On a blazing hot Wednesday in May, I traveled to the SIG Sauer Academy in New Hampshire for what I can only describe as a treat: to join the ranks of the hundreds of soldiers and Marines involved in testing the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon prototypes by laying my hands on the firearms maker’s two offerings for the service. SIG is currently facing off against General Dynamics-OTS and Textron Systems for the privilege of replacing both the M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in Army arsenals, and I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to get my mitts on what might very well be the U.S. military’s next weapons of choice for the next several decades as it reorients from the Global War on Terror to near-peer adversaries.

During my trip to the SIG Sauer Academy, I managed to get my hands on a variety of weapons systems, including the company’s two NGSW prototypes, a suppressed variant of the M17 that the Army recently adopted under its Modular Handgun System program, and the MCX Rattler, which is currently in use and under consideration by special operations forces units around the world.

My conclusion? These guns slap — and with any luck, they may end up finding their way into your arsenal sooner rather than later should SIG clinch the Army’s NGSW contact in November of this year.

Sig Sauer's NGSW-AR and NGSW-R submissions prototypes
Sig Sauer’s NGSW-AR and NGSW-R submissions prototypes (Sig Sauer)

The two SIG NGSW prototypes will look familiar to longtime observers of the company’s work over the last decade. The company’s NGSW-Rifle submission, known as the MCX Spear, is based on the SIG MCX platform and, according to officials, partially derived from the company’s submission for the Army’s Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS) program back in 2015 that was won by Heckler & Koch. The company’s NGSW-Automatic Rifle submission, known as the LMG-6.8, resembles a smaller version of the MMG 338 medium machine gun that was procured by U.S. Special Operations Command last year as part of an evaluation.

Both systems are chambered in 6.8×51 in line with Army requirements for the NGSW program, and both versions were suppressed during our test-fire using SIG Sauer cans specially designed to reduce toxic emissions. According to the Army’s fiscal year 2021 budget request, the final NGSW-R and NGSW-AR builds will ensure “increased lethality against a broad spectrum of targets beyond current/legacy weapon capabilities; increased range, accuracy, and probability of hit; reduced engagement time; suppressed flash/sound signature; [and] improved controllability and mobility.”

The short-stroke, gas-piston MCX Spear I fired at the SIGSauer Academy featured a 13-inch barrel and both standard and left-side non-reciprocating charging handles so service members don’t have to remove their hands from the pistol grip to charge the weapon. The MCX Spear also features a fully collapsible, side-folding buttstock, a free-floating reinforced M-LOK handguard, and AR-style ergonomics and controls that is already familiar to U.S. service members.

According to SIG officials, these features have been consistently refined during months of “unprecedented access” to feedback from service members through hands-on touchpoints with soldiers and Marines, as SIG Sauer CEO Ron Cohen put it when the company delivered its NGSW prototypes to the Army in March.

The author firing the MCX-Spear
The author firing the MCX-Spear (Chris Capelluto)

While the Army’s long-term goal is to field lighter and more lethal weapons to soldiers over the next several decades, the MCX Spear was noticeably heavier than the standard-issue M4 carbine at somewhere around 8-9 pounds. According to SIG officials, this is due to both the weapon’s comparable size to SIG’s 716 or an AR-10 and the added weight of both the suppressor affixed to the end of the barrel and the Tango6T scope the Army recently selected as its optic of choice for its Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, Direct View Optic, and Squad-Variable Powered Scope programs of record

The MCX Spear also came with a hefty dose of recoil, which SIG officials explained was on par with a weapon system chambered in 7.62x51mm. Working in conjunction with the SIG’s hybrid 6.8mm cartridge, the rifle is designed to be more effective at ranges and against targets that the standard M4 might fail to reach. Indeed, I finished working through the Spear’s 20-round magazine only to find myself immediately bruised from the rifle digging into my side.

The author firing the MCX-Spear
The author firing the MCX-Spear (Chris Capelluto)

The LMG-6.8, on the other hand, handled like something out of an action film. An air-cooled, open bolt-fired fully automatic machine gun with a side opening feed tray cover, the LMG-6.8 both weighs far less than the M249 SAW it’s supposed to replace and offers significantly less recoil thanks to SIG’s recoil mitigation tech — the kick was all but negligible when fired from a prone position.

The LMG-6.8 has ambidextrous AR-style ergonomics, quick detach magazines, increased M1913 rail space, and a quick-detach SIG-developed suppressor. The feed tray is a side-opening design which not only makes it easier to manipulate but allows for additional top-mounted attachments with minimal interference. Like the MCX Spear, the machine gun comes with left-side charging handles and standard controls for convenience of use.

And reader, it was a blast to fire, especially on full auto.

The author firing the LMG-6.8
The author firing the LMG-6.8 (Chris Capelluto)

A win for SIG Sauer in the NGSW competition would prove a major victory for a company whose military and defense products have only gained momentum in the U.S. armed forces in the last five years.

Since the SIG P320 won the Modular Handgun System contract in 2017, the company has won contracts for SOCOM’s Suppressed Upper Receiver Group (SURG); supplied SOCOM with its MCX Rattler and MG 338 designs for testing as potential personal defense weapons and medium machine guns, respectively; supplied precision. 300 Winchester Magnum ammo for the Army’s bolt-action M2010 Enhanced Sniper rifle and the Navy’s Mk248 Sniper Ammunition program; and furnished both the Army and SOCOM with a variety of next-generation optics for widespread adoption.

“We are the only company that makes the ammunition and the weapons so we were able to harness the engineers on the weapons side with the engineers on the ammunition side,” as Cohen, the SIGSauer CEO, put it in a recent release from the company. “We are the picture of readiness. We are the singular small arms company in this competition, and SIG has the engineering resources, manufacturing resources, asset base and commitment to do this.”

The Army selected SIG, General Dynamics-OTS, and Textron Systems in September 2020 to develop prototypes of the NGSW’s carbine and automatic rifle variants chambered in 6.8 mm. The following April, the service also awarded agreements worth roughly $8.7 million each to L3 Harris Technology and Vortex Optics to build fire control prototypes for testing as part of the NGSW program.

According to the Army’s fiscal year 2022 budget request released last week, the Army is requesting $97 million to procure and field 339 NGSW-AR weapons, 3,725 NGSW-R weapons, and 8,093 NGSW-Fire Control systems across the service’s close combat force. The service plans on eventually procuring and fielding 107,711 NGSW-R weapons, 13,205 NGSW-AR weapons, and 120,916 NGSW-FC systems in total.

The Army plans on finally down-selecting a final vendor to supply the service with its two NGSW systems in November 2021, with delivery scheduled for May 2022, according to budget documents. No word yet on which lucky units might be the first to get their hands on them — yet.