A Brief History
On March 25, 1958, the Canadian supersonic interceptor, the Avro Arrow made its first flight. Designed to fly at Mach 2+ it seemed like a good airplane, but was mysteriously cancelled prior to production, with all partly assembled units and prototypes destroyed. Other promising weapons have suffered the same fate, some of which may well have been effective while others faded away due to insurmountable problems. Today we list 10 more military weapons that failed to make it into mass production or widespread issue, expanding on our original article “10 Weapons That Never (Or Barely) Went into Service.”
1. Pedersen Device.
The trench warfare of World War I showed starkly the limitations of bolt action rifles in the lose quarters combat of nearly hand to hand fighting when long rifles put the soldier at a disadvantage. Since the technology to make semi-automatic and automatic weapons was already fairly well developed, a need to improve the short range firepower of the standard issue US M1903 “Springfield” .30 caliber bolt action rifle was perceived. Using the rifle already made and issued by the millions was seen as a smart way to keep the familiarity of the weapon without designing and buying an entirely new type of rifle. Thus, the Pedersen Device was invented by John Pedersen, an employee of Remington in 1918. This ingenious gadget replaced the standard bolt of the slightly modified M1903 with the ability to chamber a pistol sized cartridge labeled the .30-18 round, capable of launching a 77 grain projectile at a muzzle velocity of 1132 feet per second, just a bit better than a typical .32 ACP pistol round. Using a blow-back type operation similar to many pistols and submachine guns, the magazine carried 40 rounds that could be fired as fast as the trigger could be pulled. The device could be modified for use in full automatic mode as well, turning the M1903 into an unwieldy and long “sub” machine gun! Although entering production, the devices were not ready for distribution prior to the end of World War I and were placed into storage. A total of 65,000 of the devices were made, along with the requisite magazines and 65 million rounds of ammunition. Over 100,000 M1903’s were made with the modifications to allow normal usage or the use of the Pedersen device. After sitting in storage for over a decade, Army brass decided the devices and ammo were not needed, and rather than allowing them to fall into shady hands, they had nearly all the devices destroyed, leaving perhaps only less than 100 Pedersen Devices to become highly collectible heirlooms.
2. M1941 Johnson Rifle.
The M1941 Johnson rifle was a .30 caliber competitor of the M1 Garand, which unlike the Gas operating system employed by the Garand it used a recoil operating system to work its semi-automatic action. While the M1941 had an internal magazine capacity of 10 rounds vs. the 8 round capacity of the M1, the Johnson Rifle loaded via 5 round stripper clips as used in the M1903 Springfield rifle, which was slower than the Garand’s en bloc 8 round clip. Although slightly slower to reload from an empty status, the Johnson had the advantage of being capable of topping off the magazine by either a 5 round stripper clip or individual rounds, while the M1 could only be loaded with full 8 round clips and not topped off. So what was wrong with the Johnson Rifle that caused it to achieve only limited acceptance? A major factor was inaccuracy. The M1 was highly accurate over short and long range, while the recoil operation of the Johnson resulted in much wider shot dispersion, especially in the vertical. Also, the use of a bayonet with the Johnson was problematic as the recoiling barrel was often damaged by thrusting with a bayonet. Numerous small parts were easier to lose during battlefield cleaning, and the lack of as long a development period as the M1 precluded working out some of the reliability bugs, leaving the Johnson a bit less reliable than the M1, the kiss of death for a weapon as far as a combat soldier is concerned. Named after its inventor, Melvin Johnson, a son of Massachusetts that became a lawyer and Marine Corps officer as well as a firearms designer, the Johnson was built in moderate numbers, about 70,000 copies made, many of which saw combat in World War II, the Chinese Civil War and in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Due to its low production numbers (compared to 5.5 million M1’s), the Johnson Rifle is highly collectible today, with the original price of $125 apiece now more like $3000 to $7000 or even more, depending on condition.
3. M1941 Johnson Light Machine Gun.
As you have probably already guessed, the Johnson Light Machine Gun was another product of the mind of Melvin Johnson, just like the Johnson Rifle. Like the rifle, the “Johnny Gun” as the machine gun was nicknamed, used the recoil operating system. It also used many of the same parts as the rifle and was chambered in the same .30 caliber (.30-06) round. Like the standard issue BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), the Johnson used a 20 round box type removable magazine, though sticking out of the left side instead of underneath. The Johnson had the capability of also being fed directly by 5 round stripper clips of ammo readily available to the US military. Rate of fire was adjustable, with a slow rate of 200 rounds per minute and a fast rate of 600 rounds per minute. The gun was made in a wooden stocked model with a metal bipod, and in a tubular metal stocked variation with a wooden monopod. The US Army and US Marine Corps bought only 9500 of these guns in total, and they were put to use in combat during World War II and the Korean War, with surplus weapons given to allied countries later (notably the Philippines) and used in smaller wars. Weighing in at only 13 pounds, the Johnson was a full 6 pounds lighter than the most prolific model of the BAR (M1918A2), something much appreciated by the infantry men that carried them. When American units lost their Johnson in combat or the gun wore out or broke, it was replaced by the BAR rather than newly acquired Johnsons.
4. US .276 Caliber Semi-automatic rifles, Pedersen and Garand.
The Pedersen Rifle chambered in a .276 caliber known by its designation T1E3 rifle was in competition for adoption by the US Army between the First and Second World Wars as the Americans military sought an effective semi-automatic rifle to replace its bolt action M1903 Springfields. Basically a 7mm caliber cartridge, the .276 Pedersen fired a 125 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of about 2740 feet per second. (The actual caliber measurement was .284 inches. Designers often fudge caliber numbers to differentiate their new creation from others.) The use of a cartridge smaller than the then standard .30 caliber Springfield would allow for a smaller and lighter rifle than the larger caliber would require as well as lighter ammunition for the soldier to carry. Also being developed at the time to compete for adoption by the US Army was the M1 Garand, at this stage also originally designed around the .276 Pedersen cartridge. Rifles submitted shortly after World War I such as the Garand 1919 model, the Thompson Auto-rifle, and the Bang Rifle (before you say, “Hey, all rifles go bang!” this one is named after its inventor, Soren Hansen Bang, a Danish firearms designer) were all chambered in the .30-06 cartridge of the M1903, a large and high pressure round that had problems for the budding development of semi-automatic rifles. Thus, John Pedersen presented his .276 Pedersen chambering for his rifle, which was also adopted by John Garand for his entry into the semi-auto sweepstakes. Although the .276 was effective enough as a man-stopper, and it had a similar ballistic curve to the .30-06, it did lag behind the standard American ammo in tracer performance and in ability to pierce armor. The lethality of the .276 vs. the .30-06 and another contender, the .256 caliber round, found all to be quite similar at most combat ranges, essentially equal at 600 yards. Army testing staff was leery of the hard wax coating applied to the .276 Pedersen ammo, though trials failed to show the coating attracted the expected increased amount of sand and other grime. By 1929 the Pedersen and the Garand were the final contenders for the new American semi-auto rifle, and testing continued. Prejudice against the smaller caliber was rampant among the US military, though even testing on live goats failed to show the .30 caliber being more effective than the smaller and lighter .276. Still… the US had millions of rounds of .30 caliber ammo already on hand, and a devoted following of the caliber among its ranks and the .30 caliber was chosen for the final testing of the rifles to determine which would become the new US standard issue rifle. The Garand won, and the rest is history.
5. 6.8mm Remington SPC cartridge.
Ever since the adoption of the M-16 rifle and its diminutive 5.56mm cartridge, the US military has had a more or less constant debate over whether or not the .22 caliber bullets packed enough punch for military purposes. The original loading sent a 55 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3250 feet per second, resulting in the catastrophic destruction of the projectile when it hit a person at close to medium range, resulting massive trauma. On the other hand, the little rounds were deficient in long range performance and in material penetration such as barricades or armor. Then, when the US decided to go with a longer and slightly heavier bullet, long range accuracy and armor penetration was improved but lethality against humans was diminished. Velocity suffered, and then suffered some more when the shorter barrel of the M-4 carbine was adopted (14.5 inches vs. the 20 inch barrel of the standard M-16A1, M-16A2 or M-16A4). The carbine version in standard issue today using the M855A1 cartridge is about 2950 feet per second at the muzzle and the bullet itself is built to retain structural integrity, better for penetrating barriers but less effective on people. Since everything in ballistics as well as in life is basically a series of trade-offs, and US military planners did not want to have to return to the .30 caliber chambering for its main battle rifles, an alternative chambering was sought, and in this case the proposal was the 6.8mm SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge). Using an 85 to 115 grain projectile in its various versions, the 6.8mm was an intermediate cartridge between the .30 caliber (7.62mm) and the 5.56mm caliber. Although not as fast as the little 5.56, its greater weight gave it better performance, barrier penetration, and lethality against humas as it was not as dependent on velocity. The standard full metal jacket load of 115 grains has a muzzle velocity of 2575 feet per second, providing 1694 foot-pounds of kinetic energy, compared to only 1371 foot-pounds of energy by the M-4 using the 5.56mm M855A1 round. At typical combat ranges of 100 to 300 yards, the 6.8 provides an increase in energy of 44% over the 5.56. The cartridge is particularly effective when used in a short barreled weapon over that of the 5.56. Plus the 6.8 SPC was the same overall length as the 5.56 5round, thus the rifles did not have to have modified lower receivers. The proposed round was designed by Steve Holland and Chris Murray, both working for the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit. While excellent in urban combat in the hands of American Special Forces troops, the 6.8 was disappointing when used at longer ranges encountered in the countryside of Afghanistan, which led the US military not to adopt the cartridge for standard use. Apparently the short for its weight nature of the 6.8 bullet to allow the round to keep down its overall length hurts the long range stability and velocity holding ballistics of the projectile. Numerous hunting loads are available for sportsmen.
6. Northrop F-20 Tigershark.
Developed from the highly successful lightweight and low cost Northrup F-5 and T-38 family of supersonic fighter and trainer aircraft, the F-20 was originally called the F-5G, but was given the new designation to reflect its massive upgrade in capabilities. Impetus for the development of the F-20 came from the US Air Force FX fighter program, a concept to develop a more capable fighter for foreign sales to friendly nations than the F-5E. The fine fighter was meant to compete with the F-16 and similar lightweight, lower cost fighters on the world market and in the US. Making its first flight in 1982, the F-20 was a Mach II capable jet (1320 miles per hour) powered by a single after burning jet engine capable of providing 17,700 pounds of thrust. Crewed by a single pilot, the F-20 was equipped to fight in the air superiority mode with both heat seeking and radar guided missiles, and able to perform the fighter bomber mission with a variety of ordnance, including bombs and air to ground rockets and guided missiles. The F-20 was armed with 2 internal 20mm cannons of the revolver type rather than the common Gatling type of multi-barrel cannon used by other US fighter jets. Capable of employing extra fuel in drop tanks, the F-20 had a ferry range of 2000 miles but a fairly short combat radius (which varied per load out). Highly maneuverable, the F-20 could pull over 9G’s. Despite its superb performance, the US Air Force did not buy the plane, nor did allied air forces, opting instead for the most part to buy the F-16 instead, which had already been in widespread service with a well established supply chain and support infrastructure. The F-20 has been called “one of the best fighters that never went into production” and it did help lower the cost of the F-16 by providing competition. Northrup came quite close to selling fighter to other nations such as both India and Pakistan, South Korea and Morocco, but each deal failed to materialize. The radar developed for the F-20 found its way into jets produced by Taiwan and South Korea. Chances are good that the demise of the F-20 could be attributed to adding so many upgrades to the plane that the increased costs ruined its bargain status.
7. Montana-class battleship.
Planned during World War II as the successor to the fine Iowa class of battleships, the Montana class was designed to be much larger and better armored than the Iowa’s, and even more heavily armed, sporting a massive main battery of 12 X 16inch guns (compared to 9 X 16 inch guns for the Iowa class) while matching the Iowa class with 20 X 5 inch guns for anti-aircraft work. The Montana class would also be bristling with 40mm and 20mm automatic cannons for anti-aircraft defense. Weighing in at a massive 70,965 long tons loaded, the ships would have had a length of 921 feet and 3 inches, and a beam of 121 feet and 2 inches. (The Iowa class measured 57,540 long tons loaded displacement, 887 feet and 3 inches long and a beam of 108 feet and 2 inches.) Armor for the Montana’s was to be a maximum of 22.5 inches, compared to 19 inches for the Iowa’s. All that extra weight slowed the Montana’s top speed to 28 knots, 5 knots less than the Iowa. The crew was to number between 2300 and 2800 officers and men. Design work began as early as 1939, and continued through May of 1942 when the 5 ships were ordered by the US Navy. At that time American shipyards were building the Iowa class ships and the new large aircraft carriers, the Essex class. Both of those classes of ships had urgent priority, and the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway quickly showed naval planners that the aircraft carrier was the new capital ship of the fleets of the world and the days of battleship supremacy were over. At first suspended, the Montana class program was cancelled by June of 1943 without any construction having started. While the planned 16 inch guns of the main battery were of the same type as previous US battleships, the 5 inch anti-aircraft secondary battery was to be of the vastly improved 5 inch 54 caliber variety instead of the previous 5 inch 38 caliber type. Names for the class were to be Montana, Ohio, New Hampshire, Louisiana, and Maine. For anyone who loves fighting ships, the Montana class would have been a beautiful and awe inspiring sight.
8. Northrop YF-17 Cobra.
First flown in June of 1974, only 2 prototypes of the YF-17 were built. The jet fighter was designed to compete for the US Air Force “low” requirement for their planned “high-low” mix of future fighters, a mix that turned out to be the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Relying on the experience of building the fine F-5 family of jet fighters, Northrup designed the YF-17 to also field 2 jet engines, though much more powerful ones capable of 14,400 pounds of thrust each. Top speed was Mach II and a ceiling of 60,000 feet was competitive with other typical fighters. Conceived as a lightweight fighter, dry weight was only 21,000 pounds (2500 pounds more than an F-16) and loaded weight was 23,000 pounds. Armament consisted of an internal 20mm Gatling type gun and 2 heat seeking Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. While the YF-17 lost out to the F-16 for both US and allied contracts, the plane was further developed into the highly successful F/A-18 family of naval jet fighters, with 1480 examples built (and an additional 600 of the F/A-18E Super Hornet type).
9. General Dynamics MIM-46 Mauler.
Joining the M247 Sgt. York DIVAD anti-aircraft 40mm cannon armed anti-aircraft tank (only 50 made out of a planned need of hundreds) and a few other failed battlefield anti-aircraft systems, the MIM-46 Mauler was supposed to be the answer to a late 1950’s US Army need for close protection of their armored columns against enemy fighter-bombers. The Army already had a mobile anti-aircraft gun system to protect its tanks in the M42 Duster, an M41 Walker Bulldog light tank chassis that used a special turret mounting twin 40mm Bofors automatic cannons for close air defense, introduced in 1952 and virtually obsolete by the time it was fielded due to jet airplane technology. The next step in air defense of battlefield troops and vehicles was the Sperry Vigilante, another tracked vehicle but this time mounting a 37mm Gatling type auto-cannon that provided superior range and rate of fire over the Duster. Army planners soon realized almost any gun based system was falling behind due to rapid advances in jet fighter-bomber technology and the emerging helicopter threat using long range anti-tank guided missiles. The Army wanted an anti-aircraft surface to air mobile missile system instead, one that could travel with armored vehicles and provide cover against aerial attack. The MIM-46 Mauler was designed to use the chassis of an M113 armored personnel carrier with a multiple tube missile launcher turret on top, a design proposal by the Convair Pomona Division of General Dynamics accepted in 1960. The surface to air missiles to be fired by the Mauler were supposed to protect against tactical ballistic missiles as well as airplanes and helicopters. The British military and US Navy also expressed interest in the system (with the US Navy interested in an adaptation for use on ships without the armored vehicle). Problems with the missiles’ beam riding guidance plagued tests, and by 1963 the program was changed to technology demonstration only and completely cancelled by 1965. The Army went with an alternative air defense concept of using Vulcan 20mm Gatling guns for close defense and Chaparral anti-aircraft missiles using modified Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles for longer ranged targets. The M247 Sgt. York was a follow on to the 20mm/Chaparral team, but of course, it also failed. The US Army history of trying to develop and field effective battlefield anti-aircraft defense is a history of frustration and being constantly behind the curve. Hopefully our latest systems have corrected this former trend.
10. Heckler & Koch XM8.
H&K had high hopes that their updated modern battle rifle could become the standard US military infantry rifle to replace the M4 carbine version of the M-16/AR-15 family of rifles. The XM8 was an entry in the competition for replacing the M-4 known as the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program (OICW) being held by the United States Army starting in the late 1990’s. The OICW program was the successor to the equally unfulfilled Advanced Combat Rifle (ACR) testing and development program to replace the M-16 family of weapons between 1986 and 1990. Other various proposed M-16 replacements included the XM29, another entrant in the OICW derby that presented the highly interesting capability of shooting 20mm rounds (larger than any mainstream battle rifle rounds since the flintlock muzzle loader days) that could be programmed to blow up at certain ranges and in a certain manner prescribed by the user, or more simply, “smart grenades.” The XM29 would be part of a 2 barrel weapon system, the other barrel firing standard 5.56mm ammunition, or a sort of 2 guns in 1. The XM8 was a development of the H&K G36 battle rifle. Another weapon designed to fire “smart grenades” offered during the OICW program was the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) System, which experienced enough teething problems to join the long list of disappointing failures after offering high hopes. The XM8 was originally planned to be mated to the XM25 in a combination rifle/grenade launcher system similar to the XM29 or the current mating of the M203 grenade launcher to the M-16 family of weapons. The XM8 had problems making its weight goals (me too!), designed for a target weight of a svelte 5.7 pounds, but coming in a half pound heavy. The prototype then got even heavier, growing to 7.5 pounds. Additionally, changes to the design made the weapon so different from the original proposal the procurement types in the US were turned off by what they saw as a totally different weapon. The XM8, as stated above, is a development of the H&K G36, a modernized form of assault rifle using the same ammunition as the M-16 family of weapons, the 5.56 x 45mm NATO round and standard NATO 30 round magazines, with larger drum type magazines possible. Its electronic sight was criticized for too short of a battery life. Although at 12.5 inches in length, the barrel of the XM8 is 2 inches shorter than that of the current issue M-4, the use of polygonal rifling maintains the same muzzle velocity from both weapons. The addition of a grenade launcher is also accounted for, as well as possible other attachments. Its modular nature allows for different barrel lengths and configurations for different tasks, such as concealment, use as an automatic rifle or sniping. While the US cancelled the program in 2005 and did not buy the XM8, the only military in the world to actually buy and employ the weapon is the Royal Malaysian Navy. Unlike the “direct impingement” gas system of the M-16 family of weapons, the G36/XM8 utilizes a “short stroke piston” arrangement that does not introduce hot gasses directly to the bolt system, resulting in a cleaner chamber and cooler chamber and bolt area.
Question for students (and subscribers): What weapon that failed to see mass production do you think SHOULD have been mass produced? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Logan, Don. Northrop’s YF-17 Cobra: A Pictorial History. Schiffer Publishing, 2004.
Martin, Tom. A case study of the F-20 Tigershark. Rand, 1987.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of the first Avro Arrow, RL-201, officially being rolled out on 4 October 1957, is in the public domain in Canada because its copyright has expired due to one of the following:
- 1. it was subject to Crown copyright and was first published more than 50 years ago, or
it was not subject to Crown copyright, and
- 2. it is a photograph that was created prior to January 1, 1949, or
- 3. the creator died more than 50 years ago.