For the first time, U.S. troops in the Middle East are encountering enemy combatants who are wearing body armor comparable to their own. As a result, it appears something more powerful than the 5.56 NATO round is needed.
According to this story from guns.com, the U.S. Army has posted a contract for new rifles that will hopefully close any potential gap in force.
The solicitation, which you can read here, says the Army has termed it the Interim Combat Service Rifle, and it will be chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Win.).
The story says the rifle will be used in tandem with the new M80A1 Enhanced Performance Round “to engage and defeat protected and unprotected threats. The ultimate objective of the program is to acquire and field a 7.62mm ICSR that will increase soldier lethality.”
The post says the Army will downselect to as many as eight proposals, who will then be required to submit seven rifles each for testing.
Rifle submissions must be capable of both semi- and full-auto fire, accommodate a suppressor and include enough detachable weapon magazines to support the basic load of 210 rounds, the story says. Each must also have a cleaning kit, specialized tool kit (if one is needed), spare parts kit, and manual. The prize is a potential follow-on production contract for 50,000 rifles.
Oddly, the solicitation omits any rifle specifications, such as dimensions or weight, other than the caliber and capabilities to be suppressed and select-fire.
The U.S. Army used .30-caliber rifles as it’s primary arm for infantry and ground troops all the way back to 1892, when the Krag Model 1892 was adopted in .30 U.S. (.30-40 Krag), which transitioned into the .30-06, a caliber that served in two rifles across both World Wars and the Korean War.
In 1959 the .308 Winchester round was adopted by the military as the 7.62x51mm NATO. The Army chambered their new M14 semi-auto rifle and M60 light machine gun for the round. The M14 was short lived as a primary service rifle and was replaced in 1964 by the M16 chambered in the small and fast 5.56mm round, the M60 continued to use 7.62 ammo into the 1990s. Otherwise, the 7.62 was relegated to sniper and special purpose use—tasks for which they are rapidly being replaced by rounds like the .300 Win Mag.
We reported that Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales testified before the Airland Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the M4 and the 5.56mm round are a flawed weapon systems that must be replaced for U.S. forces to remain dominant on the battlefield. He called for a one-year competition to develop a new and more effective rifle as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. You can read more about Scales testimony here.