The US Army has long been at the forefront of weapons technology innovation, constantly seeking to develop new firearms that enable its personnel to meet the demands of modern warfare. One program aimed at revolutionizing the service’s small arms arsenal is the Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW) initiative. 

Forging ahead into the future of weapon design, this undertaking has culminated in the development of the XM7 Rifle and XM250 Automatic Rifle, both manufactured by Sig Sauer. 

Testing and Feedback:

The US Army intends to put the XM7 and XM250 through rigorous testing, with trials planned in numerous extreme environments throughout the summer. The primary objective of these tests is to evaluate the performance of the new weapons across a diverse range of conditions, further refining the designs based on feedback from soldiers. 

The development process has been heavily guided by user experience, with the Army incorporating recommendations from soldiers into the designs of the XM7 and XM250 to enhance their functionality, reliability, and overall performance.

“The soldier touch point allowed the program and Sig Sauer the opportunity to solicit direct soldier feedback on the systems post-contract award and inform simple design changes to improve the weapons before going into Production Qualification Test and Operational Tests in the coming year,” said Captain Tyler Morgan, assistant product manager for the Next Generation Squad Weapons program.

Comparisons to Previous Models:

One of the most significant advancements offered by the XM7 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle is their weight and size reduction compared to previous models such as the M4. Both new weapons are lighter and more compact, ensuring that soldiers are not encumbered during high-intensity combat. Furthermore, the firearms utilize 6.8mm rounds, a notable improvement from earlier 5.56mm rounds in lethality and range. The round has been put through its paces by SOF in the past. This transition in size and weight is expected to significantly enhance soldiers’ ability to carry weapons over long distances while increasing their combat effectiveness.

“We should note that this is the first time … in 65 years [that] the Army will field a new weapon system of this nature: a rifle, an automatic rifle, a fire control system, and a new caliber family of ammunition,” Army Brig. Gen. Larry Q. Burris, the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team director, said. 

The development of the XM7 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle heralds a paradigm shift in the military’s small arms strategy, marking a departure from previous weapons like the M4 used by the United States Armed Forces. 

“This is revolutionary, and we arrived at this point in record time because we leveraged [the] middle-tier of acquisition rapid fielding authorities to enable speed and flexibility in defining requirements.” 

Emphasizing lethality, portability, and reliability, these next-generation rifles are poised to augment the tactical prowess of infantry units and those engaged in unconventional warfare scenarios. General Mark A. Milley, former Army Chief of Staff, underscored the need to modernize the infantry’s small arms capabilities, expressing concern that the US military faced glaring capability gaps, particularly regarding range and firepower. 

A primary metric where the XM7 and XM250 excel is weight and size reduction. Owing to their lightweight materials and engineering design, both rifles allow for enhanced maneuverability and soldier mobility, which is critical in volatile combat environments. Conversely, the M4 has been criticized for its weight and bulk, which could potentially encumber the soldier and inhibit one’s ability to perform missions effectively. 

“The capability increase that these weapons provide over the M4 and the M249 is what’s really exciting,” Army Col. Scott Madore, the project manager for soldier lethality, said. “It’s a significant change: the way it fires, the way, when you apply the fire control — which was previously awarded back in January — when you apply that to these weapons systems, it improves or increases the probability of a [hit] for the individual soldier. It reduces aim error, and it’s a game changer. That’s really what excites me about these two systems as we saw them go through testing.” 

A 2018 report from the Center for a New American Security states that individual infantry loads – including weapons, body armor, and ammunition – have increased over the past 15 years. As such, the development of the XM7 and XM250 represents a response to the evolving exigencies of warfare, wherein lighter weapons systems are at a premium.

“Heavy loads can diminish both cognitive and physical performance. Combat requires forces prepared for engagements along both metrics; anything that diminishes the ability to engage the enemy is suboptimal. Heavy weight decreases tactical capability, especially when combined with fatigue and the physical effects of combat stress. Army doctrine reflects an understanding of the negative effect weight has on agility and physical performance. Army field manual FM 21-18, Procedures and Techniques of Foot Marches, encourages soldiers to carry heavier loads in training than combat in order to increase strength and improve maneuver on the battlefield.”

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Regarding firepower, the XM7 and XM250 boast a significant advantage compared to previous models. Both weapons utilize ammunition that is ballistically superior to the M4, employing 6.8mm rounds that substantially improve lethality and range compared to the earlier 5.56mm rounds. This shift demonstrates the military’s commitment to increasing soldiers’ combat effectiveness, as the 6.8mm rounds generate 40-50% more energy than the 5.56mm rounds. The result is a transformational leap in infantry capabilities, manifested in increased precision, stopping power, and overall effectiveness on the battlefield.

While traditional optics and targeting devices have been the norm for battlefield engagements, incorporating advanced optical technologies in the XM7 and XM250 platforms differentiates these rifles from their predecessors. Utilizing an Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), soldiers can effectively double their hit probability at 300 meters (Riley, 2019). In addition, the integrated connectivity between the soldier’s wearable computer and the weapon’s optic enables the user to fire accurately from the hip, potentially mitigating the risk from enemy fire.

Lastly, reliability remains a critical factor that informs weapon selection for militaries across the spectrum, alluding to a weapon’s capacity to withstand weather, environment, and extended usage. The XM7 and XM250 have undergone rigorous testing protocols to assess their performance and durability under diverse settings. The results of these tests instill confidence in their potential as highly resilient and reliable firearms that can weather the challenges of unconventional warfare environments.

The XM7 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle offer far-reaching improvements over their predecessors in weight, size, firepower, and advanced optics. Per the military’s strategic vision, these powerful advancements are likely to profoundly impact the soldiers’ overall combat effectiveness and readiness, shaping the future of infantry operations across theatres of conflict around the globe.

Popularity in Special Operations

The XM7 and XM250 have garnered significant interest from the special operations community. This is largely due to the weapons’ particular features and capabilities, which enhance performance, reliability, and adaptability. Additionally, incorporating these next-generation firearms into special operations units is believed to considerably expand the scope of military operations, with increased range and lethality leading to more effective engagements.

The Path to Production and Deployment

Before the XM7 and XM250 can be cleared for mass production and deployment, they must complete a series of crucial tests. The Production Qualification Test (PQT) assesses the weapons’ design and manufacturing processes and ensures that the manufacturing facilities consistently produce quality weapons. 

The Operational Test (OT) focuses on the weapons’ performance in real-world conditions, with results potentially contributing to additional design improvements. Both tests will occur over the coming months, with keen interest from the military and defense industry in their outcomes.

“The fielding of the weapon is based upon ammunition production,” Burris said. “As the vendor is able to produce ammunition and then Lake City [Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri] ultimately comes on, what we don’t want to do is field a capability to a unit where we don’t have training ammunition or contingency ammunition if required. That’s what drives the fielding of the weapons.” 

“We already have started preparing the site for the new building,” Boruff said. “The new building will be stood up in Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, and it will start producing around [fiscal year] 25/26. We’ll work with SIG Sauer. We’re clearing some space now at the Lake City facility to start production.” 

The XM7 Rifle and XM250 Automatic Rifle embody significant advancements in weapon technology, positioning them to be pivotal in the success of the NGSW program. Should these innovative firearms ultimately fulfill expectations, they will have far-reaching implications for military strategies and tactics in the US Army.