Magazine article National Defense

Carbine Competition Fails to Find Improvement over Current Weapon

Magazine article National Defense

Carbine Competition Fails to Find Improvement over Current Weapon

Article excerpt

* The Army has officially called off its search for an M4 carbine replacement without anything to show for five years of effort other than data suggesting that its current weapons work about as well, if not better, than anything industry had to offer.

The Army vetted eight contestant rifles, fired tens of thousands of rounds through each, and found itself at square one. None of the carbines tested hit the service's reliability target.

Industry insiders said the competition was plagued by miscommunication from the Army and a midstream change in ammunition that may have caused their weapons to fail at a higher rate than expected. Army officials in charge of the tests say they were surprised that none of the rifles submitted passed muster. They said there was transparency throughout the three-year competition.

While reliability under extreme conditions is undoubtedly an important attribute of a battle rifle, the M4 is already known for its accuracy and resistance to wear and tear in combat environments. Mark Westrom, who owns Armalite Inc.--the company responsible for the original rifle design that became the MI6 family of weapons--said the Army's aim was off if all it wanted was a weapon that could fire more rounds than the M4 without jamming.

Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, who heads program executive office soldier, said the Army simply did not find the capability it was after in the rifles submitted for the competition.

"The intent was to find if there was a weapon that could meet a much greater standard in terms of requirements that were challenging, but achievable," Ostrowski said. "The Army is in a position where it must conclude the IC competition because none of the competitors met the minimum requirements. This was not a test-fix-test venue. This was a binary venue: Pass or fail."

Westrom said it is important that the Army stay abreast of industry firearms innovation, but that incremental improvements to a well-admired and entrenched weapon system is not enough to justify the outlay of billions of dollars and the disruption of swapping out soldiers' primary weapon during wartime. Moreover, the Army was destined to fail in its endeavor because its requirements for the IC did not represent a significant advance in fighting ability.

"It is always smart for the Army to look at what is available, but they could have done that just as easily by going to a gun shop and buying the commercial versions and taking them out back and Firing them," he said.

The Army ended up with eight rifles that each offered marginal improvements to the M4, but none that would substantially increase a soldier's battlefield capability, he said.

"When you're thinking of spending billions of dollars on weapons, you want to make sure there is a substantial increase in reliability," Westrom said. "To justify the expense of replacing the entire inventory, you need to come up with a tactically superior advance, and none of the rifles submitted did that."

The process to find an M4 replacement began in 2008, when then-Secretary of the Army Pete Geren requested that service officials find commercially available rifles that could best the current design.

The original draft solicitation for industry bids was released in February 2011. The request for information sought feedback on state-of-the-art firearms technology and whether the Army's published requirements were realistically achievable, Ostrowski said. Vendors were asked for proposals and bid samples by October 2011, when eight competitors submitted rifles.

Those were the Adcor Defense BEAR Elite, the Colt ACC-M (sometimes called the ACM), the FN FNAC, the Heckler & Koch HK416, the Remington ACR, the ARX160 rifle made by Beretta USA Corp. and submissions from both Troy Defense and Lewis Machine and Tool.

Phase one of the three-phase competition got underway in November 2011. …

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