You might be hearing about “telescoped ammunition” sometime soon, as the Army considers an experimental rifle that fires the new ammo, which was created in an effort to save weight—but actually resulted in a more powerful rifle.
This story from Popular Mechanics provides a good rundown of the technology and says that defense contractor Textron unveiled the new rifle at the Modern Day Marine conference last month.
Whereas traditional cartridges have about half of bullet seated inside a brass casing with propellant behind it, telescoping ammunition is made of a polymer case that fully encases the bullet, which is surrounded by propellant. Imagine a shotgun slug that’s fully crimped closed.
Eliminating the brass lets the telescoped ammo be about 40 percent lighter than traditional ammo. But there’s a downside.
The story says that while the telescoped cartridges are much lighter, they take up more room in a magazine because they’re wider.
So, to compensate, the story says Textron has created a 6.5mm telescoped round that packs 300 percent more energy than the standard M855A1 5.56 round, at far less weight per round.
The idea is, if the telescoped rounds result in fewer rounds in a magazine, they should be more powerful.
It appears that existing rifles can’t be converted to fire the brass-less rounds, so Textron’s gas-operated, piston-driven AR style rifle patterned on the M4A1 would be the way to go if the Army is interested. It’s deployment-ready with accessory rails, a flash hider, and front and rear iron sights, pistol grip, and buttstock all from Magpul,the story says.
In fact, the rifle with a loaded magazine of telescoped ammo would weigh more than a loaded M4, at a hefty 9.7 pounds. (An M4A1 with a loaded 30-round magazine weighs 8.74 pounds) So, the decision comes down to, as the story puts it: “is losing a third of available ammo and adding three quarters of a pound to a rifle system worth a 300 percent increase in bullet energy?”
The only thing that might make the new system an enticing option to the military is if it comes cheap, and there’s no word on the unit cost of the rifle or the ammunition, so only time will tell. But if the Army accepts the design trade-offs, it could be the first all-new rifle design fielded by the Army in 51 years, since it adopted the M16.