Weapons on display

Last Updated 16 June 2012, 19:21 IST

Rachna Bisht-Rawat speaks to military man  Wills Willis on the evolution of weaponry, as showcased in Discovery Science’s latest offering, ‘Triggers’.

The AK-47, also known as the single most deadly firearm in history with the world’s highest body count, is one of modern times’ most favoured weapons.

It has been seen in the hands of soldiers, terrorists, and most famously SEAL Team Six in their mission to hunt down the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. Want to know more about the Cold War creation? Ask Army Ranger and Air Force Para-rescueman Wil Willis. In his new show Triggers: Weapons That Changed The World, showing on Discovery Science, Willis unravels the history of modern warfare and introduces viewers to firearms that changed the face of combat forever.

These killer beauties include battle rifles from the musket to the modern day sniper rifle, submachine guns, artillery, the AK-47 and even Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs)With access to the top firearms collections in the world, Willis takes viewers on an all-inclusive look into each weapon as he examines, tests, critiques and fires each one and reveals how its development changed the face of combat forever.

The first question one would like to ask Willis is, naturally, what draws him to ugly, life-taking weapons in a world that one wishes would move towards peace? “For me, personally, what makes them so interesting is the idea that somebody can hold such power in their hands and use that power for good or evil. To me that’s fascinating,” he says. “Obviously, I would prefer to use that power for good. The evolution of warfare from the time when we were throwing stones at each other to where we are now is also very interesting.”


Triggers doesn’t take any moral high ground. It just analyses the history behind weapons and tells us bluntly that each weapon had an antecedent that sparked its development, as well as a successor that improved upon its technology — or was developed in response to its supremacy. Each was developed for one reason: to kill.

In non-emotional words: to gain a competitive edge over the enemy. The winner was obviously the fighter with the biggest, best or fastest weapon.

In the series, Willis is joined by historical and technical experts to test iconic firearms and examine what made each one unique. This he says is what gives him a kick.

“I have interesting people show up with interesting weapons, and my guests have more knowledge about their speciality weapon than I could ever have. I really love to talk to these people and pick their brains about everything they know, and ask questions that I think people who don’t know anything about guns might ask, and then, we get to shoot the gun.”

Gun-mounted cameras and high-speed photography are used to capture the bullet’s trajectory, featuring its explosive escape from the barrel to the impact made on its target. “Most days, I feel like I have the greatest job in the world,” grins Willis. Not surprising for a guy coming from a very military background. “I was in the military for 15 years from the ‘90s all the way up until 2008, so a lot of my weapons experience is with current weapon systems,” he says.

Sub-machine gun, the preferred weapon of soldiers, gangsters, law enforcement and terrorists all over the world, was invented to “sweep the trenches” and break the stalemate of World War I.

It gave us the father of all submachine guns — the Thompson, a true game changer that in the hands of a skilled, brave soldier has meant the difference between success and failure. Colt M1911, the most admired and influential pistol of the 20th Century, triggered by centuries of innovations, was invented in a time where soldiers were still riding horseback into battle.

Near the end of World War I, U S Army Corporal Alvin York killed six charging enemy soldiers with a Colt 45 semi-automatic pistol. It was the official side arm of the U S military for 75 years, and 100 years after its introduction.

Similarly, M777 Howitzer is one of the most potent pieces of artillery in combat today and yet it is a direct descendant of the simplest ancient cannon.

So what are the successors of modern weapons that shall surprise us in the future with their precision and power? “When I came into the U S military in 1993, the primary weapon that was being issued was the M16-A2, and now we’ve moved up to the M4 Carbine, which is a variation on the same thing. It’s shorter.

It’s more stealth oriented. It’s lighter. It has a rail system that you can integrate all these attachments on to. There has been an evolution in the weapon system.

There’s night vision and these heat scopes and stuff like that have made this weapon more effective in today’s warfare,” says Willis, explaining the evolution. Since this writer is not a weapons person, it doesn’t impress much, but for those interested in the evolution of the most deadly weapons of the world, Triggers is the program and Willis the man.

Triggers airs on Discovery Science every Monday at 10.30 pm.

(Published 16 June 2012, 12:59 IST)

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