Weapon Cleaning: A Thing of the Past?

Reported in the October 2019 issue of Soldier magazine, sitting around scrubbing weapons is set to become a thing of the past for British soldiers.

The Infantry Trials and Development Unit (ITDU) is looking to
introduce ultrasonic cleaning tanks – which are already used by industry and work by sending high-frequency soundwaves through water to remove dirt and carbon.

The plan was showcased by ITDU at the Defence and Security Equipment International expo in September 2019. The trials officer Sergeant Daniel Birks, Royal Marines, said the idea followed the recent SA80 rifle upgrade.

The Armed Forces still clean with oil and metallic brushes, but manufacturers do not do it this way anymore.

Innovation funding allowed Birks to carry out detailed research into ultrasonic cleaning of SA80s and GPMGs. And Army HQ has now given him the thumbs-up to carry out further tests with a view to the new system being rolled out to five regiments.

When copper builds up it affects accuracy, but you are only really supposed to clean the SA80 every 900 rounds. Generally, if you are firing a weapon it will perform fine for a whole exercise. You do not need to keep stripping it down as long as it is lubricated. And, oil does not remove carbon.

This new system will save man hours, and could reduce the size of personal weapon cleaning kits, but it will require a culture change – with the idea being that soldiers would hardly clean weapons in the field at all.

As long as they have a friction guard, soldiers can just use the tanks for a deep clean back at camp with a small amount of carbon- and copper-removing solution.

Each company would have a few baths, and on operations they would be kept back at patrol bases. Further, cleaning with water, rather than oil and metallic brushes, better protects
the equipment too.

The military currently spends hundreds of thousands refurbishing damaged weapons each year, but most of that is down to poor cleaning techniques.

Birk suggests he will face resistance to this but the results from his trials found that these tanks saved soldiers’ time by around 60 per cent.


Soldier. (2019) Scrubbing History. Soldier: The Magazine of the British Army. October 2019, pp.7.


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