Thales developing new 6.8mm close combat weapon

In collaboration with Army Headquarters (AHQ), Thales Australia has revealed to DTR that it is developing a next-generation individual weapon chambered in 6.8mm calibre.

A 3D printed mock-up of the new 6.8mm assault rifle being developed by Thales Australia under a CCFOW contract with Army Headquarters. Image: DTR

Army Headquarters wants to see the local development of a domestic 6.8mm weapon system that will be able to compete against the selected NGSW solution under Tranche 2 of Land 159.

Matthew Duquemin, Thales Australia’s Programs & Services GM

Source: Thales news release

Original story from DTR “Thales developing new 6.8mm close combat weapon” by Ian Bostock:

In collaboration with Army Headquarters (AHQ), Thales Australia has revealed to DTR that it is developing a next-generation individual weapon chambered in 6.8mm calibre.

With emerging threats and concerns over the lethality of the 5.56mm round as the drivers, AHQ commissioned Thales to undertake two desktop feasibility studies: one focussed on producing a higher pressure round chambered in a 7.62mm NATO size cartridge, the other which investigated the ability of the barrel, chamber and bolt assembly to handle the associated increased chamber pressures.

Presented to AHQ in Q3 2020, both studies concluded that it is feasible to develop a weapon incorporating these attributes to address the emerging threats and the 5.56mm round’s shortcomings and form the core of what AHQ calls the Close Combat Family of Weapons (CCFOW). AHQ proceeded to work up the business case to develop a 6.8mm individual weapon, with Army Minors funding allocated to seed a domestic development program that would produce an Australian equivalent to the US Army’s 6.8mm Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW). The NGSW program aims to provide close combat warfighters with a replacement for the M4A1 assault rifle and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, both 5.56mm weapons.

The objective of the development work Thales is undertaking at Lithgow is to produce an Australian designed and manufactured weapon and ammunition package that can perform comparably against the preferred NGSW design. The new weapon, Thales told DTR, would initially equip close combatants in infantry, armour and artillery units, while soldiers in support roles would continue to operate the F90 in 5.56mm calibre.

As part of the CCFOW work, Thales is developing a single-piece 6.8mm cartridge made from a material “more advanced than traditional brass” and better able to cope with higher pressures. The gun will be of bullpup configuration with specifications drawn from the NGSW program, including a maximum length of 965mm, maximum weight of 4.1kg minus the magazine and an integrated suppressor capability. These activities are currently in the detailed design stage.

In accordance with AHQ intent, the new assault rifle will have user interfaces not dissimilar to the in-service EF88 (F90), with new features to include an ambidextrous cocking handle and advanced trigger unit. Thales is also addressing the issue around fixed length of pull. The AHQ contract requires Thales to have the rifle sufficiently mature such that it can conduct initial user trials in Q3 2023.

Two main types of 6.8mm rounds will be developed, according to Thales Australia’s Programs & Services General Manager Matthew Duquemin: a high-performance round and an armour-piercing round. Thales has also been asked to investigate the feasibility of a ‘super-shot’ round.

“Army Headquarters wants to see the local development of a domestic 6.8mm weapon system that will be able to compete against the selected NGSW solution under Tranche 2 of Land 159,” Mr Duquemin said.

Thales expects to fire the first new 6.8mm rounds through the new weapon this month.

The contract also calls for Thales to develop a magazine-fed support weapon version of the assault rifle, potentially fitted with a top-mounted 50-round drum magazine. This weapon will have a combat rate-of-fire of 90-120rds per minute sustained for longer than the assault rifle version.

The company is also developing a training rifle chambered in 7.62mm NATO as a surrogate training rifle to reduce cost, retaining the 6.8mm weapon for operations. This will include a 7.62mm frangible round which is less damaging to training range infrastructure and facilities.

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