While most of the industry is a story of “more of the same,” the Army for the last couple years has been shaking things up by demanding a new rifle and light machine gun that are more effective than current infantry small arms. Dubbed the Next-Generation Squad Weapon, the Army has asked three industry groups to create both a rifle and a machine gun (they call it an “Automatic Rifle”) that is chambered in 6.8mm with better range, lethality, and terminal ballistics than both the 7.62 and 5.56. These weapons would replace the 5.56 M4 and the 5.56 M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in front-line units.
Next-Generation Squad Weapon Contenders
The Textron-H&K weapons are futuristic “cased-telescoped” ammunition-fed arms that leverage years of work on the Army’s long-time Lightweight Small Arms Technologies program.
The GD/Beretta design fires polymer-cased ammo manufactured by True Velocity and uses a bullpup rifle and automatic rifle built by the Italian arms maker.
Sig has opted for a version of its MCX design firing ammo designed in house using a blended metal case of brass and steel, firing a 6.8×51 round it calls the “.277 Fury.” The automatic rifle is a variation of its MG338 machine gun, firing the same Fury round.
The Battle for the NGSW-FC Optics Contract
While much of the gun tribe has focused on the weapons themselves, there’s been a simmering battle beneath the platforms to pick a winning optic to ride atop the blasters.
The Army wants a sort of “all in one” optic that can range find, deliver target direction and atmospheric variables to the shooter so they can better take advantage of the 6.8’s range and lethality.
Sig Sauer has been developing its own Next-Generation Squad Weapon — Fire Control (NGSW-FC) unit, using a grip module to activate the sight and deliver the information on a holographic sight-style screen.
Now Leupold has jumped into the mix, partnering with L3 Harris — which until recently has been the parent company for EOTech, with lots of experience in small arms red dot optics.
“Leupold brings more than a century of optical expertise and unrivaled domestic manufacturing capacity to the table, and L3 has a proven track record of performance with high-volume government contracts for night vision, electro-optics, and laser aiming devices,” said Bruce Pettet, Leupold CEO.
“Leupold and L3 have partnered to deliver a game-changing solution to the United States military,” the company added.
Leupold said in the statement the team would build and deliver 115 optics to the Army for testing.
“L3Harris is proud to offer the U.S. Army a revolutionary fire control solution that will increase soldier lethality and enhance situational awareness,” said Lynn Bollengier, President, Integrated Vision Solutions, L3Harris in the statement. “Our solution leverages nearly 30 years of expertise in fire control technology, enabling faster identification and target acquisition, ensuring soldiers achieve overmatch capability on the battlefield.”
Vortex Optics also threw its hat in the NGSW-FC ring recently, saying it would offer a 1-8x scope integrated with its Active Reticle Fire Control unit — think of it as a red dot/1-8 combo.
“The Vortex Optics 1-8×30 Active Reticle Fire Control is built around a revolutionary technology based on many years of internal research and development, along with multiple cooperative development efforts with the Army’s PM-Soldier Weapons group,” Vortex said in a statement. “The end result is Active Reticle, which has been proven to increase hit percentage and decrease time to engage during US Army Soldier touchpoints over the last two years.”
GD is offering its own design, as is Textron — Sig Sauer is developing its own through its Electro-Optics division.
That brings to five the number of companies vying for the Army’s next-generation front-line troop optic contract. And many industry analysts believe that even if the Army declines to buy the NGSW-AR or rifle, the new NGSW-FC optic is still likely to make its way into the inventory.
That could be a game-changer for regular grunts and Joes who need to reach out further, more quickly with deadly results using fewer shots.