American and international gun makers want to build a new carbine to replace the U.S. military's ubiquitous M4, and they're making moves in Washington to give themselves as much of an edge as possible in influencing the government's decision, AP reports in a must-read story. Colt -- which makes the M4 -- Remington, Smith & Wesson and others all are hiring lobbyists and working their relationships with lawmakers so that their guns have the best chance in the next pending acquisition battle.
For the small arms world, the prize doesn't get much bigger:
After buying more than 700,000 Colt M4 carbines, the Defense Department has started a search for the rifle's successor, giving Colt's competitors the long-awaited chance to break the company's grip on the market. So Colt turned to Roger Smith, a former deputy assistant Navy secretary-turned-lobbyist, to be the company's voice in D.C. His fee is $120,000 a year.Secretary Gates has said resetting the Army and Marines belongs on the list of things DoD must do, along with buying the tanker, F-35, etc., meaning there's an additional incentive for gun makers to fight for this deal -- it could enjoy a kind of protected status even in Austerity America. (Of course, everyone thinks his or her piece of the defense pie is absolutely critical to American freedom and security.) But Gates, you won't need to be reminded, is on his way into retirement. Will his replacement, Leon Panetta, put the same priority on buying hundreds of thousands of new rifles -- when DoD already owns hundreds of thousands of rifles?
The move highlights the importance of a contest that is the Super Bowl and World Series rolled into one for the small arms industry. The Pentagon may buy hundreds of thousands of the new carbine, which should be more accurate, lethal and reliable than the M4 used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. At stake is millions of dollars in business for the winner at a time when budgets are tightening and opportunities for long-term weapons contracts are dwindling.
There are major side benefits to being the primary rifle supplier. The American military's seal of approval paves the way for gun sales to U.S. allies. Colt has sold 100,000 M4s overseas, and millions of its M16s — a rifle first fielded during the Vietnam War — are used by armies and law enforcement agencies around the world.