The Marine Corps has awarded a limited contract to three rifle manufacturers for a weapon to replace its M249 Squad Automatic Rifle.
The contract awarded Dec. 19 calls for a minimum of 10 weapons from each company to conduct further evaluation for an eventual down-select to one weapon. The final manufacturer could garner nearly $27 million for 6,500 of the so-called Infantry Automatic Rifles.
Ashburn, Va.-based Heckler and Koch USA and FN Herstal of Belgium won two of the contracts, with West Hartford, Conn.-based Colt Defense winning two separate contracts for two different weapons they offered.
Representatives of the three companies were not available for comment.
The Corps plans to replace its entire inventory of FN Herstal-made M249 SAWs equipped to rifle squads and Light Armored Reconnaissance scout Marines with the 5.56mm IAR beginning in 2010.
"The IAR seeks to enhance the automatic rifleman's maneuverability and displacement speed while providing the warfighter the ability to suppress or destroy those targets of most immediate concern to the fire team," said a Marine Corps release announcing the award.
Unlike the belt-fed SAW, the IAR will pull its ammo from an attached magazine. Most of the 10 original candidate systems had a low-profile, M16-like appearance since the Corps wanted the IAR to be easier to maneuver "through constricted terrain" like houses and buildings.
The SAW weighs nearly 17 pounds without its 200-round ammunition box and has an overall length of 41 inches. An M-16A4 weighs about nine pounds and is 39 inches long.
The Corps also asked for IAR systems that could fire from both a closed and open bolt feed.
"The IAR shall provide accurate automatic or semi-automatic fires against point (550 meters) and area (800 meters) targets in all light, environmental, and terrain conditions," Marine Corps Systems Command told Military.com in October. "The IAR will be operated by a single Marine and employed from all doctrinal firing positions [and] demonstrate improved portability, reliability and maneuverability through constricted terrain and conditions over the current M249 SAW."
The Corps hopes to take delivery of the first 10 weapons from each candidate by mid-March 2009 and conduct evaluations and operational testing -- including endurance and reliability testing at "government facilities" -- to decide a winner. The Corps hopes to have its first units equipped with IARs by 2010.