INDIANAPOLIS ― The Army’s plan for a new squad automatic rifle will bring a type of ammunition combination, from bullet to casing, that’s never seen the battlefield.

Army Lt. Col. Andrew Lunoff, product manager for the service’s small caliber ammunition program, said that the round currently under consideration is the 6.8mm caliber.

Lunoff was speaking on a panel on intermediate caliber development at the annual National Defense Industrial Association Armaments Systems forum here.

The 6.8mm round is the offspring of a project formerly known as the Enhanced Rifle Cartridge Program that put together Special Operations Command, the Army Marksmanship Unit and Remington Arms to create an alternative to the 5.56mm round currently in use across the force.

That size ammo falls in the sweet spot the Army is looking for, with all the good characteristics of the heavier 7.62mm but with more lethality and accuracy — and coming in at an automatic 10 percent weight savings.

But work doesn’t end with the projectile, which hasn’t been officially named as the caliber but is the basis for much of current testing.

Lt. Col. Loyd Beal III, product manager for the Army’s crew served weapons program, said the requirements to lighten the load will mean not just a new projectile for increased lethality, but a new case to carry that bullet.

“The requirement is going to drive us to a new type of ammunition,” Beal said. “It’s going to have to be lighter. You can’t just go out and get a brass type, which pushes us to a polymer or some type of steel or something I don’t even know about yet.”

Beal added that while there has been a lot of promise in the development of Cased Telescope Ammunition, advances in other configurations give the Army a menu of options for developing the cartridge combination.

The intermediate caliber development is a simultaneous project with the Army’s plan to make the replacement for the Squad Automatic Weapon, known as the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle.

The NGSAR program, officials said, will inform not only a new machine gun, but it will soon follow with a new carbine for individual soldiers.

As the round is developed, Lunoff outlined the Army’s priorities.

First is a combat round, followed soon after by a blank round for training. Those are near-term goals.

Next, the service will need reduced range training rounds, tracer rounds, drill ammunition for weapon cycling, combat tracers and short range “paintball” type training rounds for close-quarter shooting.

SOCOM snipers will see barrel changes as early as next year to the commercially available 6.5mm round that will increase range, lethality, accuracy and reduce recoil.

Prototypes of the intermediate caliber for the NGSAR program are expected to be ready for testing by late 2019, early 2020, with the rifle being fielded to units by 2022, Beal said.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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