Recently, the U.S. military began discussing small arms overmatch. The concern is that our adversaries are using rifles and machine guns with a longer reach than our own. Congress is listening and has held hearings with testimony from the service chiefs, as well as retired experts.
Consequently, the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command are all engaged in small arms improvement efforts, either on their own or in conjunction with one another. Both the Air Force and Navy are also monitoring those efforts for adoption and employment by their ground elements.
The right ammunition
Ammunition is the most important factor in alleviating our overmatch deficiencies. The U.S. Army is awaiting release of a Small Arms Caliber Study that will be used as a roadmap for future ammunition development. In the interim, SOCOM has several irons in the fire regarding new calibers. Additionally, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit continues development of the .264 USA cartridge.
As you can imagine, this across-the-board interest in larger caliber cartridges comes at a price. Weight is the biggest challenge. To transition from one well-established NATO caliber to another (5.56mm to 7.62) means that the soldier’s basic ammunition load goes from 210 rounds to 104 for the same amount of weight. Consequently, there are several promising programs to develop lower-weight, polymer ammunition cases.
The latest developments
Here’s a short summary of what’s going on regarding new weapons.
- The U.S. Army recently led a joint service effort for a new pistol. The 9mm SIG P320 was selected earlier this year as the M17/18, and will begin fielding soon. USSOCOM had already selected and fielded the 9mm GLOCK19 with mini red dot optic as its pistol.
- The U.S. Army selected a Heckler & Koch G28 variant for the M110A1 Compact Semi Auto Sniper System. Based on this capability, the U.S. Army has a directed requirement from the four-star level to field more than 6,000 Squad Designated Marksman Rifles based on the 7.62mm H&K G28.
- Most recently, the Army released a Sources Sought Notice to industry for a full-auto, 7.62mm Interim Service Combat Rifle that comes on the heels of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Miley’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee discussing a new 7.62mm round that will defeat threat body armor.
- The U.S. Marine Corps is studying increased fielding of the 5.56mm M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle based on the H&K 416. Outfitted with an optic, the M27 will soon be used to fulfill a Designated Marksman role at the Infantry Squad level.
- The Marines have issued a Sources Sought Notice to industry for production of additional rifles for issue to all infantrymen.
- The Marines are also studying increased use of suppressors for small arms but have placed special priority on suppressors for machine guns.
- United States Army Special Operations Command also has stated an interest in developing an improved 5.56mm Upper Receiver Group with mid-gas system, M-LOK handguard and SureFire WarComp for their SOPMOD M4A1 carbines. This upper will use a detachable suppressor.
- In May, USASOC conducted a 6.5mm family cartridge study in conjunction with the U.S. Army. They fired 23 different cartridges on a 2,000-yard, radar-equipped range at Aberdeen Test Center. A user evaluation of the most promising cartridge will be conducted in the fall of 2017. Concurrently, USSOCOM has stated an interest in a 6.5mm family Sniper Support Weapon/Carbine and Lightweight Assault Machine Gun, with work to commence once USASOC selects a cartridge. However, SOF intends to retain the current 5.56mm M855A1 enhanced performance round as their carbine ammunition for the foreseeable future.
- USSOCOM has a requirement for a .300BLK Personal Defense Weapon kit for their Special Operations Peculiar Modification (SOPMOD) M4A1 carbines. These kits consist of an upper receiver group offering specialized plug-and-play capability for close-quarters battle.
- USSOCOM is making a second attempt to satisfy its challenging requirement for a 5.56mm Suppressed Upper Receiver Group for their SOPMOD M4A1 carbines. None of the weapons in the previous go-around could keep the weapon’s hand guards, which cover a suppressor, cool enough after firing a series of seven magazines through a challenging course of fire.
- In what may be the biggest game changer of all, USSOCOM and USMC have issued a Sources Sought Notice for a Lightweight Medium Machine Gun in .338 Norma Magnum. This weapon will offer accurate fire at ranges comparable to the .50-cal. in a package that is lighter weight than the current 7.62mm M240 medium machine gun.
- USSOCOM also has a requirement for a new Advanced Sniper Rifle in .300 Norma Mag and .338 Norma Mag. The U.S. Army is monitoring the program in the hopes of adopting it as well.
Finally, there are numerous laser and optics programs in the Army, Marine Corps and SOCOM which will complement these new weapons as they roll out.
Lower weight equals improved capability
Technology advancements are offering increased range but must be offset with investment in lower ammunition weights. However, even if all of these initiatives aren’t adopted, the increase in capability is incredible. Our weapons will redefine what we consider a safe standoff distance from threats, keeping them at bay while we still effectively engage targets.
Featured image: A Soldier with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) waits his turn to fire a M249 light machine gun during a crew-served weapons range, Aug. 17, 2017 along the southern coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura in Djibouti, Africa. (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas A. Priest)