US Army’s M4 Carbine Replacement Program

The US Army announced Aug. 29 2019 that it has selected three companies to develop prototype service weapons it says will make ground troops more lethal in future battles. The US Army will select a single supplier to manufacture weapons and ammunition for the ground troops.

Dubbed the Next-Generation Squad Weapon program (NGSW) the US Army is asking industry to come up with weapon and ammunition designs that will enhance some of the capabilities of the current M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon carried by most front-line Army units.

Key Features of NGSW

  • The automatic rifle version of the NGSW to weigh no more than 12 pounds and have a maximum length of 35 inches, according to the prototype opportunity notice document.
  • Both the automatic rifle and carbine versions of the NGSW will feature an advanced fire-control system designed to automatically adjust for environmental conditions.
  • Both the automatic rifle and carbine version will integrate thermal, infrared pointer and other weapons accessories into one system.
  • The new rifle and automatic rifle must be able to engage targets out to 600 meters. The current chambered in 5.56mm, the M4 and SAW has a lethal range of about 300 meters.
  • The NGSW could defeat any future body armor or any planned future body armor.
  • The Army’s Next-Generation Squad Weapon program is developing a 6.8mm round short magnum cartridge lusing lighter materials to ease the soldier’s load. The magnum cartridge that weighs 140 gram and which has a muzzle velocity of 3,200 feet per second.

In its announcement on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Army said it had selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical SystemsAAI Corporation Textron Systems and Sig Sauer as the three finalists for the program. Previously FN America LLC — which makes many of the Army’s current M4 rifles and PCP Tactical were being considered for the NGSW program, now both FN and PCP Tactical are out of the competition.

The Army is asking GD, Textron and Sig Sauer each to supply 53 assault rifles, 43 squad automatic rifles and 850,000 rounds of ammunition for testing. The contract lasts for eight years, but the prototype testing will last for 27 months — in line with the Army’s stated goal to have the new rifle and machine gun fielded to combat units by 2022.

The 27-month test program will include “soldier touch point” tests that evaluate “mobility and maneuverability on Army relevant obstacles, and user acceptance scenario testing,”

The US Army

The service will also test the weapon’s controllability, the round’s ballistic effectiveness and a “limited evaluation with Soldiers in the loop to assess the suitability and effectiveness for combat operations.”

The key to the program is the development of the cartridge itself. The Army has asked industry to develop a round with a 6.8mm bullet. The exact specifications and the threats it would be designed to counter are still secret, but industry officials say the bigger, heavier bullet will reach nearly double the distance with more lethal force than the smaller, 5.56 round.

Proposed NGSW by Industry

General Dynamics has been developing a 6.8mm round with a polymer case, helping reduce the weight of extra ammo a soldier might carry employing a rifle with a larger, heavier round.

Textron has spent years developing a so-called “cased-telescoped” round that is even lighter and smaller than the GD option. That round has mostly been a test bed for the Army to explore ways to lighten a soldier’s ammunition load but has been given a new lease on life with the NGSW program.

Textron announced that it will lead a team that includes Heckler & Koch for its small-arms design, research and development, and manufacturing capabilities. It will work with Olin Winchester for its small-caliber ammunition production capabilities.

Sig Sauer — maker of the Army’s new M17 and M18 handgun — has taken a more traditional approach with a 6.8mm round incorporating a blended metal case that is still lighter than an all-brass one.

The Army says it has the option to make a selection during the first 27-month prototype phase and award a final contract. The service says it wants to buy up to 250,000 weapons — a combination of rifles and automatic rifles — and up to 150 million rounds of the new 6.8mm ammunition.

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