The U.S. Army is in the process of selecting a company to make a replacement for the aging M4 carbines currently in use, a competition commonly referred to as the Individual Carbine (IC) competition. The idea behind the competition is to replace Eugene Stoner’s 50+ year old AR-15 with something that would help our warfighters keep us (and themselves) safe. Something better. Thanks to some hefty requirements, some of the top competitors (with some of the best guns) are dropping out of the competition before it even starts . . .
Thanks (in part) to the competition, this year’s SHOT show featured dozens of new and improved assault rifles. Some of the guns were interesting designs from reputable companies like LWRC’s IC. Others are improved versions of existing guns, such as FNH’s SCAR 16 with non-reciprocating charging handle and Remington’s newly lightened ACR.
The main requirements of the proposed RFP (Request For Proposals) are:
- “True” full auto capability (no burst only firearms)
- Fully ambidextrous controls
- The ability to change calibers at the armorer level
- Recoil mitigation for full auto fire
- Mid-length gas system and barrel
- Gas piston operating system
- 16 inch barrel
- Non-DODIC ammunition must be tested separately (AKA 5.56 NATO highly encouraged)
- Self lubricating internal component coating and IR defeating external coating
- Match grade trigger
- Monolithic rail system
- Side and/or forward charging handles
- Improved accessories
- High capacity magazines (over 30 rounds)
The RFP requires that companies angling for the contractmust be able to turn out thousands of these guns every month. Smaller companies that cater primarily to the civilian market don’t have the capital and machinery to dedicate enough floor space, machines and man hours to make these guns—without knowing for sure that they have the contract in hand.
To meet the requirement, LWRC attempted to partner with a government production facility to provide extra capacity. According to the latest RFP version they would be penalized for reaching out and cooperating with the military production plants.
Bottom line: the smaller and more innovative firearm manufacturers are being pushed out of the competition in favor of more “traditional” firearms designs and gunmakers (e.g., FNH and Remington).
Alex Robinson of Robinson Arms, a company that makes a modular firearm that’s not in line with the Army’s RFP, is not happy. “If we are going to develop for our country a new rifle, shouldn’t we take all preconceived notions off the table and try to come up with what is really the best for Soldiers?”
The Air Force ran into a similar problem developing the F-16. The upper brass tried to derail Col. Boyd and his “Lightweight Fighter Program,” a move away from the larger, heavier and more expensive airplanes favored by the larger, heavier and more expensive defense contractors. The end result was a compromise between the two camps, saving the Air Force from its own bureaucratic inertia.
The Army is in danger of doing the exact same thing: asking for a weapon system that is a logical progression from the AR-15 / M4 platform built by the “good ol’ boys” of the industry—instead of throwing the gates wide open and considering some of the newer, smaller, lighter and better designs on the market.
I don’t normally like gas piston AR-15s, but I really liked LWRC’s IC rifle. If I was going “downrange” THAT would be the gun I want. But if the Army gets its way our warfighters may be stuck using a substandard firearm design.