11 February 2011

UPDATED - US Army's New Carbine Competition Outlined

The Army Times has a detailed analysis of the new competition coming up for an M4A1 replacement (and/or modification).

The Army has outlined the competition that will select the best new carbine — and one that ultimately will face off against the improved M4A1 in a battle to become your next weapon.

The overall schedule of competition, testing, production and fielding is approximately three years to first unit equipped.

A draft solicitation to industry released Monday morning said the down-select will occur in three phases covering two years. The Army will host an industry day in March or April to solicit feedback and answer specific industry questions. The final solicitation will go out in May, and competitors typically have a couple of months to present their submissions.

The weapons will then square off in what officials have described as “extreme and extensive” tests expected to last 12 to 18 months. The Army will fire more than 2 million rounds to produce piles of data. Weapons will be tested to their destruction point and to determine whether they maintain accuracy throughout their life cycle — something the military has not tested before. A weapon typically loses accuracy as it ages.

No caliber restriction has been placed on a new design. It will be at least a 500-meter weapon and have a higher incapacitation percentage. It can have a gas or piston system. Interchangeable barrel sizes and calibers are not required, but many early contenders such as the FNH SCAR and Colt CM901 already incorporate this capability.

As the $30 million carbine competition is conducted, the Army also will move forward with the second half of its “dual path” strategy — an overhaul of the M4. The first phase essentially distributes an improved M4A1, which is notable for its heavier barrel and automatic fire. The heavier barrel reduces warping and erosion, resulting in better performance and longer life. It also allows for a higher sustained rate of fire. The Army also is adding ambidextrous controls.

The full test of the pre-solicitation and the industry day announcement is here.

By: Brant


The USMC is paying very close attention to what the Army is doing.

As the Army prepares for a two-year, $30 million competition to identify a possible new carbine, the Marine Corps is watching closely and evaluating what its own future weapons should look like.

Marine officials still plan the service’s infantry weapons around the 5.56mm M16A4 service rifle, but “that doesn’t mean we can’t be getting smart” about other options, said Lt. Col. Mark Brinkman, head of the infantry weapons program at Quantico, Va.-based Marine Corps Systems Command.

“The thought process for us is very similar to what’s going on in the Army,” he said Feb. 1 at the Soldier Technology U.S. conference in Arlington, Va.

The Army released a draft request for proposals for its carbine competition Jan. 31. The desired weapon must “support future system enhancements for accuracy, lethality, reliability, signature suppression, ammunition improvements, maintenance and other weapon/accessory technologies,” the RFP said. No caliber restrictions were set in the document.

The Army intends to issue up to three indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts in a three-phase competition, said Army Col. Douglas Tamilio, project manager for soldier weapons. The Army will assess whether submissions can be mass-produced in the U.S. in the first phase. The second phase calls for the firing of at least 700,000 rounds, with the Army whittling competitors down to three rifles or fewer for a final third phase.

Soldiers will fire 850,000 rounds in phase three, compiling reams of data for the Army. The weapons will be tested to their destruction point to determine whether they maintain accuracy through their entire life cycle — something the military has not tested before.

To win a mass-production contract, the winning company also must exceed the ability of the M4A1 currently fielded in Afghanistan. Army officials have launched an aggressive campaign to enhance the M4A1, with a heavier, more durable barrel; strengthened sight rails; a piston-charged operating system and the ability to fire in full-automatic mode.

“We’re going to say, ‘Here’s weapon X that won the competition,’” Tamilio said, speaking at the same conference. “Is it worth buying it instead of using the M4A1?”

The competition leaves Marine officials playing the waiting game. With its massive size and budget, the Army can afford to test options the Corps cannot. If they like what they see, Marine officials could adopt the solution the Army identifies, at least to replace the Corps’ existing arsenal of M4s.

Nearly all infantry soldiers use M4s, but in the Corps, they are fielded primarily to vehicle operators and other Marines whose jobs render the M16A4 too cumbersome. The trade-off is accuracy and stopping power, of which the M16A4’s longer 20-inch barrel offers more. The M4 has a 14.5-inch barrel, making it difficult for service members to take down targets beyond 200 yards.

By: Brant


LongBlade said...

Good stuff, Brant.

So they want to stick with the 5.56 round but want to improve the barrel to tolerate more automatic fire.

That tells me they think their next fights will be MOUT related.

madmaxusmc said...

This is Marine Corps procurement the way it used to be when I was in--the Army takes the lead on a large combat arms procurement project, controls the focus and spends all the money; the Marine Corps finagles a couple of billets for observers, takes copious notes and spends next to nothing. We got away from this strategy after the M-114 155mm howitzer fiasco, where the Army bought a weapon that was all wrong for the Corps and force fed it to us to lower unit costs. Somehow, after the Osprey and EFV procurement disasters (and the impending F-35 STOL variant catastrophe), this strategy is looking good again.