The M56 Smartgun is a man-portable heavy machine gun with automatic targeting capabilities chambered for 10×28mm caseless ammunition. It is notably employed by the United States Colonial Marine Corps. The M56A2 model in particular saw regular use in engagements with the Xenomorph and Predator species.
The M56 Smartgun system actually consists of four major components — the operator's combat harness, the head mounted sight, the articulator arm and the gun itself.
The M56 is carried into combat on a self-aiming stabilized mount that is linked to an infrared target tracking system for accurate, autonomous aiming. The mount also negates the traditional need to position or set up the machine gun prior to opening fire. The gun itself is constructed largely from moulded carbon fibre and light alloy stampings, though some interior parts are made of high-strength plastics. The weapon is air-cooled, although an additional heat sink attachment can be mounted to further improve sustained fire capabilities. The M56 is 122 cm long, incorporating a 54.5 cm barrel, while the entire gun assembly, including the harness and a full load of ammunition, masses 17.82 kg.
Unusually, the M56 incorporates two different firing mechanisms in its design — firing is controlled either by depressing a red "fire" button mounted on the forward hand grip, or by lifting a firing handle mounted beneath the rear grip. A selector on the forward grip switches the weapon between its Safe, Burst and Autofire settings. The Burst setting will fire four-round bursts, while the Autofire setting will continue to fire the weapon at its full cyclic rate so long as either of the triggers remains depressed. Clicking off the safety will also automatically charge the weapon (provided there is not already a round chambered), although Marines have expressed disdain for this system, citing it as a major cause of stoppages, and prefer instead to manually charge the weapon after reloading using the cocking handle on the right side. The gun's rotating breech and feed mechanism are powered by an internal motor. In the event of a stoppage, the charging handle can be used to clear the mechanism.
While the operator is standing, the gun is held and steered by its fore and back grips. The gun can also be fired from a prone position, although owning the weapon's unique design, this entails the operator lying on their back. When prone, the gun is controlled with the foregrip and the charging handle, the latter of which must be locked forwards for this purpose.
Operator's harness and mountEdit
The M56 is mounted on a harness and is slaved to an advanced infrared tracking system, similar to that found in the USCM's UA 571-C Automated Sentry Gun. The battle harness worn by the operator is manufactured from the same composite micromesh ballistic armor as the Marine Corps' standard M3 Pattern Personal Armor. The chest piece contains the Smartgun operator's PRC 489/4 communications transmitter/receiver and Identification Friend Foe (IFF) transponder, as well as the gun's tracking and targeting processor. The processor is accessed from behind the chest plate, and can be easily replaced in the field should the unit fail.
The M56 is securely attached to the operator by a stabilized articulation arm, attached to the left hip and connected via a coaxial cable the to processors and power outlets on the chest plate. The system's head mounted sight is also connected to the tracking and communications systems in the chest plate. Power for the entire system is supplied by a standard DV9 lithium battery, plugged into the power leads that run from the articulation arm to the gun; removing this unit completely deactivates the weapon, rendering it useless. Common practice in the field is to let the battery hang free beneath the gun where it can be easily accessed in an emergency.
The gun itself is self-steering on its mount, although firing must be triggered manually. The articulation arm is gyrostabilized and provides additional recoil dampening, and is also capable of keeping the gun steady while the operator is walking or running. When tracking a target, the arm steers the gun so as to aim the barrel at the target's center of mass. Working fluidly with this automatic tracking takes some training to master; the operator must be sensitive to the gun's movements and allow it to aim itself, although the weapon's motion can be overridden at any time by simply steering the barrel elsewhere.
When powered up, the gun begins tracking targets via the infrared detector mounted directly above the barrel. This scanner consists of a 256×256 element platinum-silicide focal plane array, cooled to 77°K (-196.15°C) by a tiny cryogenic gas cooler. The system monitors a 30° cone in front of the gun. The tracking system also transmits thermal images to a miniature video display in the operator's eyepiece. If a target is detected, the tracker will overlay a lighted box or rectangle over the target's center mass on this display, highlighting it for the operator's attention. At the same time, the articulator arm will steer the gun towards the target, and once it has acquired a lock the operator will be informed by a target lock circle that illuminates on the display screen.
In the event that the operator wishes to engage an opponent other than the one currently locked on to, they can simply steer the gun manually towards their preferred target and the system will acquire a fresh lock. This tactic is also vital when faced with the use of infrared false-target decoys.
M250 round: The M56 Smartgun is chambered for the M250 10×28mm High Explosive Amror Piercing caseless round, a 230 grain projectile encased in a rectangular block of Nitramine 50. This round offers greater power than the M309 used by the M41A Pulse Rifle, and also offers a selectable fuse setting — a switch on the Smartgun's grip is used to switch between ammunition fusing modes, and the setting is applied to each round electronically as it is loaded into the chamber. The Super setting is optimized for use against soft targets, detonating on impact, while the Delay setting will allow the round to penetrate armor before exploding. Smartgun ammunition is stored on a roll of continuous plastic non-disintegrating link belt in an ammunition drum, which can be reloaded in the field.
As per USCMC doctrine, USCM's are organized into rifle squads at the lowest levels of organization. One element of this squad is the Gun Team. The Gun Team is made up of a rifleman with a M41 pulse rifle and a machine-gunner carrying the M56 Smart Gun. The rifleman provides spotting and defense support for the machine-gunner, who in turn provides fire support for the rest of the rifle squad.
The M57 is the 'sequel' to the M56 smart gun used for the better part of the last two decades. Unlike the M56 the M57's gun barrel does not autonomously track targets; instead the gun coordinates multiple guided projectiles. This increases fire rate significantly, reduces operator combat fatigue, and sidesteps lengthy training requirements. It also means that an M57 round can dynamically retarget mid-flight, should the firing M57 determine that the round’s initial target has already been defeated.
M57D "Dirty" SmartgunEdit
The M57D is an utterly vicious weapon that is sanctioned for extreme circumstances only. It fires rounds that shatter into hundreds of radioactive splinters inside their target, causing human survivors of the weapon to develop all manner of debilitating long-term health problems. It can create truly astounding radiation levels in larger targets, forcing these enemies to lose health for extended periods of time. Naturally, the upgraded Smartgunner wears radiation shielded armor as a safety precaution.
Behind the ScenesEdit
The two live-firing M56 Smartguns used in Aliens were constructed by British movie armorers Bapty & Co. from WWII-vintage German MG 42 machine guns. The guns were disguised with cosmetic additions, including parts taken from a Kawasaki motorcycle. The weapon was attached to a steadicam filming harness, transferring most of the gun's considerable weight to the actors' legs while also helping to balance the unwieldy weapon. In the film, the M56 was used by Vasquez and Drake, who had customized their weapons with the words "Adios" (on Vasquez' gun) and "My bitch" (on Drake's) written on the side ahead of the charging handle.
- As well as the standard M56, Vasquez's personal M56 from Aliens is featured in the game Aliens: Colonial Marines as a "legendary weapon".
- Aliens/novel (First Appearance)
- Aliens: Newt's Tale
- Alien3 Assembly Cut/novel (mentioned only)
- Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual
- Aliens versus Predator (video game)
- Aliens versus Predator 2 (video game)
- Alien versus Predator: Extinction (video game)
- Aliens vs. Predator (video game)
- Aliens: Colonial Marines (video game)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. HarperPrism, 16.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. HarperPrism, 18.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. HarperPrism, 17.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. HarperPrism, 21.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. HarperPrism, 19.
- ↑ James Cameron (writer and director). Aliens [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. HarperPrism, 20.
- ↑ Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. HarperPrism, 24.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill, Stan Winston. Superior Firepower: The Making of 'Aliens' [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.