This story has been updated

The Army may be working overtime to field a more powerful rifle to replace the M4 carbine and M16 rifle that soldiers have been complaining about for years, but that's not stopping the branch from buying more: A presolicitation published by Army Contracting Command on April 11 proposes up to two five-year contracts to supply the branch with between 18,000 and 215,000 5.56mm M16A4 rifles apiece, for a possible total of 430,000 weapons.

Such a major purchase over an extended timeline seems to run counter to the Army’s recent phased transition away from the M16 platform, given the M4’s relative superiority downrange. It also seems counterintuitive, given the Army’s stated desire to develop a Next Generation Squad Weapon that would chamber an intermediate caliber superior to the M4 and M16’s standard 5.56mm round.

So why the sudden reversal? Don't worry, soldiers: According to PEO Soldier, the purchase is for foreign military sales and not for U.S. service members.

Army photo

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jared Casey fires a M16 rifle in the kneeling position at a weapons qualification range during the 2017 Army Materiel Command's Best Warrior Competition July 18, 2017, at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class Teddy Wade

The solicitation comes amid the Army’s request for $71.1 million to procure an unknown number of M4A1 carbines for soldiers as part of the branch’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal — an increase over the $43 million and $40 million requested for the weapons in fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2017, respectively. That’s on top of the roughly $31.5 million the Army has shelled out annually to upgrade its arsenal of M4s to M4A1 carbines.

Related: Why The Military Is Moving On From The M16 »

The irony is that the solicitation dropped the same day that DoD officials — namely Pentagon personnel and readiness chief Robert Wilkie and retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales — touted the special task force that, under the guidance of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, intends to transform soldiers into a fighting force that’s “better selected, equipped, trained and prepared for their mission — intimate killing in close combat,” as Army Times put it.

“There is nothing more important than focusing our energies now on developing and nurturing the unique capabilities of human performance,” Wilkie said at an Association of the U.S. Army conference in Arlington, Va., on April 11. “That means bringing fresh vigor, renewing our sense of urgency and enhancing the lethality of our front-line Army and Marine Corps units.”


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the M16 purchase was likely for use by the U.S. armed forces. After publication, PEO Soldier confirmed that the purchase was, in fact, for foreign military sales. We regret the error. (Updated 4/13/2018; 4:59 pm EST)