SITREP | Global Assault Rifles Development Programs
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SITREP | Global Assault Rifles Development Programs

By Cadet Patrik Backlund
General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania

There are about 875 million small-caliber weapons currently in circulation worldwide. Over a thousand companies manufacture them in approximately one hundred countries. All countries, and a large number of independent armed groups, deal with small arms. The international website that monitors small arms, Small Arms Survey, estimates that their annual world trade exceeds 8.5 billion dollars.

SITREP | Global Assault Rifles Development Programs

There is a large global market for assault rifles. Many armed forces need new weapons when their old ‘cold war’ equipment starts to break down. This leads to the main issue of this paper; what does the future assault rifle look like? Accurate assessments are very difficult to make. Many countries do not want to publicly disclose the size of their production, export and import of arms. Analyzing the illegal activities is even more difficult. The trade in weapons is usually done illegally through black markets in poor countries. Corruption and illegal seizure is common in the arms trade.

Assault rifles are categorized as small caliber weapons. The Swedish Armed Forces define all weapons below 20 mm as small caliber weapon. Currently, the global development of new variants of assault rifles continues and the defence industries are doing business around the globe. Customers demand low prices and high quality. Developing a good weapon that can then be sold to several countries will provide an excellent income for the industry. To gain a better understanding of the development of assault rifles worldwide, five short examples will follow, all collected from various countries.

French Assault Rifle Program:

The French army is currently one of Europe's largest armies. For many years their standard weapon has been the FAMAS rifle, and as a NATO country their standard weapon uses 5.56 mm ammunition. The French assault rifle is old; consequently. They are planning to replace it with a more modern one. France has no industry that manufactures small arms; therefore, they are forced to look abroad to the international market. 

Image Attribute: FAMAS
Image Attribute: FAMAS 

They are interested in finding a weapon with a "Bullpup", a weapon with a design that makes an inserted magazine come closer to the shaft to reduce recoil, just like their old FAMAS. France intends to order about 90,000 weapons that will start to be delivered as early as 2017. Their goal is that by 2019 they will have 21,000 weapons that should be operational in their army units. A competition among weapons industries for the French contract is expected to start later this year.

Russian Assault Rifle Program:

The large Kalashnikov Company in Russia has implemented a major reorganization and has started to develop new weapon technologies, including a new assault rifle. They want to increase production and expand their market by finding new places in the world. Mikael Kalashnikov, who is the famous designer and creator of the classic AK series, died last year and the production company has been shattered, but it is expected to produce approximately 150,000 weapons annually, thus they need to increase their productivity.

Their new rifle, called the AK12, is currently being adopted by the Russian Army. They are presently carrying out tests on the gun. For Kalashnikov, India is their most promising market, where they expect to sell a large number of guns to India’s Armed Forces. 

Image Attribute: AK-12

Image Attribute: AK-12 
Image Attribute: AK-12 with a Drum & GP-30 Grenade Launcher
Image Attribute: AK-12 with a Drum & GP-30 Grenade Launcher

The Russian army has said that they do not need any new assault rifles because they have a large stock of old weapons that have not been used.10 Russia’s military industry, especially their small-calibre parts, has a very large capacity, but in order to develop they need private investment and managers, says Sergei Chemezov, director of Rostecs which owns 49% of the shares in the Kalashnikov Company.

A very interesting new rifle development was presented to the former president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, during a military exercise named Zapad in 2009. It was a prototype of the ADS, a new rifle designed especially for Russia's marine infantry and Spetsnaz forces. 

Image Attribute: Russian ADS
Image Attribute: Russian ADS

The uniqueness of the compact underwater weapon ADS is that, unlike its bulky predecessor APS, it is exclusively manufactured for an amphibious environment. The APS rifle with its 150 mm long nails ammunition is very good at shooting underwater, but not above water. It is specifically designed for combat divers and has a bullpup design with the magazine close to the shoulder.

Canadian Assault Rifle Program:

On the other side of the globe, the Canadian company Colt is on its way to develop different sensors on their assault rifles. They are trying to attach several types of systems to the Colt Infantry Assault Rifle (IAR), such as laser rangefinders, GPS and other surveillance systems. 

Image Attribute: Colt Infantry Assault Rifle (IAR)
Image Attribute: Colt Infantry Assault Rifle (IAR)

They are currently testing several prototypes to see how they work in practice. The rifle has many interesting electronics, but the screen kit on the rifle looks more or less like an ordinary Smartphone.

Vietnamese Assault Rifle Program:

Israel Weapon Industries, IWI, has opened new weapons factories in Vietnam. Vietnam People's Army wants to replace their old Russian AK-47s with new Israeli Galil ACEs. Galil was awarded the government contract in Vietnam and will manufacture the weapons on site to gradually phase out the old Kalashnikov. 

 Image Attribute: Black Galil ACE rifle with adjustable, side-folding stock and Pictainny rails

Image Attribute: Black Galil ACE rifle with adjustable, side-folding stock and Pictainny rails

Vietnam is now the second country to make a big order from the Israelis. They have previously just equipped the Colombian army with 19,000 assault rifles. Vietnam's cooperation with Israel Weapon Industries has long been known and senior officials from Vietnam visited the Israeli manufacturing plant two years ago.

Indian Assault Rifle Program:

The Indian Army is fast-tracking the development and induction of the indigenously designed Excalibur 5.56 x 45 mm assault rifle as it looks to plug a major operational void. Once approved, the army plans to induct over 600,000 Excalibur for around INR36 billion (USD541 million), or around INR60,000 each.

Image Attribute: INSAS Excalibur
Image Attribute: INSAS Excalibur

The army opted for the Excalibur after scrapping its 2011 tender for 66,000 multi-caliber assault rifles in June, as none of the four foreign models tested met its qualitative requirements.

The Excalibur is a retrofitted version of the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) assault rifle, designed by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and rejected by the army in 2010 for being "operationally inadequate". The gas-operated, fully automatic rifle has a foldable butt, Picatinny rail for sights, sensors, and bipods, and its polycarbonate magazine is superior to that of the INSAS rifle, which was known to frequently crack in extreme hot and cold climates. The Excalibur's barrel is 4 mm shorter than that of the INSAS and its hand guard is smaller.The OFB aims to begin series producing Excalibur on modified INSAS production lines at Rifle Factory Ichapore (RFI) in 2016 .

 Image Attribute: INSAS Amogh Carbine

Image Attribute: INSAS Amogh Carbine Concept

Meanwhile, the army has still to decide the outcome of the 2010 tender for 44,618 close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, trials for which concluded in 2013. These featured Beretta's ARX 160, IWI's Galil ACE carbine, and Colt's M4.

The Indian Army has been without a carbine since 2010 when it removed the licence-built Stirling 1A1 9 mm sub-machine gun from service.

Future Trends:

There are several examples of weapons that were regarded as innovative in the market and had features not seen before in the world.

For example, the first practical breech-loading gun was developed by Samuel Pauly, a Swiss gunsmith in 1808. The breech-loading gun is still a major feature of firearms and he is considered the father of shotguns with his drop-down barrel and firing a self-contained cartridge.The Germans presented something similar when it comes to inventions for guns during World War II when they built an addition to their MP44 that allowed them to shoot around corners. But they didn’t use it for urban warfare in the cities. They used it to keep their vehicles safe from approaching enemies around them. This invention was way ahead of its time and would not be developed further until the beginning of the 2000s when a small Israeli company took over the idea.

Many of today’s modern soldier systems have the ability to shoot around corners. It is achieved by equipping the weapon with a video camera and the shooter watching a small screen to see where he's aiming. This system is very efficient in urban warfare, but the downside of this system is the cost. It also requires a transfer of the picture through a cable or radio, and this is extra weight for the soldier to carry. The Swedish company Aimpoint has developed a simple solution to the problem. They used a periscope and two mirrors that the soldier can attach behind his ordinary sight on the weapon. The periscope can rotate in both directions.

Small arms have been the soldier's main weaponry for hundreds of years and will continue to be so far into the future as well. Over the past two decades, many countries changed the calibre of their assault rifles; they changed from 7.62 mm to 5.56 mm. This led to the weight and volume of ammunition being cut in half, so guns have become on average one kilogram lighter.

The 5.56 caliber used by NATO is low weight ammo and the soldiers can carry more ammo compared to bigger calibers, but still be light and handy, which is of great importance, especially in a battle in urban environments. The 5.56 caliber has weak recoil, allowing soldiers to quickly shoot a second and a third time to ensure the effectiveness with the target. It is important to reduce the overall weight that soldiers carry to make them as efficient and quick as possible on the battlefield. This, of course, includes their weapons. As mentioned earlier in the paper, this is a possible improvement point for the Swedish assault rifle.

Modern assault rifles are manufactured from steel, aluminum and plastic, these materials will also be standard in the future for cost reasons. Some weapons, such as the G36 rifle, have replaced much of the material in the major parts from metal to plastic. It also depends on what the user wants; making the handle and pistol grip in plastic will save weight, but decrease weapon stability when accessories are attached, such as laser sights and other optics.

 Image Attribute : H&K G36 Assault Weapon

Image Attribute : H&K G36 Assault Weapon

Modern rifles on the market today are all equipped with a rail for attaching accessories; it is different on different weapons, but in the future NATO will be able to standardize it.

There is a trend today to use the red dot sights and holographic sights rather than telescopic sights, which are becoming less popular every year. It is perhaps due to the large availability of sharp shooting guns and sniper rifles. The same trend applies to assault rifles with short barrels. Britain and Canada are the exception; their barrels are longer and they have the same rifle for vehicle crews. It is popular to have a weapon that is handy to have inside a vehicle and at urban warfare situations when you need to move in compact areas

There has not been much technological development with assault rifles in recent years, but much has happened with the accessories: night vision sights, holographic sights, different grips, flashlights, laser sights, attachable grenade launchers or small shotguns.

About The Author:

Cadet Patrik Backlund, General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania

Publication Details:

This article was written by the Cadet Patrik Backlund as a Bachelor Thesis titled “ Assault Rifles : Comparison, Analysis and Future Trends” in Military Technology at General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania.