Anticipating the need to fire at long ranges against troops equipped with advanced body armor, the Army is fast-tracking introduction of new small arms that provide better ballistics performance at lighter weights than the M16 and M4 carbine carried currently.
Plans are to begin fielding the squad designated marksman rifle (SDMR), which is carried by a single sharpshooter in each squad to take out targets at long ranges, should being this year, according to Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff G-8.
It will replace a version of the M14 rifle that is currently carried by marksmen in each squad. The M14 is a heavy evolution of the World War II-era M1 Garand and looks significantly different than the M16s and M4s carried by other soldiers.
“It looks significantly different from anything else in the squad, so if you carried it you looked like a target,” Murray said. “This rifle is a variation of a sniper rifle so it’s very accurate, but it’s also capable of automatic fire.”
The SDMR is a 7.62mm rifle that is more powerful and has a longer range than the M16 and M4 carbine. It is capable of penetrating most existing body armor and, to increase its lethality, the Army is developing a specialized armor-piercing round for the weapon.
The new round will be fielded in 2019, Murray said Feb. 7 during testimony before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land subcommittee.
A second phase of development should result in a next-generation squad weapon that initially will be an automatic rifle to replace the current squad automatic weapon (SAW), which uses the same 5.56mm ammunition as the M16 family of rifles.
The Army initially planned to field the next-generation squad weapon in 2025 or 2026. It now will begin fielding the weapons in 2023, Murray said.
“We’ve been pushed on the M27, which the Marine Corps has adopted,” Murray said. “That’s also a 5.56, which doesn’t penetrate, so we’re going to go down the path of next-generation squad weapon that’s an automatic rifle first, to be closely followed, I’m hopeful for either a rifle or a carbine that will fire something other than a 5.56. It probably won’t be a 7.62. It will probably be something in between.”
That weapon also will likely use cased, telescoping rounds with polymer casings that take up less space and weigh less than traditional brass-cased ammunition, Murray said.
A “demonstration weapon” exists now and is being tested by Army small arms engineers, but it is too big and heavy to meet the service’s requirements, Murray said.
“We’ve recently opened it up to commercial industry for them to come in with their ideas about how they would get to that,” he said. “We’ve offered them some money to come in and prototype for us, that type of weapon.”
“We believe with that weapon, with that kind of ammo, we can achieve weights similar to the M4 5.56 ammo,” Murray added. “The weapon will probably weigh a little bit more. The ammo will probably weigh a little bit less and we can get penetration of the best advanced body armor in the world probably well out beyond even the max effective range of the current M4.”
Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski said there is an ongoing science and technology collaboration with Textron Systems and this year the service plans to offer prototyping contracts to commercial firearms manufacturers through other transactional authorities.
“The intent is to try to do a fly-off between those particular companies by the end of 21, in order to provide some capability by 22 or 23 at the latest,” Ostrowski said.