04 October 2012

FWS Armory: Caseless Ammunition

In 1977, the world's premier gun manufacturer,  Heckler & Koch, began testing the attempted next leap in the world of modern firearms, the G11. The most unique feature of the G11 prototype (and there were many), was the fact the caseless ammunition . It was hoped that this revolutionary assault rifle would pioneer a new era for chemically propelled firearms. However. by 1990, the ambitious G11 was dead, along with military use of caseless ammunition. In the pages of science-fiction works, often authors and creators use the word "caseless" to describe their futuristic weaponry, and FWS is here to bring you the facts on this real-world next-generation firearm technology.

What is Caseless Ammunition?
Unlike conventional small-arms ammunition that features a metallic or plastic casing that marries the projectile to the powder and primer, caseless ammunition surrounds the projectile in a burrito of propellant and primer. This eliminates the stage of ejecting the spent cartridge, saving weight, wear-and-tear, and money. In practice, caseless ammunition magazines are packed at the factory site, and sealed with a removable protector that prevents the elements from corrupting the ammunition.   

The History of Caseless Ammunition
In the beginning until about 150 years ago, all weapons were caseless, causing the shooter to load the projectile and black powder separately, making loading a time-intensive project. The first mention of a cartridge was around 1586, with the powder and ball being in paper tube, however, most black powder firearms continued to combine each element needed separately.
Integrated paper cartridge came around 1808 that housed the powder and bullet into one case that hopefully would burned off when fired, however, these were still 'caseless' ammunition. This revolutionary step caused gun-markers to rethink the mechanics of the firearm, and speeding up the pace of firing in combat via breech-loading rifles, like the Sharps Rifle. Despite the handiness of the integrated paper cartridge, there were victims of their material. The paper did not last, often crumbling in foul weather, breaking under handling, and sometimes didn't fully burning off.
From 1845-1847, several inventors fielding metallic cartridges that further fused the powder, projectile, and now, primer into one more weather-resistant package, spelling the end of the paper 'caseless' cartridge.
The story would seem to be over at this point, metal cased cartridges reined superior and the world moved on...that was until World War II and those damned Nazis. As the allies were closing in, and metal became rare, the Nazi military machine began development of caseless cartridge composed of formed nitrocellulose. From the limited sources on this, the Nazis abandoned the technology due to lack of weather-resistance.
 The US ordnance department explored the possibility of caseless ammunition based weaponry from 1959 through 1975. Major companies, like GE, GM, Hughes Tools, Hercules dove into the project, developing caseless ammunition along with telescoped 5.56x30mm ammunition, called 'chicklet' in 1969 by the Hercules company. Not much became of this effort, conventional cartridges were used, and by 1975, the project ended, just has the West German government  was in the middle of their own next-generation assault rifle project to replace the G3 battle rifle.
From 1970 through around 1990, three companies headed by Heckler & Koch struggled to develop the G11 4.73x33mm assault rifle along with a LMG and a PDW pistol variants, but by 1990, with the reintegration of German, the project was cancelled (Please skip down to read the complete history of the G11). Currently, the G11 is the closest that any military has come to adopting a caseless rifle for their primary military assault rifle, but the development was not in vein. The research and technology for the G11 paved the way for other arms-markers to field prototypes, like the current LSAT project to field a lightweight/caseless LMG for the US Military. This, at the moment, is the only military-funded caseless ammunition project.     

Ignition Systems
There several ways of activating the propellant that surrounds the sabot, one being the path that the H&K G11 took, bury a primer and booster charge inside the caseless block, which more is akin to traditional artillery pieces. Another avenue is to have a electric ignition system, that uses an electrical current to fire the propellant. The disadvantages being a short delay in the trigger pull and the firing of the weapon, the need for an power source that the soldiers needs to keep up with along with the ammunition, and increasing the complex, along reducing the all-weather-ability. The Voere VEC-91 used two batteries to power the electronic ignition system, and the fictional M41a1 Pulse Rifle used a lithium battery. Another method was used on the 1960's Daisy V/L .22 caseless rifle. Propellant was in the form of a small disc directly behind the .22 sabot, and was fired via hot air generated by the spring-piston, also called adiabatic compression.

Cased Telescoped Ammunition (CTA)
Between the completely caseless round and the traditional metal cartridge round, is the cased telescoped ammunition or CTA. Instead of a metallic casing or a propellant casing, CTA uses lightweight metallic, or polymer, plastic or even casing with semi-combustible properties, and has the bullet resting deeper in the casing with the use of consolidated propellant. The main advantage of CTA is weight saving over traditional ammunition (about 30%), and less of the fragility risks of caseless ammunition.   

Advantages of Caseless Ammunition
Caseless ammunition has two greater advantages over conventional metal cartridges: weight and capacity. Weight has often being toted has a reason to adopt this new type of ammo. Recently, the US Marines states that weight was a major factor in their research for using caseless ammunition in a light machine gun, saving around 25lbs, thus, allowing more ammunition or kit to be carried. As the picture on the right displays, a G11 could carry 510 rounds over 240 rounds for the M16 or 100 for the G3/FAL/M14 battle rifle all for the same weight, 16.2lbs. The standard G11 stick magazine carried fifty 4.73mm rounds, giving caseless assault rifles more magazine capacity over traditional STANAG magazines, basically reducing bulk in the soldier's gear.
Caseless rounds have an advantage when zero residual presence is required during black operations, like SPECOPS units operating in Iran and Pakistan. Normally, these units would be using indigenous firearms, like the AK-47 to lessen their presence. Caseless weapons would offer these black ops missions the ability to use the weapons they are familiar with and not leave any tell-tale brass. Most have said that caseless rounds are more environmental friendly, decreasing the need for mining and brass rusting in the field. It as also been said that by ditching the cartridge, that the G11 would require less cleaning than a traditional assault rifle and no need for lefty or righty models. Speaking of the G11, it's unique tri-burst of 4.73mm rounds and not needing to eject spent brass, made the weapon fire at 2,200 RPM that was more controlled, allowing more center-mass hits to defend body armor.

Disadvantage of Caseless Ammunition
The greatest weakness and road block preventing the wife scale adoption of caseless ammunition is the fragile nature of the propellant casing. During testing of the G11, H&K ran across issues associated with testers simply handling the ammunition. The propellant would crack and rupture during simple handling by the oily or dirty hands of soldiers. This corrupted the propellant block causing  misfiring of the weapon or even cock-off the ammo. Which is one of the reason that paper cartridges were replaced with metal casings over a hundred years ago.
Once these casings are damaged, fragments of loose propellant can become lodged in the weapon's inner mechanics, which can be a real bitch to get out. Considering this, all of the propellant must be there for the correct velocity and effectiveness of the sabot, if fragments were missing, the round could not be as lethal as possible or not fully escape the barrel. These flaking of propellant brings up another issue with the caseless weapon, they are more complex than normal assault rifles, especially when considering weapons like the AK-47. Complexity in firearms makes field-stripping nearly impossible along with solving simple problems with the gun. Hecker & Koch solved this issue of fragile ammo via use of a clean plastic stripper-clip loader that was sealed at the factory to prevent environmental corruption, then used to load the stick magazines for the G11. Given this, soldiers could not pool remaining bullets in their magazines after combat, making for a condition where soldiers would be carrying lighter magazines in their chest rigs...dangerous in combat.
One of the more commonly known issues with caseless rounds is thermally induced firing or 'cooking-off'. This occurs during continuous firing that heats up the weapon. Normal metal cartridges act as a heat sink, lessening the damage of this. Caseless ammo is surrounded in a burrito of propellant, that could easily ignite inside the weapon, or given that the ammunition is densely packed, inside the magazine. That would be bad for the gun and the shooter. Some sites detail that caseless ammunition would cost more, due to wasted ammo, more protective measures to prevent ammo corruption, switching the entire military over from cased to caseless.
Other odd issues that come up with wide spread adoption, because of the construction of caseless ammo, it would be impossible for shooters that pack their own ammunition, snipers and hunters for example. Also, if caseless civilian guns were to come available, the lack of shell casings would make criminal investigations harder. 

The Sad Story of the  H&K G11
By the late 1960's, the era of the battle rifle with its larger cartridge was drawing down, like the Americans fielding the M16 with its smaller round designed to be more manageable under fully automatic fire, and more accurate under single fire conditions. This was not lost on the West German military, who were using the excellent, but heavy 7.62x51mm G3 battle rifle. In 1970, the German military received their criteria for their next-generation assault rifles that could be designed to overcome body armor via high hit probability. To met that, the requirements called for a 45-to-50 round magazine on a less than 750mm weapon that weight less than 4.5kgs and used three-round bursts to an effective range of 300 meters. The overall goal was to increase the soldier's ability to hit their target via two methods, either the 'shotgun' method with a mass of projectiles that fire all instantly, or the 'salvo' method that used  2,000 RPM, but that number could be reached with smaller sabot caseless ammunition.
This bold experiment in a completely new assault rifle was
undertake by three companies united under the GHGS umbrella:  Heckler& Koch would be building the gun itself, while Dynamit Nobel worked on the caseless ammo, and Hensoldt/Wetzlar constructed the 1x optical sight. Given the high rate of fire coupled with caseless ammo, H&K had their work cut out for them, to solve this issue, the G11's rotary breech rotate the square-shaped ammunition 90 degree to the correct position for firing from the stick magazine, similar to the FN P90. The magazine itself, extended from the barrel, all the way to the action that was in the rear of the weapon, making the magazine nearly the same length has the G11 rifle itself! The length of the magazine, and how soldier would carry them on the battlefield was one of the early concerns from the German Army.
By 1977, GHGS had a working fifth prototype with sight and ammunition that similar to the final shape, however, the ammunition was proven more difficult than the gun itself. Original, Dynamit Nobel had the telescoped 4.3mm ammo, then jumped to 4.9mm, then by prototype gun number six, around 1977 or 1978, it was down to 4.7mm, but still telescoped. One of the main issues was that builtup heat of the interiors of the weapon cooking-off the caseless rounds. Is more deadly in caseless weapons than traditional firearms, due to the complex interior mechanics and densely packed ammo.
In 1979, the G11 was withdrawn from NATO testing due to the danger. Dynamit Nobel solved the thermally inducted firing in 1981, via a new high ignition temperature propellant (HITP) coating that changed the shape to more hexagon that the previous rounded shape. While the G11 rifle and scope were all finalized in 1982, it took until 1986 when the new DM11 4.73x33mm caseless design allowed for full testing. It was during this phase that H&K made some changes to the G11 design, called the K2. The K2 was fitted with a bayonet, sight adopts, and the ability to carry two extra loaded two magazine that fit onto grooves on top of the barrel assembly, making reloading faster than picking out the stick magazine out of a chest rig.
In 1989, 1,000 of the improved G11K2 were delivered to the Bundeswehr along with, according to rumor, the GSG9, for real-world testing, one of the last pathways to widespread approval. It scored 50% better combat accuracy than the G3 battle rifle with new recruits, who also learned the new rifle quicker than the older G3. Soldiers also, despite it's appearance, found the G11 more comfortable than the the G3 under testing conditions. All of these factors led to the G11K2 being approved for adaptation  and the gun moved on to the West German Parliament for funding.
H&K also sent a few G11K2s to the United States to demonstrate caseless technology for the US Army's Advanced Combat Rifle Program in the late 1980's that was exploring options for a next-gen replacement for the Colt M16A2. Then suddenly in 1990, the G11 program was scrapped and caseless weaponry was cast back into dark times. So, what happened to the G11 if it met with such praise?
The fate of the G11 was sealed when the Berlin Wall came down in 1990, and the feared Warsaw Pact nations began to crumble one by one. With the reunification of the two Germanys, there were greater concerns, mostly economic, that eclipsed the need for a new assault rifle, especially one with new, unproven technology. Other reasons that turned up in my research was that when the 1,000 G11s that were turned over to the German Army did not function well within real-world military life. According to the sources, the ammo easily crumbled, there were still cook-offs, and mechanical failures, along with the large bulk of the weapon. An interesting note that I discovered was that the propellant or it's sealant were possible an carcinogenic after the shooter was exposed to more than 3,000 fired rounds! Later, the aging G3 battle rifle was replaced by the excellent, but traditional, G36 assault rifle in 1997.  The about 1,000 G11 rifles that exist are rumored to still at H&K along with the remains of the ammunition, however, while the guns remain warehoused, the technology was licensed to the US Army's Lightweight Small Arms Technology in 2004.
Up until the 2010 release of Call of Duty: Black Ops, the G11 was widely unknown by the general public, especially by the newer generations. Of course, it's appearance in Black Ops is completely out of context with the historical framework of the game and the game gun model is too small. In some ways,  because of Black Ops, the story of the G11 now has a happy ending of sorts, this caseless rifle is fighting across live, popping caseless rounds for hit markers, and making final kill-cams.

The G11 Variants 
Heckler and Koch were proposing an expensive proposition to the Bundeswehr by replacing their conventional for caseless ammunition in their key small-arms weapons, the assault rifle. To make changeover more economical, H&K developed two known variants for the G11 rifle: the Light Machine Gun and the Personal Defense Weapon Pistol. Chambering the same round as the G11, the LMG was designed to be loaded via a cassette of 300 round in the rear of the bulky weapon, similar to a bullpup, however, the G11 LMG was unlike the G11 rifle with the action of the weapon being more in the middle of the weapon. Fully loaded, the LMG weighted about 15lbs, and had a fire rate of about 600 RPM with a revolver breech drum with three chambers. Sources indicate that H&K got beyond the mock-up stage and maybe have fieled a live-fire prototype.
In 1989, NATO documents on the G11 project, speak of H&K developing a handgun that fired a cut-down variant of the 4.73x33mm caseless round sometime in 2000. Unlike current combat pistols, the G11 PDW was conceived as a select-fire pistol that could fire three-round burst , single fire, or even full-auto via a 20 or 40 magazine that was conventional loaded in the handle. The moniker of personal defense weapon is the interesting element of this pistol or also known as the "Nahbereichswaffe" (NBW) or 'close-in weapon', because was this it to be the G11 equivalent of the MP5 SMG? There is little data on the PDW, but most sources agree that the pistol was never a working prototype, only a wood mock-up, and none of the 4.73x25mm ammo was manufactured. Some other sources dismiss the wood mock-up design, stating that it could operate in the real-world given the dimensions.
The G11 PDW and it's cutdown round were not entire killed after 1990. Some sources have connected H&K's current PDW, the MP7 and it's specialized 4.6x30mm HV round has being descended from the G11 PDW. Could have the MP7 be a window into what the G11 PDW would have been like if approved and fully funded? Included these known variants, I turned up several mentions of a caseless 25mm auto-cannon round for IFV/APC vehicles. Along sniper variant that would have used specially formulated caseless propellant and possibly even a special sabot size.

The Future of Caseless Weapons...Is There One?
After the death of the H&K G11 around 1990, it seemed that the bold experiment in caseless ammunition for the military was over. That was until the war in Afghanistan, when soldiers had to transverse difficult terrain with thinner air than our soldiers were used to. The weight of a light machine gun and the ammunition taxed our soldiers, causing the US Army and Marine Corps to explore the use of caseless or telescoped ammunition to save weight under the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies project.
From my research, the LSAT LMG met with high praise from soldiers, and as of this year, the project is moving forward to Stage Two. However, this the only example of current research. It seems the heyday of the caseless gun was the 1980;s, and now it is going to take something like the LSAT LMG to get the rest of the global thinking in that direction.When it comes to the future, is it possible that in 2179 that US marines will be using caseless carbines? Maybe. There would have to be advancements in the science of propellant that allows for a propellant casing that could be handled by the soldiers in the field without breaking down. What could propel caseless weapon into the hands of future soldiers is when we start fighting on exosolar worlds with hostile environments in combat-rated space suits. Given that caseless weapons are more sealed that their traditional counterparts, limiting the openings to the environment, could allow for their use where normal firearms would be useless or before we develop DEW systems. Of course, these caseless weapons could be just limited to use on Lunar-like worlds.  

Examples of Real-Steel Caseless Weaponry
The LSAT LMG Project
Beginning in 2004, the US Army and US Marine Corps started to examine lessening the weight of the M249 SAW. Given the war in Afghanistan, allied soldiers often walked long patrols on bad roads and difficult terrain, with heavy kit. It was the goal of the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies program to decrease the weight of a LMG SAW by 30% via use of either cased telescoped ammunition or even completely caseless. The LSAT tested their LMG that was lighter by 44% for the Mk.46 LMG was done by combat experienced soldiers meeting with approval after successful live-fire testing in 2011. Despite the issues with caseless ammunition, the US Marines have stated they are looking at LSAT LMGs using caseless rounds over the telescoped rounds for deployment around 2014/2015.

The Metal Storm Rapid-Fire Caseless Cannon 
Insanity is the only way to describe the Metal Storm's 36 barreled prototype that can fire up to one million 9mm rounds a minute (16,000 per second)! This prototype sentry weapon uses electric-ignition and pre-stacked sabots in the barrels to generate the wall of lead. Despite this amazing firearms technology, the Metal Storm company has met with limited success, only having a few major government contracts, and as of July of 2012, Metal Storm suspended stock stares and is on the edge of bankrupt. 

The Rheinmetall RMK30 Cannon

The RMK-30 30x250mm caseless auto-cannon was created in 1997 by Mauser for the German Bundeswehr for use in light armored vehicles and the UHT Tiger Helicopter. The recoilless 30x250mm telescoped shells are fed via three chamber revolver system that is capable of around 300 RPM. However, there was recoil, and Bundeswehr axed plans to mount it on their helicopter, but was tested on the Wiesel armored weapons carrier. There was an unusual proposal to mount this auto-cannon on the deck of a submarine, called the Muraena Gun.

The 152mm cannon from the M551 Sheridan tank
The M551 Sheridan tank served in the US Army from 1969 to 1996 as a light tank that could be air-dropped to support Airborne units. One of the more interesting elements of the Sheridan was that it could fire conventional 152mm shells and an anti-tank missile from the same barrel. During the 1980's, the 152mm shell was switched over to caseless with mixed results. The casing that had the explosive propellant often cracked, unintended denotations, lack of water resistance, and if the ammo store caught fire you were fucked. The US Army did experiment with partial-caseless for the M1 Abrams for the M256 smooth-bore 120mm cannon. 

Volcanic Repeating Arms Rocket Ball Ammunition
Before Horace Smith and Daniel B Wesson formed Smith & Wesson, they formed the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in 1855 to develop firearms around Walter Hunt's Rocket Ball ammunition. This was a new type of ammo that combine the powder, primer, and bullet in one metal cartridge to be used in pistols and repeating rifles. Sadly, the rocket ball ammunition was not all it was said to be, jamming was frequent, low-velocity due to the limited amount of powder in the cartridge, limited range, manufacturing concerns, causing the end of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in 1866. A recent episode of Pawn Stars had a Volcanic Arms pistol that was bought for $6,500.

The Dreyse Needle Gun
In 1841, the primary Prussian infantry rifle was the .61 caliber Dreyse Needle gun. The rifle was invented by Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse that used a needle firing pin that ran through the paper cartridge directly to the primer to active the black powder and propel the acorn-shaped sabot. Due to the ignition path, it was believed that the paper cartridge would burn completely preventing the need to clean out any remains or eject any spent casing.
During its service life, the Needle Gun experienced failures in operation, after 200 rounds, the needle needed to be replaced, however in less than 80 shots, the gun needed cleaning. That was not it worse fault, the breech would fail to close, allowing hot gases to rush, burning the soldier. This caused soldiers to fire from the hip. The Dreyse Needle gun  was replaced in 1871 by the Mauser Model 1871.

Armtech C30R Rifle
In 1986, Australia arms-maker, Armtech began work on a caseless assault rifle, similar to the G11, the C30R, but fired a caseless 5.56mm round. Hastily rushed in prototype stage before the kinks were worked out on this bullpup rifle resulted in an explosion during a public demonstration. This sealed the fate of the caseless rifle and the Armtech company. The basic design resurfaced in the 1990's as the basis for a conventional 5.56mm bullpup rifle called the M17S manufactured by Bushmaster in 1994 and was hauled in 2005.

Benelli CB M2 SMG
Italian arms marker, Benelli, like many, believed that caseless ammunition, like many did in the 1980's, was the future. To get in front of the trend and give the market for SMGs in the 80's, In 1982, Benelli and another company developed a simpler ammunition type than the more complex caseless, the 9mm AUPO. This was more of a semi-cased weapon than fully caseless, because a hollow metal case contained the sabot and powder that were sealed via a explosive primer at the rear. When the CB M2 was fired, the sabot and casing separated after flight. The project failed to attract any buyers for full-scale production, causing the CB M2 to past into history.

Gerasimenko VAG-73 Pistol 
In the early 1970's, the Soviet Union developed a pistol that fired a 7.62mm caseless rounds for a high-capacity (48 rounds) pistol. There are few sources in English available about the VAG-73, however, according to one website, the pistol was a testbed, select-fire, and could be closer to a gryojet gun instead of a true caseless pistol. Nothing really came of the VAG-73.  
O'Dwyer VLe Pistol
Australian inventor J. Mike O'Dwyer is the father of the Metal Storm rapid-rife cannon and the 100% electric VLe stacked ammunition pistol. The VLe fires several shots in trigger pull, making the VLe a rapid fire weapon without the jump of an auto-pistol. Some believe that the VLe could be highly effective against body armor. The barrel is stacked with seven rounds that can vary in size and function and are fired via electricity, making the weapon lighter with no moving parts, and with a greater rate of fire than any normal pistol, around 1,500 per second. Another feature of the weapon has a biometric grip that will only fire for the approved user, similar to the phasers in Star Trek: TNG. It is unknown if or when the VLe pistol will ever reach production.

Viere VEC-91 Hunting Rifle
According to several sources, the Austrian Viere VEC-91 hunting rifle available to the public that combined caseless 5.7mm ammunition and electronic ignition via two 15 volt batteries that were good for about 5,000 rounds. There is little information on the VEC-91 due to limited sales in US and hard to find ammunition (caseless has a limited shelve life), I believe that the gun is still in production.

Daisy V/L Civilian Rifle
In the 1968 and 1969, BB and air-gun manufacturer Daisy sold the V/L civilian rife that fired .22 caseless ammunition via hot high pressures. The project started in 1962 with inventor Jules Van Langenhorn developing a sporting civilian rifle that used adiabtic compression to fire .22 rounds.
The issue was that Daisy was not an firearms manufacturer and therefore not allowed to do so. In 1969, the ATF ruled the V/L a firearm and not an air-gun, forcing Daisy to stop selling the gun. In those two years of sales, nearly 25,000 were sold. According to some sources, the fate of the V/L was sealed anywise despite the ATF ruling, it was inaccurate and the ammunition was hard to come by in stores unlike a normal .22 rifle.

Sci-Fi and Caseless Weaponry
Casless ammunition weapons have become an element in sci-fi works when a author wishes to keep the bullet, but needs to make them futuristic. Ushering this trend in science fiction was none other than the film ALIENS and its iconic M41a1 Pulse Rifle. It is likely that James Cameron used caseless ammunition due to prediction by gun and military magazines that it was the next big thing, fueled by the H&K G11. Because of the popularity of this 1986 film, the pulse rifle was often most people first introduction to the term 'caseless ammunition', which has been replaced by the G11 of the Call of Duty: Black Ops video game. Given the cache of ALIENS, it was soon that science fiction works began using caseless firearms without much research. Most of the rash of caseless weaponry was confined to pen-and-paper MSF RPG games, and a few books, and by the 1990's, the trend had fallen off. However, with works like HALO and AVATAR, the trend might come back, especially if some of the US military's caseless LMGs projects hit reality. 


The Icon: Armat M41a1 Pulse Rifle (ALIENS)
In the fictional world of 2179, the American Colonial Marines have used the Armat M41a1 Pulse Rifle for the last sixty years, and fires a caseless 10x28mm round and a 30x71mm underslung grenade launcher. The term 'pulse' refers to the mechanism by which the weapon triggers the propellant to explode, forcing the sabot down the barrel. That mechanism is a electronic pulse feed via a lithium battery with a rating of about 10,000 rounds. The 10mm sabot is encased in a block Given the weapon's size which is on par with a commando carbine or SMG, speaks to the primary environment of the Colonial Marines, more close quarters than ranged combat. According to Colonial Marines Technical Manual, there were one variants of the M41a1, the M41e1, which is a LMG that deletes the grenade launcher, adds a long heavier barrel, and a 300-round magazine.
In the real-world, Propmaster Simon Atherton for ALIENS used an Thompson M1 SMG for the main body of the pulse rifle, parts of the Remington 870 and the Italian Franchi SPAS-12 shotguns for the grenade launcher. For those of us lucky enough to hold a prop M41a1, know how good it feels in the hand, and I must say, that it is one of the better sci-fi guns every developed because you can really see your self using in it to clean colonial settlements. Bring on the BugBoys! BTW: there is a well-known blooper during the air-vent battle. Vasquez's M41 is seen ejecting 9mm casings...due to the blank-firing prop.

The UD-4L Cheyenne Dropship 25mm caseless rotary cannon (ALIENS)
The chin-mounted KEW system for the Colonial Marines' UD-4L Cheyenne dropship is the GAU-113/B25mm caseless rotary six-barreled cannon. Unlike normal caseless weapon systems, the GAU-113/B drops the 25mm sabot into the barrel, then spray nozzles inject hypergolic liquid fuels as a binary propellant that explode, forcing the sabot out of the barrel at a rate of 6,000 RPM. This could be the only example of a large scale caseless weapon systems in science fiction.

The Morita Mark III (Starship Troopers III) 
This one of the more ridiculous copycats of the iconic M41a1 Pulse Rifle is the 10x50mm Morita Mark III seen in the third Starship Troopers film. Much like the M41a1, the Morita III is fitted with a high capacity magazine, micro-grenade launcher, and collapsible stock. The originality of the first Morita rifle is butchered for a bulky plastic prop-gun that was fitted over a South African Vektor R5 assault rifle, itself was a copy of the Israeli Galil. Little is mentioned about the series three Morita being caseless, but it is likely either the filmmarkers were copycatting ALIENS or that caseless weapons high capacity allowing for soldiers to not to suffer frequent magazine changes. One of the big errors about the Morita III, besides the bulk, was the size of the bullet, 10x50mm. WTF? The standard 5.56 NATO round is 45mm in case length, and the heavier 7.62 NATO is 51mm in case length, and the G11 round was 4.73x33mm. So, why the hell is the Morita III caseless round 50mm in length? Bad research most likely.

The M7 SMG (HALO series)
The primary sub-machine gun of the UNSC is the M7 series of caseless weapons that fire a 5x23mm round via a 48 round magazine. Of course, SMG is not the proper term for the M7 series, because the standard pistol of the UNSC fires a cased 12mm round, making the M7 actually a personal defense weapon, nitpicky, I know. The M7 is one of those rare examples of a well-thought ficitonal weapon design with a well-crafted weapon sound effect. However, the M7 in HALO: Wars was seen ejecting shells. Much like the FN P90, the HALO weapon has an odd magazine placement, forcing the weapon to rotate the bullets prior being fired, and the stick-like magazine itself locks into a flexible clamp for loading. While the M7 is common in standard Marine and Navy units, the suppressed 'S' variant is used by the ODST for CQC situations. It fires the 5x23mm M443 FMJ round, resembling a small brown spotted block that are packed into sealed magazines at the factory site to prevent exposure. The M7 is the only caseless weapon in the UNSC inventory.

The CARB Weapon System (Avatar)
I've discussed the CARB weapon system a great deal on FWS, so I think it unnecessary to discuss the details of the gun itself, however, we should talk about the ammo. Propsummit.com member Loyalizer constructed a brilliant CARB PDW, and was able replicate the tiny sticker attached the to CARB magazine. From this, we can see that the CARB fires a 6.25x35mm high explosive armor piercing (HEAP) round, and a protective sticker must be removed prior to loading. This is a well-thought caseless weapon, and one of the best examples in science fiction.

The MR-C (Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter)
The Modular Rifle Casless or MR-C was a mocked-up assault rifle concept by Crye Associates company who are most famous for their MultiCam camouflage pattern. This weapon has an odd history, it seems that Crye developed the MR-C has a mock-up bullpup prop-weapon for their booths at military conventions and trade shows to generate buzz and interest. I believe if a military had been interested, Crye could have moved forward with developing a prototype MR-C. Some accounts have the MR-C chambering the H&K MP7 4.6x30mm cased round, which makes not sense at all, or even the 6.8mm or 5.56mm rounds, which again, makes no sense. The heyday of the MR-C was being featured in the 2006 and 2007 Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter games and in most of the print adverts being wielded by Captain Scott Mitchell. After this cycle of games, the MR-C was not featured in the recent Ghost Recon Future Soldier game. It is likely that the MR-C is a dead concept.

The Mass Effect Weaponry
The far-future example of a caseless weapon comes from the Mass Effect universe. Their weapons use a scaled down mass effect field that propels projects shaved off a dense block of nano-material at lethal speeds. Of course, the later games put those fucking thermal clips into the weapons, making them something of a hybrid. Damn Bioware.

The MP-35 from Old Man's War universe
Another far-future caseless ammunition weapon is the Multi-Purpose 35 (MP35) weapon used by the CDF in the Old Man's War universe. This compact weapon used a dense block nano-material and the Brain-Pal to allow the super-soldiers of the CDF to select different types of munition, everything from sabots to microwaves. Recently, I read that Mr.Scalzi got some of the idea for the MP35 use of munitions from FPS games, no need for cycling through the weapons with the MP35 or hauling it around  the UAC complex on Phobos! I've always imagined the MP35 being a blocky compact weapon, similar to the CARB PDW from AVATAR, and from a few fan art pieces, they seem to agree, but we will see if and when the Old Man's War movie is released.

The G11 and G11E from Fallout 2 
The 1998 sequel to Fallout featured two different variants of the Fallout 2 came out in 1998, this could be one of the earliest appearances of the actual Hecker & Koch G11 rifle! Thanks to a reader for the heads up on this appearance of the G11!   
H&K G11 rifle, the standard rifle and the upgraded 'E'. The G11 was considered an effective weapon if the ammunition could be located in the latter stages of the long game. An eight-round burst allowed for effective shots on target if it was on-target. Not only was the standard H&K G11 featured, but the upgraded 'E'  was the squad-support weapon with longer, heavier barrel, upgraded scope, and 50-round magazine. This was the highest damage assault rifle in the game. Given that


Here is a company devoted to getting caseless ammo back in the military:

Here is a military article on caseless ammo:


Here is Japanese video on the G11 and is one of the best on the web! Disregard the soft porn music though...creepy

Here is the vintage video from the 1980's on the H&K G11


  1. Great post, William!! You proofread this one much better than your earlier posts- it makes for much easier reading, keep it up! :-)

    Caseless ammo seems to be more difficult to use than it sounds at first, as the development of the H&K G11 demonstrates. If it hadn't been for the fragility of combustible paper casings, we may never have switched to metal casings and all our modern firearms might have been caseless, after all! Metal casings won out over caseless ammo for a reason. It is a bit ironic that caseless ammo is considered "futuristic" in SF when the concept is really so old.

    It remains to be seen if future militaries will switch to using caseless ammunition. It probably depends on whether we develop more advanced and durable propellents that can stand up to some handling with breaking, flaking, and misfiring. There might be other unconventional ammo competing with true caseless, too. Perhaps combustible casings could be used, instead of true caseless.

    I suggest that a better approach to designing a futuristic advanced combat rifle would be to set forth a list of desirable features and requirements (lighter ammunition, higher capacity, defeating body armor, lighter weight, ergonomic design, etc.) and then hammer out a weapon concept that attempts to fit those requirements, always considering the tech-level of the SF 'verse this weapon exists in.

    It is better to not get too attached to any particular technology without investigating it- you could end up misrepresenting it or just sounding plain old derivative. Also, the technology level of a particular setting will influence the rifle design. A spacefaring society's experience with chemical propellents and lightweight heat resistant materials may help them design a rugged caseless rifle, for instance, or maybe even help them design laser rifles and the chemical fuel cartridges used to power them...

    The M41A is, of course, the fictional advanced combat rifle that continues to influence SF writers thinking on futuristic rifles. The later CARB system is doubtlessly influenced by the M41A, especially since Cameron directed both movies!! I find the sealed magazines intriguing- imagine just being handed a bunch of disposable, preloaded magazines instead of our modern box magazines. The UD-4L's rotary cannon isn't really caseless- it is a liquid propellent weapon, which have been investigated for artillery but have proved quite dangerous and unpredictable to operate in real life. I suspect scaled down liquid propellent firearms are a LONG way away.

    Weapons firing metal slivers with electromagnetic fields (or SF force fields)- i.e. scaled down mass drivers- aren't traditional firearms at all, so the term "caseless" isn't really appropriate. There may be no casing on the round, but there is no round, either!! The MP-35 is an odd one- I'll have to read the book to comment on it, but it sounds as if it is so advanced beyond modern weapons that it deserves a class of its own that doesn't include such primitive weapons as the H&K G11 and fictional M41A.

    Christopher Phoenix

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  2. Another example of use of caseless ammunition in science fiction is in John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy. His prediction was that most sidearms and point defense systems would go to a metal storm model. I don't know if he continued it in next series.

  3. Excellent and informing as always.
    The ubiquitous Boltgun of the Emperor's Angels of Death, the Space Marines,from Warhammer 40K is also claimed to shoot caseless ammunition, though the majority of the artwork does not follow this trend. An explanation could be that the variants created by some Forge Worlds use caseless ammo while patterns of other Forge Worlds do not.

  4. Sorry everyone for the delay in responsing to your comments! I've been tied up editing my novel for submission to Harper-Collins. Thanks to everyone for reading this one, and the comments have been good has always!
    I had read that the Bolter was caseless, but the art and physics of the weapon would be geared to traditional ammo.
    It is amazing how much the M41A1 Pulse Rifle changed sci-fi...
    I do agree with Mr. Phoenix, sci-fi writers should not get attached to a certain technology, like Lucase and Lightsabers, especially since we have not yet accepted caseless weapons despite having the technology.

  5. Thanks for sharing such a great and interesting issue. More power to your site!

  6. Thank you very much...I try to make FWS a place for the creators of MSF to have a place to gain knowledge, and why they should hire an editor.

  7. http://velkovelkov.blogspot.com/2011/11/caseless-ammunition-and-gun.html

  8. Man, I wished I had those images for the blog entry when I wrote it! Very nice!

  9. Very well done, you have done a superb job writing all the unique content and issues regarding different Guns.

  10. That is one of the primary missions of FWS, to bring reality of firearms to MSF.
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  11. Compare Benelli caseless ammunition and gun
    with Velkov caseless ammunition and gun.

  12. Couple of typos "vein" s/b "vain" and "propel projects" s/b "propel projectiles" A few more missing "the"s but otherwise well laid out and informative - have never seen this info all in one place !!

  13. Grammar was never my strong suite, however research was, and I'm very glad you enjoyed the blogpost. Caseless ammo need a complete a resource on the internet, and that has been the mission of FWS from day one...being a resource for writers of Military Sci-Fi.

  14. It's sad that you mentioned Call of Duty without mentioning Fallout2. The Game was released 1998 and had two variants of the H&K G11 the player could aquire. That's how I got aware of the G11.

  15. Wow...completely missed that one! Fallout was never a series I followed, and it never came up in the research I did for the G11...this would make one of the earliest uses of the G11 in sci-fi. Thanks for the heads up!

  16. Don't forget the Zorg ZR.1 rifle from the fifth element.

  17. I need to re-watch the 5th Element and see if the ZR-1 is mentioned to be casless. It could be caseless...the ZR1 is getting a special place in a upcoming blogpost

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Nice, but You miss Delta Force: Land Warior in game list.

  20. 'The propellant would crack and rupture during simple handling by the oily or dirty hands of soldiers. This corrupted the propellant block causing misfiring of the weapon or even cock-off the ammo.'
    You just CAN'T have your weapon cocking off just 'cause she doesn't like the feel of the way you handle her, That'd be of no use at all. No wonder they canceled the program!

  21. Speaking of caseless rounds i recently bought arma 3 & saw the mx 6.5 caseless. Was cool u should check,it out. If u have a good p.c.

  22. I looked that caseless MX-6.5 rifle online, and it appears to be based on the real-steel Robinson Armament XCR assault rifle. The 6.5mm caseless ammo is close to the caseless rounds fired by the RDA casless rifles in AVATAR and ELYSIUM.

  23. Hi William

    How could you forget about the Russian grenade launchers family?
    Those grenades are single piece of warhead and propellant.
    Those weapons are probably the only fully-deployed caseless small arm in the modern time.


  24. I will add the GP-25 for the Grenade Launcher/RPG blogpost...nice catch!

  25. Nice to see you highlight the pros and cons of caseless. But I would add on several occasion you use the term sabot instead of bullet which is rather annoying.

  26. The reason for sabot instead of bullet was just to mix it up, both are valid.

  27. Not really they are not interchangeable terms but rather refer to quite different things. A sabot goes around a projectile to allow it to travel out of an over sized barrel and generally falls away once the projectile leaves the muzzle.


  28. Yes, you are correct. The common usage of the term "sabot" is used for tank ammunition. During the research phase of this blogpost, I came across the usage of the term "sabot" for the projectile that was encased in the propellant. Most of the usages of sabot in that way came from German records on the development of the H&K G11 ammunition.
    After your comment, I decided that I will not use the term sabot in that manner.

  29. There was also VBR CAR (Caseless Ammunition Rifle) and CAR-2, designed around 1990, a response to the H&K G11. The CAR had a 120 round magazine and the CAR-2 had a 75 round magazine. Can't seem to find much info on them though but a couple of pictures.

    1. Also the same company VBR-Belgium / guy named Rik van Bruaene, designed a couple of caseless SMGs called CASMG (Caseless Ammunition Sub-machinegun) and VBR M.G.91, a caseless bullpup SMG. Both created in 1991.

      Also before the H&K G11, there was the Mauser G11.

      "The Mauser G11
      Origin: West Germany
      Date: 1960s
      Caliber: 4.75mm Caseless
      Although Heckler & Koch are often credited with creating the “G11” series of weapons, it was in fact Mauser who was originally tasked with creating it. This was during the late 1960’s, and the result of their efforts was this rifle. It was fed through an internal 10-round magazine, fitted in the buttstock. NATO trials found many discrepancies in the Mauser G11’s overly-complex mechanism and the project was handed over to Heckler & Koch in the 1970s, who went on to make many different G11 prototypes, including a rifle, a light machine gun, and a pistol. The G11 project was finally cancelled after Communism collapsed; with no Soviet threat, the G11 was deemed unnecessary and the funding for it disappeared."

  30. I did some research and development into caseless propellant in the late 80's to mid 90's and has some firearm designs based upon my work. Caseless ammunition isn't dead because it's a bad idea. It's just because there are several technical problems that cannot be overcome using conventional propellants. I overcame these problems by changing the nature of how modern smokeless propellants work but the powers that be just didn't want to invest any more time or effort a new ideas. They just spent enough money for no appreciable gain and wanted to move on. Lately I decided to revive my work by adapting the formulations for 3D printing and I hope to have something working within the next year.

  31. I remember the G11 and it was supposidly going to be adopted by the USA as well. I'm personally convinced if the wall had not come down and USSR not imploded the techical issue's would have been figured out and the weapon adopted sometime in the 1990's. If you were alive then you remember the idiot's talking about the "peace dividend" and the "end of history" and other such liberal BS. Well shortly after the Wall fell you had the break up of Yugoslavia and all that followed.

  32. One problem with caseless ammunition that they couldn't overcome at that time is flammability. Conventional cased ammunition propellant is protected from accidental initiation by the casing. Accidental initiation of caseless ammunition results in each successive round igniting which result in the carrier being engulfed in flames. I watched videos of experiments about this and the soldiers who watched them outright refused to carry the ammunition because of these safety concerns. I initially tried to over come this problem by using a flame deterrent coating. There were problems with this so I decided to reinvent how propellant functions. The second major problem with the G11 was the cost of the ammunition. They used Octogen to make heat resistant propellant and the only known source for this was as a bi product of the manufacture of Hexogen. This restricted supply resulting in each G11 round costing TEN DOLLARS each in late '80s money.
    I do remember all the gibberish about the "peace dividend" and all the other bile crap that the liberals puked up to justify gutting the military.

  33. Nice one, these are actually meant for using in military or security forces. This can also help you in maintaining safety and security around you as most of the times nothing goes waste. You can also go for the MA Gun License to get some really interesting and amazing guns to use these high caliber guns as well as these killer bullets.

  34. Overall, this an excellently executed blog post. Really enjoying the site. Many kudos.

    Most salient thing I can think of to add (though you did touch on this to some extent):
    -A largely overlooked advantage to metallic shell casings is that they act as a heat sink, and thus ejection of the casing removes much of the heat that would otherwise stay in the weapon.
    (Thanks go to Ian and Karl of Forgotten Weapons and InRangeTV for pointing this out to me.)
    At least one source I've read said the ACR G11's chamber needed to be replaced after 3K rounds, likely due to erosive wear from this retained heat. Kinda negates the whole "less maintenance" argument.

    -Where this issue is most relevant in the context of SF is operation within vacuum. With no atmosphere to conduct the heat away from the weapon, they will stay hot for a significantly longer period after firing.
    Put your characters in a similar setting to spacewalking in LEO, and the sunlight will further bake the firearm up to branding-iron-hot levels, which it will stay at, since again there's no such thing as "air cooled" in vacuum.
    Ejecting the heat sinking metallic shell casings will mollify this a little, whereas caseless is just begging for cook-offs in this scenario.

  35. I wonder if a needle type gun could be "reinvented" for caseless ammunition? I doubt that it would offer any advantages over more modern designs, but it would be as cool as hell!

  36. Sorry for bump :D but Caseless ammo are Chrome & Chrome spec force PC games, kinda strange because ammo are bassed on real life you know 9mm 12 slug gauge etc.

  37. For my novel Stardust, I have settled on using polymer cased ammunition for small arms.

    Vehicle ammunition, such as the 40mm shells used by the story's mecha, are caseless because larger ammunition is more tolerant of being caseless (such as the 30mm ammunition used by the Eurocopter Tiger, which the mecha ammunition is based on).

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