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ARLINGTON, VA. — The Marine Corps has moved one step closer to selecting a next-generation light automatic rifle.

On Friday, the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., announced contract awards for three competing weapons manufacturers to produce and deliver their final entries to the Corps by the middle of next year, in what signifies a final round of competition that began with ten candidates.

The lighter, magazine-fed Infantry Automatic Rifle — or IAR — is intended to replace the belt-fed M249 Squad Automatic Weapon — or SAW — in “the Marine Rifle Squad within infantry battalions and in the scout teams in Light Armored Reconnaissance battalions.”

But the rifle will not be for all Marines, according to a statement by MARSYSCOM spokesman Bill Johnson-Miles.

The Pentagon requested up to 10 samples of a 5.56 mm IAR prototype from FN Herstal, which would be made in Belgium; Heckler and Koch Defense, which is based in Ashburn, Va., but whose samples would be made in Germany, the home country of the parent company; and two entries from Colt Defense, made in West Hartford, Conn.

The rifles will then undergo limited testing by infantry Marines.

Under the five-year contracts, the Pentagon could tap the winning entrant for an acquisition of 4,476 rifles, with an option to purchase up to 6,500 copies at a possible value of $28 million for FN Herstal or Heckler & Koch, or $24 million for Colt.

The SAW, which is manufactured by FN Manufacturing, the US subsidiary of Belgium’s FN Herstal, weighs 16.5 pounds and fires 750 rounds per minute.

The lighter IAR candidate from FNH USA, for example, weighs in at 10.4 pounds and fires 650 rounds per minute.

Spokesmen from Heckler & Koch’s Ashburn, Va., office and FNH USA, in McLean, Va., did not return calls to Stars and Stripes.

The rifles are scheduled for deployable use in December 2010.


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