Hundreds of soldiers and Marines have already handled the Army's next-generation squad weapon

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The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may have delayed everything from basic training to missile defense network tests, but Army officials are still plowing ahead with testing of the three candidates for the service's next-generation weapons system.

While COVID-19 forced the rescheduling of several soldier touch points — sessions designed to solicit feedback from soldiers and Marines who represent the close combat force — the pandemic "has not impacted the overall timeline" of the service's Next Generation Squad Weapon program that's intended to replace the M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a spokesman told Task & Purpose.

"The concept of Soldier Centered Design is critical to the NGSW program, which relies on soldier feedback in operationally relevant scenarios during developmental testing," according to Bridgett Siter, spokesman for the Army's Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team.

To date, roughly 567 soldiers and Marines have contributed 7,658 hours to those touch points, Siter said. 

A top Marine Corps modernization official previously told lawmakers in March that the service is interested in the weapon as a potential option for ground-combat units.

A Next Generation Squad Weapon Science and Technology prototype

A Next Generation Squad Weapon Science and Technology prototype

In September, the Army selected General Dynamics-OTS Inc., AAI Corporation Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc to develop prototypes of the NGSW's carbine and automatic rifle variants chambered in 6.8mm, prototypes the gunmakers flaunted at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting in October.

Two weeks after selecting those contractors for NGSW prototyping, the service issued a sources sought notice for an NGSW Innovative Designs & Engineering Assessment (IDEA) Program to identify "new, innovative, enabling technologies" for the weapon, fire-control system, and specialized 6.8mm ammo.

The service currently stands poised to put the prototypes furnished by the three defense contractors through diagnostic testing this summer, the outcome of which "will shape a design iteration that will feed the next configurations" of the weapons for another prototype test, Siter said.

"It's an iterative process that includes soldiers every step of the way," Siter added. 

According to the Army, the prototyping phase is scheduled to continue through the summer of 2021 with the goal of eventually down-selecting a single weapon vendor to produce the NGSW's carbine and automatic rifle variants and its accompanying 6.8mm ammunition. 

The Defense Department is currently asking Congress for $111.2 million to procure prototypes of the next-generation weapons systems and ammo as well as conducting research and development towards finalizing the various elements of the system like fire control system and suppressors.

Indeed, the service in April awarded agreements worth roughly $8.7 million each to L3 Harris Technology Inc. and Vortex Optics to build fire-control prototypes for testing as part of the NGSW program, as well as a pair of contracts to OSS Suppressors LLC and CGS Group to furnish the program with suppressors

The Army plans on equipping its first unit with the NGSW carbine and rifle variants by the end of 2022, according to Siter. No decision has been made yet about which units will receive them first. 

Are you a soldier or Marine who's been lucky enough to handle the Next Generation Squad Weapons? Get in touch via email at jared@taskandpurpose.com