The Lightweight Small Arms Technologies program (LSAT) has been on our radar screen since its inception in 2003. Plastic-cased cartridges are already performing well, and caseless ammunition—a concept dating back to the dawn of firearms—is said to offer the greatest potential. Today, these high-tech cartridges and the innovative lightweight small arms that fire them are showing great promise. What emerges from these experiments is likely to yield benefits not only to the military, but also to law enforcement and to the shooting sports.
It’s real and right now: a dramatically different squad automatic weapon (SAW) that fires radically new ammunition. And this combination is half the combat weight of the M249, the current SAW. We asked the Army’s program manager how soon it could be in the hands of Americas warfighters? That is a tough question, so lets go back a few years.
The Army-led Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP) challenged the defense industry to develop and present innovative ideas for dramatically reducing the combined gun and ammunition weight in a family of small arms. These new arms are intended to bridge the gap between what is in use now and the directed energy “ray guns” or other radical armament that might be available to the American soldier of 2025.
In March 2005 it was publicly announced that the concept from well-respected defense contractor AAI—heading up a team of eight specialized companies—had been judged superior to that of rival General Dynamics, and was “downselected” by JSSAP for further development. At the time, AAI’s proposed Squad Automatic Weapon and its radical ammunition existed only in “virtual reality”—animated 3-D models generated by astonishingly complex computer programs. With JSSAP’s approval and selection of these digital designs came sufficient funding to begin fabrication of actual cartridges and the guns to send rounds downrange.
By May 2007, things were moving along so well with the Cased Telescoped (CT) ammunition and prototype SAW that Kori Spiegel, JSSAP’s LSAT project manager, took the calculated risk of authorizing the first public LSAT live-fire demonstration held in conjunction with the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Small Arms Symposium.
Tim Livelsberger pumped out nearly 50 rounds of CT in flawless semi- and full-automatic operation from the serial number 1 (SN1) light machine gun. This clearly showed that its theoretical potential had been turned into something very real. It seemed that the uncannily light gun and its distinctive plastic “lipstick tube” ammunition were on the fast track to fielding.
Further inquiries were rewarded with an invitation for the author to visit AAI’s Hunt Valley, Md., headquarters for an exclusive LSAT status briefing in December 2007. This also included the opportunity to formally interview Spiegel and the program’s other top official, AAI’s Paul Shipley, who heads the corporation’s team of industry partners.
I was brought up to date on the series of successful demonstrations for senior officers and others in the military community that followed LSAT’s public debut seven months earlier. All have included the opportunity to handle and shoot the CT serial number 1 prototype with “Spiral 2” (second generation) cased telescoped ammunition on military ranges with pop-up targets positioned from 100 to 800 meters.
These demonstrations allow decision makers to assess the system’s combat potential. “Results have been very positive,” Spiegel said, “particularly in favorable comments on the design’s light weight, mild recoil and accuracy—all measurably superior to the current squad automatic weapon.” Live fire video clips of this arm in action are available for viewing at www.americanrifleman.org