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Heckler & Koch HK G11 Caseless Assault Rifle (1969)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 10/1/2013

The HK G11 was an attempt at a caseless assault rifle design.

The Heckler & Koch HK G11 Caseless rifle design was in every way a revolutionary weapon departing from several traditional design forms. Chief among these was the idea of “caseless” ammunition fired from a 50-round box and offered in 3-round burst or full automatic fire. The internal working components were very radical from anything Heckler & Koch had achieved at the time and would continue to impress gun-lovers for decades.

The G11 system was designed to a German Army need for a high-probability first-shot assault weapon. When HK designers looked over the process of how contemporary automatic weapons operated, they realized that the low hit probability arises from the climb that conventional rifles generate when firing. That is, by the time the first round of a three-round burst is fired, the weapon has already begun to "climb up" resulting in a lower probability of a hit with rounds two and three. The result was to design a weapon system capable of firing all three rounds before the entire recoil process was completed. Furthermore, it was thought that operating the weapon system with caseless ammunition - ammunition not requiring the ejection phase of the spent shell casing - would decrease the gap of time between each fired round.

The G11 system was a very futuristic looking rifle for the time, and in some cases continues to be so today. The appearance was rather fundamental to some extent, with the body encompassing the pistol grip, butt and forward grip. A sight was also mounted for precise aiming. The final service versions would have featured provisions for a bayonet in front as well. Ammunition for the G11 was fed through a front-mounted magazine that presented the cartridges in a vertical form. A rotating metal-breech would pull the next available cartridge, rotate it 90 degrees to the horizontal position and chamber it to fire. The ammunition was ignited through the striking of a built-in nitro-cellulose combustible cap that allowed the projectile to be fired form the barrel, effectively leaving behind little to no propellant residue in the barrel. Ammunition consisted of a specially developed 4.7x33mm DE11 round and fired from a front-loading 50-round disposable pack.

In the three-round burst mode, this full action would begin the recoil process while the chamber accepted the second round and fired it. By the time the third round was accepted and fired, the entire recoil process was completed. The idea behind this execution was to allow all three shots to be fired one after the other in succession, thusly the second and third rounds fired would have an equal chance of hitting the target as the first round fired all before the recoil process completed and forced the rifle to climb. In the full automatic fire mode, this process is in fact continuous and will repeat indefinitely while the trigger is fully pressed.

In essence, the process of firing generated by the G11 in burst mode would have the operator feel as though only one round had left the weapon when in fact the recoil made it seem this way. The result was an automatic rifle design with accuracy unheard of before, achieving a high probability first-round hit through the firing of more than one round at a time. Though in trials with NATO by 1978, the system was withdrawn when issues involving ammunition 'cook off' plagued the weapon. Considering the amount of heat that must of been generated by the constant action of the firing process, it is no surprise that an overheated barrel was found to be the cause.

The G11 was taken back to the drawing board and refitted with a newly designed round fitted with a new propellant. These modifications ultimately relieved the system of the cook-off issue and brought it back into contention, this time with the German Army - still separated from its western counterparts after the events of World War Two. As the face of Germany began to change after the fall of the Berlin wall, assimilation of the Eastern forces was now underway, meaning that monies dedicated to the full production of the G11 was rerouted to assist in bringing both forces up to speed. As a result, the production of the G11 was eventually cancelled and the project halted.

The HK G11 was to become the frontline service assault rifle for the German Army while the newly-developed HK G41 (detailed elsewhere on this site) was to go to second line units. With the G11 falling through, the G41 followed suit and the newly-formed Germany Army was now on to the HK G36 assault weapon system.

A sound idea in every respect and a system that was near-ready for mass production, no one knows what would have become of the HK G11 had it entered frontline service. In any respect, the system would have performed admirably considering the thought given to every step in its design. At this point, the G11 remains a very interesting weapon filled with very good concepts that may or may not make an appearance in future Heckler & Koch automatic rifle designs.

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Specifications for the
Heckler & Koch HK G11 Caseless
Assault Rifle

Country of Origin: Germany
Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch GmbH - Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1969

Overall Length: 750mm (29.53in)
Barrel Length: 0.00mm (0.00in)
Weight (Empty): 7.94lbs (3.60kg)

Caliber: 4.7x33mm DE11 caseless
Action: Caseless Assault Rifle
Feed: 50-Round Disposable Pack
Rate-of-Fire: 600 rounds per minute