Army Maps Out Future Small-Arms Programs

U.S. Army soldiers fire M9 pistols. Army weapons officials want to replace the M9 with the Modular Handgun System. (US Army)
U.S. Army soldiers fire M9 pistols. Army weapons officials want to replace the M9 with the Modular Handgun System. (US Army)

U.S. Army small-arms experts recently laid out a blueprint of future small-arms goals that would equip infantry units with several new weapons, ranging from a new squad automatic rifle to a new shoulder-fired, anti-armor weapon.

Four months after the Army selected a replacement for its M9 service pistol, the service has started to talk openly about plans to equip infantry squads with lighter, more effective small arms.

"There is a lot of discussion that may require changes to our formations, actually different capability sets we are trying to get to our squads," Col. Brian Stehle, head of Program Manager Soldier Weapons, told an audience recently at the National Defense Industrial Association's Armaments Systems Forum.

The Army's senior leadership has issued a directed requirement to field more than 1,000 Medium Anti-Armor Weapon Systems, or MAAWS, which is also known as the Carl Gustaf, said Lt. Col. Loyd Beal III, who runs Product Manager Crew Served Weapons.

The service plans to field the new M3A1 -- the replacement for the current M3 Carl Gustaf, Beal said, adding that the goal is to have the first unit equipped in fiscal 2018.

Saab Defense unveiled this latest version of its 84mm weapon system in 2014.

The 75th Ranger Regiment and other special operations forces began using the M3 MAAWS in 1991. The Army began ordering the M3 for conventional infantry units to use in Afghanistan in 2011. The M3 weighs 22 pounds and measures 42 inches long. The breech-loading M3 can reach out and hit enemy targets up to 1,000 meters away.

The new M3A1 is significantly lighter and shorter than the M3. It weighs 15 pounds and measures 39 3/8 inches long. The weight savings comes from a titanium liner and carbon-fiber wrapping, Saab officials said.

The new system is also more ergonomic and features a cable system running along the top of the weapon to make it compatible with future battlefield technology, such as intelligent sighting systems for programmable ammunition, according to Saab officials.

The Army plans to field the M3A1 with an integrated fire-control system, Beal said.

Additionally, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn issued a directed requirement for a new 7.62mm squad designated marksman rifle.

Since 2009, the Army has equipped squad designated marksmen with the Enhanced Battle Rifle, or EBR, 14 -- a modernized M14 equipped with a Sage International adjustable aluminum stock with pistol grip; a Leupold 3.5x10 power scope; and Harris bipod legs. But at 15 pounds unloaded, the EBR is heavy, so the service will likely search for a new rifle to fill the requirement, Army weapons officials say.

Some future weapons programs may be accelerated, Beal said.

"There has been a huge emphasis on getting capability out to the field fast, so that has really affected our near-term, mid-term and far-term goals," Beal said, describing near-term as fiscal years 2018-2025, mid-term as fiscal years 2026-2035, and far-term as fiscal 2036 and beyond.

The Army's Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle was scheduled as a mid-term goal, "but that may be accelerated into the near term as we plan on fielding that first unit equipped in by 2025," Beal said.

The new squad automatic rifle would replace the current M249 squad automatic weapon in certain units, officials maintain. The service hopes to have a capabilities development document approved by third quarter of this fiscal year and plans on holding an industry day in June, Beal said.

There were few details presented on the new weapon, but the service continues to invest in the Lightweight Small Arms Technology, or LSAT, program.

The Army program is intended to cut the weight of its light machine gun by as much as 50 percent. The AAI Corp. weapon, by itself, weighs about nine pounds, compared to a 17-pound M249 squad automatic weapon.

LSAT's cased-telescoped 5.56mm ammunition relies on a plastic case rather than a brass one to hold the propellant and the projectile, similar to a conventional shotgun shell. It weighs about 37 percent less than standard belted 5.56mm.

The Army hopes to field a new Precision Sniper Rifle by fiscal 2021, Beal said. The PSR is a multi-caliber rifle that will enable sniper teams to engage man-sized targets out to 1,500 meters, he said.

If all goes well, the PSR will replace the Army's M2010 sniper rifle, chambered for .300 Winchester magnum, and the M107 sniper rifle, chambered for .50 caliber, Beal said.

"This is a great capability for the Army," he said. "We will be able to divest of two existing sniper rifles if this comes to fruition -- the M2010 and the M107."

One program that was absent from the briefing slides was the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System, the Army's attempt to field a "leap-ahead" weapon designed to give infantry units a decisive edge against enemies hiding behind cover.

On April 5, the Army terminated the XM25 contract with prime contractor Orbital-ATK Inc., but the program's future is still uncertain.

The XM25 is an offshoot of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program the Army began in the mid-1990s to increase the effectiveness of soldier firepower. It features a target acquisition/fire control system that allows soldiers to identify a target, determine the range, and program the ammunition to explode above or near targets out to 600 meters.

The service has considered taking the XM25's sophisticated fire-control system and joining it to a weapon that shoots a 40mm air-burst grenade, a technology Army ammunition experts are developing, according to service sources who are not cleared to speak to the press.

The Army is reassessing its requirement for a shoulder-fired, counter-defilade weapon, officials maintain.

The service's Modular Handgun System, or MHS, continues to generate excitement. Weapons officials announced recently that the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) will be the first unit to receive the new service pistol.

The announcement came as the service waits for the Government Accountability Office to rule on a protest filed by Glock Inc. in February against the Army's selection of the Sig Sauer P320 as the replacement for its current M9 9mm pistol.

The GAO is expected to make a decision in early June, but the service is free to continue work on the effort.

The Army awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million Jan. 19. Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc.; FN America; and Beretta USA, maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol, in the competition for the MHS program.

The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol. The pistols can be outfitted with suppressors and accommodate standard and extended-capacity magazines.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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