The U.S. Army is getting much closer to deploying the next generation weapon that could soon replace the M4 carbine and M249 light machine gun sometime in the early 2020s.
On Aug. 29, the Army announced it selected three defense companies to deliver prototype weapons for the Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW) program.
The new weapons must be lighter and able to penetrate the world's most advanced body armor from at least 600 meters away, defense insiders say.
"This is a weapon that could defeat any body armor, any planned body armor that we know of in the future," former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has said.
"This is a weapon that can go out at ranges that are unknown today. There is a target acquisition system built into this thing that is unlike anything that exists today. This is a very sophisticated weapon."
The announcement was originally posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website on Aug. 29. The notice said the Army selected AAI Corporation Textron Systems, General Dynamics Ordnance, and Sig Sauer as the three finalists for the NGSW program, reported Defense Blog.
The request asks AAI/Textron, G.D., and Sig Sauer each to supply 53 rifles, 43 automatic rifles and 850,000 rounds of ammunition for the 27-month test. The Army is expected to wrap up the test in 1H22 when it's expected to announce the winning design. By 2H22, the Army could start fielding the new weapons to combat units.
NGSW weapons won't initially replace all M4 carbine and M249 light machine guns but will be given to infantry and special operation forces first.
The 27-month test will include "soldier touchpoint" tests that evaluate "mobility and maneuverability on Army relevant obstacles, and user acceptance scenario testing," the Army says.
The Army is expected to test each weapon's round for ballistic effectiveness under simulated combat conditions. There's a chance in the latter parts of the test, the weapons could be tested in a war zone.
"These evaluations may be conducted with multiple squads," the Army added.
The NGSW program has been centered around a weapon that can support a new 6.8mm bullet.
AAI/Textron is seen as the leader in the NGSW since it has spent more than a decade developing its 6.8mm cased-telescoped round.
"We have assembled a team that understands and can deliver on the rigorous requirements for this U.S. Army program with mature and capable technology, reliable program execution and dedicated user support," says Wayne Prender, Textron Systems' Senior Vice President, Applied Technologies and Advanced Programs.
"Together, we are honored to support America's soldiers with the next-generation capabilities they need in their most dangerous missions."
The Pentagon's current shift from urban warfare in Iraq and Syria to the mountains and open terrain of Afghanistan have been the driving force behind modernizing standard issue weapons for infantry units. While standard rifles are well-suited for close combat in cities like Mosul and Raqqa, it lacks the range to kill adversaries in open stretches.
AAI/Textron will likely secure the contract for NGSW by 1H22. The contract could be as large as 250,000 weapons and 150 million rounds for the first order.