New small arms weapon helps soldiers shoot around corners

July 1, 2002
U.S. Army engineers are aiding the battlefield digitization effort with their work on the Objective Individual Combat Weapon

by John McHale

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — U.S. Army engineers at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., and Allied Techsystems in Minneapolis are aiding the battlefield digitization effort with their work on the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW).

The OICW, which Allied Techsystems experts are developing for the U.S. Army's Land Warrior program, enables soldiers to hit covered targets around corners, inside foxholes, and inside windows.

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The new weapon, which uses commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics, will fire 5.56mm NATO-standard bullets, as well as programmable 20mm airburst ammunition. It features an electronic fire control system integrated into the combat suit, and blends air-temperature and -pressure sensors, laser rangefinder, electronic compass, and optical sight.

When U.S. Army and Marine Corps leaders field the OICW in 2008, these sensors will combine to enable infantrymen to hit targets around corners and over embankments with the weapon's 20mm exploding bullets; soldiers simply program the 20mm ammunition to explode beside or above their covered targets, and take out the target with scattering shrapnel. In essence, each programmable 20mm bullet is a precision-guided grenade.

A soldier using the OICW will use the laser range finder to sight his enemy with a red dot signal and measure distance to the target, then get a read in the fire control system, engage the target, pull the trigger, then the computer sends a message to fuse for exact time to detonate over the target, says Rich Audette, deputy program executive for OICW and Land Warrior at Picatinny Arsenal. "The next thing the enemy in his foxhole knows is he has shrapnel raining down on him."

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 makes on its way to the target. The sighting system provides 24-hour capability by employing uncooled infrared sensor technology for night vision and the elimination of aiming errors associated with combat states known as wobble and Kentucky windage.

The OICW will weigh less than a full version of the M-16 standard infantry rifle.
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The camera and IR sensor also provide the soldier with situational awareness by enabling him 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 as part of the digital battlefield. The soldier can also do video processing if he wants, Audette says.

The OICW measures air temperature, weapon angles, and air pressures to compensate for drag and ballistics. The gun also compensates for recoil, Audette says, which for the OICW is a lot less than a shotgun due the mechanical design of the weapon.

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.

Designers used commercial-off-the-shelf electronics throughout the system where possible, says Bob Burns, fire control engineer for the OICW. They modified some electronics for military environments, such as adding heaters to the liquid crystal display to compensate for cold temperatures.

The processor is an ARM 7 from Atmel in San Jose, Calif., says Tom Howell, a senior engineer at Picatinny Arsenal. The weapon's rechargeable lithium manganese battery has a life of 12 hours, he adds.

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 OICW will weigh less than a fully equipped version of today's M-16 standard infantry rifle, Alliant Techsystems 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.

Current U.S. Army plans call for four of the nine soldiers in an infantry squad to carry the OICW, Alliant Tech systems officials say. It will replace some of today's modular weapon systems, made up of either the M16 rifle, or the M4 carbine with an attached M203 grenade launcher, company officials say.

PM Small Arms manage the OICW Program Definition and Risk Reduction program with support provided by ARDEC. The lead user proponent is the U.S. Infantry School, at Fort Benning, Ga. Alliant Techsystems is system integrator, fuze developer and 20mm HE developer.

Teammates include Heckler & Koch in Sterling, Va., for the weapon; Brashear LP in Pittsburgh for the fire control system; Octec in Brashnell, England, for the target tracker; and Leica in Switzerland for the ovular compass For the PDRR/EMD program, the Alliant Techsystems team remains intact and will evolve a combat ready system-continuing our commitment to the 21st century Land Warrior. Production is expected to begin in 2008, with delivery of the first weapon systems to selected combat units anticipated the following year.

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