By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 03, 2010) -- Candidates for an improved version of the Army's sniper rifle -- the M-24 -- are expected to go into testing this spring after industry reveals their efforts this month.
Industry was challenged to improve the M-24 sniper rifle, a weapon that has been in service since the 1980s, to make it more accurate and to make it more adjustable to the Soldier's needs, said Col. Douglas A. Tamilio, project manager, Soldier Weapons.
"So the Soldier, the sniper, can conform it to his body -- we'll have an adjustable stock, adjustable cheek welds," Tamilio said. "This weapons system has a five-round internal magazine. We're asking industry to do something better -- five-to-ten round external magazines."
The Army has also asked industry to improve the scope for the M-24, and that means zoom from 3x to 25x magnification, with a reticle that adjusts when the user changes magnification. Also, he said, add Picatinny rails for mounting sensors and optics.
The M-24 now is chambered for a 7.62mm round with a range to about 800 meters, Tamilio said. But he added that when the Army designed the weapon, it also accommodated a larger round, the .300 Win Mag. He said the improved M-24 will take advantage of that capability in order to realize greater accuracy.
It's expected the four industry competitors will supply their four improved M-24 candidates by March 11. Those will go into competitive tests in the spring. The Army will down select to a producer in the summer, and start fielding the improved M-24 to Army snipers in the fall.
Improving the M-24 will involve turning existing weapons over to a contractor and modifying that weapon. It's expected that turnaround time for that process will be 30 days.
The M-24 is not the only weapon PEO Soldier is looking to improve. In fact, the Army is taking a dual approach to getting a better carbine in the hands of Soldiers. The Army is looking to improve upon the M-4 Carbine currently fielded to Soldiers, through the M-4 Carbine Improvement Program. The Army is also asking industry to consider making a better, follow-on carbine, through the Individual Carbine Competition.
Tamilio said the Army is asking industry to find a way to make the M-4 Carbine easier for Soldiers to maintain, and to also improve its durability, accuracy and reliability.
The M-4 is already enjoying an improvement fielded to Soldiers now in Iraq and Afghanistan: a less jam-prone magazine.
"It's a significant improvement over the other magazines we've fielded," Tamilio said. "What that means to our Soldiers is, it's more reliable every time the weapon feeds into the chamber -- it's going to present itself in the same manner, consistently."
The new magazine is already fielded to Soldiers in combat overseas, and it features an improved spring and follower in the magazine that doesn't allow the magazine to jam. The Army will now field the magazine to Soldiers stateside as they prepare to deploy.
"The Army's goal is to issue every Soldier seven of these," he said, saying the service is producing more than a quarter million a month.
Army-driven improvements aside, the Army is in the final process of releasing to the field instructions to show Soldiers how best to camouflage their weapons using spray paint.
"We should issue out in the next couple of months an advisory message, I'll put it in PS Magazine, and we'll get it to the field and say hey it's okay to spray paint your weapon and here's how to do it," Tamilio said.
The instructions, he said, would include tips on paint choice to avoid generating toxic fumes from an overheated barrel, and tips to avoid paint in areas that could hamper the weapon's performance, or that could damage components like optics.
While an instruction on how to spray paint weapons for camouflage purposes is being released, authority to do so still comes from a Soldier's command, Tamilio said.
Weapons aren't the only systems the Army is improving. By the end of the month, three defense contractors are expected to deliver 60-each Ground Soldier System packages to the Army for testing.
The GSS is an integrated dismounted Soldier situational awareness system for use during combat operations. The system is currently in development and is based on lessons learned from development of the Ground Warrior system, said Col. Will Riggins, program manager, Soldier Warrior.
With the release of the testing equipment from contractors, the Army will, in a few months, go into developmental testing and limited user operational testing with the systems.
Ultimately one contractor will be chosen to build the system. To date, Riggins said contractors have developed their competing versions of the GSS with input from both the Army and from Soldiers with combat experience.
"All three have taken that Soldier feedback to heart and we have seen the changes during this development period," he said. "The light bulb started to come on when they heard it from a young Soldier who just got back from Afghanistan or from Iraq."
Soldiers who used earlier demonstration versions of the GSS complained of bulk and weight. Now, Riggins said, the contractors have responded, "they are going to cut down on that bulk."
Riggins also said the Army is "in the final phase right now of being able to drop that cable" that connects a helicopter pilot's head gear to an aircraft's intercom system.
The Aircraft Wireless Intercom System allows pilots to attach to the helicopter's intercom system without cables that can be cumbersome and potentially dangerous.
"That's going to be a very much improved capability and it's going to improve safety for us," Riggins said.
The AWIS is now actually being installed on UH-60 Black Hawks at Fort Belvoir, Va. for evaluation purposes. Riggins said eventually, the wireless systems would incorporate NSA-grade voice encryption to let voice data pass into Army networks in theater.