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The G11 Rifle and Other Caseless Ammo Guns That "Almost Were”

The Internet Movie Firearms Database (IMFDB) is overflowing with imagery of guns ranging from the regular to the ridiculous. Many of the models it identifies in cinematic use are mock-ups of actual pieces. Some, however, are the stuff of legend and lore--and others are somewhere in between.

The G11 rifle and the caseless ammunition it fires fall into the third category. While a very real firearm and ammo type, neither ever “made it big” on the commercial market. Still, advances to this lighter-weight ammo option continue to develop.

What Is Caseless Ammo?

In a typical ammunition configuration, a cartridge holds the primer, propellant, and projectile together as a unit. Caseless ammo packages the propellant and projectile together without a cartridge case. A mechanical or electronic primer ignition design then fires this explosive bundle down the barrel. 

The G11 Rifle graphic 1

Why attempt a design that deviates from the tried-and-true metal cartridge structure?

Weight and cost are the two main advantages of the caseless ammo unit. Removing the metal casing decreases the usual cartridge weight on average by up to one third--which, consequently, cuts down cost.

In addition to lighter materials, smaller sizing allows for higher cyclic rates. Caseless ammo is often telescoped (meaning the bulk of the bullet is held within the body of the cartridge), effectively cutting down on overall cartridge length. This reduces the distance the firearm's action must reciprocate to load a new round and allows for greater probability of multiple hits on a target at long range.

Which Guns Use Caseless Ammo?

Multiple governments, in collusion with manufacturers, have endeavored to create a cost-effective, reliable rifle that uses caseless ammunition. Most have been engineered for military use but have yet to see battle.

The Voere VEC-91, for example, was a caseless rifle targeted toward commercial sport shooting, but it never gained notable success. Two of the most well-known caseless ammo prototypes include the H&K G11 rifle & the LSAT LMG:

German Heckler & Koch G11 Rifle

Perhaps the most notable in caseless ammo-wielding history has been the H&K G11 Rifle. This gun came quite close to actually becoming a military staple. Unlike the legendary MAC-10, its debut was foiled not by design problems, but bureaucracy.

Following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union soon after, the foe the G11 rifle originally meant to oppose became essentially non-existent. The quickly mounting cost of reunification forced the government to greatly reduce military spending.

Thus, the G11--while impressive in many areas--was an expensive and complex piece to manufacture that was no longer immediately relevant to the Bundeswehr.

The G11 Rifle graphic 2

During the same timeframe, the U.S. Army’s search for next-generation rifles had appeared to be a promising market alternative. However, the Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) program ended inconclusively, effectively terminating the G11 rifle project.

It remains a topic of debate as to whether the G11 would’ve stuck around even without this political interference. The greatest drawbacks to the G11 rifle included extreme mechanical complexity, poor ergonomics, and an extraordinary production cost.

This leads many to believe that--even if the Soviet threat had lingered--widespread adoption of the G11 as a military staple would have still been unlikely.

American LSAT Light Machine Gun (LMG)

The light machine gun (LMG) is part of the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) program at the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. As of the time of this writing, this LMG is the forerunner in next-generation rifle prototypes, though research is still ongoing to decide which variant will be used.

The program started in 2004 with two main prototypes produced so far: one that fires polymer-cased telescoped ammunition and the other caseless ammo.

Both models boast a reduced weight load of over 40% as compared to the M249 SAW. Soldiers participating in the 2012 utility assessment trials also reported improved control and reliability using the caseless ammo prototypes.

Additional benefits of these more developed caseless ammunition rifles include:

The G11 Rifle graphic 3

Why Aren’t Caseless Ammo Guns More Popular?

The development of a caseless rifle and caseless ammunition go hand-in-hand--one can only advance so far as the other. Thus, as much enthusiasm for an LMG as the LSAT utility trials have generated, caseless ammo still presents several challenges as a reliable military option.

One major problem--of special concern in military applications, which often involve sustained firing--is the heat sensitivity of the ammunition.

A metal case usually acts as an insulator for both the gun walls and the propellant from heat build-up due to combustion. Without this barrier, nitrocellulose rounds can explode prematurely in the chamber.

Another issue lies in the fact that caseless ammunition--whether in storage or in use--leaves the propellant exposed to air, water, lubricants, and solvents. Especially in the context of military operation, this kind of cartridge fragility is inconvenient at best with the potential to have disastrous effects.

Finally, caseless ammo has never met with public approval due to its sole-source nature and the fact that it cannot be handloaded at home.

Caseless ammo may very well be the stuff of the future; but if you’re looking for ammo the “old fashioned” way, we work to ensure that you can get ammo for your gun. Find ammo in all the options for all our shooters right here at AmmoPlanet.

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