BAE Systems providing lighter small arms ammunition to lower soldiers’ burden

Paolo Valpolini

The weight issue continues to be a key problem for infantrymen, who need to carry all what needed to fight and survive in their rucksack. While some loads cannot be reduced, water will always weigh 1 kg per litre, some other can be considered for lightening the soldiers’ burden.

Among “consumable” carried by soldiers ammunition are definitely among the most important one.

Current brass-case 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition weight around 11.9 grams, and considering that a 30-rounds magazine weighs some 100 grams, the full mag weight is of 458 grams. The least number of magazine carried by a soldier in operation is seven, which makes over 3.2 kg of ammo load, however as said this is the minimum, thus the load might be much heavier. A machine gunner, who has to carry a heavier weapon, carries usually a 200 rounds ready to use belt and at least a spare one, which makes 4.76 kg without counting the weigh of the box and the links.

BAE Systems started a programme funded by the UK MoD for developing lighter solutions for standard ammunition, both in 5.56 and 7.62 mm, the aim being not replacing the weapons currently in service, as some more exotic (but more weight-saving) solutions would require.

At DSEI the company exhibited two different solutions, which will lead to different weight reduction. In order to keep the same ballistic properties the ball and the powder could not be changed, thus BAE Systems concentrated on the case. Ammunition with stainless steel cases were developed, which allowed reducing weight by 15-17%; this will mean reducing by over 60 grams the weight of a 30-rounds magazine, to less than 400 grams, providing an extra magazine to the soldier at the same weight of the seven usually carried. As for the machine gunner, the saving will be of around 800 grams, which makes some 80 rounds extra at the same weight.

The company produced some thousands rounds, around 5,000 having been successfully fired from automatic weapons in different conditions, both from magazines or belted from a box, showing performances similar to the original rounds. Industrialisation will require different process compared to brass, cramping fine-tuning will be needed, while cost should be comparable to that of current ammunition. Stainless steel 5.56 mm rounds qualification is expected within one year.

The second option developed by BAE Systems is a titanium case: this will considerably increase weight saving, however cost will definitely be higher than standard ammo. A 26% saving was obtained, bringing the magazine weight to 368 grams, nine magazines weighing only 100 grams more than the seven original ones. Only a handful of those rounds were fired at the time of DSEI. EDR On-Line understood that such solution might be reserved to those units that carry with them considerable amount of ammo and operate on foot, namely Special Forces.

Besides reducing the soldiers’ burden, lightening the ammunition has other beneficial effects, especially in terms of transportation by aircraft or helicopter, cost saving obtained allowing compensating the extra cost in some scenarios. The development and production of the new ammunition, designated LC (Lightweight Case) is carried out at BAE Systems facility in Radway Green.

Photos by Paolo Valpolini