01 June 2006

FKA XM-8 Update

The U.S. military has been working since the 1980s to replace the M-16 assault rifle and the M-4 carbine, the main small arms used by U.S. soldiers. The most recent incarnation of the program was called the XM-8 and it was cancelled on Halloween last year based on an audit report criticizing the procurement approach. There was also scuttlebutt that U.S. gunmaker Colt, the holder of the current M4 carbine contract, would have been put out of business if the XM-8 contract and was basically given a reprieve by this delay. Discussion of the decision can be found here, with an emphasis on the argument that the U.S. needs larger caliber small arms than its existing M4 and M16 or the proposed XM-8 (in all cases 5.56mm which is .223 caliber).

It was about then that I lost track of the story. Since then there have been some developments.

A replacement procurement request, also calling for a replacement to the M249 light machine gun has since been issued. The specifications in the new request call for far less reliability and somewhat less accuracy than in the XM-8 program, despite the fact that those standards had already been met in the previous program. Some of the competiting possibilities are noted here, and I suggest that you not stop at the original post, as there are many informative comments.

Meanwhile, a couple of years ago, an entirely separate contract for a new U.S. Special Forces rifle has been awarded to a different design which includes a 7.62mm (.30 caliber) version, for a portion of the order, and this is starting to enter mass production and fielding.

For novices, a carbine is a small automatic rifle intended for use at short ranges, often by troops whose primary duties are to drive vehicles or otherwise act in a support capacity.

3 comments:

BJones said...

Though the HK XM8, the SCAR and other new platforms hold or held promise, the reality is that the old Stoner design (M16, M4) has plenty of life in it. As design updates continue to evolve the M16/4 platform the military has little reason to move to a new weapon system at this time. Expense is the main issue.

My experience with the M4 is this: It is an extemely accurate, light, adaptable and reliable weapon. With proper ammo the 5.56 also has very good stopping power. Yes 7.62x56 is better at one shot, one kill - but so too is a .50 cal. The 5.56 allows more rounds to be carried with less impulse for follow up shots.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Expense should not be the main issue. There are plenty of places in the military budget where cost should be a major factor. A soldier's primary personal weapon isn't one of them.

A carbine or rifle costs on the order of $1,000-$2,000 each. We have about 800,000 soldiers in the Army and Marines combined including the modest number of non-Marine Navy and Air Force soldiers, who do things like ground facility security and combat engineering in hostile areas who are issued carbines or rifles.

This is a cost of $1.6 billion tops, which could be spread over several years. For that kind of money, expense should not be a major issue, even an incremental improvement in such a basic weapon would be worth it. Ditto combat pistols.

bjones said...

There is lot involved with moving to a new primary weapon: Training (new & existing) troops for the manual of arms, armory support, spare parts, surplus of outmoded equipment, etc. It is not simply a $$ per rifle over N-years equation, it is a logistics hat trick.

The expense (in more than just monetary terms) in moving to a new platform (away from the M16/4) outweighs the benefits at this point and time. Certainly while the U.S. is engaged in Iraq and other hot spots of the Middle East.