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Thursday, May 17, 2012 15:00:00

Welcome to Future Soldier, Future Weapons: Dispatches from the Inside

Ghosts: We’re pleased to introduce David Axe, a frequent contributor to Voice of America, Wired, and C-SPAN. After reading David’s contributions on military technology at Wired’s Danger Room, we knew he was the perfect fit to help us give you an inside look at the evolution of weapons and equipment used (both literally and as inspiration) in the Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier™ universe. A self-proclaimed military junkie, David draws on extensive field experience and good old-fashioned obsessive research to map out where military technology has been and where it’s headed.

Special thanks to the team at Red Storm, who took time out from the firing range, from hanging out at the armory, and blowing stuff up (but seriously, they’re hard at work polishing Ghost Recon: Future Soldier to get it prepped for launch) to speak to Mr. Axe about guns, explosives, military tactics, and anything in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier that shoots, gets shot at, or blows up. Enjoy these dispatches from the inside.


David Axe headshot


The best firearms in the world aren’t created. They evolve. And in the new Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, they’re available in almost every conceivable species and subspecies.

Today’s frontline troops use weapons with the latest enhancements: new, more lethal ammunition; compact, lightweight barrels; rails for mounting grenade launchers, mini shotguns, and laser or infrared sights. In the world of Ghost Recon®, enhancements like these are available for every weapon type, creating essentially limitless firearm permutations.

But in the real world, many of the guns’ basic designs – their breeches, bolts, triggers, and magazine ports – date from the middle of the 20th century. Every generation or so, the packaging gets a high-tech makeover, but the stuff inside hardly changes. There’s no improving on perfection. And when it comes to the tools of their trades, today’s commandos from East and West stand on the shoulders of weaponeering giants.

The Heckler & Koch HK417, the latest assault rifle in use by US Special Forces and one of the main firearms in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is really just the sixth-generation descendant of the AR-10, designed in the 1950s by brilliant firearms inventor Eugene Stoner.

In 1956, the US Army was looking for a new battle rifle to replace the World War II M-1 Garand. Predicting the Army would want a lighter, faster-firing weapon, Stoner and his partners at ArmaLite submitted Stoner’s hand-built AR-10, a fully automatic, mostly aluminum assault rifle that fires a powerful 7.62-millimeter round but weighs just 8 pounds – about a pound lighter than the competition.

The Army rejected it in favor of the more familiar M-14. But Stoner kept working on the AR-10. He scaled it down to fire 5.56-millimeter ammo, renamed it the AR-15, and sold the design to Colt. In the early 1960s, the Army’s infantry squads were finding themselves outgunned by North Vietnamese fighters armed with the fast-firing, brute-simple Russian-made AK-47. The AR-15 started looking a lot more attractive. Calling them M-16s, the Pentagon bought them by the tens of thousands. By 1970, it was America’s standard infantry weapon.

But there was a problem. Great for outdoor use, the nearly four-foot M-16 is too long and awkward for indoor fighting. In the mid ‘80s, Colt shaved six inches off the barrel, sacrificing accuracy for maneuverability. A decade later, the Army installed rails on the handguard, allowing soldiers to add the equipment of their choice, a preview of today’s incredibly customizable firearm. After a decade of war experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2010, the shorter M-4 carbine became the Army’s standard infantry weapon.

Not everyone was happy, however. The lightly built M-16 and M-4 have a tendency to jam during prolonged firefights. C.J. Chivers, a famed war journalist, criticized Stoner’s weapon as a “step too far toward lightness.” Also, the 5.56-millimeter round lacks stopping power.

In the early 2000s, Heckler & Koch upgraded the M-4’s piston to produce the HK416. US Special Operations Command wanted a harder-hitting weapon. Swapping out the 5.56-millimeter ammo for more powerful 7.62-millimeter rounds resulted in the heavier HK417.

Finally, American troops have the lightweight, reliable, adaptable, and powerful assault rifle Stoner envisioned all those decades ago. With all the high-tech add-ons, today’s HK417 doesn’t look much like the old AR-10, but they’re pretty much father and son.

The world’s deadliest warriors owe their shooting prowess to brilliant basic weapons design and decades of evolution. In Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, players can take weapons-customization to extremes beyond those possible in the real world. Whether they choose to enter battle as Ghosts or Russian Bodark commandos, players can add enhancements to their weapons that, in reality, exist only in prototype form.

These unique, in-game weapons modifications include interfaces for connecting to helmet-mounted Heads-Up Displays and “smart” homing ammunition that can change direction in flight to take out maneuvering targets.

“I typically prefer the submachine guns,” says Michael Climer, Senior Vehicle and Weapons Artist. “My favorite at the moment is the Vector with an aiming laser, red-dot optic and a suppressor. I generally use this setup for attack-defend games.”

“For run-and-gun games,” Climer adds, “I like the HK417 with a short barrel, compensator, angled foregrip, dual magazine, and tactical scope.”

The sheer variety of customized firearms in the Ghost Recon universe is staggering. With 57 different weapons, each with nine different customizable features, Bodarks and Ghosts boast literally millions of individualized weapons combos, helping to make Ghost Recon: Future Soldier endlessly playable. Every fight is different. Every opponent can surprise you.

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s Gunsmith app, hosted online or on handheld devices, helps players keep track of their customized weapons. The apps allow warriors to customize their arsenals in a virtual workshop before heading out into battle with the, ahem, “real” things.

Players can expect a high degree of realism, whatever their weapon combos. That’s because the developers got to test out actual weapons. “We have been fortunate enough to work with some great companies, some of which have allowed us to get our hands on prototypes,” Climer says.

Plus, players will have access to cutting-edge in-game technology that promises to make any weapon more lethal: “smart” guided bullets. More on those in the next dispatch!



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