Army wants soldiers to have improved carbine - Army News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq - Army Times
Soldiers, get ready for a better carbine. The Army has launched a dual strategy designed to give you a more accurate, durable and lethal weapon that will be the mainstay for the next 40 years.
The first part of that strategy is to radically overhaul the M4 starting now and give grunts an improved version of the special operations M4A1. Simultaneously, the second part challenges industry to come up with a new carbine that can outperform the M4. The competition opened in early August.
“This is an historic event. We have not done a carbine competition in our lifetimes,” Col. Douglas Tamilio, project manager for soldier weapons, told Army Times. His office is spearheading the M4 Carbine Improvement Program. “We don’t switch rifles and carbines too quickly, and it is not an easy thing.”
The M4 has faced some criticism from soldiers and others who have cited problems with its lethality and reliability, including a 2007 “dust” test in which the M4 performed the worst among four weapons tested, with the greatest number of stoppages.
Tamilio, a career infantry officer, said the weapon has “served the Army extremely well” and touted the 62 improvements made to the M4 in the past 19 years. But, he said, “We can’t sit on our laurels and say M4 is good enough.” Deadlier weapon
The improvements have begun on thousands of M4s being built now, and thousands more will get conversion kits.
The upgrades will be done in phases. The improvement plan’s first phase essentially distributes an improved M4A1, which is notable for its heavier barrel and automatic fire. The heavier barrel reduces warping and erosion, resulting in better performance and longer life. It also allows for a higher sustained rate of fire.
The Army also is adding ambidextrous controls.
The Army has 12,000 M4s on the production line, and has told manufacturer Colt to turn them into A1s, said Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, Program Executive Office Soldier.
In addition, 25,000 M4A1s would be purchased beyond existing contracts, as well as roughly 65,000 conversion kits, Tamilio said.
“The Army would like to convert about 150,000 in the near term for infantry brigade combat teams,” he said. The optimal plan would be to convert all the M4s, he added, but funding will be a large factor in that decision.
More changes external to the weapon are also improving its reliability and lethality, Fuller said.
Soldiers will experience fewer jams, thanks to a new magazine that doesn’t allow rounds to move, he said.
And the new M855 A1 ammo provides more stopping power at shorter distances. The older round had to get into a yaw dependency for maximum effect. If it hit the enemy straight, it would punch right through them. The new ammo is not yaw dependent. If it hits the enemy, he is going down.
Many combat vets surveyed in 2006 described how enemy soldiers were shot multiple times but were still able to continue fighting. The survey included 2,600 soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One in five U.S. soldiers polled recommended a more lethal round. The new round is designed to address that.
“It’s not enhanced performance, it’s consistent performance,” Fuller said. “It really performs the way you want a round to perform, and it’s optimized to the M4.” Better accuracy
The second phase of the M4 improvement program begins this fall and will focus on increasing the M4’s effectiveness and accuracy, with emphasis on the bolt, bolt carrier assembly and the forward rail assembly.
Over time, reliability will degrade with the bolt, as that component provides the weapon’s action. Officials will host an open competition for a new bolt assembly to determine whether different materials and coatings can enhance the bolt. The Army also is interested in “unique design changes” that have arisen within the industry, Tamilio said.
The service also looks to strengthen the forward rail assembly on top of the receiver. This lends stability to the weapon and serves as the mount for weapon attachments, but restricts the barrel movement that is required for accuracy when re-engaging the target. The Army wants to determine whether a free-floating rail is the answer.
Officials also will look to provide a more consistent trigger pull for better control, according to a June Congressional Research Service report. New operating system
The third phase, focusing on the operating system, will begin in about 18 months, Tamilio said. The goal is to improve the gas system by allowing less gas and dirt in, or replacing it with a conversion kit similar to the HNK16 that would put a piston in the M4.
Both have their benefits and detractors, the colonel said. The piston reduces the number of moving parts and provides better stability, but there is “a little more metal on metal,” which can diminish durability and accelerate fatigue.
A gas-impingement system is far smoother in operation, and supporters say its reduced heat and carbon deposits will decrease malfunctions. But the gas system requires a lot more elbow grease to get it clean.
The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, or “Delta Force,” replaced its M4s with the HK416 in 2004, according to the congressional report. That weapon combines the operating characteristics of the M4 with the piston system.
“There’s a lot of dynamics involved,” Fuller said. “When you go to a piston charger, you’re actually driving that bolt down at an angle versus back, so you have to make sure you understand it might not be the same weapon.” The next carbine
The competition for the Army’s next-generation carbine opened in early August, and the service is looking for the “future Army weapon for any environment,” Fuller said.
The Army’s open, industrywide Individual Carbine Competition was approved Aug. 4 by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.
No caliber restriction has been placed on a new design. The requirements, instead, are for the most reliable, accurate, durable, easy-to-use and easy-to-maintain weapon out there, Tamilio said.
It will be at least a 500-meter weapon and have a higher incapacitation percentage, meaning if a shot doesn’t kill the enemy, it will put a serious dent in his medical record.
This weapon will be modular and able to carry all the existing attachments soldiers use.
It can have a gas or piston system.
Interchangeable barrel sizes, such as those seen in the SCAR, are not a “must have,” but “certainly won’t be a negative thing,” Tamilio said.
But above all, Fuller wants a weapon that has the soldiers’ approval.
“We really need to figure out lethality from a ‘soldier in the loop’ perspective,” he said. “If you can’t shoot the weapon accurately, it doesn’t matter how lethal it is.”
To meet that goal, Tamilio will release a draft request for proposal late this year. It is a warning order of sorts that will give industry a preliminary idea of what is expected. An industry day will follow in which officials will answer questions and provide clarity.
The official RfP will go out early next year, in the second quarter of fiscal 2011, which begins in January. Manufacturers will have a set time, typically a few months, to respond with their proposed weapons.
Next comes the “extreme, extensive testing” and selection of the weapons, Tamilio said.
During testing, hundreds of thousand of rounds will be fired over 12 to 18 months as weapons are tested to their destruction point. The primary goal is to determine if they meet Army specifications. But evaluators also will know whether a weapon can live up to its manufacturer’s claims.
“If they say it has a barrel life up to 20,000 rounds, we’ll test to that,” Tamilio said.
Weapons will also be tested to see if they maintain accuracy throughout their life cycle — something the military has not tested before, Tamilio said. A weapon typically loses accuracy as it ages.
“This is a huge importance for us,” he said.
Soldiers will be involved in virtually all aspects of this testing, Tamilio said. From the individual to unit, he said the tests will focus on what soldiers really care about
: “When he pulls the trigger, it fires in a reliable fashion, and what he aims at, he hits.”
Investing in an improved M4 has met some opposition.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in April 2007 asked Army leadership why the service planned to spend $375 million on the carbine through fiscal 2009 “without considering newer and possibly better weapons available on the commercial market.” The senator’s letter questioned the M4’s reliability and lethality and called for a “free and open competition” to evaluate alternatives.
Nevertheless, improvements have been recommended from within the service. The Army Infantry Center in a Small Arms Capabilities-Based Assessment in 2008 identified 42 separate ideas for material solutions to address capability gaps. Thirteen solutions called for new or improved munitions, and 10 involved aiming devices, optics or laser designators. Only seven suggested modifying or developing new small arms.
After-action reports from soldiers both praise and criticize the M4’s reliability and lethality. The mixed reviews are reflected in the congressional report:
• A February 2001 U.S. Special Operations Command study said the M4A1 was “fundamentally flawed” and suffered “alarming failures … in operations under the harsh conditions and heavy firing schedules common in [special operations forces] training and operations.”
• An Army report from July 2003 on small arms performance during Operation Iraqi Freedom found the M4 was “by far the preferred individual weapon across the theater of operations.”
• A December 2006 survey requested by Army’s Project Manager for Soldier Weapons and conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses polled 2,600 soldiers who had engaged in combat action in Iraq or Afghanistan. More than half said they never experienced a stoppage in the M4 or M16.
The study found that the frequency of disassembled cleaning did not affect the number of stoppages. The type and amount of lubrication used had little effect on stoppages, though dry lubricant decreased reports for M4 stoppages. Nearly nine in 10 soldiers said they were satisfied with the M4.
• A December 2007 test — resulting from Coburn’s letter — evaluated the M4 against the HK416, the HK XM8 and the FNH SCAR. Each system had 10 weapons on the line, and each fired 6,000 rounds under sandstorm conditions. The XM8 had 127 stoppages, the SCAR had 226 stoppages, the HK416 had 233 stoppages and the M4 had 882 stoppages. The Army later modified that number to 296 stoppages, attributing the difference to discrepancies in the test and scoring.
When you’ll get it
A new weapon could be selected by the end of 2011. How long it would take to field a new weapon would depend on funding. Fielding could start fairly quickly, but will take up to 10 years, Tamilio said.
No cost estimate of producing a new weapon is available from the Army, as the dozens of potential manufacturers have yet to receive specifications and generate the subsequent design.
By Aug. 19, the Army had 41 respondents to its market survey, Tamilio said.
“Industry is waiting for this,” he said. “They are excited about this … and that’s exactly what we want.”
How the dual-path strategy unfolds remains to be seen, but it means every soldier should be getting a better carbine.
That’s because there are 1.1 million soldiers, but only 500,000 M4s in the system. If the Army selects a new carbine, it may purchase 1.1 million. But a more likely scenario would see 500,000 purchased for infantry brigade combat teams, and the existing and improved M4s given to support troops to replace their M16s.
If the M4 turns out to be the weapon of choice, then the ICBTs will likely be fitted with the improved M4s, and the existing M4s would again be given to support troops to replace their M16s.
For soldiers “consistently using that M4 and satisfied with that M4, to know the Army is going out there to get you something better … that’s pretty damn exciting,” Tamilio said. “And that’s only going to make you more effective on the battlefield.”