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The precision, range and lethality of an Army rifle is often arguably the deciding factor in the outcome of any dismounted firefight between dug-in infantry and invading ground forces. The ability to maneuver, target and fire in close quarters, urban situations or rugged natural terrain can shut down an enemy’s advance should defenders effectively execute with dispersed, highly precise and penetrating fire.
This equation and its many variables now inspires a much sharpened Army focus upon its upcoming decision to choose which new Next Generation Squad Weapon offering will replace the current Army M4 Carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
Next Generation Squad Weapon
The service is now weighing the merits, attributes and potential limitations of two distinct industry offerings from Sig Sauer and another submission from a Beretta USA-LoneStar Weapons Systems team.
The new weapon will likely be mass produced and put in service for decades into the future as an upgradeable, paradigm-changing combat capability for infantry closing in on an enemy or defending attacks.
LoneStar and Beretta have partnered to architect a gas and recoil-operated, magazine-fed automatic rifle. The weapon is impulse averaged and air cooled to optimize lethality and combat performance. LoneStar’s gun is designed for short-recoil and automatic fire.
Other attributes of the LoneStar weapon include dual-firing modes with a closed bolt in semi-automatic mode. Beretta statements also refer to a flash-minimizing, sound-reducing suppressor design intended to reduce the signature of the weapon and soldier on the battlefield. Beretta also contributed to weapon’s development earlier in the process by building components for a second round of NGSW prototyping and collaboration. At this stage, Beretta’s work also included a number of analyses, numerical assessments and various kinds of simulations.
The LoneStar NGSW offering is a gas and recoil-operated, impulse-averaged, air-cooled magazine-fed automatic rifle. Along with short recoil, the weapon is engineered to enable controllable, accurate automatic fire essential for meeting evolving threats, developers say.
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The concept for the NGSW emerged following a 2017 US Army Small Army Ammunition Configuration study. Among other priorities, the study called for advanced fire-control technology and bullet design to “not only defeat threat capabilities but also ensure overmatch.”
For the NGSW, the Beretta and LSFW team has been testing and developing its “Bull Pup” design, with Beretta USA also taking a leading role in developing a variant of its RM277 for sale to US allies as well as a semi-automatic variant for civilian sale in the US commercial market. Capable of stable and accurate automatic fire, long-range effectiveness and reduced recoil, the RM277 weapon is engineered to offer maximum lethality in a compact, lightweight package.
The weapon’s “Bull Pup” design – with the magazine located behind the trigger – also brings the benefits of a relatively long barrel length, higher muzzle velocities, and increased range,developers and observers point out. The design is intended to engineer a compact, more maneuverable weapon which preserves a highly effective longer barrel design. .
Army weapons developers have been careful to reference each individual vendor in public statements. Along with comments about Textron and Sig Sauer, Maj. Wyatt Ottmar, Project Manager, Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, noted the LoneStar offering “incorporates a bullpup design that places the magazine behind the cartridge and the pistol grip which allows for a longer barrel while minimizing the total length of the weapon,” according to an Army-produced video last year on the NGSW.
Army developers are very clear not to appear to favor one offering over another, and many of the attributes of each offering lend themselves to interesting topics of discussion, one of which being reliability.
As the Army ultimately makes its selection, much of the thinking is likely to center upon the potential combat reliability of any new weapons system, something which could offer an advantage to Beretta due to its long history of producing the Army’s M9 pistol for 30 years. The rifle itself will need to offer breakthrough technologies in the areas of lethality, range and of course lethality, yet a lesser recognized yet equally significant aspect of the weapon relates to its ammunition.
A key feature of the emerging NGSW is that it will fire a new 6.8mm round designed to be much more lethal, explosive and longer range than the current 5.56mm round. An interesting essay on the weapon by Army Maj. Matt Dirisio makes the point that the Russian invasion of Ukraine highlights the limitations of the existing 5.56mm round.
Dirisio explains that ammunition improvements should not in any way “add weight” to the new weapon, writing “The average soldier already carries over 100 pounds, with loads of up to 200 pounds sometimes occurring on recent deployments in Afghanistan. A lighter cartridge could significantly reduce this burden, and here the 30% lighter True Velocity ammunition in the Beretta USA-LSWS may offer an advantage.” Dirisio also points out attributes and functions of Sig Sauer’s offering and makes a clear point not to favor either of the two offerings or make any specific comments about the ongoing competition.
True Velocity’s advanced composite-cased 6.8TVCM ammunition solution complements the LoneStar weapon by providing extremely consistent muzzle velocity, improved accuracy and extended effective range in a cartridge that is approximately 30 percent lighter than a brass-cased 7.62x51mm cartridge. The polymer-based material employed in the design of the True Velocity case also insulates the weapon from heat transfer, reducing wear and tear on the rifle.The NGSW weapons and rounds are slated to be deployed by the end of 2022, going first to soldiers within the close combat force, including elements of the Active National Guard and Reserve.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.