21 March 2020

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Games (Vol. 6)

While research is going for the upcoming What We Will Fight Over blogpost about water, I thought we should return to our on-going series on the lost and forgotten military science fiction video games. Here is number six out of ten. Enjoy!

1. Astro Marine Corps (A.M.C) (Creepsoft 1989)
In 1989, British software company Creepsoft developed and Dinmaic released a side-scrolling shooter with some awesome cover-art and cool name: Astro Marine Corps (AMC). Released for 19.99 pounds in the UK (about (50 pounds today), it  was widely available mostly on cassette on every major micro-computer system in the United Kingdom. While the cover-art is amazing, the game was nothing really new in the realm of side-scrolling shooters at the time and that reflects in the middle-of-the-road reviews, like ST Format Magazine's 69%. For the most part, you control an Astro Marine that battles on an alien world using all manner of weapons against robotic enemy and fleshly alien creatures of shape and size. This game was released and then forgotten because another space marine in a shooter came along soon after and doomed older games like this to the realm of retro-reviews.



2. SDI (Cinemaware 1986)
During the 1980's, President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" was a hot topic and a major field of research and political engineering. This made a topic that video game developers could use and oddly, there different two very different video game using the term "SDI" in their titles that came out in 1986 and 1987. We will be discussing the 1986 SDI computer game game and not the 1987 SEGA arcade SDI also known as "SDI" or "Global Defense" in western markets. The 1986 SDI was developed and published by Cinemaware. This was their 2nd title and the company went out of business in 1991. SDI is set in 2017 when the KGB stages a coup against the Soviet government takes over the Soviet spaceports. They demand that the USA stop the use of SDI. When the USA refuses, the KGB launches nuclear weapons via several delivery systems. It is now up to the USA SDI and some Soviet units to defeat the nuclear onslaught from outer space.
You play as the commander of the US SDI space station, Sloan McCormick, who is also a space fighter pilot. In most of the missions, you take joystick and take on incoming KGB space fighers and missiles while attempting to save US space assets and prevent missile strikes on the US and her allies. Also, your lover, a Soviet space commander counterpair, is being held by the KGB, and you must rescue her. This PC game blended elements of Star Raider and Missile Command to form a very unique game for 1986. However, the game is repetitive and I wished for more strategy elements to round the odd space fighter scenes. I also wished it can been more realistic with MiG 105s and the dual US and Soviet space shuttles. This game, like many PC games of the 1980's disappeared as the technology got better and it was also confused with the SEGA title as well.        

3. Klendathu (Tandy Corporation 1982)
The founding literature classic of military science fiction is Robert Heinlein's 1958 Starship Troopers and given its popularity and cultural impact, several video games have been based on the book and its themes and technology. The first video game was designed by famed Tandy programmer Leo Christopherson for the Tandy TRS-80 and released on cassette in 1982. The game has a highly detailed manual that lays out the world, enemy, and technology of your M.I Trooper. Your character is fighting during Operation: Bug House and you dropped into kill some bugs with a hand-flamer. Once encounter some bugs on the grid field, you engage from a first-person POV with a flaming prompt and you attempt to light the bugs on fire before they attack and weaken your powered armor. While a cool concept, the game was developed using BASIC and given the limits on computer processing power, it is fairly limited. However, Klendathu is a bold attempt at bring Heinlein's Bug War to life in the computer era with a cool concept and title. I wished this game had developed as a DOOM clone. It is mostly remembered today by fans of the SST universe and by TRS-80 fan crowd. It is able to be easily downloaded today, but was forgotten from some time due to its limited interaction and the time period it was developed.

4. Zarlor Mercenary (Epyx 1990)
During the mid-to-late 1980's ATARI was struggling hard to survive and still be a force in the video game industry after the invasion of Japanese home console system as it was during the 2600 days with systems like the 7800, the XE, and the ST line of home computers. I was a big of ATARI, and owned an 7800 in 1987 and I badly wanted the color handheld ATARI handheld system, the Lynx, that came out in 1989. Developed for ATARI by Epyx, the 1st generation Lynx was a monster that did feature the first color LCD screen on a handheld system...but this came a heavy price tag and it ate AA batteries. That price tag was $179 in 1989 (or $381 in 2020 money) and it was powered by 6 AA batteries that lasted around 4-6 hours. The Nintendo GameBoy had come two months prior the release of the ATARI Lynx and nearly a hundred bucks cheaper. While praised by critics and those that owned it (I knew one person that owned this in 1989/1990 and he also owned an GameBoy as well), it was expensive and lacked some of the brand name games that the GameBoy had. It was successful enough to warrant a Gen2 with improvements to the ergonomics and battery life, however, this did not lead to success over the powerhouse GameBoy. By 1993, ATARI put everything into the Jaguar and folded their handheld division. One of the more rare titles for the LYNX was this shooter MSF title called "Zarlor Mercenary", which Metal Jesus says sounds like a bad 1980's movie. This is more or less a vertical scrolling shoot'em up video game set in a military sci-fi with some cool features that set it apart from the normal Shoot'em Up genre, but due to it being on the expensive ATARI Lynx system, it was limited and died along with the handheld system.

5. Warhawk (SingleTrac 1995)
The world of home video game consoles altered when Sony released the original PlayStation in December of 1994. This was the gaming system that turned me back to home consoles and away from PC gaming. I played this title in Toys R Us at the PlayStation display along with Wipeout! and I badly wanted this game and this title.This game mixed flight simulation with elements of Starfox. This game seems to takes place on an alien world with similarities to Terra. The game has you taken control of a VTOL gunship via two pilots during a war against a warlord named Kreel. He is using a new fuel source, Red Mercury and it up to you to stop him. Cool for its time and the gunship even has a Macross-missile attack, Warhawk was terribly uneven and its concept and first level were better the rest of the game. The original Warhawk was lost in the massive amount of titles that came out for the original PlayStation. However, it was saved for completely going out of the general gaming public's mind by a PS3 multi-player only experience in 2007.

6. Metal Wolf Chaos (FromSoftware 2004)
Mech combat is one of the core concepts of Military Sci-Fi that is popular with both Eastern and Western audiences. However, Japan is the land of cool mecha shit for sure, and Japanese mecha games outpace the rest of the world. One of the oddball mecha video games for the 6th generation Xbox, which that system did not sell well at all, was a Fuck Yeah America 3rd person mecha game called Metal Wolf Chaos. When the President of the USA Michael Wilson, is ousted in a coup by the Vice-President, the President dons an Mech suit and attempts to take back the White House. No shit. That is story for the game. Metal Wolf Chaos was only released in Japane and due to the underwhelming sales of the Xbox in Japan, it was never regionized for the US Xbox system. Due to press and the crazy plot, the game has a cult following in the west, which surprised the Japanese developer. The game was exported to the west by Devolver Digital in 2019.



7. V (Ocean 1986)
For those that did not live during the 1980's, The V miniseries then TV show on NBC here in America was amazing (and terrifying) from a kid's point-of-view. In a future Forgotten Classics article will dive more into V. Given its success and the tie-in merchandise market, Ocean Software, being the whores that they were, published a licensed V PC game for a number of micro-computers and it was quickly forgotten. Programmer by Grant Harrison, the game has inhabit the role of resistance fighter Mike Donovan. His mission to enter one of the lizard's motherships and set 5 bombs to destroy it and escape alive. Featuring advancing puzzles, aerobatic flipping, teleportation pads, and robots, the game only shows the docking bay and corridors. One major fault of the PC game was that you never engage in laser blaster fights with an Lizard Visitor shocktroopers! Nothing but little robots in the mothership. This was a major source of criticism of the game back in the day and likely one of the reasons for the game disappearing. However, the game came out as the TV series was cancelled.

8. Laser Squad (Target 1988/1992)
One of the more impressive box arts we've ever featured here on FWS for 1988's Laser Squad by Target Software and published by Blade. This British military science fiction turn-based tactics game was released on every major home micro-computer system back in the day and Laser Squad earned a number of awards. It was even updated with better graphics in 1992 when it was ported to the PC along with lifted some art from 1979's ALIEN as well. You take control of a squad of a freedom fighters in a distant future where oppression is a way of life across the settled systems. While this game has moved into the ranks of being a classics and widely unknown by gamers today, it is the games that Laser Squad inspirited that gamers of today know. Games like X-Com and UFO: Enemy Unknown. 




9. EPIC (Digital Image Design 1992)   
When our planet is threatened with a supernova, your race packs up into 8,000 starships, searching for a new homeworld. Defending the civilian miragtion fleet is another vast fleet. You play the role of a starfighter pilot of the expermential EPIC class starfighter. During the mirgation to the new homeworld, the fleet must pass close hostile alien territory...and then the fun starts with the Rexxon to defend 60 million civilians on their star trek. The story and overall design was directly shamelessly lifted from the classic Battlestar Galactica with other elements from Wing Commander. At its heart, the game is a space combat sim with both space and dirtside action that are all designed around the mission to get the mirgation fleet to the new homeworld. The game was released in 1992 for the Amiga, ATARI ST, and DOS computers with good solid reviews. While there was a seque;, it was terrible, the original game was quite enjoyable anbd product of its day. The reason for it being forgotten is that EPIC came out at a time when space combat sims were hot and there was some amazing titles released around the same time, including X-Wing, there was just not the legs to keep it going. 

10. Chasm the Rift (Action Forms 1997)
With the arrival of the video game DOOM, the industry and what the consumer wanted, altered, It seemed that over the course of the 1990s, there was no end to the number of DOOM clones that flooded the market and some were better than others.One of the games that attempted to win the familiar to set it apart was 1997's Chasm the Rift. Developed by Action Froms and published by GT Interactive for MS-DOS PCs. Taking the role as a marine sent to defeat time travelling aliens across different time periods. While no bad then standards, it was just another FPS in a very crowded field.

20 February 2020

Ships of the Line: Raiders, Gunboats, and Marauders

For years, FWS has been diving deep in the starship classes commonly seen in science fiction and real-world water navies. Much of the attention is garishly paid in both to the big sexy warships and carriers, and no worship is paid to the smaller warships…or so it would seem. Some of the most famous starships in sci-fi like the Millennium Falcon and Serenity are not some dreadnought or space battleship, but smaller ships devoted to other missions and roles. When I thought about the mission of these little warships, I thought of the quote by President Kennedy: This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin -- war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It is a form of warfare uniquely adapted to what has been strangely called "wars of liberation," to undermine the efforts of new and poor countries to maintain the freedom that they have finally achieved. It preys on economic unrest and ethnic conflicts. It requires in those situations where we must counter it, and these are the kinds of challenges that will be before us in the next decade if freedom is to be saved, a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training.In this installment, in the nearly finished Ships of the Line series, we will be examining some smaller ship classes like gunboats, raiders, and marauders that wage space warfare like a guerrilla or assassin.

What is an "Raider"?
These are fast, light, maneuverable, and well-armed spaceships designed for quick “hit-and-fade” strikes on targets that require more offenisve power than just a FTL-capable spacefighter. While raiders are mostly seen in the hands of more undesirable factions, they can be used officially or unofficially by a government, as we have seen with the Bajoran Militia of DS9. These are prefect ships for black operations, space pirates, and false-flag operations. Due to the relative weakness, they can operate in wolf packs and strike at the soft underbelly of an enemy’s territory during hostilities. However, when directly confronted by larger, more powerful ships, generally, the raider will be forced to retreat or face destruction unless you're an Klingon Bird-of-Prey and you are facing off against the USS Enterprise.  


What is an "Gunboat"?
These little pocket warships devoted and designed to be a mobile weapons platform with everything devoted to offensive performance and little else. This class is armed with weapons that allow the spacebourne gunboat to punch above its weight class and engines to get the vessel into and out of trouble with the hull armor to handle a slug-match. The gunboat can be used for anti-capital ship assaults, softening up planetary targets, planetary siege warfare, and destruction of off-world resources (ship yards, mining platforms, and space stations). This issue with gunboat class vessels is that they lack a peacetime function and they are mission specific. This causes the bulk of space gunboats to be mothballed until wartime and to more limited production than many other combat starships. 

What is an "Marauder"?
The best way to describe a marauder class ship is a larger Raider type vessel that possesses the armaments for direct combat situations, the engines to outrun trouble when outgunned, and the cargo room to store booty from piracy, illegal trading, or blockade running. A great deal of the space pirate warships since in science fiction are more of the marauder type than raiders, due to their larger cargo holds. Some of these ships would be rebuilt or re-purposed other vessels transported into a Marauder class vessel like older merchant ships. This term of these specialized type of starship comes from the designation of the Ferengi Alliance D’Kora class trader/warship that maybe the only “warship” of Ferenginar.

The Real-World Naval Marauders, Raiders, and Gunboats
Like many other space warship classifications, the is a reflection of the sci-fi starships in the current and past ships that sailed the oceans. As one would suspect, the bulk of examples of marauders and raiders come from piracy, privateering, and commercial raiding under take by navies during times of war. Most of the privateering vessels from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were comprised of older warships and retrofitted commerce ships, and it is likely that starships of these types and roles would be the same. When it comes to gunboats, the class is much more defined and there is a great deal of naval history associated with the term. As many of us known from our time in American History class, the term “gunboat” is paired with “diplomacy” and for good reason.
Gunboats at the time were smaller warships with great maneuvering ability and armaments to bombard coastal targets. It was a tactic at the time to swarm larger warships to overwhelm them by the cheaper gunboats (AKA “gunvessel”). Throughout the 19th century wars, the smaller gunboats were able to bombard coastal targets and traverse rivers that were un-navigable by larger warships. This caused the gunboat to become the “patrol gunboat” over time and was famously used in the Vietnam War as the “brown water navy”.  Recently, the Royal Navy developed and deployed the River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels that have been labeled by the media as “gunboats”.     

Sci-Fi and the Raider, Gunboat, and Marauders Starships
Throughout the realm of science fiction, many different kinds of starships have been cast into the role as the primary spacecraft of a story, like the Enterprise, Serenity, the Far Star, the Razor Crest. While many think that just the big & sexy warships like the Galacticas and the Yamatos, get all of the attention and love; there is just as many stories that feature the smaller starships as the primary vehicle for the story. The Raiders, Gunboats, and Marauders types of spacecrafts are the hero ships of different types of stories that feature space pirates, space traders, bounty hunters, desperate people in desperate situations, lone wolves, and mercenaries. This trend can be seen hinted at with Zarkov's Rocket Ship in the early days of Flash Gordon. It then exploded in the 1970's with anime and manga stories like Cobra and Crusher Joe, that were fueled by our favorite space pirate, Han Solo, and the Millennium Falcon. With these tradition cemented into the popular culture, it has been carried on by characters like Star Lord and his Milano, the Guardians and their jumpships, and Captain Harlock and his Arcadia.  

Examples:

The Ferengi D'Kora class Marauder from the Star Trek Universe
In the early days of TNG, the Ferengi were being installed as the big bad enemy of the 24th century due to the Klingons being in an alliance with the Federation and the race was developed by Roddenberry and Herbert J. Wright. Wright took inspiration from then current 1980's in American society where greedy, money-making, and material possession were the national obsession. This was directly opposite to the Federation, where money and the massing of material wealth does not exist. During those early days of the Ferengi being the new enemy to the Federation, the only canon Ferengi warship was developed, the D'Kora and it was listed as a "marauder" in the noncanonized 1988 FASA ST:TNG Officer's Manual, but also in canon material as well later on. Some of the design by Andrew Probert of the class was based on a horseshoe crab.  
In the show, the D'Kora class was often cited as somewhat a match for the Galaxy class explorer, and was nearly has large with similar tactical abilities. Most of the D'Kora class was equipped with DE cannons, missile launchers, and even an EMP device to knock down shields and fusion generators to make the target easier prey. The primary role of the class was to be an armed cargo vessel that allowed its master to gain wealth by acts of honest trading or piracy. Speaking to this dual role, a great amount of the D'Kora class interior space was designated for cargo. The physical model of the D'Kora class was constructed by Greg Jein for the upcoming 5th episode of TNG, "The Last Outpost". In that episode, the Ferengi captain, or "DaiMon" surrendered to the Enterprise-D and the "neck" of the vessel extended to reveal sensitive areas of the marauder.
This neck extending trick was only seen once in the show and it was hard to see in the actual episode. Sadly, this awesome alien armed transport vessel was the victim of the move from the original concept of the Ferengi species to what we saw more in DS9. Over the lifespan of TNG, the D'Kora class was only seen a handful of times and was gone completely from DS9, but an CGI model D'Kora class was seen in one episode of Voyager. The ship would pop up in Trek video games, models, and in the card game, it is a rare ship that speaks to a moment in TNG history. One of the promised D'Kora toys by Galoob in their TNG toyline of 1987/1988...which FWS will cover soon. One of the plans was to have several Ferengi ships to enhance the Feregni figures, one was the "Ferengi Fighter" and the other was a six-inch die-cast "Ferengi Battleship" that would have been the counterpair to the Enterprise-D die-cast toy. I badly wanted both back in 1987. With the less-than-expected-sales, the Ferengi Fighter was produced, but the die-hard D'Kora was not. Only five prototypes are in existence of the die-cast crab-like ship.

The Corellian DP20Gunboat from The Star Wars RPG by West End Games
In the pages of the Rebel Alliance sourcebook by West End Games for their Star Wars RPG, there is an oddball variant to the very familiar Corellian CR90 Corvette: the DP20 gunboat. Labelled has a "frigate", the DP20 is actually an gunboat developed and devoted to being a smaller warship that is able to take on larger Imperial vessels with heavy firepower. Armed with all number of quad-laser cannons, turbo-laser cannons and concussion missile tubes, half of the crew of nearly 90 is tasked with manning the weapon systems. This is a classic spacegoing gunboat design and since I've owned this technical manual since high school, this directly impacted my thinking on this classification of warship. 

The Legion Zephyr Gunboat from "On the Edge Vol. 2 & 3" from the Alien Legion Universe
Undoubtedly, one of the best military sci-fi comics of all time is Epic's Alien Legion that has run off-and-on since 1984. In 1990, the comic underwent its 3rd format change with these larger, more expensive ($4.50 in 1990 money) editions that were like mini-graphic novels. Abandoned was the continuing monthly comic series that would never be seen again in Alien Legion history. In the first limited three-part series was the "On the Edge" story about the Legion warship Piecemaker and Force Nomad being trapped around the event horizon of a black hole and the fight for survival around the black hole. Force Nomad allied themselves with a powerful ancient race to escape the black hole, however, during the escape attempt, enemy warship set upon them. Unable to derive power to the weapons, the Piecemaker launched the Legion gunship Zephyr to prevent an attack crewed by volunteers. The powerful little ship attacked and crippled the much larger Varn/Hroth warship, keeping it from the Piecemaker. This was the very foundation of the idea of a spaceborne gunboat for me and its very mission to be an anti-capitol ship spacegoing gun platform formed how I judge all other space gunboats.



The Kazon "Raider" Starship from ST: Voyager

The Kazon race was used by the technologically superior Trabe race as slaves and their masters prompted the Kazon to fight among themselves to prevent them from uniting and overthrown the Trabe. About thirty years before the Federation achieved contact with the Kazon factions, that slave revolt happened and the Kazon split into groups and continued to fight among themselves with the newly acquired Trabe technological. One of the acquired Trabe combat ship classes was the "raider". This small warship was used to mount raids and patrol their space and often operated in groups to take down larger targets, like attacking the superior USS Voyager.
Given that the Kazon took their space fleet from their former masters and their own infighting, the Kazon had not yet developed their own starship classes. This caused the "raider" to be the more primary warship of the Kazon sects given its numbers produced. This was second smallest Kazon warship encounter by the Voyager with the "fighter being the smallest. Over the years, ST fans and sites have wondered if the "fighter" and the "raider" studio models were the same with only slight differences to separate them, but it seems that there were studio models for both that used Dan Curry and David Stipes designs.

The Arcadia Marauder from the Captain Harlock Universe
One of the most iconic characters of the 2nd Wave of Anime into the West was no other than space pirate Captain Harlock. For people of my generation that were into anime at the time, he was the Han Solo of the space anime and a complete badass. Depending on which Harlock backstory you consider "canon", depends on how you view the iconic ship of our beloved space pirate: The Arcadia. Developed by Tochiro Oyama, an 30th century engineer with the Solar Federation, he  constructed the ship that became the symbol of Phantom F. Harlock, a former starhip captain of the Solar Federation warship, the Death Shadow.
When Tochiro and Harlock met and found an ancient family connection, the two set off from occupied Earth to the stars in their marauder pirate warship, the Arcadia. For the most part, the Arcadia is a space battleship that is heavily automated with only a crew of forty needed to run her and it is heavily armed and armored. Given its mission to be independent, there commerce that the ship engages in and piracy, thus, making the Arcadia an marauder...which is a total stretch on my part, but 

The Rebel Alliance A/SF-01 "B-Wing" class Gunboat from the Star Wars Universe
During the Galactic Civil War, the Rebel Alliance developed the most powerful fighter of that conflict to even the odds of the gap between the Imperial Navy and the Rebel Alliance Fleet: The B-Wing. Developed by the Rebel Alliance during a critical time just before the Battle of Yavin IV, the central concept was to develop a fighter-sized gunboat that could bloody the nose of the Empire's frigates and other smaller warships that cost the Rebels so many ships and lives. The project, called "Shantipole" was head by Commander Ackbar and constructed by the insect Verpine aliens. However, Project Shantipole was betrayed by Imperial spies and the entire project was nearly captured by the Imperials if it were not for some brave actions taken by Rebel units and pilots. During the Galactic Civil War, the B-Wing was used to harass imperial supply lines, take down smaller warships, and attack orbital facilities. However, the gunboat performed poorly in dogfights with TIE fighters and needed A-Wing or X-Wing escort support.
Most Star Wars sources list the B-Wing as an bomber or an assault fighter, but given its mission to take on Imperial Naval warships or raid supply conveys along with it massive weapons array, I can also classify it has an "gunboat" as well. Here is my reasoning for classifying the B-Wings as an gunboat. The fighter operate much like sci-fi spacebourne gunboats by being a smaller vessel designed to take on larger targets with a massive weapons package and hyperdrive motivator to escape the battlespace before the TIE fighters flood.
Despite its fangs and ability to take ships vastly larger than itself, the B-Wing was expensive to product, easily outmatched in a dogfight, required expert pilots, and was more limited in tactical application. The original design by the Rebel Alliance was to feature two, with another gunner. The B-Wing was one of my favorite Star Wars fighters, next the A-Wing and even had the Kenner 1984/1985 B-Wing toy with the pilot. It was a massive fighter that was hard to play with, but made a hell of a display piece. The gunboat was developed and designed by Joe Johnson and Bill George. As the story goes, Bill George developed so much of the B-Wing  himself that it was nicknamed "The Bill-Wing Fighter". Due to the design of the fighter, a number of the scenes featuring the B-Wings were cut, but fans love the fighter and it has appeared in Star Wars Rebels and in short-stories with the "Blade Squad" of the Rebel Alliance.    

The Maquis Raider from Star Trek: DS9 and Voyager 
When the Federation sold out some border colonies to the Cardassian Union for peace, the settlers that would not settle someplace else formed an resistance movement called “the Maquis” and fought the Cardassians and sometimes the Federation. This became a home to Bajoran rebels that would not join the new provisional government or just liked a fight. Borrowing and stealing from were ever, the ships of the Maquis were older and more akin to shuttlecraft. The key vessel of the Maquis was their “Raider” that is listed as raider and seen being used as such. There was a small version that was referred to as a “fighter”. This tough little vessel was seen in the service with the Maquis in the excellent TNG episode of “Preemptive Strike”, the “Maquis” two part for DS9 the pilot to Voyager.
This ship was also used by the Federation during the Dominion War as the Peregrine class fighter that was an upgrade to the original Raider. Confused? Yeah…so am I. According to various sources, the original Maquis Raider and Fighter were made and fielded by Starfleet as a courier vessel. When the Maquis were formed, some Starfleet officers joined the resistance like Lt. Commander Kelvin Hudson and may have taken or allowed the Maquis to gain access to these couriers that came in two sizes…maybe short and long range models? It is likely that these “couriers” were phased out for the runabouts.
When the Dominion War came, Starfleet needed everything with an engine, shields, and weapons. That caused, and this is assuming here, that the old couriers were dusted off seeing their usage by the Maquis and given a massive upgrade to become the Peregrine class fighter. This is another case, like the Klingon Bird-of-Prey, were the SFX budget caused the recycling of a starship model to be many things to many roles/stories/races. Some online have wondered if the remains of the Maquis joined up with the cause against the Dominion and those “fighters” in the battles are actually Maquis with Federation upgrades.

The Draconian  Imperial class Frontier Defense Cruiser from Dr. Who "Star Tigers" Comics
Allow me to go off script for a moment…Doctor Who has a funny history for us original US fans. Many of us OG Who fans were in deep in the closet, due to Who not being cool in the general public back then, and we watched it mostly on public television which created somewhat of an issue. Depending on the station of PBS you watched and when, there was a massive lag between the Who that was airing in the UK and the Who airing in the US. For example, in the mid-1980’s, I watched the 4th Doctor when the 6th Doctor on was currently on British airwaves. In addition to this, we US fans also experienced Doctor Who via the iconic Target novelizations or the Marvel Doctor Who comics.
These comics were colored reprints of the Doctor Who Weekly and among the back pages were always smaller series. My favorite was the bloody adventures of Absolm Daak, Dalek Killer. Daak is a violent criminal in 26th century Terran space and is sentenced to a one-way suicide mission to a Dalek world. He survives and makes it to the Draconian Empire. It is there that he meets Prince Salander  and then he meets the prototype Imperial class Frontier Defense Cruiser. The ship was developed by Prince Salander’s own shipbuilding company to counter the growing threat by Dalek’s on their border.
The Prince himself identifies the vessel has a “gunship”.  According to the 1980 comic text, the Imperial was designed for deep space combat, in-atmosphere planetary ground attack and was armed to the teeth with laser cannons, missiles, and nukes. In the comic, the Kill-Wagon, as it was named by Daak, was a powerful little ship that took the fight to the murderous pepper pots. This is a great example of a sci-fi gunboat (gunships, to me, are more like attack helicopters) due to the small scale, crew, but punching way beyond its weight class. 
Bajoran Assault Raider Starship from ST: DS9 
The history of the planet of Bajor and the Bajoran people is an interesting one that does not follow the generalized pattern of worlds like Terra. While the Bajorans were exploring their star system when the New World was being conquered on Terra, they were nowhere near superior to the Federation or the Cardassians in the 24th century technologically. This caused the Bajorans to become victims and slaves to the Cardassians. For the most part, the Bajorans did not have anything close to a capital ship and the primary class of Bajoran warship was a non-warp drive impulse-craft that was used as a raider/patrol vessel by the Bajoran militia. Lightly armed with two DE emitters and limited shielding, these craft were well respected among freedom fighters and terrorists alike and were also seen in the Mirror Universe being used by the rebels. Unfortunately for this little ship that was designed by Jim Martin, the DS9 technical manual got its weaponry wrong due to error that was not found and corrected. Then there is also the issue of the proper name of the ship. Some sources refer to this Bajoran starships as “the interceptor” class, or the “patrol”, or “the Perikian” class.

The Imperial "Star Wing" Assault Gunboat from the Star Wars Universe
When it comes to the iconic starfighters of the Galactic Imperial military, the TIE fighters are the icon and the symbol. These bow-tie shaped craft are very different than the starfigther philosophy of the Rebel Alliance, but there is a point where those two different POVs on the starfigthers of Galactic Civil War meet...and that is with the Imperial Assault Gunboat. This was first scene in the excellent LucasArts 1993 fight-sim X-Wing. The player goes head-to-head with the gunboat in the original game and then gets a opportunity to pilot the gunboat in the sequel to X-Wing, Star Wars: TIE Fighter. While deadly in the game, the in-universe discussion is that the Star-Wing was not successful was replaced by newly heavier TIE "Defender" fighter class.

The Black Marauder from "Unification Pt. I" from ST:TNG 
One of the best two-parters in TNG history is the 1991 "Unification" and during the first part, the USS Enterprise is investigating Vulcan parts from the T'Pau being found in a crashed Ferengi vessel.This takes them to the Federation scrapyard and when more ships are missing, the Enterprise lays in wait. Soon, a mysterious heavily armed unidentified marauder arrived to take the place of the missing ship and is stealing beam-in spare parts. When confronted by the Enterprise-D to uncover its connection to the missing Vulcan ships, the Black Marauder attacks and is nearly a match for the Galaxy class Explorer. However, the weapons cargo in the marauder's cargo holds was unstable and when the Enterprise fired phasers, it set off interior explosions and the heavily armed pirate ship exploded.
Behind scenes, this mysterious craft was based on the familiar TNG model, called "the Jovis" based on the freighter used in the TNG episode "The Most Toys". This iconic model was designed and built by Gregory Jein. According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, this model may have been heavily modified from the Husnock warship studio model repeatedly for various alien spacecraft. The original model measuring 25inches × 14inches and was listed in the massive  40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction. It would sell for $4,800, which was about the top of the estimate. While we did not get a good look at the Black Marauder in the TNG episode, the model was reused in the Voyager episode "Warlord" and Eaglemoss made a die-cast model of the ship and called it "the smuggler combat vessel." This is the best view we've had of the mysterious black ships that was oddly compelling for me.

The Guardian Jumpship Raiders from the Destiny Universe
For many, Destiny is a maddening experience that was shaped by promises not kept and hints of greatness. One of the most unused items in the game was the Guardians' "jumpships" that serve as mere objects in loading screens and some cinematic. In the original game, Jumpships can be bought from Amanda Holliday in the Tower after the original Jumpship is located and a hyperdrive is also located. Certain models and colors of Jumpships are based on faction and expansion packs. There is no difference, save for cosmetic, between the various Jumpships, and they seem to be a broken element of the game. In the game lore, the Jumpship is a FTL personal raider that is used by Guardians in pre-and-post fall times to travel throughout the solar system and wage war on the enemies of man.

The B'rel Class Bird-of-Prey Raider from Star Trek
One of the most impressive, loved, and celebrated (and overused) non-Federation starships is the Klingon Bird-of-Prey (BoP). Designed by Nilo Rodis of ILM for ST: III the Search for Spock, it was an arresting design that has been heavily  reused for Trek works of all media types for the next few decades. In the lore of the Trek universe, the original concept Klingon Bird-of-Prey was a joint project between the Romulan and Klingon empires during their military pact against the Federation. In the Romulan navy, their Bird-of-Prey is known as an “S-11 BoP cruiser” and in the Imperial Klingon Defense Force, the BoP is known as “K-22 BoP scout” and were designed for scout and raiding missions.
Then things got complicated…Due to the popularity of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey and the limited SFX budget of the TNG TV show, the model for the BoP was heavily used and to attempt to solve the issue when the BoP, which is listed as a “scout/raider” of only 110 meters, was seen out of scale; the writers of TNG made a new supersized BoP design: the K’Vort class heavy cruiser that was first mentioned by name in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and mostly used after for the bulk of the BoP class seen on-screen. However, the scale of the BoP is completely out of whack and there is an entire article about it on Ex Astra Scientia. For the smaller, B’rel scout/raider, the vessel has been used to wage rapid offensive actions as seen in ST III: TSFS, and even seen in wolf packs to take down larger prey. During the Klingon/Cardassian War, Dukat acquired an BoP of his own and used to conduct independent raids on Klingon targets around 2372.  There is some evidence that the Dukat BoP was an B’rel.

Orion Interceptor Class Raider from ST: Enterprise
The Orions have always a mysterious race in Trek and never seemed to get their due until Enterprise when the Orions were featured more extensively during the excellent Augment storyline. Given their role as slavers, traders, and pirates, the Orions used fast moving, heavily armed raider spacecraft to take what could make a profit and what could be teleported away. While these raiders were very different than the FASA Orion ships, I am a big fan of the hawk-like design of the Orion intercpetor class.

The “M Ship” Raider from the Marvel Cinematic Universe
One of the popular starships in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the small ships used by the space pirate Ravagers, especially Peter Quill’s personal Ravager starship Milano. These are called “M Ship” in the various sources and are extensively used by the Ravagers as their method for conducting raids and other illegal black market commerce.  These can be controlled by as little as one pilot or a full crew of 3-5 with limited cargo room, making them more suited for quick assaults than booty gathering.
While the Ravager use a central mother ship as their “home”, some Ravagers, like Peter Quill seem to use their M Ship Raiders as their home and sleep on the ships, giving these vessels some long-range extensive usage. It also seems that the Ravagers are all assigned to an M Ship raider. When it comes to offensive capabilities, there is very little on the armament of the vessel besides what is seen on-screen. During the battle in the Xandar skies against Ronan, several Ravager M Ships use what appears to be twin mounted KE machines guns in the nose of the M Ships. Some of the raiders in the battle have increased weapon pods, but the weapon appears to be the same: some sort of kinetic machine gun. These lovely and wonderful designed raider starships have been much loved by fans, including myself that has a Milano on the FWS desk.

The "Gunship" of the Galactic Empire from Legends of  Galactic Heroes Universe
One of the best and most involved/developed military science fiction animes is the expansive Legends of Galactic Heroes. Dozens of spaceborne warships are seen in this fictional universe and they do have a gunboat type. The little cubed Imperial craft is designed to delivery deadly force onto enemy targets via anti-ship missiles and KE railguns or even DE cannons. This is transported to the battlefield via a carrier vessel due to their lack of FTL drive and only has a crew of one. While fitted with engines and heavy armament, these were a risky vessel to be assigned due to their lack of shielding and this may have been a suicide mission. Several of these gunships could punch a hole into enemy lines or create holes in battlelines to allow for opportunity to break the enemy's lines. Like most sci-fi gunboats, these are centered around their armament and its ability to take on larger targets.   

Next Time on FWS...
For years, FWS has been exploring and explaining the possible root causes of future wars and conflicts. It is high time that we discussed one of the most important elements that is predicted to be the genesis of many future wars here on Terra and possibly on off-world colonies: sources of water. Join us soon (with a big tall glass of ice water) for What We Will Fighter Over: Water!

24 December 2019

Guns from the Future: the US Army Advanced Combat Rifle Program(1986-1990)

After the 2nd World War, the concept of what an infantryman should carry into battle was changing in vast ways. Gone would be weapons like the M1 Garand, the K98, and the Lee-Enfield Mark IV, that were replaced with battle rifles like the FN FAL and the M14 and the new kid on the block: the assault rifle. America would adopt its first assault rifle formally in 1969: the Colt M16. Developed by ArmaLite engineers Eugene Stoner, Jim Sullivan, and Bob Fremont in the 1950's, the AR-15 was sold to Colt in 1959 and was serious departure from the M14 battle rifle. Advanced for its time, the M-16 would enter directly into war in the jungles of Vietnam. Even at the time of adoption by the US armed forces, there were programs ongoing to find the infantry weapon of the future. However, it wasn't until 1986 that the US Army and USAF would find put the newly updated M16 platform, the M16A2, head-to-head with four next-generation military rifles under the Advanced Combat Rifle Program (or ACR Program). FWS will finally be exploring an interesting time in the history of combat rifles and the M16's history with the ACR Program that ran from 1986-1990. This article has been requested for sometime and it is finally nice to dive into this program. Please note, the H&K G11 caseless rifle and its examples with be explored in much more extensive depth with its own Guns from the Future article in the near future.

The Predecessor to ACR: SPIW, Project SALVO
After World War II, there was a number of studies and research conducted attempting to figure the path for the future of warfare…including military firearms. As early as 1948, there were studies conducted on the future of small arms in the wake of atomic warfare and these initial studies, like Project BALANCE by the Operations Research Office, had started the conversation about flechettes ammunition. In 1952, dueling reports spoke of combat between less than 300 meters with greater need for “pattern dispersion” ammunition and smaller caliber weapon may be able to deliver greater wounding effects and controllable fully automatic fire. In November of 1952, the ORO developed Project SALVO for a controlled volley/burst fire weapon that may use duplex or dart ammunition. During the same time, one of the founders of AAI, Irwin R. Barr was investing into his own personal obsession of flechette ammunition to develop a single flechette cartridge for a next type of infantry rifle. In 1956, government funding came towards developing a single flechette cartridge firing rifle that moved at 4,000 FPS. In June of 1956, the first Project SALVO ammunition were being tested via mule weapons. In 1957, it was decided to move forward with development of flechette cartridges…but, there was no flechette rifle platform yet. The SALVO testing had been conducted using modified Winchester Model 70 rifles.
It was not until 1962 that the military released their goals for their future flechette-firing weapon, along with a new name for the weapon: the Special Purpose Individual Weapon or SPWI. In the winter of 1962, 10 companies had submitted proposals for their own take on the SPWI and that playing field was narrowed down to just four: AAI, Springfield Armory, Harrington & Richardson, and Winchester. The multi-million dollar project was aimed at a next-gen weapon that was less than 10lbs loaded with three grenades and 60 rounds of flechettes. When the prototypes emerged and where being tested in July of 1963, McNamara watched the demonstration and wanted 1,000 prototypes to be made and sent to the battlefields of South Vietnam. This idea was later rejected. In April of 1964, three of the final SPWI candidate rifles were shipped to Fort Benning for testing and the results were not good: none of the candidates were able to move on to Phase II based on mechanical issues. That was not the end of SPWI however. More time and money was given to the project, but by 1966, it seemed that AAI was the only arms company left standing. During this time, the early version of the M16 was making its own path to be the next infantry rifle.
However, the ballooning budget of the program (over $20 million in 1960’s money) caused Congress to investigate the program along with some health concerns associated with the materials used in the flechette ammunition construction. The project was still not dead and it continued onto the 1970’s  that reached its apex in a terrible October 1974 test of an AAI XM70 and an 4.32x45mm XM16E1 Series Bullet  Rifle that saw the AAI rifle fail after just six bursts of fire. That was pretty much the end of the SPWI program, but AAI privately continued on with flechettes with the CAWS project and then their own entry into the ACR Program in 1986. 

The Goals of the US Army ACR Program
The M16 and its second improvement, the M16A2 were still relatively new when the US Army and US Air Force which begs the question: why did was the ACR Program undertaken? Research had shown that the 21st century battlefield required an improved combat rifle that would have greater hit probability during combat stresses at greater ranges. According to statistics included with the ACR Program, an infantryman with an M16 in combat stress condition would only have a 10% chance of hitting a target at 300 meters. Complicating matters was the greater spread of ballistic armor to soldiers at the time. When a infantryman hit their intended target, there was the possibility that effectiveness of the impacted round would be lessened by the body armor that may not even wound the target. One of the requirements of the US Army ACR Program was to greatly increase the hit probability of the rifleman in combat with new advanced ammunition types and firing those new ammunition in bursts/salvos, allowing for more rounds on the target. Thus, increasing the hit probability and lethality over the M16A2 by an increase of 100%. In addition to increasing the hit probability, the ACR Program wanted to increase detection of targets at ranger greater than 400 meters in offensive actions and 1,000 meters in defense operations over the current M16. This was to be undertake by an advance in weapon optics for the ACR candidate rifles. The ACR Program also wanted an improved ACR fire control system that would allow for more effectiveness in all battlefield conditions. Concurrently, the ACR Program wanted to not only develop an advanced combat rifle, but also for that ACR combat rifle to serve as the foundation for a new advanced close support weapon and an advanced grenade system to replace the M203.   

The General History of the Advanced Combat Rifle Program

The Genesis of the ACR Program
In April of 1980, the US Congressional House Armed Services Committee began the ACR Program by asking the Joint Service Small Arms Program office to undertake a study of the current combat service rifle, the M16A1. This Combat Rifle Study (CRS) would return with the M16A1 being still up to standard, however, there was room for improvement. It was that room for improvements found in the CRS  report with the  current M16 that formed the foundation for the requirements for the next combat rifle. The CRS caused the then undersecretary of the US Army, James Ambrose to push for a project to field an improved combat rifle over the M16.
In 1982, James Ambrose endorsed a 10-12 year project timeline to develop an advanced combat rifle with an eye towards caseless and salvo ammunition in association with improved optics. What followed in September in 1982 was the US Army awarding contracts to AAI and Heckler & Koch to explore caseless and salvo ammunition along with optics for these next-generation rifles under the Caseless Ammunition Rifle System (CARS) program. It was under the CARS Program that AAI was working on a 4.32mm caseless rifle that was very similar to the SPWI rifle and the AAI ACR flechette candidate rifle.
During this time, the improved M16, the A2, was classified in November of 1982 while the foundation of the future ACR Program was being laid down. Between the years of 1983-1985, the effort to seek out a next-generation combat rifle to replace the M16 gained traction and speed as the CARS program was folded into the emerging program. Performance goals and meetings were held to put the logistics of the ACR Program into reality. In January of 1985, the Advanced Combat Rifle Program was born.

Phase I (1985/1986)
The US Army issued six funded contracts to some of the most well-known defense companies in the world with the industry alternative program at around February of 1986. However, in the official US Army report issued in 1992, it starts that the contracts were issued in 1985. Those six companies were: AAI Corporation, ARES Inc., Colt, McDonnell Douglas, Steyr-Mannlicher, and Heckler & Koch. According to the document on the ACR Program, the US Army reached out to eight companies, five companies were minimally accepted for a “breadboard demonstrator” presentation of their ACR model at the end of six months. However, it was too narrow of a timeframe and none of the five were able to present their ACR prototype and the government extended the timeframe out to 21 months.  From the official report, H&K was already being considered and was not part of the five “breadboard demonstrator” contracts. At the end of Phase I of the ACR Program, live-fire demonstration and presentations was held along with initial evaluation for the candidate advanced combat rifles. It was here that two of the six candidate rifles were dropped from the ACR Program due to issues with the ammunition and/or mechanical operation of the candidate rifle at around 1987. Dropped were the ARES Industry ACR that fired 5mm caseless rounds and the McDonnell Douglas ACR that fired these oddball “chiclet” rounds that fired salvos of flechettes, almost like a shotgun shell. These weapons will be discussed in further detail below. 

Phase II (1987-1988)
At the beginning of Phase II of the ACR Program in 1987, two of the six were dropped from consideration, leaving us with the “Fab Four”: H&K G11, AAI ACR, the Colt ACR, and the Steyr ACR. During Phase II, it seemed that more tests were conducted to make sure these prototype combat rifles and their exotic ammunition types were safety enough for the rigorous field testing being planned at the upgraded Buckner Range. Also during Phase II was more logistical planning and discussions of the testing parameters of these next-generation combat rifles. On the other end, the companies still in the running were likely improving their candidate rifles and constructing the amount of rifles and ammunition necessary for the upcoming Phase III testing. It was during Phase II that the US Navy and US Marines withdrew their support for the ACR Program in December of 1987 at the Test Integration Working Group.

Phase III (1989-1991)
In August of 1989, Phase III was undertaken with the Fab Four. This was the actually field testing of the Fab Four ACR candidate rifles done at the Buckner Range at Ft. Benning, Georgia in early 1990. The actual Phase III field testing was conducted in itself in three phases that involved different conditions and shooters. Prior to the field testing at the Buckner Range, the US Army and USAF personnel were instructed in the ACR Program safety procedures, testing rules, and introduction to the weapons themselves from July 17th-28th, 1989 at Ft. Benning. While information is limited, I've read that on March 3, 1989, H&K shipped the first 5 G11 ACR cadidates to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Then in May of 1989, instructors from H&K cam to teach how this advanced weapon worked. Just before the field testing in January of 1990, there was a two day refresher. Each company was required to send 15 ACR candidate rifles along with about 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Besides the Fab Four ACR candidates, there would be 15 standard M16A2 rifles to serve as a baseline, ten rifle optics for use on some of the M16A2, 10 M16A2 that were modified to fire full-auto with muzzle breaks.
For the weeks long Phase III field testing at the Buckner Range, and grueling schedule of weapons testing, that went beyond just firing at targets. The US Army wanted the ACR candidate rifles to be tested as close to combat conditions as possible in a controlled environment during peacetime. To simulate those combat conditions, the field testing was conducted at various times of the day and in various weather conditions. Activities like dispersion fire, hit performance firing were held in conjunction with testing the Fab Four for reliability, maintainability, human factors, safety, and compatibility. During the three phases of testing at Ft. Benning, both male and female shooters were recruited for gathering testing data on how these ACR candidates were handled by the different sexes in combat.
Both the US Army and USAF sent 10 personnel a piece (5 men and 5 women) to fire the ACRs and M16A2s  from standing, prone, and foxhole positions at silhouette targets between 25-600 meters with both iron sights and optics. All manner of data collection methods and machinery was used to make sure that a fair evaluation was conducted. Along with US Army and US Air Force personnel, there were independent contractor-evaluators from Wetzel International to provide another set of eyes on the selection process for the ACR. According to several sources, the field testing portion at Ft. Benning ended at around August of 1990 and the final report was issued in February of 1992 

The 3 Advanced Ammunition Types in the ACR Program

Duplex
What if there was two bullets inside the same cartridge and every time you pull the trigger, two bullets went down range? That idea lead to several experiments with packing an 5.56mm, 7.62mm, and 6.35mm cartridges with two bullets to increase the hit probability with a single trigger pull. That was thinking behind the Colt ACR entry with its 5.56x45mm Duplex ammunition. It makes some sense, but not when put into action. Often the secondary round is a great deal more inaccurate and that is a bad thing in some tactical situations. Then there was increased recoil and expense to the rounds themselves. 

Caseless
Caseless weaponry has been a darling of sci-fi KE weaponry for decades and one of the most famous sci-fi firearms, the Colonial Marines M41a1 Pulse Rifle fires 10mm caseless rounds. Several attempts have been made to develop a caseless combat rifle, with the most serious being the H&K G11 that was the end product of a expensive project going back to the 1960's by Heckler & Koch.
Interestingly enough, there was a 3rd Reich attempted towards the end of the war with developing an caseless combat rifle in 8mm. Four experimental caseless rounds were found in the ruins of Hillerslaben Providing Grounds and interviews with captured officials informed the Allies of an Nazi caseless ammo program that was begin in 1932.
Caseless ammunition has several more advantages over conventional ammunition: less weight. carrying capability, and increased rate of fire due to the lack of need for the ejection cycle. However, unlike conventional ammo, caseless ammo can "cook-off" when the exposed to hot elements of the firearm, the ammo can be brittle and break under some environmental conditional and rough transport. Then were was the complexity factor with caseless weapons as seen in the G11. R&D work into caseless ammunition continues with projects like the LSAT and we could still see yet an military grade caseless weapon in the near future.

Flechette
One of the cool futuristic ammunition types that seen throughout sci-fi is those hypervelocity little darts, or "Flechettes" or even "needlegun". While flechettes have been used on the battlefield since World War I as an air-drop weapon, artillery shells, or in shotgun shells, their use as the ammunition in a combat rifle has been experimental or a limited use weapon like the Soviet APS amphibious rifle. Several attempts have been made to incorporate flechette firing assault rifles into military organizations like the earlier SPIW program and then followed by the ACR program with three entries firing these deadly darts: the Steyr ACR, the failed ARES ACR entry, and the AAI ACR.
These little killer darts have been shown to be grimly effective in inflicting serious trauma along with a relative flat trajectory, but programs that have attempted to develop needleguns have shown needeguns have limited range and lack of accuracy over conventional ammunition. Another issue that was mention in the 1992 report was the lack of tracer flechette ammunition in existence. This was a high priority need if and when the US Military ever accepted needleguns as their standard combat rifle and later on, an LMG.

The “Fab Four” Candidates

The Steyr ACR
For their candidate to the US Army ACR trials, Steyr-Mannlicher of Steyr, Austria sent a weapon that was designed by Ulrich Zedrosservery and stylistically similar to their famous bullpup futuristic-looking 5.56mm assault rifle: the AUG. That the time of the trial, the Steyr AUG was adopted by many US friendly nations as their standard rifle. According to some rumors back in the 80’s, the US Army was also looking at adopting the AUG to replace the M16.
This was the most compact of the ACR candidate of the Fab Four and had the lowest magazine count at 24, but it has the longest barrel due to its bullpup configuration. It was noted by the evaluators having the lowest cost of production in both weapon and ammunition along being simple in operation. The ACR bullpup assault rifle fired a high velocity 1.6inch long 9.85 gain finned flechette projectile from a synthetic casing that was rough the same size of the M16 5.56x45mm round. These SCF darts were aimed by the shooter by either an iron sight or a low-power 1.5x optical sight. One of the standout features of the Steyr ACR was that the flechettes had a velocity of 4,700-4,900 feet-per-second (an M16 M855 5.56mm round travels at roughly 3,100 feet-per-second). For the Phase III testing at Ft. Benning, Steyr sent 15 rifles with 90,000 flechette rounds and it provided to one of the top two ACR candidate rifles.

The Colt M16A2 ACR
Given that Colt was supplying the US military with their standard infantry rifle since the late 1960’s, Colt wanted to keep their juicy government contract and decided to submit their own ACR candidate that looked very similar to the M16A2. It is worth noting that this time; Colt of Hartford, CT was working on the future famous M4 assault carbine, which was in the US Army report as the “XM4”.
For the most part, the Colt ACR looks and functions nearly the same as the M16A2 and this ACR, unlike any other of the ACR candidates, could fire the conventional M855 5.56x45mm standard round. Some of the design of the Colt ACR echoes into today with the M4 carbine like the flattop design and telescoping stock, but there were several elements that separated it from the M16A2: the aiming rib, muzzle break, oil spring buffer, and the exotic ammunition. For the requirements of the ACR Program, the engineers at Colt turned to upgrading their M16 platform to firing an “two-for-one” ammo type: the Duplex Round.
Inside the cartridge casing that was 5.56mm, was two sabots, one that was 33 grains and another that was 35 grains. This had been tried before in an 7.62x51mm duplex round built by Olin Corporation. While seemingly an easy solution to the goals of the ACR Program, one of the Colt ACR rifles actually exploded during use by a contractor due to a jamming in the bore effect. The contractor was not injured, but an investigation was launched. Another interesting element of the Colt ACR ammunition was that all of the duplex rounds were x-rayed to confirm that duplex sabots were in the correct position to prevent issues.  For the Phase III testing at Ft. Benning, Colt sent about 15 rifles with 53,000  Duplex and 10,000 M855  rounds. Interestingly enough, some of the changes/upgrades to the M16A2 via the ACR variant were cited by the ACR Program report as being needed in the next upgrade to the M16, the A3.

The AAI ACR
Until I started on the research phase of this article, I’d never heard of the defense company known as AAI. AAI of Hunt Valley, Maryland, is a major defense aerospace contractor that has been owned by Textron Systems since 2007 and has been involved with the attempt by the US Army to develop a next-generation infantry rifles since the 1950’s with the old SPWI Program. AAI would take the lessons learned from the SPWI rifle candidate and use them to forge their own ACR candidate rifle. In terms of appearance, the AAI ACR is the most traditional looking, calling back to the battle rifles and some elements of the M16. It was also the longest rifle in the test, coming in at 40inches and with a barrel that was 21.3inches. This was slightly bigger than the M16A2 along with being heavier.
This smoothbore rifle fired an saboted fin-stabilized flechette packed into the standard 5.56x45mm casing in either 3-round bursts or semi-auto. This presented several issues with the AAI ACR because the AAI ACR could not fire the traditional M16 5.56mm ball ammunition, like the standard M885 round without critically damaging the AAI rifle, but originally, the AAI ACR could accept regular STANAG M16 magazines. That means in the heat of battle, an shooter could jam an regular M16 mag loaded with regular ammo into the AAI ACR rifle and attempt to fire it with critical damage between done. Thus, AAI altered the magwell of their ACR candidate, preventing the use of STANAG magazines. However, there was nothing prevent a desperate soldier from hand-loading an regular 5.56mm round into the chamber of the AAI ACR.   

One addition to the AAI ACR candidate was the combination sound suppressor/flash hider mounted on all of the AAI needle-rifles. This was due to the massive report and flash when the AAI ACR was fired. According to the information I read, the unmodified prototype rifle was louder than the M16 and had greater muzzle flash. Even with the addition of the suppressor/flash hider, the AAI ACR was still slightly louder than the M16A2 unsuppressed! This could have made the AAI ACR problematic for Special Operations units when the mission required stealth and not direct-action.
For the Phase III testing at Ft. Benning, AAI sent 15 rifles with 90,000 flechette rounds. One interesting one...for the Phase III testing at Ft. Benning, H&K sent 15 rifles with 75,000 flechette rounds.There is something interesting about AAI and flechette ammunition. From the US Army ACR Program report I have, it seems like AAI Corporation was the only one in the USA that could manufacture flechette rifle ammunition due to their involvement in the 1960's SPIW project.On page 10 of Appendix B of the US Army report, it states that AAI Corporation "was the repository of the equipment necessary to product the flechettes needed for both their (AAI) contract and the Steyr-Mannlicher contract and the MDHC (McDonnell Douglas ACR) contract)". 

The H&K G11K2 ACR  

Among the Fab Four ACR candidate rifles that were being tested the summer of 1990 at Ft. Benning, the Heckler & Koch experimental caseless G11 rifle was the most advanced, tested, and risky. For the test, H&K had shipped 15 G11 "Konfiguration 2" or "K2" to the ACR Program field trials along with 75,000 of rounds of the caseless 4.73x33mm ammunition. Oddly, this West German rifle owed its then current existence to the 1981-1988 undersecretary of the US Army: James R. Ambrose. By the time of the early 1980's, the H&K caseless rifle concept was looking for more funding due to the October 1980 NATO STANAG 4172 that adopted the 5.56x45mm round over other contenders, like the H&K 4.7mm caseless round.
The US Army issued an $3.8 million dollar contract for H&K to develop further the concept of  the caseless ammunition rifle system or CARS. This program was folded into the ACR Program in 1986 and things were looking good for the H&K G11. The West German and US Army were both reviewing the bullpup G11 for adaptation, which would solve the company's mounting debt from the G11 R&D costs. Then it all went wrong...but more on that later. By the time the G11 was entered into the ACR Program, H&K had been working on the G11 caseless rifle concept since the late 1960's and was a leader in the field of R&D on caseless ammunition. Not everyone was totally sold on the idea of an caseless rifle for the US Army and if adopted, it would caused a revolution in the types of weapons used. It is highly likely that if the ACR Program trials had put their stamp of approval on the G11 magic space gun, that the US Army would adopted the G11 LMG and 4.73x25mm PDW that were in development for the Bundeswehr as well. The H&K entry into the ACR Program was unique to say the least and it was designed around its advanced and groundbreaking ammunition.
Developed by the West German chemical firm Dynamit Nobel, the caseless ammunition was one of the most difficult elements for the development of the G11. The roughly red-orange box-shaped ammunition was brittle and could crack and break if roughly handled or exposed to hostile conditions. If the propellant was cracked or clipped, the round could fail to load or worse. H&K themselves claimed that the 4.73 DM11 round was waterproof and able to withstand rough treatment. However, to solve any issues, the 51 grain 4.73mm caseless ammo was shipped into the sealed clear plastic containers. The long and skinny 45 round magazines were reloaded by peeling off the seal and placing the ammo reloading case onto the magazine and pressing down to feed the ammo into the G11 magazine. An important note on the ammunition, it is listed as being 4.73x33mm by H&K, but then the G11K2 ACRs shipped to the US were listed as firing an 4.92x34mm round.
I was confused and researched if two ammunition types were developed for the G11. According to the sources online, it was the way the US and Germany differed in the way they measured the ammunition and the ammo are one in the same. The caseless ammunition surrounded the 4.7mm projectile in a block of HMX propellant that allowed for higher rounds-per-minute rate of fire and more ammunition to be carried by the soldier. The K2 variant was designed to allow the rifle to carry three loaded magazines on its front assembly totaling 135 rounds. This would allow vehicle operators and pilots to carry just the G11K2 in their vehicles with three magazines ready to go when they to evacuate from the vehicle in a hurry without having to hunt down ammunition pouches or being limited to just one or two magazines of far less than 135 rounds.
To meet the goal of the ACR Program of putting more rounds onto the targets, the G11 ACR candidate fired a three round burst that delayed the recoil until the last bullet left the barrel. However, as you can see in the gif, the recoil looks brutal and was unlike any other rifle at the time. Interestingly enough, the three-round burst had a higher rate-of-fire than the full auto mode (2100 vs. 460). As noted by many today and even then, the internal mechanism of the G11 was grossly complex to the point of people making jokes that you needed a master's in engineering to service the weapon. In the 1989 manuals issued to the nearly 50 shooters of the ACR Program informed the user of the G11 to stop at a certain point in servicing the weapon due to its complexity. Much more about the bullpup German Magic Space Gun will be covered in a upcoming Guns from the Future article.

The Other Two Candidate Rifles
Both of these candidate rifles were terminated out of the ACR Program around Phase II and well before the Phase III trials (around 1987). Some sources point to the ARES and MDHC candidates are allowed to reenter the ACR Program in October of 1987. However, this means that both the ARES and MDHC ACRs where not field tested against the Fab Four.

The ARES-Olin AIWS ACR
During the initial phases of the ACR Program, the ARES ACR candidate was considered the highest rated of the six candidate combat rifles and the ARES ACR rifle had included all goals of the ACR Program into their design. This weapon was designed by ARES Inc. and the Olin chemical company, which was involved with several other of the ACR candidates. Interestingly enough, one of the heavyweights of the firearms world, Eugene Stoner, designed this drum-fed next-gen combat rifle.
While similar in mechanical function as the Steyr ACR rifle, the unique feature of the ARES-Olin AIWS candidate was its drum-fed plastic-cased 5mm ammunition. The full-telescoped projectile was 5mm and weight in at 45 grains and encased plastic casing of GTX-910. The ammunition was designed and made by the Olin Company, while the weapon itself was made by ARES. ARES and Olin altered the design of the drum-magazine several times and when the weapon was submitted to the ACR Program, it was throw-away non-reloadable 60-round plastic drum that was loaded into the rear of the weapon, making the ARES ACR candidate the one of the two bullpup candidate rifles.
Another odd concept was to have all-tracer ammunition to allow the shooter to adjust their fire during firing. This was the so-called “close loop fire control” and it could not be fully demonstrated at Phase I. The ACR Program had issues with the bulkiness of the drum-magazine and the throw-away nature of it as well. There were issues with accuracy and the ammunition did not achieving “full ballistic performance” at the time of the ACR Program Phase I testing nor the weapon being about to demonstrate the Closed Loop Fire Control tactic. What the 1992 summary cited as the main reason for rejection of the ARES ACR candidate rifle was the plastic ammunition not being stiff enough to prevent jamming and misfire at an unacceptable level.
There were attempts to fix the issue during the testing, but it was unsuccessful and deemed by the ACR Program as a “critical concept defect”. While terminated from the ACR Program, the door was left open for the ARES ACR candidate to rejoin the program if there was time. Unfortunately, the ARES candidate was not able to reenter the program in time and was not evaluated by the ACR Program. The date for this withdraw of the ARES ACR rifle was in April of 1989 and ARES themselves withdrew the weapon due to technical challenges that could not be overcome.

The McDonnell Douglas AIWS ACR
Out of all of the six original ACR Program candidates, the most insane entry and ammunition type was presented by the McDonell Douglas Helicopter Company (MDHC) in their side-loading salvo-firing rifle. The AIWS weapon itself was an “lockless” recoil-operated advanced concept rifle and was designed by Goldin Maury back in the 1970s with work done by James Sullivan in the 1980s. Due to the rarity of information on the MDHC ACR candidate rifle and some issues of clarity, there are mysteries surrounding this entry associated with its ammunition.
We know that originally the MDHC entry had been developed the AIWS in the 1970’s has a salvo-firing rifle that used rectangle-shaped caseless ammunition that was nicknamed “chiclet” that housed duplex or even triplex bullets in 8.6mm in a propellant bed. Due to issues of higher than expected recoil and semi-auto fire mode only, the concept was reworked to have the weapon to fire flechettes instead via the same “chiclet” ammunition concept. Ten of these chiclet ammo packages were loaded into a side-loading magazine, yielding a great amount of firepower.
The timeframe of the switch from bullets to darts is unknown, but it very likely around the time of the beginning of the ACR Program. It is noted in the ACR Program summary that MDHC attempted several different types of flechette ammunition until settling on three darts packed into a .338 cartridge. These flechette-firing MDHC AIWS ACR prototypes were tested again by the ACR Program during Phase II in May of 1988. By June of 1988, the ACR Project dropped the MDHC ACR candidate again, ending their bid. Again, the immaturity of the prototype rifles came clearly through and issues arose due to the complex ammunition that was indeed a salvo weapon, but lacked polish and effectiveness due to the massive technical issues. There was also aiming issues with the flechettes, including that none of the deadly darts were on target in short distances and even more problematic in longer distances.    

The Outcome of the ACR Program 
Since the US armed forces is still using the M16 assault rifle today in 2019, you can safely assume the outcome of the $300 million US Army tests to locate a possible candidate or an technologically avenue to explore to replace the M16A2. While each ACR candidate rifle did indeed offered something new and inventive to the table in late-1980’s strategic thinking. The trial was held in summer of 1990, at the Fort Benning with USAF and Army personnel involved putting the Fab Four and an M16A2 through their paces at Buckner Range, which given an expensive and extensive makeover just for the ACR Program trials. It was hoped that the Buckner Range would replicate as-close-as-possible conditions to combat, allowing for an honest and effective test of both the ACR candidates as well as the new weapons munitions technology on display. According to several articles I read about the outcome of torturous combat trials at Fort Benning, the M16A2 still did very well against the next-generation candidate rifles, but none of them, including the M16A2, achieved the nearly impossible 100% increase hit probability desired by the ACR Program goals.
While the developers of these weapons and the Army brass may have thought the $300 million project was a waste, the official ACR Program summary stated that in someways the ACR Program was a success in showing how far these exotic ammunition types had come since earlier programs and tests. In addition, the report speaks glowingly of the field testing itself and the surprising success of the baseline M16A2 in the field trials.
That being said, for the time being, the US Army would stay with the M16A2 platform and move in another direction to increase lethality and hit probability.
It was concluded by the Army Infantry School upon completion of the ACR Program final report that explosive ammunition would be the path forward to achieve the goals and this resulted in the Objective Individual Combat Weapon Program that yielded the H&K XM29 OICW weapon. FWS will be covering both the weapon and program in a future installment of this series. While each one of the ACR candidates was praised for different elements of their design and ammunition, there were serious issues with all of the Fab Four that prevented any forward movement with any of the Fab Four or their ammunition. Many articles online gloss over the final results in very overview prospective, however, I wanted to know more about the actual results and how each candidate gun fared in the Phase III field trials. Here is what I found out:

The Steyr ACR Final Verdict
According to the US Army's final summary report from February of 1992, the Steyr ACR candidate was well-liked by the US Army and USAF shooters, but while the weapon itself was well received, the ammunition was not. The flechette rounds were worse overall than the standards set by the ACR Program test guidelines in the three firing ranges tested (short, intermediate, and long). It did not matter if it was semi-auto or full-auto fire and it got even worse when it came to the long range shooting (less than 10%). However, at short range, around 25 meters, the Steyr ACR did very well, and it really shined in the 50 and 75 meter range testing with full-auto and semi-auto fire with had the higher hit probability than the standard set by the M16A2. After this, the result became much worse. Some modifications were made to the flechette ammunition of the AAI and Steyr candidates by shortening the darts by 0.10 inches. This caused less tumbling and less lethality than previous test results.
There was much praise in the summary for the low cost per unit for the Steyr ACR, which was even lower than the current price tag for the M16A2 (by 40%) along with the simple mechanical design of the weapon over the H&K G11 ACR. During the first phase of the ACR Program, the report makes mention of safety concerns that were solved, but the Steyr candidate was nearly thrown out of ACR Program around Phase I, much like the other two rejected candidates. From other sources I've read, this may have been due to an critical issue with cracking and manufacturing inconsistencies in the plastic cases of the flechette ammunition, causing performance and safety issues. It is worth noting that Steyr themselves were unhappy with the quality of the flechette ammunition and believed that was part of the causes with the performance of their ACR candidate weapon in the trials.
Cited in the 1992 summary ACR report was the poor dispersion performance of the flechettes from round-to-round that could be off target by generally 1.0 mils with the worst being 1.75 mils. This was noted as being a hazard to friendly troops during larger infantry engagements and a major issue to hitting enemy targets at even moderate ranges, especially when matched head-to-head with the standard M16A2 M885 round that far outperformed the flechettes in both the Steyr and AAI ACR candidates. Another downside of the dart ammunition in both the AAI and Steyr ACR candidates was the lack of developed tracer or blank flechette round. It is also funny to read in the context of the M4A1 carbine being the US military standard combat rifle today, is that ACR summary report says that the Steyr ACR candidate is nearly too small (nearly 10 inches shorter in length than the standard M16A2) for being a standard combat rifle! 

The AAI ACR Final Verdict

The relationship between the US military and AAI developing future guns goes back to the 1950's, when the SPWI project was attempting to develop an needle rifle and more recently when AAI attempted to developed an caseless rifle for the CARS program and it made sense that AAI would be one of the companies given the green light to enter the ACR program trials. Due to the similarities in ammunition to the Steyr ACR candidate, the 1992 ACR summary report lumps them together and so, I'll be repeating myself with the results here. The flechette rounds were worse overall than the standards set by the ACR Program test guidelines in the three firing ranges tested (short, intermediate, and long).
It did not matter if it was semi-auto or three-round burst fire and it got even worse when it came to the long range shooting (less than 10%). However, at short range, around 25 meters, the AAI ACR did very well, and it really shined in the 50 and 75 meter range testing with burst fire (the AAI ACR did not possess full-auto fire mode) with had the higher hit probability than the standard. After this, the result became much worse. Some modifications were made to the flechette ammunition of the AAI and Steyr candidates by shortening the darts by 0.10 inches. This caused less tumbling and less lethality than previous test results despite the high velocity (4600 ft. per second).
In the summary, the AAI ACR candidate rifle was considered the most "mature" than any of the other weapons and the was praised leveled at the AAI ACR traditional design and handling along with overall reliability under the stressful condition of the Phase III field testing. The ACR Program report even stated that another look should be given, if caseless ammunition was selected as the technological path to be explored, at another H&K/AAI partnership to marry the West German caseless ammunition to the AAI rifle. This would have been an "sequel" to the 1982 CARS Program. Lastly, another downside of the dart ammunition in both the AAI and Steyr ACR candidates was the lack of developed tracer or blank flechette round. Another flaw that haunted the AAI candidate rifle was that it could not fire normal non-flechette 5.56mm rounds, but looked like it could and if desperate, the soldier could hand-load an M855 bullet into the weapon and fatally damage the AAI ACR. 

The H&K G11K2 ACR Final Verdict
If there was a real star among the candidate rifles, it was the H&K G11K2. There was nothing like in the 1980’s and that even holds true today. It was the weapon that had the most to prove and it was the most complex. Simply put, the G11 had been in development since the 1960’s and this futuristic caseless rifle represented a serious dollar amount to a major arms company and several governments. This means that a great deal was riding on if the West German and US government would issue multi-million dollar contracts for the G11, the ammo, and its variants. In the 1992 summary report issued by the ACR Program, there more written about the G11 than any of the Fab Four. However, in the actual testing data, there is very little said about the G11K2…which is odd. However, the further information on the ACR Program thoughts and data on the G11 was in Volume IV and Volume VII of the final report documents and those are not accessible to the general public.
So, some of the information on the final evaluation was in the Volume I summary report and some was taken by reading between the lines. H&K sent 15 G11K2 rifles to Ft. Benning for the field testing, along with 75,000 “4.92mm” caseless rounds and some H&K technical advisers. US Army ACR Program had reservations about the cook-off factor and survivability associated with caseless ammunition and the complexity of the weapon itself.  To satisfy the need for their own data, the ACR Program subjected the 4.73mm caseless ammo to their own batch of test. The CSTA portion of the ACR Program fired 100 rounds through the G11 and waited to see if the 101st round cooked off…and it did not. This impressed the ACR Program evaluators and they stated clearly that “the feasibility of a caseless ammunition rifle system has been successfully demonstrated with this effort”.
During the torturous testing at the Buckner Range, the G11K2 did not have any failures during thousands of rounds fired and interestingly, 80% female shooters failed to quality with the G11K2 and was chalked up to limited hands-on time with the magic German space gun. For the short-range hit probability test, the G11 ACR candidate did extremely well, and came to the line set by the M16A2 standard, but never exceeded it in both burst and semi-auto fire modes. When it came time for the long-range hit probability shooting trials, the G11 ACR came up short compared to the M16A2 standard, and was called “statistically worse” than the M16A2.  For the intermediate range, the G11 did worse than standard when fired in semi-auto (likely due to the recoil) and with the low-power optical sight (there was no G11 iron sight...sorry Black Ops). This was also true of the caseless weapon being fired in burst mode in the intermediate range testing.
It was concluded by the test results that the G11K2 performed better in burst fire mode than semi-auto, which was in direct contrast to the M16A2. Overall, the G11 was not a match for the M16A2 standard. However, at 75 meters, the H&K was better than the standard in burst. As with all of the ACR candidate Fab Four, the G11 did not meet the 100% improvement threshold, but impressed the ACR Program overall with the efforts of H&K and Dynamit Nobel (who formed a consortium in West Germany for the caseless ammunition. So H&K made the weapon and the DNAG consortium made the ammo). From reading in-between the lines in the 1992 summary report, you gather why the mature G11K2 ACR candidate was not moved on down the line to being the next US Army/USAF combat rifle.
In September of 1982, the US Army issued contracts with AAI and H&K to develop a caseless combat rifle under the CARS program. CARS morphed into ACR in 1986 and those two companies were folded into the ACR Program. At the time, the G11 was well known in the realm of military technology and NATO, and it makes sense that the US Army tapped H&K to develop caseless ammunition. However, while the ACR Program was sold on the caseless ammunition that the G11K2 gave them more of the salvo-fire concept they were looking for, it was the weapon itself that may have bothered the Army brass. Another goal of the ACR Program that the G11K2 could fulfilled was the Advanced Close Support Weapon in the G11 LMG.
While it is clear that the G11 is a complex mechanical marvel that was a groundbreaking weapon, it was expensive and mechanically complex. It seemed for the hints in the ACR Volume I report that the ACR Program leadership were concerned about the internal complexity of the G11 and the company-imposed limits of field-stripping ability by a infantryman. There was also concern over the ergonomics and even the style of the chunky science fiction looking weapon. The most damning final verdict by the ACR Program on the G11K2 appears on page 3 of Appendix B: “for future purpose, the melding of the AAI mechanism with the highly superior H&K (HMX) propellant might conceivably result in a weapon superior to both candidates”.

The Colt M16A2 ACR Final Verdict
The odduck of the ACR Program Fab Four was the Colt ACR due to the ACR being based on the then-current M16A2, but with platform modifications and a new type of ammunition: duplex. It also interesting that unlike any other of the Fab Four candidates, the Colt ACR could fire the standard M885 5.56x45mm round with no issues...and the Colt ACR had to fire the M885 cartridge under long-range shooting conditions. When the normal M885 ammunition was fired through the Colt ACR, there was no difference in performance over a conventional M16A2.
The Olin Corporation made duplex 5.56mm round was based on their previous duplex 7.62x51mm round experiments and it performed better than the flechette rounds, but there was a major downside: range. According to the 1992 summary report, the user of the Colt ACR would have to switch from their futuristic duplex salvo ammo when engaging targets over 325 meters. This translates to soldiers being forced to carry two different kinds of ammunition into battle and switching  the ammunition based on the range of the targets during combat. The ACR Program looked dimly on this, but the Colt ACR was one of the two candidate rifles that actually delivered on the promise of salvo fire.
According to the 1992 summary report, the duplex ammunition preformed better than standard in all of the ranges tested. At 150 and 300 meters, the heavier-than-M885 duplex ammunition did very well and bested the other three candidate rifles. However, when the range increased above 300, the report discusses quick degraded of hit probability due to the lighter mass of the two projectiles in the duplex cartridges.
Despite some promising test results and the Colt ACR being based on the current US military combat rifle, the ACR Program did not want the future infantryman to be forced to carry two different types of bullets into combat then switch in the middle of a gun battle between the different types of rounds. However, the duplex round at short range did increase hit probability with a salvo spread. Two other elements that likely worked against the Colt ACR is the explosion of one of the rifles during testing of the duplex ammunition with the trailing projectile becoming lodged in the barrel and that the duplex 5.56mm round was heavier than the standard M885 round; adding to the soldiers burden in the field along with logistical challenges.   

What Happened to the Fab Four after the ACR Program Ended?
After the field testing and the data was collected and analyzed, none of the Fab Four or their munitions technology as accepted by the US Army. But is that the end of the story for these advanced rifles? What happened to these rifles after the ACR Program? As to the whereabouts of the actually rifles issued to the ACR Program during Phase III, most were returned to their respective companies to suffer various fates. Some were put into museums or display walls and others may have been destroyed or boxed. As to the technology explored and developed for the candidate rifles, only the caseless ammunition by H&K and Dynamit Nobel would be licensed for use in the Lightweight Small Arms Technology program that many of us know of due to the LSAT inclusion in Black Ops II. The jury is still out on if caseless ammunition firing combat rifles will ever be the replacement, but certainly, the H&K G11 was the pathfinder to any future caseless ammunition projects. The duplex ammunition submitted by Colt was never continued after the ACR Program as was the flechette ammunition. Since the 1950's, there has been a common thought that flechette ammunition would be the future of KE weapons.
However, the ACR Program field trials have shown that while these little HV darts could inflict gruesome damage, they did not have the range to be the primary ammunition of a combat rifle and there were safety concerns as well to friendly soldiers. Oddly, from time-to-time, a few of the prototypes from the ACR trials pop up for sale. One of these cases of a prototype rifle was an Steyr ACR with four rounds of ammunition owned by former DELTA Operator Larry Vickers. A few years ago, he attempted to sell his Steyr ACR for around $10k-$12k. Recently, an Colt ACR popped up for sale with two boxes of duplex ammunition. If you zoom in on the boxes of ammo, you can see that they were stamped with "PHASE II TESTING" on them with a production date of "3-23-88". Sadly, you needed a Class-III license to buy it and $75,000.

What If...the US Army had Adopted One of the ACR Candidates?
So, it is time to play the game of "What If..." and imagine in this scenario of this alternate universe where one of the ACR candidates was adopted as the official US Army service rifle in 1996. Just after the ACR Program ended in 1990, the US Military fought its first war since Vietnam with the Gulf War in 1991, and this could have or did change the thinking on the ACR candidate rifles and could have affected the adaption of this next-gen rifle. If the US Army and Air Force had selected an ACR candidate rifle, let us say the H&K G11 for example, it would have changed the way that other nations would have looked at caseless ammunition and possibly changed the course of military small arms history.
This happens in the realm of military hardware all the time, when one major nation adopts a new concept, others follow and the US military fielding the G11 would have altered the global thinking on caseless ammunition and it could have lead to the newly unified German government to not abandon the G11 for their own troops. This could altered the flow of history for military small arms development and allowed for the G11 variants, the PDW and LMG, to be constructed. Instead of the AR15/M4/M16 platform being the trendsetter in the current world of military small arms and civilian firearms market, it could have been the G11/caseless ammunition. That could have meant that the weapon that would have gone to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria could have been the G11. That also means that the weapon that could have killed UBL would not have been an H&K 416, but instead an H&K G11. Of course, just because the Big Army and the USAF got onboard the ACR train does not mean the USMC, USN, and SOCCOM would have followed. Given the brutal conditions that the new next-gen combat rifle would have been subjected to in the War on Terror battlefields could have meant the rejection of the new rifle or issues as we saw with the M16 when it was issued in Vietnam. The ACR rifle could have failed under these condition and the military would be left with a real mess.
Then there is another issue: the American civilian firearms market. Unlike most of the world, in the United States, you can own a military rifle that is often better quality than what the warfighters use in actual combat and if you have the right paperwork and tax stamp, it can be full rock-n-roll. That being said, the majority of weapons sold in the US are traditional bullet technology and calibers...but, would that have applied to the ammunition tested in the ACR Program? While flechettes are ban in some states, there has never been a needlegun to challenge the laws on the books, and there was some caseless ammunition firing weapons sold on the US market, like the 1968-1969 Daisy V/L .22 caseless rifle.
To me, I don't think there has been a true test of the US firearm and ammunition laws when it come to futuristic KE and DE weapon technology. For example, in The Forever War, William could not buy a laser for protection, but all manner of more traditional weaponry (including flechettes) were legal to own and carry. If and when the US military adopts something other than traditional bullets and the firearms company attempts to make a civilian-legal variant, then we could see the the law challenged in the courts and legislative body. There was some legal challenge to the Gyrojet weapons made by MBA in the 1960's by the 1968 Gun Control Act, and even a court case involving some Gryojet museum pieces. This legal challenge caused MBA to construct a Gryojet Mk. II that fired a .49 rocket. However, once again, it should be take under consideration that the MBA Gryojet was a flop and made little impact in the firearms and legal world. If the concept had been a success than maybe there would have been more of a legal challenge.         

Why Hasn't the US Military Not Replaced the M16 Yet?
At this point in 2019, the Colt M-16 is now the longest serving US Military infantry rifle in its history. In addition, it was the first assault rifle adapted by the US Military as well, making the M-16 an interesting modern military rifle. Unlike many other early assault rifles, the US Military is still not widely replaced the M-16 and oddly, other nations are starting to adapt the improved versions of the weapon that Eugene Stoner developed in the late 1950's while at Armalite.
To me, given my knowledge of the history of the M-16 and how it was thought of by Vietnam Vets in the 1980's, it is deeply vexing to see the current white-hot love affair that the M-16 is having with the American civilian shooter market, American Law Enforcement, and international military organizations.
Many times over the course of the 1980's and 1990's, I heard from some gun magazines that the US Military was going to replace the infamous black Mattel rifle with something else...but, that never happened. That begs the question, why hasn't the M-16 been replaced with something else? Part of the discussion we are having here on FWS with the story of the ACR trials is why the M-16 was not replaced, and thought I should provide some reason why the M16 is still the US Military's standard combat rifle. With the disaster that the rollout of the M16 was during the Vietnam War, there was talk of the US Armed Forces replacing the weapon very early on into the M16's history. Some unit in Vietnam broke out their old M-14 battle rifles or stole AK-47s and Type 56s off the bodies of dead NVA/Viet-Cong soldiers. This was a valid solution to the issues with the new M-16 that had fatal jams and failures that caused the deaths of US soldiers. Some soldiers died next to their broken down M-16 and this prompted an Congressional investigation by the House Armed Services Committee into the failures of the M-16 on the battlefield of Vietnam.
During the post-Vietnam funk, the M16 was still around, but there was research beginning on a possible futuristic replacement. During the Reagan Administration, there was money and interest in improving the M16 with the M16A2 in 1986, but also there was serious money being invested into the next-generation small-arms weapon system with the ACR Program. At the time, there was talk in the firearms magazines of rumors that the US Armed Forces were looking seriously at the Steyr AUG as a short-time replacement before laser rifles or some other damn thing were developed.As we know, the ACR Program was not able to select an next-gen rifle that could be a marked improvement over the M16A2. Thus began the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program that yield the futuristic XM29 OICW...which FWS will be discussing in a upcoming Guns from the Future article. Once again, the M-16 hung on through the ACR and OICW program and outlived them.
During the current War on Terror as the M4 carbine was becoming a star of the new war, while there two serious replacement not-as-futuristic concept assault rifles on the horizon with the H&K XM8 and the FN SCAR. While on of the FN SCAR variants, the SCAR-H became used in limited numbers by members of the US Special Operations community, the H&K XM8 came close to be the next generation assault rifle for the US Military. Once again, the M16 in the form of the M16A4 and the M4 march onward during a time of war. It was also during this time that the general American public became obsessed with the AR15 assault rifle and sales jumped to unseen levels along with all manner of manufacturers creating improves to the aging platform.
In some ways, as some will argue, the M4 and the H&K 416 are the real replacement for the M-16. However, the stellar H&K 416 is based around the designs and ergonomics laied down by Stoner & crew in the 1950's. This more an evolutionary step not a great leap forward. The lengthy section above is meant to give us some of the interesting history of the M-16 and to answer some of the certain question...but there are other reasons why the M16 still has not been replaced. In some ways, the M16 has become a symbol of America, the American gun industry, and the versatility of an firearms platform. The M-16, as one of my coworkers observed, as a certain gravity or inertia towards it that has drawn American gun owners and even the Paintball/Airsoft market into the Church of M-16. After a poll at my hospital unit, about 80% of the RNs own an AR15 assault rifle. 80%. Growing up, I knew 2 people that had an M-16. Two.

Sci-Fi and the ACR Program
On the surface, it may not seem that the US Army Advanced Combat Rifle Program of the 1980's had much if any impact on the realm of science fiction...however, I think there some echos of the ACR Program to be explored. At the time, there was a number of publications devoted to exploring the world of firearm, military hardware, and technology, like International Combat Arms. Creators of all type and genres used these resources to investigate what future soldiers would be armed with and programs like SPWI, and ACR helped give creators a pathway. High profile weapons like the H&K G11 also helped forward the profile of the ACR Program and caseless ammunition to the point that caseless ammunition became a hallmark for military science fiction works like the M41A1 Pulse Rifle from ALIENS. At the time as well, tabletop gaming was apex of popularity and the companies, like FASA, that pumped out source material needed ideas to full those pages. One such example is the FASA Battletech Technical Readout 3026 from 1987 that seems to have used the ACR Program Fab Four as a source of inspiration for the small arms of the Inner Sphere. Then people exposed to those examples from the FASA technical manual, like me, then use it as inspiration for their own and so on. In addition, due to the futuristic design to the Fab Four, the weapons themselves were used by creators to pattern their own fictional futuristic weapons after, like the Evangelion pellet rifle that was directly lifted from the Steyr ACR candidate or the AcMag from the Demolition Man. With the age of the internet, the ACR Program and the candidate rifles have been given a second life and able to reach more creators. 
    
Examples
At a glance, it would seem that only the H&K magic Kaut space gun, the G11, would have entries on here. However, after some painstaking research by myself and Yoel, we have come up with some examples outside of the G11. Please note, we limited the number of G11 examples and the full list of those G11 examples will be explored in its own article.

The Steyr ACR from The Punisher War Journal
During the late 1980's, I collected something rare for me: an actual "superhero" comic. I was not much for the traditional superheroes comics, but I was drawn into the pages of the original Punisher War Journal and I think these are the best comics about Marvel's anti-hero, Frank Castle. In the back pages of the War Journal was a single color page called "the equipment page" devoted to a real-steel weapon or some tech along with the thoughts of the Punisher on this weapon or item. Amazing script and art by Eliot R. Brown made this element come alive and it was one of my favorite sections of the comic book. Some of my first exposure to some weapons was here, like the FN P90 and the subject of this article: the Steyr ACR. Lovingly laid out and explained in a Marvel Comic is the flechette firing futuristic ACR candidate rifle along with Lost in Space. Frank dives into the weapon's ammo, data on the darts, and how he hopes the US Army will approve the weapon because he needs more ammunition and he would have to go back to Germany to get it. Of course, the script is wrong on that account and the Steyr is Austrian, not German, and the ammunition was made here in the USA by AAI...if the 1992 summary report is to be believed. Due to the nature of scanned older comic books online, attempting to find the issue that this appeared has been difficult. However, the Steyr ACR entry was included in third issue of the The Punisher Armory series.  

The Colt ACR from "Action Man Mortar Combat Mission Raid" 2002 Figure
In America, the Action Man line of toy soldiers is more unknown due to it being a British creation that based on the American GI Joe action figures of the same time. Palitoy began their Action Man toyline in 1964 and two years later, the first plastic toy soldiers were released. Much like the Hasbro GI Joe toyline, the Action Man toyline has popped in and out of toy shelves over the course of its history. In 1993-2006, Hasbro relaunched the toyline with more of an action/adventure theme rather than straight military. During this time, one of the more military figures produced was "Mortar Combat Mission Raid" in 2002 that featured a mortar soldier with the only example of the Colt M16A2 ACR. Found by chief FWS contributor Yoel, this toy soldier is armed with an Colt ACR. It is madding to see the only example of the Colt ACR out of the context of the ACR Program with no explanation and no further information on why this ACR candidate rifle is there. It just exists in his plastic hands and Action Man is not saying a word about his super rare ACR. The odd thing about the Colt ACR in the figure is that there is no magazine in the weapon, but Hasbro included the optic and something mounted under the forward assembly of the rifle. Maybe one day, we'll get an answer on the inclusion of this weapon. A big thank you goes to Yoel for locating this one!     

The G11 "Guerrilla Rifle" from Rhea Gall Force
The long running military science fiction anime and manga series Gall Force, we see the German magic space gun in the hands of the guerrilla forces along some weapons based around the G11 such as Norton's G11-like handgun. In the 1988 OVA Rhea Gall Force installment, it is 2085 on the planet Earth and some of the ancient alien technology is found on Luna during World War III. It is believed that the best option for humanity is to evaluate to the Mars base. The G11 appears to be no real different than the real-steel G11 in both operation and ammunition, but it was not used by any of the main Rhea Gall Force characters.  

The GI Joe XMLA-3R Laser Rifle from the GI Joe: Real American Hero
For weeks, Yoel and I searched for an example of the AAI ACR flechette rifle to include...and we came up with nothing. However, I firmly believe that the standard issue laser rifle, the XMLA-3R, in the GI Joe: Real American Hero cartoon series was based on the earlier AAI SPWI entry, that was also very similar to the AAI ACR candidate rifle. According to information on GI Joe fansites, Ron Rudat was a Hasbro artist/designer and was tapped to work on the toyline and the later the cartoon by the head of the GI Joe: Real American Hero: Bob Prupis.
The staff on the GI Joe relaunch project embarked on a great deal of research, including field trips to Natick Army Labs in Massachusetts, which had examples of the AAI SPWI flechette rifles. Some of what they saw was incorporated into the designs of the weapons that the soldiers carried in the toyline and TV series. This maybe were the XMLA-3R laser rifle basic design originated from, however, I cannot find any concrete evidence. The first appearance of the XMLA-3R was with the original Snow Job figure released in the second series of the Hasbro GI Joe: Real American Hero figures and vehicles. Mentioned in the data card was the name of the laser rifle that was in the packaging. Around this time, Sunbow/Marvel developed a TV mini-series around the MASS Device that aired in 1983 and featured laser DEWs in the hands of COBRA and the Joes. The standard issue laser DE rifle for the GI Joe team was the same as the one included with the Snow Job figure: the XMLA-3R. When a full series was ordered, the XMLA-3R continued to be the standard Joe laser rifle. If indeed the XMLA-3R is based on an AAI rifle, it is likely the SPWI candidate or some other AAI prototype, but not the AAI ACR in the ACR Program trials due to the timeframe. The GI Joe series was already wrapped up by the time the general public knew anything about the AAI flechette rifle.         

The Standard Suit Rifle from Uchū no Senshi
In 1988, Sunrise and Bandai Visual would release Uchu no Senshi (or “Cosmic Warrior” in English) in a three part Laserdisc release-only format that was based on the iconic 1959 Starship Troopers novel. The LaserDiscs were never released to the West and much lore and mystery was constructed around this SST anime. Given the amazing armored powered suit design by mecha master artist Kazutaka Miyatake, the APS from Uchu no Senshi became famous and in the hands of some of the CLASS-II powered armor was the standard suit rifle that was loosely based on the H&K G11, right down to the overall blocky design, the magazine placement and replication of the caseless ammunition.

The Pellet Rifle from Evangelion Universe
One of the most popular mecha-based animes of all time is Neon Genesis Evangelion and it is odd to think that among the interesting mecha that populates this universe is one of the rare examples of the ACR Program candidate rifles...the flechette-firing Steyr ACR. Styled nearly the same as the Steyr ACR, but supersized for the scale for the Evangelion mecha, specifically Unit 00, 01, and 02. While there is little information on why it is called "the pellet rifle", there is some sources that state in the Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone movie, it is said that the Pellet Rifles fire an 209mm caseless projectile. Unlike the real-steel Steyr ACR, the Pellet Rifle does not possess a plastic magazine, but rather an all metal magazine that looks more like it should be on an directed energy rifle of some sort. Given the Pellet Rifles appear in this popular franchise, the Pellet Rifle has been featured in models, toys, and video games. For the record, the H&K G11 can be seen in the hands of some soldiers in the Evangelion anime.        

The Magnetic Accelerator Rifle from Demolition Man
The most famous, but not the first appearance of the H&K G11 in a visual production was from 1993 American film Demolition Man. In the sci-fi action film, criminal Simon Phoenix raids a future history museum for weapons, due to the peaceful nature of the future 2032 society. During the raid, he wonders aloud if this is indeed the future, then were are all of the phaser guns? In a display case is a futuristic soldier equipped with an advanced firearm known as the "Magnetic Accelerator Rifle" or "AcMag"and it was, said by the computer, to be the last hand-held weapon. Listed by the computer display as an kinetic energy weapon, but then lists the data for the real-steel G11 down to its caseless ammunition. Just below the weapon on the computer screen is more information on AcMag, like that it has 700 rounds when fully loaded and a range of 800 meters.
This was likely a close-quarters/urban combat particle beam weapon that represents an early stage of the technology given the charging time for the weapon between shots. In the film, the computer explains more to Simon about just what the AcMag (as it is called in the film) is due to his question on its operation (this text is taken from the shooting script): "The Magnetic Accelerator gun, the last produced handheld weapon of this millennium displaced the flow of neutrons through a non-linear cycloid supercooled electromagnetic force. The AcMag, now reactivated, should concurrently supercool and achieve fission in...two point six minutes". The conflict between the two displays of information comes from simple production mistakes. For the production of the film, the G11 is a cast prop from armourer Michael Papac based on a loaned G11 prototype from H&K themselves. H&K had to be directly involved with the plans for the weapon in the film and even took the "futured-up" prop used for Demolition Man at the end of filming.

The Steyr ACR in Black Ops: II?!
About the time that Black Ops II was about to be released and the COD rumor mill was running overtime, it was the apex of popularity for the shooter franchise. During this time, I heard rumors that another ACR Project candidate, the Steyr, was coming to the COD family, the first being the H&K G11 Magic Space Gun in original Black Ops video game. There were message board posts and YouTube videos, but it was not true. The weapon that some were thinking would be the Steyr ACR was actually the Type-25 bullpup assault rifle. While an interesting rumor, I wished it had been true. It would have been cool to have the Steyr ACR in Black Ops II.

Agent Helix's G11 from GI Joe: Rise of COBRA toyline
One of the newer GI Joe characters in the toyline and comics is Agent Helix, who is an covert intelligence officer. Her action figure was released in 2009 for the Rise of COBRA line and came with a number of weapons. In the comic and artwork, Agent Helix is often depicted with a pair of auto-pistols that appear to be based on the 9mm Glock G18. However, for the action figure of Agent Helix, she is also equipped with our old friend, the H&K G11. As far as I can research, Agent Helix has never been depicted wielding an G11 magic space gun. This is similar to a few other GI Joe figures, like COBRA Commander, being outfitted with a G11 as well.
The Sources:

1. Future Weapon by Kevin Dockery, published by the Berkeley Group in 2007

2. The ACR Program Volume I Summary by Vernon E. Shisler and Stephen M. Mango, published by the US Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center in February 1992.

3. Forgotten Weapons Youtube Channel by Ian McCollum

4. The Armourers Bench web-article series on the ACR Program weapons


Next Time on FWS...
We will be returning to one of the best loved serials on FWS: Ships of the Line! In the next installment of this series, FWS will be exploring and explaining the realm of smaller warships that are involved with nontraditional space naval warfare like Raiders, Marauders, and Gunboats.