If you put an infantryman from WWII next to a modern soldier, there would be plenty of similarities: battle uniform, boots, helmet, weapon, ammo, a system of belts and straps to carry that ammo and other gear. But more and more, modern gear is becoming so advanced that it’s no longer comparable to its counterparts from wars past. This includes improvements to firearms, which this story from armytimes.com says will likely be more incremental over the next 20 years than improvements in other areas.
The U.S. Army is currently upgrading its M4 carbine with a more reliable barrel, and has picked out a new sniper rifle while on the ongoing quest for a new handgun, and is planning a lot more for the next couple decades, according to the site.
The story says several sources are responsible for the improvements, including the Army’s Research and Development Command, the Maneuver Center of Excellence, and Program Executive Office Soldier, which develops prototypes and procures field equipment as technological advances become available.
The M4A1 is already in plenty of hands and deployment will continue until completion, expected in 2020. Some soldiers reported that the barrels on M4s would overheat, become warped and then jam during extended use, particularly in Afghanistan, the story says, hence the heavier barrel. Additions also include ambidextrous safety controls and replaces the M4’s 3-round-burst selection with a full-automatic setting. The M4 recently replaced the Army’s M16 family of full-length rifles.
Considered was the idea of issuing an M4A1+, which would have included improvements like an extended accessory rail, a floating barrel better accuracy, an optional single-stage trigger, removable sights, and more neutral colors, but it didn’t get past the planning board.
The Army’s new sidearm will be the XM17 Modular Handgun System—though it still hasn’t been determined what exact gun will replace the Beretta M9. The story says the Army plans for a full-rate production of a new pistol in 2018. The M9 has been the standard sidearm since 1985. The new handgun will feature better modularity, ergonomics, and accuracy along with a striker-style firing mechanism instead of the M9’s single-double action with exposed hammer.
Several handguns from prominent pistol makers are currently competing in trials to win the nearly $100 million contract, and is open to various calibers, meaning the 9mm NATO could be sent packing for a .40- or even .45-caliber pistol. The Army has also not ruled out hollow-point or fragmentation rounds, as it plans to adopt a new pistol ammunition along with the XM17.
While the pistol replacement seemed a certainty last year, the story says that complaints of cost have emerged that could tighten budgets, meaning a potential eighty-sixing of the XM17.
New Sniper Rifle
The Army will almost certainly be getting a new Designated Marksman Rifle by 2018, known as the Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System, which is a specially modded Heckler & Koch G28. It will replace the heavier and bulkier M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System made by Knight’s Armament Company.
The CSSS weighs in at about 12.7 pounds, three pounds less that the M110. It will be easier to use in close quarters and possesses better ergonomics and reliability. The rifle is going through operational testing now to ensure they meet the Army’s requirements. If the 30 rifles H&K provided pass the tests, they will move on to full-rate production and fielding and up to 3,643 more will be ordered.
All these upgrades are well and good, but what about the future stuff? Oh, it’s coming.
New Grenade Launcher and Ammo
The Army is moving forward with a grenade launcher project that has been in the pipeline since at least 2013. The XM25 grenade launcher has a five-round magazine filled with programmable 25mm grenades.
From the story:
“This stand-alone weapon offers the ability to set a laser on a target, gauge distance automatically, program a grenade to go that distance (with manual adjustments) and fire the grenade. Fire control takes into account various ballistics and environmental factors to aid accuracy, as do magnified optical and thermal sights. In short, aim at wall, push a button to program the point you want the grenade to explode. From there, aim, fire. The 25mm grenade is designed to explode right where you told it to, from up to 500-600 meters away.”
While the XM25 is a standalone weapon, the Army is also pursuing a new 40mm grenade cartridge to replace M433 grenade rounds. The new grenades are to be fired from the new M320 Grenade Launcher Module, which itself recently phased out the M203 grenade launcher, often mounted on M4s or M16s. The new shells would provide better range and accuracy as well as advanced fuse functionality.
These things will be able to sense a wall, building, or other obstacle without be pre-programmed, and automatically explode just after passing it.
The Army is also working at the other end of the spectrum with the less-than-lethal XM1112 round for the M320 launcher, which would be a 40mm airburst non-lethal munition with a fully enriched pyrotechnic payload, proximity air burst, and selectable delay option fuses.
New Shotgun Ammo
That goes along with the XM1116 non-lethal shotgun round the Army is also cooking up designed for existing 12-gauge shotguns. It can be used for force protection, crowd control, patrols and at checkpoints, the story says, and is similar to a beanbag round with a range of 30 to 50 meters that marks targets for later identification or capture.
New Night-Vision Aiming System
The Army is also looking to upgrade its optics at the boots-on-the-ground level with the FWS-I, which could be a very big deal. It’s a family of weapon sights that sends a feed from a night-vision camera mounted on a weapon such as an M4 directly to the new ENVG-III night vision goggles with no wires.
“A solder has three imagery options in how the FWS image displays: The gun scope’s image overlaid on the ENVG view (Crosshairs and a circle distinguish the rifle scope view from the overall view), picture-in-picture (rifle scope’s image remains stationary in the corner, while the rest of the view is from the ENVG), or scope image only (soldiers can simply relay the rifle’s image direct to the goggle, ignoring the broader ENVG image.) That means soldiers can aim their rifle while retaining a full 40-degree peripheral view of what’s in front of them to maintain situational awareness, rather than a traditional rifle scope, which closes the keyhole to 18-26 degrees. They can also look around corners without exposing more than their gun. The sight has a thermal imaging range of 1,000 meters, nearly double most thermal rifle scopes. They can also aim their rifle precisely without raising it to eye level. The signal from helmet to scope should also prove difficult to jam since it’s interactive very short-range with low power emittance,” the story says.
There’s also a larger crew-served version called the FWS-CS for heavy machine guns like the M240 and the M2 Browning, and one for sniper rifles called the FWS-S.
To learn about more Army advancements, like body armor and mini-drones, check out the full story from armytimes.com.