For several decades, small arms advocates have urged the Pentagon for a replacement to the standard M16/M4 service weapon and the squad level light machine gun carried by most soldiers, Marines and special forces. Now, prototypes of these new super weapons are expected to be on the firing line in summer 2019.
Multiple Armed Forces intend on fielding the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle (NGSAR), the first version of the Army’s Next-Generation Weapons System that chambers a round between 6.5mm and 6.8mm, as a replacement of its aging M16/M4 and M249 SAWs starting in 2022, Col. Geoffrey A. Norman, force development division chief at Army HQ, told Task & Purpose in early 2018.
The new weapons will be transferred to close combat Army, Marine, and special operations forces in the early 2020s.
Before the selection of prototypes, government officials asked industry leaders to develop a round that would shoot further, more accurate, and penetrate the world’s most advanced body armor somewhere between 5.56mm and 7.62mm, the current standard NATO rounds.
In October, the Army selected the 6.8mm, next-generation round as the official requirements for the system. The NGSAR will weigh less, shoot farther, and pack more punch than the service’s existing infantry weapons, Norman told Task & Purpose. And more importantly, the platform will incorporate a chamber pressure superior to the current system in soldiers’ arsenals to ensure that the rounds can still penetrate enhanced enemy body armor at up to 600 meters.
“The chamber pressure for the standard assault rifle is around 45 KSI [kilopound per square inch], but we’re looking for between 60 and 80 KSI … the chamber pressure when an M1 Abrams tank fires is on that order,” Norman told Task & Purpose. “We’re looking to reach out around 600 meters and have lethal effects even if the target is protected by body armor.”
Last summer, the Army selected five companies to provide NGSAR prototypes that will be tested in the second half of 2019.
Those companies are:
- AAI Corporation Textron Systems
- FN America LLC
- General Dynamics-OTS Inc.
- PCP Tactical, LLC.
- Sig Sauer Inc.
The reason for the new weapons, according to Norman, is the Pentagon’s current shift from urban warfare in Iraq and Syria to the mountains and open terrain of Afghanistan. While the standard rifles may be well-suited for close combat in cities like Mosul and Raqqa, it lacks the range to kill adversaries in open stretches.
“For the past 10 or 15 years, we’ve been really focused on the requirement of lethal effects against unprotected targets,” Norman said. “Now we’re looking at near-peer threats like Russia and others. We need to have lethal effects against protected targets and we need to have requirements for long-range lethality in places like Afghanistan, where you’re fighting from mountaintop to mountaintop over extended ranges.”
Once the NGSAR is selected, the Army intends to make follow-on production awards for “250,000 total weapons system(s) (NGSW-R, NGSW-AR, or both), 150,000,000 rounds of ammunition, spare parts, tools/gauges/accessories, and engineering support.”
The awards could be worth $10 million the first year and $150 million per year at the higher production rates.
The bottom line is that long-awaited replacement to the standard service rifle is almost here. The Pentagon is in the last stretch of testing and by the end of 2019, could select one of the five companies above to produce the new weapon. This is all happening as the world has moved into a new and unsettling geopolitical phase.