The past year has seen considerable media attention paid to the revolutionary Heckler & Koch G11/Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) submitted to the US military for testing at Fort Benning. However, little information has been published concerning the development of the HK G11 Rifle or the other new members of the "Family of Caseless Weapons."
Research and development began on the G11 caseless ammunition rifle almost twenty-five years ago. Final troop and technical tests by the West German Army started in 1988. Evaluated directly against the famous G3 rifle used since 1959 by West German Forces, the early G11 prototypes were little more than laboratory test weapons.
The first version of the G11 used a single 50-round magazine. The capacity and length of the magazine was reduced to 45 rounds in later models. The G11 had a non-detachable (1:1x) optical sight fitted within the carrying handle of the weapon. The sighting system was devised for realistic combat ranges up to 300 meters and used a simple "ring" reticle for fast and simple target engagement. Back-up iron sights were absent, as the designers were confident of the robust design and construction of the optics.
Throughout 1988 and 1989 the West German Army ran fifteen of these rifles through a gruelling series of tests, firing over 40,000 rounds of ammunition. Troops from infantry, armored, parachute, and reconnaissance units evaluated the G11 as a replacement for the G3 rifle while technicians at the German Ordnance Center at Aachen performed tests on both the weapon and the ammunition. Rifles were tested for accuracy, endurance, reliability, and safety. The rifles
were fired after being frozen, baked, immersed in salt water, and buried in mud baths to determine their resistance to the most extreme environmental conditions imaginable. Ammunition was subjected to heat, solvents, moisture, and impact to ensure that it was robust enough for military use. In fact, the testing of the ammunition was taken to such extremes, a full box of cartridges was dropped from an aircraft in flight.
During almost two full years of both technical and troop tests a number of modifications were made both to the ammunition and the weapon. The result of this series of tests was the
"G11 K2", or second configuration of the G11 Rifle. The K2 incorporates several additional features absent from the earlier"Troop Testing" G11 prototype. The G11 K2 includes improvements in the mechanical function and the exterior ergonomic design of the rifle, all based on the input from the German troop tests. Most importantly, the handguard and center
part of the receiver were redesigned to allow a total of three 45-round magazines to be carried side by side on the rifle. This would mean for a total weight of less than ten pounds (about the same weight of an empty MI Garand rifle!), a soldier can carry 135 rounds already loaded in
magazines right on the rifle. The center magazine presents rounds to the mechanism during firing and is easily and quickly exchanged with the two outside magazines during reloading.
Although the G11 sight could not be removed, the optical sight and carrying handle of the new G11 K2 can be quickly detached and remounted. A number of specialized sights, such as night vision devices, can also be easily mounted. Emergency iron sights are molded into the protective rubber caps of the optical sight, and a universal implement attachment point in the front of the handguard allows for a bayonet, bipod, or laser aimer to be attached.
During German Army testing of the G11 K2 in the Fall of 1989, new draftees achieved an average of 50% more hits using the G11 over the results with the G3 rifle. The unorthodox shape and operating procedures of the G11 K2 were leared more quickly and easily by the new recruits.
What is the future of the G11 in the new German Army? In early 1990 the Army issued its official conclusions on the comprehensive testing program, stating that the rifle had met all of the requirements of the technical and troop evaluation centers and was ready to be fielded.
However, the actual Permit for Fielding, which must be approved by the German parliament before the rifle and ammunition can be produced, has been temporarily delayed at this time by the incredible events in Germany, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. The new unified German Army will be the largest single Armed Force in Europe, comprised of some 400,000 combat troops from both the West and East German Armies. Neither Army presently has available a modern assault rifle that can match the superior and revolutionary capabilities of HK's G11 K2 rifle. A recent test of the G11 K2 rifle against the East German AK-74 showed clearly that even the newer Soviet-designed rifle is no match for the technology inherent in the G11 rifle, even in prototype form.
Here in the US, the third prototype of the G11, the HK-ACR (Advanced Combat Rifle) recently completed a year's worth of testing at Fort Benning, Georgia. As one of four candidates chosen to participate in a field experiment, the HK-ACR was by far the most revolutionary candidate. The HK-ACR is operationally identical to the G11 but utilizes a different optical sight designed for the target exposures that range from 25 to 600 meters. With the exception of this sight itself, the G11 and HK-ACR rifles are more or less identical. Some confusion does occur
however, when discussing the caliber of these two weapons. The round of caseless ammunition fired in each weapon is identical. The bullet launched is also the same. Only the description of its caliber and dimensions is different.
The G11 is chambered to fire a 4.73x33mm caseless round, whereas the HK-ACR fires 4.92x34mm caseless rounds. In Germany, the caliber of the bore diameter is measured from land to land. In the United States, caliber is measured from groove to groove. The length of the cartridge of the G11 and HK-ACR is 33mm long, though in the United States the length of the chamber, not the cartridge case, is used to describe the round.
U.S. Army testing of the HK-ACR and three other industry concepts was concluded in late August 1990 at Fort Benning, Georgia. While the official results are not yet available, the performance of the HK candidate system was outstanding. There were no major parts failures experienced on any of the fifteen test weapons during the entire test period. A total of
forty-six Army and Air Force shooters, both men and women, spent three weeks firing each of the four candidate weapons. The Heckler & Koch ACR was regularly praised for its semi-automatic accuracy, both for zeroing and long range (300-600m) target engagements and its ease of use.
Field stripping and maintenance times for the unique HK system was markedly less than the other candidates in the hands of the test personnel. This is due both to the fact that the unique caseless propellent leaves almost no fouling behind after firing, and that only five parts are removed by the operator during field stripping (compared to ten with the M16 rifle). The HK
rifle also received high marks for reliability, ease of handling, minimal recoil in semi-automatic mode, and its high capacity (45 round) magazine. As one might expect, the troops enjoyed not having to "police" any brass after the conclusion of range firing.
What of the fate of the HK-ACR in the United States? Well, contrary to the articles and reports that appeared in various magazines and such, the recently completed ACR Field Experiment was not intended to select a replacement for the presently fielded M16A2. This "experiment" was just that, a test of the latest weapon and ammunition technologies that might increase the soldier's ability to hit more targets on the modern battlefield while under combat stress. The most promising technologies could then be incorporated into the specifications for the U.S. military's replacement for the M16A2, slated to be issued no earlier than 1995. So, while the HK-ACR rifle may not be issued in the exact form that it was tested at Fort Benning, it is quite possible that some of the features of the rifle, or possibly its caseless ammunition, could be included in the individual weapon that our troops will carry into the 21st century.
Also under development at HK is a Light Support Weapon (LSW). Firing the same caseless round as the G11 rifle, the LSW is designed to replace the squad's automatic rifle and/or light machine guns. This weapon will have a maximum effective range of 800 meters. The weapon
fires from a linkless 300-round box magazine in the weapon's buttstock that contains no springs or feeding components. Fully loaded with 300 rounds, the caseless LSW will weigh less than the
current M249 squad automatic weapon (SAW) empty.
To complete the family of caseless weapons, a pistol-sized weapon is being developed as a replacement for the handguns and submachine guns. Designed to increase the users hit probability, this Personal Defense Weapon (PDW)would fire a slightly shorter caseless
cartridge from a 20 or 40 round box magazine in fully automatic or burst fire modes.
As you might expect, ammunition maker Dynamit Nobel is working on large caliber applications for its caseless technology and iscurrently developing a caseless 25mm cannon round for the "Bushmaster" cannon, the main armament of the U.S. Army's Bradley fighting vehicle. Together, Dynamit Nobel and Heckler & Koch have succeeded in making the first caseless ammunition weapon system, something that eluded engineers and designers from both the Soviet Union and the United States during the past 30 years. What effect this breakthrough technology will have on small arms devlopment in the closing years of the 20th century is still unknown. But that caseless ammuniton is a viable system can not be denied.