Army looking for new weapons

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Jun 30, 2003
McDonough, GA, USA
From the Army Times

New and improved firepower
The Army’s on the hunt for its next generation of infantry weapons — and the XM8 is not a done deal

By Matthew Cox
Times staff writer

The Army wants arms makers to come up with replacements for virtually all of its infantry weapons, including its lightest machine gun.
The Army will hold an open competition this summer to select a replacement for its M16 rifles, M4 carbines and M249 squad automatic weapons by early fall.

The winning company will be awarded a low-rate initial production contract to produce up to 4,900 weapons systems, and could receive an initial full-rate production contract to make more than 134,000 weapons, according to the March 4 pre-solicitation notice posted on the Internet.

This new family of weapons could be ready for fielding by the second half of fiscal 2006.

The new weapons would fulfill an Army demand for lighter, more durable small arms to replace the aging designs that have long served the troops.

The XM8 was well along in development as the Army’s next weapon, but the announcement means the program will have to prove it can outperform the rest of the small-arms industry.

The Heckler & Koch-made XM8 family of prototypes features a compact model for close quarters, a standard carbine and a designated marksman/squad automatic rifle model with a longer, heavier barrel and bipod legs for stability. Army weapons developers have spent $29 million testing the XM8 in arctic, desert and tropical conditions to replace the venerable M16 family.

The Army’s Infantry Center, the service’s small-arms proponent, has no problem with a new family of weapons for the infantry squad, as long as it includes a light machine gun model to replace the nearly worn-out M249 SAW.

“We see that as our number one need,†said Maj. Glenn Dean, chief of small arms at the Infantry Center, Fort Benning, Ga. “If I only replaced one weapon in the squad, it would be the SAW.â€

The Infantry Center’s stance prompted the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology in late January to order a competition to decide which commercial weapons maker can best meet this new requirement.

As a result, the XM8 — which does not include a light machine gun variant — is on hold.

“We have halted testing to let the competition be completed,†said Col. Michael Smith, who runs Project Manager Soldier Weapons, the Army office that has been developing the XM8.

Smith said the decision was made to hold off on operational tests slated for October because it’s unclear if H&K will emerge as the ultimate winner.

“It may not be XM8,†Smith said. “Our bottom line is we want the best weapon for the soldier. If someone has a better weapon than the XM8, I’m ready to support them 100 percent.â€

Smith’s office has been working on the XM8 prototype as an unopposed replacement for the M16 since late 2003. It was part of a longer-range effort to perfect an over-and-under-style weapon, known as the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, or XM29, developed by Alliant Techsystems and Heckler & Koch.

The XM29 fires special air-bursting projectiles and standard 5.56mm ammunition. But at 18 pounds, it’s still too heavy to meet the Army’s requirements, so planners decided to perfect each of XM29’s components separately, allowing soldiers to take advantage of new technology sooner. The XM8 is one of those components.

The March 4 “Pre-solicitation Notice for the Objective Individual Combat Weapon Increment I family of weapons†invites small-arms makers to try to meet an Infantry Center requirement, which the Army approved in October, for a “non developmental family of weapons that are capable of firing U.S. standard M855 and M856†5.56mm ammunition.

OICW Increment II deals with the separate development of the air-burst technology of XM29, and OICW Increment III would bring the two components back together when technology is available.

The OICW Increment I requirement is intended to replace current weapons systems, including the M4, M16 and selected M9 pistols for the active Army, the notice states. The special compact, carbine and designated marksman models must share 80 percent of the same parts.

The requirement also calls for the family of weapons to include a light machine gun model rather than the XM8’s squad automatic rifle variant.

Currently, each infantry squad contains two M249 SAWs that serve as light support weapons because of their 5.56mm ammunition and high rate of fire. While very popular with soldiers, the SAW is beginning to wear out, according to the Infantry Center.

“A lot of our SAWs are 20 years old,†Dean said, describing how SAWs are rebuilt, but in many cases not fast enough to keep up with everyday wear and tear under combat conditions. “You see soldiers carrying SAWs held together with the zip ties.â€

And despite its light machine gun status, the SAW weighs more than 20 pounds when loaded with a 200-round belt of 5.56mm ammo. “In the long run, we like something more durable and something that is lighter,†Dean said.

This will likely be a challenge since light machine guns are traditionally heavier than automatic rifles so they can handle the heat buildup from the high rate of sustained fire, Smith said, adding that any replacement should be lighter than the current SAW.

The XM8’s squad automatic rifle model is not designed to serve as a light machine gun. It’s not designed for sustained fire and lacks the capability for barrel changes in less than 30 seconds, a key feature in ensuring barrels don’t overheat.

Because of these differences, the LMG model will only be required to share 50 percent of the parts with the other models in the family. Still, the requirement will likely prove difficult for all competitors.

“The light machine gun is a challenge … because of that, we have a level technical playing field for all the contractors,†Smith said.

But that didn’t deter major small-arms companies such as Colt, FN Herstal USA Inc. and Steyr-Mannlicher from saying they were ready to compete when the Army polled the weapons-making community last November in what’s known as a “sources sought†document — to see which other companies were willing to contend with XM8, Smith said.

“The sources-sought shows that the small-arms community had the capability to provide us with a family [of nondevelopmental weapons] so we would take them right into testing,†Smith said.

Even though the Army wants to replace the SAW, it’s not going anywhere in the near future, Dean said.

The Army’s push to grow the force from 33 brigades to 48 modular brigades known as units of action means it will need more SAWs in the short term, Dean said. Currently, the Army is planning to buy another 12,000 SAWs.

Other specific requirements are that each of the models include a common multipurpose sighting system that enables the soldier to rapidly and effectively hit stationary and moving targets at both close range and the maximum effective range of the model:

• 500 meters for the carbine.

• 150 meters for the special compact.

• 600 meters for the designated marksman.

• 600 meters and beyond for the light machine gun.

Also, the weapons must be equipped with limited-visibility fire control with infrared aim light, illuminator and visible red laser pointer. The infrared aiming light and illuminator must be greater than or equal to the capability of the current-issue AN/PEQ-2A.

A formal request for proposal is slated to be issued “on or about†March 23, the notice states. Interested companies will be required to submit four of each type of the four different variants by late spring.

Submissions will be put through a series of tests, to include live-fire exercises, to see if they meet the requirements.

Whether the XM8 comes out on top or not, its achievements in testing influenced the Infantry Center direction in mapping out the requirement for new infantry weapons, Dean said. “It has certainly demonstrated the possibilities of technology available … more so than any other system has done.â€

Smith said he’s looking forward to seeing the results of the competition.

“It’s going to give us a family of four 5.56mm weapons … with extensive commonality,†he said. “It gives the commander the capability to configure his weapons based onthe mission, with higher reliability than ever before — about four times the reliability over what they had before. That’s in requirement.â€
New weapons, but they're still going with the 5.56mm.

If they want an actual LMG variant, I think the FN SCAR family may have the upper hand over the XM8. Just replace the upper with one that can handle belted ammo and has a changeable barrel. HK does something similar with the G3, IIRC, although I'm not familiar with the exact mechanics of the design.
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