Colt May Face World Without M4 Carbine Production
Filed under: BAE Systems, Business Line, Colt Defense, Companies, Congress, Contract Additions, Contract Awards, Department of Defense, development program, Events, Federal Budget Process, FN, Heckler Koch, Oshkosh Truck Corp, production program, Proposal, Restructuring, Services, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps
Since the mid-1960’s the United States and many of its allies have been using the M16 and variants as their standard rifle and small arm. Since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001 the focus has switched to the M4 carbine version of the ubiquitous rifle. This is shorter then the standard M16 and was found more useful in the close encounters that U.S. Soldiers and Marines found themselves facing in Afghanistan and Iraq. The majority of those weapons have been made by Colt but now that may be changing.
Twice in the last twenty years the Army has tried to develop new rifles and both times were not able to proceed into production. The last attempt actually developed a weapon called the XM8 rifle which was made in limited quantities by Heckler & Koch and while the standard infantry weapon was not chosen to replace the M16/M4 the 25mm version has seen limited use in Afghanistan and the Army recently ordered more due to its success.
The M4 has received some criticism for its performance over the last ten years especially in Afghanistan. There have been claims that it jammed easily and did not provide the necessary combat performance. The Special Forces due to some issues went ahead and developed and purchased their own assault weapon, the SCAR. This is a product of FN Herstel and was the winner of a competition for a new rifle firing the standard 5.56mm round as well as a “H” version shooting a 7.62mm one as well.
Now it is being reported that the Army may try a two track approach to fixing some of these issues. First they are exploring having a new competition to develop a different small arm. This would be an open competition against a new set of requirements. It is expected that most of the weapons bid would be existing ones such as the SCAR.
The second track is transferring production of the M4 from Colt to a new company. The Army now owns the data rights to the design and is able to award any company a production contract. This used to be more common in the past but recently in order to save money the Defense Department has not always bought the design or rights to a system. A recent example of such a transfer is the move of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) production from BAE Systems (BAE:LSE) to Oshkosh (OSK).
Colt is now facing a similar problem that now confronts BAE: the loss of one of their major products and revenue generators. Colt has reacted to the announced Army plans by ramping up their lobbying efforts to help Congress decide to keep the program with them.
It is an issue faced by many different programs as they reach the end of their lives. Is it cheaper and more effective to keep the existing system in production or better for the Defense Department to develop a new one and transition to a new supplier. One would think that with something as basic as a rifle there would be no need to change. While that is true there have been some incremental improvements in technology that lead to better performance including reliability, damage and rate of fire. The Army may want to look at these.
Certainly there is also a chance, as with the FMTV, where a new supplier might offer the same product at a better price and the Government must explore this option. What does seem sure is that Colt and the other small arms manufacturers across the world are ready for the U.S. to buy a new weapon if they really want one.
Photo from brian.ch’s Flickr photo stream.