Advantages of the HK G11 include better sustained accuracy due to reduced recoil from the free-floating barrel and mechanism; a unique limited-burst dispersion firing mode that accounts for normal aiming error and greatly increases the chance of at least one round from a burst hitting the target; and resistance to water, mud etc. because of the sealed housing (no brass ejection port). Disadvantages include more frequent need for cleaning due to propellant fouling, and highly nonstandard ammunition.

A bullpup design, the G11 fires 4.7mm caseless bullets. These projectiles trade momentum (stopping power) for kinetic energy (shock). Recall that momentum is mass * velocity, but kinetic energy is (mass * velocity squared)/2. So triple the muzzle velocity and you triple the momentum, but you more than quadruple the kinetic energy. This thing shreds. Muzzle velocity is so high that it's not necessary to adjust the sights up to the operating range of 300m, because the bullet drops only 17cm over that distance, and will penetrate a steel helmet at 600m.

Light, short and balanced over the pistol grip, the weapon is designed for quick deployment as a submachine gun, rifle, or light support weapon. It also looks more like a science fiction gun than anything but the Steyr AUG.

Caliber : 4.7 mm (.185 inch)
Type of cartridge : caseless
Length of weapon : 750 mm (29.5 inch)
Weight of weapon : 3.6 kg (7.9 lbs)
including 100 cartridges : 4.3 kg (9.5 lbs)
Sight : optical 1:1
Barrel length without chamber : 540 mm (21.3 inch)
Muzzle twist : 155 mm/twist (6.10 inch/twist)
Bore profile : polygon
Modes of fire : single shot, 3-round burst, sustained fire
Theoretical rates of fire:
3-round burst : > 2000 rpm
sustained fire : approx. 600 rpm
Muzzle velocity : 930m/s
Magazine capacity : 50 cartridges
Combat range : > 300 m (984 ft)
Steel helmet penetration : up to 600 m (1 969 ft)
Operating principle : gas operated, cartridge in the chamber
Bolt principle : cylinder bolt
Alas for progress, both Heckler and Koch's G11 and Dynamit Nobel's advanced caseless ammmunition are now essentially defunct, having been postponed in 1990 and cancelled indefinitely in 1992. Whilst technologically advanced and apparently extremely effective, the G11 system was deemed to be unnecessarily extravagant in a Germany recovering from reunification after the end of the Cold War; furthermore, the weapon was non-standard with the rest of NATO, there were persistent doubts about the lethality of the round, and both the weapon and particularly its ammunition were difficult to manufacture with local equipment - which made foreign military sales and licenced construction problematic, especially given the lengthy development time and high r&d costs involved. Not to mention the fact that the West German army was now awash with East German equipment, including thousands of Kalashnikovs (many of which subsequently found their way to the former Yugoslavia).

The cancellation of the German government contract was a severe blow to Heckler and Koch, as was the simultaneous failure of the G41 assault rifle. This led to the companyt being bought by Royal Ordnance - now part of the giant BAE SYSTEMS - in 1991; the company later worked on the British Army's problematic SA-80 assault rifle. Nonetheless the Bundeswehr still required a new rifle, a need which Heckler and Koch fulfilled with the G36, a non-bullpup, 30-round, gas operated rifle which used standard NATO ammunition.

The G11 has nonetheless had an influence on subsequent designs, particularly the FN P90, which uses a similar ammunition feed system (the magazine runs horizontally along the top of the rifle, with the shells rotating through ninety degrees as they enter the chamber). Integral scopes and polymer construction were novel when the G11 project was embarked upon in the late 1960s but are ubiquitous now. Only the use of sub-sub-calibre ammunition has not caught on, although the P90 has achieved military sales to Belgium and Sweden.

Undoubtedly, caseless ammunition and the G11 concept (if not the G11 itself) will be revived in the future, although given the slowing pace of military small arms development this might not yet be for fifty years, if that. The British Army's replacement for the SA80 is likely to be either the aforementioned G36 or Diemaco's Canadian-built versions of the M16, whilst the US Army is too large for something like the G11 to be fielded economically. The marines in Aliens used caseless ammunition, however, so there is still hope that this fascinating one-off might see service, albeit not on Earth.

This is one of the most advanced firearms ever made, and only the end of the Cold War kept it from being fielded by the German Army.

Heckler & Koch, creator of such famous weapons as the MP5 submachine gun and the G3 rifle, was tasked in the late 60's to create a replacement for the G3. Modern combat weapon design is actually quite mature, and every weapon currently in use is based on technology developed during WWII. H&K felt that the best advance in small arms lay in the area of reduced weight, increased rate of fire, and increased ammunition capacity (as opposed to the US Army's current direction of research, which seems to favor a smart-weapon approach that threatens to turn soldiers into pack animals.) To address this requirement, they looked at ammunition.

Bullets used today were invented at the turn of the last century, the only improvements being in the quality of material and consistency of manufacture. However, only about 20-30% of the materials they are made from actually leave the weapon in the direction of the enemy (excluding propellant.) A "caseless" round, a bullet without a cartridge, would be a significant advance. It would allow the weapon to be made without an open breech, as there wouldn't be any empty cases to eject. In addition, it would eliminate an entire step from the firing cycle, enabling a much faster reload and fire sequence. Also, bullets without cases would be smaller and lighter than those with, making it easier for a soldier to carry a lot. It would have to be more than just a powder charge and a bullet wrapped in waxed paper, though. The resulting round was designated the DM11, and consisted of a rectangular block of propellant coated with flammable lacquer with bullet and primer embedded into it. This was no easy task, and it took until the mid-80's before a satisfactory round was developed.

As mentioned, without a case to worry about, the weapon could depart from traditional design in interesting ways, the most radical being the firing mechanism. A traditional linear bolt cycles back and forth in the weapon to ram a round into the chamber (picking the round up from a spring-loaded magazine) and then remove the spent cartridge after it has fired. The HK-G11 used a rotary cam that acted as both bolt and chamber. In firing, the cam started open-side up to accept a round that entered the top of the weapon and rotated 90 degrees to fire the round down the barrel. With no empty case to discard, the bolt simply rotated back to pick up another round to continue the process.

Three-shot burst rates for the HK-G11 achieved an effective rate of fire of close to 2,000 rounds per minute, meaning that the third round left the weapon before the first round's recoil could be felt.

In continuous fire, the effective rate of fire was something like 600-700 rounds per minute, but that could not be sustained for any length of time, as it was discovered that ejecting empty cases was a major cooling mechanism in an automatic weapon, an aspect unrealized until the G11 was developed. However, that was not considered a major drawback to what was to be an infantry weapon (the current version of the M-16 has also replaced full auto fire with 3-round burst mode, for ammunition conservation purposes.)

The magazine contained a linear block of 45 bullets that ran along the top of the barrel, with room alongside in the front grip for two more, for a total of 135 rounds held in the weapon at a total weight less than that of an empty M1 Garand.

The rifle was scheduled to be fielded by the West German Army in the early 90's. However, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the government felt that the expense was unjustified.

Specs:

  • Caliber: 4.7 mm caseless
  • Overall length: 750 mm
  • Barrel length: 540 mm
  • Effective range:600 meters
  • Weight: 3.6 kg empty
Several sites are dedicated to this amazing weapon, and here are a few:
http://remtek.com/arms/hk/mil/g11/g11.htm
http://www.shadowsource.org/dragon/g11.html
http://members.tripod.com/~ravingpsycho/g11.html
http://www.angelfire.com/games4/bullet_go2/hk_g11/g11

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