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Army Individual Carbine Program Decision Imminent

U.S. Army representatives anticipate an “imminent” decision of the next milestone for that service’s Individual Carbine program. The Individual Carbine program is part of the Army’s dual-track approach that continues to modernize the M4 series carbine while simultaneously exploring potential replacements for that weapon.

The anticipated milestone decision was revealed on April 11, 2013, during a hearing titled “Equipping the Individual Soldier and Marine: Current and Future Year Acquisition and Modernization Strategies and the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request” before the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.

He continued, “And then we moved on to a Phase II. And Phase II was to test the accuracy of the weapons – the dispersion, if you will, of the rounds as they go downrange, and also to test the reliability of the weapons through some environmentals as well as just temperate [conditions]. And that data has been the data that we have now compiled and is before the source selection authority to determine whether or not to go into a Phase III. The source selection authority can take as many as three weapons forward into Phase III as long as they passed all of the requirements necessary in Phase II.”

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D, California) raised the Individual Carbine program in a question to Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, U.S. Army Program Executive Officer – Soldier. Reviewing nearly two decades of small arms explorations beginning with the 1995 Objective Individual Combat Weapon, Sanchez claimed that rifle performance remained a major issue of concern among soldiers.

“In 2010 the Army did a study at Aberdeen ATC [Aberdeen Test Center] that tested four rifles: the M4; the SCAR; the HK416; and the XM8,” she said. “They tested them in particular with respect to the dust chamber reliability – i.e. How does our weapon jam? – and the M4 was 800 percent less reliable than the HK416. And nobody disputed those facts. So my question is, what are we doing about this? What are we doing to take a look at a more reliable weapon for our soldier?”

82nd Airborne M4 carbine

U.S. Army Spc. Robert Zarlenga, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, fires his M4 carbine at insurgent forces June 15, 2012, near Joint Security Station Hasan, southern Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Zarlenga was assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod, Task Force 1/82 PAO

Responding to the reliability issue, Ostrowski explained, “The M4 was first introduced as early as 1990 in our Army. And since then we have made more than 92 separate adjustments and modifications to that weapon system to improve accuracy, reliability, and so forth. Each one of these changes has brought about a much better weapon system than we ever had before. The original requirement for the M4 was a mean rounds between stoppages of 600 rounds…Our recent testing in 2010 with the same weapon and the same M855 ammunition revealed 3,692 rounds between stoppages…So the weapons that we carried back in 2001-2004 are not the same M4s that we are carrying today in terms of reliability because of all the improvements that we made on that weapon system.”

“We also went out to industry and we asked industry through a source selection called the Individual Carbine program to determine whether or not industry could provide us with a weapon system that was as accurate; as reliable; was compatible with our current optics; and also had a life cycle cost that was within a boundary that we have established now for the M4,” he added. “That competition is ongoing. It has completed Phase II testing. And the source selection authority has been given all of the testing material with respect to deciding whether or not any of the weapons goes forward into Phase III of the competition.”

Pushed by Sanchez on the nature and status of the competition, Ostrowski said, “We are absolutely competing it. The competition began with Phase I in October of 2011. And we’ve been testing the weapon systems through a Phase I process, which was to look at whether or not the weapons that were offered by vendors were compatible with our optics and so forth; whether they were within the length and weight standards that we established for the competition.”

He continued, “And then we moved on to a Phase II. And Phase II was to test the accuracy of the weapons – the dispersion, if you will, of the rounds as they go downrange, and also to test the reliability of the weapons through some environmentals as well as just temperate [conditions]. And that data has been the data that we have now compiled and is before the source selection authority to determine whether or not to go into a Phase III. The source selection authority can take as many as three weapons forward into Phase III as long as they passed all of the requirements necessary in Phase II.”

“If the source selection authority decides to move forward with a Phase III it will run from time now – as the decision is ‘imminent’ – until the fourth quarter of this fiscal year. At tha point, if there is a ‘winner’ of the competition, then that will go before the Secretary of the Army in a cost-benefit analysis/side-by-side comparison with the M4.”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-168394">

    The M4 is a very good rifle, but it is under powered at 5.56mm. Upping the cartridge to 6.8mm SPC would make a big difference while still easily controlled and maintaining good accuracy.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-169260">

    Shortening the barrel from the M16’s length to the M4’s didn’t help the muzzle velocity either. That, in concert with the longer ranges encountered in Afghanistan, seems to have made the 5.56mm more of a subject of conversation these days.