Gone are the days of the M4 and M16. They have served their time, and now the military is putting them to bed. But not so fast. Manufacturing for the new systems hasn’t begun just yet, and my guess is we are still a year or two out until we start seeing the new bad boys in our arms rooms.

The Army expects the first unit to be equipped in Fiscal Year 2022.

To replace the M4 and M16, three weapon and ammunition vendors and two fire control vendors are competing through FY21 in two separate prototyping efforts, with the option to produce and field their offerings based on system performance. Those vying for the job are Sig Sauer, General Dynamics, and Textron Systems, all of which have made prototypes that are pending soldier feedback.

The Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW) Program is a future prototyping effort, using Middle Tier Acquisition Authority, to develop and create operationally relevant, squad-level lethality in order to combat increasing threats. The program is informed by soldiers’ feedback.

The prototyping effort consists of the Rifle (NGSW-R) and Automatic Rifle (NGSW-AR) with a standard 6.8mm cartridge and Fire Control (NGSW-FC) between two systems. The effort is to field the Close Combat Force (CCF) with the NGSW-R as the replacement for the M4A1, and the NGSW-AR as the replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

The prototype test began in the third quarter of 2020 and served as a “diagnostic test” to inform the weapon and ammunition vendors of their current performance and feed another design iteration.

The competing systems and companies for the rifle contract.
The competing systems.

The second prototype test, which will begin in the second quarter of 2021, will have selected teams report on these systems’ performance.

The NGSW program significantly increases the lethality and probability of a hit on target at the squad level. Due to the nature of the General Purpose ammunition, the 6.8mm projectile outperforms the modern 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition. These new weapon systems will give soldiers significant capability improvements in accuracy, range, signature management, and lethality over the M4 and M16.

I have been very disappointed with the knockdown power of the 5.56mm NATO rounds in past gunfights. The round was too small, in my opinion, and lacked the punching power.

Though the specifics are competition-sensitive, the NGSW-R, NGSW-AR, NGSW-FC, and the 6.8mm ammunition will be compatible with all the currently fielded enablers while providing an open Adaptive Soldier Architecture (ASA) to integrate with developing enabler programs.

At the 2020 Maneuver Warfighter Conference back in September 2020, Brig. Gen. David Hodne of the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team provided a detailed update on several high-tech initiatives for infantry soldiers, including the Next Generation Squad Weapon program.

General Dynamics’ automatic rifle variant.

“We’ve recently completed a series of both user acceptance events and technical testing events on the first series of prototypes from the three vendors,” Hodne told Task & Purpose in early October. “Vendors will take the feedback, technical and user, and improve prototypes in what will be the second series of tests to occur in the spring of 2021.”

The new rifle will use 6.8mm rounds, as opposed to the M4 which uses the 5.56mm NATO round.

The 6.8mm Remington Special Purpose Cartridge (6.8 SPC, 6.8 SPC II, or 6.8×43mm) is a rimless bottlenecked intermediate rifle cartridge developed by Remington Arms in collaboration with members of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to replace the 5.56 NATO.

The 6.8mm projectile is dimensionally between the 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO-standard rifle cartridges but is expected to provide range and accuracy superiority, therefore increasing soldier lethality.

Meet the new rifle that will replace the M16/M4

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Unlike SIG Sauer and Textron’s NGSW prototypes, both General Dynamics’ two NGSW prototypes are bullpup designs, with magazines loaded behind the trigger group for a reasonably compact platform. Thanks to General Dynamics’ bullpup design, their rifle benefits from a relatively long barrel length, higher muzzle velocities, and increased range.

So who will win the contract to replace the M4 and M16? The dollar amounts involved will be huge. 

As of right now, the military hasn’t made its selection but I expect it to be made prior to the end of the year.