The Army has elected to replace the aging 5.56 round with 6.8mm in both the Squad Automatic Rifle role and for the M4’s replacement.
Initially, the plan was to develop the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle (NGSAR) and then take those innovations and incorporate them into the M4 replacement. But the Army Times reports that a Prototype Opportunity notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, calls on three manufacturers to provide their iterations of the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSAW-Rifle), the individual service rifle to be issued to troops.
The change in development strategy is to allow manufacturers to find ammo that is well-suited for both new weapons. According to a statement that Brigadier General Anthony Potts, leader of the Program Executive Office Soldier, gave the Army Times that the new approach is to develop both along the same path, with the same round, so that designers can find the best fit for ammo in both weapons, much like existing M4s and Squad Automatic Weapons both fire the 5.56mm.
Five companies, AAI Corporation Textron Systems, FN America LLC, General Dynamics-OTS Inc, PCP Tactical, and Sig Sauer, Inc, will submit prototypes of the NGSAR, with FN set to deliver two—likely because of the success of their M249 SAW. These are expected to be ready for testing by June.
Specifications for the prototype 6.8mm NGSAR include bipod, sling, flash hider, suppressor, cleaning kit, flash hider/suppressor removal tool, and quantities of magazines/drums/belts/other required to provide a minimum of 210 stowed rounds, the Army Times reports.
AAI Corporation Textron Systems will likely have the most interesting entries, if the above video is any indication. They have ditched the familiar metal cartridge in favor of a plastic sheath that holds both the bullet and powder, a design change that nets a 40 percent weight reduction over traditional ammo—a development called telescoping ammunition. To alleviate the heat that would normally melt plastic cases, the weapons system uses an innovative moving chamber that keeps temps down even during full-auto fire.
The prototype 6.8mm NGSW-R will be similarly equipped, with the Army Times stating the weapons are to include a sling, flash hider, suppressor, cleaning kit, flash hider/suppressor removal tool, and quantities of magazines required to provide a minimum of 210 stowed rounds.
Manufacturers must also supply a 6.8mm general purpose round, suitable for combat, limited training and basic qualification, as well as a High Pressure Test Round, This will be loaded 20 percent hotter than a normal round, designed to stress the gun barrel and breech during firing. A Drilled Dummy Inert cartridge must be submitted for other functional tests such as weapon chambering, clearing and maintenance tasks.
Both the NGSAR and the NGSW-R will need to be capable of mounting a variety of rifle optics, aiming lasers and the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual (FWS-I). The Army Times reports the FWS-I is an all-in-one optic system being developed by Army researchers that pairs a rifle-mounted camera with Night Vision Goggles and Heads Up Display to allow the weapon sight to be displayed in the optic through a range of obscurants.