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Research Report

Chambering the Next Round: Emergent Small-calibre Cartridge Technologies

N.R. Jenzen-Jones
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2016
Published by: Small Arms Survey
Pages: 80

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 2-4)
  2. (pp. 5-6)
  3. (pp. 9-9)
  4. (pp. 10-10)
  5. (pp. 11-15)

    Emergent ammunition technologies are likely to prove key in future firearms designs, while many also apply to legacy weapons. Emergent cartridge case technologies, the rise of the ‘general-purpose’ calibre, and other nascent technologies will affect the way in which firearms are designed, produced, managed in service, tactically employed, maintained, and sustained.

    Many of these technologies are focused on reducing the logistics burden on armed forces and security agencies, and on reducing the carrying load of the individual combatant. While these technologies also apply to medium- and large-calibre ammunition, this Working Paper restricts its focus to small-calibre ammunition—cartridges of up...

  6. (pp. 16-31)

    The first half of the 20th century saw limited developments in small arms and small-calibre ammunition. Most militaries had one ‘general-purpose’ cartridge in service with infantry forces;8 it was used in both the bolt-action rifles of the time and the machine guns that had begun to enter service at the end of the 19th century. Most nations had opted for a ‘full-power’ round in 7.5 to 8 mm calibre; however, some adopted smaller cartridges in the 6.5 mm range. These latter nations, including Japan, Italy, and other European countries, later adopted cartridges in the range of 7.7 to 8 mm...

  7. (pp. 32-47)

    In the mid-1800s, the advent of metallic cartridge cases allowed for a single round of ammunition to be packaged in a self-contained format (Smith and Smith, 1948; Wilson, 1934). While the metallic cartridge case increased the overall weight of a round and necessitated mechanisms such as extractors and ejectors within a weapon, it allowed for the introduction of the self-loading weapons that form the backbone of modern militaries, such as self-loading rifles and machine guns (Jenzen-Jones, 2016).

    The cartridge case is an essential component, providing the housing for the propellant and projectile, and withstanding gas pressures that can easily exceed...

  8. (pp. 48-58)

    Plans for a general-purpose calibre between the current 5.56 × 45 mm and 7.62 × 51 mm cartridges are most often challenged on the grounds of weight. On average, the overall weight of ammunition would increase if the same number of rounds were to be carried by a unit or squad. While the adoption of a general-purpose calibre would no doubt provide infantry with a ballistically superior cartridge, the success of the concept hinges on whether this increase in capability is necessary and, more importantly, whether it is worth the trade-off in terms of weight. The weight reduction offered by...

  9. (pp. 59-62)

    As with any new development in the arms and munitions field, the advent of emergent ammunition technologies is likely to raise a number of legal, normative, and law enforcement questions. Yet, these technologies have not received the same level of media attention and state scrutiny as other emergent technologies, such as 3D printing. Whereas this latter technology has been discussed by national, regional, and international bodies—including the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and NATO—emergent ammunition technologies have received little normative and legal scrutiny (Jenzen-Jones, 2015). While emergent ammunition technologies offer significant advantages in...

  10. (pp. 63-65)

    The next five to ten years will prove critical for emergent ammunition technologies. Many of these have reached technological maturity already, while many others are expected to hit this milestone in the next two to five years. Polymer cartridge cases in a conventional configuration were due to be fielded from 2015 onwards and offer a notable reduction in overall weight. Other emergent ammunition technologies represent more of a challenge to the status quo. If a radical change from conventionally configured, brass-cased ammunition is to occur on a large scale, it is likely to be led by the US Army, and...

  11. (pp. 69-74)
  12. (pp. 75-80)