What if you never had to clean and lubricate your rifle again?

Fanciful as it may sound, Army engineers at Picatinny Arsenal believe they’ve cracked the code to make it happen with a new surface applicant, which they said could go into production in 2018.

When rifles and machine guns are fired, byproducts accumulate, leading to what's known as "fouling." Buildup of powder residue and moisture can eventually cause the weapon to jam, or lose accuracy, reliability and cyclic rate (rounds per minute it can fire). That’s why soldiers have to clean their rifles every so often, generally with a wet lubricant known as CLP (cleaner, lubricant and preservative).

The new material, known as durable solid lubricant, would be applied during manufacturing and coats the gun's moving parts. Currently, shooting byproducts accumulate during firing of rifles and machine guns, leading to what's known as fouling. Buildup of powder residue and moisture can eventually cause the gun to jam, or lose accuracy, reliability and cyclic rate (rounds per minute it can fire). That's why soldiers have to clean their rifles every so often, generally with a wet lubricant known as CLP (cleaner, lubricant and preservative).

The new material, known as durable solid lubricant, would be applied during manufacturing and coats the weapon's moving parts. DSL simply prevents material from sticking to the weapon's surface; basically it's a more advanced version of teflon on a frying pan. Since the fouling buildup only loosely adheres to a DSL surface, any force from the other moving parts or vibrations from firing is enough to knock it loose and keep the rifle clean.

Christopher Mulligan, a research engineer who has a doctorate PHDin materials science and has worked for Army Research, Development and Engineering Command for 13 years, said the material is a hard coating that drastically reduces friction and corrosion, improving the rifle's reliability. Explosive byproducts don’t stick to the material, he said. The Army has a patent pending on DSL; he and Foltz didn’t want to go into detail on the technology until the patent is approved. but say

Testing so far has been limited but encouraging, the two said. A 10,000-round test of an M4A1, for example, produced zero stoppages despite testers never cleaning the gun, Foltz said. "The only time we weren't shooting was to let the barrel cool." There have been other tests that, while lab-based, incorporated sand, mud and extreme temperatures.

Not only does DSL make a rifle easier to maintain, but it greatly reduces wear thanks to removal of CPL. The oil mixes with phosphate and hot propellant gas produced by firing, which increases the volume of a buildup that can erode a weapon's moving parts, Mulligan said. The engineers provided an image depicting test results which they say show parts of a bolt and bolt carrier 50 percent to 90 percent worn after firing 15,000 rounds while treated with CLP. The DSL-coated parts showed wear ranging from 10 percent to less than 5 percent on the same parts over the same use.

There has been overwhelmingly positive feedback from a limited number of soldiers who have tested the DSL, they said.

Limited user evaluations have been conducted as well, generating overwhelmingly positive feedback, they said.

This summer, the Army will conduct a more comprehensive test at Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland to determine whether DSL meets performance requirements. Tests so far have been on the M4A1, the Army’s most up-to-date rifle. This summer the Army also plans testing on DSL-prepped M240s, the Army’s venerable belt-fed 7.62mm machine gun. Because the Army will own the technology it will be fairly seamless to incorporate into future guns of all varieties.

Mulligan and Foltz said they know some soldiers might react with incredulity to such apparent claims of sorcery.

"We expect skepticism, and we look forward to proving it," Mulligan said. Foltz chimed in: "I was skeptical."

To address the doubters, they made sure a DSL-treated weapon could tolerate a soldier's application of CLP, it a requirement that what they developed would not have a problem if a soldier applied CLP, whether because of doubts or habit.

Kyle Jahner covers soldier uniforms and equipment, Medical Command and Recruiting Command along with investigations and other breaking news for Army Times. He can be reached at kjahner@armytimes.com.