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The US Army has awarded Alliant Techsystems a $95 million research contract to develop an infantry weapon with two barrels, an integral computer and laser range finding capabilities.

These may not be the most taxing of specifications except the gun will have to be capable of firing around corners.

Named the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, it is expected to replace both the M-16 and its under-slung M203 grenade launcher.

The principle behind the OICW will be to combine an assault rifle with a grenade launcher and make both systems more fatally accurate.

The rifle section will fire a 5.56mm round that is currently standard ammunition for all NATO and allied forces.

The grenade launcher will have a calibre of 20mm, halving the size of the existing types, and a fire-control computer will rest on top of the weapon.

The computer is being designed to act as a telescopic day and night sight as well as an integral laser range finder.

When trained on a target, the laser will determine the distance to the target, accurate to ± 50cm out to 500m and ± one metre over a kilometre.

When locked in the range, the computer will relay data to the fusing control system for the high explosive ammunition, and the high explosive shells will be timed to explode in an airburst after they have travelled the required distance.

This would allow a soldier to attack an adversary hiding in a trench by shooting over the top of it, or detonate rounds just inside a building that might conceal a sniper.

Alliant Techsystems plan to build five fully functional prototypes for field trials before committing to larger scale manufacture in 2004.

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