This isn't your dad's M16 rifle

Textron Systems has created a new kind of cartridge and weapons to lighten the load and reduce recoil on machine guns and rifles. Military Times ground combat reporter Todd South breaks it down.

The Army has selected 6.8mm as the new common round for both its Squad Automatic Weapon and M4 replacement.

A Prototype Opportunity Notice posted on the government website fbo.gov is going to give three companies the chance to submit their versions of the new individual service rifle, the Next Generation Squad Weapon, chambered in 6.8mm, the same round that developers are using for the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle program.

Until recently, officials would only say that developers were being encouraged to look at requirements in the intermediate caliber range, somewhere between the existing 5.56mm and 7.62mm rounds common to individual, sniper and machine guns in the Army’s inventory.

Until recently, the goal was to first develop the NGSAR and then allow its advancements to inform the development of the M4 replacement, the NGSW-Rifle.

But, Brig. Gen. Anthony Potts, who leads Program Executive Office Soldier, recently told Army Times that the new approach is to develop both along the same path, with the same round, so that designers can find the best fit for ammo in both weapons, much like existing M4s and Squad Automatic Weapons both fire the 5.56mm.

The NGSAR program selected five companies this summer to produce six prototypes. Those are expected for delivery by June, according to officials.

Those companies are:

  • AAI Corporation Textron Systems.
  • FN America LLC.
  • General Dynamics-OTS Inc.
  • PCP Tactical, LLC.
  • Sig Sauer, Inc.

Each will submit one prototype for the NGSAR, except for FN, which has been allowed to submit two variants.

That program continues so far, but the new notice will mean the three companies selected will deliver both the rifle and machine gun in 6.8mm for testing and a potential contract.

This week’s posting expects about a 27-month period for development, meaning production could begin as soon as 2021.

And once that production begins, companies are expected to produce at least 200 weapons per month. Within six months of the award, they need to pump out 2,000 weapons a month within three years for a potential total order of 250,000 weapons systems, both NGSW-R and NGSAR, over a 10-year period.

That cashes out to $10 million the first year and an estimated $150 million a year for the higher production rate years.

During the coming two-plus years, companies will have to provide 50 NGSW-R weapons, 850,000 rounds of ammunition, spare parts and test barrels.

The ammunition will be a 6.8mm general purpose, or GP, round that’s not tailored to one specific shooting scenario but is instead an all-purpose round suitable to combat, limited training and basic qualification.

But they also must deliver both a High Pressure Test Round, loaded 20 percent higher than normal pressure. That is to stress the gun barrel and breech during firing.

For other functional tests such as weapon chambering, clearing and maintenance tasks, they must also include a Drilled Dummy Inert cartridge.

The companies will have to provide a testable prototype within a year for initial testing.

The prototype 6.8mm NGSW-R will include a sling, flash hider, suppressor, cleaning kit, flash hider/suppressor removal tool, and quantities of magazines required to provide a minimum of 210 stowed rounds.

The prototype 6.8mm NGSAR will include bi-pod, sling, flash hider, suppressor, cleaning kit, flash hider/suppressor removal tool, and quantities of magazines/drums/belts/other required to provide a minimum of 210 stowed rounds.

And, of course, both will need to have rails capable of mounting a variety of rifle optics, aiming lasers and the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual.

The FWS-I is an all-in-one optic under development by Army researchers that pairs a rifle-mounted camera with Night Vision Goggles and Heads Up Display to allow the weapon sight to be displayed in the optic through a range of obscurants.