Jump to content
Sturgeon's House

Why are most modern rifles Gas-Operated?


Recommended Posts

This may have already been answered, but why are so many modern assault rifles gas-operated, when blowback-operated designs are (generally speaking) simpler/cheaper to manufacture and require less maintenance? I've been doing some research and can't seem to figure out why for the life of me. Any assistance is greatly appreciated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 hours ago, CharlieAlphaVictor said:

This may have already been answered, but why are so many modern assault rifles gas-operated, when blowback-operated designs are (generally speaking) simpler/cheaper to manufacture and require less maintenance? I've been doing some research and can't seem to figure out why for the life of me. Any assistance is greatly appreciated.

 

Straight blowback is unsuitable for high pressure rifle cartridges. You can use delayed blowback or retarded blowback for rifle calibers, but they are not cheaper than a well-designed modern gas-operated gun. For example, when HK was in trouble after the collapse of East Germany and the cancellation of the G11, they did not revive the retarded blowback HK33/41 family to produce the new weapon for the cash-strapped Bundeswehr, they created an all-new gas operated gun in the G36. And it was indeed cheaper.

This raises the question, if retarded blowback isn't necessarily cheaper than gas operation, why did anyone use it at all? And how did the G3 come very close to out-competing the FAL, despite being available a few years later. There's really two parts to the answer. First, retarded blowback is one of several methods tried to solve several problems that early gas operated rifles had, foremost of which is that they didn't handle pressure variances well. The solution to these myriad problems turned out to simply be refinement of the gas operated mechanism, best embodied by the M16 and the AK families. Both of these include robust, corrosion-proof materials and the M16 also fired noncorrosive ammunition, which completely solved the issues of erosion around the gas port causing the rifle to become more gassed over time. Both also include refinements to the mechanism which make them less sensitive to pressure variances in general (the AK is just designed to be overgassed in the first place, making excessive port pressure less of an issue, and includes generous underslide which helps reduce wear and tear on the bolt, and M16's DI system provides similar benefits). Retarded blowback guns, in theory, avoid all of these problems by simply not having a gas system in the first place, which in 1945 seemed like a very intuitive solution to the Germans who couldn't afford corrosion resistant materials. The famous HK roller locked family of guns are all derived from these efforts. The gas pressure problem is also why so many rifles from the late 1940s and 1950s have gas regulators, as often this was a very tidy solution to both that problem and also to give the gun better ability to fire early rifle grenades.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well the FAMAS isn't a bad design. Given that they were going to make their own production line from the ground up, I wouldn't say that it's an irrationally expensive design either. On the modern US commercial firearms market there has been some efforts to make semi-locked or locked bolts for pistol caliber carbines and submachineguns. This lowers felt recoil, ameliorates performance with suppressors and with some larger pistol calibers. SIG has a gas operated, rotating bolt design, but I wouldn't say that it's completely clear that the SIG design is leaps and bounds better than the CMMG radial delayed blowback.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you look at the difference in manufacturing costs, I think Sturgeon does have a good point. The tubing or operating rods or whatever needed for the gas system are rarely very expensive parts. I'd guess that the difference in costs associated to the bolt head and barrel extension is larger than the entire cost of small parts for the gas system. I could be wrong.

Also, there's the development hurdle of designing a new rifle. If you're trying to invent a roller delayed blowback, as far as I understand, you'd have to experiment with different angles on pieces that are made from hardened steel. I might be overestimating the amount of work to do that, but my spontaneous estimation is that that would be way more time consuming than modifying an SVT-40 (AR-18) gas system by moving the gas port up and down the barrel and changing its size. All you really need to do that is a serious drill and a way to plug your old hole...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, Miroslav said:

Well the FAMAS isn't a bad design. Given that they were going to make their own production line from the ground up, I wouldn't say that it's an irrationally expensive design either. On the modern US commercial firearms market there has been some efforts to make semi-locked or locked bolts for pistol caliber carbines and submachineguns. This lowers felt recoil, ameliorates performance with suppressors and with some larger pistol calibers. SIG has a gas operated, rotating bolt design, but I wouldn't say that it's completely clear that the SIG design is leaps and bounds better than the CMMG radial delayed blowback.

 

The FAMAS design goes back to the 1960s, and it does have some problems by the standards of modern assault rifles. But I agree that it's a sound design overall.

Retarded blowback is a good idea for pistol caliber carbines, but I'm not sure pistol caliber carbines themselves are the most compelling things. Submachineguns  have applications (like SCW) but besides that...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, Miroslav said:

If you look at the difference in manufacturing costs, I think Sturgeon does have a good point. The tubing or operating rods or whatever needed for the gas system are rarely very expensive parts. I'd guess that the difference in costs associated to the bolt head and barrel extension is larger than the entire cost of small parts for the gas system. I could be wrong.

Also, there's the development hurdle of designing a new rifle. If you're trying to invent a roller delayed blowback, as far as I understand, you'd have to experiment with different angles on pieces that are made from hardened steel. I might be overestimating the amount of work to do that, but my spontaneous estimation is that that would be way more time consuming than modifying an SVT-40 (AR-18) gas system by moving the gas port up and down the barrel and changing its size. All you really need to do that is a serious drill and a way to plug your old hole...


And for a modern rifle like an AR-15, the bolt and extension are trivial to make in relative terms. Certainly, it's no harder to make an AR bolt than it is to make the bolt assembly for a G3.

Gas operated guns really are easy to tune versus retarded blowback guns, certainly. Although you can theoretically tune retarded blowback guns via math alone, in practice there are always adjustments, which in the case of something like a G3 would involve the production of quite a few steuerstucks.

And what's the benefit? You get a gun that's no cheaper, probably more expensive in fact, not any more compact or lighter, and which is more sensitive to different kinds of ammunition. Oh, and it's more violent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

  • Similar Content

    • By Sturgeon
      This thread is for suggesting contest subjects for the forum to participate in!
    • By Sturgeon
      I woke up one day and decided "why not design an entirely new rifle from scratch, and live blog it?" So here we are.

      About ten minutes in and we've got the beginnings of a receiver extrusion made from 7075 T6 aluminum:
       

       
      Currently I think the rifle will be in 5.56mm. It will not use STANAG magazines. @Ulric plz halp design new mag?
    • By Sturgeon
      Let's say you're developing a tank with a unique (AKA non-historical) gun for one of our competitions here on SH. It would be nice to have an idea of the size of the gun, its shells, and what their performance both in terms of shell weight and velocity but also penetration, wouldn't it? Well, fortunately there is a way to do this with reasonably accurate results using your solid modeling software and some free to use browser tools.

      First, you want to have a general idea of the size and performance of your gun. For this example, I decided I wanted an optimized, high velocity 85mm caliber gun with a case about as big as the 7.5cm KwK 42 (as it happened, I ended up with a case that had significantly greater volume, but that fact is unimportant for this example). The cartridge I decided on has a 130mm wide rim and a 640mm long case, of course in 85mm caliber. My first step was to model this case in SolidWorks:


       
      You will also need to model your projectile, in this case a tungsten-carbide cored APCR round:


       
      Next, we need a bit of freeware: A Powley computer. Originally developed by DuPont engineers for small arms ammunition, the Powley computer is an accurate enough tool to use for much larger tank rounds as well! When you click the link, you'll be greeted with this screen:
       

       
      You'll note the dimensions are in inches and this thing called "grains" (abbreviated "gn"). The grain is an archaic Imperial mass unit equal to 1/7000th of a pound which is still used in the small arms field, today. Another quirk of small arms has the case capacity - a volume measurement - listed in grains as well. This is in fact grains of water (gn H2O), or the weight of water that will fill the case to the top. To find this, simply multiply the volume in cubic centimeters by 15.43 - which is also the exchange rate between the metric gram and grains mass.
       
      Finding the volume of the case is easy with a solid modeling program; simply model the interior as a solid and find the volume of that solid:


       
      Filling in my Powley inputs gives me this:
       

       
      Note that I typically use the diameter of the projectile across the driving bands for "Bullet Diameter", but it really makes very little difference.
       
      So far, though, we haven't actually produced any results. That's because our gun is well outside the bounds of DuPont production IMR powders, hence the output "Much slower than (IMR) 4831" in the lower left. So, we need to override the computer by checking the box next to the blue "Pressure" function, and typing in a pressure value in CUP that is reflective of tank guns of whatever era we are trying to represent. My tank gun is trying to represent something from about the late 1940s/early 1950s, so I'm going to use 45500 CUP EDIT: USE 41000 CUP for APCBC and 42800 CUP FOR APCR (or better yet, do your own calibration!):
       

       
      This gives me an estimated muzzle velocity of 3,964 ft/s for my L/50 barrel. Not bad! Note the outputs on the left, which tell you a bunch of fun facts about your round but aren't terribly relevant to what we're doing here today. Next, we need to put this gun's performance in terms of penetration. The way I like to do this is through comparative analysis.
       
      The first thing we need is to know to find penetration the ballistic performance of our round. We can estimate this using JBM's ballistic calculator and a few rules of thumb. When opening the calculator, the first thing you'll see is this:
       

       
      We care about basically none of these settings except BC, velocity, and maximum range. Caliber, projectile weight, chronograph distance, etc are all pretty irrelevant to us. Keep the environmental settings (temperature, pressure, etc.) set to their defaults. First, change the ballistic coefficient type from G1 to G7 using the dropdown menu. Then, change the muzzle velocity from 3000 to whatever the muzzle velocity was that was calculated by the Powley computer. Finally, set the maximum range to your desired distance - in my case 2,000 yards.

      For my round, I now have inputs that look like this:
       


      We also need to get some idea of how fast our projectile loses velocity, something we can't know for certain without actually building a real gun and test firing it - or at least without some really sophisticated simulations. However, projectiles with the same shape tend to fly the same way, and that's something we can exploit here. To figure this out, we need a graph showing us the performance of a real-life gun. Fortunately, there is a handy one for an IRL gun similar to what I'm designing, the 90mm M3 from World War II, and its M304 HVAP-T, which is broadly similar in construction and shape to my 85mm APCR projectile:
       

       
      Based on this chart, we see that the M304 should drop from its 3,350 ft/s muzzle velocity to about 2,500 ft/s at 2,000 yards. Doing a little trial and error with JBM tells me that this means the M304 has a G7 ballistic coefficient of about 1.13.
       
      Now, our projectile will not have the same ballistic coefficient, due to it being a different size and mass. But, we can figure out what its ballistic coefficient would be by finding its sectional density and comparing that to the sectional density of M304. To find sectional density, take the projectile's weight in grains and divide it by the square of the projectile's diameter in inches, times 7000. So for M304, we get:
       

       


      And for my 85mm, we get:


       

       
      This means that the ballistic coefficient for an identical-shape projectile with our size and weight will be about 1.019/1.330 - or 76.6% as much - as that of the 90mm M304. That means a BC of 0.866 G7 should be approximately correct for my 85mm APCR round. Let's plug that in:


       
      And then scroll down to the bottom to click "calculate", which gives us a big ol' chart that goes out to 2,000 yards:
       

       
      O-Kay! Now we have some data. It looks like at 2,000 yards, my projectile holds about 2,800 ft/s striking velocity. It's important to note here that what we really care about isn't the striking velocity of the projectile per se, but the velocity and energy of the projectile's core. The core is what's actually doing a lot of work to the armor, so for now let's stop thinking in terms of the whole projectile, and take a look at these two cores, that of the M304 90mm HVAP, and that of my 85mm APCR round. The core of the 90mm M304 is an approximately 8 pound lump of tungsten-carbide that is about 45mm in width. My penetrator is also 8 pounds, but it's longer and thinner in proportion - just 40mm wide, rather than 45mm. This means my penetrator will penetrate more armor at a given striking velocity, and we can estimate how much more by taking the specific energy of the rounds and comparing them. That is, the energy in Joules of the penetrator alone, divided by the penetrator's diameter squared:
       

       


      So the specific energy at 2,000 yards is about 826J/mm^2. Now, we need to find out at what impact velocity the M304 penetrator produces this same specific energy. Do do that, we go backwards, using the figures for M304:
       

       

       
      Therefore, the equivalent impact velocity for my 85mm APCR round at 2,000 yards is 3,150 ft/s for the M304. That means, in theory, that the M304 would have to impact a target at 3,150 ft/s to produce equivalent penetration of RHA to my 85mm APCR striking at just 2,800 ft/s.

      Now, we head back to that chart:


       
      On the left side of the graph, we put our cursor on the line that corresponds to approximately 3,150 ft/s velocity, and follow it over until it hits the curved line that corresponds with the angle of plate we care about - arbitrarily, let's pick 20 degrees. Then, we follow that point straight down until it hits the x-axis:


       
      Therefore, we estimate that at 2,000 yards, my 85mm has just over 10 inches of RHA penetration - not bad at all for a lowly APCR round!
    • By Sturgeon
      The year is [year]. You are a [thing] designer working in/for [country/nation state/corporation]. The [things] of the rival [country/nation state/corporation] have recently *gotten meaningfully better in some specific way* and/or *the geopolitical and/or industry circumstances have significantly changed*. You have been tasked with designing a [thing] to meet the needs of this new and changing world!
       
      If that made you laugh, maybe you've participated in a design competition before, here or on another forum. I've been a contestant or judge five or six design competitions by this point, and I'd like to highlight a mistake I've seen people make often that I think could hurt your chances. And that is, designing something for the wrong time period, specifically designing something that is too early for the period in which the competition takes place.
       
      Quick: When you think about US rifles in World War II, what comes to mind? A lot if you would answer with the M1 Garand, I'd bet. If I went on another forum and started a "Design a Rifle: USA 1944" thread, I bet I'd get a lot of entries that took their cues from the M1 Garand - but the M1 wasn't designed in 1944, it was designed in the late 1920s. In attempting to "fit in" to the time period of the competition, they would have in fact submitted a design that is 15 years too late! The an appropriately dated entry would be something like a T25 Lightweight Rifle, which is associated mostly with the late Forties and early Fifties, but whose design began in the mid 1940s. Using the M1 Garand as a model for your 1944 design would result in something like a slightly refined Garand with a box magazine slapped on, putting you well behind the curve!
       

       
      The T25 was what 1940s designers thought the rifle of the future would look like. Keen SHitters will notice the joke about the M14 in the above paragraph.
       
      Tanks and other vehicles are the same way. The M48 is associated with the Vietnam era, but its development began in 1953. The Space Shuttle is associated closely with the 1980s, but design work on it began in the late 1960s, before the first man ever set foot on the Moon. The MiG-15 is associated with the Korean War, but Soviet jet fighter designers at that time were already putting pencils to paper on what would become the MiG-21.
       
      It's tempting to create a design that looks like it would fit right in to the battles we know and associate with whatever time period a competition covers. Yet, the real-world designers fighting those battles from their drafting tables were already imagining the next thing, and even what would come after that, in turn. Design competitions are just for fun, but in some ways they are also practice for the real thing, so don't get stuck in the past!
       
       
×
×
  • Create New...