Army looking for weapon to replace M4

By DAN BLOTTENBERGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 9, 2011

BAMBERG, Germany — The Army is searching for a replacement for its M4 carbine, one of its primary weapons in Afghanistan.

In a draft solicitation, the Army’s research and development arm is asking weapons manufacturers to try to produce a carbine rifle that can outperform the M4, which has been part of the Army inventory since the mid-1990s.

“Is there something better than the M4 out there? Let’s go find out,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, head of PEO Soldier, during a media roundtable last week.

The Army has about 500,000 M4s in its inventory.

The M4’s lethality and reliability have been questioned for years. A Congressional Research Service report released in June cited at four studies that found varying levels of fault with the M4.

The first study, published by the U.S. Special Operations Command in 2001, concluded the M4A1 design was fundamentally flawed, saying a variety of factors “led to alarming failures” under harsh conditions and heavy firing schedules. The command started replacing its M4s in 2009, opting for the Special Operations Combat Assault Rifle, known as SCAR.

An Army-commissioned study released in 2006 by the Center for Naval Analyses said 20 percent of soldiers recommended a larger bullet to increase lethality. Some in the combat zones commented on the weapon’s limited ability to effectively stop targets, saying those who were shot multiple times were still able to continue fighting, the study stated.

While the Army is upgrading the M4s in the field now to address such issues, it has begun looking for a replacement.

Army officials plan to meet with vendors on March 30 in Washington to offer feedback and answer specific questions on the project. The Army will issue a solicitation for the new weapon in May, according to a Program Executive Office memo dated Jan. 31.

The three-phase selection process for a replacement is expected to take at least two years. No new carbines are expected to be fielded for at least three years.

During the first phase, the Army will determine if a company is able to provide a weapon according to PEO’s requirements and whether the weapon can be produced at a reliable pace. The requirements request production up to 4,200 weapons per month, with a minimum of 2,000 per month.

During the second phase, the weapons will test fire approximately 700,000 rounds. The weapons will be graded on their physical attributes and features as well as their compatibility with existing Army accessories. Other areas of consideration include accuracy, reliability and durability, according to a PEO press release.

Some of the requirements listed are a barrel life of 20,000 rounds, flash suppressors, and backup sights allowing accurate engagements up to 2,000 feet. The weapon must be able to handle various attachments to include a grenade launcher.

It will also be determined if the new carbine will use 5.56 mm rounds or 7.62 mm ammunition, said Tamilio.

During the third phase, about 850,000 additional rounds will be fired to test the lethality of the weapon against multiple targets.

It is still uncertain at this point whether the top entry will replace the current M4, which is undergoing an overhaul.

Upgrades to the M4 include a more resilient barrel, ambidextrous controls, a full-automatic setting and a more lethal round. The improvements will be integrated into the force this year, PEO officials said in an interview with Stars and Stripes last year.

The first of the new carbines, which are expected to cost about the same as the current M4, will go to infantry units, Tamilio said.

The Army introduced the M4 as a shorter-barrel version of the Vietnam-era M16 rifle.

Both weapons are still heavily used by soldiers today.



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