Thoughts on Gun Evolution


September 20, 2003, 06:34 AM
I've been thinking about something. As gun technology advanced, the weapons themselves have (generally) gotten less complicated. I mean, think about it.

Compare a modern car to a car from the 1920s. The modern car is much more complicated, and has computers and whatnot in it.

Then compare an AK-47 to a Thompson. The AK is lighter and is mechanically simpler, AFAIK. You see this with a LOT of gun designs. The newest ones have fewer parts and so forth.

It strikes me as something akin to backwards evolution. Does it really take that long to think of the simplest way to accomplish what you want, or are there factors I'm not considering?

I mean, look at all of the contraptions they used for early semiauto rifles, before the Garand was refined, then compare that to the guts of a FAL.

Granted, the later designs are based on experience gained on the earlier ones, and I'll bet that counts for a LOT.

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September 20, 2003, 07:45 AM
Compare a modern car to a car from the 1920s. The modern car is much more complicated, and has computers and whatnot in it.

Big difference between guns and cars: Modern guns aren't expected to shoot faster for longer while burning less powder and emitting no powder gasses, and play your CD's and keep you air-conditioned while they do it. Conversely, cars are not expected to run after lying submerged in freezing mud for a week. ;)

September 20, 2003, 09:03 AM
Changes in systems are either revolutionary or evolutionary. To illustrate, manned, power flight experienced a revolutionary change through the development, wide spread utilization, and further advancement of gas turbine (jet) propulsion. However, the technological changes in automobiles during the same (50+ year) period have been fundamentally evolutionary; notwithstanding the incorporation of microcircuits, pollution abatement, statistical-process-control manufacturing, and so forth, the FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPT of a 1950s car is much like today’s.

I respectfully suggest small arms have experienced a VERY long succession of frequently brilliant EVOLUTIONARY changes during the last centuries. For example, when one visits the NRA Firearms Museum here in Fairfax County, Virginia – and it really is worth seeing – it is easy to establish that the long-history of firearms has essentially been evolutionary – THE BASIC CONCEPT (GUNPOWDER, IGNITION SOURCE, CHAMBER, BARREL AND PROJECTILE) HAS BEEN GREATLY IMPROVED UPON BUT REMAINS INTEGRAL TO TODAY.

I believe we are on the cusp of a REVOLUTION change in small arms. Practical “Directed Energy” (e. g., the Airborne Laser and certain Antiballistic missile defenses) weapons are now being fielded. I suspect that within the next century use of man-portable directed energy weapons will become pragmatic and affordable. This will denote the first REVOLUTIONARY advancement in small arms in centuries, replacing:
1. Gunpowder with electricity
2. Projectiles with focused, wave-borne energy
3. All the hardware (chamber, barrel, etc.) with an entirely new system

We may not see this in common use during our lifetimes, but history teaches us that REVOLUTIONARY technical innovation are further evolved to become smaller, better, cheaper, more practical, more widely used, and so forth. Why would directed energy weapons not follow this macro-trend?

Best regards -- Roy

September 20, 2003, 09:44 AM
In gun creation not evolution!

Baba Louie
September 20, 2003, 12:07 PM
Well, the auto vs gun comparison might hold some validity... maybe.

I'm thinking back a couple of years tho to the iron tube stuffed with powder and ball, some type of wooden holding device and a horse for locomotion.

Faster is better, comfort is good as is reliability (read less maintenance).

I do appreciate the evolution of both transport and shooting devices.

Weed out the un-necessary frills, bells and whistles, keeping it simple and lightweight (good to a point... wait till S&W scandalizes the new 500 into some snub type carry all day, shoot it never, just because they can).

Accuracy is good too.

As RWK notes... I'm hoping the Star Trek phasers or DUNE "sonic" hand-helds come out in my lifetime as well as the George Jetson big bubble top flyers... but I'm not going to hold my breath.


September 20, 2003, 12:17 PM
I'll take Tamara's take on it. :)


September 20, 2003, 12:22 PM
Does the geniva (sp?) convention cover man portable microwave guns that cause the target to burst like an over-cooked plum? :D

Personally, I think that if man portable EW become practical, there will still be some use for projectile weapons.

Think about it.

Just how effective would a laser be on incapacitating someone anyhow? Wouldnt the beam flash cauterize the wound?

How well will that hi-tech EW penetrate a foot thick brick wall? (in real life, not starwars) Apply enough kinetic energy and penetration is a non-issue.

Now an EW coupled w/ some sort of under the barrel DU explosive penetrator..... *drool*

September 20, 2003, 02:31 PM
Energy weapons create a whole new batch of problems. Firearms will be the weapon of choice for many, many years.

Firearms have a few very basic strengths that make them excellent weapons:

1.) Gunpowder is reliable and predictable.
2.) Cartridges can be stored almost indefinitely.
3.) Firearms are easy to use and maintain. The meachanical workings are easy for the common man to understand.
4.) Not subjest to electronic interference.
5.) Cheap and easy to manufacture.

Energy weapons will have a lot of problems:

1.) Fragile systems.
2.) Damaged by EMP devices.
3.) Common grunt will not be able to understand workings of weapon
4.) Batteries, batteries, batteries.
5.) Did I mention batteries.

The amount of energy necessary to cook a man, or burn a hole through one is immense compared to the energy necessary to punch a bullet into him. This is due to the fact that we are mostly water, so we suck up lots of heat without taking alot of damage. There are energy weapons today that can make you feel uncomfortable by heating the moisture in your skin, but as soon as you get out of the way, you quickly recover and can fight again.

Anti-missle laser weapons are absolutely huge and cumbersome, resulting in their being mounted in large aircraft, or in defense bunkers. I strongly doubt they will be man-portable any time soon.

September 20, 2003, 03:23 PM
Do you remember drawings of early – hundreds of years ago – firearms: very cumbersome, very ungainly, very large, very inaccurate, and very primitive? Add more than a half-millennium of investment and evolution and we have today’s small arms. I believe the same pattern applies to virtually every field of human endeavor, when ingeniousness and resources are properly applied. Further, we have many contemporary examples of this pervasive pattern: heavier-than-air flight over the last hundred years, telecommunications, structures and materials, medical science. The last is very long – HOWEVER, THE PRINCIPAL IS PRECISELY THE SAME.

The constraints you discuss re directed energy certainly exist today. Who is certain, however, that a century from now batteries will be the land warriors power source, or optic trains will not be ruggedized, or systems will not be easy to understand and to operate? How simple were radar systems for our military forbearers in 1940? How durable were early jet engines in 1950? How maintainable were early armored vehicles in 1930? All of these systems – and so many others – were enhanced by systemic innovation and investment.

This same “revolutionary followed by evolutionary” approach will certainly apply to directed energy weapons as well.

The advantages of eliminating the projectile and replacing it with wave-borne energy are clear. Resources and time – and I do mean lots of both – surely will be required, but technological advancement will prevail.

With repects and regards - Roy

September 20, 2003, 03:54 PM
In a manner of speaking, firearms can be considered directed-energy weapons themselves. The energy is just carried to the target in a little piece of metal. BTW, if the energy is transferred to the target in 2 milliseconds, then even a little .223 (55 gr @ 3250 = 1.75 kJ) delivers energy at a rate (power) of 875 kW.

Not many HOUSE-SIZED lasers can deliver 1.75 kJ per pulse, or average 0.875 MW for as long as 2 milliseconds! Only the largest chemical lasers (ABL, THEL, MIRACL) and some REALLY big solid-state pulsed lasers (NOVA, NIF) can even touch that. And the firearm is all-weather reliable, man-portable, and self-powered.

Man-portable beam weapons have a LONG way to go . . .

As a side note, I have seen accounts of a prototype that uses an ultraviolet excimer laser to ionize a needle-thin path of air to a human target, coupled with a high-voltage pulsed-power system to deliver an incapacitating charge to the subject via the plasma "wire" created by the laser (presumably ground return is used for the return path, unless a dual-beam laser is used). Think Air Taser without the wires.

September 20, 2003, 04:11 PM
Does the geniva (sp?) convention cover man portable microwave guns that cause the target to burst like an over-cooked plum?

Better yet, could I get it in a shoulder holster?:D

Standing Wolf
September 20, 2003, 06:23 PM
The advantages of eliminating the projectile and replacing it with wave-borne energy are clear. Resources and time – and I do mean lots of both – surely will be required, but technological advancement will prevail.

I have a hunch this will happen much sooner than most of us believe, and I doubt batteries as we know them today are going to be the means used to store energy.

September 20, 2003, 06:51 PM
I think that the biggest improvements have been in ammunition. Ammo today is non-corrosive, burns cleaner, more efficiently, and the bullets are of better design (probably due to the advent of computer design and simulation). Many old design weapons can take advantage of ammo advances (ie. some older style designs are still around, but with shorter barrels) and some of todays high-tech weapons have been designed with the newer ammo in mind (ie. FN P90/FiveSeven, M-16, AK-74, etc).

September 20, 2003, 07:09 PM
You should understand that cars are being asked to do more and more all the time. A/C, traction control, air bags, power steering, electronics, better engines to get more milage and lower emissions, etc.

Use modern technology to build the complete exact equivalent of the original ford model T and it would be an extremely simple build.

Firearms, compared to cars and computers, are much further along and have gone through many more refinements. Any technology, as it matures, will accumulate features and do more until you hit a point where the basic tech does everything it needs to do. Then you will see the tech get simpler, easier to use and manufacture, and cheaper.

September 20, 2003, 07:12 PM
In regards to batteries: we are already starting to see chemical cells replace batteries... i.e. the laptop power systems, set to go on sale in 2004, that run of chemical fuels that can be refilled easily. (alcohol based fuels mostly i think.)

September 20, 2003, 07:34 PM
By the time we have the battery technology available for EWs maybe somebody will invent a decent Gauss Rifle.

50gr steel jacketed EFMJ traveling @ 10,000 ft/sec..... heheheeh

Politically Incorrect
September 20, 2003, 09:06 PM
Besides the use of plastic and eletronic primers, I don't see much new technology in guns. Use of gas to operate the action is a century old along with the lock breech system for use in pistols.

Most everything has been an improvement or varation of old technology.

Will there be advancement on technology? Of course, but will it be as significant as the past 100 years? I'm not so sure, but I guess quite a few people believe so. It will be interesting.

September 20, 2003, 09:15 PM
We might, of course, see a coming together of old and new technologies. For example, one of the more significant developments in laser technology has been the "bomb-pumped" laser - a nuclear weapon, which in exploding is used to power a laser generator. The beam lasts only for a fraction of a second, but its power is immense, more than sufficient to destroy a ship-sized target if it hits the right spot. This is still in development. Now, if we could use a significantly smaller explosion to power a significantly smaller (but still deadly) laser, why couldn't this be contained in a cartridge? We'd still have the BANG!, but the projectile would be replaced by a laser or other projected/directed energy beam. Since there's no recoil to speak of, the autoloader concept as we know it today would perhaps be unsuitable - revolvers, anyone? :D

September 20, 2003, 09:38 PM
I believe what you are refering to is called an "X-Ray laser". Dont know the specifics, but the laser is actually the particles from the nuke itself... unlike many of the chem lasers used today. I for one wouldnt volunteer to shoot a handheld nuke. (too small for critical mass anyhow)

September 21, 2003, 12:13 AM
The nuclear-pumped X-ray laser concept was basically a small nuclear weapon surrounded by dozens of independently pointed rods, probably made out of metal, that were turned into plasma by the intense photon radiation from the bomb and began to "lase" at X-ray wavelengths, producing a (brief) intense X-ray beam along the axis of the rod. Conversion efficiency was only a fraction of a percent, but when you have 10^15 watts to work with, the power output was still monumental.

September 21, 2003, 12:19 AM
Excellent. Do you know what type of metal they would use for the rods?

September 21, 2003, 08:28 AM
Since there's no recoil to speak of, the autoloader concept as we know it today would perhaps be unsuitable - revolvers, anyone?


You describe a good application for the Tround! A concept far ahead of its time.


September 21, 2003, 10:01 AM
Do you know what type of metal they would use for the rods?
I'm not sure (may be classified--could even be carbon rather than metallic). However, most unclassified X-ray laser research I've seen involved focusing a really powerful laser beam (Nova) in a line along a piece of thin metal foil, so I assumed metal on that basis.

Black Snowman
September 21, 2003, 10:43 AM
Most of the simplification and refinement of firearms has been made possible by improvements in materials and manufacturing technology. Improved metalurgy and new matterials have made simpler designs possible as have new machining techniques such as EDM. Many modern designs just weren't possible or economical with manufacturing processes of the past.

Simplicity of construction had a lot more to do with the design of firearms than simplicity of design or opperation. Especially in weapons that had to be mass produced like military arms.

There really hasn't been any revolutionary changes to firearms since smokeless powders. As has already been pointed out, improvements in firearms have resulted in simplification because the firearm doesn't have to do anything new, it just has to do the same thing better. This is very differant from many other products such as computers and automobiles where there is a demand for new capabilities.

September 21, 2003, 11:25 AM
Of course, the next advance in LARGE firearms is likely to be the "rail gun" - using electricity to propel a projectile at very high speeds. I understand the US Navy is experimenting with one such weapon, and several European countries are involved with their own testing. I've heard that a production model might be possible as early as 2010. However, given the high power requirements, I don't see this applied to personal firearms unless/until the batteries can be made more powerful by at least an order of magnitude.

Brian Dale
September 21, 2003, 12:16 PM
RWK, w/r/t the sequence of revolution, then evolution, followed by revolution again - I think that the term you want is "Punctuated Equilibrium" - a set of notions developed by Steven J. Gould and his gang in the context of biological evolution theory, and let's set our opinions on biological evolution aside, please, if you don't mind. I'd be wrong if I started an OT flame war.

My point is the following, skipping a lot of steps along the way. Ancient firearms got better, and then people created flintlocks, which got better until caplocks came along, which were improved until they were replaced by cartridge weapons. Revolvers, lever-actions, bolt actions, semiautos and machine guns. Polymer pistols. Caseless ammo. Next?

{a whole bunch of fun examples of technological Punk Eek from other areas deleted; I can be too long-winded}

Better metallurgy and manufacturing techniques enhanced the existing firearms at many of these stages, and then these techniques allowed the creation of new types of firearm actions that were not invented until enabling technologies existed. Not only were there no Glocks in the early 1900's (OK, pipe down, SAA and 1911 fans), but inventors did not have any practical data to use in generating ideas about what they might design with materials such as polymers.

Want to make a fortune? Put some financial backing behind the guy or gal that comes up with the next energy-storage technology. Yep, you got it right away: the hard part is telling which device or method it'll be that represents the revolutionary change. All we know for sure is that the changes will occur. Ain't it fun?

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