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M4 Improvement/M4 Replacement

U.S. Army continues forward on dual-track M4 carbine initiatives

With the May 13, 2011 release of the latest pre-solicitation announcement, the U.S. Army is continuing forward on its stated dual track approach to enhance the current inventory of 5.56mm M4/M4A1 carbines while also exploring a potential replacement weapon.

The latest announcement, part of the enhancement/Product Improvement Program (PIP) pathway, calls for an “Improved Forward Rail Assembly Kit for the M4/M4A1 Carbine.”

The announcement notes that procurement of the kits “will leverage the latest in small arms technology advancements under a full and open competition” and that “targeted areas of improvements of the supplied assemblies are enhanced durability, reliability, zero retention and zero repeatability.”

“The forward rail assembly kit will seamlessly integrate with the M4/M4A1 Carbine without negatively impacting or affecting the current performance or operation of the weapon,” it states. “The kit shall be compatible with current M4/M4A1 ancillary equipment with no modifications to the ancillary equipment and/or the equipments mounting brackets. This ancillary equipment includes but is not limited to approved 40mm grenade launchers, accessory shotgun systems, optics/sights, aiming/pointing devices, training devices, bayonets, slings, and rail covers. All forward rail assembly kit surfaces must conform to MIL-STD-1913.”

As identified in the pre-solicitation, current plans call for the follow-on request for proposals (RFP) to invite each offeror to submit five bid samples for bid sample testing and evaluation in response to an RFP.

“The RFP will clearly state each of the requirements and will evaluate how well each candidate meets the physical and performance characteristics outlined in the RFP,” it notes.

The current procurement effort is envisioned as a seven-year firm fixed price Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity contract for fiscal years ‘12 through ‘19.

The potential maximum quantity that can be purchased under this program is 500,000 units, reflecting the Army’s authorized acquisition quantity of approximately 504,000 M4/M4A1 Carbines.

M4 Improvement and replacement programs

U.S. Army Sgt. Jacob Blanco scans the area through the optics of his M4 during an operation to clear insurgents in southern Howz-e-Madad, Afghanistan, Jan. 12, 2011. Blanco is with Charger Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. DoD photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, U.S Army

The presolicitation for the Improved Forward Rail Assembly Kit comes on the heels of another enhancement pathway effort, the recently released (and modified) solicitation for a new M4 Bolt Carrier Assembly.

As described in the earlier release, the M4 Carbine PIP covers the phased implementation of multiple product improvements to the current U.S. Army M4/M4A1 Carbines.

“The U.S. Government is planning to implement product improvements in multiple phases with several increments being considered in each phase,” it notes. “The objectives of the overall M4 Carbine PIP are to enhance the weapon’s durability, reliability, maintainability, accessory integration, sustained rate of fire, and ergonomics without negatively affecting the current performance of the M4/M4A1 Carbine.”

“The Bolt and Bolt Carrier Assembly Kit is one increment of the program being considered for improvements,” it continues. “It is the [U.S. Government’s] intention to enter Design Verification with independent increments; however, the [U.S. Government] will merge all increments as one complete system.”

Outlining the specific statement of work for the bolt assembly effort, it adds that the objective “is to define the contract requirements for the production, testing, and delivery of a Bolt and Bolt Carrier Assembly Kit for the M4 Carbine Product Improvements Program (PIP). The kit shall provide enhancements in areas of reliability and durability of the U.S. Army M4 Carbine.  The application of the improvements kit shall not negatively affect the current performance of the weapon system.  The Bolt and Bolt Carrier Assembly Kit shall be able to ‘drop-in’ / be installed into and interface, interchange and integrate with gas-impingement M4 Carbines configured with the M4A1 Heavy Barrel Assembly, Ambidextrous Fire Control Assembly, and M4A1 Full Auto Trigger Mechanism Assembly without other modifications made to the weapon.”

Offerors have until Aug. 2, 2011 to submit responses to the Bolt Carrier Assembly solicitation.

Along with the PIP/enhancement pathway, contractor teams are also anxiously awaiting release of the formal RFP for the Individual Carbine (IC) program. At the same time that the PIP efforts seek to enhance the current inventory of M4/M4A1 Carbines, the IC will seek to identify a new weapon that would provide U.S. warfighters with significant small arms enhancements.

One of the realities reflected in the dual pathways is that any possible IC acquisition would likely take well over a decade of production to make a significant replacement dent in an inventory of more than 500,000 M4/M4A1 Carbines.

M4 Improvement and replacement programs

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stanley Miller, assigned to Charger Company, 2-502 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division looks through the sight of his M4 carbine near Howz-e-Madad, Kandahar, Afghanistan, Jan. 12, 2011. The operation was conducted to clear the area around the village near Howz-e-Madad of insurgent forces. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler

As outlined in the latest modification to the draft solicitation, the IC acquisition and source selection “will consist of two (2) evaluation phases, ending with a contract award to up to three (3) contractors, followed by a final down-selection to a single contractor for a new carbine.”

Evaluation phase I 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. At the conclusion of evaluation phase I, the IC candidates which represent the best value, as determined by the Source Selection Authority (SSA) will proceed into evaluation phase II of the evaluation.

Evaluation phase II will consist of specific hardware testing, as well as evaluation of the written technical proposal, management, cost/price, government purpose rights (GPR), fielding-operational and supportability impact and past performance, and small business participation volumes of the proposal in accordance with the evaluation criteria contained in the solicitation. At the completion of evaluation phase II, an award decision will occur that will result in the award of a firm-fixed price IDIQ contract to no more than three vendors entering the down-selection evaluation.

“A firm fixed price order will be placed with each of the Awardees for the minimum guarantee of one weapon system component package, as described in the statement of work,” it reads. “The weapon systems component package deliverables will be used for the final evaluation and final down-select to one Awardee. The down-select evaluations will consist of a developmental test, the facility capability plan, the GPR proposal and the cost/price proposal, as well as, a limited user evaluation.”

The total period of performance in which the government requires to procure a maximum quantity of 178,890 units (inclusive of options) is seven years.

Current expectations are that the Army will release the formal RFP for the IC pathway later this month.

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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-39930">
    Barry Gallerani

    has the award been made for the rail and sight sytems as of yet and if not who are the finalists at this point?