The gun that will replace both the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and the M16/M4 rifle/carbine weapons — and add a new, widely distributed caliber to the U.S. military inventory for the first time in decades — is less than two years away.

The Next Generation Squad Weapon finished its first prototype test event in September. The three previously selected offerings came from Sig Sauer, Textron Systems and General Dynamics Ordnance.

Brig. Gen. David Hodne, Infantry School commandant and Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team director, along with Brig. Gen. Anthony Potts, head of Program Executive Office Soldier, gave updates to Army Times ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Concurrently, the Army in April has also selected two companies, L3 Technologies and Vortex Optics, to compete for the fire control for the weapons system.

Sig Sauer’s design looks much like a conventional assault rifle while GD is using a bullpup design, which shortens the length by building the magazine feed into the weapon stock. Textron has built its weapon around the cartridge, which is unique to them, a cased telescope item that has the projectile inside of the casing to reduce weight.

Back in April, each of the companies provided 15 rifles, 15 automatic rifles and 180,000 cartridges using the government-developed 6.8mm projectile.

The 6.8mm projectile was chosen after decades of testing and evaluation showed that 5.56mm lethality at mid-ranges on the battlefield was inadequate and existing 7.62mm could be outperformed by the 6.8mm round and save weight for the soldier.

The new caliber also gives the soldier both a rifle and automatic rifle firing the same round, both effective past the 600m mark of existing light calibers.

Following the September testing, the companies will have six months until their next prototype test, scheduled to begin in February.

During the annual Maneuver Warfighter Conference at Fort Benning in Georgia, Maj. Wyatt Ottmar, project officer over NGSW for the Soldier Lethality CFT, laid out some of the recent developments and next steps for the weapons system.

Ottmar noted that Sig Sauer provided a combined steel lower and brass upper ammunition cartridge to reduce weight. A contract is expected to be awarded to one of the three companies this coming fiscal year with fielding to start in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2022, or sometime between August and October 2022, to Infantry, Stryker and Armor Brigade Combat Teams.

Ultimately, the weapon will be fielded to all close combat forces, including special operations forces, infantry, combat engineers and scouts.

The fire control is expected to field six months ahead of the weapon, Potts said. That will allow the NGSW producer to better integrate the optic with the weapon.

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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