Author:Adde, Nick

Now that the Army is set upon going forward with plans to field a new squad automatic rifle, the service is committing to proceed as expeditiously as possible to move the project from the testing stage to the field.

Exactly how soon soldiers should expect to use their new Next-Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW) in combat, with variants that would replace both the M4 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon, however, is still to be determined.

The new weapon would fire a 6.8 caliber round, which both the service and representatives from industry who are vying for the contract to build it are embracing. The round, they say, would provide the right balance of lethality required in both close- and long-range fights. Proponents say it is both lighter and deadlier than the 5.56 mm NATO round, the ammunition it would replace (See story on page 30).

"Ninety percent of our casualties are coming from 4 percent of our force," said Daryl Easlick, small arms deputy at the lethality branch of the maneuver capabilities and integration directorate, at Fort Benning, Georgia. "This means those close-combat [military occupational specialties] that close with and destroy the enemy are the most likely to be injured. Those are the ones we're concentrating on the most when looking at these modernization efforts."

But while the Army team that is working on the new weapon's development is optimistic that they are on the right track, they fully understand that more testing will be necessary before the project emerges from its present prototype stage.

Factor in the current political and budgetary climate, and any visions of a closing date for the project become even murkier. In essence, if the money is there, testing would be completed sooner. If not, that date would slide to the right accordingly.

"Budget cycles are painful at best," Easlick said. "We try to read the tea leaves and make sure we have some sort of plan. It's dependent upon our senior leaders going back to lawmakers, and making sure they're dotting I's and crossing T's."

The cost concerns cannot be underestimated. In time, every soldier, Marine and special operator who directly engages the enemy would need the new weapon, delivered as close to the same time across the spectrum as reasonably possible. Otherwise, troops could be forced to fight under circumstances in which units would be carrying different ammunition.

Additionally, supply chains would have to change accordingly to ensure that new weapons...

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