The Army says it's settled on three defense contractors to battle it out to become the service's M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon replacements, but at least one other company is hoping that a bit of consumer approval could help upset the competition.

On Thursday, MARS Inc. and Cobalt Kinetics unveiled their dark horse submissions for the Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon program, a carbine and light machine gun, on the heels of the Association of the U.S. Army's annual expo in Washington, D.C., where General Dynamics-OTS, AAI Corporation Textron Systems and Sig Sauer, touted their official candidates.

But while General Dynamics, Textron, and Sig Sauer are all working closely with Army officials to incorporate all manner of, ahem, next-generation features into the system, Mars and Cobalt Kinetic are going a different route: they plan on making their NGSW submissions available for consumer purchase as early as next year.

“I can't think of a better collaboration in this industry,” Mars president CEO Michael Merino told American Rifleman in a statement. “Our MARS rifle design, coupled with the innovative approach to rifle manufacturing of the Cobalt Kinetics team, has been incredible

In Mars and Cobalt Kinetic submission, which has been in the works since early 2019, purportedly meets all of the Army's existing NGSW requirements. According to American Rifleman, that means the standard fire control and handling characteristics of the service's current small arms, a magazine well capable of handling the Army's new intermediate 6.8mm cartridge, and a fresh long-recoil system ripped from the Browning Auto-5 shotgun.

While it's unlikely that the Army officials methodically searching for their iPhone of lethality will take their acquisition cues from a bit of positive consumer feedback, it's not totally out of the question. Shortly after selecting its three NGSW prototype candidates, 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.

More importantly, it means that, should the Mars and Cobalt Kinetics submission actually meet the requirements of the NGSW program, the the average civilian will soon have a chance to handle a NGSW-inspired firearm sooner than most soldiers.

“We believe that we have a rifle design that meets the requirements of the Army's ambitious NGSW program,” Merino said in his statement. “We are excited to be part of the evolution of military effectiveness.”