In the 1980s, U.S. Troops Almost Got a Killer New Shotgun
But the program crapped out
In the early 1980s, the U.S. military wanted a new combat shotgun. The Close Assault Weapon System program aimed to produce an automatic shotgun with greater range and more firepower than a conventional shotgun possessed — and which could engage targets between 100 meters and 150 meters with a variety of specialized loads.
The Pentagon decided it needed CAWS after examining the British Army’s experience during the Malayan Emergency and America’s own misfortunes in the Vietnam War. Shotguns had played an important role in close-range engagements, but weren’t always sufficiently handy … or deadly.
Carroll Childers, who had developed the experimental Special Operations Weapon during the Vietnam War, helmed the initial CAWS effort at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Childers’ goals with the SOW had been to make a shotgun that was easier to reload and also more lethal. The Pentagon shelved the SOW in the early 1980s and, with CAWS, Childers more or less picked up where his previous effort had left off.
AAI’s CAWS. Source
Heckler & Koch and the AAI Corporation both submitted designs. While H&K’s design featured a bullpup layout, AAI’s used a more conventional configuration. The AAI entry boasted a recoil-operated action and fed from a 12-round box magazine. It was a select-fire weapon with semi-automatic and fully-automatic settings and was capable of firing 450 rounds per minute.
The AAI-designed CAWS had iron sights and the option of fitting a reflex optic. AAI made use of the M16’s grip and buttstock — which was removable — to help U.S. troops adapt quickly to the new weapon. The AAI CAWS weighed a hefty nine pounds unloaded and was 39 inches long.
AAI’s CAWS entry fired a plastic-cased flechette round that AAI developed to increase the shotgun’s range while also increasing hit-probability. The AAI round reportedly could penetrate 76 millimeters of pine board or three millimeters of steel plate at 150 meters.
H&K’s CAWS. Source
AAI’s sales literature from 1984 claimed that the company was also working on high-explosive, armor-piercing and tear-gas rounds. The AAI CAWS could. with an adapter, also fire standard, 12-gauge buckshot rounds.
H&K, in partnership with Winchester/Olin, had developed its own brass-cased flechette round. However, this round had suffered accuracy problems. H&K abandoned it in favor of convention buckshot.
In the end, neither the AAI nor H&K shotgun met expectations. The U.S. military abandoned the Close Assault Weapon System program in the late 1980s.