The U.S. Special Operations Command is accelerating efforts to
develop a new generation of small arms, asserted Donald P. Schulte,
director of ordnance engineering at the Naval Surface Warfare Center
in Crane, Ind.
Schulte’s department manages the design, testing and fielding
of small arms for special operations forces.
At the Firepower 2005 conference in Washington, D.C., he provided
an update on several initiatives to provide special operators with
an array of next-generation weapons.
Commandos and technicians from Crane in August journeyed to FN
Herstal headquarters in Belgium to help test fire the new special
operation forces combat assault rifle, Schulte noted. This weapon,
known as the SCAR, is intended to replace the operators’ current
favorite, the M4A1 carbine. The M4A1 is a shorter and lighter version
of the M16A2 assault rifle that is issued to most conventional troops.
Operators prefer the M4A1 over the M16A2 for close-quarters combat.
SCAR is designed specifically to meet special operations’
needs even more closely, Schulte said. For example, “it gives
the SEALs [sea, air and land teams] over-the-beach deployability,”
he said. “They can come right out of the surf and fire immediately.”
It is actually a family of infantry weapons. Variants include a
5.56 mm light model and a 7.62 mm heavy one. The two weapons share
90 percent of the same parts. Both can accommodate a 40 mm enhanced
grenade launcher module with programmable fire control. Shooters
can change their rifles’ barrels. Choices include one with
a standard length for most operations, a shorter one for close-quarters
combat and a longer one for snipers.
SCAR has a much simpler design than the Army’s futuristic
objective individual combat weapon, Schulte said. The OICW, which
combined a rifle and a grenade launcher in a single weapon, was
supposed to replace the M-16A2, but fielding has been delayed because
of design complexities. With SCAR, “we wanted to field what
is practical—not a dream,” he said. “This had
And it had to happen quickly, Schulte said, pointing out that the
SCAR is on a fast track for fielding. A joint operational requirements
document that specified the need for it was approved in January
2004. Just 10 months later, in November, FN won the contract to
design and build the weapon. The size of the contract has not been
Designed, developed and tested in Belgium, SCAR is to be built
in Columbia, S.C., where FN’s U.S. subsidiary—FN Manufacturing
LLC—currently makes M16 rifles, M240 machine guns and other
weapons. Limited-rate initial production is scheduled to begin in
January 2006 with the first unit equipped in June 2007.
Special operators have played major roles in helping develop the
weapon. Thus far, they have conducted three design reviews with
FN that resulted in numerous upgrades, Schulte said. These include
a new sear-and-trigger mechanism, an improved safety lever, and
a thinner grip and stock.
Crane also has helped SOCOM field a special operations peculiar
modification accessory kit to enable operators to adapt both the
M4A1 carbine and the SCAR, for a variety of different purposes,
Schulte said. Among the accessories in the kit:
To help keep track of how often a rifle has been fired, engineers
at Crane have developed a shot counter. An M4A1 typically can fire
up to 10,000 rounds before its barrel has to be replaced, Schulte
explained. The counter is placed in the handgrip and signals a desktop
or laptop computer whenever the weapon is fired. The system enables
maintenance personnel to track a weapon’s usage and make repairs
before it fails in combat, Schulte said.
As a part of initiatives launched by the Navy’s Task Force
Hip Pocket, Crane has delivered 90 Mk44 GAU 17 Gatling guns to the
fleet. The task force was established in 2002 to address the vulnerabilities
exposed in the 2000 attack of the USS Cole (DDG 67). The M544s,
which fire 30 mm rounds, have been installed on ships to protect
against small craft such as the one that attacked the Cole.
Crane also provided and maintains all 227 of the 7.62 mm minigun
systems used on UH1 Huey and HH60H Seahawk helicopters throughout
the Navy, as well as the weapons installed on all Navy special warfare
surface craft and ground vehicles.
In addition, Crane has purchased 12 copies of the remote operated
small arms mount system for SOCOM, Schulte said. General Dynamics
Armaments and Technical Products of Burlington, Vt., developed ROSAM
under a five-year, $21.2 million contract awarded in 2003.
As the name implies, ROSAM is a remotely operated weapons system.
The complete system includes a gun mount, daytime and forward-looking
infrared sights, automatic tracker, control station and cables.
Each set costs less than $200,000, without the weapon, Schulte said.
ROSAM can accommodate the M2HB .50 caliber machine gun, the MK19
40 mm grenade machine gun, the MK49 7.62 mm Gatling gun and small
The system has been tested on a 65-foot patrol boat and the MK
V special operations craft, Schulte said. ROSAM also has been included
in advanced concept technology development research projects involving
the Spartan unmanned surface vehicle and the Army’s theater
support vessel. It will participate in several new projects scheduled