Weapon Trivia Wednesday – the H&K G11 "Caseless"

g11 mechanism
April 23, 2014  
Categories: Learnin'

Today’s Weapon Trivia Wednesday won’t be talking about the Colonial Marines’ M41A Pulse Rifle MK2, but rather one of its ancestors – the G11. Mad Duo

WTW - G11 internal and ammunition

WTW: G11 – the “Space Gun”

The G11 reflects the time honored German tradition of taking something simple and making it stupid brutal complicated.

In 1968 the Germans would channel the unfortunate American tendency of trying to use technology to circumvent training to increase combat effectiveness.   Translated to English, this program would be called the Corporation for Caseless Rifle System and would spawn the G11.  Headed by Heckler & Koch and later in cooperation with Dynamit Nobel for cartridge development, the program would create a weapon system that incorporated more advancements than any other contemporary design.

This program was more important an exercise in development of advanced small arms design than the actual progenitor of a serviceable weapon. (The G11 faded away in the turmoil of the end of the Cold War.)

Grunts: progenitor.

Specifications and Design

The H&K G11 was chambered in 4.7x33mm caseless and utilized a gas operated rotating breech operating system.  This caseless operating system fed from a top mounted 45 or 50 round magazine.  The weapons weight was 8lbs unloaded and 9.5lbs loaded.  Rate of fire was dependent on which of the three modes of fire was engaged; semi-auto, fully automatic at 460rpm or three round burst at 2100rpm (roughly 36 rounds per second).  The effective range of the G11 was 400m and utilized an integral optic.

WTW - internal view of the G11

Aegis LE Logo BBC (300x100)

Propellant for the G11’s round encased the 4.7mm projectile in a square block.  The weight of this round was half that of the 5.56 legacy round.  Ballistics for the 4.7mm caseless was rather close to the 5.56mm round.  However, terminal ballistics was very different as the 4.7mm did not tumble or fragment upon impact (hence the 4.7mm round was considered inferior to the 5.56mm in this regard).   The G11 program was based on the idea of increased probability of hitting the intended target by using the salvo principle; to wit, multiple rounds hitting the target through high rpm burst and delayed recoil.

To facilitate the required delayed recoil the G11’s internal firing mechanism actually moves rearward inside what could be referred to as the chassis or body of the weapon on three round burst.  Only upon the third round being fired does the assembly actually transfer recoil to the user.  Combining the delayed recoil and unbelievably high rpm of the three round burst at 36 rounds per second (to give you some scale, the MG-42 machine gun fires 20 rps) the G11 intended to increase hit probability.

The use of caseless ammunition and unique recoil system were not the only revolutionary design features of the G11. The loading sequence was also a feat in itself.  During the loading sequence the top mounted magazine feeds vertically, holding the rounds backwards into a rotating assembly. That rotating assembly spun the ammunition 90 degrees before chambering them.

Note: before anybody gets butt hurt and starts piping up about FN P90, this was the late Sixties. The comparison is invalid.

Magazines for the G11 contained either 45 or 50 rounds and were reloaded from 28 round sealed stripper clips (a seeming stretch of the term, as H&K called them “reloading units”).  In order to clear the G11, the “charging handle”, a large circular knob, was rotated to drop the round out.  Various revisions occurred throughout the design process.   With 14 design phases, the G11 evolved through more prototype versions than any other weapon besides possibly the SCAR.

G11 and the ACR Program

The G11 took part in the ill fated Advanced Combat Rifle Program (ACR), which spent $300mil USD before deciding the military should stay with the M16 FOW (Family of Weapons).  The ACR program was all 80s mindset, with flechette firing caseless rifles and other forms of nonsense.  In typical late 1980s fashion the U.S. Military was trying its hardest to use technology to replace actual training. This trend would eventually carry on into bigger and more expensive programs like the OICW.    However, the G11 was not along – it did compete against offerings from such manufacturers as Colt, Steyr, and AAI.

WTW - G11 and reloading unitIssues

Apparently blasting 2100 rpm causes a lot of heat in a closed system like that of the G11, so cook offs were a huge issue (think exposed propellant very close to the chamber under high temperatures).  The program was so plagued by cook off issues that several NATO countries lost interest and H&K brought in Dynamit Noble to figure out a new propellant.  The resulting improved composition propellant was incorporated into later models and, according to program information, resolved the problem. However the specifics about just how severe an effect these cook offs had on a rifle user are not readily available.

Benefits and Legacy

The main benefit of the G11, other than the alleged increased hit probability, is the amount of mmunition can be carried.  With such a light round, 510 rounds of 4.7mm weighs the same as 240 rounds of 5.56mm or 100 rounds of 7.62Nato.  This is a dramatic increase in the combat load a soldier could carry for the same weight as legacy rounds.  Also, the G11K2 variant allowed for two magazines to be mounted next to the inserted round on top of the weapon.  This configuration can be best understood as a redi-mod for the G11.

While the death of the ACR program would kill the G11 for use in the U.S. military, the technology would soon be licensed for the new Light Weight Small Arms Technology program (LSAT). LSAT is a light machine gun replacement.  The reunification of Germany would be the death knell for the G11 and the G3 would be replaced by the much more conventional G36.  However, the G11 should not be viewed as a failure but as an engineering feat in small arms development.



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  1. Jeep

    I knew this one, I knew it !! I’m awesome !!


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