U.S. Army Futures Enhances Small-Arms Weapons Through Optimized Power Sources

The U.S. Army Futures Command, or AFC, is helping to make Soldiers more lethal and agile by developing a centralized power source for the targeting technologies on small-arms weapons.

Researchers from AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, or CCDC, are helping to shape the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon, or NGSW, by giving the program a better understanding of the power needs.

The Army is developing two versions of the NGSW for Infantry and close-combat units. The NGSW Automatic Rifle will replace the M249 squad automatic weapon, and the NGSW Rifle will replace M4 carbine. The NGSW is planned for fielding 2021 or 2022. Versions of the weapon are intended to be equipped with sophisticated technologies such as ballistic calculation, intelligent targeting and tracking capabilities, wireless communication and advanced camera-based capabilities.


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The C5ISR Center is developing a centralized power source for targeting technologies on the NGSW. (Photo Credit: Army photo by Dan Lafontaine, CCDC C5ISR Center Public Affairs)

With increased capabilities, the NGSW will likely require more power than the current baseline systems. Therefore, it’s imperative that power requirements be considered early in the design process to inform the overarching requirements, according to Dr. Nathan Sharpes, a mechanical engineer with CCDC’s center for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance — or C5ISR.

Sharpes, who works in the C5ISR Center’s Command, Power and Integration Directorate, or CP&ID, noted the center is engineering a solution to achieve NGSW’s requirement for the development of a power and data rail that could power any weapon-mounted device placed upon it, operating similarly to a cellphone charging pad. Thus, Soldiers would not have to manage or carry multiple power sources.

“If weapon-mounted devices, known as enablers, are designed with a centralized power source in mind, it will have a more optimized solution for its operation space,” Sharpes said. “Electricity will run along the rail so that enablers set upon it receive power through standardized contacts.”

Currently, separate batteries are required for each device, such as scopes, range finders and thermal sights. With these advancements, Soldiers will not have to manage battery swaps and choose from a suite of enablers with varying battery types and run times.

“Soldiers would have to carry just one battery type and swap less often. This will also lighten their load so that they’re more agile. There’s one battery with one swap,” said Dr. Ashley Ruth, a C5ISR Center chemical engineer. “It could also result in fewer battery types for the Army to procure and maintain in inventory.”

Doug Cohen, director of systems engineering for Project Manager Soldier Weapons, said C5ISR Center’s Command, Power and Integration Directorate personnel have developed a better understanding of power requirements and capabilities for the new weapons.

“Within the NGSW program, CP&ID helped us determine how much battery power is needed to execute a mission,” Cohen said. “We want to know how many batteries are required and how much they would weigh to power all these devices. Also, they’re helping us understand if there are new battery technologies. These could reduce the overall size and weight of batteries needed to extend our runtime or reduce the number of battery swaps and spare batteries needed in the rucksack.”

C5ISR Center is conducting power rail research focused on wireless power transfer instead of physical contacts as well as using a military specification, or MIL-SPEC, battery rather than AA batteries. The researchers anticipate developing government-owned intellectual property as a better implementation for the NGSW’s power rail and battery.

The work is part of the C5ISR Center’s effort to support Soldier Lethality, which is one of the Army’s big six modernization priorities.

“We’re taking lessons learned and applying them to the development and integration of lightweight power solutions. These will inform S&T roadmaps for future investments supporting the critical research area of power for the dismounted Soldier,” said Beth Ferry, CP&I’s Power Division chief.

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