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US Army About to Cancel Carbine Replacement

May 8, 2013 by · Comment
Filed under: Colt Defense, Syndicated Industry News 

m4a1_marinesThe US Army is likely to cancel a plan to replace its M4 assault rifles with a new carbine. The Army prepared for a selection of three finalists of a major evaluation, before committing over $300 millins for new Carbines over the next five years. It...

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FN Gets New Army M4A1 Contract

At the end of last month the U.S. Army awarded FN Manufacturing, the U.S. owned company of FN Herstal, of Belgium a contract to upgrade M4 rifles to the new M4A1 standard. . FN Manfuacturing will do the work at their plant in South Carolina. The contract has a value of about $77 million if all options are executed.

UP to this contract all M4 production and other work had been done by Colt Defense. Over the last several years the Army has gone back and forth with this company on contracts and costs. The Army has also tried several times to purchase a weapon to replace the M16 and M4, which is basically a shortened version of that venerable rifle.

FN has already has had contracts with the U.S. military to make the M16 and recently M240 machine guns. They were also the initial producer of the M249 SAW.

The problem for Colt is that it may see one of its largest product lines move to other producers as time continues. This contract will just upgrade existing M4 rifles. The next contract may be for production moving to FN or another supplier. It may be a whole different system from Colt, FN or some other small arms company.

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Army’s M4 Follies Continue

The United States military has over the last decade become to rely on the M4 carbine model of the standard M16 rifle. This is basically a M16 with a shorter barrel that was found more useful in the close combat fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The M4 originally was intended to supplement the M16 as a vehicle crew weapon. Since 2001 the U.S. Army has bought thousands of M4 from privately owned Colt.

The M4 has had a mixed combat record with complaints about range, jamming and stopping power. The Army has since 1990 tried multiple times to build a new replacement rifle for the M16 most recently with the cancelled XM-8 system. This does live on in the form of the XM-25 Punisher version which is a squad level weapon that fires 25mm airburst rounds. This is manufactured by Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and is seeing trials in Afghanistan.

Like a great deal of weapons the Army has relied on a sole source for the M4. They do own the technical data and in April awarded a production contract to rival Remington. Colt protested that decision.

Now the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has ruled on the protest upholding Colt’s claim. The GAO based their decision on a review of how the Army applied their source selection criteria and found it wanting. This means that in their view Colt’s proposal was not evaluated fairly against Remington’s. The GAO denied all other claims by COlt.

After the protest is upheld the selecting Agency will go back and review the decision. They may decide that it was done properly and maintain the contract with Remington, agree to a new contest, or in very rare cases throw out the original award and give it to the challenger. There is now no timeline when this decision will be made and Remington will have to stop work on their M4 contract.

At the same time the Army continues another attempt to get a new combat rifle. Various bidders have prototypes in test that could then lead to a formal solicitation. That program though is in its early days and it will be a few more years before a decision is made on production of a new system. The winner of that will see a huge amount of work as often the standard U.S. weapon is adopted by many different countries across the globe.

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Colt May Face World Without M4 Carbine Production

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.

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Army Will Try to Replace the M4 Again?

There are reports that the U.S. Army is about to begin a new competition to develop a standard small arm and rifle for use by their soldiers. If history holds true due to the relative size of the Army the Marines and other services will also adopt whatever weapon is chosen. The current M4 is a derivative of the M16 which has been in service since Vietnam and is manufactured by Colt Defense LLC.

The Army spent most of a decade working on a M16 replacement and actually reached a point where the XM8 was ready for limited production before deciding to cancel that program and start over. The XM8 was made by Heckler & Koch (H&K) and use the same ammunition as the M16. It was intended to be lighter, more reliable and cheaper to manufacture.

One of the plans was to have a 25 mm gun mounted under the main barrel that could fire High Explosive (HE) rounds that were designed to detonate above or behind enemy in cover. The Army was forced to make this a separate weapon due to weight issues and is actually going forward with it as the XM25. It will be issued on a selective basis at an individual soldier level.

There have been complaints about the the M4’s performance and reliability in dusty conditions. This led the Army to conduct special tests comparing the weapon in 2007 to the XM8, the SCAR which was a rifled developed and used by U.S. Special Forces and a standard H&K modern assault rifle. Reports were that the M4 did poorly in the test. Unfortunately the Army had no replacement and continued to use the M4 with emphasis on cleaning and care in the field by soldiers. Interestingly the M16 suffered from the same problem when it was introduced as documented by James Fallows in his book National Defense and went on to have a successful career.

There are no shortage of existing designs that could be used by the U.S. Army that might provide a significant improvement over the M4. The SCAR is manufactured by the European company FN in the U.S. for Special Forces use. It uses the 5.56 mm round and comes in different lengths and colors as most of the stock is plastic.

The Army plans to have a series of competitions utilizing an approach similar to that which was used for the successful MRAP-ATV program. The hope is to choose a new design and have it enter production by 2014. Based on past history that is probably optimistic. The Army has has struggled with replacing the M16 as the XM8 and its predecessor program, the Objective Infantry Combat Weapon (OICW), demonstrate. Certainly there have been incremental increases in technology that the Army should take advantage of when it issues weapons to its troops.

Photo from Mini D’s Flickr Photostream.

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U.S. Army’s Small Arms Struggles Continue

Over at CNET: Military Tech Mark Rutherford writes about how the Army has just put on hold its program to develop a new crew personal weapon to replace the M4 carbine and 9 mm pistols they currently use. The goal had been to develop a subcompact, lighter weapon. Interestingly the M4 “short” version of the M16 was developed for crew use and then became adopted military wide due to the need to have a shorter weapon to use from vehicles and in rapid response situations due to the threat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army had moved out on the XM8 system that would have had a rifle version and a support weapon firing 25mm rounds. This ultimately was canceled for a variety of reasons some political and some technical. The small arms situation with the U.S. is at such a state that the Special Operations Command (SOCCOM) went out and bought their own weapon, the SCAR. Attempts to get the whole military to adopt this were stymied as well. Much of these problems have to do with Colt and the U.S. desire to maintain and American designed and made small arms. The U.S. needs to move out and buy a new system to replace the M16/M4 family especially as there are issues with them in dusty environments. Really this has been one of the worst recent failures in U.S. acquisition history.

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Marines Buy Guns from Colt

Colt Defense LLC was awarded a contract by the USMC for a new squad support weapon. The Journal Inquirer reports the contact is worth almost $10 million. This follows a recent contract for M4 rifles won by the company worth about $150 million. This contract will purchase parts and cartridges for the new system.

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