Defence approves Metal Storm CTD

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The Department of Defence has approved a three-year, $3.2 million Capability & Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program to develop an Advanced Individual Combat Weapon (AICW) based on Metal Storm ballistics technology. A number of other CTDs approved in the 2001 budget were expected to be announced as ADM closed for press.

The AICW program, led by DSTO's Weapons Systems Division, will develop prototypes of a single weapon which combines the Army's existing 5.56mm Steyr AUG rifle with either a 20mm or a 40mm Metal Storm gun barrel. The CTD program will see prototypes of both calibres manufactured.

The Metal Storm design places all the rounds nose-to-tail inside the barrel, where they are initiated electronically, either one at a time or at very high rates of fire. The auxiliary barrel could be used to fire either high explosive, air-burst ammunition or non-lethal projectiles, Vinod Puri, a DSTO research leader, told ADM.

The lack of a separate magazine or mechanical trigger assembly for the second barrel means that an AICW incorporating Metal Storm technology could be lighter and simpler than a weapon such as the US Army's Objective Infantry Combat Weapon (OICW) which uses conventional weapons technology for its second barrel. The OICW, which is currently under development, combines in a single unit both a conventional rifle with its own barrel, magazine and trigger assembly, and a higher-calibre weapon to fire high-explosive projectiles for added infantry fire power, especially against entrenched opposition.

The AICW program is designed to support two separate Australian Army projects. The Steyr rifle will reach the end of its projected 20-year service life in 2008. The AICW CTD will explore the possibility of extending its service life by upgrading the weapons and integrating them with a Metal Storm-type gun to provide greater tactical flexibility, lethality and capability.

At the same time, the Army is developing an integrated Soldier Combat System (SCS) which will see individual soldiers equipped progressively from 2003 onwards with an integrated suite of communications, sensors and fire control equipment as well as more lethal and effective small arms.

The CTD will help the SCS project office explore new infantry weapon concepts and evaluate technology, logistics and tactical issues impacting on the selection of a new individual weapon for infantry soldiers in the future, Puri said.

The SCS project, Land 125, will gradually integrate a number of separate Army technology and acquisition programs, Colonel David Chalmers, the Army's Director of Land Combat Development, told ADM. Things like small arms, night vision equipment, load-carrying equipment, radios and the like will no longer be procured in isolation, he said: they must all be integrated to reduce cost and complexity, and also the weight carried by the soldier, while maximising their joint efficiency.

Any decision whether to extend the life of the Steyr and other small arms, or replace them with an all-new weapon, will be determined in part by the outcomes of studies conducted by the SCS project team, Chalmers said.

The DSTO-led AICW team includes Metal Storm Ltd; ADI Ltd, which manufactures the Australian Army's small arms and which will manufacture both the prototype AICW and their ammunition; Israeli firm International Technologies (Lasers) Ltd, which will integrate a laser range finder with a thermal imaging sight in a single lightweight unit; and Tenix Defence Systems, Melbourne, which will integrate the weapon with the sight and Metal Storm's electronic fire control system.

Three prototype weapons will be built in order to test both 20mm and 40mm Metal Storm barrels; these will commence firing trials in mid-2003.

Metal Storm and DSTO are already working on a separate three-year, $3.45 million CTD program to develop a prototype area denial system using 40mmm grenades fired from a multi-barrel weapon. This would see conventional anti-personnel land mins replaced with a system which can be deployed and removed easily, eliminating much of the danger to non-combatants caused by existing anti-personnel mines which are often left in place after hostilities cease.

In the US, the company is teamed with Scientific Applications International Corp (SAIC) to develop a proposal for the US Army's Anti-Personnel Landmine Alternative (APLA) program. And metal Storm is also teamed with Alliant Techsystems in the US to develop a prototype advanced sniper rifle under a US$10.2 million contract awarded in 1999 by DARPA.

By Gregor Ferguson
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