August 08, 2005
Small-arms acquisition is delayed again - Other services want input in Army’s plans
By Sean D. Naylor
Times staff writer
Soldiers will have to wait longer for their next-generation individual weapon after the troubled program hit another bureaucratic snag.
The Army announced July 19 that it had “temporarily suspended” its process for the acquisition of a new family of individual weapons — called the Objective Individual Combat Weapon Increment 1 — to ensure the program can meet the needs of the other services.
“The Army’s proposal has received interest from the other military services and is further supported by several internal reviews reinforcing the increase in the potential for joint use,” a Defense Department statement said.
The OICW-1 family of small arms comprises a carbine, a special compact firearm, a designated marksman rifle and a light machine gun. Together these are intended to replace the M4 carbine, the M16 rifle, the M240 squad automatic weapon and some M9 pistols.
The program calls for weapons that “possess a high degree of commonality, enhanced capabilities and much higher reliability than our current weapons,” the Pentagon statement said.
The Army issued a “request for proposals” May 11 for weapons to meet those requirements. That solicitation is now suspended until the Joint Requirements Oversight Council convenes in early September.
The JROC will review the program and decide what, if any, joint requirements call for program changes, the Pentagon statement said.
If changes are required, a revised request for proposals would be issued with a new deadline.
Army spokeswoman Maj. Desiree Wineland said it was “difficult to say” when the weapons would be fielded to the Army.
“You’ve got to get congressional funding for it, and there’s many variables to go from here to there,” she said. The Army’s 2006 budget includes $31.5 million for the small-arms program, Wineland said.
It makes more sense to use the JROC process, she said, “than for us to say to industry, ‘Hey, we’re only looking at buying a thousand,’ and then the Marine Corps say they need 500 two months later, after we’ve pushed it all the way through, and then industry is stuck there with our thousand and their 500. ... It’s a problem you have in spinning up and preparing your work force to meet the demands of the requirement.”
Working through JROC would “preclude” Marines from complaining that they had to wait for their gear until after the Army had been equipped, as happened recently with vehicle armor, she said.
A controversial program
The decision to refer the OICW-1 to the JROC is the latest twist in an 11-year program mired in controversy.
The program began in 1994 as an effort to develop an “over-and-under” style weapon that combined air-bursting projectiles with regular 5.56mm ammunition. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Heckler & Koch won an open competition to develop the new weapon, designated as the XM29. Heckler & Koch had responsibility for the bullet-firing part of the weapon, while ATK worked on the air-bursting component.
But when ATK’s part of the weapon ran into trouble, the Army decided to “spiral” the 5.56 component, dubbed the XM8, into the force as soon as possible. This angered other arms manufacturers, who argued that the XM8 should be treated as a new-start program with an open competition.
That happened in late 2004, in a process that drew the ire of many defense contractors, who felt the program was still tilted in Heckler & Koch’s favor. Now, the Army’s solicitation has itself been put on hold pending the JROC meeting.
Wineland said the stretched-out timeline should suit the contractors interested in bidding on the program. In March, when the Army issued a draft request for proposals, “They solicited to everyone,” she said.
“There’s about eight different contractors that came back, and the one comment that they shared was that instead of a 60-day solicitation period, they would like to have six months to do this. That is the demand of the industry.”
So basically the XM8s purpose for existance was to slap it onto the grenade launcher. When the grenade launcher became delayed they started pushing the XM8, even though it just lost its purpose?
I smell a clusterfuck of Herculean proportions on the horizon.