INDEPENDENCE, Mo.—The Army’s small caliber ammunition plant here has begun shipping the first bullets for a new caliber of ammunition for testing that will be fired from a new family of rifles nearing final design and development by Sig Sauer, which in April 2022 won a potential $4.7 billion contract for the Next-Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW), the commander of the plant said last week.

The Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP) will initially supply the bullets and Sig Sauer the case, which is the outer brass jacket the projectile fits into. The gun maker will also be responsible for load, assembly and pack the of the completed cartridge, which is the finished 6.8 caliber ammunition.

Sig Sauer is currently the prime contractor for the NGSW and the ammunition and is responsible for the design of both, but the Lake City plant will eventually takeover all ammo production.

Lake City’s part of the program is on schedule, Lt. Col. Christopher Denton, commander of the facility, told reporters on May 17 during a media briefing and tour.

Olin Corp.’s [OLN] Winchester division is responsible for running the facility—including everything from ammo production to security and lawn maintenance—and the Army provides oversight.

Product qualification testing of the NGSW rifle and automatic rifle is slated to occur between May and July. The Army previously said the initial operational test and evaluation of the rifles will begin in the third quarter of FY ’23.

The Lake City plant remains on track to begin interim production at low-scale of the complete 6.8 caliber ammo in the first quarter of calendar year 2024, Adam Hinsdale, the civilian executive assistant at LCAAP, told reporters.

Initial production by Winchester at LCAAP will be done in existing facilities. Ground is expected to be broken in 2024 on a new Building 4 at the plant, which will house complete 6.8 caliber production. The new facility is expected to be completed in 2026 and fully commissioned by 2028.

In the last six months, the original Building 4, where .30 caliber ammunition was made, has been demolished and the land completely cleared to get ready for the new facility. Denton said the new Building 4 is in the design phase.

Come 2028, LCAAP will become the program of record for the 6.8 ammo, ramping to full production as the NGSW is fielded. There are two combat weapons that are part of NGSW, the XM7 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle, which will replace the current M4 Rifle and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon used by close combat forces, respectively.

While supply chain issues have been a concern for the defense industrial base due to material and labor impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Denton said that LCAAP isn’t seeing any lingering challenges and is meeting its production targets, which contractually are up to 1.6 billion rounds annually. The plan was able to meet its ammo quota throughout the pandemic, he also said.

The plant’s core competencies are 5.56, 7.62 and .50 caliber munitions. The 6.8 caliber rounds will add a fourth competency, he said.

LCAAP supplies small caliber ammo for all the military services and also counts foreign militaries and federal law enforcement agencies among its customers.