The Canadian Army is testing out smart rifle technology to create weapons that are lighter, have greater firepower, and can use data to help soldiers be more precise. Though they've only been experimenting with prototypes, the rifles give us a glimpse of what the high-tech military weapons of the future might look like.
Franklin Wong, a defense scientist for Defense Research and Development Canada, told me they are focusing on three broad categories of weapons advancements: increased firepower, increased connectivity, and lighter weight. Increasing firepower can be as simple as attaching a grenade launcher to a rifle, while more lightweight weapons can be developed using advanced materials such as polymers or even through crafting lighter ammunition. The prototype in the video above, for example, weighs about 19 pound even with a grenade launcher, compared to the 22-pound, launcher-equipped C7 rifles currently in use by Canada's soldiers.
The trick is balancing the desire for lightweight weapons with the goal of building increasingly powerful guns. The DRDC is also checking out a bunch of data sensors and communicators that can transmit a soldier's exact position or a view of his or her target.
"When we talk about connectivity, we're talking about a powered data rail, which doesn't exist on weapons today," Wong said. "It's putting these electronics onto the weapon that help it pass data from sensors onboard the weapon to other places."
That data could include GPS tracking to help with coordinated team attacks, Wong said, or even electro-optical cameras to transmit on-the-ground views. The DRDC is also looking at tracking technology that can automatically detect targets and help soldiers line up the shot. But the one thing the guns can't do is be fired remotely, Wong said, stressing that the soldier holding the rifle would always be in full control.
At the moment, the Canadian Army doesn't have any plans to actually use these weapons.
"We're not building a fleet of these weapons," Wong said. "Our goal isn't to produce weapons or even prototypes. We just want to be able to establish what the limits of the technology are."
Wong said the results of their tests could eventually be provided to the weapons industry to build prototype smart guns, which could then be tested by the military—but that's a long way out. For their part, Wong said the DRDC just wants to see what the technology is capable of.
Researching smart weapons is pretty much par for the course for military these days, with the US Army and the private sector finding remarkable ways to integrate new technology into traditional weaponry. In fact, the Canadian military's project seems rather modest in comparison with its goals to simply assess the possible technology available. It also took the Army a full two months and eight email exchanges before they could set up an interview for me to talk to the team investigating these smart rifle prototypes.
But the project—part of a larger Future of Small Arms project for the Canadian Army—does provide a glimpse of what military weapons will start to look like in the future. New technology is enabling militaries to make lighter, more powerful, and intelligent guns and everyone, including Canada, wants to see exactly how far it can go.