March 21, 2005
New and improved firepower
The Army’s on the hunt for its next generation of infantry weapons — and the XM8 is not a done deal
By Matthew Cox
Times staff writer
The Army wants arms makers to come up with replacements for virtually all of its infantry weapons, including its lightest machine gun.
The Army will hold an open competition this summer to select a replacement for its M16 rifles, M4 carbines and M249 squad automatic weapons by early fall.
The winning company will be awarded a low-rate initial production contract to produce up to 4,900 weapons systems, and could receive an initial full-rate production contract to make more than 134,000 weapons, according to the March 4 pre-solicitation notice posted on the Internet.
This new family of weapons could be ready for fielding by the second half of fiscal 2006.
The new weapons would fulfill an Army demand for lighter, more durable small arms to replace the aging designs that have long served the troops.
The XM8 was well along in development as the Army’s next weapon, but the announcement means the program will have to prove it can outperform the rest of the small-arms industry.
The Heckler & Koch-made XM8 family of prototypes features a compact model for close quarters, a standard carbine and a designated marksman/squad automatic rifle model with a longer, heavier barrel and bipod legs for stability. Army weapons developers have spent $29 million testing the XM8 in arctic, desert and tropical conditions to replace the venerable M16 family.
The Army’s Infantry Center, the service’s small-arms proponent, has no problem with a new family of weapons for the infantry squad, as long as it includes a light machine gun model to replace the nearly worn-out M249 SAW.
“We see that as our number one need,” said Maj. Glenn Dean, chief of small arms at the Infantry Center, Fort Benning, Ga. “If I only replaced one weapon in the squad, it would be the SAW.”
The Infantry Center’s stance prompted the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology in late January to order a competition to decide which commercial weapons maker can best meet this new requirement.
As a result, the XM8 — which does not include a light machine gun variant — is on hold.
“We have halted testing to let the competition be completed,” said Col. Michael Smith, who runs Project Manager Soldier Weapons, the Army office that has been developing the XM8.
Smith said the decision was made to hold off on operational tests slated for October because it’s unclear if H&K will emerge as the ultimate winner.
“It may not be XM8,” Smith said. “Our bottom line is we want the best weapon for the soldier. If someone has a better weapon than the XM8, I’m ready to support them 100 percent.”
Smith’s office has been working on the XM8 prototype as an unopposed replacement for the M16 since late 2003. It was part of a longer-range effort to perfect an over-and-under-style weapon, known as the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, or XM29, developed by Alliant Techsystems and Heckler & Koch.
The XM29 fires special air-bursting projectiles and standard 5.56mm ammunition. But at 18 pounds, it’s still too heavy to meet the Army’s requirements, so planners decided to perfect each of XM29’s components separately, allowing soldiers to take advantage of new technology sooner. The XM8 is one of those components.
The March 4 “Pre-solicitation Notice for the Objective Individual Combat Weapon Increment I family of weapons” invites small-arms makers to try to meet an Infantry Center requirement, which the Army approved in October, for a “non developmental family of weapons that are capable of firing U.S. standard M855 and M856” 5.56mm ammunition.
OICW Increment II deals with the separate development of the air-burst technology of XM29, and OICW Increment III would bring the two components back together when technology is available.
The OICW Increment I requirement is intended to replace current weapons systems, including the M4, M16 and selected M9 pistols for the active Army, the notice states. The special compact, carbine and designated marksman models must share 80 percent of the same parts.
The requirement also calls for the family of weapons to include a light machine gun model rather than the XM8’s squad automatic rifle variant.
Currently, each infantry squad contains two M249 SAWs that serve as light support weapons because of their 5.56mm ammunition and high rate of fire. While very popular with soldiers, the SAW is beginning to wear out, according to the Infantry Center.
“A lot of our SAWs are 20 years old,” Dean said, describing how SAWs are rebuilt, but in many cases not fast enough to keep up with everyday wear and tear under combat conditions. “You see soldiers carrying SAWs held together with the zip ties.”
And despite its light machine gun status, the SAW weighs more than 20 pounds when loaded with a 200-round belt of 5.56mm ammo. “In the long run, we like something more durable and something that is lighter,” Dean said.
This will likely be a challenge since light machine guns are traditionally heavier than automatic rifles so they can handle the heat buildup from the high rate of sustained fire, Smith said, adding that any replacement should be lighter than the current SAW.
The XM8’s squad automatic rifle model is not designed to serve as a light machine gun. It’s not designed for sustained fire and lacks the capability for barrel changes in less than 30 seconds, a key feature in ensuring barrels don’t overheat.
Because of these differences, the LMG model will only be required to share 50 percent of the parts with the other models in the family. Still, the requirement will likely prove difficult for all competitors.
“The light machine gun is a challenge … because of that, we have a level technical playing field for all the contractors,” Smith said.
But that didn’t deter major small-arms companies such as Colt, FN Herstal USA Inc. and Steyr-Mannlicher from saying they were ready to compete when the Army polled the weapons-making community last November in what’s known as a “sources sought” document — to see which other companies were willing to contend with XM8, Smith said.
“The sources-sought shows that the small-arms community had the capability to provide us with a family [of nondevelopmental weapons] so we would take them right into testing,” Smith said.
Even though the Army wants to replace the SAW, it’s not going anywhere in the near future, Dean said.
The Army’s push to grow the force from 33 brigades to 48 modular brigades known as units of action means it will need more SAWs in the short term, Dean said. Currently, the Army is planning to buy another 12,000 SAWs.
Other specific requirements are that each of the models include a common multipurpose sighting system that enables the soldier to rapidly and effectively hit stationary and moving targets at both close range and the maximum effective range of the model:
• 500 meters for the carbine.
• 150 meters for the special compact.
• 600 meters for the designated marksman.
• 600 meters and beyond for the light machine gun.
Also, the weapons must be equipped with limited-visibility fire control with infrared aim light, illuminator and visible red laser pointer. The infrared aiming light and illuminator must be greater than or equal to the capability of the current-issue AN/PEQ-2A.
A formal request for proposal is slated to be issued “on or about” March 23, the notice states. Interested companies will be required to submit four of each type of the four different variants by late spring.
Submissions will be put through a series of tests, to include live-fire exercises, to see if they meet the requirements.
Whether the XM8 comes out on top or not, its achievements in testing influenced the Infantry Center direction in mapping out the requirement for new infantry weapons, Dean said. “It has certainly demonstrated the possibilities of technology available … more so than any other system has done.”
Smith said he’s looking forward to seeing the results of the competition.
“It’s going to give us a family of four 5.56mm weapons … with extensive commonality,” he said. “It gives the commander the capability to configure his weapons based on the mission, with higher reliability than ever before — about four times the reliability over what they had before. That’s in requirement.”
March 21, 2005
The push for more pistol punch
Army tests new ammo, technology in search for future handgun
By Matthew Cox
Times staff writer
The Army is testing potent pistol ammo, including .45-caliber rounds, as a possible alternative for 9mm, the M9 pistol round often criticized for its lack of stopping power.
Since World War I, the 9mm cartridge has seen action in conflicts all over the world and is the standard pistol caliber for NATO forces. Still, soldiers have questioned the performance of the lightweight ammunition since the Army chose it as a replacement for the combat-proven .45 two decades ago.
Continued complaints from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war on terrorism began prompted officials at the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga., to take a serious look at alternatives to the M9 pistol.
“The feeling is that we need to assess a caliber beyond the 9mm,” said Maj. Glenn Dean, chief of the small arms division at Benning, citing the most common complaint from soldiers: “We’d like more stopping power.”
;Complaints about reliability and a lack of accessories also prompted Dean’s office, the Army’s proponent for small arms, to scour the commercial pistol market last summer for off-the-shelf options for a Future Handgun System. “We are assessing the current technology to define what a future handgun should do, and send it to the Army,” Dean said.
As a combat developer, Dean’s job is to stay on top of the needs of soldiers and turn them into future small-arms requirements for the Army.
Since the U.S. military began operations in Afghanistan in 2001, small-arms officials at Benning have talked to soldiers who say they have little confidence in the M9 9mm in the combat zone, Dean said.
Under the Soldier Enhancement Program, Benning officials began looking for solutions on the commercial market. They started out with about 85 different semi-automatic handguns from major manufacturers such as Glock, Sigarms Inc. and Smith & Wesson.
The goal, though, was not to find a perfect pistol, Dean said. Instead, 14 pistols, in a mix of 9mm, .40 and .45 calibers, were selected for soldiers to shoot, so small-arms officials could study how individual features such as calibers and safety devices performed, Dean said.
Ten soldiers participated in two weeks of shooting tests. They were men and women, commissioned and noncommissioned officers. Their job specialties ranged from infantrymen and military police to drill sergeants and signal soldiers.
Officials examined collected data such as shot placement, qualification scores, reliability and safety, Dean said. Other factors studied included how fast soldiers could recover from the shot recoil, aim and shoot again.
Some of the features examined in the test that could show up in the Future Handgun System proposal are based on past complaints about the M9, Dean said. Some of these include magazine releases that can be operated easier while wearing cold-weather gloves and safeties and decocking devices mounted on the pistol frame rather than the slide for simpler, one-handed operation.
The test also looked at pistols like the M9 that feature double-action/single-action operation versus single- and double-action-only models.
The M9 allows soldiers to shoot in double-action mode — pulling the trigger with the hammer in the down position — and in single-action mode, in which the hammer is cocked to the rear before the first shot to make the trigger easier to pull. Revolutionary improvements in triggers over the past five years could fix this, Dean said.
In both modes, the hammer remains in the rear position after each shot and requires a decocking device that lets the soldier drop the hammer safely while a round is in the chamber when the shooting is over.
A double-action-only operation eliminates the need for a decocker since the hammer remains in the down position after each shot, Dean said.
The data gathered from the experiment will likely be ready sometime in March, Dean said. If his office decides to make a recommendation, Dean said it could go before the senior leadership by this summer.
If the Army decides to move forward, weapons developers hope to invite commercial pistol makers to participate in an open competition to select a new service pistol.
“We do expect to release a [request for proposal] by late summer for a Future Handgun System,” said Col. Michael Smith, the head of Army’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons. “It really is an exciting time.”
Dean remains optimistic but knows that the program will have to compete against other expensive programs, including an effort to replace the Army’s M16s and M249 squad automatic weapons.
“The challenge is actually getting the requirement approved,” Dean said. “To be realistic, no army has won a war based on a pistol.”
Many see fewer pistols in the Army’s future, Dean said, describing how ultralight, compact carbines may replace pistols for tank crewmen and other soldiers who operate in tight places.
On the other hand, carrying a pistol as a backup weapon has always been a top priority among American soldiers.
“Ever since the Revolutionary War, all the soldiers have wanted a pistol and a big knife,” said Charlie Pavlick, project officer for individual and special purpose weapons. “Soldiers have found ways to get them whether they were authorized them or not.”
But the Army’s current pistol has never truly won the confidence of soldiers since the Army chose it as a replacement for the M1911A1 .45 automatic pistol in 1985.
The lighter 9mm round gave soldiers 15 rounds, compared to the seven-round capacity of the 1911. But it came at a cost of knock-down power.
The Army adopted the M1911A1 to fill the need for greater stopping power after the .38 service revolver often failed to put down determined Moro warriors during the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the century.
Soldier complaints about the M9 often deal with unreliable magazines and a lack of mountable accessories such as some type of integrated laser sight system, Dean said.
Special operations soldiers are the ones using pistols most often in combat, but a desire for more hitting power, Dean said, is a common complaint his office could not ignore.
“There is a certain percentage of those comments, we think are echoing other comments, but we have heard it enough from folks that are actually operators,” Dean said.
If it's not a laser than it's not an improvement.
And the XM8 sucks
Maybe instead of wanting gee whiz toys, they should concentrate on encouraging and building the marksmanship capabilities of their Soldiers with the weapons they already have.There have been rumblings about that within the last couple of years, but I have yet to see it happen.
*post contains personal opinion only*
+1 I have gone shooting with a few in the armed forces and they lack accuracy. Only two I have gone shooting with actually but they are active so I would have expected them to have a little more skill when your infantry and having to shoot people or be shot.
I too think that instead of spending tons of moeny to replace weapons that don't need replacing they should use the money for ammo for range time
not only will the xm8 result in a bunch of wasted rifles, but wasted magazines too
if they absolutely must replace the M16 at least get something that uses the same magazines
The Brass and Politicians love New Whoopie Toys! It's that simple!
Actual Training doesn't "sell".
oh shit you just stepped in it now!
Why are we so hell bent on replacing what doesn't need replacing? I can think of a whole host of things the US Army should be spending money on besides new small arms.
But, if we are determined to get new ones, here's what I'd take:
1. Service rifle: Sig 551 (IMHO the only improvement over the M-16 out there)
2. SAW: The Israeli Negev
3. Handgun: The Sig P220 if we want a .45, the Glock 17 if we want the 9mm
My only issue is that all would be foreign designs (though would be made here most likely). But it looks like that's the route we are gonna take regardless, so there's my picks if they are hell bent to do this.
I would rather them spend the money on more F-22's
Nothing needs replacing except that @@##$%%^ SAW.
The SAW is fine from everything I have seen with it; the problem seems to be when people try to run M16 mags thru it, and the problems it has cycling blanks in training doesn't cultivate confidence in the Soldier when they go to fire live ammo. I'll be running my 4th or 5th SAW range this month and I have yet to have any major significant problems with it. Maybe someone with real world operational trigger time can chirp in if they've had issues with the platform and have a different experience.
*post contains personal opinion only*
I am not familiar with the SAW from a hands on view, what are its weakness'?
Which is unfortunate, because its training and not just toys that keeps people alive.
THE HELL YOU SAY!
If you're going to replace worn-out-SAWs, what's wrong with simply buying another SAW? I'm sure that FN can build them.
I'll be curious to see how the new request for rifle is written. Styer and FN's current lines are both bullpups, aren't they? I wouldn't be surprised to see institutional inertia in there so that the specs call for a conventional design.
How about L85A2? Accurate, reliable (now they've fixed it), short, and uses M-16 magazines.
Of course, that would probably mean H&K competing against itself, but it might be nice to keep the options open should the US Army actually decide bullpup is the way to go.
Same here. The Squad Automatic Weapon we used in the SAF is the ST Kinetics SAW Ultimax 100. It's a great gun. The rearward travel of the bolt's stopped by spring power alone, making it very controllable under sustained fire. Like the RPK is to the AK, the Ultimax uses either it's own proprietary magazine, or can use M16 mags.
I'm just going to keep my cool and stay out of this one.
Just give the GI's 147gr Ranger ammo for thier M9, no more bitching....
Of course the .45 is better, we used it, the germans used the 9mm, they lost, we won.....end of discussion......
9mm, 45acp...Get both!
I've only got 5K rounds behind the M249. The ones I've used,and any of the ones I've seen fired, have not had any issues. M249's used were belt fed, live ammo.
There is nothing "Head & Shoulders" above all when it comes to other 5.56x45mm rifles. Simply getting another 5.56 rifle is a waste of money. When it comes to the M9, simply use Beretta magzines and maybe hollowpoints. I don't think a .05 or a .10 of a inch will matter that much in FMJ handguns bullets. All in all, new small arms are a waste of money IMO.