A military utility assessment held at Fort Benning, Ga., in September 2011 has concluded that all participating Soldiers immediately noticed the reduced weight of a prototype light machine gun and most would prefer it to the current squad automatic weapon used in battle.
The light machine gun, known as the LMG, is part of the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies, or LSAT, program at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal.
In September 2011, nearly 20 Soldiers participated in a two-week assessment of the LMG. The purpose of that event was to help engineers and developers understand and validate any adjustments or improvements the weapon and its unique ammunition may need from the perspective of the warfighter. Another purpose was to demonstrate its potential impact on mission effectiveness.
The results of the study conducted by the Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning were presented March 13 to a group of military and civilian personnel interested in the program during an LSAT Leadership Familiarization Shoot at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Last year's military utility assessment, or MUA, demonstrated the advantages that the LMG provides for the warfighter, and helped in developing a Capability Development Document , or CDD. A CDD is required before the system can transition to a program of record and enter the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the acquisition life cycle.
More than 25,000 rounds were fired from eight prototype LMG's during the assessment. Participating Soldiers overwhelmingly preferred the LMG to the M249 SAW, which is the machine gun currently used in Afghanistan.
Fifteen of the 19 Soldiers who participated stated that, if given a choice, they would rather take the LMG to war over the M249.
The study also revealed a significant reduction in the time it took the Soldiers to zero the LMG compared to the M249 SAW. Zeroing the weapon means customizing it for a more accurate shot since each weapon is unique and no two are exactly the same.
The Soldiers had to qualify on a known distance range with both the SAW and the LMG. One Soldier repeatedly failed to meet qualification standards while firing the SAW, but passed on the first try with the LMG.
Compared to the M249 SAW, the light machine gun is 21.5 pounds (41 percent) lighter for the gunner, and there is a 12 percent reduction in ammunition volume. This decrease in weight was evident when all the Soldiers maneuvered the woodland obstacle course faster while carrying the LMG versus the SAW.
FASTER COURSE TIME
On average, the course was completed faster by one minute and eleven seconds with the LMG, an increased agility that could be critical on the battlefield.
Soldiers attributed the increased mobility when moving and negotiating obstacles to the shortened weapon length, the adjustable butt stock and lighter ammunition.
After the briefing at Quantico, key Army leaders gained experience with the weapon while shooting rounds down range.
Lt. Col. Jack Emerson, the military deputy to the Army chief scientist, fired both weapons and immediately identified the recoil reduction in the LSAT LMG.
"The recoil is non-existent," Emerson said. "I can feel the difference and I'm no weapons expert."
Tom Caradeschi , chief engineer in Project Manager Maneuver Ammunition System, or PM-MAS, said "the difference is like night and day (and) just the weight of holding the weapon without even thinking of firing." PM MAS is part of the Program Executive Office for Ammunition.
Because of the findings during the assessment, Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general for the U.S. Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, signed a letter committing funding for more evaluations of the LMG in a Forward Operational Assessment in Afghanistan.
The LSAT program is managed by the Joint Service Small Arms Program, which is also part of ARDEC.
Textron Systems' AAI Corporation is the prime contractor and systems integrator for a team of six additional companies that contribute to the LSAT program.
Article by Eric Kowal, RDECOM