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Upgrade kits for M4 come in 2011

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 16, 2010) -- The Army expects to field the new sniper rifle, the XM2010, by January. And conversion kits for the M4 rifle will come next year.

A panel of program managers from Program Executive Office Soldier met Oct. 14 at the Pentagon to discuss the status of several programs in the PEO's portfolio. Included in the discussion was the status of the new sniper rifle, development of the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern uniform for use in Afghanistan, Mounted Soldier System development, and the improvement program for the M4 carbine.

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Col. Douglas A. Tamilio, program manager for Soldier Weapons, said the Army will do a request for proposal in the next three or four months to complete the Army's acquisition objective for M4 rifles. That RFP will include more than 14,000 M4A1 rifles -- an improvement over the M4 Soldiers currently use.

"What the M4A1 gives our Soldiers is a heavy barrel and fully automatic -- that's what the field is asking for," Tamilio said. The M4A1 also features ambidextrous controls.

The Army already has a contract with Colt to produce the rifles. The second contract, in the next fiscal quarter, will help the Army complete its AAO and will include additional rifles for both foreign military sales and to meet other Army requirements. Tamilio also said the Army will work a contract to procure some 65,000 kits in FY 2011 to convert M4s already in the field to the M4A1.

Other phases of M4 improvement involve a better bolt and rail.

"I think we can get significant increases in reliability by looking at some new enhancements to bolts," Tamilio said. "Because a lot of companies have shown some bolts over the last year or so that have got, we think, improvement. We're going to ask industry to give us their best."

Tamilio also said fielding of the new sniper rifle, called the XM2010 -- the name is a departure from the Army's formally two- or three- digit weapon naming scheme -- has come quickly.

"In less than a year we're going to be fielding a piece of equipment that is going to add to the lethality of our Soldiers in the field," he said. The XM2010 is an improvement on the M24 sniper rifle system. A contract for production of the system was recently awarded to manufacturer Remington. Tamilio said it's expected fielding will happen in January.

The new rifle features a suppressor to allow Soldiers to fire the weapon in a suppressed environment and to also reduce muzzle flash. Also included, a fluted, free-floating barrel to give Soldiers more accuracy and heat dissipation. The weapon also sits on an improved bipod, Tamilio said, and features a modular rail system.

"(You can) screw a 1913 rail adaptor anywhere on here," Tamilio said. The system is unique in that it allows Soldiers to install a laser aiming device, for instance, and run the cord for that device inside the rail so they can install a activation button.

The included scope also features a reticle that will adjust based on the scope's zoom factor to maintain accuracy, is magazine-fed, has a 1,200 meter range, and a fully adjustable and collapsible butt stock.

"The key behind this weapons system -- the developments and improvements were built on what the snipers asked for," Tamilio said.

Col. William E. Cole, program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, said the Army is focused on a world-wide solution for Soldier uniforms -- an Army combat uniform available in patterns and colors that allows Soldiers to operate in nearly any environment.

Phase four of Army uniform development calls for three uniform patterns of similar geometry but different colors that allow Soldiers to operate in a desert environment, a woodland environment, and in a "transitional" environment in between those two.

Additionally, the Army is looking for a fourth color set that compliments all three of those pallets that can be used for organizational clothing and equipment such as modular lightweight load-carrying equipment, rucksacks and the improved outer tactical vest. Those kinds of issued clothing are more durable and more expensive. Unlike a Soldier's ACU, the Army would like to be able to reissue OCIE.

"We can't afford to keep replacing OCIE every time we send Soldiers to a different part of the world," Cole said.

The colonel said that the new patterns will be based on science, including both photo simulation and field testing, as well as efforts to determine such things as how close an observer must be before seeing a Soldier wearing the patterns. Also a factor will be time to detection -- at a given distance how long does it take for an observer to see a Soldier in the patterns.

"It won't be a fashion show or a beauty contest," Cole said. "It's going to be real objective data, measurable data, that we can replicate."

Currently, the Army is focused on outfitting Soldiers in Afghanistan with the fire resistant Army combat uniform in the new Operation Enduring Freedom combat pattern, or OCP. That pattern was specially designed for the unique requirements of that theater.

It's expected by December all the uniforms that are needed to outfit Soldiers in Afghanistan will have been distributed, though getting them into the hands of the Soldiers that will wear them could be complicated by the operations tempo there, PEO officials said. Additionally, they said not every Soldier in Afghanistan will actually get the FRACU in OCP, based on the time they will have left in theater.

Col. Will Riggins, project manager for Soldier Warrior, said the Nett Warrior system is now undergoing limited user testing at Fort Riley, Kan. Three different versions of the system, from three competing defense contractors, are being tested by Soldiers there.

The Nett Warrior system is worn on a Soldier's body and will provide "unparalleled situational awareness" to Soldiers on the ground. The system includes a radio, a helmet-mounted display and a hand-held data input device. The wiring for the system is integrated into a protective vest.

With Nett Warrior, Soldiers will be able to see their location, the location of their fellow Soldiers, and the location of known enemies on a moving map.

"This is not something you hang on a Soldier and say go out and fight," said Riggins. "It truly changes the basic methodology of how you fight, how you command and control, how you share information on the battlefield."

Riggins said the Army's Training and Doctrine Command is now in the process of writing doctrine to describe use for the system. He also said he believes development of the Nett Warrior program is where it should be.

"We're still on track, as we have been for a while now, for a milestone C low-rate initial production in March 2011," he said.

Riggins also discussed development of the Mounted Soldier System program. He said the system is in developmental testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and will move into a limited user test at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the Army Evaluation Task Force in either May or June, followed by an LRIP decision in August or September.

The Mounted Soldier System includes a helmet-mounted-display that can attach Soldiers to up to five video feeds, a cordless communications system and a system to keep Soldiers cool under their uniforms and protective gear.

"The temperature extremes we deal with in Iraq and Afghanistan and in various places around the world where we are deployed are intense," Riggins said. Inside a vehicle, he said, it can get as hot as 120-130 degrees, because of limited air movement and the extra heat generated by electronic equipment.

The cooling system consists of a vest, worn as close to the body as possible, that contains cooling tubes connected to a water chiller and circulator on the vehicle. Riggins said development of the system comes from lessons learned from the Air Warrior system and in terms of "the loss of awareness and capability when you are on extended five- or six- multi-hour missions and how much better Soldiers can perform when their core body temperature is kept at a reasonable level."

Riggins also discussed how such systems can be powered and power options the Army is looking at for other systems. He said lithium ion power in batteries is about "state of the art" and has maxed out the current capability for power density -- the amount of power that can be delivered for a battery's physical size.

"What we haven't done well is shape those batteries so they integrate on a Soldiers form," Riggins said. Now, he said, the Army is looking at shaping batteries to fit the Soldier form. One example is a battery that is shaped like an enhanced small arms protective insert. He said in the IOTV there is room behind the protective plates to insert such a battery.

"It makes a great difference -- it integrates better," Riggins said. "When you put a rucksack on, you don't have that brick pressing on your back."

The ESAPI-shaped battery will be demonstrated at Fort Riley as part of the Nett Warrior LUT. He said because the battery is bigger when it's the size of a plate, it also affects the mission.

"Instead of having an eight- or 12-hour mission time, like we currently have with Nett Warrior, we're looking at one of those ESAPI-sized plates being a 24-hour mission capability -- so great promise there, and more Soldier-friendly at the same time," Riggins said.

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