back to article Cobalt-barrel machine guns could fire full auto Hollywood style

You know in the movies, where people get hold of powerful automatic weapons - rifles or machine guns - and fire them on full automatic for ages? US troops in training carry out a barrel change on an M240B machine gun. Credit: Sgt Lindsey Bradford/US Army Goddammit Kowalski, it's supposed to come off in your hand That's …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Matt Bucknall


    I'm curious to know what the preformed mandrel is made from?

    1. /dev/rant

      Re: Okay...


      Most likely from the Cobalt alloy itself, perhaps a higher / harder grade. The article says it is hard, not impossible, to process the allow - so they could make a template.


    2. Slartybardfast


      Isn't a Preformed Mandrel something in the Harry Potter movies

    3. Anon

      Re: mandrel

      Parmesan cheese.

    4. Huntsman

      It's made from

      the solidified juices extruded from Chuck Norris.

    5. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Okay...

      I can see where you are coming from, but remember that the cobalt steel is soft when shoved against it and the mandrel may be allowed to cool between pressings.

      I was going to suggest a ceramic for its lack of thermal expansion, but expansion might be a good thing if known and controlled. If you know that when pressed in hot cobalt steel it will expand to size x (the bore), when the whole thing cools and the mandrel shrinks again it would make extracting it from the formed barrel a rather simpler proposition.....

    6. Gordon 10

      Pure unobtanium

      That is all

    7. lglethal Silver badge

      Id guess...

      IOd guess some form of Tool Steel - HSS most likely. Tungsten carbide might be an option but its brittleness would probably rule it out. Would be an interesting tooling job though...

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The hardest substance in the known universe

      Namely the stuff that gets baked into the corner of a rice pudding dish.

  2. Pen-y-gors

    and also curious to know ... do you get the mandrel out of the barrel once you're done?

    1. Roger Greenwood

      I'm sure I won't be the only one . .

      to assume you just unscrew it.

    2. /dev/rant

      RE: and also curious to know ...

      Deformations tend to have 2 parts: elastic & plastic. The elastic part of the deformation revert to its original dimensions once the deforming force is removed where as plastic deformations are permanent.

      Besides, one can always heat up the barrel so it expands to withdraw the mandrel.

      1. Liam Johnson

        heat up the barrel so it expands

        Just a guess, but I would expect that a gun barrel designed to stay reasonably straight at 1100 degrees is not going to expend a whole lot.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " do you get the mandrel out of the barrel once you're done?"

      nuke it from orbit, it's the only way.

    4. Zippy the Pinhead


      You pull the mandrel and it rotates out.. hopefully you remembered to lubricate it first.

    5. Eponymous Cowherd

      Tempt it out with a banana

      I'll get my coat.............

      1. Spot the Cat

        First bit

        of common sense I've heard all day Thank'ee, sir.

    6. Luther Blissett

      you tap the end

      taking care to point it away from your feet.

  3. david willis
    Thumb Up

    1100 Degrees

    Next step, improve the oven glove they used to issue to grunts to change the barrel on the M60.

    1. Danny 14


      just use your mates beret for the gimpy. He wont mind.

    2. Chris 244

      Already been done

      And available to you for the low low price of $18.95 plus S+H.

      Then, given that this is a military procurement, add a small (say ~1500%) markup, alter the contract a few times after it is signed to further delay delivery and push up the price another 200% then cancel the whole thing when the next government gets elected.

    3. John Sager


      A white-hot barrel is going to be just as much a giveaway as muzzle flash.

      1. Ammaross Danan

        @John Sager

        "A white-hot barrel is going to be just as much a giveaway as muzzle flash."

        Just because it's 1100 degrees, doesn't mean it's "white hot." Likely it will have a heat distortion effect radiating off the barrel, for sure, and just think: no need for a bayonet! Just barbecue them!

      2. Martin 71 Silver badge

        Unlikely to be white hot

        According to whackypedia, if it was a perfect black body, it'd be orangy red, usually that's a close enough approximation (1100 degrees C is about 1373 K )

        But yes, still too visible

        Flame, because that's what'd happen to your hand if you touched it.

      3. Harthin

        The thousands of rounds being shot won't give the position away?

        If they can see the glowing barrel, they'll be able to see the thousands of rounds firing out of it well before that. A machine gunner's position is usually pretty obvious.

    4. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Needs accessorising

      With a barrel BV. Remove barrel, insert into BV, enjoy well earned brew. Anyone who adds screech powder gets cleaning duty.

  4. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    And then the bullets run out

    You hit the enemy with a 1,100C white-hot glowing metal rod, cool! I mean - hot!

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Hot as hell!

    I own an MP15, which is basically a .22 calibre version of the AR15 and even a clip of 30 rounds on semi-auto will heat your barrel enough to make it uncomfortable to touch. With .223 or 5.56 NATO rounds the barrels will leave you with burns. It really is an interesting problem and I wonder if one-day they'll be able to miniature the cobalt process to make it applicable to all weapons. A flame icon cause hot barrels burn!

    1. Ian Michael Gumby

      A .22 semi auto barrel hot?

      Try a 7mm Rem Magnum after sending down a couple of bullets 'slowly' down range.

      Shoot fast enough and long enough, you end up not only with a bruised shoulder, but you can also do permanent damage to the barrel.

      Mine's the shooting jacket with .300WM and Rem7 used brass in the pockets.

  6. Jonathon Green

    Title? We don' need no steenkin' title...

    "Essentially the problem is that the alloy is so tough that it's difficult to cut the spiral rifling grooves down the inside of the bore, essential to make the bullet spin as it flies out of the end and so fly accurately."

    Is accuracy a big issue for a weapon intended to lay suppressing fire?

    If you just want to put large quantities of lead in the general area of the enemy to keep them from popping their heads up and doing Something Nasty wouldn't a smooth bore barrel do the job just fine and be a simpler solution?

    1. IsJustabloke

      I refuse to enoble a simple forum post!

      its not just to help with accuracy, it also helps with range; that is to say a spinning round flies straighter and further than one just lobbed out the end of the barrel.

      think musket versus rifle

    2. Chris 244

      Accurate fire is important

      It was a bog-standard M2 machine gun that Carlos Hathcock used in Vietnam to set the then record for longest confirmed kill at 2500 yards. One guy on a hilltop with an accurate machine gun effectively denied the enemy the use of an entire valley floor.

  7. Daniel Evans

    Barrel Forming

    Not knowing much (read: anything) about metalworking, is there any reason why the (molten) alloy can't be poured into a barrel-shaped mould with the rifling already put in, meaning that it comes out pre-formed?

    1. annodomini2
      Thumb Down

      Wrong process

      Barrels are forged not cast, casting creates air bubbles and weaknesses structure of the metal.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Armchair metallurgy

        Could we do what we do with concrete then? That is, would it be possible to just vibrate the air bubbles out of the metal? Or would there still be weaknesses even if the air was purged?

        1. Chris 244
          Thumb Down

          Re: Armchair metallurgy

          The bubble source is completely different. In concrete the bubbles result from air entrapment, can shake them out before the concrete solidifies. In metal casting, bubbles form at the point of solidification. The molten metal contains dissolved gases that come out of solution when the metal cools and solidifies. Can be reduced by casting in a vacuum or inert gas.

          I suspect casting a high-temperature alloy would pose some problems.

        2. Ammaross Danan

          @Armchair metallurgy

          Concrete doesn't have the same molecular structure as metals, as metals have a more precisely aligned structure to the atoms. A molten metal would be like the magnetic bits on a hard disk platter being scattered every which way, whereas metal that has been forged is more akin to precisely aligned bits of perpendicular-recording media. (except with metals, they're laid parallel). This is why "folded steel" makes for an extremely sharp, sound blade.

    2. Daniel Evans

      And now I know more

      And I did realise about 20 seconds submitting the post that "casting" was the word I was looking for. Oh well/

  8. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    @ Okay...

    I saw a documentary recently where a group of top military scientists successfully built a machine that took them to the centre of the Earths core to try to restart it with a couple of nuclear bombs - I think bad science or something to do with migrating birds had stopped it from spinning and generating magnetism or something. Sorry I don't have full details, but I didn't actually get to read all the facts listed in The Sun newspaper as I'd accidentaly gone on holiday at the time.

    I digress though... the machine they built for this epic trip was made from a material specially designed to withstand the heat and pressures encountered at the Earths core - so I'm presuming the mandrel is made from the same stuff.

    Hope that helps.

  9. Andy Vick


    Cobalt-59 dust is poisonous and carcinogenic, so I wouldn't like to get near that barrel after it had been used !

    1. Dr. Mouse


      That makes it an even more effective weapon.

      Just make sure the dust goes in the same direction as the bullets.

      When the bullets run out, as mentioned above, whack the enemy over the head with 1100 degC stick.

      This weapon is sounding better all the time!

      1. arreg

        It's Fahrenheit, not Centigrade

        As the figure of "1,100" degrees comes from an American article, it'll mean 1100 degrees F, or roughly 600 degrees C. Still pretty hot, though.

    2. Chemist


      Chronically poisonous, not acutely, so rather a slow assault weapon

  10. SpecialGray

    You can guarantee...

    That if the gunner or his mate doesn't have to carry a spare barrel and/or spares kit now, he'll be given another belt instead ;)

  11. Ian McNee

    Squad Automatic Toasters

    Surely this is a golden opportunity for infantry support and catering functions to be merged saving millions in defence spending.

    Simply fit said 1,100 degree barrel with appropriately shaped heatsinks and you could toast waffles, bagels and even do a full-English fry-up whilst suppressing the enemy.

    Come on Lewis, it would even be more carbon-neutral!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vinny Leto?

    Sounds more like a wise-guy to me...

  13. TheKeffster

    Your missing several other problems

    Firstly, I am a soldier so I know what I am talking about.

    Cobalt barrels or not, you will never be able to blaze away in full auto like they do in Hollywood for long periods of time until they sort out the recoil issue.

    Firstly the assault rifle and similar. Firing on full automatic incurs a lot of recoil. So much so that by the time you have loosed off about three rounds, the recoil has made your rifle climb away from the point of aim and the rest of the rounds are useless. This is why a number of weapons such as the M16A4 and so on do not have a fully automatic mode. They have a three round burst capability as it's generally these three rounds that do anything.

    It becomes a bit more useful when you consider supported weapons, or weapons that have a bipod, tripod or fixed mounting, as the recoil from these is generally supported by the ground or mounting. However while it may allow you to fire slightly longer bursts of fire, blazing through 500 rounds in one sitting still isn't going to happen. The reasons are long and complex but basically the barrel is not the only thing to heat up and simply put the gas plugs, tray feeds and even ammunition itself probably could not handle the heat build up within the breach.

    Add to the fact the already mentioned factors such as ammunition conservation, not to mention preventing identification of your firing position and you can see why it's unlikely. The only benefits the cobalt barrel offers is the welcome advantage of not having to carry a second barrel or have to get the thing off after every 800 rounds (Which doesn't actually happen in a real contact, you fire until the damn thing is about to melt or you have a lull in the contact).

    1. George Kapotto

      I reject your thesis because...

      It is clearly too logical and not sensational enough to be true. This is patently contrary to modern journalistic practices.

      Next time try to include more Matrix references.

    2. James Hughes 1

      Good God man

      What do you think you are doing, coming on here and spouting off all those actual facts, its almost as if you know what you are talking about, and therefor have NO PLACE HERE.

      Please reads the sitesT&C's for more details on how to make up facts, obscure the truth, or become a Fanboi, prior to posting in the forums.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      RE: Your missing several other problem

      Room entries, assaulting enemy positions at close quarters, suppressive fire upon initial enemy contact. There are plenty of reasons to fire more than 3 rounds in a burst, and us English with the L85A2 trust our soldiers to choose when to use each fire mode, rather than restricting them to burst fire. Plus the article was mostly referring to LMGs, which as you mentioned doesn't suffer from these unsupported firing position problems.

      Also they claim to have fired the weapon at 1100 degrees, so assuming this was done using a hand portable prototype, I assume they've overcome any other heat build up issues in the breach.

      I don't really see what point you're trying to prove here, beyond bigging up your soldier knowhow. Which by the way really doesn't prove you know what you're talking about. I can take apart and put together a PC, but I don't know how everything works in it, and certainly couldn't claim expert knowledge on something like the PCI-E bus.

      1. TheKeffster

        @ Anonymous Coward

        "There are plenty of reasons to fire more than 3 rounds in a burst, and us English with the L85A2 trust our soldiers to choose when to use each fire mode, rather than restricting them to burst fire."

        Actually no they don't. I AM a soldier in the British Army and automatic mode on the L85 is restricted in use unless your in very specific scenarios and even then you are trained to keep your bursts to approximately 3 rounds or less to prevent recoil climb. The M16A4 was an example I gave because that specific generation model appeared long after the L85 was designed and thus incorporated more enlightened thinking and also offers a way to limit the recoil. The original M16 had full auto too. I absolutely promise you by the time you have fired about 6 rounds from the L85 your rifle is pointing a good deal higher than where you aimed and will only continue to climb.

        "Also they claim to have fired the weapon at 1100 degrees, so assuming this was done using a hand portable prototype, I assume they've overcome any other heat build up issues in the breach."

        That's all fine and well if they have machined a NEW weapon or re-engineered an existing weapon for the barrel. However it's not a case of simply fitting the new barrels to existing weapons as the machining tolerances are not designed for constant fire. Plus I absolutely guarantee you put a round into the breach at 1100 degrees and it WILL cook off (Regardless of whether or not it's an open or closed bolt weapon). And with the current SDSR in place, I highly doubt we will be swapping our weapons out anytime soon.

        All this is aside from the fact that automatic fire in an individual weapon is rarely used because apart from being up and close and personal, it's not effective. Single aimed shots are better. As for support weapons, well in a real contact you would simply never get the opportunity to fire at the weapons full cyclic rate. Ever. Even if the weapon is mounted or bipod based.

        I'm not saying they are a bad thing, not having to carry and swap out a second barrel would be a great thing (And I speak from the heart having been an LMG gunner in Afghanistan) but there is no way that they would lead to any military switching its training or operating policy to one where you can blaze away (Or "hosepipe" as we refer to it. Imagine the rounds from the barrel as a stream of water from a hose).

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: Your missing several other problems

      Yep it was fired from an "ARDEC Advanced Remote/Robotic Armament System" - standard small arms mounted on a remote firing system. So it can fire at 1100 degrees...

    5. Danny 14

      dear me

      look here foot slogger. Some people have these things called ve-hi-cles. They have MGs on them too, oh and coax guns. And stacks of ammo in boxes.

      M16A4 dont have fully auto because the yanks cant shoot for shit therefore cant be trusted with fully auto.

      I think the cobalt barrels ARE intended for suppression weapons i.e. MGs rather than AWs

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        @Danny 14

        "M16A4 dont have fully auto because the yanks cant shoot for shit therefore cant be trusted with fully auto."

        Now why would you need any full auto when the mantra is 'one shot, one kill?'

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


          "there is no way that they would lead to any military switching its training or operating policy to one where you can blaze away (Or "hosepipe" as we refer to it. Imagine the rounds from the barrel as a stream of water from a hose)"

          However, that ability would be very desirable for remote controlled or autonomous turrets and I can easily imagine people in Pentagon salivating at the thought of sticking Aliens2-style turrets all around the perimeter of Kandahar Air Base (or along the Mexican border) and let them blaze away at anything that moves...

    6. Anonymous Coward

      ref: Your missing several other problems

      "This is why a number of weapons such as the M16A4 and so on do not have a fully automatic mode. They have a three round burst capability as it's generally these three rounds that do anything."

      On an SA80, this feature is controlled by the mechanical reliability of the weapon, magazine, and Radway Green supplied ammuntion.

  14. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    "The rifling is pressed into the bore"

    But how do you get the mandrel out afterwards?

    Only a perfect spiral rifling will do.

  15. Tom_

    what's the mandrel made out of?

    Magnetic fields.

  16. Steven Cuthbertson

    Possible problem?

    If your barrel is radiating high IR, you're a definite target for IR-seeking thingy-bobs...

    1. JC 2

      @ Possible Problem

      opposed to muzzle flash, body, or vehicle heat?

      1. annodomini2

        True, but....

        As this is the US military i'm guessing that the scaling is in Fahrenheit.

        1100degF is going to stick out more than 96degF

  17. Paul_Murphy

    Why not bring back the vickers .303?

    Ok, so it's not the most portable, but as a machine gun it's pretty good :-)

    From wikipedia:

    'The weapon had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. Ian V. Hogg, in Weapons & War Machines, describes an action that took place in August, 1916, during which the British Army's 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. They fired a million rounds between them, using 100 new barrels, without a single breakdown. "It was this absolute foolproof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one."'

    If you need a machine gun get a good one - stop faffing around with wannabees.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      you forgot...

      The infamous test to destruction of a Vickers machine gun when they were going out of service and people wanted to know just HOW long they would have kept going for.

      Someone who was a witness to part of it told me 7 days + 7 nights, and a LOT of trucks carrying crates of ammo in, and taking away the mountain of copper that was accumulating. You don't want to know how much ammo it used, cos we paid for it. Still, on the bright side a lot of it was war stocks that had to be disposed of anyway, but...

  18. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD
    IT Angle

    Heat problems?

    Simples... errr... die shrink it and add more cores...

    (There you go, that's the IT angle of the story)

  19. Anonymous Coward

    1100 degrees of what?

    1100 degrees of what Lewis? I'm assuming you are working with either Fahrenheit or Celsius, but it is unclear and makes a huge difference. I'm assuming that since you lifted most of the tech stuff straight from the linked article which was written by septics it must be Fahrenheit? Also the melting point of pure cobalt is only just below 1500 degrees Celsius, so presumably if the barrel got to 1100 degrees Celsius you would already be in the plastic flow region...

    1. Danny 14


      its a cobalt alloy, not pure.

  20. Random Coolzip

    Beware the cook-off!

    Heat build-up can lead to rounds "cooking off", or firing unexpectedly when the gunpowder ignites due to heat. This can make the other members of your squad very unhappy when you're behind them covering their advance...

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


      It may save the gunner from RSS as he won't need to hold the trigger pressed all the time...

    2. Dave Bell

      Old problem, with an old solution

      This is why most machine guns fire with an open bolt. That is, a round is not fed into the breech until the trigger is pulled, which releases the bolt, allowing it to close. This can be a little less accurate, because of the delay before the cartridge is fired, and the movement of the bolt mass.

  21. Mystic Megabyte

    1100 degrees

    Is approximately 366.666666667 soul bands.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Cook-off

    True, but open bolt setups such as the M60 and many other LMGs are immune to cookoff, which coincidently are the types of weapons these barrels are targeted at.

  23. a_mu

    how hot can the rounds get

    just a thought

    I'm not certain I'd be happy loading a round into a white hot barrel,

    how hot can rounds get before they self explode ?

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Anonymous Coward

    So when they shout FIRE!

    they will be refering to the combustable aspects of the bush next to the 1100c barrel?

  26. Anonymous Coward


    Ignoring the melting barrel bit, how well does the rifling last with this setup?

    whilist you dont want an MG that is too accurate, converting it to an automatic musket would not be good either

  27. Michael Palmer

    Melting Steel

    Made me think if a steel machine gun barrel can easily melt then it wouldn't be a problem for jet fuel to melt / weaken the steel columns in the World Trade Centre (so much for all the inside job using thermite / explosives on 9/11)

  28. Prive8 Citizen

    Hammer Forging

    This process sounds Very similar to hammer forging (invented in 1939). That's where the barrel is drilled and honed, a mandrel is put in the center, and rotating auto hammers pound on the outside until the bore takes the rifling shape.

    Anyway, this is a nice advance. From experience, I know barrels heat up Quick. This really doesn't fix that, it just allows you to get the barrel screaming hot without it failing. Of course, the weapon will have to fire from an open bolt, lest the heat alone fires the next cartridge - whether you mean too or not.

    Flame, because this is hot stuff!

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Surprised this has not bee tried a *long* time ago.

    Flow forming is a popular way to turn mostly cylindrical things with complex profiles (especially stuff that has walls that thicken in bands or taper from one end to another) often as parts of various bits of military hardware.

    The smooth force applied suggests it would give a smooth internal finish as opposed to something made by many separate hammer blows.

    AFAIK the technique works very well at well above room temperature, so the metal would be softer to begin with.

    Gun barrels (certainly of the .50cal variety) are *well* within the range of objects made currently with this method.

    The obvious joker is if is worked hot (or even warm) unless the mandrel is withdrawn *very* quickly the barrel cools and shrink fits onto the mandrel.

    In principle a clever way to make a lot of something very difficult at a reasonable price.

    1. dylan 4

      unless the mandrel contracts at an equal or greater rate as it cools...

      that is all.

  30. wayne 8
    Black Helicopters

    and the best part is...

    Each barrel will now cost a number of times more than current barrels.

    MIC FTW.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hammer forging

    So it is basically, apart from the cobalt alloy stuff, pretty much a standard hammer forged barrel.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Not exactly a new technique

    BSA have been making gun barrels that way for decades - but they are a UK company so the septics, not knowing where abroad is and not trusting anything not invented in the US, wouldn't know that ...

  33. Andy Enderby 1

    remember folks

    That's mandrel, not mandrill

  34. Big Al


    "the US Navy (interested in equipping its marines and SEAL frogman-commandos better)"


    While the civilian leadership of the United States Marine Corps falls for administrative purposes under the US Department of the Navy, the USMC is militarily a separate armed service - they aren't 'the Navy's marines' unless you regard the suits as 'the Navy'... as a naval man yourself, Lewis, I doubt this is a precedent you'd want to set!


This topic is closed for new posts.