A Look at the Army’s M4 Replacement

The Army is buying a replacement for the M4 carbine, and so can you.

A Look at the Army’s M4 Replacement

I’ve written about the U.S. Army’s program to modernize the ammunition and small arms used by the rifle squad in the past, but what many are wondering is how this will affect the firearms industry and what it means for consumers.

By now, the Army has selected a new set of Next Generation Squad Weapons called the XM5 rifle and XM250 automatic rifle. The X prefix is for Experimental and will be dropped once the weapons are fully adopted for issue. The program began five years ago with the Chief of Staff of the Army calling for adoption of an Interim Service Combat Rifle in 7.62mm NATO to combat overmatch at the hands of our adversaries, who are mostly equipped with Soviet-era small arms that enjoy longer ranges than ours. This quickly morphed into a search for a new set of weapons to replace the 5.56mm NATO M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, used by close combat forces squads in the Army like the Infantry and Cavalry Scouts.

The resulting Next Generation Squad Weapon program started out with almost 20 candidates from the industry but was soon whittled down to just three manufacturers. By last fall, the field was narrowed to just two competitors: Sig Sauer and True Velocity, with Textron Systems dropping out.

For NGSW, the Army gave the industry a list of specifications for these new weapons, such as size and weight. They also specified that any companies attempting to answer the call must propose an ammunition which could deliver a government-provided projectile in 6.8mm at a certain velocity. While the exact specifications remain sensitive, we know that the desired performance is similar to .270 Win. Short Mag.

Cartridges proposed by both companies are in 6.8x51mm. Where they differ is in construction and how they reach the Army’s desired velocity.

Sig Ammunition’s proposal is a modern take on an old cartridge case design which combines a steel head and brass case. It is manufactured with industry-standard machinery. Not only does it lower cartridge weight, but it also increases projectile velocity. However, this solution creates a very high chamber pressure. You can buy the sporting version now, as .277 Sig Fury.

Furthermore, Sig plans to introduce other calibers in Sig Fury variants, like .308 and 6.5 Creedmoor. The composite case technology offers, on average, a 350 fps increase in velocity over traditional brass-cased ammo.

True Velocity, on the other hand, uses a cartridge case formed from a steel head and polymer case. TV’s answer to the problem is a lower-pressure round, relying on long barrels to reach the target velocity. The rounds are manufactured in proprietary machines which are configured in robotic manufacturing cells.

True Velocity has already launched commercial .308 polymer ammunition and plans to expand its line beyond just the commercial variant of its next gen round called the 6.8TVC.

Sig and TV’s commercial ammo variants have received SAAMI approval, which was quite a process, considering how innovative both types of ammunition are. Currently, both brands are full steam ahead on making their ammunition commercial successes. In both instances, the ammunition cases are recyclable, but the TV polymer case is not reloadable.

A quick note on the Textron Systems weapon and ammunition which were withdrawn in the final stages of the competition. The ammunition is referred to as Case Telescoped and resembles a rimless shotgun shell. Both propellant and projectile are contained in the case, with the projectile leaping from the case into the chamber upon ignition of the propellant. Not only is the cartridge design innovative, but the weapon design includes a rotating breach, with the spent cartridge case being pushed forward for ejection after being fired, as there is no rim for an extractor to catch.

But even before the Army made its decision on which way to go, both Sig Sauer and True Velocity had made their intentions known to offer not only their ammunition but also their firearms to the buying public.

Initially, Sig introduced a bolt-action rifle called the Cross. Immediately, they announced that it would be available in both 6.5 Creedmoor and .277 Sig Fury.  Then, prior to SHOT Show, Sig announced a limited edition of the same Spear rifle they offered the Army, chambered in .277 Sig Fury. Even at $8,000, these exact copies sold out in a few hours. Sig tells me they’ll offer more of the rifles in .308, 6.5 Creedmoor and .277 Sig Fury soon.

True Velocity, on the other hand, plans to manufacture contract versions of their RM277 bullpup in their subsidiary’s factory, while commercial versions will come from partner Beretta.

SHOT Show was 6.8 TVC’s coming-out party. Not only did True Velocity promise commercial availability of the round, but several other manufacturers pledged their intent to offer guns to fire this new cartridge. In addition to LMT showing a 6.8 variant of their AR10-style MARS rifle, Daniel Defense also announced they plan to create a compatible DELTA 5 bolt-action rifle.

Naturally, in both cases, federal firearms rules apply, so no commercial sale of full-auto variants, but you will be able to purchase the SBR and suppressors associated with these historic firearms technologies. For instance, Sig included its NGSW suppressor with its limited-edition rifles, and you’ll be able to buy them separately as well.

As America’s allies begin to come to grips with the enhanced capability of NGSW, they’ll also adopt weapons in 6.8x51mm. Not only will the weapons offered to the U.S. Army be available, but alternate designs from other manufacturers will be introduced as well. What’s more, ammunition companies will line up to create new cartridges based on this new caliber. Before long, NATO will adopt 6.8 as a standard caliber. Regardless, thanks to the U.S. Army, the American shooter has a couple of new cartridges to shoot and several firearms to fire them from.


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