The Army's Powerful New Service Rifle Isn't Dead Just Yet

Spc. Ethan Esposito fires an M4 carbine rifle during US Army Europe's Best Warrior Competition in Grafenwoehr, Germany, July 31, 2012
Photo via DoD

The Army's Program Executive Officer Soldier reiterated this week that the new, more powerful Interim Combat Service Rifle was still on the table, despite reports that the Army scrapped plans to fund it.

The Army has been looking for a round-and-rifle pairing of an intermediate caliber to replace the M4/M16 platform, and the ICSR was proposed as a short-term replacement.

Army Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings — who, as PEO Soldier, manages the programs that provide most of a soldier's gear and weapons — said that the Army was still weighing a short-term stand-in for the M4/M16 rifle platform while a new one is developed.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley "wanted an interim combat rifle, or he was only going to fulfill a requirement to have a squad-designated marksman in each squad, called a squad-designated marksman rifle," Cummings said in an Army release. "So, there are two efforts going on to get a 7.62 inside the squad."

The Army has said there is already a weapon — the M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System — identified and being tested for the role of SDMR, which would be carried by one soldier in each squad.

The service reportedly closed a program to provide the ICSR at the end of September, about a month after officially announcing its search for such a weapon. The desire for a new rifle and round was prompted by shortcomings of the 5.56 mm round fired by the Army's M4/M16 platform.

The cancellation of the search for ICSR was originally reported by The Firearm Blog. Army Times also confirmed the report, and a source that Milley elected to cancel the search but had not made an official announcement.

Army soldiers from 554th Military Police Company perform weapons drills with M4 rifles in the Panzer MOUT site in Boeblingen Germany on March 14, 2012Photo via DoD

Cummings told last month that the ICSR program was "not dead" and a decision on it had not been made. His comments this month suggest the Army is still weighing the ICSR while a permanent replacement is at least five years away.

"Right now, many are focused on the ICSR or SDMR," Cummings said. "But that's not the long-term way ahead. The long-term way ahead is a brand new rifle for all of the Department of Defense called the Next Generation Squad Weapon."

The NGSW would be "one end-all solution," he added, with a carbine model replacing the M4 and a rifle version replacing the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Both would likely fire a round larger than the current 5.56 mm.

"The next-generation is going to be kind of like what we did with the pistol, with the modular handgun system," Cummings said. "It'll be one complete system, with weapon, magazine, ammo and fire control on it and we will cut down on the load and integration issues associated with it."

Sgt. 1st Class Brian Eisch gives a thumbs up to range safety NCOs indicating that he's ready to engage targets during a July 15, Fort Eustis, Va., M-4 rifle qualification exercise that was part of the 2008 U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command NCO and Soldier of the Year Competition.Photo via DoD

Cummings said the UK military was interested in and the Marines were "on board" with the NGSW. (The Marines' plan to buy 50,000 more M27 rifles, which fire 5.56 mm rounds, may have put a damper on the ICSR effort.)

He added that the Army would likely see the NGSW by 2022. Equipping some soldiers with the ICSR, or one in each squad with an SDMR, remain as alternatives for the intervening period, Cummings said, but "the final decision has not been made."

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