M4 Replacement Initiative Moves Forward (Slowly)

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I know it's a bit late, but I got my hands on some material that came out of the mid-November "industry day" held in the DC area to show the Army what's out there to replace the M4.

You'll remember that the service has indicated it's finally willing to explore updated options to its standard-issue service rifle...now the M4. Whether you think the M4 sucks or not, it makes sense that the Army is breaking free of its single-minded love affair with the M16 and its variants.

I missed the industry day (dumb me) but I got a write-up on the meeting from a renowned weapons expert that many of you might know. He did not send this directly to me, I obtained it through other sources, so I'm going to protect its origins and the author.

According to the expert, "19 vendors showed up at the industry day, including Polytech, KAC, Precision Reflex, POF, S&W, FN with SCAR, Superior Tooling, AAI with LSAT, LWRC, Colt Defense, Barrett, Sabre Defense, Armwest, HK, Bushmater/Remington, Robinson Armament, Troy Industries and SIG Sauer." Army secretary Pete Geren showed up as well, along with key players from PEO Soldier and PEO Soldier Weapons. According to one of my sources, fortunately some congressional staffers from top lawmakers who want to take up this issue also showed, including staffers for Salazar, Hutchison, Sessions and John Warner (though we know he's retiring soon).

The weapons expert said:

Lots of AR-based systems on display, mostly off the shelf items, many op rod guns and conversions. A few medium caliber (6.5G and 6.8 Rem SPC and 7.62x39mm R) platforms on display and a few 7.62x51mm systems as well. No bullpups (Tavor, AUG or F2000)surprisingly and no XM8. Lots of discussion about op rod upgrades to M4's versus complete new systems. Little talk that I heard anyway about user convertible (barrel, buttstock, caliber) modular family of weapons but there were one or two such systems there.

One thing my source told me -- and yes, he does have a stake in the adoption of a new rifle -- was that Geren's presence, while adding senior-level gravitas to the event, was essentially meaningless because he's probably going to leave in 60 days. And the fact that neither the service chief nor vice chief showed up at the event sent a signal the the uniformed leadership isn't on board with the idea and could recommend to the next secretary that they abandon the effort.

Here's more from the debrief:

Industry reps I spoke with were cautiously optimistic having been burned a time or two before in the last 10 years. A major difference here is the presence of a formal requirements document (CDD) as per the JCIDs process that is due to be completed and staffed by the end of CY08 and expected to be approved by summer CY09 with possible draft RFQ release to industry for comment w/i 4QFY09 (and a second Industry Day) and eventual final RFP release by Sept. 2009; all this as per COL Tamilio's (new PM-SW formerly from the REF) briefing to the attendees. Each vendor was allotted 30 minutes to present to a US Govt team in private. Lots of new faces within the "small arms system" to include a new PEO Soldier, PM-SW and PM-SW IW and USAIC reps....

This process of consulting industry in support of a real fair and open competition for the next service rifle has not occurred in more than 70 years, likely since the M1 Garand "competition" prior to WWII. This was a historic day! Lots of oversight on this one from the real end user side and at senior leadership levels. We are on the right track finally. Lets just hope it doesn't get derailed with changes in the US Govt over the next 2 months. Time will tell. Keep the pressure on!

So chew this over for a bit. Next up: What small arms threats are the services worried about?

-- Christian

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