Friday, March 03, 2006
Boomsticks: Blinded me with science fiction...
I have a confession to make: I am a closet nerd.
However, I'm nothing like as nerdy as I was back in my high school daze. Back then, myself and my fellow nerds would spend hours nattering over guns of the future, fuelled by the Heckler & Koch G11, Traveller, and Betamax copies of Aliens.
Now I find myself actually living in the 21st Century, and gosh, am I surprised. The incredibly lethal rifles of the future are here, but they're nothing like me and my fellow Breakfast Club nerds imagined they would be. We fussed over operating systems: Would it have a rotary bolt? Floating breech? Chain-driven via an electric motor, or short-recoil? We debated the ammunition the Future Rifle would use: Binary propellant? Electro-Thermal-Chemical? 4.6mm caseless? Or 10mm miniature shaped charges? Maybe duplex bullets, or flechettes? The configuration would undoubtedly be a bullpup, or maybe it would undoubtedly be conventional, but with an integral grenade launcher...
What we ignored, though, was the rifle itself, and what made one deadly.
The operating system and cartridge; indeed, the whole underlying weapon; is unchanged from what was standard issue lo those 20 years ago. What has changed is everything wrapped around it, and the manner in which it is operated. There's now a rugged electro-optical sight that allows headshot accuracy in fast-moving urban firefights. There's a bright light mounted to the gun, to illuminate and disorient the target. Quick-detach suppressors moderate both noise and potentially-incendiary muzzle flash. Night vision devices and magnifying optics lock on and pop off in seconds, depending on mission requirements, and don't lose zero in the process. Lasers target the enemy in the darkness, and can mark him for the grunt with the carbine, or for the circling, JDAM-equipped air support planes. Slings are no longer simple carrying straps, but rather serve as lanyards, retaining the rifle ready at hand when the user needs to climb or rappel or lift something with both arms. Grenade launchers can be fitted. The stock can be adjusted to fit any operator, no matter how thin or bulky his clothing. Meanwhile, the stylised rifle shooting appropriate to long-range Known-Distance work has been supplemented by what might be described as an entirely new methodology of employing the carbine in short range (<100 yard) CQB-type engagements. Veritable kata have sprung up based on the well thought-out ergonomics of the M4 and the squared-up "fighting stance".
By comparison, the SciFi M41A Pulse Rifle of Aliens fame had a digital ammo counter. And iron sights.
We've come a long way, baby.