Army’s New Infantry Rifle Coming Soon with Winchester 6.8mm Ammo, Vortex Optics

Photo via Sig Sauer

The U.S. Army will decide this summer on its next-generation infantry rifle – its first new all-purpose infantry weapon in decades. Three companies were competing to replace both the venerable M4 (M-16 carbine variant) rifle, and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), with one rifle, reports Defense News (DN).

The three Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) prototypes made by Sig Sauer, Textron Systems, and General Dynamics Ordnance (initially partnered with Lone Star Future Weapons/True Velocity), were tested in September 2021. The next prototype test will be in February 2021.

The NGSW rifle and automatic rifle are expected to be selected by mid-2022, Maj. Gen. Anthony Potts told Army Times late last year. The Army hopes to start fielding its new rifle by late 2022.

As to the rifle, DN describes the three prototypes:

Sig Sauer’s [SPEAR] design looks much like a conventional assault rifle while GD [RM277] is using a bullpup design, which shortens the length by building the magazine feed into the weapon stock. Textron has built its weapon around the cartridge, which is unique to them, a cased telescope item that has the projectile inside of the casing to reduce weight.

Meanwhile, Sig Sauer reportedly provided an ammunition cartridge that mixes a steel lower and brass upper to reduce weight.

However with the recent apparent exit of Textron, the Army’s choice now seems to be between SIG Sauer and Lone Star Future Weapons/True Velocity.

While the Army’s final rifle selection is still pending, it recently announced that Winchester, the largest manufacturer of small-caliber ammunition for the U.S. military, will be producing the 6.8mm ammunition for the NGSW.

19fortyfive reported that:

Winchester announced that the U.S. Army has awarded the company a total of $20 million in cost-plus and firm-fixed-price contracts related to ammunition development, manufacturing facility requirements analysis and production capacity planning for the 6.8mm NGSW program.

The new 6.8mm caliber will replace both the 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm of the M4 and M249 respectively. Defense News notes that:

The 6.8mm projectile was chosen after decades of testing and evaluation showed that 5.56mm lethality at mid-ranges on the battlefield was inadequate and existing 7.62mm could be outperformed by the 6.8mm round and save weight for the soldier.

The new caliber also gives the soldier both a rifle and automatic rifle firing the same round, both effective past the 600m mark of existing light calibers.

As the Army Times explains:

The 6.8mm is similar in size to the classic .270 caliber used in hunting and nearly the same dimensions as a popular intermediate caliber favored by the early 20th century Japanese military.

That caliber shows better performance, accuracy, lethality and control than the 5.56mm.

But that’s not all. The Army has also just selected Vortex Optics as the new rifle’s fire control, which should field six months before the weapon to allow the manufacturer time to integrate the new optic with the new rifle. Vortex beat out L3 Harris for the up to $2.7 billion contract for 250,000 XM157 optics over the next decade.

According to the firearmblog:

The XM157 has a number of next gen features including a variable magnification optic, a built-in laser rangefinder and atmospheric sensors which feed into an onboard ballistic calculator. It also features a compass and intra-soldier wireless connectivity (presumably alongside the IVAS kit which is in development). It also includes visible and infrared aiming lasers, and a digital display overlay.

Now the only thing that remains is the rifle selection. Once decided, the Army has plans for quick rollout of the new rifles.

Maj. Wyatt Ottmar, NGSW project officer for the Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, explained to Defense News that Infantry, Stryker and Armor Brigade Combat Teams will be the first to receive the new rifle. But, DN adds, ultimately “the weapon will be fielded to all close combat forces, including special operations forces, infantry, combat engineers and scouts.”

Meanwhile, even though the Marine Corps is still fielding its brand new 5.56mm M27 infantry automatic rifles to its grunts as their new standard issue weapon, the Corps is already looking at the Army’s NGSW as its own future infantry rifle.

It appears the Marines got a bit ahead of themselves, and now see both the utility of interoperability with the Army, and the enhanced lethality of the new 6.8mm round. If they move forward in partnership with the Army, the Marines could start receiving their own NGSWs by 2025. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank. - - PAULCRESPO.COM

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John P
John P
7 months ago

The M249 SAW is chambered in 5.56x45mm; not 7.62x51mm as erroneously noted in the report. The M240 GPMG is chambered in 7.62x51mm (7.62 NATO)

“The new 6.8mm caliber will replace both the 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm of the M4 and M249 respectively.”


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