How the Army plans to update its infantry rifle
The Army and the Marine Corps have both been looking for new small arms, and while the Marines have decided to give the M27 to a wider portion of the force, the Army says it will forge ahead with the development of a totally new, next-generation rifle.
The Army ditched plans for a interim replacement for the M16/M4 platform in November, announcing that it would direct funds dedicated to that effort to the development of the Next Generation Squad Weapon, which will be the permanent replacement for the current rifle platform.
The program will now proceed in two phases, senior Army officers told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee this week. Lt. Gen. John Murray, Army deputy chief of staff, G-8, said the first step will be acquiring the 7.62 mm Squad Designated Marksmanship Rifle.
"That gives us the ability to penetrate the most advanced body armor in the world," Murray told the subcommittee, responding to questions about shortcomings in the Army's current rifles and ammunition.
"We are accelerating the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle to 2018," he said, according to . "We will start fielding that in 2018."
Shell casing fall to the ground as rounds are fired out of an M-249 during weapons training at Beale Air Force Base, Dec. 20, 2017. The M-249 fires 5.56 millimeter and is gas powered, has a maximum range of 3,600 meters. It is capable of hitting a single point target at 600 meters and a group target at 800 meters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Colville McFee)
Murray said distribution of the advanced 7.62 mm armor-piercing round, which the Army hoped to see this year, won't happen until 2019. But the SDMR, he added, "will still penetrate that body armor, but you can't get that extended range that is possible with the next-generation round."
The second phase will be the adoption of the Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon. Murray said the Army would not follow the Marine Corps' lead with the M27.
"We've been pushed on the M27, which the Marine Corps has adopted. That is also a 5.56 mm, which doesn't penetrate," he told senators, according to Marine Corps Times. "So we're going to go down the path of [the] Next Generation Squad Weapon."
The first version to arrive will likely be the an automatic rifle to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon, which also fires a 5.56 mm round, Murray said.
The Marines brought in the M27 in 2010 to replace the M249. The Corps has kept both weapons, equipping the automatic rifleman in each infantry fire team with an M27 — though it began looking at wider distribution of the rifle among infantrymen in 2016. An M27 variant has also been tested as the Corps' squad-designated marksman weapon.
Murray told senators that the Army's M249 replacement is "to be closely followed, I'm hopeful, with either a rifle or a carbine that will fire something other than a 5.56 mm."
Murray added that the new rifle likely won't fire 7.62 mm rounds either, but rather some caliber in between, potentially a "case-telescoping round, probably polymer cased to reduce the weight of it."
Murray said the Army has a demonstration version of the NGSW, which was made by Textron System. But, he added, it is "too big" and "too heavy," and the Army had opened the process to the commercial industry to offer new ideas or a prototype for the new weapon.
The new rifle might weigh more than the current rifle, but the ammunition will likely weigh less, and it would offer better penetration and greater range.
"That is what we see as a replacement for the M4 in the future," Murray said.
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 late last year that the Army is likely to see the first NGSW by 2022, with other enhancements arriving by 2025.
A pile of 7.62 millimeter rounds are coiled on the ground during weapons training at Beale Air Force Base, Dec. 20, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Colville McFee/Released)
The Army also began distributing its new sidearms, the M17 and M18, late last year. A Pentagon report issued in January detailed several problems that cropped up during testing in 2017, but the Army and the manufacturer downplayed the severity of those issues.
The Army has made several attempts to replace the M4 in recent years. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Army Times this week that an M4 replacement was one of the top two priorities of the service's new Futures Command, which will bring the Army's modernization priorities together under the umbrella of a new organization.
"We've started conversations with Congress," McCarthy said of the command, which was announced in October. "If we were to move out this spring, we could even start by the end of this calendar year."
The development process for Army equipment, including rifles, is to be streamlined under Futures Command, overseen by cross-functional teams that correspond to the service's six modernization priorities, according to Defense News.