Army officials on Monday outlined the next steps in the service’s Next-Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) that will begin replacing its M4 rifles and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

During a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, ranking member Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) pressed Army officials on the status of the new weapon and under what circumstances will the Army consider retiring all 5.56mm rifles and carbines in favor of the planned new 6.8mm bullet weapons.

Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Douglas Bush said the NGSW program uses new authorities provided by Congress and said the service is in the middle of rapid prototyping with three vendors. 

“We are looking to make a rapid fielding decision early in the first quarter of FY ‘22 down to one at which point we would proceed into rapid fielding and initial production. That includes selecting the ammunition to go along with the weapon.”

The Army previously selected Textron Systems [TXT], General Dynamics [GD] and SIG Sauer for the NGSW prototype phase and plans to eventually field the new weapons in 2022 to start replacing M4 rifles and M249 Squad Automatic Weapons. Each company received eight-year prototype awards with the first 27 months to include delivery of 53 new rifles, 43 automatic rifles, and 850,000 rounds of ammunition.

In 2019, the Army said it planned to receive initial prototypes from the selected vendors in spring 2020 followed by plans to provide feedback (Defense Daily, Sept. 3, 2019).

The service previously said a production contract for NGSW could include up to 250,000 weapons and 150 million rounds of 6.8mm ammunition.

General John Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, noted the requirement of the Next-Generation Squad Weapon is not for the entire Army.

“It is actually…two different weapons, so a rifle and an automatic rifle with a common cartridge. And so as you mentioned, right now we’re programming for the close combat force plus some additionals in terms of Special Operations Command. The number is somewhere around 120,000 [units] we’re talking about right now with a combination of the two,” Murray told the panel.

Murray underscored the Army has not yet considered if it will replace the M4 and M16 5.56mm weapons. “That is a future decision to be made very much dependent upon what we find with the prototyping effort we have going on right now.”

The Army’s FY ‘22 budget request includes a boost in funding to purchase more than 12,000 of the Next-Generation Squad Weapons (Defense Daily, May 28).

Hartzler also pressed Bush on the timeline to establish a 6.8mm ammunition manufacturing facility at Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo. The plant is a government-owned and contractor-operated facility.

Bush said the Army’s FY ‘22 budget request includes “the funding for preliminary work necessary to support whatever ammunition type is selected for production at Lake City in the future. So that’s my understanding, that all that preliminary work is properly funded and fully funded in FY ‘22.”

“What would follow is a transition over a number of years from initially contractor-produced ammunition to capability of Lake City to produce everything the Army needs for that new type of ammunition,” he continued.

Bush said that transition is set to take three to four years before it is completely transitioned to Lake City entirely “because of the requirements for a new facility.”