The Army has officially scrapped its search for a short-term replacement for the M4/M16 rifle platform.
Funds for the Interim Combat Service Rifle have been redirected to the long-term project to design the Next Generation Squad Weapon, which will replace the current rifle platform for good. Military Times spotted the announcement on a post on the federal business opportunities website this week.
“Resulting from a change in strategy, the Government is reallocating the ICSR funding to the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW). The NGSW will be a long-term solution to meet the identified capability gap instead of the ICSR, which was an interim solution,” the post says.
When it officially announced the project in August, the Army said it was looking for up to 50,000 commercially available rifles of 7.62 mm caliber.
“The Army has identified a potential gap in the capability of ground forces and infantry to penetrate body armor using existing ammunition,” the Aug. 4 notice said. “To address this operational need, the Army is looking for an Interim Combat Service Rifle (ICSR) that is capable of defeating emerging threats.”
Current and former Army officials have said for some time that the range and stopping power of the 5.56 mm round currently in use underperforms that of rounds used by adversaries.
The M4/M16 platform has also been criticized, in part because of concerns about jamming and overheating.
Most soldiers and Marines carry M4s, M16s, or M27s that fire 5.56 mm rounds. Specialized personnel, like machine-gunners or snipers, already use weapons that fire rounds of 7.62 mm or some other caliber.
The ICSR was seen as a near-term replacement for the M4/M16 to be distributed to selected units — those more likely to face combat — until the NGSW could be developed and implemented. The Army has said that not every soldier would be outfitted with a 7.62 mm rifle.
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In June 2013, the Army ended a competition to replace the M4 without selecting a winner. The more recent ICSR program also took several twists during is short life.
In September, it was first reported by The Firearms Blog that the Army was scrapping the 7.62 mm ICSR plan. No official reason was given at the time, but The Firearms Blog cited sources saying it was canceled because of a lack of a pressing threat, poorly written requirements, and little support from rank-and-file troops or in the Defense Department.
Shortly after that report, however, Army Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings — who, as the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier, oversees the programs that provide most of a soldier’s gear and weapons — said the service was still evaluating a short-term stand-in for the M4/M16.
“It’s not dead,” he told Military.com of the ICSR plan. “The decision has not been made.”
In an Army report at the beginning of October, Cummings downplayed the prominence of the ICSR in Army planning.
“Right now, many are focused on the ICSR” or on the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, Cummings said at the time. “But that’s not the long-term way ahead. The long-term way ahead is a brand new rifle for all of the Department of Defense called the Next Generation Squad Weapon.”
Cummings compared the NGSW program to the Modular Handgun System, which developed and introduced a new sidearm for the Army: “It’ll be one complete system, with weapon, magazine, ammo, and fire control on it and we will cut down on the load and integration issues associated with it.”
The NGSW would be “one end-all solution,” he added, with a carbine model replacing the M4 and a rifle version replacing the M249 squad automatic weapon. The weapon would likely fire a caliber between 5.56 and 7.62 mm. The Army is likely to see the first NGSWs by 2022, he said, with other enhancements arriving by 2025.