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Advanced Combat Rifles

A soldier hefts the OICW, the first of a new generation of ACRs being developed by the US military.

Advanced Combat Rifle
Tech Level: 10
Objective Individual Combat Weapon
Tech Level: 10

An Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) is a generic name given to future assault rifles being developed by various governments and private manufacturers. These use modern-day assault rifles as their design base, improving on it and adding numerous advantageous features. In general, ACRs will be lighter, more ergonomically optimized, incorporate integral electronic systems, and will use more advanced ammunition than today’s combat rifles.

In science fictions ACR, in one form or another appear in films like Aliens and Starship Troopers, TV shows like Space: Above and Beyond, RPGs like Traveller, Shadowrun, and 2300 AD, and video games like Halo.

ACRs are designed to optimize a soldier’s effectiveness in the field by providing him with a highly versatile weapon that can perform many functions. The following is a rundown of the various features either being considered for or are actively being integrated into ACR designs.

--Improved ergonomics: for easier handling and aiming. Current state of the art assault rifles (the M16A2 or the Steyr, for example) are already fairly well optimized ergonomically, so the basic configuraton of the rifles will probably not change dramatically in the next few decades. ACRs will probably become shorter and take on a more "streamlined," less bulky appearance for better handling by soldiers. Some "comfort" features like adjustable shoulder stocks and pistol grips may also be integrated into them.

--Emphasis on lightweight design: The unloaded weight for the M16A2 is about 3 kg. With advanced composite and polymer materials materials becoming available, unloaded ACRs will probably not weigh significantly more, even with add-ons such as a grenade launcher or electronic sight.

--Integrated Flash Supressor: Muzzle/barrel devices designed to decrease the weapon’s visual signature.

--Integrated grenade launcher: currently most assault rifles can support special breech-loading rifle grenades or detachable under-slung grenade launchers. Most ACRs will integrate a small (20-30mm) grenade launcher into the weapon’s basic design. In the US Army’s OICW prototype, the grenade launcher is fired by the same trigger as the normal ammunition, with a switch to toggle between the two functions. Other models may mave seperate triggers for rifle and grenade launcher.

--Integrated Electronic Sights: Usually a thermal, low-light, and telescopic all-in-one sight, made modular and easily detachable for quick replacement, calibration, or maintenance. May also include an IR laser designator/range finder. In some models, the sight display could be fed via a light video cable to special goggles or eyepieces the soldier wears, allowing quick casual sweeps and "around the corner" sighting. Also, data from the sight can also be transmitted via wireless modem to commanders and/or artillery teams and/or air support.

--Ammo counters: These may use a separate display or the electronic sight’s display.

--Ammunition Advancements: Future rifles may take advantage of ammunition options that are not in common use today, such as caseless or teflon coated ammunition, high explosive rounds, mercury-tipped rounds, and others. Also, ACRs might integrate programmable ammunition, where the operator can toggle or set certain features of bullets transmitted to them by the weapon. HE rounds, for example, could be prorammed to explode either on impact or at certain distance after being fired.

--Electronic Recognition Grips: The pistol grip of the weapon would be fitted with special sensors, so that only personnel fitting a specific thermal or biochemical signature can use it. The grips can be set for individual or multiple handprints, or to recognize signals sent to it by certain military-issued gloves.

--Bullpup configuration: This basically places the ammunition feed behind the receiver (the firing mechanism and trigger assembly), integrating it into the stock. Its main advantage is to allow for a shorter over all weapon length. Not really a new innovation, but it has been applied only infrequently to battelfield rifles.

--Modularity: the weapon will be designed for a number of add-ons for specific missions. Typically, its sight mount and underslung weapon wount will be the most likely location for modular rifle supplements, but other points on the weapon may be used depending on its exact design.

--Sealed Systems: The weapon’s vital workings may be sealed in order to function in a wide type of potentially hostile environments, including underwater, extreme temperatures, and even in the vacuum of space.

Ripley is taught how to use a pulse rifle, an ACR used extensively by the Colonial Marines in the movie Aliens. Image (c) Twentieth-Century Fox


Tech Level: 10

Typical of the ACRs coming online in the next ten years or so is the OICW, or Objective Individual Combat Weapon. The OICW is designed to replace the M-16 and the M-4 as the American military’s workhorse rifle, and is scheduled for deployment to general troops in 2009. A very versatile weapon, it provides direct fire (main rifle), direct and indirect support fire (grenade launcher), night vision, thermal imaging, range finding, and telescopic spotting capabilities (integrated electronic scope.) The input from the scope can also be transmitted via wireless modem, allowing the soldier to "paint" targets that can be pinpointed with GPS-guided artillery.

Components of the OICW


In Print:

21st Century Soldier, Popular Science Books

Traveller RPG, various editions.

2300 AD RPG

Shadowrun RPG

In The Media:


Starship Troopers (the movie)

Space: Above and Beyond

On the Web:

Full technical details on the Pulse Rifle, the ACR from Aliens:

Details on the OICW: