Cobalt Kinetics and MARS Inc. of Montana have paired up to develop a new machine gun for future military trials. Right now the U.S. Army is looking for a lighter and more effective machine gun than their current light machine guns.
The two main considerations for both the NGSW, or Next-Generation Squad Weapon, and are weight and effective range. Called the MARS Rifle, for now, the MARS-designed and Cobalt-built rifle promises to excel on both fronts.
“I can’t think of a better collaboration in this industry,” said MARS president Michael Merino. “Our MARS rifle design, coupled with the innovative approach to rifle manufacturing of the Cobalt Kinetics team, has been incredible.
“We believe that we have a rifle design that meets the requirements of the Army’s ambitious NGSW program. We are excited to be part of the evolution of military effectiveness. We also plan to release a commercially available version of this rifle, in the first few months of 2020.”
Externally the NGSW-hopeful looks like an AR-pattern rifle similar to the M4 and M16 carbines and rifles in service today. But the design varies fundamentally and uses a completely different action, along with a new cartridge and new magazines.
The Army is trying a new 6.8mm cartridge that operates in the Short Magnum range, pushing a 140-grain bullet at 3,200 feet per second, out of 14-inch barrels and shorter. It’s safe to assume this is a very high-pressure cartridge.
“The initial call-out for the program seeks to dramatically increase the terminal power and effective distance of the 5.56 and even 7.62 NATO,” said Cobalt. “The performance of the new cartridge will rival the exterior and terminal ballistics of some current commercial magnum hunting cartridges. It seems a worthwhile endeavor to outfit each soldier with an 8-pound rifle that can hit a 1 MOA hardened target and penetrate that target up to and exceeding 1,000 yards.”
The companies have submitted two designs for trials, a “rifle” version with a 13-inch barrel and a “squad” model with an 18-inch barrel.
To manage such high pressures the MARS rifle uses a “shifted pulse recoil” action based on the long-recoil operating system. Like a long-action recoil system, the bolt and the barrel stay locked together for the full length of the stroke to the rear of the action when firing a round.
Once the barrel and bolt cycle all the way back, the bolt locks to the rear and the barrel springs forward back into the firing position, pulling off the spent case. Then the bolt can close, ejecting the used case and feeding a new round in the chamber before locking into place.
The long-action recoil system was popular in the early years of machine gun design. Its main advantage is that it’s strong. The case and case head of the cartridge are fully supported for the entire duration of the firing portion of the firing cycle.
It’s a slow recoiling system which also means that extraction and ejection don’t have to be particularly violent, a problem with high-pressure automatics that can lead to case head separation and other jams. And because the entire barrel moves off the spent case after recoiling, the system has a lot of strong primary extraction.
If this new 6.8mm round is as hot as they claim, a conventional gas-powered operating system really might not be the best system for the job. There is one claim that does stick out about the MARS rifle and that’s accuracy.
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MARS implies that their design is capable of shooting 1 MOA or minute of angle groups, and that level of accuracy is difficult even for conventional self-loading rifle designs, let alone military-grade guns. This is even harder with recoil-operating guns.
Because the barrel has to move — and with long-recoil, move the entire length of the action — it means it has to be free to move, as in, not fixed rigidly in place. That means that not only is the whole barrel loosely retained while firing, it also means that it can return to a slightly different position after every shot.
It will be interesting to see if this design is that accurate, and if so, how did they pull that off? The world may not have to wait for the military trials to continue, which is good because these kinds of trial with lofty goals don’t always wind up ending where they expect to go from the start.
MARS and Cobalt hope to have commercial rifles in production by next year.