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The Army's next-generation rifle will be the iPhone of lethality, officials say
The Army isn't on the hunt for any old rifle for it's Next Generation Squad Weapon program — it's looking to spark a "revolution in small arms" on par with what the iPhone did to consumer electronics.
At least, that's how Army officials at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey described their overall goal in a conversation with Task & Purpose following the release of a formal Prototype Project Opportunity Notice calling on industry partners for a rapid prototyping and testing run of the brand-new platform.
"Imagine that Steve Jobs and his engineers were trying to convert the iPod Touch to the first 3G iPhone," said Army Col. Elliott Caggins, project manager for soldier weapons. "There were a thousand technologies they could have put in the first iPhone but they were looking to mature the platform before they could actually go onto the system."
Rather than slap future additions onto an outdated platform like the service's current M4A1 improvement program, the Army wants future capabilities baked into the NGSW from the get-go in a "one end-all solution" to replace both the M4 and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Call it firing for effect for the acquisition process; the first PON was meant to gather critical industry data before a second PON refined the requirements for the rifle.
A concept drawing for the Next Generation Squad Weapon(U.S. Army)
This logic of the platform, Caggins said, was reflected in the unusual run-up to the January PPON. As Task & Purpose previously noted, the January notice followed an initial draft notice in November 2018. While several defense contractors previously received separate contracts under the NGSW program, those prototypes aren't for play; they're "totally intended to determine if industry could deliver from the performance and manufacturing standpoint," Caggins said.
The January notice, on the other hand, is the real "no-kidding agreement," as Caggins put it — and one of three companies selected by the Army will ultimately end up cinching the contract to actually produce the weapon in all its glory.
"We have hundreds of capabilities we can put into this weapons system, but we want to do it by holistically creating a system that that takes advantage of everything we've done in the past," he added. "This means its capabilities will only grow, just as the iPhone's did."
Those capabilities, according to Arthur Fiorellini, NGSW team leader, include:
- a specially-designed fire control system engineered to boost hit probability at extended ranges
- the Advanced Small Arms Ballistic System, an onboard processor hardened against cyberattacks that miniaturizes the positioning system and range finder typically used on Army artillery pieces
- a sensor suite designed to accommodate for changes in pressure and density using multi-laser rangefinder system to estimate wind speed and adjust rifle positioning accordingly.
"The operator, as he lases the target, instantly gets an aim point and the system adjusts for ballistics instead of the operator trying to figure things out," Fiorellini told Task & Purpose. "A dot is displayed on the optic that the operator just puts on the target and everything else is taken care of ... the processor takes all of the information and boils it down.
A slide from the Maneuver Center of Excellence presentation on the Next Generation Squad Weapon(U.S. Army)
The NGSW team has some fascinating capabilities in mind for the future as well, namely "aim augmentation" not unlike the auto-aim rig that ARDEC researchers showed off in May 2017.
"It could be wind sensing, stabilizing platform, interrupted trigger so it only fires when on target,' Caggins told Task & Purpose. "We're working the technology now and working to mature them and look to add in ... we're not done working once it's fielded."
This is all to say nothing of the 6.8mm round required ini the Army's PPON. According to Caggins, that rounds will integrate elements of the new 130 grain M80A1 Enhanced Performance Round developed by the Army to defeat 5.56mm-resistant body armor downrange. Indeed, the NGSW team is looking for a prototype that has a suppressor base in order to compensate for the intermediate round.
"It's a higher caliber and a louder system, so the suppressor will help operationally," Fiorellini told Task & Purpose.
With a goal of equipping its first unit with the platform by fiscal year 2022, the Army has kicked the acquisition process into high, Caggins said, with the dual PONs posted with the intent of having prototypes ready to testing by June 2019.
But despite the desire to field the NGSW as quickly as possible, there's one element that's critical to the process: soldier input. Fiorellini told Task & Purpose that the NGSW team is working with hundreds of soldiers across military occupational specialties and skill sets for feedback on everything from reliability to ergonomics.
"Our assessment of the threat we need to be prepared for is to engage multiple targets on the battlefield over extended ranges, a shift from COINI to near-peer," Caggins said. "This is for a population in the Army that engages in close combat, and with this program, we're experiencing a revolution in small arms."
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The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.
President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.
"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'
"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"
This 400-pound feral hog is one of more than 1,200 that have invaded a Texas Air Force base since 2016
At least one Air Force base is waging a slow battle against feral hogs — and way, way more than 30-50 of them.
A Texas trapper announced on Monday that his company had removed roughly 1,200 feral hogs from Joint Base San Antonio property at the behest of the service since 2016.
In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North's Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume "in a few weeks."
A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North's launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South's Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.
In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump's own remarks just days earlier.
Constant deployments broke the Air Force's B-1 fleet. Now the service is facing a major bomber shortfall
On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.
In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.
A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.
The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.