Firearms Makers Fear U.S. Army Not Playing Fair with Carbine Competition

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.

[h/t Military.com]

comments

  1. avatar Frank says:

    The irony is hilarious as the “good ol’ boys” must’ve forgot that the AR-15 was one of the smaller, lighter rifles compared to everything else when it was introduced. Still I bet the contract will go to whomever can bribe the most people.

    1. avatar freeport56 says:

      Nailed it exactly!

  2. avatar pair-o-dee says:

    Yeah, well Sons of Guns can easily handle adding another gunsmith workbench.

    1. avatar Jwhite says:

      “Neva Been Don Befo”

  3. avatar Kirk says:

    It is yet another example of only large, very large corporations being capable of surviving their brush with government. Dear TTAG, Investigators Extraordinaire: Who’s name is atop the approval of the RFP? Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. avatar Tim McNabb says:

    I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect a competitor to have the capacity to fill the orders. The best gun that cannot be fielded does not help anyone.

    1. avatar Mike OFWG says:

      If the life cycle of the next weapon is anywhere near the fifty years of the AR platform, I don’t see a problem for any company to ‘ramp up’. There is also the sub contractor route, if mass quantities are required, as in WWII.

    2. avatar NR says:

      The problem appears to be that they expect them to have the manufacturing facilities in place *before* they win the contract.

  5. avatar Don says:

    The government contract should be in two parts. The first one should be for the best design and pay a licensing fee to that firm. The second should be for the production part which would have to go to a larger company. It goes without saying that the manufacturer would have to be capable of making large numbers of weapons to quality standards in a specific time frame, maybe several different manufacturers. In WW2 more than one made the same weapons systems to the same design.

    1. avatar Anthony Meruelo says:

      *Boom* Headshot. That is exactly what needs to happen. I mean, how many companies produced the M1 Carbine? Like 8, at least.

      1. avatar Jwhite says:

        They wouldnt be able to kickback their friends though. I’ve noticed that more and more in business. Everyone is always kicking back their friends, even if its not the best idea, or the best for the company. I watched our marketing get outsourced to a company who took 6 months to write 2 pages of a website. and another 3 months to “design” the site. We had to go back and redo everything, and eventually said f*&k it. Its all about who you know, and who gets the kickback. Sadly, thats not always the best way to get shit done.

    2. avatar crosswiredmind says:

      How many companies out there would invest in the R&D only to have another company swoop in and collect the return on that investment?

      1. avatar Dorcil Brown says:

        That’s exactly what happened to Bantam after they designed the Jeep. Willy’s got the contract to build and Bantam went out of business.

  6. avatar O.N. says:

    If the U.S Army played fair, Americans would be toting FN FALs into Vietnam.

    1. avatar Sean says:

      And might have actually won that war…

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        The soldiers won every battle in Vietnam. The politicians lost every battle at home.

        1. avatar CarlosT says:

          Which is missing the point entirely. Unless you’re going for genocide, war is about making it so that the opponent is either unable or unwilling to fight. If you can’t do that, you lose. The actual outcome of the battles is irrelevant. The Americans lost most of the battles in the Revolutionary War, but won the war. You can win a hundred battles where you kill thousands and lose mere dozens, but if the enemy is willing to fight one more than you are, they win.

    2. avatar Nater says:

      In .280 British, no less.

      1. avatar Tom says:

        Which was really not a bad rifle round. I like the British round as a combat system better than the .223.

  7. avatar crosswiredmind says:

    Good design is not enough. The company must also be able to deliver the goods. Why is that so shocking?

    1. avatar Moonshine7102 says:

      Actually, out here in the real world it is not uncommon for the design phase of a project to be separate from the implementation phase. Doing so allows the project manager to assign the design of a product to a company most capable of fulfilling the needs of the project, while the award for implementation is given to the manufacturer most capable of delivering the final product.

      1. avatar CarlosT says:

        And in the military as well. FNH didn’t design it, but they make the vast majority, if not all, of the M16s used by the US military. I think there’s a high chance that if they went with a process like what you guys are describing, FNH would end up as the manufacturer.

        1. avatar Nick Leghorn says:

          Which I would be fine with. FNH makes good quality stuff, but for their own designs (the SCAR, for example) I’ve never really been a fan.

        2. avatar Powers says:

          foghorn, can you get over to the TFR ar-15 megathread and tell us all about this over there.

  8. avatar mdv says:

    I can’t comprehend why anybody would say a gas piston system or DI driven weapon system is a bad idea. Personal preference I understand, however, to say that both of those operating systems wouldn’t out perform the traditional blow back system is simply ignorant. This is what happens when you get gun boys talking about what is best for the U.S Army when they have never even been down range. Let me tell you something… I was a Marine and severed in OIF (08) and OEF (09), and the current weapon systems are terrible to say the least. Operating in these modern conflicts with the same platform that was designed for a 16 – 20” barrel is terrible. If survivability is your goal, and a part of surving means keeping your weapon in battery, why would you NOT want a weapon system that keeps everything clean.

    After the review on there about the M6A2 from LWRC, I went out and bought one. After, putting thousands of rounds through it (mine is the 6.8spc version) I can honestly say that in my professional opinion, I would have done anything to have a weapon system like the M6A2 while I was deployed. It has never jammed, it doesn’t need cleaned, its ridiculously accurate. This to me, is the ideal service rifle.

    On another note, the fact that the Army is searching for a weapon that fires full auto is…. and most are going to blast me for this…. stupid! Let me tell you something, in the four years I served in the Marine Infantry (2nd bn 3rd Mar 3rd MARDIV), I never not even once, fired my m-16/ m-4 during annual training, or a work up for a deployment. Typical, it is against most range regulations. And guess what all the bad ass Marines do as soon as they get in country with no rules? They use the three round burst like they put in an infinite ammo cheat on some stupid video game. It is safe to say, that the Army, will never provide the proper training necessary to develop propper shooting mechanics for a damn service rifle under 7 lbs in full auto to EVERY solider. Hell, they would not even be able to do this for every infantryman/ scout/ cav or ranger! Disagree? That’s fine. However I’m tellling you, it WON’T happen. Accuracy by volume is the last thing you want all of your rifleman practicing when they are typically carrying 240 rounds on patrol. If you get in an 18 hour TIC (troops in contact) and you use full auto, (which like I said early, EVERYBODY will cause its so “bad ass”) your going to run out of rounds real quick.

    Moral of the story, go gas piston or DI semi – auto.

    1. avatar NR says:

      I agree. but who’s saying that blowback is better than pistons and DI? I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of a blowback rifle (except maybe some of the older HK designs? I’m not sure.)

      Full auto is definitely a bad idea.

      1. avatar Gossven says:

        IIRC you don’t see a lot of blow back rifles because most centerfire rifle round create too much pressure to operate safely that way. My guess is that he means gas piston like in an AK or an M1.

        1. avatar mdv says:

          I was referring to the operation of the gas blowing back directly on the bolt. Otherwise know as gas operation. gas piston and DI are different. sorry for the confusion

      2. avatar Nater says:

        Roller delayed blowback is a great operating system. There is a reason why the G3 is considered the most durable of the old 7.62x51mm battle rifles.

        The problem is that it tends to produce more felt recoil than other systems when firing the same cartridge. Don’t believe me? Go shoot a G3/HK-91 and then go shoot a Mk 17/SCAR-17S and then talk to me.

        It also has fairly stringent ammunition requirements. That’s probably not a big deal for the military, but you never know.

        I wonder if it would be possible to build a roller delayed blowback rifle with some sort or recoil balancing system like you see on the AEK-971. I would think it would be possible, since I believe all that happens in a rifle like the AEK is the rearward travel of the bolt carrier levers a counter mass forward down it’s own travel tube.

    2. avatar Jeff says:

      I think your missing the point(s).

      1st) Full Auto: If the firearm is reliable in full auto over large numbers of rounds it is easy to remove that feature, or substitute a burst feature and keep the weapon reliable. If the weapon reliability is proven, and the design contract awarded based on a burst fire varient and later they decide they want full auto problems can arise. Like the M4 system where full auto performance is less than steller in the mid length platform.

      2nd) As for action type I don’t think anyone was saying that blowback was the best. It was more that requiring ANY single action type (they are specifying gas piston) is the wrong way t go. Let the designers figure out the best solution. Back when the M16 was adopted no one (other than Stoner) had tried to market a DI system to the military. If the military had refused to consider it because it wasn’t a gas piston design we might have wound up with either runnin M14s for an additional 10-20 years or adopting the Mini-14 as a smallerand lighter version. Obviously niether choice would have been ideal.

    3. avatar ihatetrees says:

      It is safe to say, that the Army, will never provide the proper training necessary to develop propper shooting mechanics for a damn service rifle under 7 lbs in full auto to EVERY solider. Hell, they would not even be able to do this for every infantryman/ scout/ cav or ranger! Disagree?

      As a long ago Army infantryman (Gulf War), I completely agree. Command (and the range system) will have a hard time training the grunts with full auto. You can forget about support personnel. Not to mention the heart attack that Army Bean Counters will have when they get the bill for realistic full auto training for every soldier.

      Full auto should be reserved for separate weapon with a quick change barrel. One per squad like the M249.
      If you need close work full auto, equip and train select squads with an MP-5 or similar animal.

    4. avatar 101abn says:

      Thank you, myself and many others had the misfortune of being issued M-16s, the “Black Rifle”, we knew it was a POS first time on range. Full auto was discouraged. I “insisted” my defensive fire team keep their rifles on semi at all times. I spent 18 months with the 2nd 503rd Regimental Combat Team/173rd Abn. in Okinawa, we had M-14s, “running thru the jungle”. If a soldier can not handle a full battle rifle and carry ammo, he or she is in the wrong business. No argument on the need for advanced weapons, but, please, let us not go to full auto BB guns, so our troops can control recoil and carry more ammo.

    5. avatar Tom says:

      I knew a guy who was in the 101st in the A-Shau valley that kept his M-16 on semi-auto the whole time he was there.

  9. avatar GA Koenig says:

    It says a lot about Nick’s personal take on rifles when, out of all the interesting new stuff out there, his modern carbine of choice is a gussied up version of the same overextended platform we’ve been hanging crap off of for 50 years. Rear charging handle? Forward assist?

    The military should just adopt the SCAR 16s across the board and be done with it. Tweak the stocks to make them a bit stouter for Pvt. Snuffy, lengthen the rail a bit and start issuing PMags (either the E series or the new M3). That non-recip charging handle sounds nice as well. It is a capable, lightweight system that has been heavily tested, is tooled for production and is made by a company with the sort of tooling for mass issue already in place.

    But of course, the US Government will find a way to clusterfuck this whole affair and make it take 3x as long for 3x as much cost as it would otherwise.

    1. avatar Nater says:

      You do know that the SCAR is a gussied up version of a rifle developed 40 years ago, right? Hell, it’s a gussied up version of a rifle designed by the same man or designed the AR-10/15. See Armalite AR-16/18. Pretty much every modern Western rifle uses the AR-16’s operating system. The AUG, the L85, the G36, the F2000, the SCAR, and the ACR all do. The FAMAS is the only exception that I can think of.

      1. avatar GA Koenig says:

        The operating system (piston, bolt locking, and internal ballistics) is not something that needs some major revolution. Bullets launch the same as they always have.

        Or think of it this way – my MacPro, MacBook Air and iPhone all basically run a version of Unix first booted up in the 1970s.

        What has changed are materials, accessories, tactics and conflicts. The M16 was designed around the idea of open warfare with a uniformed enemy in northern Europe. Long ranges, long length of contact and an enemy force focused on volume of assets over quality of assets. Infantry were to spend nearly the entire conflict dismounted. Room clearing and CQB operations were highly limited. Optics, night vision, lights, lasers (for NVG use or as squad leader target designators) were essentially nonexistent. Manufacturing technology was in a nearly completely different state.

        The industry has done a remarkable job of keeping the AR platform updated to fill these needs over time. Shorter and shorter variants of the AR allow it to perform better in vehicle based operations and for CQB. New free-float hand guards and various mounts have allowed the adoption of a whole world of accessories.

        Even so, the DI system offers no real benefit compared to a solid piston design and they are a liability in conflicts that take place in arid environments (read: lots of fine particle dust) at high operational tempos (little time to sit around, cleaning weapons). The Army also now has M4 and M16 rifles wearing a hodgepodge of parts, to the point where the primary weapons can differ from company to company (not in huge ways, but still different enough). The AR platform also has plenty of opportunities to tighten up and shed some weight/complexity/size based on how modern rifles are used: folding stocks are great for guys who will spend most of the day mounted in an MRAP. Forward charging handles are simply superior to the AR’s setup. Why carry the weight of whatever hacked on system is used to bolt on the hand guard (a monolithic upper from a single piece of extruded aluminum is vastly superior).

        I’m not anti AR, but the system has been modded and moulded far beyond the original design intent. Why not start with a clean sheet of paper and build a truly modern battle rifle designed around today’s needs, from the ground up?

        Christ – we’re talking about a project that is a minor fraction of the cost of even the smallest USAF boondoggle. That we need to have such petty debates about our infantry forces receiving a new rifle is utterly pathetic.

  10. avatar GS650G says:

    Maybe they should just outfit our troops with AK-47s and be done with it.

    1. avatar Nater says:

      Yes. Let’s do that. Give them a rifle that isn’t compatible with modular rifle accessory systems. “What? You can’t mount a PEQ-15 or a 203 on it?” Give them a rifle that doesn’t work with the common rifle optics. Good luck getting proper eye relief with an RCO on it. Give them a rifle that is the very definition of poor user ergonomics. Give them a rifle that fires a round that is effective to 300m. Give them a rifle that shoots 4MOA.

      Anyone who suggests the AK just doesn’t have a clue.

      1. avatar Derek says:

        Methinks ye missed the sarcasm…

  11. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    The bidding is rigged, of course. There’s a reason why Colt continues to keep winning the bids. Colt owns the “TDP” – technical data package – on the M-16 and M-4. The US military is only licensed to use the TDP in procurement. If the US military “second sources” a weapon based on the Colt TDP, the military must pay a royalty fee to Colt on each weapon acquired from a second source.

    The history of the M-16/M-4 programs is rife with political collusion, corruption clear up to Congress and throughout the defense procurement process. The object of the requirement that any company answering the RFP must be able to produce the rifles as they stand now is a clear example of Colt’s bid-rigging.

    One of the best things that could happen to the US firearms industry would be if Colt went out of business for once and for all.

  12. avatar Accur81 says:

    I may upset folks with this post, but here goes:

    Pistons offer much greater reliability, cooler operation, and ease of maintenance than gas-impingement.

    LWRC currently makes the best piston AR, with their IAR being the best light – support option (and I wish I could have carried an IAR over an M249 SAW all those years), but there are several high end manufactures that could also fit the bill. It’s more important that this process provides the Army with the best service rifle than the manufacturers with the most opportunity.

    The 6.5 Grendel is the best designated marksman / overwatch round (although it’s shape will probably be challenging in high capacity magazines), and the 6.8 SPC SPEC II is the best CQB to 300 meters and LE round. The .50 Beowulf is the best at “stopping” vehicles (shoot it at the first opportunity you get). The 5.56 is marginal in either capacity. The 5.56 is especially dismal at degrading and penetrating cinder blocks in an urban environment. Only the machine gunners should have the full auto option – the rest will need burst – I totally agree with the other infantry Marine on that point, as I have served 6 1/2 years as a grunt with them as well.

    Regardless, the US Army will make a heavily political decision, and the best weapons and ammunition will be used by the Seals, Recon, SpecOps, and others “in the know.” Some douchebag Colonel or General who doesn’t get anywhere near the action will sing the praises of the new system(s), and US Soldiers will die because they are shooting centerfire .22’s against larger and heavier .30 caliber rounds. Again.

    1. avatar Tom says:

      I would like the military to ditch the 5.56 and go with something better and has a little more poop down range. I mean the .223 started as the .222 magnum which was a groundhog round. I thought the .243 Win would have been nice.

  13. avatar ST says:

    The requirements are the requirements. If a company cannot meet them then they shouldn’t submit a proposal. Glock won the Austrian army pistol contract when many established firms thought competing for it was a waste of time given the stringent requirements.

    Regardless of who wins the contract rest assured the military bureaucracy will still add pointless and redundant PC features to the next rifle.

  14. avatar Sean says:

    A few things.

    First, aren’t we OFFICIALLY $15 trillion in debt? How the hell can the US afford tens of billions for new rifles?

    Second, what do these current new designs offer that justify going further into debt for? Are they drastically better than an M4?

    Three, just look at which congresscum have stock in what defense companies. That will tell you which company will get the contract.

    1. avatar O.N. says:

      America is a debt-based empire. No plans are being made to repay the trillions. Until the U.S. dollar is dethroned by another currency nothing will change.

      http://www.alternativeright.com/main/blogs/malinvestments/america-s-magic-mountain/

  15. avatar Tom W, says:

    I’ve also heard the “scuttlebutt” about replacing the Beretta M9 as the standard pistol for the military.

    I doubt anything is going to change with BHO in office, for either platform.

    However, a .300 AAC rd. in a DI platform would beef up the ballistics, over the 5.56, the bolt carrier, receiver and mags, would stay the same as standard AR, and the DI action is cleaner/less maint.

    Except for Spec Op Teams that can choose anything,…an American Co. should be able to compete if the military is truly serious about changing.

    1. avatar Nater says:

      The .300 BLK isn’t effective much beyond 200m. That’ll work out well in Afghanistan.

      1. avatar bp says:

        Except 90%+ of all engagements happen short of 300m. Maybe what needs to happen is for them to actually figure out that one single design isn’t going to be best everywhere. You can either go “overboard” for most conflicts and equip everyone with 308s, or you can instead issue what makes the most sense in each location.

        Oh, and who cares whats useful in Afghanistan. WTH are we doing there anyway? When they manage to figure out how to project power across oceans then I’ll start to worry (hint, the USA is really the only country left in the world that can do that). How so much of our population has been duped into thinking countries without running water are a threat to our safety is totally beyond me.

        1. avatar Robert Farago says:

          I thought the whole point of 5.56 was to lay down suppressing fire to allow troops to maneuver. Or hold the enemy in place while someone else blows them to smithereens with mortar fire. Or a helicopter strike. Drone missile. You know, lots of low-weight bullets for the troops and then BOOM!

          Back in June we reported that the Marines were thinking of kicking suppressing fire to the curb in favor of “fire superiority.” But sticking with the standard issue rifle. Go figure.

          Shouldn’t we decide on tactics first? Or maybe not. I’m half-way towards agreeing on giving our troops AKs or similar. Something dead nuts reliable in a handy caliber that they can figure out how to use “creatively.” The problem with teams equipped with specialist equipment—a M here and XM-25 there a sniper rifle way the f over there—is that something always goes wrong. Our enemies know the value of flexibility. We should too.

        2. avatar 101abn says:

          I have talked to a few men that just came back from the dunes, they said same thing, the 5.56 was an “enabler”, manuver the other side into a killing zone, the M14s, air strikes, artillary, made most of the kills. Nothing good to say about M16s/M4s in a head to head fire fight. Lot of failures to fire there. This has been the case for over 45 years. Colt has the market, and with political generals/leaders at the desk, they most likely will keep it. Our military has been deployed as full time mercenaries since Vietnam, mercenaries are expendable.

        3. avatar Tom says:

          Very true statement.

  16. avatar Sig says:

    Three points: First, the Army is already replacing the M9 with the M11, a Sig Sauer P226. This was how I talked my wife into letting me buy a P229.

    Second: As a data point, all of my engagements in Afghanistan were over 350 meters.

    Third: If I stay in long enough, eventually those “old” M4s may filter down to we of the Nasty Guard. Until then, I guess I’ll keep the -16A2 clean…

  17. avatar Ralph says:

    Would you rather have the contract for 100,000 rifles, or a couple of “stealth” type aircraft?

    Keep your eye on the ball. The real money isn’t in small arms.

    1. avatar CarlosT says:

      Depends. Can I build a stealth aircraft? Do I have the expertise? If I’m FNH, it’s better to compete in the small arms market than the fighter jet market.

      Besides which, it’s not a contract for 100,000 rifles, really. It’s a contract for 100,000 rifles now, which will become a contract for millions of rifles down the line.

  18. avatar Luc says:

    Whatever new gun they choose will still have a host of “problems” caused by stupid people behind the gun & poor inventory management.

    No matter what gun you come up with someone will manage to jam it. The military would do itself a lot of good if it increased the standards when it comes to weapons use, handling, maintenance & information.

    Next would be to get rid of out of spec inventory. A great example of this is magazines. A lot of problems are caused by faulty/worn out mags, yet you’ll still find them in inventory. Get rid of magazines if they’re out of spec & replace the followers & springs periodically. If the new gun the military chooses is still being fed with old, worn out, beat up magazines it’s gonna have problems.

    The military should reevaluate it’s testing procedure while they’re at it. Some of the tests are so over the top and really only demonstrate how quickly the parts of the gun wear.

  19. avatar Matt Gregg says:

    I don’t see anything on that list that the M16/M4 can’t do just fine already.Given our current debt and economic situation, I can’t believe they are even spending money on these trials. The M9 pistol and M16 variants are going to continue to be standard issue for the foreseeable future.Our next major weapon upgrade will probably be directed energy weapons, until then we’ve got a pretty good assortment of firearms.

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