Against a backdrop of recent large system fielding, development and modernization programs for platforms like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV), Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and, most recently, Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), the Army has recently shifted some of its modernization focus to the ubiquitous M4 carbine.
The U.S. Army has fielded more than 400,000 M4 carbines as replacements for the M16s in its combat brigades and division headquarters.
In late January, the Army’s Joint Munitions and Lethality (JM&L) Contracting Center released a “sources sought/market survey” announcement “seeking companies with experience in small arms manufacturing and associated technologies (corporate knowledge, technical expertise, facilities, manufacturing equipment, and product acceptance test hardware)” in an effort to “test and potentially qualify a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS)/Non-Developmental Item (NDI) Modification Kit for improvements to the M4 Carbine.”
According to the announcement description, government planners anticipate that the modification kit will be evaluated as a system and be able to drop-in/be installed on “stock” M4 carbines.
“It is the Governments [sic] intent (via the application of this Modification) to provide measurable improvements in reliability, durability, and maintainability of the M4,” it noted. “Specific areas of interest may include but shall not be limited to the bolt and bolt carrier assembly, upper receiver and barrel assembly, gas operating system, trigger group assembly, and robust MIL-STD-1913 rail system (Picatinny Rail). All upgrade possibilities are encouraged and welcome, from replacement of individual components up to and including the replacement of the entire upper receiver. There are no anticipated modifications to the standard lower receiver; however minor modifications to the trigger mechanism and the interface of the upper to lower receiver may also be submitted.”
The announcement cautioned that the modified weapon “must retain the existing 5.56x45mm caliber (M855, NATO SS109)” and that “The application of the Modification Kit must not result in the diminution of any performance characteristic associated with the current M4 Carbine.”
The sources sought release estimated the quantity of M4 modification kits that might be required as “500,000 each” and requested that interested firms submit “literature/brochures not exceeding twenty (20) pages describing product technical capabilities, design details and operational characteristics, and production capability (monthly sustainable production rate)” by Feb. 16, 2010. Submissions were also to include a Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) unit price (per kit) estimate for quantity ranges 500-1,000; 1,001-5,000; 5,001-10,000 and 10,001-20,000 for each production year from FY12 thru FY17.
Elaborating on the M4 modernization effort during recent Congressional testimony (March 10, 2010, before the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, House Armed Services Committee), senior service representatives jointly described the M4 compared to the M16 as a “smaller, more maneuverable weapon [that] has been the overwhelming individual weapon of choice for our soldiers in combat.”
“Regardless of the successes we have seen in our small arms, we continue to pursue improvements in our individual weapons’ capability,” the statement read. “We are currently taking a dual approach to improve the current weapon, the M4, as we move forward with a new carbine requirement. The Project Manager (PM) released a market survey in January 2010, seeking the best industry has to offer for improvements to the current M4. The PM expects to release an RFP [request for proposals] soon to compete the upgrade program.”
It continued, “Additionally, the Army will conduct a full and open competition to address a new requirement for an individual carbine. Once the Joint Requirements Oversight Council approves the new requirement, the PM will initiate the competition with the release of an RFP for comments from industry. This is the first step in conducting the competition. The Army is working with the other services in these programs to ensure their requirements are included in our process and they are always invited to participate in the programs’ development and production.”