The Army is working very hard to field its new 6.8mm rifle, but until its development is complete and production can ramp up, the military is still buying hundreds of thousands of M4 carbines. Like any change in an organization as large as the U.S. Army, it won’t come overnight. The 6.8 millimeter is the future, but 5.56mm rifles like the M4 and the SAW remain the present. Todd South of the Army Times reports on the effort to introduce the more lethal 6.8 millimeter rifle. He writes:
All of this building and sales to outfit the force comes at the same time the Army is pouring untold resources into building the Next Generation Squad Weapons program, which includes both a rifle replacement for the M4 and a light machine gun replacement for the SAW.
Both are currently chambered in 5.56 mm. That round has been found lacking for extended ranges and improved body armor and barrier penetration that planners anticipate is likely in future near-peer conflicts.
To that end, the developers settled on the 6.8 mm round for both weapons. The round falls between the 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm, used in medium machine guns. But research shows that the 6.8 mm has greater accuracy and lethality at the same ranges as 7.62 mm.
Last year the program launched the SAW replacement competition and that is still scheduled for prototypes to fire this summer. But subsequently, the Army launched a parallel rifle, SAW replacement “prototype opportunity notice.” That PON will give companies until the end of the summer before officials select three vendors to continue in the competition.
The timeline is tight, by weapons development standards, as the Army expects the companies to have a mature weapon, possibly ready for fielding, in just over two years, or late 2021, Lt. Col. Jason Bohannon, head of PEO Soldier, Crew Served Weapons, told Military Times in January.
Though the weapon will fire a completely new round not part of the standard ammunition inventory, that is not the major change.
Researchers are simultaneously working on advanced optics, targeting software and augmented reality to build a fire control that vastly increases target acquisition, discernment and hit probability over what is currently available.
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