Washington -- The Army is closing in on the solution to an age-old problem: Soldiers don't shoot straight when they're under stress.
In a few years, the Army plans to replace the standard-issue M-16 with the Objective Individual Combat Weapon -- as the amazing new killing device is dubbed. In addition to shooting bullets, the new rifle will fire a grenade-like device that will enable GIs to blast enemies hiding behind trees or rocks.
It will be three to five times deadlier than the M-16, at nearly twice the range, its planners say.
The cost of the weapon, projected at about $15,000 apiece, makes it unlikely that the OICW will join other military-style rifles as favorites of deer hunters who harbor military fantasies.
At least, "I hope not," said Chris Yaniger, business director for Cockeysville-based AAI Corp., one of the contractors competing for the project.
The new technology at the OICW's heart is something called an "air-bursting munition," which looks like a big bullet, about three-fourths of an inch in diameter and 3 to 4 inches long. Like a bullet, it is fired flat and fast, but it has a fuse and explosive core like an artillery shell.
As the soldier looks through a laser sight, the weapon determines the distance to an enemy and feeds that information into the air-bursting munition's tiny electronic brain.
Then, as the bullet flies by the enemy soldier, it explodes like a grenade and wounds or kills him with fragments.
Two problems have driven the Army to this new type of weapon, said Maj. James Baldwin of Fort Benning, Ga., where the Infantry Center is helping to direct the project.
One, there are so many military-style rifles available throughout the world that U.S. forces can't count on having an advantage in face-offs.
Second and more fundamental, the Army has never figured out how to make a good marksman out of an average soldier, said Major Baldwin.
AAI's design foresees a weapon that's deadly at 1,000 meters.
Alliant Techsystems, the other principal contractor competing on the project, has a somewhat different design.
In a couple of years, the Army will choose one of the companies to create the final weapon.
Nolan Walters wrote this article for the Knight-Ridder News Service.