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Editorial: Carbine contest blunder

Jun. 25, 2013 - 06:07PM   |  
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The Army closed its two-year, $50 million carbine competition in June, not with a bang but with a whimper. Not one of the eight weapons in the competition could meet all of the Army’s requirements.

Neither can the upgraded M4A1 every soldier will receive.

This is the second time in the past 15 years that the Army has tried and failed to identify and field a new carbine or rifle to replace the Vietnam-era M16 and its M4 derivative.

The real losers are soldiers.

“There are carbines better than an upgraded M4 out there, but the requirements practically cut out any chance of exceeding that standard,” one industry official told Army Times.

Those requirements included demanding the weapons fire “green ammo” and being virtually jam-free, a nearly impossible combination given how dirty green ammo can be.

Worse, the Army demanded all of the data rights to the winning submission, prompting at least one vendor, Colt, to pull its CM901. Colt developed the M16 and M4, only to lose control of the design and the bulk of the military’s orders years ago. It wasn’t out to make that mistake again.

To achieve its objective to win alternative sources of supply, the Army does not need to own the data rights; it needs the supplier to license those rights to one or two alternative suppliers. By overreaching, the service lost out on a potential competitor.

The Army has proved through its rapid equipping initiative that it can move quickly and efficiently to adopt civilian technologies and cut through bureaucratic red tape. Yet the service’s repeated failure to procure an improved carbine, despite multiple efforts, proves its conventional acquisition system is badly broken.

It’s bad enough that soldiers continue to use a weapon that’s not as good as newer models. To apply this trend to new vehicles and helicopters would be worse.

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