The House Armed Services Committee passed a budget amendment Thursday aimed at preventing the Army from canceling its improved carbine competition without conducting the final, soldier evaluation phase.
It's been five years since Army leaders announced the plan to search for a replacement for the M4 Carbine, originally made by Colt Defense LLC. Now program officials are in the process of canceling the competition before it's completed and reprogramming the $49.6 million requested in the proposed fiscal 2014 budget to buy 30,000 new Individual Carbines, Military.com reported May 2.
Army weapons officials recently completed Phase II of the competition where testers fired hundreds of thousands of rounds through carbines submitted by gun makers such as Heckler & Koch, FNH-USA, Remington Defense, Adcor Defense Inc. and Colt Defense LLC, the original maker of the M4 carbine.
The service's original plan was to award three contracts to three gun makers for the final phase of the competition, which would involve soldiers firing nearly 800,000 rounds in three separate user evaluations before choosing a winning carbine.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh is considering canceling the competition early and finding other uses for what amounts to more than $300 million the service budgeted for new carbines through 2018.
The HASC decided Thursday it wants the Army to finish the carbine effort it has already funneled $20 million into before making a final decision.
Committee members voted unanimously in the wee morning hours of June 6 to support the amendment to the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization ACT sponsored by Rep. Loretta Sanchez, ranking member of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee.
The amendment, if passed into law, prevents McHugh from canceling the IC competition before the Army completes the Phase III user-evaluation portion, conducts a business case analysis, and reports back to congressional defense committees with the effort's findings, according to the amendments official language.
The amendment still has to pass through the Senate and would not take effect until Oct. 1 -- the beginning of fiscal 2014 -- so the Army has a little less than four months to cancel the IC program without violating a congressional directive.
It's unclear when or if the Army will address the issue.
"We don't comment on pending legislation, but we do look forward to the passage of the NDAA for FY14," Army spokesman Matthew Bourke said Thursday.
The carbine competition is not the only effort the Army has launched to improve the soldier's basic individual weapon. The service recently decided to replace the standard M4 with the M4A1, as a result of its M4 Product Improvement Program.
The M4A1 is the special operations version of the weapon that's been in use for just over a decade. It features a heavier barrel and a full-auto trigger. The Army's decision to dump the current three-round burst trigger will give shooters a more consistent trigger pull and lead to better accuracy, weapons officials maintain.
The Army has budgeted $21.2 million to buy 12,000 M4A1s in the proposed fiscal 2014 budget.
The Army's effort to replace the M4 has not been without scrutiny. The Pentagon's Inspector General recently announced it was auditing the improved-carbine effort. In March 19 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the watchdog group said there were concerns that "DoD may not have an established need for this weapon nor developed performance requirements ... such as accuracy, reliability, and lethality," according to testimony.
Army officials and program experts were quick to point out, however, that the IG testimony contains misunderstandings about basic facts of the carbine-improvement effort. The Army established its requirements for the improved carbine effort three years ago.
The requirements document calls for a weapon that's almost twice as accurate as the current M4.
This is a topic Project Manager Soldier Weapons plans to explore separately when it hosts its first Small Arms Fire Control Industry Day on June 27 at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., "to see just how far fire control technology has come, and how far it has to go before landing in the hands of Soldiers," according to a June 5 announcement on Program Executive Office Soldier's website.
"Fire control systems provide a way of realizing the full potential of our small arms weapon systems," said Col. Scott C. Armstrong, Project Manager Soldier Weapons. "These systems provide soldiers with a ballistic solution to help them acquire and engage targets with precision."