The US Army has long shopped around for a replacement for its mainstay rifle -- the venerable M-16 and its smaller carbine variant, the M4. It could very well have found just that in the workshop of an inventor from Colorado Springs. Martin Grier, the founder and owner of Forward Defense Munitions, came up with the idea for the new rifle after years of research and significant financial investment.
Unofficially dubbed the "Ribbon Gun," it looks far more like something out of a science fiction movie than anything available on the commercial or military market today. In fact, the Ribbon Gun, commercially known as the L5, doesn't even function or operate like a conventional firearm.
The L5 does sport a pistol grip, a shoulder stock and even an optical sight... but that’s where the similarities to present-day firearms end. While guns today use a physically-activated firing mechanism to ignite the primer in a cartridge, sending the round hurtling forward out of its shell, the L5 uses electromagnetic actuators to fire its bullets.
The now-defunct Metal Storm Limited research and development company used a similar concept for its products — that is, an electronically-fired bullet that not only increased rate of fire but heightened accuracy and range as well.
The bullets themselves are 6mm, similar to the caliber size the Army is attempting to adopt in the coming years. Rounds for the L5 are housed in small metal blocks, which can hold up to five bullets at time, fed to five vertically-stacked barrels.
An earlier design of the Ribbon Gun featured four-round blocks and a four-barrel stack.
Each block links up together, similar to Lego bricks, and is fed from a horizontal magazine on the left side of the gun into the breech. Upon the block being exhausted, it simply pops out the right side of the gun, and a fresh block comes into place, ready to fire.
According to Grier, the blocks themselves absorb the heat of the shot, given that the special primer is recessed behind the bullet inside the block, effectively making the rounds “caseless."
This wouldn't be the first time the Army has experimented with caseless ammunition.
In the late 1980s, the service entertained a proposal from small arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch in the form of their G11 prototype, as part of the short-lived Advanced Combat Rifle program. The G11 used the 4.73×33mm “DM11” round, which had its propellant molded onto rear of the bullet. The G11 and the ACR program went nowhere, however, being shuttered after four years of testing and trials.
Theoretically, the L5 has a rate of fire over a mind-boggling 250 rounds per second, and can send its bullets streaking to their targets at over 2500 miles per hour. It also has a "power shot" mode, which fires all five rounds in a block at once in a tight grouping.
The Army has already contracted Grier and Forward Defense Munitions to develop another prototype of the weapon for testing.