While Ben Franklin theorized using airships to deliver troops to battle behind enemy lines as early as 1783 and the Union Army fielded a balloon service in the Civil War, today’s Air Force traces its origin to the heavier-than-air machines of the U.S. Army’s Aeronautical Division, founded in 1907– just four years after the Wright brothers first flew. After service in Army green during both World Wars, the Air Force became an independent branch of the military in 1947 with the first Secretary of the Air Force named on Sept. 18 and its first Chief of Staff named on Sept. 26.
New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer recently picked up a nine-figure award from the U.S. Army Contracting Command for .300 and .338 Norma Magnum ammunition.
Announced by the Pentagon on June 7, the $157.3 million firm-fixed-price contract covers the production of .300 Norma Magnum 215-grain M1163 ball ammunition and .338 NM 300-grain armor-piercing M1162 cartridges for the Army. Although not a standard round for most U.S. military small arms – that’s reserved for 5.56 and 7.62 NATO along with the new 6.8 NGSW Common Cartridge – the Army and Marines are both using .300 NM and .338 NM in the MK22 Advanced Sniper Rifle program.
The MK22, a variant of the Barrett MRAD, is a modular system that will be fielded with three separate calibers, .338 Norma Magnum, .300 Norma Magnum, and 7.62 NATO, with the user able to swap calibers through barrel changes based on mission operating environments. Above is the Mk22 Mod 0 ASR including a Precision Day Optic. It is fed from a 10-round detachable magazine. (Photo: Tonya Smith/Marine Corps Systems Command).
I recently got to hang out with the folks from Sig Sauer and learned about the company’s successful submission to the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapons program.
As part of Sig’s Freedom Days event at the Ben Avery Shooting Center outside of Phoenix, Arizona, the company had its MCX Spear and prototype XM250 light machine gun on display and available for attendees to shoot.
Jason St. John, a well-mustachioed retired Army Ranger and now Sig’s director for government products, took a break from holding class on the systems and gave us the 411 in the below three-minute video.
Some of the key takeaways:
The MCX Spear/XM5 has a low-profile buttstock that is both extendible and side-folding, providing soldiers a more compact firearm while riding in vehicles and aircraft. Nonetheless, it is still fully deployable with the stock folded. Attached with T27 Torx screws, it can be replaced with other stocks, and Sig has flavors including one with a gas mask cut and a six-way adjustable precision rifle stock. Alternatively, an M4-style tube can be fitted.
It is closer in size to a compact AR-10/SR-25 rather than an M4. St. John explained it as “an AR-10 version of the M4 version of the MCX,” in talking about the upscale. “There’s no way to go to a medium-caliber solution without moving up from a small-caliber rifle…you’re not going to get the performance from an M4-sized rifle, so it was inevitable that the rifle was going to grow.”
The rifle is about as ambi as it comes. This includes a selector lever, bolt catch/bolt release, and a magazine catch/release on both the left and right-hand sides of the lower receiver.
It has two charging handles – a rearward handle that is familiar to any AR/M4 user, and a side-mounted non-reciprocating charging handle on the left of the upper, akin to that seen on a G3/HK91 or SCAR NRCH. It folds to a low profile.
The MCX Spear has a user-swappable barrel and barrel extension held inside two T27 Torx screws in a self-contained clamp. Just loosen it up and swap it out for a shorter barrel or a different caliber. It doesn’t get much more modular than that. Sig has a commercial version of the gun in .277 Fury and 6.5 CM with .308 Win models coming soon. Sig also plans a Sig MCX Spear Rattler with an 8-inch gas trap barrel that, with hybrid ammo, will still provide carbine-like velocity.
For those quiet moments, the MCX Spear has a two-position gas valve – “normal” and “adverse,” each with its own suppressed and unsuppressed settings – that allows the user to tweak the gas system for different ammo types and field conditions. Keep in mind that the Army may have to use the rifle anywhere from the polar regions to the jungle and desert.
The XM250 has an extendable buttstock. Sig also offers the gun with a side-folding stock, so that already exists should the Army look for a more compact LMG down the road.
The charging handle is on the left side of the XM250’s receiver while the feed tray opens from the left as well, rather than the top as on some other machine guns. Sig said this is so the feed tray doesn’t interfere with in-line optics mounted on the gun’s top Pic rail.
The machine gun has a quick-change barrel with a self-contained clamp that can be changed in seconds. This feature also allows the gun to swap between its standard 6.8 caliber to, for instance, a 7.62 NATO caliber, in minutes.
Firing from an open bolt, the XM250 has a three-position safety: safe, full auto, and semi. Unlike other designs, it can be loaded with the bolt forward and charged with the selector on safe.
Like the MCX/XM5, the X250 has a two-position (“normal” and “adverse”) gas valve, each with suppressed and unsuppressed settings.
The hybrid bi-metallic case on the 6.8x51mm cartridge developed for the Army by Sig uses a steel base/head and a brass case to allow the pressure to go from the traditional ~68,000 psi of an all-brass case to the region of 120K psi without any failure while still using conventional primers and powder. This translates to a 350 fps boost in velocity. Alternatively, this also allows for 16-inch-barrel-level velocities from an 8-inch barrel or a 24-inch-barrel-level velo from a 14-inch barrel.
Still curious and want more? Check out St. John’s full 18-minute talk and demo, below, filmed front and center at Freedom Days, an event that is likely coming closer to your area in future months.
While initial media briefs on the systems set to replace the M4 Carbine and M249 SAW on the Army’s frontlines held back some details, the specs are now public.
The largest and most sweeping small arms program developed by the U.S. military since the 1950s, the Next Generation Squad Weapon initiative recently picked Sig Sauer to provide the XM5 rifle and XM250 light machine gun to replace the M4 and M249, respectively. Both weapons use Sig’s in-house developed SLX suppressor system and 6.8x51mm cartridge– sold on the consumer market as the .277 Sig Fury. Meanwhile, the platforms will use an integrated optics system developed for the purpose by Vortex.
A briefing by the Army last month immediately after the announcement that Sig was the tentative winner to supply the XM5 and XM250 was fuzzy when it came to weights and dimensions.
“So, I — so the weights are — I’ll give a comparison to the M4 and the 249 in general weight difference,” said Col. Scott Madore, PM Soldier Lethality when asked. “So, the rifle — the Next-Gen Squad Weapon rifle is about two pounds over the M4. Now the automatic rifle is actually four pounds less than the current M249 squad automatic weapon.”
Now the Army has released the figures, with the XM5 listed as 8.38 pounds, and 9.84 with its suppressor attached. The overall length, with the suppressor attached, is 36 inches with the side-folding stock extended and the standard 15.3-inch barrel. By comparison, the service lists the weight of the M4A1, complete with backup iron sight, sling, adapter rail system, and an empty magazine, as 7.74 pounds. The length of the M4A1 with its stock extended and without a suppressor is 33.82 inches.
The NGSW-R, the XM5 rifle, is Sig Sauer’s MCX Spear. Using a 20-round magazine, it is chambered in a new 6.8×51 caliber. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Like the combat load of the XM5 compared to the M4, the XM250 user will carry fewer rounds at a heavier weight, described as four 100-round pouches, at 27.1 pounds. The M249 light machine gun combat load, which is three 200-round pouches, weighs 20.8 pounds.
The XM250, Sig Sauer’s light machine gun, is the tentative NGSW-AR winner. Like the XM5, it is chambered in 6.8x51mm. It is expected to replace the M249 SAW in front-line service with the U.S. Army. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Is the juice worth the squeeze? The Army thinks so, saying the benchmark for the 6.8 cartridge was that it weigh less per round than the 7.62 NATO.
With that in mind, in a very real sense, comparing the XM5/XM250 to the M4/M249 is an apple to oranges situation, and it may be more appropriate to journey back to about 1965 and compare the new guns to the M14 battle rifle and M60 machine gun, both of which were in 7.62.
The basic wood-stocked M14 hit the scales at 9 pounds empty and was, initially, carried with five 20-round magazines, later increased to seven mags. A 140-round combat load of 7.62 carried in seven steel M14 mags is 11.2 pounds, or about 1.5 pounds less than the same quantity of 6.8 as carried with the XM5.
A demo of the then-new M14 at Fort Dix in June 1959. Similar in size to the M1 Garand, with 29 of 116 parts interchangeable with that .30-06 semi-automatic rifle, the M14 was select-fire and had a larger, 20-round magazine. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)
The M60, which was often derided as “The Pig” due to its weight, took cues from the German MG42 machine gun and, even with the use of early plastics in its furniture, weighed 23 pounds when introduced, although this was later whittled down to a more carry-friendly 18.5 pounds, both figures significantly heavier than the XM250.
A demo of the then-new M60 before troops. The 23-pound 7.62 NATO belt-fed machine gun replaced the awkward M1919A6 and was considered much lighter than the latter 32-pound weapon, so much so that it was demonstrated firing one-handed overhead. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)
As noted by the Army, “The 6.8 mm has proven to outperform most modern 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition against a full array of targets.”
The Army’s Picatinny Arsenal earlier this month announced it has ordered an additional 485 of the service’s newest bolt-action sniper rifles, the MK22, from Barrett Firearms in Tennessee. Also known as the Advanced Sniper Rifle and the Precision Sniper Rifle, the MK22 is based on Barrett’s Multi-role Adaptive Design, or MRAD, platform. It is part of a program to replace the service’s existing Remington-made M2010 bolt guns, as well as the M107 .50 cal.
The MK22 is a version of Barrett’s popular MRAD bolt gun, which can be swapped between three different calibers on the fly, hence the “Multi Role Adaptive Rifle” abbreviation. The MK22 is part of the Army’s Precision Sniper Rifle Program, which also includes the Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25×56 optic – complete with a flat dark earth coating and the Army’s patented Mil-Grid reticle – on a Badger Ordnance mount, along with a suppressor and a sniper accessory kit. (Photo: U.S. Army)
Meanwhile, the Air Force is almost done fielding 1,500 new M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifles. The SDMR is a variant of HK’s 7.62 NATO G28/HK417 rifle that includes offset backup sights, a Geissele mount, OSS suppressor, Harris bipod, and Sig Sauer’s 1-6x24mm Tango6 optic.
A sergeant with the 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team fires the M110A1 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDMR) at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (Photo: Spc. Michael Schwenk/New Jersey National Guard)
XM5 – Designation of the Sig Sauer NGSW-Rifle as adopted. The rifle, Sig’s MCX-Spear design, is intended to replace the M4 Carbine in use with “close combat forces.” Once it has been fully adopted and released, the “X” will fall off, making it the M5.
XM250 – Designation of the Sig Sauer NGSW-Automatic Rifle as adopted. The weapon, Sig’s Lightweight Machine Gun design, is intended to replace the M249 SAW Carbine in use with “close combat forces.”
XM157 – Designation of the Fire Control system, a separate contract awarded earlier this year to Vortex, to provide an integrated optic to be used on both the XM5 and XM250.
6.8x51mm – The Common Cartridge family of ammunition to be used by both the XM5 and XM250. The first types will be general-purpose, blank, drill/dummy inert, a reduced range training cartridge to allow the Army’s current ranges to be used, and high-pressure test rounds.
$4,500,000,000 – The total contract value if all options are taken for Sig Sauer to manufacture and deliver the XM5 Next Generation Squad Weapon Rifle, the XM250 NGSW Automatic Rifle, and the 6.8 Common Cartridge Family of Ammunition, as well as accessories, spares, and contractor support, over the next 10 years.
$20.4 million – Funds authorized for now to Sig covering weapons and ammunition that will undergo further testing.
$20 million – Amount of the contract awarded to Winchester earlier this year to plan the production of new NGSW ammo types at the contractor-run Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri. Lake City has already been providing projectiles for Sig Sauer and the other competitors to use on their cartridges during the prototyping phase.
$2.7 billion – Maximum amount of the 10-year contract to Vortex to provide the XM157 Fire Control optics system for the NGSW firearms. The Army said this week the weapons will be fielded as a system, with both the rifles and machine guns carrying the same optics and suppressors.
140 – The number of rounds carried by the average XM5 user. The XM5 ammo loadout is seven 20-round mags for a weight of 9.8 pounds, compared to the current M4 loadout of seven 30-round mags (210 rounds total) for 7.4 pounds, meaning XM5 shooters will give up 70 rounds and carry another 5 pounds in a total weapon, optic and ammo load compared to the M4.
400 – The number of rounds carried by the average XM250 user. The XM250 ammo load per automatic rifleman is four 100-round pouches weighing 27.1 pounds. Compare this to the current SAW gunner who carries three 200-round pouches (600 rounds total) for 20.8 pounds. In other words, XM250 light machine gunners will lose 200 rounds and add 3.6 pounds compared with the M249 SAW load. While the XM250 is lighter overall, the ammo is heavier and the new optic adds 2.6 pounds to the system.
16,348 – The number of XM5 rifles planned to be purchased by the Army in Fiscal Year 23.
1,704 – The number of XM250 machine guns planned to buy in FY23.
17,164 – The number of NGSW fire control modules planned to be purchased by the Army in FY23.
27 Months – The length of the Army’s rigorous testing and evaluation process prior to down-selecting Sig this week.
500 – Number of Soldiers, Marines, and special operations personnel involved in 18 touchpoints and more than 100 technical sub-tests during the past 27-month evaluation.
20,000 – Hours of user feedback garnered from Soldiers and Marines in the testing process.
120,000 – Soldiers in the Army’s active (COMPO 1) and reserve (COMPO 2) close combat force– identified as infantrymen, cavalry scouts, combat engineers, medics, special operations, and forward observers– who will use the NGSW platforms. Army spokesmen this week said other units and specialties will continue to use legacy small arms. “For example, the company supply sergeant will continue to carry M-4 or another weapon, not the Next-Gen Weapon.”
250,000 – Current ceiling of NGSWs in the contract. With that being said, the Army stated this week the current thinking is to field 107,000 M5 rifles and 13,000 M250 machine guns initially, roughly an 8:1 ratio.
Two pounds — The weight that the XM5 rifle is heavier than the current M4 it is set to replace.
Four pounds – The weight that the XM250 machine gun is lighter than the current M249.
3-to-5 Years – The length of time Sig Sauer will remain as the primary supplier of 6.8 ammunition to the Army as the military ramps up production at its own facilities. After that, it is expected the company will still provide ammo to the Army as a secondary source.
10 Years – Potential length of this week’s contract between Sig and the Army, broken into annual ordering periods.
65 Years – The last time the Army fielded a new weapon system of this nature– a rifle and machine gun along with a new caliber family of ammunition. The previous date was 1957 when the M14 and M60, in 7.62 NATO, replaced the M1 Garand, M1918 BAR, M1 Carbine, and M1919 machine gun.
2023 (3rd quarter) – When the Army expects its IOT&E– Initial Operational Test and Evaluation– a major program milestone that, will be completed on the NGSW, paving the way for full-rate production.
2023 (4th quarter) – The year the Army expects to equip the first unit with production NGSW variants, as detailed in a Pentagon press conference this week.
2026 – Expected start date of 6.8mm ammo production at a new building constructed specifically for the purpose at Lake City.
2029 – The theorized date mentioned by Army spokesmen this week when 6.8 ammo production “perhaps open it up to commercial vendors like we do with the other calibers.”
2032– The year this week’s Army NGSW contract with Sig concludes.
In the cumulation of a story I’ve been working on and filing installments on since 2017, in what could be the biggest change in American military small arms in 65 years, the U.S. Army announced a major new contract for Sig Sauer this week.
The Army’s award on Tuesday of a 10-year firm-fixed-price follow-on production contract to New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer covers the manufacture and delivery of the new XM5 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle, as well as the weapons’ fodder– the 6.8 Common Cartridge family of ammunition.
The big prize of the Army’s four-year Next Generation Squad Weapon program, the XM5 is intended to fill the role currently held by the M4 Carbine series while the XM250 will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, two 5.56 NATO weapons that have been on the frontlines for decades.
Firearms powerhouse Beretta has announced it will support True Velocity in the production of the proposed Army Next Generation Squad Weapon and develop commercial variants.
The announcement came this week during SHOT Show in Las Vegas, where True Velocity is exhibiting. True Velocity’s subsidiary LoneStar Future Weapons is the prime contractor in the group’s bid for the NGSW program, an initiative to replace the Army’s current 5.56 NATO platforms with a new series of small arms using a 6.8 caliber cartridge. The variant submitted to the Army for testing is the RM277, chambered in True Velocity’s proprietary 6.8TVCM composite-cased cartridge.
In addition, Beretta will take the lead in developing a semi-automatic variant of the RM277 rifle intended for sale in the U.S. commercial market. The latter could prove exceptionally popular should the platform secure the potentially huge NGSW award.
I’ve been talking a lot over the past couple of years about the U.S. Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program- which is rapidly coming to a head. While Winchester recently won a contract to set up the Army’s Lake City Ammunition Plant to make the NGSW’s 6.8mm ammo and Vortex pulled down a huge award to make up to 250,000 advanced optics for the weapons, the Pentagon has not decided which version of the NSGW-Rifle and NGSW-Automatic Rifle to order.
Current contenders for the weapons platforms themselves include Sig Sauer and two teams made up of defense contractor General Dynamics Ordnance Tactical Systems, working with Beretta and True Velocity; and AAI/Textron partnered with ammo firearms maker Heckler & Koch.
Well, it seems Sig is confident enough about winning the big teddy bear when it comes to the NSGW-R that they are now releasing a commercial variant of it, the MCX-Spear in .277 Fury (the company’s civilianized 6.8mm NSGW round.)
The Sig Sauer MCX-Spear is a multi-caliber platform that can swap between .277 Fury, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 7.62 NATO via a simple barrel change at the user level. It has rear and side non-reciprocating charging handles, a 6-position folding stock, a lightened free-float M-LOK handguard, and a full-length Picatinny top rail for optics and accessories.
The overall length on the Sig Sauer MCX-Spear is 34.1-inches with the stock extended while the weight is 8.38 pounds. Listed with a 13-inch 1:7 twist, it looks like this will require an SBR stamp.
The Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapons program– which plans to replace the 5.56 NATO caliber M4 Carbine and M249 SAW with two new man-portable weapons that share a common 6.8mm caliber– is right around the corner from becoming a reality.
With the ammo being set up for production and the optics package selected, all that is left for the NGSW program is to announce the winner of the contract for the weapons themselves. The current contenders for that award, as listed by the Army, are SIG Sauer, General Dynamics– OTS, and Textron Systems.
An award is likely sometime in the coming weeks and would stand to become the biggest change in combat small arms since Curtis LeMay ordered a batch of early AR-15s from Colt for his USAF Security Police in 1962.