Pfc. Donald Watkins via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Army is working rapidly to decide on its next generation infantry rifle – its first new all-purpose infantry weapon in decades. Three companies are competing for the opportunity to replace both the venerable M4 (M-16 carbine variant) rifle, and the widely used M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), with one rifle, reports Defense News (DN).

The three Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) prototypes made by Sig Sauer, Textron Systems, and General Dynamics Ordnance, were tested in September. The next prototype test will be in six months, February 2021. The Army hopes to start fielding its new rifle by late 2022.

DN describes the three prototypes:

Sig Sauer’s design looks much like a conventional assault rifle while GD is using a bullpup design, which shortens the length by building the magazine feed into the weapon stock. Textron has built its weapon around the cartridge, which is unique to them, a cased telescope item that has the projectile inside of the casing to reduce weight.

Meanwhile, Sig Sauer reportedly provided an ammunition cartridge that mixes a steel lower and brass upper to reduce weight.

The new rifle will also sport the new 6.8mm caliber to replace both the 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm of the M4 and M249 respectively. Defense News notes that:

The 6.8mm projectile was chosen after decades of testing and evaluation showed that 5.56mm lethality at mid-ranges on the battlefield was inadequate and existing 7.62mm could be outperformed by the 6.8mm round and save weight for the soldier.

The new caliber also gives the soldier both a rifle and automatic rifle firing the same round, both effective past the 600m mark of existing light calibers.

In April the Army also selected L3 Technologies and Vortex Optics, to compete for the new rifle’s fire control, which should field six months before the weapon to allow the chosen manufacturer time to integrate the new optic with the new rifle.

Maj. Wyatt Ottmar, NGSW project officer for the Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, explained to Defense News that Infantry, Stryker and Armor Brigade Combat Teams will be the first to receive the new rifle. But, DN adds, ultimately “the weapon will be fielded to all close combat forces, including special operations forces, infantry, combat engineers and scouts.”

Meanwhile, even though the Marine Corps is still fielding its brand new 5.56mm M27 infantry automatic rifles to its grunts as their new standard issue weapon, the Corps is already looking at the Army’s NGSW as its own future infantry rifle.

It appears the Marines got a bit ahead of themselves, and now see both the utility of interoperability with the Army, and the enhanced lethality of the new 6.8mm round. If they move forward in partnership with the Army, the Marines could start receiving their own NGSWs by 2025.

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Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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11 months ago

In reality, both the 5.56 and 7.62 rounds are getting a bit “long in the tooth” and neither really fits in for modern warfare.
If the military still wants “familiarity” in weaponry, they could have already adopted a pre-existing rifle/cartridge combination by adopting a version of the M-16 rifle in either the 6.5 Grendel or 6.8 SPC cartridges. Even converting existing rifles only requires swapping barrels and bolt heads, while retaining all other parts of the existing rifles.

10 months ago

YES get rid of that damn 223, and teach these guys how to shoot so they don’t waste 1000 rounds to wound the enemy