The Military Superpowers’ Most Formidable Rapid-Fire Weapons

Eric Sof

Here is an assessment of some of the most powerful rotary-style rapid-fire guns in the arsenals of the Russian and US militaries. Along with their long-entrenched fame in Hollywood films like Terminator 2 or Predator, the heirs to Richard Gatling’s deadly invention have earned an important place in the armies of the world. We introduce the fastest, deadliest, and most famous rapid-fire weapons on the planet.

The Fastest

The Russian AK-630M-2 Duet, a shipborne twin 30mm naval close-in weapon, has its roots in the Soviet-era AK-630 rotary cannon. Firing heavy 30x165mm rounds from its six barrels, the system’s distinguishing feature is its sophisticated fire control system, which allows for fully automatic targeting and tracking.

AK-630s aboard the guided missile cruiser Moskva (Photo: VK)

One Duet can rain a record 10,000 rounds-per-minute down on its target, enough to stop anything from supersonic aircraft to drones to cruise missiles, at a distance up to 4 km or an altitude up to 5 km. At shorter distances, the system is capable of crippling or even destroying small warships.

The AK-630M-2 has been installed onboard five Buyan-class corvettes, as well as the Ivan Gren large landing ship, which will join the Northern Fleet later this year. The Navy also plans to fit other ships armed with older variants of the AK-630 with the weapon.

The Deadliest

The GAU-8 Avenger, a 7 barrel, 30mm hydraulically driven autocannon found on the US A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft, is rightly listed as the deadliest rotary-style gun in this list. The combined weight of the system, including the cartridge feeding system and a full stock of 30mm rounds, is almost two tons, or about 20% of the total weight of a fueled and readied A-10.

Military observers believe the gun is really the main reason why the Thunderbolt II, an aircraft introduced back in the 1970s, is still in use, given that its other characteristics have long been outmatched by other aircraft in its class.

A-10 Thunderbolt II Cannon (Photo: G)

The Avenger is capable of firing its deadly depleted uranium armor-piercing rounds a rate of 4,200 rounds per minute. In practice, the colossal kickback from firing the weapon means pilots generally limit fire for 2-3 seconds, which is still enough to destroy an entire column of enemy combat vehicles, including tanks.

The Thunderbolt II-mounted GAU-8 has been widely used in Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and other conflicts, its depleted uranium rounds leaving a sad record of cancers and other illnesses among the local populations. In any hypothetical war against an enemy that has advanced air defenses, its chances of the Thunderbolt II reaching its ground-based targets are questionable.

Highest Density of Fire

The Yak-B 12.7mm four-barrel rotary cannon was created in the mid-1970s for the Mi-24 helicopter gunship. The gun saw its baptism by fire in Afghanistan, where pilots came to appreciate its extremely high density of fire, nicknaming it the ‘metal-cutter.’ Its 5,500 round per minute rate of fire proved highly effective against the Mujahedeen, the forerunners of the Taliban. However, in some situations, the gun proved capricious and subject to contamination by dirt and debris. Designers eliminated the defect in 1988.

Yak-B 12.7mm four-barrel rotary cannon (Photo: BENJAMÍN NÚÑEZ GONZÁLEZ)

The Yak-B holds a record that’s unlikely to ever be beaten. On October 27, 1982, an Iraqi Mi-24 shot down an Iranian F-4 Phantom II using the Soviet Gatling gun, the exploit becoming the only documented case in the history of military aviation where a helicopter would destroy a supersonic jet plane using a machine gun.

The Most Famous

The M134 Minigun six-barrel rotary machine gun is probably the most famous minigun ever created. Hollywood action flicks and news reports showing US servicemen in the Middle East regularly feature the weapon. And that makes sense. After all, the US military has been incorporating the gun wherever possible going back to the 1960s, when it was introduced. M134 variants are installed on Army Hummers, choppers, patrol boats, armored personnel carriers, at sentry towers and forts.

GAU-17 variant of the M134 being fired from UH-1N Huey (Photo: Lance cpl. Randall A. Clinton)

The M134 fires 7.62x51mm NATO rounds at a rate of between 2,000 to 6,000 rounds per minute. The M134’s ‘big brother’, the M61 Vulcan, another successful six-barrel Gatling-style rotary cannon design, has been installed aboard many US combat aircraft, attack helicopters and armored vehicles for nearly 60 years.

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