Two years since the public unveiling of Singapore Technologies (ST) Kinetics Multirole Combat Rifle line of compact, accessory-ready assault rifles, Jay (my photographer) and I have gotten a hold of some news from ST Kinetics at the Singapore Airshow 2016.
The first thing that we noticed upon arriving at the ST Engineering (ST Kinetics’ parent company) booths, set up in the south side of the hall, was the new Terrex 2 Infantry Carrier Vehicle, being swarmed by a large crowd of visitors. It was an upgrade of the current 24-tonne Terrex eight-by-eight wheeled armoured fighting vehicle – featuring a new and unique dual V-shaped hull (dubbed the “V-over-V” design). This innovative hull consists of two V-shaped sections located over one another, hence the name “V-over-V”. Compared to the original Terrex’s ladder-frame hull, the Terrex 2’s hull design offers improved blast protection for the drive-train and suspension system, as well as the all-important crew and troop compartments.
Building on the original vehicle, the 30-tonne Terrex 2 is chiefly designed to improve operation in amphibious or littoral environments. To this end, the Terrex 2’s dual V-hull is hydrodynamic, and ensures that its centre-of-gravity remains balanced to retain buoyancy while swimming. A raised air intake and exhaust ensures a continuous supply of airflow during littoral operation. Additionally, an upgraded water jet propulsion system enables the vehicle to swim up to a speed of over six knots (6.9mph or 11.1km/h) in Sea State 4 conditions.
Enhanced situational awareness was another key factor in the Terrex 2’s design, which comes in the form of omni-directional Thermal Imaging (TI) fusion cameras. This hybrid daylight TI system enables the commander and the 12-men infantry section to get a clear picture of the tactical situation outside the vehicle before making their next move (or dismount), via user-configurable touchscreens on the commander’s station in the troop compartment. The Terrex 2 features a simple and intuitive driver’s compartment, akin to that found in a road car: a steering wheel with powered steering for operation on land, a toggle stick for swimming, accelerator and brake pedal, along with an automatic transmission.
The ST Kinetics Terrex 2 is one of the only two armoured fighting vehicles to be shortlisted for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) 1.1 program, the competing candidate being the 21.7-tonne Iveco SuperAV. The Terrex 2 is currently being developed with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as the contracted manufacturer, slated to produce 16 vehicles by the last quarter of 2016.
Adjacent to the Terrex 2’s exhibition area were three display stands that showcased a miniature model of a wheeled self-propelled howitzer to be developed by ST Kinetics, an enhanced 155mm artillery shell, as well as a series of mortar bombs. The refined 155mm shell is 20% longer than the standard High Explosive (HE) shell, but is intended to offer higher lethality by incorporating six steel canisters surrounding the explosive charge (similar to a fragmentation grenade, on a much larger scale) while remaining usable with existing 155mm artillery pieces. Upon detonation, the six canisters will spray high-velocity steel fragments in a 125m radius. This blast-fragmentation effect is a notable improvement over the shockwave-dependent effect and 100m radius of the standard High Explosive 155mm artillery shell currently in use with the Singapore Army.
The enhanced mortar bombs are available in 60mm (Light), 81mm (Medium) and 120mm (Heavy) calibres, utilizing a higher propellant charge that extends the range by 75%. These Extended Range mortar bombs come in High Explosive, Smoke, Illumination, and Red Phosphorous varieties. The Red Phosphorus (RP) incendiary payload is a better alternative to the usual White Phosphorous (WP) round as the chemical is much more stable and ignites at a much higher 300 degrees Celsius as opposed to the more reactive WP at just 40 degrees Celsius.
Also on display were Extended Range 40x46mm grenades that have a conventional timer, along with a “smart” airburst fuze and a maximum range of over 800m.
Right beside the indirect-fire weapons booth was a soldier systems integration exhibit, with a mannequin decked out in the latest ST Kinetics gear. Among the kit was an innovative plate carrier vest that features a highly-breathable hydrophobic fabric that wicks perspiration, a laser-cut grid that replaces the traditional horizontal PALS high-denier nylon webbing for attaching MOLLE gear, and a unique load-bearing system consisting of a yoke and elastic waist strap. The yoke is designed to distribute the weight of the carrier vest evenly across the trapezoid muscles at the Y-section of the upper back for optimal comfort and ease of mobility.
Along with the innovative vest, the ST Kinetics soldier systems include a modular eyewear kit known as the SHielded ADvanced Eyewear System (SHADES for short). SHADES enables the user to bring up identification, surveillance and tagging information at a moment’s notice in a projection on the lens of the existing ballistic eyewear. The System can provide real-time video feeds in either visible or infrared light from unmanned ground vehicles that are forward-deployed for reconnaissance, allowing the wearer to make informed decisions on the move. The soldier systems representative explained that SHADES also enables the wearer to identify targets upon entering a room almost instantaneously, facilitating quicker engagement in room clearance, where “it takes at least a few seconds to register multiple individuals before making an action subsequently”. Such positive identification is critical to preventing friendly-fire scenarios.
Moving on to the small arms exhibit, it was quickly evident that two of the firearms displayed at the previous Singapore Airshow were absent, namely the SAR-21 bullpup assault rifle and the Conventional Multirole Combat Rifle (CMCR). In their place were working models of Bullpup Multirole Combat Rifles (BMCR).
A much-talked about topic in the bullpup rifle realm, the ST Kinetics Bullpup Multirole Combat Rifle is touted by its designers as the “shortest bullpup rifle in the world”. The BMCR, unlike the SAR-21 currently in service with the Singapore Armed Forces, features a specially-contoured forward ejection port. The ST Kinetics small arms representative on-site stated that the feature throws spent cartridges out the ejection port at a forward angle, enabling the ease of ambidextrous shooting without spent casings hitting the user in the face. He went on to say that the BMCR makes shooting more user-friendly as “the shooter is not forced to shoot the rifle from his or her non-master shoulder”, as is the case with the SAR-21 and many other bullpup rifles. The rep told us that the BMCR on display is a workable, pre-production model that is currently in its final phase of testing. According to him, ST Kinetics plans to issue around 20 of the rifles to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for evaluation after getting approval from the Chief Of Army (COA) in the second quarter of this year. Judging from the compact size and lack of any built-in sighting system whatsoever, the BMCR seems more likely to be issued to special operations soldiers instead of regular infantrymen.
There was one thing on the current BMCR which both Jay and I felt was in need of a redesign – the skinny metal rods that served as the charging handle. The both of us took turns charging the weapon, and we agreed that there was less than desirable space for a positive purchase on the handle. When asked about the issue, the small arms rep said that engineers have taken public reception and feedback over the past two years into consideration, and will be refining the design of the charging handle before the BMCR goes into production. He was unable to give a definite time as to when the weapon will begin production, as field Testing and Evaluation (T&E) has yet to be completed.
The only other ST firearm that my companion had the same gripe with, was the Compact Personal Weapon (CPW; Jay calling it a “MP9 lookalike”). He felt that the charging handle (positioned on the upper was too small and flimsy to comfortably work with. Asking the ST Kinetics staff present at the booth, we have ascertained that the CPW is only chambered in the 9x19mm Parabellum pistol cartridge, and does not have a modular barrel and bolt carrier group option for 5.7x28mm or 4.6x30mm. This essentially makes the CPW a machine pistol as it does not use high-velocity, Armour-Piercing (AP) rounds that are almost always a requisite for Personal Defense Weapons (PDW). The CPW has not garnered any interest from local or international customers as of yet.
ST Kinetics has also exhibited the latest variant of the Ultimax 100 Section Automatic Weapon (SAW) – the Ultimax Mark 8. New features from the previous Marks include a semi-automatic fire mode, as well as a quick-change barrel.
The small arms rep informed us that ST Kinetics has ceased development of the Conventional Multirole Combat Rifle (intended for the export market) as the company sees a lack of potential market penetration with the CMCR’s configuration, stating that “countries using a particular design, like a bullpup, or a specific brand like H&K are usually very reluctant to switch to a different one” and that it will be very difficult to break into a new market. He said that “We have not dropped it yet, but are focusing our efforts on the BMCR instead”.