A Gun Rambo Would Love

If there’s one thing a small infantry team can never have enough of, it’s firepower. For such an inherently vulnerable unit, the ability to effectively take on much larger and stronger targets is a great battlefield leveller and a useful force multiplier.

Except there’s one problem: Weight. While every soldier likes bigger and more powerful guns, nobody likes to get weighed down, especially when they need to walk long-distances or keep moving all day. At this point, heavier and more powerful weapons become a hindrance, a drag on one of the few advantages a soldier has; his mobility. Hence the constant struggle, when procuring infantry equipment, to compromise between firepower and weight, often at the expense of the former.

Until now, that is: Enter the PAW20, South Africa’s answer to this perennial struggle. Designed by Denel’s PMP division and Neopup, the PAW20 is a 20mm weapon small and light enough to be carried by a single soldier. At only 5.7kg, it is only one and a half kilograms heavier than the SA Army’s R4 assault rifle and is only slightly longer at 845mm (though the stock can be shortened for transport). This is phenomenal, as existing man-portable 20mm rifles weigh at least 20kg and often require two soldiers to carry.

And it’s not as if this comes at the expense of firepower. The rifle uses a new 20×42 mm cartridge developed by PMP which has an effective range of 1000m and the ability to carry a number of warheads, including a High-Explosive fill. Needless to say, this packs a potent punch, to the extent that individual soldiers will now have the ability to disable lightly-armoured enemy vehicles and hit fortified positions, all while remaining mobile. Importantly, the rifle is said to use a variation of the highly-effective and innovative recoil mechanism first used in the NTW-20, giving it a recoil level close to that of an average hunting rifle.

There are, however, some trade-offs. The PAW20 is a semiautomatic weapon with a comparatively small 6 7-round magazine, and the heavy ammunition is likely going to seriously limit how much can be carried. In this respect, it’s definitely not the sort of gun an army could issue to each of its soldiers; rather I would think it would be used in a similar manner to heavy machine guns with a 12-man infantry squad having only one or two soldiers equipped with a PAW20. This has the effect of increasing the squad’s combined firepower without significantly affecting its mobility.

As yet, there’s no word on whether the South African department economic development is even considering the weapon, let alone planning to buy it, but I really hope a decision is made to procure it. Even if it doesn’t, I think it’s a fair chance that the weapon will achieve some level of export success, especially if the price can be kept reasonable. After all, on a firepower-to-weight ratio, there’s little else out there that comes close to it.