On 30 March, nearly 40 weapons manufacturers packed into a hotel across the street from the Pentagon knowing that only one of them will prevail in the Army’s carbine competition to determine who makes the best carbine in the world. The group gathered to hear Army leaders answer questions regarding its full and open competition, which is slated to begin in May. The competition is part of the Army’s “Dual Path Strategy” to improve its M4 Carbine weapon system while simultaneously challenging industry to present a better carbine.
“We must always seek the best available weapon systems and equipment for our Soldiers,” said Lt. Gen. William N. (Bill) Phillips, principal military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition Logistics and Technology) addressing industry members. “They depend upon us and we cannot let them down. The Army can’t do it alone. Industry can’t do it alone. But when we work together, I believe we can do it in a most powerful way.”
The Army has fully funded the competition that supports the Army’s strategic emphasis to increase the capabilities of small units. In separate remarks, Lt. Gen. Michael A. Vane, deputy commanding general, futures, and director, Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, emphasized the importance of equipping small units in an era of persistent conflict. Lt. Gen. Vane stressed that the future operational environment will exhibit uncertainty and complexity and result in the dispersion of the infantry squad on the battlefield.
“There are indications that gaps exist within the capabilities we require of our Soldiers and units,” said Lt. Gen. Vane. “The individual carbine is of critical importance in giving the Soldier the decisive edge in the close combat arena and it is a key component of an integrated Soldier and small unit system.”
The Army carbine competition is the first such contest for an Army service rifle in the past hundred years. The competition will determine the most effective, accurate, and reliable individual weapon available for the Soldier. Any weapon chosen in the competition would also feature better ergonomic features and be compatible with the current accessories and enablers (i.e. sights, grips, sensors, lasers, grenade launchers, etc). The competition is fully funded through the “Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation” phase.
“The M4 is a world-class weapon that our commanders and Soldiers trust and in which we have the utmost confidence,” added Lt. Gen. Phillips. “Still, the Army has produced a new requirement to seek the best commercially available small arms weapon on today’s market.”
Col. Doug Tamilio, Project Manager Soldier Weapons, hosted the full day event in which a panel of acquisitions experts and program managers addressed approximately one hundred questions put forth by industry – from issues relating to the smallest details to big picture timelines. Col. Tamilio told the audience that the Army expects to release the final “Request for Proposals” (RFP) in May and will give each industry member 90 days to submit their single weapon design that they feel best meets the Army requirement. The competition phase is expected to last two years, although the time frames will vary based upon the number of entrants received and qualified for each phase.
After the completion of the first two test phases, the competition will enter a third “down select” phase where up to three finalists will be awarded contracts to produce limited numbers of test articles. The down select phase will include significant “user in the loop” testing where Soldiers will put the weapons through their paces in a limited user evaluation. The M4A1 will be tested alongside each of the competing designs in order to establish a baseline data set for performance comparison. After determining the weapon that best meets the requirement, top Army leaders will conduct a business case analysis to determine if it is in the best interest of the Army to procure the winning carbine, and if so, what the ultimate fielding plan would be. Combined, there are currently about 1.1 million M16s and M4s in the Army inventory.
Regardless of the outcome, the combat-proven M4/M4A1 Carbine will remain in service for years to come. As part of its dual path strategy, the Army continues to move ahead with its M4 Product Improvement Program (PIP) that includes the conversion of M4s to M4A1s with heavy barrels and ambidextrous controls, the new standard for the Army carbine. Additionally, the Army plans to solicit industry for bolts, bolt carrier assemblies, and forward rail assemblies to determine if overall system performance can be improved.
“We will select a new carbine,” said Col. Doug Tamilio. “The question will be, do we execute the options on the contracts for how many we will buy and that depends upon the results of a business case analysis. We hope that we get the increases in accuracy and reliability to make the decision fairly easy.”
In his closing remarks, Lt. Gen. Phillips reminded the audience of what, ultimately, the key focus must be throughout the process.
“We must continually ask ourselves, what are we doing today for our Soldiers? What will we do tomorrow for our Soldiers to put the best capability into their hands?” said Lt. Gen. Phillips. “Because at the end of the day, that’s going to help save lives, allow Soldiers to complete their mission, and come home safely to their families and friends.”