US Army Announces Replacements for M4 Carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon

Photo Credit: Spc. Eric Kestner / 982nd Signal Company (Combat Camera) (Airborne) / DVIDS / Public Domain

The US Army has officially announced the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) that will replace the M4/M4A1 carbine and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The decision was made following a 27-month prototyping and evaluation effort.

XM5 Rifle against a white backdrop
XM5 Rifle. (Photo Credit: US Army)

The branch will award the $20.4 million 10-year firm-fixed-price follow-on production contract to SIG Sauer, Inc., which competed against designs submitted by General Dynamics and Textron Systems. Along with manufacturing the new weapons – the XM5 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle – the company will provide the 6.8 Common Cartridge Family of Ammunition, as well as accessories, contractor support, and spares.

There is also the opportunity for other Defense Department services and, potentially, Foreign Military Sales countries to purchase the new weapons in the future.

The 27-month prototyping and evaluation effort included “numerous technical tests and Soldier touch points of three competing prototype systems.” Once the XM5 and XM250 are produced, they and the ammunition will undergo stringent testing. Speaking about the deal in a press release, SIG Sauer President and CEO Ron Cohen said:

“The US Army is taking a bold step toward command of the 21st-century battlefield and SIG Sauer is immensely proud to be the selected provider for this historic revolution in infantry weapons. The fielding of the SIG Sauer Next Generation Squad Weapons System will forever change the dynamic of military engagement for America’s warfighters with American innovation and manufacturing.”

American soldier holding an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon
American soldier holding an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon during multinational military exercises at the Tolemaida Air Base in Tolemaida, Colombia, January 26, 2020. (Photo Credit: Ivan Valencia / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

The M4 carbine has been in service since 1994 and has undergone a number of modifications over the years. Its replacement, the XM5 Rifle, will be used within the close combat force. The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is a light machine gun that’s been in service even longer, since 1984.

Both are lightweight and will “provide significant capability improvements in accuracy, range, and overall lethality.” They have the capability to fire a more lethal form of ammunition – the 6.8 mm – and can mitigate recoil, include integrated flash reduction and muzzle sound, and provide improved barrel performance.

The plan is to pair them with the XM157 Fire Control optic, designed by Vortex Optics. It’s an advanced fire control system that serves as not just a variable ranged scope, but also an aiming laser, laser range finder and atmospheric sensor. It’s used to improve accuracy and lethality for the close combat force.

XM250 Automatic Rifle against a white backdrop
XM250 Automatic Rifle. (Photo Credit: US Army)

The decision to switch to 6.8 mm ammunition came after a search for rounds that could better penetrate body armor. It is made from “government-provided projectiles and vendor-designed cartridges,” and “includes multiple types of tactical and training rounds that increase accuracy and are more lethal against emerging threats than both the 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ammunition.”

It’s currently unclear how many of each weapon the Army plans to purchase over the next 10 years, or how fast troops will be able to switch over. In its 2023 budget, 29,046 new weapons were requested, but that still needs to be approved by Congress.