Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Thursday became the first Army unit equipped with the service’s Next Generation Squad Weapon systems, officials said in a service release.

Troops with the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment accepted the next-gen weaponry — the XM7 rifle, the XM250 automatic rifle, the XM157 fire control advanced optic, and the 6.8mm family of ammunition — in preparation for an equipment trainer course in April, the statement said.

The Army’s newest rifle and automatic rifle had already made it into soldiers’ hands for testing, but are now officially being fielded.

“The process of developing and fielding new equipment is never without challenges and setbacks and speed bumps, so we’re celebrating the fact that we’re delivering on schedule, as promised,” Lt. Col. Mark Vidotto, from the Army’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team at Fort Moore, Georgia, said in a statement. “It was a team effort from start to finish.”

The XM7 rifle is slated to replace the M4 carbine, while the XM250 automatic rifle will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, Army Times previously reported.

The weapons, which soldiers spent more than 25,000 hours developing and testing, are set for use by close combat forces such as infantry, special operations, scouts, combat engineers, combat medics and forward observers. The weapons and optics will drop the “X” in their names once fielded, Army Times also reported.

Efforts to develop the new weaponry began following the 2017 Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study, Army Times reported.

Earlier this month, the Army awarded a contract to Olin Winchester, the operating contractor of Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, to construct a facility to manufacture ammunition for the weapons. Partners included JPEO Armaments and Ammunition, Sig Sauer and Vortex, the release said.

A 75th Ranger Regiment soldier previously discussing the XM7 rifle said soldiers “absolutely would take this weapon to combat in a heartbeat.” Another expressed a similar sentiment about the XM250 automatic rifle, sharing that the weapon felt “like a huge upgrade.”

The Army plans to field weapons systems to a National Guard armored brigade in May, according to modernization schedules, the release said.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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