The Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) program of the United States military was created in 2017 to replace the M4 carbine, M249 SAW light machine gun and to develop small arms fire control systems for the new weapons.
AAI Textron, Sig Sauer and General Dynamics were the finalists in the NGSW tender. Experimental batches of rifles and machine guns were delivered to the troops by the competitors, while the official comparative tests took place at the beginning of 2021.
On Tuesday, 19th of April, the army officials announced that Sig Sauer had been awarded a 10-year contract worth $20.4 million for building the XM5 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle along with the 6.8 mm ammunition.
Earlier, the company had also won a contract to provide M17 and M18 handguns for the Army, replacing the Beretta M9 after three decades of service.
How is the X.M. better than the M4?
Several factors contribute to the better performance of XM5 and XM250, for instance:
Firstly, both M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon fire the 5.56 mm round. The 6.8mm round has a much higher lethality at distances beyond the effective range of the 5.56mm, and also retains a better accuracy than the 7.62mm.
According to the 2017 Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study, the 5.56 mm reaches its lethality limits at or before the 300 meter range. On the other hand, the 6.8 mm can effectively destroy targets at 600 meters and beyond.
Secondly, the M249 and M240 machine guns weigh around 18 pounds and 28 pounds, respectively, but Sig Sauer’s design for the machine gun variant weighs 12 pounds, making it lighter than both. However, XM5 weighs around 8.3 pounds which is slightly heavier than an M4 (7.3 pounds).
Third, soldiers generally need to replace the barrels on their M4 carbines after firing 6,000 rounds, and Sig Sauer’s design for NGSW could fire up to 12,000 rounds before needing to change barrels.
Fourth, the 5.56 x 45 mm NATO round chambered by M4 carbines and M249 machine guns has a maximum chamber pressure of around 62,000 pounds per square inch, while the Sig Sauer design has a maximum chamber pressure of 80,000 pounds per square inch, which the officials claim, extends the weapon’s range without the need for a longer barrel or heavier ammunition.
Fire Control System
Vortex Optics subsidiary Sheltered Wings is making the XM157 Fire Control optic that both weapons will feature. The company won a contract for the same in January and will be worth $2.7 billion over the next ten years.
A January release from the Army’s Cross-Functional Team-Soldier Lethality stated that the NGSW-FC system is a ruggedized fire control which increases the lethality and accuracy of Close Combat Force. It integrates various advanced technologies such as visible and infrared aiming lasers, compass, a digital display overlay, atmospheric sensor suite, backup etched reticle, ballistic calculator, laser rangefinder, a variable magnification optic, and Intra-Soldier Wireless.
From the competitors
Sig Sauer’s design was selected over the one offered by LoneStar Future Weapons, owned by True Velocity and Textron Systems. Both provided prototypes that made it to the late stages of the rifle competition with the former.
On the one hand, the design by LoneStar’s Beretta made RM277 WEAPON SYSTEM featured a “bullpup” configuration, where the magazine feed was mounted behind the grip, and to absorb the recoil, a reciprocating barrel moves backwards with each shot, while on the other, Textron System design used a polymer casing to reduce weight and a cased telescoped ammunition that reduced overall cartridge length.
Apart from the above, the M4s will continue to be used by general-purpose forces for the coming decades. Other than the Army, the Marines are expected to receive quantities of the weapons for their close combat forces.
The automatic rifle is named the XM250, and the rifle variant is currently dubbed the XM5. According to the report, the “X” status remains until fielded in most Army naming conventions.
The first batch of the above-mentioned rifles, along with their high-tech fire control optic, is scheduled to arrive by the end of fiscal 2023.
The weapon is designed and aimed at close combat forces, including infantrymen but also forward observers, combat medics, combat engineers and cavalry scouts.