I also spoke with Darren Mellors, vice president for business development from LWRC, about their losing bid on the Marine Corps Infantry Automatic Rifle competition.
He showed me their bid for the new gun contract, which is intended to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in rifle squads and light armored reconnaissance units. Colt won two contracts for two separate weapons, FNH-USA won another and H&K won a third limited contract for 10 test weapons from whom the Corps will decide a winner.
Basically, the LWRC IAR candidate can be fired in semi-or-full auto, fires its first shot from a closed bolt and then operates from an open bolt configuration to keep the action cool under full auto fire. It has a gas-piston operating system and a heavy barrel with a nickel Teflon finish to absorb all the abuse from thousands of rounds.
I asked Mellors about the limited capacity a 30 round mar gives an automatic rifleman with this kind of setup. First of all, he said they'd been in talks with Maul to develop a higher capacity "quad-stack" mar akin to an experimental AK-74 one that feeds four stacks of ammo through a single channel in one 55-round magazine. But the company was reluctant to pitch the new mar with its IAR for fear it would undercut their bid as being too risky.
He also said that concerns about the lack of firepower from the IAR are unfounded because as the Marine Corps sees it, with all the urban fighting that's been going on, the need has shifted to point suppression fire rather than area suppression.
"Most of the time, the automatic rifleman is focused on suppressing one window, rather than a large swath," Mellors said of the Corps' thought process. "Your not suppressing big enemy positions."
And he also reiterated the argument that the SAW is very heavy and virtually useless in a room-to-room fight. The IAR will give the automatic rifleman a lot more to do than simply helping cordon the building.
Rumor around many of the competitors' booths was that small companies like LWRC lost out on the IAR contract because the Corps was nervous about a company's ability to deliver enough product on time. Clearly the expertise is there to build an IAR, but can they ramp up to the quantities needed and deliver support if something goes wrong.
That question strikes at the heart of the oncoming debate over a potential replacement for the M4 (and for who might eventually win the USMC IAR contract). Colt had a booth at the SHOT show, but it was not in the law enforcement and military section, but embedded deeply within the hunting and sports area of the show.
I tried to talk with someone there about their IAR candidate (which Colt has declined repeated requests for information on) and was told they didn't have any of their military/LE goods on display. I asked why, despite the hundreds of vendors in that part of the show, Colt wasn't represented and was told "this is primarily a hunting and sporting venue"...
Try and tell that to the Berettas, FNHs, LWRCs, Magpuls and Smith and Wessons of the world. And does this also smack of over confidence?
We'll see. I'm still waiting to hear from Colt about the weapons they're pitching to the Corps.