In the early 1970s, an apparently feckless-seeming group of planners in the Pentagon started marching out of cadence with the normal lockstep of ordnance procurement. The accepted method was still the old boy network of cronyism, featuring active duty officers, recently retired officers just hired by ordnance sellers, plus the other dol-hred trappings of what Col. Isaac Lewis once termed "The Ordnance Ring." The planners1 new idea was to consolidate, coordinate, and cut cost. In 1977, this new method was initiated amid a shower of publicity. It was known as the Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP).
According to a JSSAP spokesperson, the purpose was to "consolidate all small arms research, development, testing, and evaluation, including suppressor requirements, into one program for all five armed services." This was supposed to reduce horrendous research and development costs, eliminate duplication of effort, and drastically cut the lead time between weapon concept and adoption. JSSAP was also designed to cut the usual and wasteful interservice rivalries, the empire building and turf battles, plus the Ordnance Ring buddyism between military procurement leadership and the arms industry.
"JSSAP was going to get better weapons into the hands of the troops faster, at less cost, and more efficiently," the spokesperson explained.
One of the first activities was to announce a series of open trials for an entire family of weapons, ranging from pistols to heavy machine guns. JSSAP supporters said that the trials would be totally open and free of the old Ordnance Ring skulduggery of the past. In JSSAP's brief life, as this book is written, the veracity of that claim remains murky, according to most sources. According to a 1982 study by the General Accounting Office, noncompetitive methods were still the basis for more than 50 percent of Pentagon contracts, totalling more than $80 billion in 1980. In 1981, the figure was nearly 70 percent.
But when the program started, ordnance observers felt that where there was JSSAP, there was hope. Some of the respected experts thought that the military should get back to basics and away from the expensive and unreliable weaponry of the immediate past. Col. David Hackworth, the U.S. Army's most decorated soldier during the Vietnam war, stated, "Unless cooler heads prevail, during the next five years America will spend $1.5 trillion [that's trillion] replacing Vietnam era junk with a new generation of junk. ... In Vietnam, we painfully discovered that all of our bombs, bullets, and miracles could not get us into the winner's circle. We also discovered that we had spent billions of dollars on crash programs that produced highly sophisticated junk."
Sid Taylor, a former U.S. Air Force systems management expert, said, "Unless we rethink, re-conceive, and simplify some of our goldplated, overly complex, overly costly . . . military weapons systems, the fiscal impact on the American taxpayer . . . may defeat us."
JSSAP seemed ready to meet that challenge. According to a spokesperson, the philosophy was a five-to-ten-year plan for combined U.S. military armament design and procurement. This original plan called for a memo of agreement, with all five services signing, for 500,000 XM9 handguns, 20
percent (100,000) of which would be supplier-suppressed, although all weapons must be suppressor compatible.
In addition to the pistol, JSSAP specified a requirement for both an individual and a sniper rifle, a submachine gun, a combat shotgun, a squad automatic weapon, and a heavy machine gun. Because there was controversy among the services as to just what the design specifications and the field capability of each weapon category should be, the plan has been slow to progress on schedule.
For example, the original plans for the individual rifle included a sniper model with suppressor. Did this eliminate the need for a separate sniper rifle? According to several insiders, the best bet for a sniper rifle was a slightly modified version of the XM21 of Vietnam-era fame. But could that also be an individual rifle? There was no general agreement on any model and even less on the standard service rifle, until the Marine Corps adopted the M16A2, which is a different story.
The 9mm submachine gun was supposed to utilize a closed-bolt mode for semiautomatic fire and an open-bolt capability for full auto firing. It was also to be suppressor-ready for easy conversion. One designer told me, "They want something along the lines of Ingram's M10, but a bit more sophisticated, whatever that might mean."
A combination of controversy, internal squabbling, ineptitude, indecision, and underfunding hurt the JSSAP concept. As 1983 came into being, the apparently stillborn programs listed the following status: XM9 pistol (in limbo); M249 FN minimi squad assault weapon (adopted); improved M16 (evolved into the USMC-adopted M16A2): advanced infantry rifle (contract awarded to HK for "an advanced concept," probably their caseless Gil); close assault weapon, a euphemism for a combat shotgun (in limbo): general heavy purpose machine gun (probably to be JSSAP's own "Dover Devil" as a contract for the weapon was awarded to AAI, Inc., the folks who gave us the M73 and the M85); a suppressed submachine gun procurement program was in the advanced development stage; a sniper rifle program was in a sort of non-start limbo; the long-range sniper rifle in .50 caliber and several other miscellaneous ordnance and related accessory projects were also in limbo.
Perhaps JSSAP managed to put a crack in the Ordnance Ring. But that remains a less significant achievement when one considers that the American arms industries are now facing the same problems being battled by domestic manufacturers in the consumer field, e.g., automobiles, steel, electronics, clothing, even mushrooms and potatoes. They are faced with aggressive, tough, imaginative foreign competition for the U.S. defense dollar.
For example, in the JSSAP XM9 trials, only two of the four pistols entered were American designs those by S & W and Maremont. The kicker is that both of those companies are actually subsidiaries of larger parent companies in Europe. Of course. Beretta, FN, and I IK are all producing weapons and parts in American facilities. But the cogent factor is that the innovation, design, and some financing is coming from Europe. How long will it be until more financing starts coming from the Middle East?
Perhaps it would be well to take a brief look at each of the JSSAP projects most appropriate to the general topic of this book.
This is the most ambitious project and the one that has generated the most publicity, both favorable and otherwise. It is also the area in which suppressors have gained the most attention.
On 6 May 1981. the U.S. Air Force Armament Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida sent out a contract request asking companies and individual designers with experience and/or expertise in small arms suppressors to contact that military facility for possible business. Initial review would begin there for the 9mm pistols, all of which would have suppressor capability, according to Maj. John Toner of the Eglin lab.
The key use of these weapons would be as issue to combat air crews and pilots to increase their chances of survival if they were downed behind enemy lines. Maj. Toner said the suppressed pistols would also be Joint Service ordered for units "engaged in counterinsurgency and special operations." These types of operations might include "snatch missions involving prisoners or enemy VIPs or to seize enemy documents or intelligence materials behind the lines." Actually less than 2 percent of the planned 100.000 silenced 9mm pistols would be used for clandestine, intelligence, and special mission purposes. The vast majority would be issued for Air Force escape and evasion use.
One of the initial designs came from Eglin's own labs. A former research person at the U.S.
European law enforcement officials examine the HK MPSD, silenced submachine gun that has also scored well in JSSAP trials.
European law enforcement officials examine the HK MPSD, silenced submachine gun that has also scored well in JSSAP trials.
Army's Armament Research and Development Command (ARRADCOM) told me about the Eglin experimental suppressor that was rectangular, rather than round. It had the same width as the pistol and was frame-mounted no higher than the sights. It used the early Navy model 0 suppressor as the basic design for the system. This suppressor-equipped weapon was capable of either semiautomatic or single-shot operation.
The rectangular Eglin suppressor was a wipe-less, off-center unit mounted low on the weapon's frame, using the Mark 22-0 performance as the baseline for noise level comparison. Although the suppressor was supposedly just a design concept. Smith & Wesson was awarded a contract to develop the unit.
An engineer who saw the concept called the idea "somewhat silly." He said it was designed for those pistols having a moving-barrel locking system, for example, the S & W, Colt, and Beretta. According to both my source and my own research, there are at least two existing suppressors that will do the same job. The major problem is making a suppressor unit light enough, about nine ounces, so as not to impede the barrel movement. Each of the two existing units weigh nine ounces or less and give outstanding noise levels, below 124 dB. Both are wipeless and one is eccentric, allowing the use of the existing pistol sight without modification.
This apparent duplication did not sit quietly among some critics who were sorry to see JSSAP management veer from their announced course of economy and nonpartisan decisions.
One critic, a former defense contractor who knows the suppressor field well, commented, "I
don't know if the Eglin contract is money to soothe S & W over the XM9 business loss. But I do think they are simply reinventing the wheel up there (at S & W). There are a couple, maybe three, other excellent suppressors already in at least prototype stage that meet every specification. Why do they need to send thousands of taxpayer dollars up to S & W to replicate what someone else has already done and done well?"
S & W refused to respond to that question or my rephrasing of it. A spokesman at Eglin said that he had no comment beyond, "We are strictly a design and testing facility for the Air Force."
What about the initial pistol testing? How well did it support the JSSAP concept? The first round of testing was conducted at Eglin AFB late in
1981, and the Beretta 92SB was the favored weapon. The tests were conducted at Eglin since the Air Force was considered the prime service for the XM9 pistol. But following some behind-the-smoke-filled-congressional-anterooms lobbying by U.S. arms interests, JSSAP declared the Eglin tests biased. Several sources claimed that S & W had applied enough domestic political clout to stall any further move toward adoption of the Beretta. As an ironic feature, shortly after all this happened, S & Ws parent firm sold control of the arms maker to a foreign corporation.
1982, conducted by ARRADCOM personnel using the HK P7, the S & W 459A, the Beretta, and the SIG/Maremont entry. Although the results are classified, most sources report that the HK model "won" this competition handily. However, the Department of Defense totally canceled the contract award. At least two of the four firms. Beretta and S & W. sued the U.S. government over the issue and the tests.
Although another round of tests were scheduled for sometime in 1983. observers were skeptical. As Defense and Foreign Affairs Magazine pointed out in its December 1982 issue, "Another round of tests is reportedly forthcoming, this time with a much larger number of candidates likely. But if the program couldn't manage a four-way competition, what arc its chances of a ten-way one?"
Three of the four candidates for the XM9 JSSAP pistol trials were displayed at the United States Army Association (AUSA) show held in October 1981 in Washington. HK displayed their
P7; S & W showed their 459A: Saco Defense Division (of Maremont) brought their SIG/Maremont P226. In addition, FN displayed their GP pistol, although it is not officially in the competition. All of these weapons are 9mm models with large magazine capacities and can be suppressor equipped, with modification.
In addition, although Colt had a stainless steel model in the running and displayed a 9mm sample of their SSP for the AUSA show, late that fall they said they would not enter the competition because of their deep involvement in the M16 improvement program, another part of the JSSAP operation. Colt did submit a proposal, however, to convert existing Ml911A1 pistols to 9mm, a move which got great congressional and media support.
Even before the 1982 tests, the JSSAP XM9 project was in trouble, due to legal threats, inter-service rivalry, conflicting product claims, political pressure, lobbying ... all the nastiness that the JSSAP concept was supposed to eliminate. While you can theoretically take the old boys away from the action, you can't take the action away from the old boys.
When the XM9 proposal got to the check writers in the House of Representatives, money had become the key public issue. In October of 1981, the House Armed Services investigations subcommittee withdrew funding for the XM9 project after an Air Force gunsmith converted a 1911A1 to 9mm in ten minutes at a cost of less than one hundred dollars. The congressmen were being asked to spend S200 million to produce 500,000 XM9 weapons; that's $400 per pistol. The loyal opposition said the conversions could be had for less than a quarter of that.
By late 1982. the XM9 concept was in financial limbo, its procurement funding cut by Congress. At the time, the public debate seemed to center around the old hassle of .45 vs. 9mm or "what was good enough for the boys in 1911 is still good for the boys today."
Some of the research work went ahead, however, on a less ambitious basis. For example, at Eglin AFB, Jack Robbins, a respected small arms project supervisor, said, "We're doing generic research, testing toward a suppressor that will knock down the dB. We're looking for better designs to improve efficiency and for better ways to attach the device to the weapon."
According to Robbins, the Eglin facility had contracts with Beretta and S & W to develop a generic suppressor that would work well with various pistol designs. "Basically, the S & W design is the Browning type, while the Beretta is the straight-back action. In December of 1982, we had just gotten started in finding a good, workable 9mm suppressor for these handguns. We're not looking to Flash Gordon or Star Wars . . . just good basic science and design," he added.
Robbins also said that the majority of the suppressed weapons would be for escape and evasion missions and would follow the criteria listed in the rrocurement requests.
Although the exact JSSAP specifications for a suppressor were not known beyond suppliers and others privy to classified information, the following requirements for an ideal military suppressor have been suggested by several inside sources close to the testing program:
• An acoustical performance showing a drop of at least 30 dB, preferably over 40.
• A life expectancy compatible with the host weapon, that is, tens of thousands of rounds.
• Total elimination of muzzle flash, even at full auto fire.
• Ease of assembly by field personnel.
• Little or no user maintenance.
• Complete interchangeability between issue weapons without special adjustment.
• Positive alignment undisturbed by combat conditions or rough handling.
• As compact and light as possible given the maximum sound reduction capability.
• No reduction in basic weapon accuracy and protectile velocity unless using subsonic ammunition.
• Simplicity and economy of manufacture using nonstrategic materials.
With these needs in mind, reportedly, two top suppressor designers. Reed Knight and Don Walsh, were asked by JSSAP officials to combine their talents and experiences to come up with a hybrid model suppressor, which they did in 1982. According to one insider at Dover, "We wanted something that combined the Knight wipe on a Walsh suppressor. This would lower noise and lengthen the unit's life. It would be about seven and one half ounces and purely for pistol application.
"At present, the Walsh unit we're testing on the handgun has a level of 126 dB, lots better than the 136 dB drop of the next unit. We think the Knight/Walsh hybrid will give us another 5 to 10 dB of sound reduction. . . . That's damned impressive."
The Knight/Walsh hybrid was superior in noise level reduction to Knight's own improved Hush Puppy when used on the HK P7, P9S, and the slide-locked Beretta 92. The new unit weighs less than the Hush Puppy and is slow to burn outreach an unacceptable noise level both of which are in its favor.
According to one JSSAP source, even the hybrid has been overshadowed by Don Walsh's second generation 1983 Larand suppressor, which is an eccentric model, wipeless, and light enough for operation on the moving-barrel weapons.
The man related. "If nothing else, this Larand model will mean the end of the suppressor wipe. They are simply no longer needed."
Does this mean suppressor wipes are no longer needed on the windshield of sound vulnerability? Much to the dismay of purists and wipe makers/ sellers, these devices will become as obsolete as disco music. The final nail in their operational coffin is the increasing popularity of high performance specialty ammunition. Both ultra-velocity, armor-piercing rounds and the prefragmented "safety slugs," such as the incredibly lethal "Glaser" developed by Col. Jack Canon, are incompatible with wipes. Most experts agree that within a few years no modern suppressor will utilize a wipe, unless it is a small, disposable-type silencing unit.
In addition, HK had been subcontracted for concept and feasibility research to add suppressors to some of its other weapons, including an assault weapon, a shotgun, and their belt machine gun. There was also some interest in suppressors at GE, Westinghouse, and Maremont. This was about the extent of JSSAP suppressor work as 1983 rolled into view. The program was resting uneasily on an inactive dead center, slowed by a drain of dollars.
Perhaps the most effective way to get the JSSAP suppressor program rolling again would be to have the U.S. Surgeon General declare that firearm noise pollution is harmful to the health of American military personnel!
However, as some work, at least at the conceptual level, was done beyond the XM9 in each of the weapons genres prior to 1983, some review of the various other JSSAP small arms programs would be in order.
As Defense and Foreign Affairs Magazine reported in its December 1982 issue. "Any lingering doubts about the long-term U.S. commitment to the M16 system are about to be removed by the adoption of the M16A2 product-improved weapon." The U.S. Marine Corps adopted the "new" weapon late in 1982. Basically, the M16A2 has been given a heavier barrel with a faster twist to accommodate the new LI 10 and SS109 ammunition. There is a round forearm, a stronger stock, and a luminous sight. Many of the changes remind ordnance observers of the original design done a number of years ago by Eugene Stoner. As with its older models, the new M16A2 is suppressor-compatible.
Vietnam taught the U.S. military the value of effective sniping programs, so a major part of the JSSAP program involved sniping weapons. For example, at the government's Rock Island Arsenal, technicians tried to update the XM21 sniper rifle, which is basically a precision variety of the Ml4. There was little success in trying to mass produce these precision weapons which traditionally had been nearly hand-built by the gunsmiths at the Army Marksmanship Training Unit (AMTU) at Ft. Benning.
When JSSAP sought to gain an interservice sniper rifle, they found at least two major conflicting philosophies. The Marines favored their bolt action M40, while the Army liked its semiautomatic XM21. To add to the battle, two newcomers were included in the JSSAP plans. One was the HK PSG1, an updated variation of the G3 in 7.62 NATO, that had been modified for sniping work and included a suppressor and a silent bolt closing system. The price tag on this system is $5,500 per rifle. The fourth possibility was the Galil sniper model, a version of the IMI assault rifle in 7.62 NATO. This weapon was personally designed by Col. Alex Eliraz, the renowned and retired Israeli sniper, and is compatible with a suppressor.
Plans also called for a heavy-caliber, long-range sniper rifle, an old idea that still has supporters.
"One of the weapon designs was a very long-range sniper rifle in .50 caliber for which they wanted a suppressor. And, they aren't talking a crew-served weapon," one JSSAP ordnance officer related. "Sniper rifles in that caliber were used in Korea as field improvisations, and I know they were used on a limited basis in Vietnam, so it's not really a new concept."
The only official field testing I know of involved the Winchester Model 70 in .458. Suppressed by the Human Engineering Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the weapon failed its field tests in Vietnam. The developmental history of this monstrous weapon is told in detail and with accuracy by Peter Senich in his fine book Limited War Sniping (Paladin Press). In summary, the only feature of the weapon that passed muster was its quieting capability. The weight, accuracy, and other mechanical functions were a nightmare. Vet according to insiders at JSSAP, this weapon and its integral suppressor have been refined at Aberdeen's Human Engineering Lab and have performed very well to date. Reportedly, one was taken along for field testing on the Iranian hostage rescue raid.
For years, many people have been under the impression that the use of the shotgun was banned in warfare under the terms of the Geneva Convention. But then, so are punji stakes, poisons, dumdum bullets, Malay gates, and tossing prisoners out of helicopters. The irony is that the shotgun is one of the most lethal individual combat weapons around. JSSAP recognizes this and wanted our boys, and possibly girls, to have the very best. For that reason, JSSAP assigned a Navy small arms engineering team at the Naval Weapons Support Center to manage its Multipurpose Individual Weapon program the combat shotgun.
The basic requirement was a versatile, selective-fire military shotgun. Considering that the Man-ville-type tear gas gun, as mocked up for that sexy weapon in The Dogs of War, really is available for a variety of 30mm projectiles, can such a device be far behind for JSSAP? Both Winchester and HK reportedly have a military shotgun design. At this writing, however, only HK has a prototype. People who have seen it say it resembles their G-l 1 case-less cartridge bullpup design. There are rumors that
A Marine expert test fires the Dover Devil 50 caliber machine gun-a weapon with potential for suppressor adaptation
JSSAP personnel are also doing some R&D work on the feasibility of a silenced shotgun, a project undertaken twice during the Vietnam years.
In terms of ammunition, a variety of loads, both conventional and otherwise, exist in 12 gauge, c-g.. explosive, saboted slug, flechette, nerve gas, incendiary, etc.
The fate of the U.S. military submachine gun is about as settled as Elizabeth Taylor's marital status. During JSSAP's operating days, the only practical interest came from the special warfare units which have a tactical need for silenced weapons. What remained in the U.S. arsenal included a number of World War II era M3A1 "Greaseguns,"
plus inventories of the Uzi, Ingram or MAC M10 and Mil models, the S & W M76, and the XM177E2 variant of the M16, and the AR18, which are not true submachine guns.
According to most observers, JSSAP held a strong prejudice against the typical open-bolt slam-fire action. The only major weapon which avoided that was the HK MP5 and its silenced version, the MP5SD. In addition to the military, a number of intelligence and security agencies use the MP5SD, as well as its newer version, the HK 54A1, which has an adjustable gas porting system to accommodate both normal ammunition and the subsonic 9mm ammo used in suppressed operations. A prototype HK 54A1 was purchased by the U.S. Navy in 1982 for $90,000. Reportedly, Heckler and Koch claimed an R & D expense in excess of
$400,000 for this new weapon.
This raises the question of cost. The HK weapon is an expensive one, while one of the major arguments for the submachine gun is that it is supposed to be a simple, highly automated, and very inexpensive weapon to manufacture, e.g. the Sten, M3A1 and M76.
Although submachine gun R&D was moribund in the U.S. at the time, several firms were doing work on these weapons, e.g., the Saco Defense Systems Division of Maremont Corporation. Guilford Engineering Associates performed an R&D project for the Navy involving a novel design utilizing a moving barrel which negates both climb and recoil. Another similar submachine gun was successfully demonstrated at Ft. Benning by Jim Leatherwood of Leatherwood Brothers. He's the genius who invented the Leatherwood Auto Ranging Telescopic sight. According to observers, the weapon had definite Ingram lines, understandable as Leatherwood was once chief engineer for Military Armament Corporation.
Three existing miniature submachine guns that should have attracted attention within JSSAP were the Ingram M10, the Mil, and the Mini Uzi, excellent weapons for suppressors. The Mini Uzi is a real favorite of the intelligence, law enforcement, and special mission warriors because it combines all that's wonderful about the Uzi with the compact size associated with the Ingram weapons.
Rumors were strong in 1983 that Action Arms of Philadelphia, importer of the Uzi and Mini Uzi, was going to produce a submachine gun called the Universal Machine Carbine, which is suppressor-compatible. As this book was going to press, however, details were unavailable.
The new XM249, aka the FN Minimi, is the new JSSAP squad automatic weapon, filling in for that wonderful old veteran, the venerable BAR, retired in the early 1960s. In JSSAP testing, the FN Minimi won over a weapon submitted by Ford/ Rodman Labs, one by HK and a modified M16. The XM249 is in 5.56mm and uses the Belgian SS109 and LI 10 ammunition, including an improved daylight tracer round and a semiarmor-piercing projectile. The weapon accepts both M16 and FNC magazines as well as 200-round belts. Several individuals and firms were approached about providing a sound suppressor for the XM249.
Maremont came out with a semicompetitor squad weapon to please the 7.62 fans-their lightweight version of the M60. At 18.5 pounds, the M60LW is a fully controllable 7.62 NATO belt-fed gun. Maremont also instituted a feasibility study to add a suppressor system to this weapon.
There is, of course, only one true .50 caliber machine gun as any good soldier knows-the great old Browning M2, still on active duty. However, JSSAP had a better plan, as did Maremont. The latter built a lightweight infantry version of the M2, while JSSAP has its own .50 caliber weapon called the "Dover Devil" because their Projects Office is at Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey. The Dover Devil, which is capable of being modified for suppressor use, is an interesting design, weighing half of the M2's mass and using only half its parts. It also features a dual feed so that two types of ammunition can be fired selectively. It is a very versatile weapon, too. Changing a few parts converts the weapon from a .50 caliber machine gun to a 20mm cannon, suitable for engaging hard skin targets.
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