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Small Arms Developments

The recent close of proposal submissions for the U.S. Army’s long-awaited Individual Carbine (IC) program marked the culmination of an extraordinarily busy year in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps small arms arena. Activities have involved weapons, ammunition, and optical subsystems.

 

Weapons

Several of the representative 2011 small arms programs involve the ubiquitous 5.56 mm M4/M4A1-series carbine.

First emerging from early 1990s U.S. Marine Corps requirements for a shorter version of the M16 rifle, the M4 carbine was quickly adopted by the Army as well, with Army requirements alone swelling to more than 500,000 carbines (M4A1 models – with features like a heavier barrel and full automatic selector switch – were initially directed toward the special operations community).

Based on the procured quantities of M4/M4A1s alone, there was enormous interest in May 2010, when the U.S. Army released a “sources sought” announcement for an IC, with an identified interest in obtaining “information pertaining to the weapon capabilities available to fill the carbine role for the U.S. Army.”

M4 and M4A1

M4A1 (top) and M4 receivers demonstrate the updated M4A1’s signature difference from the M4: the switch to fully automatic instead of burst. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Zane Craig

Noting that “the associated production capacity of the small arms industrial base for both domestic and foreign weapon manufacturers for a potential carbine weapon system is also of interest,” the announcement called for information on potential weapons models to fulfill the requirement – not limited to 5.56 mm systems – as well as contractor information on performance and production capacity.

From the start, service representatives have emphasized that the IC focus is on providing U.S. warfighters with “the best carbine,” and “not necessarily a new carbine.” In other words, the end of the day may find that the M4 still represents “the best carbine” for U.S. forces.

This emphasis has been further reflected in a “multi-path strategy” in which exploration of a potential new IC has been accompanied by parallel contracting efforts to obtain upgrade kits to convert existing M4s to M4A1s and fulfill the Army’s authorized acquisition levels with an additional buy of M4A1 carbines.

The conversion and new procurements of M4A1s reflect a September 2010 decision by Headquarters, Department of the Army (G3/5/7) that authorized the M4A1 as the standard Army carbine. When compared to the M4, the M4A1 provides a heavier barrel and fully automatic fire capabilities. In addition, the Army is upgrading both M4s and M4A1s with ambidextrous fire-control assemblies.

But the IC remains a critical element of that multi-path strategy. The program continued to evolve over the year following the sources sought announcement and, by the time of the solicitation release in June 2011, the Army was outlining a source selection process consisting of “two evaluation phases, ending with a contract award to up to three contractors, followed by a final down-selection to a single contractor for a new carbine.”

Offerors had until late October to submit their Phase I IC proposals. Government evaluation of the proposals will consist of “the evaluation of the weapon attributes of the offeror’s hardware, evaluation of the offeror’s facility production capability, and review of the offeror’s cost/price proposal in accordance with the evaluation criteria contained in the solicitation.”

While the specific identifications of offerors has not been provided by the government, one Army program manager earlier this year estimated that the IC request for proposal (RFP) might draw “up to 40 interested bidders.”

At the conclusion of Evaluation Phase I, the IC candidates who are deemed to represent the best value, as determined by the Source Selection Authority, will proceed into Phase II of the evaluation and all unsuccessful candidates from Phase I will be eliminated from further consideration for award.

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