The U.S. Defense Department is requesting $111.2 million from Congress to develop the so-called Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW) to replace the M4A1 Carbine, M16 and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) by the end of 2023.
The budget request, made public on Monday, February 10, asks more than double last year’s funding for the NGSW program and includes $35.8 million for procurement.
One aim of the NGSW is to give U.S. Army infantry greater effective range by replacing the squad’s 5.56 mm NATO-chambered weapons with rifles that fire a new and unique 6.8 mm round.
The Army in August 2019 selected Textron Systems, General Dynamics and Sig Sauer to develop prototypes for the new line of weapons.
The Defense Department intends the funds to complete prototyping for the new rifle, automatic rifle (AR) and ammunition and will select one of the three versions by the end of 2021.
“The new more lethal carbine and Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) provides Brigade Combat Teams with additional capability when engaging an adversaries [sic] ground forces,” the request reads.
The M249 SAW was introduced in 1984 to give infantry squads a belt-fed weapon with a high rate of fire. The U.S. Marine Corps has already begun replacing the M249 with the new M27, a variant of Heckler and Koch’s HK 416. The Army has said it has no plans to adopt the M27.
The overhaul comes amidst a strategic shift from two decades of fighting insurgencies in the Middle East towards preparation to counter the evolving capabilities of Russia and China.
General Dynamics has offered a rifle and Automatic Rifle (AR) prototype, both in bullpup style, to replace the M249.
The bullpup design, which features a magazine and bolt assembly behind the trigger, allows the General Dynamics rifle to be shorter overall than the M4 while still having a significantly longer barrel – 20 inches over the M4’s 14.5 inches. The U.S. Army has rejected bullpup style rifles in the past, though France, Britain, Israel and other countries have relied on the design.
The General Dynamics AR is shorter than the M249 SAW. The rifle reportedly weighs under 10 pounds, and the AR under 11 pounds, as per NGSW requirements. Both are fed by a magazine and use 6.8 mm plastic-shelled rounds developed in partnership with True Velocity.
Textron’s belt-fed AR prototype and magazine-fed rifle also take composite shell casings instead of traditional brass, significantly reducing weight.
Sig Sauer’s prototypes most closely resemble the M16 and M4 platform. The AR prototype, dubbed the M68, weighs in at less than 12 pounds and fires 600 rounds per minute from a 16-inch reciprocating barrel, offering lower rate of fire but greater accuracy than the M249, Task and Purpose has reported.
Sig Sauer also won the U.S. Army’s contract to replace the Beretta 92 pistol in 2017.
The NGSW will be compatible with the Next Generation Fire Control system which is currently under development to include a laser range finder, ballistics calculator and environmental sensors to increase the shooter’s chance of hitting the target on first shot.
The M16 and M4A1 are based on the Armalite AR-15 platform adapted for the U.S. military in 1964.
A previous version of this story said the U.S. Army requested $112.2 million. The correct figure is $111.2 million.