The United States Army has announced it won’t follow the Marine Corps’ lead in adopting the H&K M27 IAR, or Infantry Automatic Rifle. It seems that the Army wants to develop a completely new system, rather than buy something that’s ready to go right now.

You may have heard the U.S. Army is looking to replace the M4 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon. Many surmised that the service would follow the Marines and adopt the Heckler & Koch M27 IAR (Infantry Automatic Rifle). Not so fast. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee on the subject of Army modernization, officials said the plan now is to pursue an entirely new platform called the the Next Generation Squad Weapon.

According to Military.com, the subject got brought up when Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, asked about the Army’s effort to defeat enemy body armor which the 5.56mm cartridge can’t penetrate.

“There has been a proliferation of body armor, specifically Russian and Chinese, designed to defeat traditional 5.56mm NATO ammunition which is of course what our soldiers fire from their M4s,” Cotton said. “What are we doing to address what is a very serious issue for the soldier on the front lines?”

Lt. Gen. John Murray, Army Deputy Chief of Staff G-8, replied that the service was looking to address the issue in two phases. The first is a “near-term” solution in the form of the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDM-R).

“That is a 7.62 capability that gives us the ability to penetrate the most advanced body armor in the world, along with the Advanced Armor Piercing round that’s in development,” Murray said. “We are accelerating the SDM-R, or the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, to ’18 … We had hoped to accelerate the ADVAP round, the Advanced Armor Piercing Round, to ’18 as well to line up with that, but we’re about a year off. So we will develop that ammo and field it in ’19. You can still fire 7.62, and you can still penetrate, you just can’t get quite the range you will with the next generation round.

“That’s Phase 1. Phase 2 is the development of what we’re calling the Next Generation Squad Weapon,” Murray continued. “First iteration will probably be an automatic rifle to replace the SAW, which is also a 5.56. We’ve been pushed on the M27 which the Marine Corps has adopted. That is also a 5.56 which doesn’t penetrate, so we’re gonna go down the path of Next Generation Squad Weapon, 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’ll probably be something in-between. Cased telescoping round, probably polymer casing to reduce the weight of it. We have in the S&T community a demonstration weapon right now. It’s too big, it’s too heavy, but we’ve recently opened it up to commercial industry for them to come in with their ideas about how they would get to that. We’ve offered them some money to come in and prototype for us that type of weapon. We believe with that weapon, with a new ammo, we can achieve probably weights similar to the M4/5.56 ammo, 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 most advanced body armor in the world probably well out past the max effective range of the M4, and that’s what we see as a replacement for the M4 in the future, not the SDM-R.”

I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this one.

For one thing, developing a new weapon is tricky. The Army has been trying to develop a replacement for the M16/M4 for years, and so far they’ve got jack. Does anyone else remember the XM29 OICW?

That said, the point about the limitations regarding 5.56 may have some validity. While 5.56 rounds exist that are designed to defeat body armor, those are older ammunition types, so it’s possible that the Russians and Chinese have armor that can defeat those rounds. If so, we clearly need a weapon with a bit more oomph to it.

Yet it’s worth noting that the Marine Corps doesn’t seem to be particularly worried about this issue.

Sounds like something for the keyboard commandos to argue over in years to come on gun forums throughout this great land of ours. I, for one, will enjoy reading some of them.