2:00 PM EST 09 July 2018, while proposals are due by 2:00 PM EST 27 August 2018.  We understand that the government is requesting three samples from each vendor.  

Details of the requirement sensitive, with access is limited to those actually bidding on the solicitation.  Get full details here.

Friday Focus – FirstSpear Wins ABAV Contract

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Fenton, MO – FirstSpear, industry leading innovator and manufacturer of military and law enforcement load bearing equipment, armor platform technology, and performance technical apparel has been awarded the SOCOM Aviation Body Armor Contract, ABAV.

The FirstSpear ABAV system endured a rigorous selection process that pushed the limits of performance and durability of the modular platforms required by todays best aviators. Evolving the transition from Air, Land, and Maritime Operations the FirstSpear system incorporated all of the features required by the end user in a streamlined package constructed from an all new FirstSpear Fire Retardant laser cut 6/12™ material.

Fully integrated emergency flotation is built right into the cummerbund allowing maximum freedom of movement for the operator while providing up to 73lbs of lift at surface in sea water during an emergency. The FirstSpear instant adjust back panel allows the end user to easily adjust cummerbund size between standard dress and flight suits to CBRNE or Cold weather gear. This functionality also allows the option to switch between land and maritime adaptive cummerbunds in just a few seconds thanks to FirstSpear Tubes™.

The ABAV was designed to enhance the survivability and lethality of the aviator within a single system that can be configured in just moments notice for the full spectrum of operational environments. FirstSpear is proud to support the men and women of our armed forces and will remain dedicated to providing the best possible equipment to those who need it most.

FirstSpear was founded in 2010 by a team of industry professionals and former U.S. servicemen with a mandate to shift industry paradigms and upend the status quo of load bearing technology and personal protective equipment. FirstSpear dedicates their efforts to support those willing to not just sacrifice and preserve our heritage but also secure our future.

Darley Defense Days 18 – Trijicon RM06-HRS

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Trijicon is displaying their new RM06-HRS (Handgun Reflex Sight). Based on the Type 2, it is their submission for USSOCOM’s Miniature Aiming Solution – Daylight solicitation.

It features a 3.25 MOA Red Dot and has survived 40,000 slide cycles on a Glock 19 in testing.

Operation Eagle Claw

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Today marks the anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw. In the early morning hours of 25 April, 1980 President Carter announced to a stunned world that the United States had undertaken an ambitious raid into Iran to liberate 52 American hostages held illegally at our Embassy compound in Tehran. Unfortunately, Operation Eagle Claw was unsuccessful and we lost eight American servicemen in a horrible aircraft ground collision. Join me in remembering their sacrifice.


However, their deaths were not in vain. The hostages were eventually repatriated and the accident was the watershed event that created, over the next several decades, the world’s preeminent Special Operations capability; USSOCOM and its components. We wouldn’t be where are today without the determination of that fledgling task force. Join me in remembering those that had the guts to try.