Army aims for infantry rifle with electronic fire control

May 1, 1998
MINNEAPOLIS - Engineers at Alliant Techsystems in Minneapolis are developing the world`s first infantry rifle with an integrated electronic fire-control system.

By John Keller

MINNEAPOLIS - Engineers at Alliant Techsystems in Minneapolis are developing the world`s first infantry rifle with an integrated electronic fire-control system.

Called the Objective Individual Combat Weapon - OICW for short - the weapon will blend air-temperature and -pressure sensors, laser rangefinder, electronic compass, and optical sight.

When U.S. Army and Marine Corps leaders field the OICW in 2005, these sensors will combine to enable infantrymen essentially to shoot the weapon`s 20mm exploding bullets around corners and over embankments.

"The Objective Individual Combat Weapon will revolutionize warfare as much as the introduction of the machine gun did in this century," says Don Sticinski, group vice president of the Alliant Techsystems Defense Systems division. "Its unique capabilities will enable U.S. combat troops to virtually shot around corners to defeat targets behind barriers or in trenches - leaving no place for the enemy to hide on tomorrow`s battlefield."

Designing the OICW`s integrated fire-control system, which is based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology, are engineers at Contraves Brashear Systems in Pittsburgh. "This electro-optical fire control is different from radar, but does the same kinds of things," explains Lloyd Harkless, program manager of fire control at Contraves.

"It is a full-solution fire control," Harkless says. "It provides the gunner with a sighting device to acquire the target, a laser rangefinder to measure distance to target, and gives a compensated aim point. It measures air temperature, measures weapon angles, measures air pressures that figure into air drag, and compensates for the ballistics."

The devices that measure air pressure, temperature, and weapon angle "are COTS sensors from COTS houses," Harkless says.

These electronics do not actually enable the weapon to shoot in a curved path around corners. But they do enable the soldier to choose a point in space where the bullet will explode. "The important part is setting the fuze," Harkless explains. "Once you have a ballistic solution, you know what to tell the fuze."

The OICW 20mm fragmenting anti-personnel bullet accepts information data linked from the fire-control system and calculates a trajectory length based on the number of turns the projectile must make to reach the desired distance.

To shoot around a corner, the soldier calculates the precise distance to the corner with the laser rangefinder, and with the touch of a button tells the bullet to explode one meter beyond the corner.

At the heart of the fire control system are two Motorola 68000-series microprocessors that control the ballistic computer and optical tracker. The weapon`s rechargeable lithium battery provides for long operating life, plus short peaks of heavy power usage, Harkless says.

The OICW`s optical sight enables the user to zoom in to magnify the target for a better look, and contains a TV camera and uncooled infrared sensor that enable the rifle to operate during the day and at night - including in smoke, dust, and haze.

The camera and IR sensor also enable the soldier to link the sight`s image to a helmet-mounted display, or over wireless data links to other riflemen, to artillery batteries, or to higher-echelon commanders.

"If he wants to do video processing he can," Harkless explains. "He can grab a frame of video and freeze it, put a tracker into the system and automatically track the target using video, port the image outside the fire control to see it on a helmet-mounted display, or record it."

The OICW will weigh less than a fully equipped version of today`s M-16 standard infantry rifle, Alliant officials say. It will have dual-munition capability combining NATO-standard 5.56mm bullets for direct and suppressive fire, as well as the 20mm high-explosive air-bursting ammunition for use against targets in defilade.

The advanced rifle, which has an over-under barrel design with one trigger for both calibers of ammunition, also will have the ability to separate its 20mm and 5.56mm components so soldiers can use them as individual rifles, depending on their missions.

In deployed use, the OICW will replace a portion of today`s M-16s, Harkless says, with two men in eight-man squad using the new weapon.

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