Kit Up spoke with Army Secretary John McHugh this morning at a round table interview with top defense scribes in DC.
I pinged him on the glacial pace of the improved carbine program (the replacement or redesign of the M4) and he seemed to indicate that while he sees the program as proceeding apace -- given the requirements and bureaucratic hurdles with such a massive change -- the end result will be a "replacement" of the M4, not just a revamped version, say, with a gas piston operating system or tweaked components.
We have a two part plan to over time replace the M4 with the next variant, whatever that may be. ... We are working the requirements for a [request for proposals] for an eventual replacement of the M4 and a new generation of personal carbine.
Now, you'll remember that my friend Matt Cox over at Army Times got his hands on a briefing slide circulated by PEO Soldier Brig. Gen. Pete Fuller on the Hill showing the near-term improvements the service planned to make to the M4, including a heavier barrel, improved trigger pull, a gas piston system and ambidextrous controls.
A lot of gun watchers think this is a straw man that the Army will erect to impede the fielding of a real replacement for the M4 -- that there's a large institutional pull in the service to wait until that "leap ahead" technology presents itself for a full-on replacement of the standard-issue carbine. I did sense some frustration with PM-level officials that this requirements process was getting bogged down (particularly on the subcompact weapon) and that some folks were impeding the process.
Not so, says McHugh:
It is our intent to field a new personal carbine and to do regular order. I am not at the point right now to suggest that we are not moving in a timely manner.
But McHugh did spin the familiar Army line of "I haven't heard any Soldiers criticizing the M4" -- which one must have to take with a grain of salt, particularly when speaking to troops in Afghanistan. Of the Joes I've spoken to on this issue, the "hate the M4" crowd outnumbers the "It's fine" crowd 3-to-1.
But, at the end of the day, it's clear the McHugh sees a whole new weapon coming down the pike...SCAR?...He doesn't say:
We feel it's a good weapon, we understand that time moves on and we want to upgrade and develop a new one and that's going forward, from my perspective, in due course.