2014/04/07

Underrated (?) French infantry arms (and munitions)

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Enough bashing of milporn for now. Here's some milporn for a change. ;)

French bashing is popular and the language barrier is powerful, and the French had some of the ugliest machine guns ever, for sure.
But the French also introduced post-WW2 some outstanding infantry arms, some of them quite unique in their concept. A couple of these became great export success stories, but let's face it: The French are not as interested or proficient in public marketing. Their speciality is in business-to-customer marketing, backed by their government's industry policy. They can easily produce some most interesting hardware and the anglophone part of the internet will take less notice than to a simple press release about some soon-cancelled-anyway American project.

So here are some noteworthy French infantry arms, and it's in the nature of the topic that most of them are not very recent designs.

MDF Polyvalent / Gr Poly Expl F1 / Gr Ma Expl F1

This is a combined rifle grenade/hand grenade (not unheard-of, but very uncommon). It's also a combined offensive/defensive hand grenade (a not so uncommon combination). It's also a combined impact or time fused grenade (rifle grenades are usually impact- and hand grenades usually time-fused).
The versatility led to a design with a slim body, instead of some spherical bodies known from by comparison primitive combined rifle/hand grenades. The cylindrical body is inferior in regard to the fragmentation pattern, but this shape is also the typical compromise for combined offensive/defensive hand grenades, as it allows for a simple fragmentation sleeve.
The combined impact/time fuse allows reliable fusing on soft ground during rifle grenade operation. The impact fuse may preclude the bouncing use in hand grenade use (no throwing against a wall to bounce it around a corner), but I'm not sure about this. see footnote

defensive hand grenade "MD", rifle grenade "MDF"
It is (or was) certainly the most versatile grenade design for infantry I know about.

The intertubes are largely devoid of data about it, so here you got the specs:

MDF1 (for ballistite cartridge) 470 g, 400 m range
MDF5.56 (bullet trap) 470 g, 300 m range
MDF 7.62 (stronger bullet trap) 520 g, 350 m range
MD (defensive hand grenade without fins) 340 g
M (offensive hand grenade without fins or fragmentation sleeve) 190 g

FLY-K / NR 8111 / NR8113 / TN 8111 / Jet-Shot / LGI Mle F1

normal commando mortar looks
There's but one way to build Hollywood-silent "silenced" firearms, and it doesn't include a silencer. Instead, you need to use the captive piston (or closed combustion chamber) technology which contains the expanded propellant gasses and doesn't let them escape. There are plenty such handguns and a couple commando mortars (and at least one underbarrel grenade launcher) with this principle. The principle does not allow for auxiliary charges, it's impractical for larger mortars which derive their utility in great part from the variable propellant.
The FLY-K (initially from from Belgium) was the first mortar with this principle of operation, which spawned copies at least in China and Georgia. It has been adopted first and foremost in France.

Its firing noise is negligible, it doesn't heat up its barrel, has no muzzle flash and emits no smoke.

The weapon itself is a simple spigot commando mortar; the interesting part is the round. The following graphic should explain its operation:

one version of the closed combustion chamber principle
Everything else is plain commando mortar stuff; frag, illum and smoke rounds are available. The idea was "sexy" enough to be revived with different designations, and quite recently a German company picked it up, actively trying to market it to the Bundeswehr. The design doesn't seem to grow old.

By the way; there was also a grapnel launcher, for commando and police special units, which excelled with its silent operation.

SARPAC

You do most likely know the American M72. It was a single-use ("disposable") bazooka with a weak yet useful warhead. It was rather useful against thinly armoured BTR, BMP and BMD vehicles than against T-64 and later main battle tanks, but its practical utility was in it projecting a blast grenade towards infantry anyway. It was always in competition with rifle grenades, and quite successful at that.
Now what if I tell you the French had their own weapon of this kind, which was actually reloadable a couple times and even superior in regard to light weight?
It's the SARPAC; the better, yet unknown M72.

Late SARPAC model; (1) HEAT round (2) HEAT-frag (3) Illum

Comparison of weights, including a 200 g estimate for the SARPAC round packaging/pouch (rounded):
1 shot: M72 2.36 kg, SARPAC 3 kg
2 shots:  M72 4.7 kg, SARPAC 4.3 kg
3 shots: M72 7.1 kg, SARPAC 5.6 kg
4 shots: M72 9.4 kg, SARPAC 6.5 kg
Now what's truly "lightweight"?

(The SARPAC rocket weighs almost exactly as much as the M72's with near-identical calibre and muzzle velocity, so the delivered warhead weight appears to be near-identical as well.)

Granted, the dual purpose round with fragmentation effect was the clearly preferable one, and it weighed 700 grams more. This would yield the break-even with the 4th instead of 2nd round - but that warhead was heavier and more useful than the M72 warheads.
And last but not least, SARPAC offered the versatility of an illuminating rocket (whether you need it or not).

Again little about SARPAC is to be found on the intertubes, so here are the specs:

launcher calibre 68 mm
length open 997 mm, folded 734 mm
weight empty 1.9 kg

HEAT round length fins folded 472 mm
weight 1.07 kg
muzzle velocity 150 m/sec
flight before arming about 10 m
effective range 150-200 m
RHA penetration 300 mm

HEAT-frag round weight round 1.8 kg
muzzle velocity 92 m/sec
flight before arming about  10 m
weight of fragmented body 0.83 kg
range 650 m

illuminating round weight 1.3 kg
diagonal range 700 m
candle power more than 180,000
 
LRAC 89 / LRAC F1 / ACL STRIM

The world seems to be in awe of the Swedish Carl Gustav recoilless rifle / strange bazooka overweight weapon. I never understood it because the spin ("rifled") is really only useful for the HE round and the only anti-tank round strong enough to penetrate a T-72 front reliably was the overcalibre HEAT round (which had to work around both the breech loading and the rifling), which seemingly didn't take off commercially. Still, the Swedes supplied a incrementally lightened gun versions and by now they also offer some high-tech rounds.

Other designs meant to fill the same niche in infantry armament provided better firepower/weight ratios, were commercial successes as well - and are largely unknown by comparison.

The French LRAC-F1 was one such weapon. Its calibre of 89 mm was modestly impressive to some contemporary main battle tanks, but the French had DARD 120 and later Apilas and Eryx against those (they were much more attentive to infantry AT capabilities than the Germans). The LRAC F1 was rather a general support weapon, a kind of portable direct fire infantry gun. Its most useful rounds were likely the smoke and dual purpose (HEAT-frag) rounds.

LRAC 89

M2 Carl Gustav: Weapon weight 14.2 kg, HEAT round 2.6 kg, calibre: 84 mm
LRAC: Weapon weight with sight 8.2 kg, HEAT round 2.2 kg, calibre: 88.9 mm
Much newer (1991) M3 Carl Gustav, praised for its weight savings: "~ 10 kg"

This time the much more famous competitor didn't even try to claim to be "lightweight".

The French had a laudable interest in keeping the infantry equipped with something to defeat a main battle tank even if it only exposed the front armour. This led to a couple powerful, heavy and increasingly expensive munitions, leading to ERYX and ultimately the adoption of the Javelin missile. This interest was also a very poor environment for keeping the infantry supplied with a portable direct fire infantry gun kind of a bazooka. A projector for multi-kilogram grenades over hundreds of metres. Ultimately, the LRAC fell out of use in France.

MO-120-RT-61

The MO-120-RT-61 can be summarised as a towed single axle 120 mm mortar that's a bit heavier than most, but with the added benefit of being able to fire rifled rounds of unusually long range. These rounds improve the dispersion much and make this mortar more field howitzer-like to counter-mortar/counter-artillery radars, as there are no especially radar-reflective fins.
It's more like a mortar of old than most are today (mortars included heavy guns which fired only in the upper angle group of 45° to about 80° from about 1890 to about 1945).

MO-120-RT-61

There are few truly outstanding mortars, and this is one of them.* It's not "lightweight", but the weight difference is rarely important in this class. Such weapons are usually drawn by motor vehicles or mules, and moved with manpower only for short distances between vehicle and firing position.

Honourable mentions

One goes to the FAMAS assault rifle, which introduced some bullpup improvements. The French ruined the design over time by delivering a version for the newer SS109 bullet specification too late (and repeated the mistake with Picatinny rails) and by IIRC also botching the initial production quality.
 
The MAT-49 submachine gun design deserves to be mentioned as well. It was based on an Interwar Years design and is notable for having a forward-folding magazine.
 
As an extension to infantry, we could also remember the AMX-VCI armoured personnel carrier, a very early specimen which was considered for the first German post-WW2 APC/IFV; we bought a much worse unproven design instead. The AMX-VCI equipped with a 20 mm autocannon deserves much more attention as an early IFV than it gets, but then again I dislike the entire IFV concept anyway (1, 2).

Closing remarks

The images are greyscale for a reason: These weapons and munitions are all Cold War vintage. They're not really obsolete, though. The two bazooka-type weapons were no more ahead of the newest MBT's protection at their introduction than today. Their utility is unchanged. The LRAC would nowadays get new munitions (electronic timed HE, multispectral and medically safer smoke, Bunkerfaust, muzzle-loaded supercalibre tandem HEAT, heavier confined spaces versions of HEAT and DP rounds), though.
At least the mortars are still being actively marketed, and are still almost unique and in their kind top products.

Engineers usually come to similar solutions for a given challenge, and when they don't in regard to military hardware it's usually a design philosophy difference between NATO and Russian products that's catching the eye. But French developments are quite often very independent and bucking the trend as well. The MICA missile of their air force is one such example, but the uniqueness extends to infantry arms and ammunition as well.

S O

*: I consider 2B9 Vasilek, MO-120-RT-61, Tampella M58 and  FLY-K as "truly outstanding mortars", though one might mention the CARDOM system as well.

Edited: I found a description of the MD which describes the Polyvalent fuze:
"The fuze is delivered set to 'Delay 5 s'. This is the setting for normal throwing where it may be expected that the grenade needs to roll behind cover or penetrate light camouflage or vegetation. For direct throwing without any obstacle the fuze is altered to the 'impact / delay' setting when it will detonate on impact. If it is desired to drop it from helicopters or from some considerable height the selector is set to impact."
Impact is also the standard setting for employment with the finned tail as a rifle grenade. A rifle grenade with time fuse  and no active impact fuse function can be used to shoot through foliage or closed windows.
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6 comments:

  1. IIRC they also made some cool ammo for theirs M20 Super Bazooka (wich were in use before the SARPAC).

    They also have the greatest collection of rifle grenades of the western world, even the 60's IDF is not a match and they are still widely used by the French Army ( http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_t9gZwNaeGyU/TKZAilpXyAI/AAAAAAAAAOk/6hPQliAe3FE/s1600/afghan+pic2.jpg ) as a cheap but efficient manner to have more firepower.
    They developed the FR F1 precision rifle (and the F2 in NATO 7.62) to have a dedicated sharpshooter in every platoon, something very similar to the soviets and their famous Dragunov.
    All of this thanks to their light infantery combat experience from their colonial wars.
    So yes, they are quite different from the tradicional continental NATO powers of the cold war Europe.

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  2. Thank you for this post - this is rare information.

    I hope that you will add the French 6 and 8cm gun-mortars for vehicular use.

    GAB

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    Replies
    1. I thought of them, but they didn't seem to fit the infantry topic.
      The Israelis have a tactically interesting vehicle-mounted high angle only 6 cm mortar, ECIA from Spain had a turret-mounted 6 cm gun-mortar and the 2B9 is much more interesting as a breechloader than is the CL81.

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  3. Top notch as always. I'd add the Panhard EBR reconnaissance vehicle to your list:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panhard_EBR

    Out of interest, why do you see the Vasilek as an outstanding design? I know it fires fast, but my impression was that it was quite inaccurate.

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    Replies
    1. It is still unique in its burst fire capability.
      NATO forces were reportedly impressed enough to give a copy a try, aborted by the peace dividend of the 90's.
      outstanding - "1. Standing out among others of its kind; prominent." http://www.thefreedictionary.com/outstanding

      About the EBR:
      http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2010/08/mean-maximum-pressure-paper.html
      see pages 26 and 27 of 38 in the PDF

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  4. french also deployed 58mm recoilles weapon WASP:

    http://america.pink/wasp_4740989.html

    I also found interesting that French Army interested in true tank killer weapons like APILAS/DARD 120 and Eryx.

    ReplyDelete