Symbol of power
The main symbol of the US Army is not the Abrams, the M2 infantry fighting vehicle, or the Apache helicopter. Over the long decades of operation of the M16 rifle and its versions, this particular complex has become the hallmark of the US Army. The M4 carbine developed on the basis of the M16A2, despite the slightly reduced characteristics in comparison with the automatic rifle, almost completely satisfied the ground forces. But time goes on, while forming new requirements. Back in the 90s, the German company Heckler & Koch loudly declared itself with its new automatic machine HK G36, made with a wide use of high-strength polymers. The US Army wanted its own conventional counterpart: this resulted in a project commonly known as the XM8. The assault rifle was tested in the army back in the 2000s, but it didn’t go any further. At first, the Pentagon wished that not only the requirements of the ground forces, but also of other branches of the armed forces, were taken into account. And then the shortcomings characteristic of any new weapon were revealed. In 2005, the project was officially closed.
At some stage, it began to seem that the M4 carbine was “eternal”, like the low-impulse intermediate cartridge 5.56 × 45 mm. However, the eternal competition of armor and weapons has already said its weighty word in our days. Thus, the Russian equipment “Ratnik”, including the 6B45 body armor, is capable of withstanding ten hits from a Dragunov sniper rifle. And then the Chinese pulled themselves together with their claims to world leadership …
American fears spilled over into the Next Generation Squad Weapons program, designed to find replacements for both the M4 carbine and the M249 light machine gun. Accordingly, the program consists of the NGSW-R (Next Generation Squad Weapon Rifle) project, which aims to replace the M4, and NGSW-AR (Next Generation Squad Weapon Automatic Rifle), aimed at obtaining a new machine gun. At the heart of everything is a fundamentally new 6.8-mm bimetallic cartridge, characterized by increased muzzle velocity and firing range, as well as low weight. The muzzle velocity of the bullet is 976 m / s: it is assumed that the initial energy of the bullet exceeds the initial energy of the bullets of most cartridges of 7.62 × 51 mm caliber. In the West, the new cartridge is positioned as “capable of piercing any body armor”, but now we will not get involved in discussions and analyze technical nuances. For now, let’s just see who exactly will compete for the right to become the main weapon of the US Ground Forces.
Previously, the following companies became participants in the competition:
VK Integrated Systems
AAI Corporation Textron Systems
General Dynamics-OTS Inc
Sig Sauer Inc.
FN America LLC
PCP Tactical, LLC
The finalists of the tender for the supply of a new generation NGSW shooting complex were:
They must supply the troops with experimental batches of rifles and machine guns, the official comparative tests of which will be carried out in 2021. If all goes according to plan, in the first quarter of 2022, the final draft of the rifle and machine gun will be chosen and the winner will begin to supply them in large quantities to the troops.
In May, the Military.com portal reported that the US Special Operations Forces will receive samples of small arms created under the Next Generation Squad Weapon program. The experience gained should allow the army team to better determine which complex suits them best. And recently it became known about the supply of the first rifles and machine guns developed within the NGSW.
The Army received an MCX-SPEAR rifle and a SIG-LMG-6.8 machine gun from SIG Sauer. The MCX Spear assault rifle was developed on the basis of the SIG MCX modular platform. As noted by the portal Modern Firearms, it uses a traditional gas-operated automation with an overhead gas piston with a short stroke. The gas unit is equipped with a two-position gas regulator. The barrel is locked by a rotary bolt. The return spring of the bolt is located above the bolt group, in the upper part of the receiver.
As for the machine gun, its ergonomics and recoil should correspond to the M4 with a mass of less than 6.8 kilograms. All complexes are equipped with new SLX mufflers, which, thanks to the optimized removal of powder gases, minimize the visibility of the shooter in the infrared spectrum.
The proposal from SIG Sauer can be roughly called “conservative”, although it has been made taking into account modern technologies. In general, the features of the complexes are seen as advantages rather than disadvantages that increase SIG Sauer’s chances of success.
Last year, General Dynamics announced its participation in the Next Generation Squad Weapon competition. As part of the competition, she offers the RM277 assault rifle, made in the bullpup layout. It uses 6.8mm polymer-barrel cartridges to reduce weight. According to experts, the complex used shock absorption for the recoil of the firing unit (barrel with receiver) to mitigate a fairly strong recoil. The fuse-translator is double-sided: it is located above the pistol grip of fire control.
The weapon has a rather unusual silencer, which, due to its shape and impressive size, has already been compared to an aluminum can. It also acts as a flame arrester.
The most controversial thing about the RM277 is the aforementioned bullpup layout, in which the trigger is moved forward and is located in front of the magazine and firing mechanism. The advantage of the layout is that it can significantly reduce the overall length of the weapon without changing the barrel length. But it has no less, or even more, disadvantages: this is the location of the store, which significantly complicates reloading, and the difficulty of using large-capacity magazines, and the location of the center of gravity of the weapon, which is unusual for many. An illustrative example: earlier, France decided to abandon the famous FAMAS, made according to the bullpup scheme, and as a replacement they called the HK 416, made according to the “usual” scheme. But more importantly, Americans, being renowned for innovators in small arms, are not particularly fond of bullpup. In any case, such complexes have never been used by ground forces on a mass basis.
The prospects of the complex developed by the American company Textron are even more ambiguous. The weapon created as part of the NGSW-R project uses telescopic cylindrical cartridges, where the bullet is completely recessed into a plastic sleeve. AAI has been developing this cartridge for many years as part of the LSAT program. It is assumed that such a solution will reduce the weight of the weapon and take more cartridges with you.
The weapon was equipped with a complex ammunition supply system with a movable chamber. On the other hand, from the point of view of ergonomics, the new machine is similar to the rifles and carbines in use today. It is also known that the cartridges are fed from plastic magazines with a capacity of 20 cartridges, and the sighting devices can be installed on the Picatinny rail on the receiver cover and forend.
We will remind, earlier Textron showed a machine gun, designed to replace the M249. He will receive ribbon feed.
Regardless of the potential advantages and disadvantages of each of these complexes, there is no guarantee that the US Army will replace its M4 and M249 with new complexes. Earlier, we have repeatedly witnessed how ambitious programs for the rearmament of the US Ground Forces ended in nothing.