2009/04/17

Combat shotguns and the Bundeswehr

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This is a simple topic: There are none.
Well, at least not in normal units.


Shotguns have a very different reputation in Germany than in the USA.
A shotgun is a hunter's or a gangster weapon for Germans. This is similar to the (past) American disdain for submachineguns in police service (that was based on association of Chicago gangster with Thompson SMGs).

Shotguns are some of the oldest firearms in military (or mercenary) use, but the modern combat shotgun concept dates back to the trench warfare of the First World War; the U.S.Marines used the shotgun for good effect at that time (submachineguns and assault rifles were pretty much absent).

The devastating firepower at short range (up to 50m) against unprotected infantrymen was accompanied by an almost non-existing performance at long ranges.
Shotguns were therefore always successful when combat was mostly at short ranges (urban, forest, night & trench combat) and complemented by longer-ranging rifles/carbines.

The lethality was nevertheless just one aspect, and didn't improve much over time. The competing rifles/carbines/submachineguns improved and became accepted standard equipment.


The shotgun had and has other strengths than mere lethality, though - this is the reason why my disinterest in combat shotguns turned into an interest.

Door can be quickly breached with two dedicated shotgun cartridges.

The large calibre and lack of rifling of shotguns offers an opportunity to exploit the development of very small diameter shaped charges - a 20mm shotgun shaped charge shell could penetrate vehicles and shields that were designed to stop all 7.62mm AP bullets.

A special variable gas pressure shotgun can shoot rubber bullets at different muzzle velocities, thus keeping the kinetic energy at impact almost the same for different distances to the target (riot control).

A special electric shock shotgun projectile attaches to its targets and emits electric shocks for up to 30 seconds, thus incapacitating the target person just like much shorter-range Taser weapons can do.


Shotguns (especially automatic ones) also seem most promising to me as a counter-weapon to the micro air vehicles that are under development; bird-sized flying reconnaissance/surveillance drones. You don't want to shoot an erratically-moving 10 cm diameter target at 50m distance with an assault rifle - it would take several magazines on average to hit once. A shotgun would kill such a target just as if it's being used for bird hunting.



Shotguns aren't out of fashion in armies that have a shotgun tradition; the British army buys Benelli M4s ("L128A1")
and the U.S.Army buys ten thousands of XM26 LSS.


Combat shotguns have experienced many innovations in the past three decades. The oldest automatic shotgun appeared very late in the 19th century and the often more reliable, simple pump action shotguns have dominated the market for combat shotguns during the 20th century, but the list of innovations is still impressive:
- drum magazines
- normal magazines
- reverse pump mechanism with dual tube magazine and selective ammo feed (Neostead)
- grenade launching adapter
- electroshock shell
- almost accurate slugs
- red dot sights
- underbarrel mounting
- variable pressure/kinetic energy shotgun with laser rangefinder
- modular construction (upper/lower receiver, buttstock)
- folding buttstock
- telescopic buttstock
- camouflage finish
- muzzle attachments to tighten the dispersion
- special high power shotguns for extended range
- variable cartridge lengths
- extremely lightweight models (XM26, RMB-93)
- automatic shotguns that function reliably with very different cartridges
I haven't seen telescopic sabot AP cartridges or captive piston cartridges for shotguns yet, but the feasibility seems obvious to me.

This rich choice of improvements justifies a new look at the combat shotgun.

Another concept merits this new look as well; the German infantry adopts a 'mothership' concept.
The squad leaves much of its equipment behind in its APC (armoured personnel carrier). It takes the appropriate weapons/equipment for the mission and leaves the wrong stuff in the vehicle. This concept raises the tolerance for heavy niche weapons; even .50BMG sniper rifles suddenly became acceptable as standard issue for normal infantry squads. That should work fine with shotguns (only to be carried if short range combat is expected).

Conclusion: Let's look at a potential combat shotgun for the Bundeswehr
(infantry; Jäger, Fallschirmjäger, Gebirgsjäger , military police; Feldjäger and possibly mechanized infantry; Panzergrenadiere).

Not all innovations deserve to be combined, of course.

The electroshock bullet and the (longer-ranged) variable kinetic energy rubber bullet seem to be substitutes. The latter requires more weight, adds more price and most likely requires a long barrel and is thus not my preferred choice.

The underbarrel mounting option is promising (especially for door breaching), albeit too front-heavy for permanent use. A combination of underbarrel and stand-alone capabilities seems promising to me.

The stand-alone configuration could make good use of an assault's rifle red dot sight - that doubles as a spare part for the assault rifles. Backup iron sights are thus necessary. The detachable buttstock enforces a modular design with at least two components.

A camouflage finish is an interesting idea, albeit probably not durable enough for a rifle's full life cycle. As a rule of thumb, I'd suggest to use the same finish as for assault rifles.


A telescopic or folding buttstock seems like a good idea. A shotgun that fits below a barrel will most likely have no mechanic protruding behind the trigger guard - a perfect opportunity for a folding skeleton buttstock that saves a lot of length.

Tubular magazines cannot be reloaded or changed quickly. This is a problem when the ammunition in use needs to be changed quickly. A normal box magazine seems to be more appropriate. The shotgun should be sealed well against dirt even if no magazine is attached.

The choice between automatic and manual repeating is a difficult one. Manual repeating is slower, but a bit more reliable and most importantly; it's lighter. The underbarrel (front heaviness) application and the combat shotgun's acceptance as niche tool/weapon require a lightweight design - manual repeating seems to be the only acceptable choice in my opinion.

Captive piston cartridges; well, it's possible to use captive piston designs to shoot with almost no acoustic, visible or infrared signature. That's great, and especially useful at night or for launching grappling hooks in urban or mountain warfare. I'll write about captive piston cartridges and their design later.


My choice is probably obvious at this point; I prefer the XM26 LSS shotgun.

Its light weight (1.9 kg as stand-alone gun) is fascinating plus it combines underbarrel and standalone modes.
It's a compromise (manual repeating, shot barrel, no variable kinetic energy rubber bullet), but a very promising one. We should submit it to a troop test (with experienced combat shotgun trainers).

List of promising cartridges:
- 00 buckshot
- door breaching shot
- electroshock
- captive piston grappling hook propelling cartridge
- rubber bullet cartridge for 25+ m distance
- signal/illumination flare cartridge
- shaped charge shot 40mm RHAeq CE penetration (doubles as high explosive shot)


A combat shotgun would still be a niche weapon/tool, of course.

Sven Ortmann
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4 comments:

  1. I've heard of 40mm grenade launchers being loaded with shot too. Maybe there's a chance to combine the grenade launcher and the shotgun into a single weapon that could be issued more widely.

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  2. A new calibre is very unlikely. A grenade launcher 40mm isn't even close to a shotgun even with comparable ammunition.

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  3. The Prices-aspect must be looked at too. Even if we as servicemen always want the best toys, we must be able to find a good costeffective solution. A COTS solution like one from turkish manufacturer Stoeger costs half as much as a Benelli for instance.

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  4. Current plans call for a € 2+ million APC being quite permanently attached to a single light infantry squad.

    I doubt that a few hundred € price tag difference between two shotguns that could be used for three decades should cause any headaches.

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