Not to be too critical, but man, the Army loves to waste money trying to replace the M16 family of rifles. They’ve been doing it for decades now and spent millions and millions of dollars in the effort. The latest contest is called the Next Generation Squad Weapons, or NGSW, which aims to replace both the M4A1 and the M249 light machine gun. The Army wants more range and more lethality than the 5.56 can provide, and therefore they want to utilize a 6.8 mm round.
This new round offers better performance than the 5.56 and 7.62 cartridges, with better lethality, better effective range, barrier penetration, and signature management. The Army’s requirements call for companies to produce both a rifle and a squad automatic weapon for the NGSW competition, and the branch has since narrowed the field to three candidates. Today, the NGSW competition involves prototypes from SIG Sauer, General Dynamics/Beretta/True Velocity, and Textron Systems.
We are going to break down all three entries and explain the potential benefits and downsides of each.
SIG Sauer will be utilizing a variant of their MCX rifle and the SIG Sauer Lightweight Belt-Fed Machine gun in their new 6.8x51mm hybrid round. Part of the contest calls for lighter ammunition, and SIG utilizes a hybrid case to make this possible. Part of the cartridge is a composite material and part brass.
The rifle variant is a short-stroke gas piston system the eliminates the need for a receiver extension and buffer tube. This allows the rifle to utilize a proper folding stock. Additionally, the SIG Sauer rifle will offer very M4 like controls that are completely ambidextrous, making the transition easier for any troop.
The SIG LMG cuts a ton of weight from the standard SAW and produces a true ‘light’ machine gun. An internal recoil buffer makes the machine gun extremely light recoiling and easy to control. Like most modern machine guns, it’s a belt-fed, air-cooled design that fires from the open bolt and features a side-loading design. This allows for easy optics mounting compared to top-loading designs.
SIG Sauer pros and cons
Since the rifle variant mimics the AR series, the rifle will be extremely easy to transition to for the common soldier. It takes much less training to switch from the M4A1 to the SIG MCX Spear. While the NGSW ammunition is much larger than the standard 5.56, it’s lighter due to the composite case design.
The LMG seems to be extremely well made and innovative with its side-feed design and ultra-lightweight nature. Add in the low recoiling design and modular design, and soldiers will have a very capable and modern LMG.
The downsides are mostly relegated to the rifle. While SIG produced a short rifle comparable to the M4A1, it’s a heavy weapon. It weighs over 9 pounds, and the recoil from the 6.8x51mm is substantially more than the 5.56 it’s replacing.
General Dynamics, Beretta, and True Velocity
The partnership between these three companies has General Dynamics designing the gun, Beretta doing R&D and producing the gun, and True Velocity designing the new 6.8mm round. The round is an almost entirely polymer cased .277 (which is American for 6.8mm) TVCM cartridge.
The General Dynamics NGSW entries are bullpups, which means the action is behind the pistol grip. Both are rifle variants, one being the assault rifle and the other being an automatic rifle. Instead of being a belt-fed LMG, the machine gun variant is an automatic rifle akin to the Marine Corps M27, meaning it runs magazines. The differences between the two weapons are minimal, but the automatic rifle variant does incorporate a bipod.
Both weapons utilize a gas and recoil system, but General Dynamics has not elaborated any further. A short recoil, impulse averaging technology reduces recoil and makes full auto fire quite controllable. A video from General Dynamics shows the weapons being very easy to control. Both the rifle and automatic rifle variant feature a system that utilizes a closed bolt for semi-auto and an open bolt for full-auto modes.
General Dynamics pros and cons
The biggest pro of the General Dynamics NGSW is also its biggest potential downside, and that’s the bullpup layout. A bullpup rifle is substantially shorter and better balanced than a regular rifle. It places the weight to the rear and drastically shortens the gun. It’s easier to use with one hand and typically easier to use when moving in and out of vehicles.
The downside is that the United States military has never adopted a bullpup, and it will require a hefty amount of retraining to get soldiers accustomed to the weapon. Bullpups handle differently, often have bad triggers, and can suck for lefties. General Dynamics would be wise to ensure parts can be changed to allow for left-handed use and ejection, otherwise, some percentage of shooters will be eating the new 6.8 shells.
Automatic rifles tend to work well, but I’m still cautious about their ability to replace the firepower a belt-fed allows. However, the AR concept does make every Soldier a trained automatic rifleman from the jump and lightens the squad load.
This NGSW interests me the most, and I’d love to see where it goes, as well as the Army’s remarks on the rifle. It’s certainly a different option from the Army’s usual fare.
Textron Systems will use an original design for both the rifle and machine-gun entries for the NGSW competition. They are fielding their own unique polymer cased 6.8mm round that utilizes a telescoping design and fully encases the projectile.
The rifle variant will mimic some M4-like controls to include the safety and rear charging handle. It appears that most controls are ambidextrous. The rifle has been seen with both an M4 style stock and a lower profile ‘PDW’ style collapsing stock as well. Ammunition appears to eject forward of the magazine and out of the side of the weapon. The rifle uses a fascinating, albeit somewhat complicated, system to feed, eject, and firen.
The Machine gun variant seems extremely promising. It utilizes linked ammunition with the cases and links being ejected separately. Recoil is supposedly extremely low, and previous prototypes have shown a weight of a paltry 9.5 pounds, making it extremely light for a belt-fed, air-cooled, open bolt LMG.
Textron System pros and cons
The Textron entries seem to be the lightest variants, with the rifle being more compact than the SIG MCX and conventional compared to the General Dynamics Entry. The lightweight MG is fascinating, and as a former machine gunner, I would have much preferred the 9.5-pound option to my near 30-pound M240.
The downside seems to be a very complicated action that relies on one cartridge to eject the next. Also, the ejection port seems like it would be easily blocked potentially by a shooter’s arm or the environment.
NGSW until 2022
The program is currently ongoing, and sadly, the companies are rather tight-lipped about their specs for now. Finding barrel lengths, weights, overall lengths, cyclic rates, and similar information is currently pretty tough. Admittedly, to some extent that may be because these weapons will be changed and tweaked as the competition matures.
As more information is released, you can bet I’ll keep my ear to the ground and keep our readers informed. Which model do you think will win? Do you have a personal favorite? Will this contest result in nothing like most of the Army’s programs to replace the M16 family of rifles? Let us know what you think below.