Special operation units no longer are the privilege of Western nations, and there is a growing need for equipment to be operated by such entities around the world. Some of these nations are now adopting regionally developed systems as exemplified by the United Arab Emirates' acquisition of the Agrab mortar vehicle in March 2007.
Obviously American special forces units continue to dominate the discipline in terms of number of men, equipment and budget size. However, the palpable growth of special forces units around the world stems from the totally different nature of warfare since the demise of the Soviet Union's regime. Today everything has to be accounted for, and from small arms to mobile howitzers every item appears to be honed for a specific mission.
In December 2007 the US Special Operations Command is scheduled to complete the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) of the FN Herstal 5.56 mm/7.62 mm Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (Scar) and the 40 mm Enhanced Grenade Launcher Module (EGLM). A positive outcome will result in the weapons being designated 'Operationally Effective' and 'Operationally Suitable' for fielding. The Scar is one of the most important small arms projects in the world today.
Socom released a request for proposals in January 2004 and only eleven months later selected FN Herstal's candidate from numerous worldwide competitors. The requirement was influenced by a number of factors, including dissatisfaction with the performance of the 5.56 mm M4 carbine in the War on Terror and the need for a weapon that fires a more powerful cartridge than the Nato standard 5.56 x 45 mm SS109 (US M855) round.
Development was expedited by bringing Socom project managers, budget officials and special forces operators together at FN Herstal's facilities in Liege, Belgium. Operators were able to suggest changes to the weapon's design to FN engineers, who often presented a solution the next day, thus telescoping a process that normally takes months if not years. This procedure also ensured the design truly meets the needs of frontline SOF operators. Scar production is anticipated at FN's facility in Columbia.
The Scar's modular design provides 90% 'ergonomic compatibility' and 60% parts commonality between the two different calibre weapons, which have now been type-classified as the Mk 16 Mod 0 Scar-L and the Mk 17 Mod 0 Scar-H. The Mk 16 can be fitted with a 254 mm close quarter combat (CQC) barrel, a 355.60 mm standard barrel and a 457.2 mm long barrel for accurate fire at longer ranges while the Mk 17 has 330.20 mm, 406.40 and 508 mm barrels. The CQC barrel is intended for use at combat ranges up to 200 metres, while the standard barrel is designed for combat at 300 to 500 metres and the SV barrel is optimised to engage targets between 500 and 800 metres.
The user is able to change barrels in less than five minutes with the aid of a special wrench, thus allowing the soldier to choose the appropriate barrel length for a specific mission. Both weapons are fitted with MIL-STD-1913 'Picatinny' rails at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions that are compatible with 'nearly' all of the components of the M4 carbine Special Operations Modification (Sopmod) kit and the new twelve-gauge XM26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System produced by C-More Systems. A requirement for a weapon that can use 'pickup' 7.62 x 39 mm Russian standard ammunition found in operational situations may be met through further development of the Mk 17. The third distinct element of the project is the EGLM, now type classified as the Mk 13 Mod 0, which can be fitted to both calibre weapons and also used as a stand-alone weapon. The EGLM is derived from the grenade launcher FNH developed for its modular F2000 5.56 mm assault rifle.
In October 2007 FN Herstal (FNH) completed deliveries of 886 Mk 16s, 772 Mk 17s and 196 Mk 13s ordered under a low-rate initial production contract for the IOT&E phase. Socom has requested funding to buy 3502 Mk 16s, 2798 Mk 17s and 1804 Mk 13s worth more than $ 25 million in fiscal year 2008 (FY08) and 1569 Mk 16s, 500 Mk 17s and 500 Mk 13s worth more than $ six million the following year. Officials have previously indicated the project could total 84,000 5.56 mm and 15,000 7.62 mm weapons. FNH should be well placed with the Scar should the US Army decide to revive its protracted efforts to field a replacement for the 5.56 mm M16 rifle/M4 carbine family.
Until the widespread fielding of the Scar the primary small arm of US special forces units will remain the Colt Defense 5.56 mm M4A1 carbine and the associated Special Operations Modification (Sopmod) kit from Knights Armament, which contains Picatinny rails, forward grips, various day and night sights, lights, laser pointers and other accessories. Under the Mini Day Night Sight portion of Sopmod Block II Socom plans to buy in FY08 2309 EO Tech Close Quarter Battle Combat Optical Sights (1268 in FY09), 2309 Trijicon Enhanced Combat Optical Sights (1268), 1307 Litton Electro-Optical Systems Image Intensified Clip On Night Vision Devices (387), 480 Insight Technology Thermal Clip On Night Vision Devices (159), 2950 Insight Technology Advanced Tactical Precision Illuminating Aiming Lasers (1150) and 2250 Third Generation Visible Bright Lights (1240) from a still-to-be-decided contractor.
Since 2005 US SOF units have been using an unspecified number of 5.56 mm HK416 carbines, which is an M4 carbine that has been extensively rebuilt by Heckler & Koch under contract to Socom. Capitalising on experience over the past decade developing the 5.56 mm G36 assault rifle for the German Army, the 5.56 mm XM8 rifle for the US Army and the modernisation of the UK's 5.56 mm SA80 assault rifle, HK has comprehensively modernised the M4. Customers can purchase a new upper receiver, buffer and drive spring to refurbish existing weapons or buy a completely new-build HK416. In April 2007 the Norwegian Army selected the HK416 to replace its 7.62 mm G3 assault rifles even though it was not one of the shortlisted contenders, and then awarded HK a NOK 100 million contract for 8200 weapons while Aimpoint received a NOK 50 million contract to provide sights.
In parallel with the order for the HK416 Norway has ordered HK 6500 MP7Als to replace its 9 mm MP5 submachine guns from 2008. This first important military export order could be a significant boost as more than 20 countries have bought small numbers of MP7s for evaluation purposes. German troops, including special forces units, deployed in Afghanistan have now been equipped with the MP7A1 for a few years. The weapon uses the 4.6 x 30 mm round designed by the Royal Ordnance division of BAE Systems, which provides better penetration at longer ranges than the 9 mm round. In 2003 HK introduced a 4.6 mm pistol, recently designated the P46 by the German armed forces.
Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) (formerly the Small Arms Division of Israel Military Industries) has resumed deliveries of it 5.56 mm Tar-21 (Tavor Assault Rifle--21st Century) to the Indian Army following the resolution of minor technical problems. In 2004 the Indian Army ordered 3074 rifles to equip special forces units and 300 to 400 weapons were delivered the following year and issued to the Special Frontier Force. At the request of India modifications were made to the butt of the bullpup rifle and sight, which resulted in India approving completion of the order. IWI is assisting India's state-owned Ordnance Factory Board to build the Micro Tavor (Mtar-21) for use by special forces and India's airborne units. The Micro Tavor can be converted from a 5.56 mm assault rifle to a 9 mm submachine gun. By the end of 2007 IWI is scheduled to complete delivery of an initial batch of 15,000 Tavors to the Israel Defense Force. The Republic of Georgia has also received an undisclosed quantity for its special forces with additional orders expected and the weapon is also reportedly used by Colombian special forces units.
In 2007 US Army and Socom snipers began receiving the Knight's Armament M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper Systems (Sass) to replace the bolt-action Remington 7.62 mm M24 Sniper Weapon System. The army contract covers the supply of 4492 M110s. To expedite procurement the Sass selection was limited to non-developmental items; Knight's winning design is a variant of the KAC Mk 11 Mod 0 Sniper Rifle System in service with US Navy Seal teams. In December 2006 Knight's received a follow-on contract potentially worth $ 9.9 million to supply Mk 11 rifles through December 2011. The Sass requirement stipulated that the selected rifle design had to be capable of delivering precision fire against personnel and soft-skinned materiel targets out to a range of 1000 metres. Like the Mk 11, the M110 is optimised to fire M118LR long-range ammunition but can also fire standard 7.62 x 51 mm ammunition, including the M993 armour-piercing round. To improve survivability the weapon is fitted with a flash/sound suppressor. The rifle is supplied as a complete system with shipping container, 10, 15 and 20-round magazines and the new Leupold XM151 Spalding telescope. Operational testing was conducted at Fort Drum, New York in 2006 with 15 rifles and the weapon entered operational service in Afghanistan early in 2007.
The M110 will be used in conjunction with the Barrett Firearms M107.50 calibre Semi-Automatic Long-Range Sniper Rifle, which...