By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 20, 2022) -- The Army recently awarded a contract to manufacturer SIG Sauer for two new soldier weapons: the XM5 rifle and the XM250 automatic rifle. For soldiers involved in close-quarters combat, the XM5 will eventually replace the M4/M4A1 carbine rifle, while the XM250 will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
Additionally, both new rifles will use the new 6.8 mm common cartridge family of ammunition as well as a new fire control system.
"We should note that this is the first time ... in 65 years [that] the Army will field a new weapon system of this nature: a rifle, an automatic rifle, a fire control system, and a new caliber family of ammunition," Army Brig. Gen. Larry Q. Burris, the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team director, said.
The new system also arrived much quicker than anticipated, Burris said.
"This is revolutionary, and we arrived at this point in record time because we leveraged [the] middle-tier of acquisition rapid fielding authorities to enable speed and flexibility in defining requirements," he said.
Burris said the Army was able to do in 27 months what might otherwise have taken anywhere from eight to 10 years.
It's expected that the first unit of soldiers involved in close-quarters combat will be equipped with the new system in the fourth quarter of 2023, Burris said. Soldiers involved in close-quarters combat include 11B infantrymen, 19D cavalry scouts,12B combat engineers, 68W medics, and 13F forward observers.
"The fielding of the weapon is based upon ammunition production," Burris said. "As the vendor is able to produce ammunition and then Lake City [Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri] ultimately comes on, what we don't want to do is field a capability to a unit where we don't have training ammunition or contingency ammunition, if required. That's what drives the fielding of the weapons."
Army Brig. Gen. William M. Boruff, the program executive officer in the Joint Program Executive Office, Armaments and Ammunition, said the new 6.8 mm ammunition will initially be produced by SIG Sauer, but that the Army will eventually take over production of ammunition at Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri. After that, SIG Sauer will become a second-source provider of the new ammunition.
"We already have started preparing the site for the new building," Boruff said. "The new building will be stood up in Lake City Army Ammunition Plant and it will start producing around [fiscal year] 25/26. We'll work with SIG Sauer. We're clearing some space now at the Lake City facility to start production."
When the time comes, Boruff said, the Army will have enough of the new ammunition to begin fielding the new rifles.
"The capability increase that these weapons provide over the M4 and the M249 is what's really exciting," Army Col. Scott Madore, the project manager for soldier lethality, said. "It's a significant change: the way it fires, the way, when you apply the fire control -- which was previously awarded back in January -- when you apply that to these weapons systems, it improves or increases the probability of a [hit] for the individual soldier. It reduces aim error, and it's a game changer. That's really what excites me about these two systems as we saw them go through testing."
Burris also said that in addition to improved accuracy, the new system also provides greater energy on the target.
The XM5 weighs about two pounds more than the M4 it will replace, Madore said, while the XM250 weighs about four pounds less than the M249.
The initial ten-year contract with SIG Sauer allows for up to 250,000 weapons to be purchased, but that allows for other services, such as the Marines, to also be fielded the weapons if they express interest.
For the Army's close-combat and special operations forces, about 120,000 weapons will be needed.
The new rifles will be paired with the XM157 Fire Control system, which will increase accuracy and lethality for the close-combat force. The XM157 integrates, among other things, a variable magnification optic, backup etched reticle, laser range finder, ballistic calculator, atmospheric sensor suite, compass, visible and infrared aiming lasers, and a digital display overlay.