It's official: After months of testing, the Army is moving forward with an intermediate round between the traditional 5.56mm and 7.62mm calibers for its M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon replacements.
A new Prototype Opportunity Notice posted on Oct. 4 includes a 6.8mm common round for potential submissions from defense contractors for the Next Generation Squad Weapon program, which includes the NGSW-Rifle (NGSW-R) carbine replacement and NGSW-Automatic Rifle (NGSAR) replacement for the SAW.
While the Army confirmed that it was testing a 6.8mm round for the M249 SAW and M4 carbine replacements back in May, the PON further solidifies the arrival of a new prototype bullet that offers "extended range, controllable recoil, and deadly effect because of the velocity and the weight of the bullet," as Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales (ret.), chairman of an advisory board to the Pentagon’s close combat lethality task force, told Task & Purpose at the time.
PEO Soldier Chief Brig. Gen. Anthony Pott told Army Times that the NGSAR program has already selected five companies to produce several prototypes by June: FN America, Sig Sauer, PCP Tactical, General Dynamics, and Textron Systems — the latter of which plans recently received contracts of NGSW program fire control systems.
The Army has been hunting for an improved round since May 2017, when Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley told lawmakers that the 5.56mm rounds chambered in the standard-issue M4 carbines failed to penetrate enemy body armor downrange. In February, officials told Task & Purpose that the Army planned to replace its 80,000 SAWs with the NGSAR chambered in an intermediate caliber as soon as fiscal 2022
“We’re looking to reach out around 600 meters and have lethal effects even if the target is protected by body armor," Col. Geoffrey A. Norman, force development division chief at Army HQ, told Task & Purpose at the time. "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.”
The Textron 5.56mm LSAT light machine gun. In the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing of Feb. 7th, 2018, the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle (NGSAR) demonstrator weapon was revealed to be a Textron prototype based on LSAT technologyTextron/The Firearm Blog
While the PON doesn't provide a clear timeline for additional testing, the 27-month window for development noted by Army Times suggests that the winning contractor could start churning out the new NGSAR by 2021 — potentially ahead of schedule.
In the end, the right ammo solution "is somewhere between the two, where you have enough mass to penetrate but you’re still moving fast enough," as Col. Norman told Task & Purpose back in February. Based on the PON, it looks like the Army has found it.
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