Focus on Basics, Urges Small Arms Designer 

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by Virginia Hart Ezell 

The small arms community should remember its roots and work on improving the internal functioning of weapons, rather than developing peripheral products, such as laser designators and fire-control devices, according to L. James Sullivan, a veteran small arms designer.

It takes longer for a soldier to reload—well over one minute—than it does to expend all of the rounds in a single magazine, Sullivan reminded a conference sponsored recently by the National Defense Industrial Association in Little Rock, Ark.

Why not, he asked, take a look at some of the basic issues of the design to help the soldier increase his ability to hit a target, rather than invest millions of dollars in a weapon that is rapidly becoming a Swiss Army Knife of rifles?

“Let’s fix the inside before we start trying to fix the outside,” said Sullivan.

At the Joint Services Small Arms Symposium, Sullivan received the Chinn Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Executive Committee of NDIA’s Small Arms Systems Section, in recognition of four decades of design and engineering achievements.

George Chinn is considered by many as the master of military small arms.

Sullivan is known for his work on the M16 family of weapons. He is credited with adapting the design of Eugene Stoner’s 7.62mm AR10 assault rifle to a smaller 5.56mm version, which ultimately became the now ubiquitous M16.

From his work with Stoner on the M16, Sullivan moved to Singapore, to work on a new light machine gun for Chartered Industries, now known as Singapore Technologies. The outcome was the 5.56mm Ultimax light machine gun, noted by experts as one of the most manageable light machine guns in the world. The secret of its manageability is in Sullivan’s patented counter recoil mechanism, making the Ultimax not just a manageable full-automatic weapon, but a machine gun that can be aimed.

From Singapore, Sullivan continued to move West, to Italy’s Beretta, where he worked on that company’s assault rifle program. Although not adopted, he did complete the design for a 5.56mm assault rifle. Returning to the United States, Sullivan went to Sturm, Ruger & Company, in New Hampshire, to work on the design of the Mini 14 rifle, which is still in service today with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, as well as numerous police departments and paramilitary forces around the world.

In addition to the Chinn Award, the executive committee decided to recognize the often-overlooked sniper community. As the military’s missions have changed in recent years, the committee has recognized that the precision shooter is an essential element of the equation, whether the assignment is peacekeeping, peacemaking or full combat. To recognize the sniper as a full and accepted part of that equation, the small arms section instituted an award for the sniper community, naming it after one of the nation’s most successful snipers of the Vietnam era, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock.

The Hathcock award this year was given to William “Bart” Bartholomew, who retired from Maryland’s Baltimore County Police Department. A Marine sniper for four years, Officer Bartholomew joined the police force in the 1970s. After several years on the force, he joined the Baltimore County Tactical Unit and is credited with establishing that force’s counter-sniper program. He established the Baltimore Country Counter-Sniper School, one of only nine in the United States, modeled after the Marine Corps Sniper School, in Quantico, Va. Under his guidance, the curriculum teaches students that a sniper is not just a precision shooter. Instead, this job encompasses a much wider range of skills and abilities.

To help promote sniper skills within that select community, Bartholomew worked with staff at Heckler & Koch USA, of Sterling, Va., to establish a counter-sniper competition, which has become an annual, highly competitive event, attracting military and law enforcement sniper teams from across the United States and around the world.

Virginia Hart Ezell is president of the Institute for Research on Small Arms in International Security and a reserve lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps.

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