The Army recently issued a solicitation to industry asking for a view of what's out there to replace or refine the M4 carbine and M16 rifle.
The solicitation, issued Aug. 22 by Program Manager Soldier Weapons through PEO Soldier, asks industry for their ideas on "the enhanced carbine and subcompact small arms technology." The solicitation asks for industry to look specifically at performance and production capacity at this point -- ignoring the main gripe about the M4's susceptibility to jam due to its gas operated system.
Performance Improvement. Request information on potential improvements in individual weapon performance in the areas of accuracy and dispersion out to 600m, reliability and durability in all environments, modularity, and terminal performance on a variety of target mediums. Modularity includes, but is not limited to, compatibility with accessory items such as optical sights, image intensification sights, thermal sights, laser targeting systems, bipods, tactical lights, MILES, bayonets, and accessory type grenade launchers. There is specific interest in improvements to zero retention and zero repeatability...
Production capacity estimates. Request information on minimum and maximum monthly production rates for a military carbine and/or subcompact individual weapon, and the lead times to achieve these production rates. This estimate should consider a US based production facility by the third year of deliveries. This capacity should be above and beyond any current production orders or current sales. If new facilities are planned or required, so state.
The solicitation did leave open the possibility of weapons with calibers other than the standard 5.56mm NATO round...
Note: Although this request for information is not limited to 5.56mm NATO systems, it is limited to ammunition that will meet International Convention standards
This addresses another gripe of the M4: stopping power. So at least the Army seems open to a 7.62 or a 6.8 round or some other boutique caliber. [Note: A source in the industry tells me that SOF is getting good results by tweaking the 5.56 round for more stopping power...and not from making it a hollow point.]
That same industry source reminded me that the "technical data package" -- essentially the patent -- of the M4 is released in June 2009, so anyone can have access to the plans and make copies of the M4. I'm working on a longer, more comprehensive story on this for Military.com, but it seems that the Army is starting to open itself up to a new weapon as an M4 replacement -- though restricting the ideas simply to accuracy seems weird.
Also, what's this about a "subcompact?" I'll try to find out more...