The Army Is Testing A New Rifle With Better Range And Accuracy Than The M4

Gear
U.S. Army Spc. Manuel Northy fires an M4 carbine in Chièvres, Belgium, Dec. 12, 2017
U.S. Army/Pierre Courtejoie

To paraphrase the legendary military theorist Carl von Clausewitz: Everything in small arms is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.


Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has waged a relentless war against the Department of Defense’s acquisition process (hereafter referred to as “purgatory”) to replace the decades-old weapons currently in soldiers’ kit with new pistols and other small arms. So far, he’s had some major successes on the pistol front with the Army’s adoption of the Sig Sauer P320 as the XM17 to replace the M9 Beretta as the branch’s sidearm of choice.

But finding an upgrade for the M4 carbine has proven a more elusive challenge. In November, the Army’s plans to purchase a 7.62 mm off-the-shelf rifle as an intermediate solution finally gave up the ghost after months of budget-related uncertainty.

Now, the Army is currently evaluating a rifle that could actually be fielded relatively soon, Milley said Wednesday at an Association of the United States Army event in Crystal City, Virginia.

“There have been some research and testing done down at Fort Benning, [Georgia] and with industry partners that indicates that we could — it’s possible — have a rifle in the hands of American soldiers or Marines in the not too distant future — I don’t want to put a timeline — that can reach out at much greater ranges than currently exist with much greater impact or lethality and with much greater accuracy,” Milley said.

The rifle’s increased lethality can be attributed to the type of ammunition it uses, its chamber pressure and its optics, Milley said at AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare breakfast. He did not reveal any specific information about the rifle, such as whether it chambers a 5.56mm or a 7.62mm round or if it is fully automatic, like the M27 infantry automatic rifle used by the Marines.

“It’s an excellent system,” Milley said. “They’ve done some proof of principles on it. It is real. It is not fantasy and industry is moving out quickly and we expect that, with appropriate funding, we should be able to have this particular weapon in the not too distant future – I won’t define what ‘not too distant future’ is.”

Although Milley said that soldiers currently have a rifle capable of matching adversaries anywhere in the world, the problems with the M4 and M16 have been well documented.

The M4s biggest design flaw is its gas impingement operating system, which can easily be fouled, causing the weapon to jam, said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales.

“That’s the fatal flaw of the M4,” Scales told Task & Purpose. “You cannot fix it.”

Scales has long advocated that the Army needs a rifle with a solid action — such as the Heckler & Koch HK416 — in which all the recoiling parts operate together as a single system. The Marines currently use the HK416 as the M27.

Ideally, the Army’s rifle should fire a round between 6.5mm and 6.8mm, which is highly accurate because it retains supersonic velocity longer than existing military calibers, and it also generates less recoil so fully automatic fire is more stable, he said.

The Army’s next rifle should also include a suppressor, because troops initially fire at muzzle flashes and sounds of gunshots in a close fight, Scales said.

“As near peer adversaries like Russia and China continue to expand their military capabilities, we can no longer afford to sacrifice modernization. From rifles, to shipbuilding, to missile defense, it is critical that the U.S. maintains a competitive edge over countries that wish us harm,” Sen, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Wednesday in a statement to Task & Purpose.

“The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act included my amendment to authorize the expedited procurement of a commercially available off-the-shelf item for a 7.62mm rifle, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, I will continue pushing for our military to have the tools they need and have asked for to complete their missions and remain lethal.”

For the time being, soldiers will have to wait until the Army can develop and field an M4 replacement. It is unclear whether the enemy will wait until the new rifle is ready.

WATCH NEXT: 

Want to read more from Task & Purpose? Sign up for our daily newsletter »

REUTERS/Scott Audette/File Photo

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), has long been seen as an apologist for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whom she met during a secret trip to Damascus in January 2017.

Most recently, a video was posted on Twitter shows Gabbard evading a question about whether Assad is a war criminal.

Since Gabbard is the only actively serving member of the military who is running for president — she is a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard — Task & Purpose sought to clarify whether she believes Assad has used chlorine gas and chemical weapons to kill his own people.

Read More
Barrett's bolt-action Multi-Role Adaptive Design (MRAD) system (Courtesy photo)

The Army is almost doubling its purchase of new bolt-action Precision Sniper Rifles as its primary anti-personnel sniper system of choice, according to budget documents.

Read More
An A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft with the 122nd Fighter Wing, Fort Wayne, Indiana, sits on the flight line during Southern Strike, Feb. 11, 2020, at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. (U.S. Air National Guard/Staff Sergeant Rita Jimenez)

What's cooler than a single missile? How about a missile with a high-powered machine gun attached?

That's exactly what the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on, according to budget documents — and it wants $13 million to make it a reality.

Read More
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force officials are investigating the death of a man near the north gate of the U.S. Air Force Academy on Saturday night after the NHL Stadium Series hockey game between the Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings, military officials said Sunday.

Read More
(Navy photo / Chief Mass Communication Specialist Paul Seeber)

The Citizens of Ebey's Reserve (COER) is asking a federal judge to require the Navy to roll back the number of EA-18G Growler practice flights at Outlying Field Coupeville to pre-2019 levels until a lawsuit over the number of Growler flights is settled.

COER and private citizen Paula Spina filed a motion for a preliminary injunction Thursday.

According to the motion, since March 2019 the Navy has increased the number of Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and shifted most of its Growler operations to Outlying Field Coupeville, which is near the Reserve and the town of Coupeville.

"The result is a nearly fourfold increase in Growler flights in that area. Now the overflights subject residents in and near Coupeville to extreme noise for several hours of the day, day and night, many days of the week," said the court document.

Read More