U.S. Army, Marines Collaborate to Develop Lightweight Ammo

The U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and the U.K. are collaborating to develop lightweight ammunition to reduce Soldiers’ load.

The services have formed a Joint Lightweight Ammunition Integrated Product Team to synchronize the efforts with the goal of decreasing the weight of ammunition by at least 10 percent.

Any reduction in equipment weight, often referred to as “warfighter load,” will enhance warfighters’ readiness and increase mobility, survivability, and lethality. While there are many pieces of equipment that add to this overall load, one common denominator across the services is ammunition. The Marine Corps and the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) require ammunition not only for their warfighters but for their aircraft operations as well. Reducing the weight of the ammunition allows aircraft to carry more ammunition to support critical missions, allows room for other critical supplies or creates additional fuel capacity for extended missions.

The cartridge case, now made with brass, is the heaviest and hence the most logical area for initial weight reduction efforts in small-caliber munitions.

The mission of the team is to collaborate on combat requirements, materiel developer solutions and joint qualification of lightweight ammunition using alternative case materials that would meet or exceed the performance of current brass-cased ammunition in standard service weapons.

Based on the working partners’ priorities, initial efforts fell into the following focus areas:

+ U.S. Army-7.62 mm.
+ U.S. Marine Corps-.50 caliber.
+ U.S. British Ministry of Defense-5.56 mm.

Additionally, SOCOM explored commercially available solutions that fit niche capabilities, thus increasing the knowledge base across the integrated product team. This has allowed each partner to successfully leverage emerging data from multiple industry solutions in various calibers to minimize the workload and maximize resources.

Under the integrated product team, the joint services assessed lightweight case solutions from seven potential sources, including traditional defense contractors as well as small businesses, which are considered non-traditional sources. The assessments looked strictly at requirements to demonstrate reliable function in legacy weapon systems while maintaining military-specified performance, which is more stringent than commercial standards. Primary challenges made apparent in testing include the ability to function reliably across extreme temperatures, the ability to maintain pressure and muzzle velocity, and the ability for the cases to properly eject from the weapon.

Lightweight ammunition technology and joint qualification efforts are moving forward thanks to the integrated product team’s activities. The 7.62 mm lightweight case program is a prime example of successful collaboration. Test results from lightweight case assessments by the Army, the Marine Corps, SOCOM and Britain’s Ministry of Defense demonstrated that several lightweight case technologies had the potential to meet military requirements.

Based upon these assessments, the Army issued three competitively awarded contracts, the last of them in March. The funding came from the Marine Corps and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Manufacturing Technology program to conduct a series of tests on early production designs. This limited test event, scheduled for October, will provide the information required to narrow down the top-performing design before engaging in final development and qualification test events.

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