The Dual Path Strategy for the Next Generation of Army Service Rifles

The U.S. Army is implementing the most dramatic overhaul of its service rifles in nearly 50 years. Our own Project Manager (PM) Soldier Weapons division is currently pursuing a “dual path” strategy that will result in significant changes to the one system that is critical to all Soldiers – their standard issue service rifle. The dual path approach consists of the continuous improvement program for the M4 Carbine, paired with a full and open carbine competition. 

 

According to Colonel Douglas Tamilio, PM Soldier Weapons, the intent of the dual path strategy is to allow the Army to continue its practice of upgrading the combat-proven M4 while simultaneously challenging industry to develop the next generation carbine. With nearly 500,000 M4s in the Army inventory, it is critical to strengthen the M4 platform while the Army invests the time necessary to properly develop, test and field a new weapon system. The Army has already made more than 60 refinements to the current M4 Carbine since its introduction and, not surprisingly, 94 percent of Soldiers rate the M4 as an effective weapon system in Post Combat Surveys. That said, PM Soldier Weapons will continue its search for advanced small arms technologies to match Army requirements and better serve our Soldiers.

Our PEO, Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, first communicated the dual path concept in October 2009 to foster a better understanding of the PEO Soldier strategy. The first path is the improvement plan for the M4, which is broken into three phases. For Phase I, the Army will purchase 25,000 M4A1 Carbines with ambidextrous fire control assemblies (FCA) and is preparing additional solicitations for the fall to purchase kits to convert up to 65,000 fielded M4s into M4A1s with the new FCAs. Compared to the M4, the M4A1 has a heavier barrel and is fully automatic, improvements that deliver greater sustained rates of fire. Phase II improvements will compete forward rail assemblies, bolts and bolt carrier assemblies to increase accessory integration while enhancing durability. Phase III will evaluate commercially available operating systems against the M4’s current gas impingement system. The Army’s long-term plan is to improve the entire M4 fleet. Implementation for all improvements and competitions is contingent upon funding and demonstrated performance gains over current capabilities.

The second path is the carbine competition, which received Army Review Oversight Council validation back in April and Joint Review Oversight Council (JROC) validation this August. Now the final approval authority has returned from AROC to allow work to begin on the “Request for Proposal” from industry. The carbine competition is already fully funded for research, development, testing, and evaluation. With the final approvals nearly in place, the stage is set for an inspiring competition.

Small Arms Series

Considering that millions of Soldiers have carried the M16 or its M4 sibling since the 1960s, this is naturally a topic that generates great interest in the veteran community – not to mention Congress, industry and leadership at the top levels of all the services. In light of this interest and of the significant Army small arms developments to come, PM Soldier Weapons will be publishing a series of posts over the next several months that discuss the concepts inherently tied to issues of weapon selection along with deeper dives on the M4 improvements and the carbine competition itself. The small arms series will cover the following topics:

1. Small Unit Armaments: Just as our Soldiers’ combat activities are synchronized, so are our weapon systems. M16/M4 weapons are employed alongside larger caliber 7.62mm rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers for a combined effect. This article will provide insights as to how small units are organized and armed with various individual and crew served weapon systems that serve particular roles to enhance unit firepower and effectiveness.

2. Lethality: For decades, the “better bullet” debate has raged as to whether the 5.56mm or 7.62mm cartridge reigns supreme. While it’s impossible to close the door on this debate, we will explain that there’s more to the lethality story than just the bullet. This article will examine the aspects that contribute to Soldier lethality, including the weapon system, ammunition, optics, training, and shot placement.

3. M4 Product Improvement: This article will discuss the evolution, performance and future of the M4 Carbine that is currently the standard for our Brigade Combat Teams. The article will detail the Army’s three-phase improvement plan for the M4 Carbine and discuss how the Army will expand partnerships with industry to arrive at an even better M4.

4. Carbine Competition: The final article in the series will discuss the imminent Army test and selection of a new carbine resulting from a full and open competition among the finest weapon manufacturers in the world.

The intent of this series is to educate and inform our readers’ thinking on these matters. We look forward to sharing with you our progress and welcome your ideas on this important topic. If there are particular aspects you would like us to explore in this series, please drop us a note and we will work to address your suggestions where possible.

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