Like any huge government bureaucracy, the U.S. military tends to be slow to change. They kept the same pistol from 1911 until 1985. They’ve basically been running variants of the M16 in most roles since the Vietnam war. So when we say that the Army’s choice of a new squad rifle is a “once in a lifetime” piece of news, that isn’t much of an exaggeration.
Yesterday they announced the culmination of a years-long process with the adoption of the new MCX-SPEAR XM5 rifle (which will replace the M4 over time) and SIG-LMG M250 machine gun (replacing the M249 SAW).
SIG’s entries the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) competition are based on the SIG MCX rifle, and use 6.8x51mm hybrid ammunition (.277 FURY). SIG will also make SIG SLX suppressors for the rifles. The value of the contract has been estimated as high as $6.5 billion.
If you want in-depth information, I’d recommend watching the Army’s press conference announcing the awarding of the contract . . .
The XM5 Rifle
While the MCX looks like an AR-15 variant, that’s only kind of true. The MCX and its variants have been around since the 2015 SHOT Show, but its short-stroke piston gas system (a departure from the AR’s direct impingement gas system) came from the MPX submachine gun.
Innovative features of the XM5 include barrel tapering at the crown to make it easier to use accessories, like a suppressor, without having to use performance-reducing washers. This design also allows barrel devices to self-center. Barrel changes can happen in seconds, allowing the military to quickly change calibers, barrel lengths, or to make other desired changes with minimal work. It’s also possible to install the 5.56mm MCX upper on a standard AR lower with an adapter.
The new guns are chambered in .277 Fury, with is too-long-to-fit-in-an-AR-15 magazine, which means it has to have a larger magazine well like an AR-10. The good news? That means it will be able to accept rounds like .308 Winchester (7.62×51 NATO) or 6.5 Creedmor with nothing but a barrel change, but you’ll probably only want to do that if you can’t find any 6.8x51mm ammo.
The new rifles will be fielded to units with the new XM157 Next Generation Squad Weapons-Fire Control (NGSW-FC) systems from Vortex. It uses a laser rangefinder, ballistic calculator, atmospheric sensors, orientation sensors, a compass, and even communication with other soldiers’ optics to calculate shots. This system can (and will) also be reprogrammed to work with other platforms, including the M4 and 7.62mm-based weapons.
This active reticle optic will be able to link to radical new technologies like the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), which will allow soldiers to “shoot around corners” and even “see” through barriers if the system is receiving data from other sources that have line-of-sight capability.
The 6.8×51 Hybrid Round
What makes the XM5 and its XM250 machine gun variant really special is its ammunition. Metallurgy has come a long way since the Vietnam war, and so has the technology of making bullets, cases, and powders.
What SIG accomplished in the the new hybrid round is to pack magnum power into a .308-sized package (and 20+ of the cartridges fit in normal AR-10 magazines). The 6.8x51mm, or .277 SIG Fury, uses a special hybrid case, with the front of the case made from easily-fed and ejected brass and the rear of the case made of much tougher steel to survive the 80,000 psi of pressure the cartridge generates. The result? 135-grain bullets zipping along at 3,000 feet per second, and from a 16″ test barrel. That’s spicy.
This gives the round a decisive advantage over 5.56mm NATO rounds (and .223 Remington) and just about anything else other militaries are fielding in great numbers. In many ways, this means the Army is heading away from assault weapons (that use intermediate cartridges) and back into battle rifle territory…but with more power than the .308/7.62×51 had in guns like the M14.
Who and When?
The rifles will only be for what the Army defines as close combat forces, or forces within line of sight with the enemy, at least at first. Specifically, one general said this is 11B infantry, 19D cavalry scouts, 12B combat engineers, 68W medics, and 13F forward observers. Everyone else will continue to use existing weapons systems, including M4s with 5.56 NATO and other weapons with 7.62×51 NATO rounds unless and until the Army decides to switch everyone to 6.8x51mm in the future.
Other armed services (the Marines were named specifically) were involved in the selection and testing process, and have expressed interest, but the decision to equip other branches with the new weapons and caliber remains with those other services.
Army units doing close combat as defined above will receive the new weapons as ammunition stores become available for training and combat. In other words, they don’t want to issue guns to any unit unless there’s enough ammunition to train on the new weapons and go right into a major war from day one.
Some units will get weapons and ammo in 2023 and 2024 using ammunition provided by Sig directly, but full ammunition production at a new building at the Lake City ammunition plant will not happen until 2025-26. Sig will continue to produce ammunition as a second source going forward after that.
Here’s SIG’s full press release announcing the Army’s decision . . .
SIG SAUER is honored to be awarded the Next Generation Squad Weapons System (NGSW) Contract by the U.S. Army after a rigorous 27-month testing and evaluation process.
“The U.S. Army is taking a bold step toward command of the 21st century battlefield and SIG SAUER is immensely proud to be the selected provider for this historic revolution in infantry weapons. The fielding of the SIG SAUER Next Generation Squad Weapons System will forever change the dynamic of military engagement for America’s warfighters with American innovation and manufacturing,” began Ron Cohen, President and CEO SIG SAUER, Inc..
The SIG FURY Hybrid Ammunition (6.8 Common Cartridge), SIG-LMG (XM250), SIG MCX-SPEAR Rifle (XM5) and SIG SLX Suppressors meaningfully advance soldier weapons technology to meet the emerging requirements of the U.S. Army.
The SIG 6.8×51 FURY Hybrid Ammunition uses a patented lightweight metallic case designed to handle pressures higher than conventional ammunition, resulting in dramatically increased velocity and on-target energy in lighter weapons.
The SIG-LMG lightweight belt-fed machine gun and SIG MCX-SPEAR Rifle are purpose-built to harness the energy of the SIG FURY 6.8 Common Cartridge Ammunition enabling greater range and increased lethality while reducing the soldier’s load on the battlefield. Both the SIG-LMG and MCX-SPEAR deliver significant weapon and technology advancements to the soldier and provide a solution for battlefield overmatch in comparison to the current M249 and M4/M4A1.
The U.S. Army’s procurement of the NGSW System marks the beginning of an era where combat weapons are coupled with a suppressor as standard issue equipment. The SIG SLX Suppressors are designed to reduce harmful gas backflow, sound signature and flash. SIG SLX Suppressors feature a patented quick detach design for easy install and removal.
“We commend U.S. Army leadership for having the vision to undertake this historic procurement process to deliver a transformational weapon system to our warfighters. This award is the culmination of a successful collaboration between SIG SAUER and the U.S. Army, and we look forward to the continuing partnership,” concluded Cohen.
SIG SAUER is a company that is driven by innovation and we are proud to offer the advancements of the NGSW System in the SIG 277 FURY Hybrid Ammunition (the commercial variant of the SIG 6.8×51 FURY Ammunition round), SIG MCX-SPEAR Rifle, and the SIG SLX Series of Suppressors available to the consumer. For more information about these products visit sigsauer.com.