Throughout man’s history there have undoubtedly been many great ideas and excellent inventions that never saw the light of day through no fault in the merit of the concept or idea. This statement certainly applies in the area of small arms and ammunition. Most Tactical Shooter readers can recall numerous wildcat cartridges that would have proven successful if they could have survived into production for the military or the commercial sporting market. Many will recall the attempts by the U.S. Ordnance Corps to reverse engineer the excellent German WWII MG42 machine gun to fire the U.S. .30-06 caliber cartridge. Had errors in the conversion from metric to English measurements not occurred during prototype design, American GI’s might well have been carrying an Americanized MG42 well into the present day as they had done one World War earlier with the fine M1903 "Springfield" rifle — for all intents and purposes a close copy of the Mauser 98 rifle.
Many novel and potentially revolutionary weapon designs never progressed beyond the drawing board or prototype stage, doomed by the existing political climate, lack of available funds for completion, testing and production or the sudden disappearance of an operational requirement for such a new weapon system.
Heckler & Koch, a relatively young firearms company celebrating its 50th year of existence in the year 2000, has had its share of what some have termed failures to bring novel firearms and ammunition designs through to fruition and fielding. The G11 caseless rifle and its 4.7 mm self-consuming ammunition were shelved as a casualty of reunification in Germany and the fall of the Iron Curtain. The HK/Olin Close Assault Weapons System (CAWS), undoubtedly history’s most deadly "shotgun", fared exceptionally well in user testing in the U.S. but failed to find a home in the American armed services, ironically because it was deemed "too deadly". The project that offered possibly the greatest improvement in combat capability (more bang for the buck shall we say), may also have been HK’s least known unsuccessful project: WSG2000.
In the late 1980s in response to a relatively new requirement from the German Army for a long-range sniper rifle system, Heckler & Koch began a study and development program in a category of weapons that they had never played in before. HK has produced more than 250 various production weapons in all categories in the past 5 decades. This includes weapons ranging from pistols to grenade machine guns and nearly everything in between, and also some fine highly accurate auto-loading sniper rifles chambered for the 7.62X51mm NATO cartridge, such as the G3SG/1 and PSG1 models. Heckler & Koch has also produced weapons in dozens of calibers, though never one chambered for the relatively common .50 BMG cartridge. Though rumors of a planned .50 caliber version of the HK21 machine gun were once reported, such a beast never progressed beyond a rumored product spec sheet. A decade ago the development of a long-range sniper weapon system would have positioned HK directly in competition with long range rifles chambered for the .50 BMG cartridge, in those days the bolt-action McMillan rifles and upcoming semi-auto Barrett "Light Fifty" rifle.
Making best use of their experience in self-loading, highly accurate .30 caliber sniper rifles, proven barrel design and production methods and recoil attenuation, HK set out to design a long range rifle "system" to challenge and indeed outperform the .50 caliber rifles of the day. With this daunting goal in mind the HK Weitreichendes Scharfschützengewehr, or WSG2000 for short, (extended range precision rifle--HKPRO) was born. This information and the accompanying photos and illustrations have never been released to the public before now.
A Solid Foundation Built on Four Corners
HK’s goal from the beginning was to meet and exceed the requirements of the German Army for a long range rifle system for engaging and destroying both personnel and equipment targets from the relatively safe distance of 1,500 meters and beyond. Like many Armies in the world, high dollar materiel targets became the focus of military snipers in the 1980’s and the Bundeswehr needed a rifle with far more punch and extended range than the issue 7.62mm HK G3SG/1 could provide. It is interesting to compare the increased operational use and availability of Anti-Materiel Rifles today with the world situation as it existed 10 years ago. The king of all weapon reference books, Jane’s Infantry Weapons, listed only two such rifles in the 1989-90 edition, both U.S. models in caliber .50 BMG. In today’s 98-99 edition of the same reference book there is a separate section for Anti-Materiel Rifles. Included in this section are over 27 models originating in 9 countries and in calibers 14.5 mm, 15.2 mm and even 20 mm, though .50 BMG is still the most common caliber for such beasts and America is still the largest source.
To meet this requirement an internal study conducted at HK’s R&D headquarters in Oberndorf Germany determined that new approaches to all elements of this sniper weapon "system" would need to be considered, to include the caliber and cartridge for the system. All experienced rifle shooters understand that delivering consistent accurate fire to long range targets requires more than just an accurate rifle. The ammunition is equally as important as the "launcher", as is the sighting system used to precisely direct the rounds to the target. All three elements of an accurate rifle system are meaningless unless the fourth corner of the foundation is also up to the task, that being the shooter or operator.
HK set out to design a long range sniper rifle system comprised of a new round of ammunition with superior performance over that of the .50 caliber Browning Machine Gun (BMG) cartridge, an auto-loading magazine-fed rifle and full-solution fire control system. The human element of the system, while out of the control of the HK design engineers, could be made to perform better by improving the man-to-machine interface. Thus, making the weapon easy to shoot, user friendly, and providing a sighting system that could reduce the potential for aiming errors due to the effects of range and weather, would increase the probability of hitting long range targets with a single round at distances beyond 2,000 meters, more than 1¼ miles away.
The German Army Requirements:
The military requirements of the German Army for a long-range rifle were:
High first shot hit probability
Quick 2nd and 3rd (follow-up) shots
Reloading without disturbing target observation
Effective Range of:
600 meters for soft targets with accuracy under 12 inches
1,000 meters for soft targets with accuracy under 20 inches
1,500 meters for hard targets with accuracy under 40 inches
Low firing signatures (sound and visual)
Night combat capability
Use under all environmental conditions
The defined operational purpose of the rifle would be for the surgical removal of selected personnel targets (military leaders) and for the damage and destruction of hard and highly sophisticated materiel targets such as aircraft, radar equipment, sophisticated weapons systems, specialty vehicles and equipment, etc. The accuracy requirement of the complete system was determined by a detailed study of the targets to be engaged, their physical dimensions and the materials used in their construction that must be defeated for the target to be considered damaged or destroyed.
The Sighting System
The military requirements of the German Army for the sighting system were:
Day optical sight with 4X to 12X magnification (adjustable)
Automatic sighting adjustment (automatically adjusted/computed aiming point)
Automatic detection of and compensation for temperature, air pressure, wind and
And of course they wanted all of this for the minimum investment possible. Having a clear understanding of the requirements, the most experienced and brightest designers at HK began their study on how best to accomplish such a daunting task.
Across the Pond, U.S. Experts Unknowingly Agree
In 1990 within the same time frame that HK had begun its internally funded study to determine the best cartridge to meet the German Army requirements, unbeknownst to Heckler & Koch a similar study was being undertaken by experts from the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL) at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The BRL study concluded that the best cartridge for the engagement of materiel or personnel targets in excess of 1,500 meters would be one that would launch a .35 caliber (9 mm) projectile weighing approximately 350 grains with a muzzle velocity of 3,300 feet per second. Remember these stats, as you’ll see them again later.
At the conclusion of its own study, HK engineers, with the vast internal ballistic knowledge and experience of HK’s own Wolfgang Katzmaier (the developer of the "7mm Katz" magnum cartridge) decided a special round would have to be created to meet all of the requirements.
.50 caliber, 9mm x 90 MEN, 7.62 x 51
It was determined that no cartridge at that time in history could provide the performance needed, especially long range accuracy beyond 1,200 meters. The most suitable and readily available candidate cartridge for the new rifle at that time was the .50 BMG round. Some informed readers will remember that in the 1980s the only large user of .50 caliber sniper rifles was the U.S. Navy Special Warfare community which issued the single-shot bolt-action McMillan M88 rifle to its sniper teams for "special applications". Most .50 BMG rounds were designed for area fire machine guns like the .50 caliber M2 heavy machine gun and provided poor accuracy when fired from precision sniper rifles. Accuracy exceeding 4 MOA when firing .50 caliber M33 ball ammunition was once considered the norm for the cartridge. Today things have improved immensely in this area as many commercial sources exist for fully assembled match grade .50 ammo. This long overdue development is due in part to the military’s use of the round in sniper or "Special Application Sniper Rifles" (SASR) and Anti-Materiel Rifles, but more so by the recent popularity of .50 caliber target rifles and .50 caliber matches across the U.S. In 1990 the most accurate factory-loaded .50 BMG round was also the most expensive, the excellent Raufoss Multi-Purpose Round from Norway. While excellent for operational use against materiel targets, its high unit cost made it prohibitively expensive for training.
.50 caliber, 9mm x 90 MEN, 7.62 x 51
The fruit of HK’s research into the eventual fodder for the WSG2000 was the 9X90mm MEN round. A joint development between HK and the German ammunition firm of Metallwerk Elisenhütte Nassau (MEN), this new round of ammunition provided nearly the exact same exterior ballistics as identified by BRL at Aberdeen. Essentially a necked down .50 BMG (12.7 X 99) case, the 9X90 mm MEN round contained a 340-grain .35 caliber (9 mm) boattail projectile with a confirmed muzzle velocity of 3,440 fps. With a case length of 90 mm and overall length of 120 mm, the 9X90 mm MEN round developed 58,000 p.s.i. of chamber pressure with a ballistic coefficient of .74. For comparison the ballistic coefficient of the .50 BMG ball round is .45.
The performance of the new cartridge developed in theory but was proven by Mann barrel firings and extensive testing in firing rigs and fixtures. The accompanying charts show the comparison of the 9X90 mm MEN round with that of the 7.62X51 mm NATO and .50 BMG round for projectile velocity and energy, side wind deviation, trajectory, bullet drop and temperature influence. In this 1990-era data the 9X90 mm MEN round outperformed the .50 BMG cartridge in all categories with the exception of initial muzzle (projectile) energy to approximately 1,200 meters where, due to the superior flight characteristics of the MEN round, the two projectiles strike with equal energy. While the greater muzzle energy of the heavier 700+ grain .50 caliber projectile might seem an advantage to some, this energy is only useful if it is delivered accurately to the target. Certainly the 340-grain WSG2000 projectile with 1,400 foot pounds of energy at even 2,000 meters distance had more than enough wallop to do the job.
The real challenge for the designers was to fit the necessary incendiary/multi-purpose payload into the smaller 9 mm projectile to cause the destructive effects needed to seriously damage materiel targets. The risk of this endeavor was considered low to medium by making use of new technology then being developed by the Raufoss company. It was believed that the superior accuracy potential and exterior ballistics of the 9X90 mm MEN would far outclass any other known cartridge in its category resulting in higher hit probability under realistic "field" conditions.
Of course in addition to the standard 9X90 mm MEN match-grade ball round an entire family of ammunition was planned for the round to include tracer, AP, AP-I, SLAP and even subsonic. To some extent it would have been possible to produce some of the cartridge components using existing .50 caliber BMG tooling, making the new round somewhat easier to swallow logistically when type classification time arrived.
The Lead Slinger
The truly sexy part of the system is clearly the rifle itself. Not just a design on paper or in a CAD machine, the WSG2000 progressed to full-size functional test fixtures to prove the concept of the internals, namely the rotary locking system and long-recoil operating and recoil mitigation sub-systems. Before its demise due to the lack of developmental funding, both internal HK and external customer funding, the WSG2000 was feeding, firing, extracting and ejecting sample ammunition with little or no difficulty.
|WSG2000 Full-Solution Fire Control System showing computer input key pad above the eyepiece lens and night vision module attachment point located above the objective lens of the sight.|
The overall configuration of the WSG2000 was one of a bullpup design, with the detachable 5-shot box magazine located behind the vertical pistol grip incorporated into an attractive thumbhole stock configuration. Using this layout the overall length of the WSG2000 was kept to a minimum (under 48 inches) to preserve the portability of the rifle for the user humping the weapon in the field. The weapon was fed by a 5-shot magazine, used a system of long recoil operation proven in the earlier CAWS shotgun prototypes and employed a rotary locking bolt head with multiple locking lugs to seal the breech during firing.
To reduce the felt recoil to the shooter, the operating system employed a unique hydraulic and mechanical recoil mitigation system contained within the outer housing. The operating components of the WSG2000 were housed in a tough fiber-reinforced receiver or hollow housing not unlike that employed in the G11 rifle, CAWS shotgun and current day OICW weapons system. Key metal components molded into the polymer housing provided anchors and guiding surfaces for the internal parts while offering the lightest weight obtainable without sacrificing strength. The WSG2000 with empty magazine weighed 17.64 pounds with daytime fire control system.
The Man in the Loop
The user interface with the WSG2000 was considered at all phases of the system development. The uses of the smaller cartridge and lighter projectile combined with the ergonomic design of the weapon and unique operating system translated to a recoil impulse to the shooter of only 5.29 pound/seconds, without muzzle brake. For comparison the bolt-action McMillan M88 rifle firing the .50 BMG round has a recoil impulse of 7.0 pound seconds and yet employs a muzzle brake and weighs over 24 pounds. The HK designers believed that by reducing the recoil felt in the shooter’s shoulder for each round fired and by providing the means to custom fit the rifle to the sniper, fatigue would be reduced and thus shooter performance would be increased substantially, translating to more hits on target.
The WSG2000 provided the shooter with fully adjustable cheekpiece and buttplate, contoured pistol grip, 3.1 pound match-grade trigger pull and ambidextrous operating controls, to include cocking handle, magazine release and safety lever. The weapon operated in the semi-automatic mode of fire only. A secure interface for the attachment of the fire control system was incorporated into the top of the polymer housing.
The Eyes of the System – The Fire Control
As much as we all hate to admit it, the weakest link in an otherwise sound sniper rifle system is often considered to be the operator, the human ingredient. Even when the ammunition, weapon and sight are performing as designed, long range targets at ranges beyond 800 meters are easily missed by even minor miscalculations in the range to the target, atmospheric conditions and, of course, the effects of wind. Shooting through the cesspool of moving air, humidity and light that stands between the shooter and his intended target challenges even the seasoned rifleman when talking about ranges of 1 mile and beyond. For decades the small arms industry has attempted to reduce aiming errors experienced during long-range shooting by improving on sighting systems. No technology offers more promise in this area than the microcomputer.
The Full-Solution Fire Control System envisioned for the WSG2000 was considered the component of the system presenting the highest risk to the developers, even more so than the new 9X90 mm ammunition. As recently as 1990, and even today, a sighting system does not yet exist that can do all that was required of the proposed WSG2000 sighting system, in a small, portable and cost effective package suitable for a "man portable" sniper rifle.
The Fire Control System (FCS) for the WSG2000 was a joint effort by HK and various European sight and electronics manufacturers. The system was comprised of a ballistic computer, which would be fed information from various onboard
sensors, and compute a firing solution for the operator based on the data entered. The shooter would enter the necessary ammunition data on a keypad on the rear of the sight and the FCS would do the rest, providing an adjusted aiming point within
the sight, which the gunner would use to engage the target. The sensor suite within the FCS would read wind, barometric pressure, temperature, elevation, any presence of angle to the target, cant, etc. at the sight’s location and feed this data to the micro computer with the sight. This data would be combined with the exact range to the target provided by the laser rangefinder, also an integral component within the detachable FCS. A single touch of the laser rangefinder button and milliseconds later the FCS would provide the appropriate aiming point within the optical sight of the FCS, adjusted for all conditions and range to the target. It was even believed at that time in the early 1990s that the technology was available to include a means to determine target speed of moving targets and to establish automatically the appropriate lead.
For use during periods of low visibility or near complete darkness, an add-on modular passive night vision module, similar in design to the now familiar Simrad KN200/KN250 systems, could be attached to the objective lens end of the sight by means of an integral dovetail interface. Obviously steps were taken to provide the means to use the sight if the battery for the sight or the electronics within failed and for the initial zeroing of the system. A bold and aggressive undertaking, the first rifle-size full-solution fire control system with such capabilities is just now being developed and proven in testing in the U.S. Objective Crew Served Weapon (OCSW) and Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) programs.
Sadly, what could have been a huge leap forward for the long-range military marksman died on the drawing table with the decision of the German Army not to spend the substantial developmental funds on an aggressive project like the WSG2000 as proposed by HK. Instead the Germans have selected an off-the-shelf conventional bolt action rifle in caliber .338 Lapua Magnum for the long range missions for which it is assigned. Interest in the WSG2000 in the United States during the mid-1990s from the military special operations long-range sniper community did not develop sufficiently to revive the program. An informal request for proposal to HK to complete the work on the ammunition and rifle components only resulted in a 27-month development phase out of which would emerge two fully tested and completed prototype weapons. The cost for this development was estimated to be 1.5 million Deutsche Marks, or $1 million U.S.
Today the WSG2000 resides in HK’s prototype pattern room and CAD/CAM machines as the deadliest long-range rifle that never was. Jim Schatz
McMillian M88 SASR*
9X90 mm MEN
.50 BMG (12.7X99 mm)
Method of Operation:
Dual-lug rotating bolt
Multi-lug rotating shell holder bolt
5-shot detachable box
Hydraulic & mechanical
Muzzle brake recoil buffers
Accuracy Potential: .9 pH on 6.5" mean radius
Maximum Effective Range: 2,000 meters N/A
Sighting System: Full-Solution Fire Control L&S Ultra 16X M1
System with 4X, 8X or 12X telescopic sight with magnification, integrated MIL Dot reticle
laser rangefinder and
Night Sight: Add-on passive module Simrad passive add-on module
Ammunition Types: 9X90 mm MEN .50 caliber BMG
Ball (soft core) - M33 Ball
Tracer - M17 Tracer
Multi-Purpose (Raufoss) - M2 AP
Enhanced Sabot (SLAP) - M8 AP-I
Subsonic - M20 AP-I-T
MK211 MOD 0
Chamber Pressure: 58,000 p.s.i. 55,000 p.s.i.
Ballistic Coefficient: .74 .45
* Comparison Data as available in 1990. Compared with the then standard-issue U.S. Navy .50 caliber M88 SASR.