Reader John Dingell III writes:
The U.S. Army appears to be moving full steam ahead with the replacement of the M4 Carbine and its 5.56mm cartridges with the Next-Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW). It will be chambered in some version of the 6.8mm caliber cartridge that will replace both the 5.56 M4 and the M249 SAW.
Nick Adde posted a long form article on the status of this program in the January 2019 issue of National Defense magazine, the house organ of the National Defense Industrial Association:
The new weapon would fire a 6.8 mm round, which both the service and representatives from industry who are vying for the contract to build it are embracing. The round, they say, would provide the right balance of lethality required in both close- and long-range fights. Proponents say it is both lighter and deadlier than the 5.56 mm NATO round, the ammunition it would replace.
“Ninety percent of our casualties are coming from 4 per-cent of our force,” said Daryl Easlick, small arms deputy at the lethality branch of the maneuver capabilities and integration directorate, at Fort Benning, Georgia. “This means those close-combat [military occupational specialties] that close with and destroy the enemy are the most likely to be injured. Those are the ones we’re concentrating on the most when looking at these modernization efforts.”
Adde also posted an article specifically on the 6.8mm caliber cartridge selection.
Mark Cancian, a senior international security advisor with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a retired Marine Corps officer, said the Army “is trying to fix a tension that has existed in small arms for a century.”
Cancian noted the institutional desire on the Army’s part to improve the lethality of small arms, with the focus on ammunition. When the service published a semi-formal request for ideas on FedBiz-Opps last October, it specifically mentioned the intent to move to the higher caliber from the current 5.56 NATO round now in use with the M4 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon.
In the announcement, contractors were told to submit their ideas under an other transaction agreements authority, which is used specifically to solicit prototype ideas. The service would then review the proposals after 27 months, and then award a follow-on production contract.
The plan to adopt the higher caliber represents a “compromise” on the Army’s part, Cancian said, but not one without inherent challenges.
“It’s very expensive and very hard to change calibers,” he said “Improving the ammunition is by far an easier way to improve lethality.”
The “tension” exists between proponents of ammunition suitable for short-range and longer-range fights. This, he said, is what the lethality team is coming to terms with today as it seeks to develop the new round and its corresponding weapon.
Not much new, but taken together it does appear that the U.S. Army is very serious about adopting a new shoulder arm this time around. The top brass are demonstrating real commitment to the program.
The belt-fed 6.8mm plastic cartridge Textron squad automatic seems fairly well-developed and meets the program goals, but doesn’t translate into a carbine well. I don’t know much about the other contenders which presumably are still contenders.
As for how soon the change will happen, that depends on the vagaries of the military procurement process.
Factor in the current political and budgetary climate, and any visions of a closing date for the project become even murkier. In essence, if the money is there, testing would be completed sooner. If not, that date would slide to the right accordingly.
“Budget cycles are painful at best,” Easlick said. “We try to read the tea leaves and make sure we have some sort of plan. It’s dependent upon our senior leaders going back to lawmakers, and making sure they’re dotting I’s and crossing T’s.”
Translation: don’t look for the new weapons in the field any time soon.