Monday, July 4, 2011

Back to the Gatling

By the early 1950s, the newly formed US Air Force realized that the speed of new jet fighters had made conventional gas or recoil-operated machine guns or cannon obsolete. The General Electric Company was approached to produce a new fast-firing gun under the project name "Vulcan". Multi-barrelled weapons seemed a promising research path, since between shots the barrels would have time to cool. In trials, 19th-century Gatlings were fitted with electrical drive instead of the manually operated crank. No longer reliant on muscle power, the gun had a staggering rate of fire of about 4,000 rounds per minute.

US soldiers on exercise in West Germany in the 1980s with a M161 Vulcan air defence system. The high rate of fire would be lethal against helicopters and low-flying ground attack aircraft.

Further development resulted in some experimental, electrically driven, six barrelled .60-calibre machine guns, and in 1956, the six-barrelled 20mm T171 gun was officially adopted as the M61 aircraft gun capable of 4,000-6,000 rpm. M61 became the main aircraft gun for USAF fighters, and is also used by the US Army on the M161 and M163 Vulcan ground anti-aircraft gun mounts. The US Navy

also returned to the Gatling with the Vulcan-Phalanx CIWS (Close-in Weapon System) designed to shred fast sea-skimming anti-ship missiles.

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