04 December 2012

FWS Armory: Rotary Cannons and Mini-Guns

FWS is back from vacation with a blogpost all about one of the most iconic modern firearms. These death dealing machines go by many names, rotary cannon, Gatling gun, miniguns, but they talking about the same thing...badass whirling machines of death and destruction that spit out brass at an amazing rate of fire. Since the Vietnam War, modern miniguns have been on the battlefield, but it was the 1987's PREDATOR that the world of video games, anime, and science fiction as a whole have been populated with the handheld variety.  But what really are they and how do the modern military use them? More over, can they be used in the fashion seen in popular media? FWS is here with the answers...because Old Painless is back baby!

What is the difference between Rotary Cannons and Miniguns?

In this case...size does matters, because that is the many difference between the rotary cannon and the minigun, and their uses in the military. Miniguns typically fire an assault rifle sized cartridge, 7.62x51mm is the most popular, and are electrically powered, like the iconic GE M134. These type of weapons trace their roots back to the original Galting gun, and are used in suppression fire of infantry and smaller targets. While the larger rotary cannons, like those in the nose of the A-10 Warthog use shells in the 30mm or 20mm variety, and are designed for taking down larger targets, like hostile aircraft. Another name for a minigun that pops in works like DOOM is a chaingun. Chainguns are auto-cannons or machine guns that use an external power source to fuel the action of the weapon rather than recoil energy to cycle the bolt.

History of Rotary Cannons/Miniguns
It is a common belief that multi-barreled machine gun type weapons began in the 1860's with the invention of the Gatling Gun by Dr. Richard J. Gatling. However, multiple barrels firearms have been seen has the tactical solution since the 14th century. Weapons like the Middle Ages 'Ribauldequin' were primitive firearms with stacked tubes for volley fire that worked for the ballistic technology of the day. It was only really until the American Civil War that the modern minigun took shape with the Gatling gun. In a queer twist of logic, Dr. Gatling envisioned his repeater to so effective, it could end future wars...yeah, that didn't happen. Even after the Union Army got a demonstration, they were unimpressed despite the current situation with the Civil War, and that nothing existed like the Gatling Gun at that time.
One of the issues was the vast amount of calibers used in the Union Army, the Gatling Gun was just another weapon to feed, and it was a large, heavy weapon (around 1,000lbs) that did not have the range of an artillery piece, and it was too new. The few that were used during the Civil War were mostly defensive, and most historians do not think it made much of a difference. However, it was a hit on the international market, and used by the US Army during the Indian Wars, but not at the Little Big Horn. During the British imperial expansion, the naval and land based Gatling Guns were used to suppress native tribes, especially in the Zulu Wars.
Next came the Hotchkiss 37mm revolving cannon that much like the Gatling gun using an hand-operated crank to provide the motorized action. The goal of the Hotchkiss revolving cannon was to have a rapid-fire weapon (43 RPM) that could be more portable than the Gatling gun. The magazine held ten 37mm shells and weight in at 18 pounds, lessening it's ability to be an portable weapon. Most of the older style of manual-operated revolving cannons were obsolete in 1911 with the invention of the Maxim Gun. For the time, the fire rate of the single barreled water-cooled machine gun was enough for many military organizations, but not for the Germans.  
In 1916, the Prussian Air Corps experimented with fielding a 7,000 RPM 12 barreled rotary cannon that chambered the 7.92mm Mauser round, called the Fokker-Leimberger gun. Despite some success, the poor quality of the wartime ammunition caused jamming and fouling issues, however the Fokker-Leimberger gun was the first major step in the miniguns of modern warfare. When it came to handheld miniguns, history records the first has the Neal submachine gun developed by E.C. Neal in 1942 that chambered the .22LR round.

This little blowback wonder used five barrels feed from fifty round helical magazine loaded in rear of the SMG to spray-n-pray enemy position for hit-and-ran tactics. Even though it fired the .22LR, the Neal SMG had a fire rate of 3,000 RPM. Why wasn't the Neal SMG in the hands of allied paratroopers on D-DAY? The pistol-chambered SMGs of the day, the Thompson M1 and the MP40 where more versatility than the Neal, and it was mostly too oddball of a concept for acceptance. Ideas of fielding electronic motor driven multi-barreled cannons picked back nearly meditatively after WWII. The future of air combat demanded that a airborne gun system that could fire thousands of rounds per minute to take down jet-powered attack jets and fired a larger round that the typical .30 caliber of WWII combat aircaft. In the late 1940's, the USAF awarded the contract for these new airborne cannon project, called Vulcan, to General Electric, and who began testing the theory of an Gatling style electric gun by attaching a motor to an original Gatling gun. Once the theory was sound, GE tested weapon calibers, settling on 20mm that proved effective by the German airforce.
By 1956, GE delivered a 20mm rotary cannon that was later named the M61 Vulcan Cannon. Due to the high rate of fire, less thermal buildup, these 20mm cannons became the gun of choice in NATO aircraft. By the time of the Vietnam War, fire suppression of hostile forces to exfil troops out of the hot-zone was a key need, and it was fulfilled by the first generation of C-47 gunships, the so-called 'Puff-the-Magic-Dragons.' Given the success, a lighter variant was fielded that fired the standard machine gun cartridge, 7.62x51mm. The GE M134 minigun was soon mounted on all manner of aircraft, striking fear into the NVA/VC.
Around 1966 to the 1970's, US military explored the possibility of creating an handheld minigun, called a microgun that would fire the same cartridge as the M16, 5.56x45mm. The XM124 project (AKA the 'Six-Pak') was not a left-field idea, given the WWII-era Neal SMG, and weighted in at around the same has the Vietnam-era M60. If the XM124 had been approved, it would been similar to the WWII-era .30 M1919 machine gun where two to three people composed a team to service it and haul around the weapon itself could be broken down in two 24lbs parts. The idea was to feed the Six-Pak from cassettes and the gun to be powered by an 24 volt battery that could reach 10,000 rounds per minute, however only 1,000 was carried in field, so the Six-Pak was dialed down to 4,000. What stopped the XM124 from being standard issue? The rise of light machine gun, urban combat, and rational thinking. tieing down several soldier in a platoon to serve a greedy pig of a weapon that could bleed through its entire ammunition supply in several seconds is unrealistic in most combat conditions. Imagine humping that damned thing around Afghanistan.
The next step in rotary cannons came due to numerical advantage of Warsaw Pact armored vehicles. To count this, the USAF began developing an aircraft that could deal with ground threats like the Grim Reaper. That project led to the world famous, GAU-8 30mm airborne rotary cannon mated to the A-10 Warthog, becoming of the iconic and most deadly rotary guns in the military. By the 1990's, miniguns and rotary guns had proven themselves, and firmly been established has the best method of defensive fire for vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels.   

Examples of Current Military Rotary Cannons and MiniGuns

The 30mm GAU-8 Avenger Rotary Cannon
During the dark days of the Cold War, when NATO believed that the Warsaw Pact would charging with their armored vehicle numerical superiority over the border with West Germany, the greatest and most famous rotary cannon was developed. This fear caused for the development of the M-1 Abrams MBT, the AH-64 Apache, and the A-10 Warthog. The heart of the Fairchild Republic aircraft was the General Electric GAU-8 30x173mm Avenger  hydraulically driven cannon specifically designed to take out armor vehicle mechanized platoons with hard-hitting depleted uranium linkless rounds.
When I was a kid, I had the GI Joe Cobra 'Rattler' aircraft, and my friends and I talked with awe and wonder about this airborne monster cannon that the aircraft was built around! While the A-10 was never used to repeal a Red invasion, it did see combat for the first in the First Gulf War with duties in close air support and anti-tank. During the Bosnia Conflict, the A-10 was called on again for a range of tasks that allowed for the GAU-8 cannon to fire over 10,000 rounds and even today, the A-10 with it's 30mm cannon are still providing death-from-above. There is a 25mm variant of the GAU-8, the GAU-12 that is used on the Harrier attack jet and the AC-130 gunship. One of the doctor's I work for in the old ICU told me, in previous career has an engineer, they tested outfitting a GAU-8 cannon to a weapon pod under-slung on the F-16, allowing for a ground combat role. When the 30mm was fired, the F-16 was pushed back. To fully-test the weapon, he told they had to chain down the aircraft. Wicked.   

The 7.62mm M134D Minigun
Original developed for airborne fire suppression when exfil'ing troops from the hot LZs of Vietnam by General Electric and fires the same round has the M60 general purpose machine gun (7.62x51mm) at a rate of 3000 to 40000 rounds per minute at a range of about 1,1000 yards through six barrels powered a DC electric motor.
Their early usage of the first generation of the electrical powered Gatling guns were mounted on the C47 cargo plane gunships, that became known has the Puff-the-Magic-Dragon. Due to their success, the M134 minigun became a staple of the US Military through today, by the Arizona-based Dillon Aero company via the Air Force GAU 2B/A and the Army's M134D that weed out the issue of jamming with the old GE M134 units.
These are found being mounted on UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to the US Navy SOC-R speedboats and even some black Secret Service SUVs, for defensive suppression fire. The same is true of their use on US Navy ships for protection against pirates, hostile boarding craft, and underwater aliens. In an offensive role, the M134D is mounted on the AH-6 Little Birds and some Humvees in service with Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 20mm Phalanx CIWS Naval Rotary Cannon
Yet another creation of GE, who do indeed bring good things to life. This 20x102mm six-barreled computer-controlled cannon is designed to be an defense system that protects the ship against incoming missiles, air-craft, and small craft via 4,000 RPM. The Phalanx CIWS 20mm rotary cannon is very similar to the older M61 Vulcan cannon mounted on aircraft. The CIWS does have a traditional IFF system, instead, it uses it AI programming to to gauge the level of threat from raw data from the radar system. While the system is effective, there have been a few deaths involved from the use of CIWS. Several have come from pieces of the defeated drone striking the ship. Defensive rotary cannons like the CIWS have begun appearing in sci-fi naval combat.

The 20mm M197 Rotary Cannon
This electrically driven three-barreled rotary cannon is primarily used by the later verisons of the US Marine corps and others that use the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. The M197 is a lightened variant of the M61 Vulcan cannon, with three barrels instead of six, and a lower rate of fire due to the weight of the aircraft. About 750 rounds are loaded in interior magazine, and the Cobra has a 650 RPM fire rate allowing for one full minute of firing.

The 20mm M61 'Vulcan' Rotary Cannon
This is one of the original rotary cannons that has been in service with the US military for fifty years, and popularized the association of rotary guns and the word 'Vulcan'. Operating via pneumatic or hydraulic operation the Vulcan fires 20x102mm shells at 6,000 RPM, and is normally mounted on attack jets, like the F-14, F/A-18, the F-4, and the badass F-22. This also seen operation onboard ship via the ICWS, and mounted to a M113 APC has a mobile anti-air vehicle.  

The 12.7mm Yak-B  Rotary Cannon
I am a sucker for the Russian Mi-24 Hind gunships, and mounted to this badass was a four-barreled 12.7mm rotary cannon. It was replaced in later models with the 23 auto-cannons due to a lack of effectiveness when the gunship engaged armored targets.

The Advantages of Rotary Cannons/Miniguns

Extremely High Rounds-per-Minute

The entire purpose of the rotary cannon/minigun is to delivery massive amounts of outgoing rounds down range onto the target, crushing the target under a hail of lead. Just watch any minigun video on youtube and you can witness the awesome power of the modern Gatling guns. This legendary firepower enabled the A-10 Warthog's 30mm GAU-8/A rotary cannon destroy its target before the target can engage Triple-A. In 1965, an FC-47 gunship flying over Bong Son in South Vietnam, fired over a quarter of a million rounds from their miniguns killing an estimated 300 NVA.

Accuracy (?)
This was a point raised by David, one of the consultants for FWS, that unlike a conventional machine gun, the minigun manages the recoil energy allowing for more accurate shots of a fashion and less spread. In addition, the steer volume fire allows for a wide area to be covered by incoming fire.

Less Thermal Buildup
If a conventional machine gun, say an M2 .50 caliber attempted to match 4,000 rounds per minute, it could not simply be done with the action jamming, and the barrel melting. Miniguns and rotary cannons allow for massive fire volume with less thermal buildup due to the multiple barrel design. Of course, if you fire any weapon for a long enough period, it does have heat buildup.

Psychological Effect
The 'buzz' that brings death from the rotating barrels of a minigun is also a useful tool to drive hostiles away from you. Even if the steel rain does not hit your targets, seeing that power would make most people think twice before attacking. The original airborne gunships used in the Vietnam War, the AC-47 Spooky, could put a tracer round, at 3000 feet, on every square inch of a football sized area. Given this capability, VC and NVA units were deeply afraid of these low-n-slow death dealers, to the point when they heard the sound of Puff the Magic Dragon, they retreated from the field of battle. Wouldn't you?

The Disadvantages of Rotary Cannons

Ammo Dump
Rotary cannons and miniguns nose-bleed high rounds-per-minute fire rate are both a blessing and curse. If the operate of the weapon lays on the trigger, the ammunition could be gone in a few seconds. To prevent this, some miniguns are fitted with burst triggers, but still, a few squeezes, and the damn thing is dry. For example, the A-10 Warthog for the GAU-8 is about 1,150 rounds, and is fired in two-second bursts due to the 4,000 RPM capability making for less than one minute of continuous fire. The same is true of other vehicle mounted miniguns, the RPM outstrips the supply of bullets that the vehicle can carry, causing the operator of the weapon to be cautious of not firing off all of the ammo before the battle is over.

Mechanically Complex

It is surprising how simple, mechanically speaking, a modern machine gun is, and how it doesn't need gasoline or electric to fire, but that is not true of the rotary cannon/minigun. Due to their high rate of fire, the barrels and motor components needed to be replaced more often than a standard machine gun. This level of maintenance would prevent a minigun being in a infantry LMG role.  

Could you realistically use a handheld Minigun?
Since Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke took Old Painless on a tour of the jungles of South America, handheld miniguns have been a part of popular media, but you could really use one to do more than rain-forest deforestation? Yes, handheld miniguns could and do exist beyond the realm of airsoft and Team Fortress 2, like the World War II era Neal SMG, but the real question is why would you want to use one?
Due to weight, only about two to three hundred rounds of ammo could be carried in a backpack, which would only equal to a few seconds of fire. Forcing the entire squad to hump ammo for the damned thing. Then weapon would have to hooked up to an external power source...so then people have to hump batteries.
About a year ago, the host of FPSRussia, Kyle, traveled half way across the world to fire a handheld minigun that could be a GE M134 that was hooked up to several car batteries. From the video feed, it appears Kyle used only a strap to hold up the weapon, and was able to handle the recoil...but after all, he is a professional Russian. Then there is the issue of bulk, you couldn't perform CQB with one of these, nor most of the tactics common in real-world combat situations. Imagine taking fire, and trying to take cover with one of these things! Then what role would these things have? Waves of charging infantry are rare in modern warfare, humping them on patrols would royally suck, and a LMG would be a better fit.The only way for a minigun to be somewhat 'practical' in infantry battlefield conditions would be mounted to an armored power suit!

Future Military Application of Rotary Cannons
If future military organizations continue to use traditional chemically propelled kinetic energy weapons like today, than there will be a place rotary cannons and miniguns. The level of outgoing fire is similar able to crush hostile targets, even if they were created on another world. These will be used in similar roles has today, defensive fire support on transports, offensive firepower for dealing out the hate. Another use could be colonial perimeter defense against hostile creatures, as was seen in AVATAR. For general military use, one should examine the HALO universe has the best guide to the future realistic use of rotary cannons.

The Progenitor: "Old Painless" from PREDATOR (1987)
Single-handily responsible for the mass introduction of handheld miniguns in popular culture is the 1987 film PREDATOR. The following information is taken from the IMFDB.org page on PREDATOR:
Nicknamed "Old Painless", a hand-held M134 Minigun is the main weapon carried by Blain (Jesse Ventura). It has been modded for handheld use with an M60 handguard assembly (installed backwards) and a rear pistol grip which is taken from normal (at the time) Minigun spade grips. The grips are attached to the weapon by a custom Y-frame with an M16-style carry handle that mounts to the weapon's recoil absorbers. The weapon was powered by an electric cable hidden off camera and fired blank rounds to ease the recoil force; in addition, the rate of fire is substantially decreased from the normal 6,000 RPM to 1,250 RPM. There are several reasons for this; to ease recoil, save on ammunition, and because director John McTiernan wanted the barrels to be visibly turning rather than a blur. It is believed in real life a similar weapon was tested by US special forces in the 1970s but found to be impractical.
Some sources claim the weapon is an XM214 Gatling gun, part of the "Six-Pak" system which fires the smaller 5.56mm NATO rounds. The XM214 never made it beyond testing and the film weapon is clearly the larger M134 as evidenced by the non-tapered barrels, and the four-disc barrel clamp. On the subject of the weapon's caliber the film's technical adviser Kevin Dockery had the following to say:
"The Predator gun is an M-134. It was never a Microgun (XM-214). That story has been rattling around the Internet and elsewhere for years, that the Predator gun was a 5.56, it wasn't. Ventura had a hand in putting together the harness that held the gun, after all, he had to carry and handle the darn thing, and told me a bunch about it. When Dan had the gun (past tense I believe) he contacted me to see if Ventura wanted to buy the weapon. I'm going to do a writeup on the XM-214 including pictures of me holding one. It isn't a big deal to pick the microgun up and hold it cradled in one arm. Maybe when people see just how small the 5.56mm gun is, this story will start going away. The pack in the movie held all of four seconds worth of ammo and no batteries. In the first scene when Ventura fires the gun, you can see the cable for it in the dirt behind him. And the trigger didn't work. The special effects man handled powering the gun for several reasons, including safety. Something about them not wanting the actors injured if the gun was dropped and the trigger pulled."
The gun is also operated in the film by Mac shortly after Blain's death and Mac uses it to chop down half the forest in an attempt to kill the Predator. The ammo pack for the weapon uses an M23 armament system ammo box and cover assembly attached to an ALICE pack frame. These ammunition canisters hold approximately 550 rounds when filled; at the confirmed rate of fire (1,250 RPM) when the weapon was sold, the minigun had a maximum of 25 seconds of ammo.
For the firing scenes the box is oriented correctly with the feed chute attaching to the upper left corner of the box and oriented on the weapon so the window is facing upward. During the non-firing scenes the ammo box is positioned up and down with the chute turned upside down, hiding the fact that there is no ammunition present. Also for non-firing scenes, the weapon is not hooked up to a power supply, as the pack only contained ammunition, not batteries. This allowed the actor to move freely during these scenes. During the firing scenes, the batteries were just off camera and the weapon was shot so the cables would not be visible; the cables are trailed along the ground and then routed up the actor's trouser leg and through their clothing to the gun.

Science Fiction and the Rotary Cannons
Have you ever wondered why perfectly sane people, including yours truly, French rolled their jeans in the late 1980's, wore the mullet,or popped the collar on their hot pink polos? Or how legions of the new generation wore the Justin Bieber bowl cut? Do you remember when shoes could pump air? That is the only way I can describe why so many rotary cannons and miniguns make an appearance in science fiction. Because it is really frakking cool to do that, and I fully blame PREDATOR for that, just like an entire generation can blame Justin Bieber for that damned haircut. Science Fiction creators witnessed how badass and sexually simulating rotary cannons are, and they want that badassness in their own work....cool begets cool...I think Sir Issac Newton said that. Also aiding in the weapon's popularity is the lack of research on the part of the sci-fi writers that do not under the role of modern miniguns in the military, and are simply taken  in by their power.
However, the worst crime that sci-fi creators inflict on minguns is transforming them into assault rifles...seriously? And the worst part, it is not even a recent development. In David Lynch's 1984 DUNE, and in the computer game DUNE 2, the Harkonnen and Imperial Sardaukar troopers use some sort of minigun rifle, some three years before the PREDATOR 'Old Painless'. Others, like 2005's Aeon Flux followed up with their own bastard creations on this flawed concept. Any type of micro-minigun would burn through the limited magazine of an assault rifle in a heartbeat and there is no 'sleight of hand' in the real world. Given the rate of fire and recoil, the accuracy would most likely suck, and these weapon would be more complex to field-strip than the average M4 or AKM.
So, if rifle-miniguns are not a suitable infantry weapons, than why are there so many examples in science fiction? The easy answer is that they are tacticool and being cool is so important...right?


M579 'Daisy-Cutter' APC from ALIENS: Colonial Marine Technical Manual
In the pages of the Colonial Marine Technical Manual, there is a variant to the M577 APS, the M579 'Daisycutter'. Much like the M113 APC mounting a 20mm M61 Vulcan rotary cannon, the M579 uses a base M577 APC chassis, but in place of the standard DEW turret  there is a quad 20mm Gatling cannons assemble for an air defense artillery role. Basically  the M579 fills the sky with massive amount of different munition types of 20mm shells (it is unknown if the rotary cannons are caseless) to threats 1,500 meters out. Building upon the M579 design, there is M270 plasma and M820 particle variants. It is also used in an fire support anti-infantry role as well.

The Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannon from Star Wars: Clone Wars
Seen in the Clone Wars cartoon, this mega-damage DEW was manufactured by Merr-Sonn Munitions for the Army of the Republic. Firing 166 blast-bolts per second, the Z-6 rotary blaster was fitted with extensive cooling system in the core of the rotary barrel system. This weapons appears to be man-portable by a clone trooper wearing normal combat armor, but is limited by thermal build-up and the power-pack.
This weapon is also referenced to in some other Star Wars works has a chaingun. 

The M648 'Vulcan' Rotary Cannon from Starship Troopers 3: Marauder
In the third live-action SST film, we finally get to see Federation armored power suits verse the bugs, and most of these Marauder suits are fitted with a six-barrel kinetic energy M648 'Vulcan' rotary cannon. While only on-screen for few minutes, it seems this death machine fires something larger than the Morita 7.62mm rifle rounds...maybe 20mm like the US Army's AAA Vulcan cannon? Much like the Space Marine miniguns in Warhammer 40K, it seems logically to mount a rotary cannon to deal with the onslaughter of hostile bugs. I was disappointed with visuals of the M648 being used during the battle...didn't seem epic enough.   

Harkonnen Trooper Minigun rifle from DUNE (1984)
Many sources on the internet credit the first example of a handheld rotary/minigun has 'Old Painless' from PREDATOR, however, they must not remember the 1984 film, DUNE. In the hands of gas mask clad Harkonnen troops were these overly designed minigun rifles that were never seen clearly or given the ceremony of 'Old Painless', making them lost in the busy background of the film.
One of the best shots in the film to see the Harkonnen minigun rifle is the scene when Mentat Piter de Vries arrives on to Giedi Prime. However when it comes to any hard information on this oddball weapon, internet searches come up dry on why the prop-master built these far-future rifles based on a minigun barrel system. My only guess is that David Lynch wanted the Harkonnen troopers to be menacing on every level, and nothing says that like a mini-gun wielded by black clad shocktroopers! The theme of minigun rifles for the Harkonnen spilled over in the video games for years. Another minigun type weapon seen in the 1984 film were the 'heavy' weirding modules used by the Fremen to destroy spice harvester and during final battle over Arrakeen. I've been unable to dig up any images, but the sound emitters were shaped in a minigun fashion. Very odd design for a sonic weapon.
This weapon popped back up with the line of oddball LJN tie-in film toys, which I had a few. If you bought the Rabban figure, came with the Harkonnen trooper helmet and minigun rifle. This toy gun gives us some of the clearest visuals on the weapon. It seems that there is a heavy duty top-rail brace, and the weapon is feed from a box-shaped magazine holding some type of projectile. From this, it could be assumed that DUNE minigun fires slow projectiles designed to penetrate body shields, but the box magazine seems too small to feed a minigun for more than one second of fire.

The Hughes GU-11 55mm three-barreled Rotary Cannon from ROBOTECH: Macross
According to several ROBOTECH sources, the standard armament for the RDF Veritech Valkyrie, the GU-11 fires 55mm APFSDS rounds that are feed from an 200 round ammo-can in the rear of the cannon that doubles has a hand-cannon for the Battloid. Despite the advanced nature of the Zentraedi battlepods, this weapon still tore them up, speaking to the power of a airborne rotary cannon. I seriously doubt that 55mm is realistic bullet size for a attack jet/mecha, when most attack jet use 20mm to 25mm shells.

The REF GU-XX 35mm three-barreled Rotary Cannon from ROBOTECH: The New Generation
In the third Robotech War, one of the most iconic pieces of mecha was the Robotech Expeditionary Force Alpha Fighter, the replacement to the aging VF-1 Veritech. While the Alpha relayed more on missiles than the old Valkyrie, the Alpha's gun system replaced the GU-11 55mm rotary cannon is the GU-XX, that fires a smaller 35mm round in a tri-barrel hand-cannon that can be fired while the Alpha is fighter or guardian modes. While the GU-XX appears to have a magazine type reloading system, it is actually the ammunition drum that houses 600 round in a weapon that fires at a rate of 2,000 RPM. GU-XX 35mm cannon was common on the early generations of the Alpha Fighter, and was replaced in 2035 by tri-barreled EP-13 80mm particle cannon. Some sources reference to the GU-XX as the GU-13, however, the official RPG Sentients manual lists the weapons has the GU-XX.

The Chain-Guns from the DOOM Universe
How could you have a game of endless slaughter and computer-generated blood without a handheld minigun? That was what ID Software thought when they developed both DOOM and Wolfenstein's BFG. In the original DOOM games, the chaingun uses the same ammo has the pistol, making the chaingun a 9mm death-dealer most likely. During the more graphic advanced DOOM 3, the chaingun became the UAC Weapons Division Mach-II chaingun that was man-portable, but is feed for a 'belt' of sixty rounds. Unlike the original DOOM chaingun, this one fires an specialized designed .30 caliber round. Most gamers in their thirties have fond memories of unleash a hail of CGI bullets on demons will playing DOOM...I'll admit, I sang "Long Tall Sally' while shooting it.

The Imperial Assault Bolter Cannon from Warhammer 40K
This six-barreled kinetic energy minigun that fires the standard .51 bolter round at one hundred rounds per second, and is used on Imperial vehicles and the heavier tactical dreadnought armor.What is interesting about the usage of the assault cannon is that it is well thought out, unlike most sci-fi miniguns. Given the weight, recoil, and limited ammo, the assault cannon is normally mounted on vehicles designed for suppression dutys, and the same is true of its role with the dreadnought armor.

Gatling Gauss Cannons from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda 
Seen in several episodes of Andromeda were the twin planetfall defense robots, or OEbots carried onboard the ship for when the shit hit the fan. Mounted on the arms of the massive war-bots were six barreled Gatling Gauss cannons seemingly designed for taking down larger armored targets. When Tweedledee and Tweedledum were used to repel Magog boarding ships, their rotary cannons easily destroyed these ships in a few volleys. 

Twin Rotary Tail Cannons from BSG: Blood and Chrome
In the new BSG miniseries about William Adama's experiences during the Cylon Wars, he first pilots a Raptor, which is very different that the ones we saw in BSG. These slow-moving vehicles are equipped with air-to-air missiles, no FTL drives, and a pilot-operated tail-gun. The tail-gun are twin rotary cannons with a limited ammo can that most likely fire the same 30mm round found in the Viper Mark IIs.

The Tau Burst-Gun from Warhammer 40,000
I've always enjoyed the Tau race from the Warhammer 40K universe, and their use of DEW Gatling guns style pulse weapons. According to their Codex, the Tau burst cannons use their DEW pulse technology in the form of a four-barreled short-ranged weapon designed mostly for use on vehicles and battlesuits. A longer barreled burst cannon is fitted to aerial vehicles, and are used for offensive and defensive roles. A handheld burst cannon was featured in the 2002 PS2 FPS game, Fire Warrior. 

The UD-4L Cheyenne Dropship 25mm caseless GAU-113/B Rotary Cannon from ALIENS

Mounted in the chin of the UD-4L tactical transport of the Colonial Mares is the GAU-113/B caseless 25mm rotary cannon. Unlike traditional airborne rotary cannons, the GAU-113/B sprays hypergolic binary propellant behind the sabot that explodes firing out the rounds at a rate of 6,000 per minute.

M1-L1 triple-pulse rifle from Deep Rising (1998)
In the really shitty 1990's B-movie action/horror flick Deep Rising, Wes Studi plays a modern day pirate bent on robbing the luxury cruise ship Argonautica. To aid in this endeavor, Wes brought some new toys, specifically, the Chinese M1L1 triple-pulse assault rifle with one thousand round capacity magazines. The M1L1 had a water-tight seal with air cooled rotating five barrels with all manner of optical systems, and thumbhole stock (like the FN F2000). The 'pulse' portion of the M1L1's name is never fully explained...could it be like the M41a1...caseless with electric ignition?
The base real-steel weapon used for the M1L1 was the tacticool 9x19mm Calico M955A SMG (used in 1990's Total Recall as well) with some heavy modifications. What vexes me, is for all of the work done on the prop gun, it doesn't seem to factor much in the overall story. The characters in the film could have easily used an AK for all it mattered. Maybe it was just one of these things that the filmmakers used to general buzz about this terrible film. I guess it worked...because we're discussing now. Well played.

The Minigun Rifle from Split Second (1992)
This is one of the really terrible films I watched in high school on HBO really, really late at night. This 1992 B-movie stars Rutger Hauer as a detective hunting a satanic serial killer in the post-global warming London flooded streets. This film tried and failed to mine BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN for style points, and attempts to excite the audience with brief nudity and a minigun rifle used to kill the mutant beast at the end of this piece of shit film. What I can remember is that minigun rifle was part of the metro London police force's armory, but only used on special events, and was loaded from a box-like magazine. This were never refered to by name, only by 'big fucking gun'. Of course, our twin heroes manage to lose their advanced BFGs shortly after fighting this thing...typical.

Bregna Shock Trooper Rifle from Aeon Flux (2005)
In the 2005 live-action adoption of the American animation Aeon Flux, more minigun rifles show up in the hands of the Bregna city-state shock troopers. This is yet another shitty sci-fi film that attempts to jazz up with some tacticool weaponry and gun-fu  in place of something close to a good script. The Begna Shock Trooper rifle miniguns were completely prop weapon and not based on any real-steel gun. In addition, these guns had their spinning minigun barrels and muzzle-flash added in during post-production SFX.


Military Channel's M134 Segment

Future Weapons on the Dillion Aero M134D

FPSRussian's Minigun Episode


  1. a few notes:
    a Chaingun is an externally powered cannon with a single barrel: [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chain_gun ]
    Rotary cannons/Gatlings are not chainguns. Doom and other games used chaingun because it sounded cooler than 'gatling' or 'rotary machinegun'. the fact those old games tended to use chainlink ammo feeds on the gun images might have contributed too.

    second, the VF-1's 55mm gatling fires APFSDS kinetic penetrator rounds, and from the art sheets the round itself is a stubby 'pistol' type round that uses a minimum of propellant to gets its projectiles up to speed.

    third, the VF/A-6 Alpha Fighter from Robotech doesn't use a 35mm gatling, it uses an 80mm tribarrel laser cannon with a magazine like battery pack. [ http://www.robotech.com/infopedia/mecha/viewmecha.php?id=21 ]
    the projectile gunpod was an error made in the old RPG, since at the time there was no official stats material available to reference. the robotech.com, and the new RPG, use the correct Information.

    fourth, and more of an interesting note, Tau Pulse weapons are Plasma weapons.

  2. Hi, William!! :) You put some interesting info in this one- I didn't know much about the history of the minigun. The 1942 Neal submachine gun is pretty crazy- I didn't know that a man-portable rotating barrel weapon had been experimented with that early. I thought it had all started with the GE Six-Pack.

    Generally, it seems to be that a lot of movies, games, etc. tend to show rotating barrel weapons just for the "cool" factor, especially in the case of man-portable miniguns. I must admit that I missed the minigun rifles in David Lynch's Dune and Aeon Flux- though I remember the weird gatling weirding modules. I thought they were just energy blasters at the time. I heard that the M1L1 Triple Pulse Rifles from Deep Rising were meant to be spoofs on the "endless magazines" and "gun fu" from other films. They do look pretty cool, though- if I am ever stranded in a shitty B-movie, make sure to send me some M1L1s and a few endless magazines. ;) Even if I die, I can at least make a lot of noise before then...

    Aren't a little hard on the concept of a handheld rotating barrel firearm, though? The Neal SMG suggests that there is a place for a rapid-fire rotating barrel SMG or rifle, probably one that uses very small rounds fired very fast- much like the Advanced Combat Rifle program was aiming to create, showering the target with bursts of small bullets in order to ensure more hits in a firefight. If you take the ACR programs goal to the extreme, you will reach a point where there are just too many bullets going down the barrel at one time. Probably, such a weapon will fire small bullets- maybe a variation on the 22. caliber round, so you could carry lots of these rounds to feed your hungry gun. Good for hit-and-run, spray and prey tactics, perhaps.

    I kind of like multi-barrel firearms in general, because they look odd and different and instantly signify that this is a futuristic or even an alt-history setting, so I guess I'm a bit biased in favor of shamelessly ripping off the Neal SMG...

    Christopher Phoenix

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed the blogpost, that history portion was the last thing I wrote, and I've been working on this blogpost for nearly a month, I just wasn't that into it has much as I thought I would be...after all, I am a huge fan of PREDATOR.
    Yes, I'll admit, I was hard on the handheld gatling gun concept. I think there is a place for miniguns, on the hands of Armored Power Suits, perimeter defense guns, and AAA defense, but the minigun rifle is an odd one. I think there could be a place for it, if we were clearing a planet that was populated with some alien thing like the Critters...were the extreme high RPM would work on a hungry gun, as you put it. But, the rounds would have to be small, like you said, about a .22 or even the FN 5.7mm PDW round would be a good choice. I couldn't find any information on if a caseless minigun would be better. Then there is the Metal-Storm cannon concept though...hmmmm....
    Thanks reading and commenting!

  4. I understand the reason why a handheld minigun isn't that practical- something like the XM-214 microgun will run through its entire supply of ammunition in a few seconds, and is very heavy and difficult to keep fed as it needs both a large supply of ammunition and batteries.

    That said, a "minigun rifle" may not actually be a minigun at all, strictly speaking. I looked up the Neal SMG, and wikipedia says that while it looks similar to a gatling gun, it isn't really related to gatling guns but rather more to a submachine gun that changes its barrels with each shot. So, rather than being a motorized miniature minigun, a rotating barrel assault rifle may simply be switching barrels with each shot to avoid excessive wear, overheating, and cook-off, like the Neal SMG. There were a few multi-barrel firearm concepts (all non-rotating) explored during Project SALVO and similar programs in the Soviet Union (I once saw a photo of a Russian rifle with THREE barrels). Very often these weapons are microcaliber, or even flechette, so that the recoil is not overpowering. if one small bullet won't take you down, twenty will. All of these weapons were developed in hopes of increasing a soldier's hit probability in a firefight by showering the target with a spread of projectiles with each squeeze of the trigger.

    For our purposes, these weapons often look strange and admirably futuristic. People have seen assault rifles so often in movies and games, modern concept artists have a hard time coming up with anything new- I would look into some of these older microcaliber, flechette, and multibarrel firearm concepts to see if I could come up with any interesting ideas if I were tasked with developing firearms for a project. It takes things in a different direction than a lot of SF firearms do. I could see weight being an issue with some of these weapons- maybe advanced lightweight metals and composites will help with that. :D Some firearms were dropped from Project SALVO because they were too heavy, even if their ammo wasn't...

    Christopher Phoenix

  5. I completely forgot about project SALVO! Ugh! That three-barreled Soviet weapon could be the gun that they take into space or did...the TP-82. It fired three types of ammo, and was sort of a break-open shotgun. It was designed to be a survival rifle in case the Soyuz capsule came down in Serbia, and the Yeti were hungry. The US military during the Future Force Warrior project had three barrel handgun that fired lethal and less lethal rounds and I think some sort of micro grenade. Flechettes are very cool and deadly, and pop up in my sci-fi writings at times. I've got a the future of bullets blogpost coming up, and I will add some of this discuss. Thanks!

  6. No, I've heard about the Soviet space survival gun, but this was a three-barrel assault rifle. Survival guns often have multiple single-shot barrels, so you can fire both rifle ammunition and shotgun shells. That Future Force Warrior handgun sounds interesting. I will have to look that up.

    I did a quick google search and identified the weapon I saw- it is the Soviet TKB-O59 three-barrel assault rifle, capable of full-auto fire, chambered for 7.62x39mm, and manufactured by the Tula State Arsenal in 1966. The rifle was based on the earlier Pribor ZB assault rifle, both designed by small arm's designer G.A. Korobov. It used a tripled 7.62x39mm magazine with a capacity of 90 rounds, with each barrel independently fed from the magazine- in other words, it was three assault rifles combined into one!! The intent was to create a weapon with increased hit probability and stopping power to counter Project SALVO, but was discontinued and classified as an experimental weapon. The TKB-O59 provided high rates of fire without too much recoil by firing salvos of intermediate sized bullets, and it could be fired ambidextrously as the shells ejected downward.

    It wasn't the only multi-barrel rifle tested in Russia around the time- the AO-63 assault rifle was a two-barrel assault rifle chambered in the 5.45x39mm round. We were testing multi-barrel weapons, too, in Project SALVO. The Springfield Armory SALVO had three barrels fed by a rotor.

    Flechettes are pretty cool- although they had some problems with being deflected by adverse wind and rain- and they were quite capable of penetrating body armor and doing severe damage. I especially like that a flechette-firing full auto rifle would have hardly any recoil, even compared to a .22 inch caliber round. Some SF electromagnetic weapons chip slivers of metal off of a block of ammo and fire them electromagnetically, spraying the target with bursts of small flechettes- a bit of a coilgun version of the flechette rifles. I always liked the duplex rounds too- two bullets, in ONE package. That's crazy.

    I'm looking forward to the future bullet blogpost- you'll have to check out Project SALVO, flechette rifles, and the microcaliber craze. You should probably discuss explosive bullets too...

    Christopher Phoenix

  7. That Soviet TKB-059 is a interesting weapon! The Russians tend to think outside of the box on weapons at times, and seeing this gun gives me an idea for a blogpost about strangle weapon systems.
    Those duplex rounds were tested by the US Military, but there is little information on them. I would love to see ballistic jelly footage of a duplex round!
    Thanks for the information!

  8. You forgot that Gatling invented a electrically powered gun that could fire 3,000 rounds a minute in 1891, why the U.S. didn't use it is a mistery.

  9. Not all gatling guns are electrically powered some russian ones are gas operated which means they don't need external power and thus making the gun a lot lighter. I believe that using a minigun for it's maximum fire capacity is completely dumb as it will chew all the ammo, however, thinking about how caseless ammo can be used and so this provides pretty much having more ammo than the typical cased ammo, and then making the weapon being self powered like the GshG 7.62 you can have a very interesting weapon, also if you consider putting a variable fire rate (between 1200 up to 2400 RPM), this will make the weapon fitting a wide variety of situations avoiding overheating problems in case of critical situation.

  10. Interesting post, liked the examples in msf of these rifle like miniguns, though u did forget the gears of war mulcher, it's like a portable gatling gun

  11. You forgot the powered exoskeleton (with miniguns) in the third matrix movie...

  12. My understanding is that the Gatling rifle in the movie Split Second was a shotgun, adding to the craziness

  13. What's your opinion on the xm556, a compact handheld minigun that was designed recently? Also your opinion on the schockhammer x and the venom gun fron the wolfenstein series?

  14. Also, do a blog on chainguns

  15. You forgot the chain-gun mini gun from Halo and the one from Lost Planet?

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  17. Great blog, absolutely love it. I think you forgot to mention "Reason" a microgun firing 3mm depleted uranium bullets from the pages of "Snowcrash" by Neil Stephenson. The need for an external energy source (including cooling) is addressed. Also it is mentioned that it is cool but unwieldy.