|M18 modular weapon system|
The 6.35 mm (top) and 7.62 mm (above) versions of the M18 rifle.
|Type||Modular weapon system, service rifle|
|Place of origin||United Republic|
|Used by||United Republic; see Users|
|Designer||United Republic Army, URSOCOM, Blackwell Firearms, UAE Systems, MGP Industries|
|Variants|| Rifle, carbine, subcarbine, IAR (6.35 mm); DMR (7.62 mm); other configurations and calibers available.
|Weight|| all weights unloaded
|Barrel length|| |
|Cartridge|| Standard models:|
6.35×45mm UAE CTA
7.62×51mm UAE CTA
|Action|| Gas-operated (short-stroke piston)|
Push-through feed-and-ejection; open, swinging chamber
|Rate of fire||650—700 rpm (fully-automatic cyclic)|
|Effective range|| |
The M18 rifle (officially Modular Weapon System, Caliber 6.35 mm/7.62 mm, M18; formerly Blackwell Armament System Technology (BLAST)) is a family of air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed, select-fire, multicaliber, cased telescoped ammunition modular weapon systems used by the United Republic of Emmeria as the standard service rifle in all branches of the United Republic armed forces, filling several vital roles with one modular system.
The weapon was developed from 2004 to 2006 as a joint endeavor between Blackwell Firearms, UAE Systems, and MGP Industries in response to the growing popularity of cased telescoped ammunition and the constantly increasing need to replace the 5.56 mm M16 rifle and M4 carbine variants in Emmerian service with a next-generation, lightweight, modular weapon system. Originally called the Blackwell Armament System Technology rifle (BLAST), the weapon was selected as the winner of the DoD's joint Universal Service Rifle program in 2008, although it had seen frontline use among special forces for up to three years before then, and was developed with extensive oversight from both the U.R. Army and U.R. special operators who intended to use them.
The Universal Service Rifle program neared cancellation on numerous occasions in the face of shrinking military budgets and a transforming threat environment. Its rushed conclusion led to the controversial selection of the Blackwell Firearms system amidst a series of appeals, all of which would be denied.
Currently the rifle's 6.35 mm variants are used in the carbine and assault rifle role in the U.R. Army and Marine Corps, and its 7.62 mm variants are employed as designated marksman rifles. All branches employ versions of the weapon, for which an extensive array of aftermarket accessories are available (normally for civilian shooters and special forces). The family of weapons has garnered widespread popularity in the United Republic, being employed by thousands of law enforcement agencies and civilians across the nation and even the globe. The U.R. foreign military sales program provided the M18 to a number of regional and global allies of the United Republic, serving in both conventional and special forces roles.
The M18 series replaced the previous M16, M4, and M110 rifles in U.R. service; all three were used in reserve and support units until late 2009, when they were phased out. Since that point, the M18 series has performed in a variety of roles for the United Republic military forces as the primary service rifle.
History and Development
The M18 was an offshoot of the U.R. Army's Next Generation Assault System (NGAS) program, canceled in 2003 and for which Wellock was the prime contractor; it was canceled primarily on the basis of the fact that its cartridge, 5.56 mm NATO, did not fit the current requirements. The program had attempted to replace a wide variety of weapons with one versatile, modular weapon system; however, the system did not provide sufficient improvement over the M16 and M4 to warrant complete replacement.
The Joint Future Armament Systems program, for which UAE Systems was the prime contractor, utilized an experimental 6.35 mm cased telescoped cartridge. In March 2003, after the NGAS's termination, the 6.35 mm UAE cartridge was declared the intended future service rifle cartridge of the United Republic armed forces, and the rights to its design were sold by UAE Systems to the U.R. Army.
The JFAS program developed polymer cased telescoped ammunition (PCTA) and caseless ammunition (CLA) prototype light machine guns and carbine rifles for the United Republic Army. Although the JFAS LMG prototype translated into a full-blown PCTA light machine gun development program, the rifle element of the program was terminated. However, it was determined that deploying a light machine gun without ammunition compatible with other weapons in the squad would be ineffective; thus the U.R. Army began to draft a set of requirements for a future PCTA rifle.
The M18's development began in 2004 at the request of the United Republic's elite Tier-1 JSOC Counter Terrorist Force. The multiservice special operations task force desired to replace its current weapons with a more reliable and modular system without the cost of weight. After competitive bidding process, a two-year development program was initiated between Blackwell Firearms and JSOC, with extensive subsequent support from UAE Systems for its uniquely developed polymer cased telescoped ammunition. MGP Industries would later join the program, bringing its renowned innovation to the overall design. The program was funded by these companies alongside JSOC, which essentially provided a blank check for the weapon's development.
The weapon came to serve several roles in JSOC's elite CTF, becoming the near-ubiquitous small arm for one of the most elite special operations forces in the world.
Universal Service Rifle
The 2004 Quadrennial Defense Review highlighted the United Republic's continued failure to capitalize on the fielding of a new service rifle, and recommended that the possibilities of adopting a new intermediate CTA cartridge like the 6.35 UAE be explored further, especially due to the Army's selection (but not deployment) of the PCTA M65 LMG from the JFAS program.
In December 2004, the United Republic Army issued draft requirements for a potential future weapons program, and subsequently held an invite-only industry day to explore the level of available carbine technology using the unique ammunition. Rumors indicated a prototype Blackwell M18 was among the weapons featured. The requirements for the URS program included "cased telescoped ammunition", deliberately leaving the caliber choice open to competitors. However, any caliber besides 6.35 UAE and 7.62 UAE would require the competitor to provide for their own ammunition. Among the requirements was an interchangeable parts system, whereby multiple variants (such as carbine, assault rifle, and DMR) could be derived from the base model to serve in various differing roles.
After a finalized RFP was posted in late 2005, the Universal Service Rifle program, in which all Emmerian military services were participating, became open for entries from both local and international defense firms. In order to improve upon the questionable reliability of the current M16A4 and M4A1 weapons in service, the new weapon would be subjected to extensive abuse during testing.
The URS program consisted of several phases over a period of 12-18 months. Phase I involved a familiarization shoot and compatibility check with existing weapon attachments, as well as accuracy tests. Phase II eliminated specific competitors, and several companies dropped out for financial reasons or because the winning design's rights would be handed to the U.R. Army at the conclusion of the competition. Among the remaining competitors were the Blackwell/UAE/MGP M18, Bushmaster/Remington/Magpul ACR-E (a modified version of the ACR using CTA), HK416A6, Wellock X98 (an offshoot of the original NGAS system), and numerous others. Accuracy tests were accompanied by physical abuse of the firearms; weapons were "beaten, dropped, submerged in water, dumped in mud, and expected to fire". The stringent requirements ensured that the winning weapon family would survive under the wear of constant use. This was followed by a limited user evaluation, where select combat personnel would rate and review the weapon's overall characteristics in terms of weight, size, trigger pull and consistency, feel, and accuracy.
In February 2007 the Blackwell M18 was chosen as the winner of the competition. Blackwell was given the freedom to select two defense contractors to coproduce the weapon in large enough quantities to meet the overall demand; in addition, the U.R. Army chose a large number of contractors to develop the new ammunition, which would extensively tax the Emmerian logistics system. Blackwell would select UAE Systems (having been partners during the design process) and Emmerian company P&W Arms, known for its Enhanced Reliability Modular Weapon (ERMW) submission, to coproduce the rifles.
During the testing phase, the program was delayed several times as sequestration and military budget cuts forced the Department of Defense to reconsider funding for various programs. The Army maintained that the USR would "drastically improve and enhance Emmerian infantry warfighting capability", but a report by the U.R. Senate Committee on Armed Services determined that legacy generation systems were sufficient against the entire spectrum of projected enemies for the next few decades. However, USR remained one of the few research and development programs that survived budget cut cancellations, largely due to successful field testing of the JFAS M65 light machine gun, which proved the benefits of polymer cased telescoped ammunition.
As the deadline for a decision approached, the Army rushed the latter two phases of the program in order to finish the selection phase as soon as possible; an anonymous official familiar with the program would later report that this move was intended to finalize a winner before Congress cut funding for the program. Following the selection of the Blackwell M18, fellow participant and arms manufacturer Wellock Arms filed an appeal to the Army, claiming the program was not entirely conducted in compliance with laws governing fair competition. A similar appeal was filed by Bolt the following day.
The Army denied all appeals two days later, stating that all concerns had been considered and the Blackwell system had still been determined the winner of the competition. Under much scrutiny, the M18 entered service as the primary service rifle of the United Republic Army and Marine Corps.
Foreign adoption and service
The M18 rifle saw significant success on the foreign market shortly after its adoption, particularly among countries seeking to replace previous generation ammunition with polymer cased telescoped ammunition. Versions of the rifle were entered into several arms competitions among national modernization projects across the world.
The rifle found particular acceptance in use by special operations forces, which praised its reliability and versatility.
In 2013, the Commonwealth Army held an arms competition, termed Advanced Tactical Small Arms (ATSA), to select a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system to replace the legacy R87 rifle as the standard service rifle of the Defence Forces. Blackwell entered the M18 into the ATSA competition, where it was evaluated against the Emmerian X98, Eaglelander M35A2, Lyran AHLAR, and Arthuristan R13. The R13 was selected over its competitors.
The M18 family of small arms is a versatile series of modular weapon systems based around a single design. Originally designed at the request of and with oversight by U.R. special forces, the M18 contains ambidextrous controls, built with a highly modular and easy to assemble design, and incorporates a number of innovative features that improve usability and the weapon's varied characteristics. Although its development was mired in controversy, the end result was one of the most effective, versatile, and capable service rifles today.
The M18 series features a number of improvements to the overall design as compared to previous generation rifles, the most striking of which is its use of polymer cased telescoped ammunition (PCTA). In cased telescoped designs, the projectile is largely enveloped by the propellant. With heat-resistant polymer cases, the ammunition is shorter in length and 40% lighter than conventional brass-cased ammunition.
The use of PCTA allows the M18 to utilize a push-through feed and ejection system with a swinging chamber, a design far simpler than conventional methods. The chamber swings vertically below the barrel when firing. A rammer feeds the round backwards into the chamber, and pushes the spent casing to the far end. The spent round then slides into a separate ejection mechanism from where it can be expelled from the chamber from an ejection port to the rear. The side where the rounds eject can be switched through simple tool-less modifications to the internals. Once chambered, the action forces the vertically sliding chamber up and in line with the barrel, thus firing the round. This process completely isolates the chamber from barrel heat and more positively controls round feeding and ejection as compared to conventional methods, as well as being far simpler. The nature of feeding backwards makes the barrel about 2 inches longer than a conventional one, thus accounting for a slightly shortened weapon.
The system is operated using conventional short-stroke piston action with a carbine-length gas system. The upper receiver is constructed mostly of non-stressed anodized aluminum forgings, and contains a carbon fiber reinforced polymer handguard with an aluminum four-way P&W Arms M3 rail interface system for mounting various accessories and attachments, allowing personnel to tailor the weapon to operational requirements. The free-floating handguard never makes contact with the barrel, and this combined with the patented rail accessory system allows attachments to retain their zero over time. The weapon fires from a closed bolt, but an IAR upper receiver and action automatically switches to open bolt as it heats up while firing similar to the FN HAMR.
One of the key improvements in the M18 over the M16/M4 series are the extensive use of polymers and unique alloys to drastically reduce weight and improve ruggedness. The various stocks and the free-floating handguard are constructed of carbon fiber reinforced polymers to decrease overall weight without compromising reliability and structural strength. For ruggedness in operation, the upper receiver is constructed mostly of anodized aluminum forgings. The quick-change cold hammer forged stainless steel barrel is hardened with a ferritic nitrocarburizing process to improve performance under heat, rather than using a chrome lining like conventional weapons. The process effectively increases the barrel's lifespan and resistance to corrosion and fouling. It is free-floating, meaning the barrel is attached to the receiver rather than the stock; this reduces changes in barrel alignment as a result of mechanical pressure distortions, improving repeatable accuracy.
The rifle series features a number of additional ergonomic improvements. It contains an ambidextrous bolt catch that holds the bolt open after the last round of the magazine is fired; the bolt is released by depressing a button forward of the trigger that can be operated using the trigger finger. The rifle also contains an ambidextrous magazine release located near the magwell. These two features allow for rapid magazine changes. A removable forward non-reciprocating charging handle is located at the top of the upper receiver, and it can be installed on either side of the weapon. It doubles as a forward assist. The weapon features a 2-stage match trigger, where the first stage is weightless. Resistance builds around the center as the trigger transitions to the second stage, which breaks after 4.5 lbs of force are applied, resulting in very smooth and calibrated trigger pull.
A large number of features are incorporated to enhance the weapon's reliability. The ruggedized bolt carrier features serrated edges along its bottom to pull away foreign materials and to provide an area for lubrication to pool. The pooling effect lengthens the span of time lubrication takes to wear off. The highly reliable short stroke piston system is far more reliable than the legacy direct impingement action in the M16/M4. This, combined with the vastly simpler push-through feed and ejection and swinging chamber, makes the weapon much less prone to stoppages.
As a modular weapon series, the M18 family can be configured in a number of methods. The basic weapon can be field-stripped without the use of tools, and calibers can be changed by simply replacing the barrel, bolt carrier, and modular magwell. The barrel can be removed by pushing the button at the front of the upper receiver on the right side of the weapon and twisting the barrel out of the barrel nut.
The simple assembly and disassembly allow personnel to configure their weapon to their mission's requirements. Operationally, this serves little purpose for conventional forces, because they are generally issued specific equipment for all-purpose missions. However, special forces are able to fully take advantage of the rifle's extensive modularity.
Because of a relatively open development process, the M18 is capable of accepting a large number of aftermarket accessories that allow for significant customization by private owners and special operators.
Because of the inherent modularity of the M18 family, the series is available in a large number of variants for military, law enforcement, and civilian consumers. There are two primary versions of the weapon, whose Blackwell designations are "M18L" (6.35 mm intermediate cartridge) and "M18H" (7.62 mm full power rifle cartridge). Other calibers and conversion kits are available but do not fall into either category. The military does not refer to the weapons with the L and H designations; instead, the United Republic Department of Defense utilizes "M18Ax", with odd numbers indicating a "light" weapon (normally 6.35 mm) and even numbers a "heavy" weapon (7.62 mm). For example, an M18A1 is a 6.35 mm assault rifle, whereas an M18A2 is a 7.62 mm battle rifle.
The U.R. military generally issues M18 rifles with a P&W Arms M3 rail interface system handguard, polymer backup iron sights (rear dual aperture, front protected post), modular polymer pistol grip, and high-capacity polymer PMG M9EPM (or M9EPMLR for 7.62 mm variants) magazines. The Army and Air Force generally issue a mix of red dot reflex sights and Enhanced Combat Gunsights, the Marine Corps normally ECGS, and the Navy holographic reflex sights.
M18L (6.35x45mm UAE)
- M18A1 rifle: Service rifle of the United Republic Marine Corps. In limited use within support units of the United Republic Army. Features full-length handguard, 18 in barrel, and fixed stock. Civilian designation "M18L long".
- M18A3 carbine: Service rifle of the United Republic Army and increasingly used by Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for close quarters scenarios, support troops, and special forces. Features carbine-length handguard, 16.5 in barrel, and collapsible stock. Civilian designation "M18L standard".
- M18A5 carbine: In limited use by special operations forces and some mechanized units. Features carbine-length handguard, 14.5 in barrel, and collapsible stock. Civilian designation "M18L carbine".
- M18A7 individual automatic rifle: Primarily used by the United Republic Marine Corps as a fire support rifle to provide accurate, controlled suppressive fire. Features full-length handguard, thicker 18 in barrel, and collapsible stock. Special upper receiver and action are strengthened against heat, and the action automatically switches from closed-bolt to open-bolt during sustained fire.
M18H (7.62x51mm UAE)
- M18A2 designated marksman rifle: Semi-automatic only version that serves as primary designated marksman rifle used by all services. Features full-length handguard, 18 in match barrel, and fixed or collapsible stock. Civilian designation "M18H DMR".
- M117 sniper support system: Semi-automatic only version used as an urban sniper support weapon. Features full-length handguard, 22 in match barrel, and precision or fixed stock.
Production and users
- Arthurista: Used by special forces.
- Estovnia: M18L carbine in use with special forces.
- San Verucia: Used by special forces.
- United Republic