Army leadership is committed to moving toward the adoption of 6.8 caliber ammunition for the Next-Generation Squad Weapon. However, its development hinges upon addressing two key concerns.
The round must be suitable for close- and medium-range conflicts, such as house-to-house urban engagements. Likewise, it must function properly in long-range environments, such as those found in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Additionally, the larger ammunition should not add to the weight--and ideally, would lessen the burden--soldiers now currently carry. Of equal importance, it must be lethal.
The Army team responsible for the project believes that while it will take some time to come to fruition, they are on the right track.
"We're looking at it holistically. We want our soldiers to never go into a fair fight, and always have an overmatch with their adversaries," said Col. Travis Thompson, chief of staff for the soldier lethality cross-functional team at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Under the holistic approach, the three components--ammunition, the weapon and fire control--all must function together, in any and all combat situations, Thompson said.
The ammunition and weapon must perform within 200 meters--where history shows most combat confrontations take place--and at distances, where present-day enemies are increasingly seeking to engage U.S. and allied soldiers, he said.
The decision to settle upon a 6.8 caliber round resulted from extensive testing and research by Army laboratories, staffed by experts who closely examined factors such as threats, target sets, weight, performance and controllability, Thompson said.
The research entailed looking at a multitude of combinations of barrel and weapon lengths, weights and calibers of both commercial and military systems.
"A lot of effort was done by our labs in looking at what's the right caliber for the next-generation weapon," Thompson said. "The decision was not taken lightly."
Mark Cancian, a senior international security advisor with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a retired Marine Corps officer, said the Army "is trying to fix a tension that has existed in small arms for a century."
Cancian noted the institutional desire on the Army's part to improve the lethality of small arms, with the focus on ammunition. When the service published a semi-formal request for ideas on FedBiz-Opps last October, it specifically mentioned the intent to move to the higher caliber from the current 5.56...