The M249 SAW has been a common sight on the battlefield for nearly 50 years. Originally designed in the 1970’s as a lightweight replacement to the M60, the military was thrilled at the idea that the gun could use the same ammunition as the rest of the M16-equipped squad.
But that was back when engagement distances were relatively short, and weight of fire was more important than long range accuracy. Now that the battlefields of today have moved out of the claustrophobic jungles of Vietnam and into the wide open spaces of the Middle East it seems that the military is looking for something with a little more accuracy and long distance stopping power.
A notice was posted by the Army about a week ago outlining the military’s plans:
The Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle (NGSAR) is a single incremental program to meet future force warfighting needs. It is the planned replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) in Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) and select support units during the next decade. It will combine the firepower and range of a machine gun with the precision and ergonomics of a carbine, yielding capability improvements in accuracy, range, and lethality. The weapon will be lightweight and fire lightweight ammunition with improved lethality. The NGSAR will help to reduce the heavy load that burdens Soldiers and that has a significant negative impact on their mobility, survivability, and firing accuracy. Soldiers will employ the NGSAR against close and extended range targets in all terrains and conditions. The NGSAR will be compatible with and dependent on legacy optics and night vision devices to meet required capabilities. It will also be compatible with the Small Arms Fire Control system currently in development and possess back-up sights. It is anticipated the NGSAR support concept will be consistent with (comparable to) that of the predecessor M249 SAW involving the Army two level field and sustainment maintenance system. The NGSAR will achieve overmatch by killing stationary, and suppressing moving, threats out to 600 meters (T), and suppressing all threats to a range of 1200 meters (O).
Noticeably absent: any specification of ammunition. It says the ammo needs to be lighter than the ammunition currently in use, but it doesn’t specify the caliber.
Could we be seeing a .22WMR machine gun in the field sometime soon? Probably not. But it would be interesting to see if one of the participants decides to wildcat something specifically to meet the spec.
The notice goes on to give the specific requirements that the gun must meet, including:
Light weight even with an included suppressor
That last one is particularly notable. The M249 was designed to be compact, not quiet. For this new gun, the specification requires both a compact and quiet package with an included suppressor.
We should start seeing the first hints of what companies are proposing to fill this role within the next few months, as the military is holding an industry day at the end of July to go over the proposal in more detail. My bet is that 1) FN will submit a variant of their venerable SCAR design, 2) Colt will once again half-assedly bastardize an AR-15 platform rifle to fit the requirement while trying to spend as little money on R&D as possible, and 3) H&K will throw the MG5 out there again.
The wildcard here is SIG SAUER, who re-engineered their company specifically to fulfill contracts like these that require the vendor to supply both the firearm and the ammunition. I can’t imagine they’d sit on the sidelines for this, but I also don’t see anything in their arsenal ready to meet the requirement. Stay tuned.