US Army considers replacements for the M4

Great – now that half the world has started using the M4 in one form or the other, the US now decides to start looking to replace it.

The Army took its first formal look at the latest weapons from gun makers hoping for the chance to unseat the M4 carbine as the service’s primary soldier weapon.

Nineteen small-arms companies, including M4 maker Colt Defense LLC, hauled their top carbines to a Washington-area hotel to attend the Nov. 13 industry day designed to help Army weapons officials assess what the U.S. small-arms industry is capable of producing.

This represents a significant course reversal for the Army. Until recently, senior officials have maintained that the M4 is a “world-class weapon” and saw no reason to consider anything new.

To date, the Army has invested $462 million into the M4, buying 473,000, Army officials said. The service has fielded 365,000 so far. The remaining 108,000 will be fielded over the next two years, officials said.

The Army began buying M4s in the mid-1990s as a replacement for the full-size M16, a weapon that has been in service since the mid-1960s. Its collapsible stock and shortened barrel make it ideal for soldiers operating in vehicles and tight quarters associated with urban combat.

For more than a year, the M4 has been the subject of increased scrutiny by lawmakers on Capitol Hill concerned about whether soldiers have the best available weapon.

In late November of last year, the weapon finished last in an Army reliability test against other carbines. The M4 suffered more stoppages than the combined number of jams by the other three competitors: the Heckler & Koch XM8; FNH USA’s Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle, or SCAR; and the H&K 416.

Some gun company representatives said they were skeptical about this latest effort given the Army’s track record.

From 2002 to 2005, the service developed the XM8 as a replacement for the conventional Army’s M16 family. The $33 million program led to infighting in the service’s weapons community and eventually died after failing to win approval at the Defense Department level.

The XM8 was a spinoff of an older Army program called Objective Individual Combat Weapon.

Started in 1994, the OICW program featured the XM29, which combined a 5.56mm carbine with a 20mm airburst weapon to maximize ground soldier firepower. But after a decade, development had stalled in the face of technical challenges that made the weapon too heavy and bulky.

Together the XM29 and the XM8 ended up costing the Army $100 million.

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