The Army kind of backed in to adopting the M4 Carbine as its standard infantry small arm. What happened was, the standard weapon was the M16A2, but the special operations community really wanted a carbine version, which eventually became the M4 (there have been carbine versions of the M16 series of weapons almost as long as there have been M16s). Pretty soon, a few other infantry units decided they too wanted M4s, as they were lighter and handier than the M16A2. Rangers, Airborne units, and Bradley crewmen really didn’t like having to deal with the longer, clumsier M16A2. As time went on, eventually, pretty much everyone ended up with the M4, and the M16A2 kind of faded out of the picture as far as the infantry was concerned.
But as the Army found itself fighting two wars, the shortcomings of the M4 started getting a lot of attention. It’s not a bad weapon, but it does have some issues. We’ve talked about the M4 series a few times, here, here, and here. It is not the most durable piece around, and it’s light weight, short barrel, and 5.56mm ammo mean that it really struggles to shoot well past 300 meters.
In light of these shortcomings, the Army as wanted to hold a competition to decide on the next standard infantry small arm. The last few times the Army tried this, it was the typical bloated procurement disaster. Between the H&K G11 caseless ammo carbine, the XM29 OICW and other programs, the Army never came close to finding a realistic alternative to the M16/M4 family.
Army weapons officials are in for some tough questions from gun makers about to compete for the chance to replace the service’s M4 carbine.
In just two weeks, Program Executive Office Soldier will hold an industry day designed to help small-arms companies understand what the Army wants to see in the upcoming and much-anticipated improved carbine competition.
The Army released a draft solicitation Jan. 31 to announce the endeavor, but long-arm manufacturers began preparing for this event more than three years ago when the M4’s performance came under scrutiny from Soldiers and lawmakers alike.
Companies are already expressing concern over the guidelines competitors will have to follow to participate.
One issue causing anxiety is the lack of clarity over how the Army will test rifles that can shoot more than one caliber of ammunition.
Well, we’ll just have to see. It’s odd that one of the biggest knocks on the M4 is the 5.56mm round, but there is absolutely no incentive for the bidders to enter another caliber. The increased cost to the bidders will strongly argue against it, and it doesn’t really sound like the competition rules will add points for better performance in a weapon based on the ammo.