Voere X3 Laser Fired Bullets

All images are courtesy of Voere.com

The future where we all have blasters may not be here, but the new Voere X3 rifle has some pretty impressive technology. Utilising a drop in replacement for the bolt on their X3 Rifle Voere has managed to eliminate another moving part from the weapons system and improve the inherent accuracy of the rifle. You can see the technology in operation in the video below.

As usual I’m not one to just share information, I like to take deeper dives into the technology and craftsmanship behind these new designs. What I’ve been able to find is very interesting, as Voere’s German language press release goes into quite a bit of detail about how they arrived at this particular design concept. While the design does have some challenges to overcome, such as the use of a specialized primer, these early tests show that the technology has promise.

Let’s start by breaking down the press release from Voere on their new laser ignition system.

Note: My German is very rusty so this probably not a perfect translation, if you want to take a look at the original 13 page document I translated during my research for this article you can do so on Voere’s website. Since translating directly from German would make it difficult to read I have made some edits in the quotes from the press release to try to make this translations clearer.  

Voere’s Press Release on The X3 Laser Ignition System

.308 Cartridges using the X3 laser ignition system. Note the unique "clear" primers needed to work with the laser "firing pin"
.308 Cartridges using the X3 laser ignition system. Note the unique “clear” primers needed to work with the laser “firing pin”

Voere summarizes the benefits of their new laser ignition system

  • Invention:
    • Development of a detonator that responds to optical waves
    • Vibration-free ignition system without firing pins
    • Development of a laser with enough power that it could theoretically cut steel
    • Miniaturization of a laser system from washing machine size, to tube size
    • Development of high-performance electronics running on a battery
    • Integration into an existing system (interchangeability)
    • Environmentally friendly primer substances
    • Use of safer powder varieties (non-sensitive)
  • Advantages:
    • Improved accuracy due to less vibrations
    • More functional safety due to the lack of mechanical parts
    • Environmental compatibility by eliminating lead in the primer
    • Cost-effective production of the primer
    • Reloadability of the primer
    • Child safety and disabling of the weapon
  • Summary:
    • Non-contact lighting
    • Vibration-free shot delivery (precision)
    • Climate independence
    • Security by friend-detection / electronics – Fingerprint sensor, check card, code etc.
    • Child safety by removing the battery
    • Use of safety explosive
    • Transport safely through the use of impact-resistant primers
    • Use of environmentally friendly explosives (bio-incinerators)
    • Reusability of the detonator
    • More cost-effective production
    • No need for brass

With the X3 precision rifle, VOERE has succeeded in developing a completely modular system that allows not only the changing of barrels, stocks and calibers, but also of the types of ignition and ammunition.

The design allows for the exchange of the bolt with traditional mechanical ignition against the bolt and with optical ignition in the same weapon.
You can shoot the same weapon with mechanical as well as optical ignition. 

Image of the bolt in action, however the laser would not normally be visible
Image of the bolt in action, however the laser would not normally be visible

So Voere not only is Voere’s rifle system modular but also able to swapped back and forth between a standard and laser firing pin bolt. However the press release continues and goes into more detail about the development process. Apparently using lasers was not the first alternative method for igniting the primer that they used. Voere also conducted experiments using direct current, heat, and induction in an attempt to try to ignite the primer using methods other than a traditional firing pin.

VOERE already set a milestone in the early 1990s: the electric ignition of a caseless cartridge in a suitably equipped rifle. It was such a revolutionary technology that they were quickly declared war materials. Since then, VOERE has been researching alternative ignition systems for gun cartridges. Many steps were taken and experiments were made until it became clear that a metal cartridge with direct current, heat or induction was not a reasonable ignition system.

2015 is when VOERE set a milestone – a complete system that ignites the cartridge using lasers.

The first firearms were fired with a fuse. Then the wheel lock was invented, followed by the flint flintlock, percussion followed by metal cartridges with rim and central ignition. Even today, rifle cartridges are ignited with a percussion bolt. But this also has disadvantages – moving masses disturb the oscillation behavior and lead to less than optimal shooting performance.

The press release continues, explaining that Voere’s laser ignition system is preferable because they have eliminated the shock of the hammer striking the firing pin and potentially disturbing the alignment of the sights, vibrating the barrel, and moving where the bullet is going to impact the target. By removing the hammer hitting the firing pin they are able to take this “shock” out of the system and improve the inherent mechanical accuracy of the firearm.

Going further into the document it starts talking about some of Voere’s work back in the 1990’s. With rifles using both caseless ammunition as well as electrical systems to ignite the primer. It was this work that lead into the development of the X3 laser ignition system that we now are taking a look at. The text below explains a number of the challenges that they faced in miniaturising the laser as well as making sure that the power output of the laser would be sufficient to ignite the primer within milliseconds.

VOERE introduced electric ignition in the early 1990s. The milestone here was the electrical ignition, which significantly reduced the ignition time and significantly increased accuracy. The disadvantage is that it needs its own rifle, which is equipped accordingly. The technologies used are revolutionary to this day. The gun has shown an electric ignition together with a caseless cartridge as a feature.
Since that time VOERE has been researching alternative ignition systems for gun cartridges in Austria. Many steps and attempts were made. Among other things, attempts have been made to light cartridges with car batteries, household electricity and even welding equipment. You would not believe how robust and hermetically shielded a cartridge is. It is indeed impossible to ignite a cartridge with direct current, heat, induction due to the metal casing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voere looked at alternate ways to ignite the primer

When discussing this issue over 10 years ago, the possibility has been considered to initiate a cartridge with an optical igniter. There followed a series of experiments with biocompatible materials, light-sensitive explosives, photo-ignition until the idea of ​​ignition with the help of a miniature laser came. The idea that one could ignite explosives with a laser is not revolutionary in itself. The difficulty is rather to bring the required energy into the igniting charge in such a short time so that an ignition can be had in milliseconds. This requires tremendous energies. In order to ignite a brass cartridge with a laser, a power output of 280W is required. With a power of this magnitude and within the short time unit of a few milliseconds, one could cut metal. The high performance is required because the brass is a very good thermal conductor and dissipates the energy more quickly than it can be supplied. The brighter the surface is, the less the heat absorption by the reflection and the more difficult ignition becomes.

With the power of 280W, ignition is possible within milliseconds, at the same time; absolute freedom from vibrations and increased safety.
The challenge is to develop a current source that provides corresponding power potential. The power consumption at the voltages used can almost be equated with the current. 240 A is therefore required. The starter on a car is between 50 – 100 Ah. Even short-circuited a car battery is not able to ignite the ignition agent directly in the short time frame. One can already see what efforts are necessary to ensure the energy supply.

early testing data from Voere.

The challenge is to reduce a current source, as shown in the figure above, in such a way that installation into a rifle is possible. The basic conditions are that the rifle is useable in tropical and arctic environments. At the same time, more than 300g are applied to the components. Everything does not always work from the beginning and only after many attempts and troubleshooting ultimately lead to the final result. Safety is the key to the tests, but unexpected results can be achieved despite all safety precautions.

You must not let setbacks turn you back, so new materials, new ideas and new designs were designed and rejected. Put simply, [the main problem] is the energy output that is required to ensure ignition. This presentation is so that you can understand the energy requirements. The required power can be focused through a hole in sapphire glass. 

Aperture lense for the laser

The picture above shows a smooth shot through the window in the sapphire glass. As you can see, you must always take into account that transparent surfaces also have absorbencies and reflections when the surface is coated. Many findings can only be gained through experimentation, since so far there is no research in this field of performance, and to some extent these calculations are on the limits of physics.
Therefore, after much experimentation VOERE has finally developed a functional prototype. It is now possible to reduce the laser to the size of the chamber. The building of a laser must always take place under great safety precautions. A single dust particle during production could destroy all efforts to produce a functioning product. Therefore, the operations are done under cleanroom conditions and usually have to be done with a magnifying glass.

Showing some of the assembly process for the laser bolt.

In the end, a ready-to-use product is produced. Many details have to be taken into account in order to ensure tight tolerances and insensitivity to environmental influences. The laser is usable in all regions of the world, as a mobile phone today is insensitive to moisture, shock and temperature. Moreover, while mechanics are sensitive to cold, the laser does not have that problem.

 

The biggest thing that the X3 laser ignition system brings to the table is probably the ability to not have to swap out any parts other than just the bolt. Even with the new bolt and laser firing pin, the engineers over at Voere have managed to keep all other parts of the rifle the same. Pretty impressive.

The new laser based bolt is apparently a drop in replacement.
The new laser based bolt is apparently a drop in replacement.

However there is one catch to this whole setup. As mentioned previously the use of the laser ignition system requires the use of a specialised primer. This primer allows the light to travel from the “bolt” into the primer and ignite the priming compound that they are using. Voere found that if they did not use a specialised primer the whole thing would not work. The laser would heat up the primer, but the brass primer and cartridge case would bleed off the heat so fast that they could not ignite the primer.

Voere’s press release talks about this a bit more below.

The ignition time is reduced by the laser ignition and is at least. 2.5 ms. Ignition is carried out with a longer impulse to ensure the ignition safety.

The laser ignites the ammunition with a single pulse and is ready within one second for the next shot. This time is needed for rifle to cycle.

The previous primer is replaced by a new primer. This can not be ignited by the impact bolt since it does not contain an anvil. This has been done intentionally so as to avoid confusion. Theoretically, a hybrid system would also be possible. This is not useful, however, since the ignition of the ammunition exclusively with lasers brings advantages.

The primer is practically no longer deformed by the “firing pin”, since the abutment of the primer on the closure head is planar or flat. Theoretically, the fuse can be reloaded and reused after use.
While the impact of the percussion ignition is sensitive to environmental influences, the laser is largely insensitive to influences such as impact. Climate influences, such as the cold, play a small role for the laser. Contamination has a negative effect on the laser. However, this problem also occurs in percussion ignition as well.

X3 Laser Bolt Design
X3 Laser Bolt Design

Yet this whole system has one big flaw currently. If the laser is obstructed by debris from the chamber the whole system will fail. Voere also goes into some details about how the new system is safer for kids, and uses more environmentally safe primers, but not the exact composition of these primers.

While exciting technology that’s already showing improvements in accuracy the X3 laser ignition system has some steep hurdles ahead of it. First it needs to show that it can be just as reliable as traditional firing pins. With the added complexity and clean room requirements for manufacturing this new type of bolt, we have to ask ourselves, is the improved performance in accuracy worth the increase in complexity and probably cost. I believe all but the top target and long distance shooters will see no reason to switch to this new bolt.

Furthermore complex circuitry in firearms of any kind faces a major hurdle to mass adoption, the perception of gun owners. Most of the time when with thing of electronics in guns with think of the abysmal smart guns that are constantly pushed on us. Furthermore, many, like myself, are not entirely convinced that critical defensive weapons should be made with complex circuitry. Maybe in the coming decades electronics will become more ruggedized and better able to handle the shock and constant beating of being integrated into a firearm. For now I’ll watch the X3 laser ignition system with interest to see how it develops.

What are your thoughts on the X3 laser ignition system? Sound off in the comments below.