5 Army Weapons Soldiers Might Actually Get Their Hands on Soon
Despite all the disruptions in 2020, the Army's modernization officials have been testing new, more extensive, and more precise infantry weapon systems. They also announced efforts that could lead to future machine guns, precision grenade launchers, and possibly even hand-held targeted energy weapons.
Soldier lethality is a major priority in the army's modernization, which has gained momentum since the service unveiled a strategy for equipping combat units with a new generation of air and ground combat systems in 2017.
In the short term, the army wants to use new weapons at the troop level for close combat units and high-tech protective goggles that project a reticle in front of the soldiers' eyes.
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The service announced long-term efforts to develop new belted and crewed weapons and to reflect on what infantry weapons will look like decades from now.
Here's a look at five weapons-related programs that Military.com has covered this year:
1. Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS).
In October, the Army's modernization officers completed the Third Soldier Contact Point (STP), where troops were evaluating the first robust version of IVAS. The Microsoft-designed goggles are designed to provide a heads-up display that provides infantry troops with situational awareness tools that allow them to navigate, communicate and keep an eye on other members of their unit day and night.
However, IVAS was also designed to improve troop marksmanship using a tool known as Rapid Target Acquisition. A special thermal weapon site is attached to the soldier's weapon and projects the site crosshairs into the wearer's field of vision via a Bluetooth signal. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division involved in the STP said some adjustments were needed to learn to fire IVAS, but most said they could easily hit 300-meter targets from a standing position. If all goes well, the IVAS should be ready for use sometime in 2021.
2nd Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW).
The Army is in the final stages of evaluating NGSW rifle and auto rifle prototypes intended for a new 6.8mm cartridge and the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and automatic weapon of the M249- Squads in infantry and other close combat units are to replace the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022.
Textron Systems, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc. and Sig Sauer have supplied prototype systems and ammunition that have passed STPs. Each vendor's design is unique and fires a different version of the 6.8mm ammunition. The army plans to select a single company that will manufacture both weapons and ammunition in the first quarter of fiscal 2022.
So promising are the NGSW weapons that U.S. special forces such as the 75th Ranger Regiment and Special Forces units are expected to take them over, as well as conventional units.
3. Precision Grenadiers.
Army weapons officials announced in November that the service is making longer-term efforts to arm some members of the infantry squad with a precise weapon system against the defilade designed to destroy the enemy hidden behind cover. Currently, two infantrymen in each squad are armed with an M4A1 carbine with an M320 40mm grenade launcher to attack counter-defilade targets, but gun officials have long wanted something more sophisticated.
For the past decade, the Army has tried to use the XM25 Counter-Defilade Target Engagement System - a semi-automatic, shoulder-fired weapon that used 25mm high-explosive, air-bursting ammunition. XM25 caused a stir in the infantry community, but in the end the complex system was plagued by program delays that led to its demise.
The Army is currently conducting the Platoon Arms and Ammunition Configuration (PAAC) study, which is expected to be completed by 2024. She will investigate the enemies the service will face in the future and help guide weapons officials to a new weapon against Defilade sometime in 2028, Army officials say.
4. Next generation medium and heavy machine gun.
In early November, the army's weapons officials announced that the service would replace the venerable 7.62mm M240 and .50 caliber "Ma Deuce" M2 with next-generation machine guns. But Army officials said the decision to move forward with such a program will depend on the future performance that the NGSW will demonstrate after its deployment. The PAAC study will also help make decisions about what the next generation of medium and heavy machine guns would look like, according to Army officials.
The Marine Corps is working with the Army on the next generation machine gun effort, but is also evaluating a .338 Norma Magnum machine gun that the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is developing to potentially replace the M240 in naval gun companies.
5. Machine gun suppressor.
The Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning, Georgia, live tested a promising Maxim Defense M240 silencer during the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) 2021, which began in late October. Benning officials said this was the first year a machine gun suppressor caused a stir in the maneuvering community.
Other suppressors in previous tests couldn't withstand the heat and audible roar of the 7.62mm M240. Finding a durable, affordable muffler that can dampen the sound signature of an M240 would make it difficult for enemies to locate and aim machine gun teams remotely, Benning officials say.
When the AEWE ends in early March, Battle Lab officials will produce a report detailing the performance of the equipment being tested. If the tests continue to go well, Benning officials say the Battle Lab may recommend that the Maxim suppressor undergo further testing for possible fields.
Looking ahead, it will likely be a long time before infantrymen are armed with the blaster weapons like those carried by Stormtroopers or Han Solo in the "Star Wars" saga, but the army's weapons officers have already thought about it.
"We're working on the next generation squad weapon ... but what is the next weapon after that?" Col. Rhett Thompson, director of the Soldier Requirements Division in Benning, said during the National Defense Industrial Association conference on armaments, robotics and ammunition in early November.
"Does it fire a round? Is it some kind of energy capacity instead of a magazine of ammunition ... or is it something more targeted or something else?" he said. "That's really what we get into when we're further out, and some of it is fun to think about."
- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related Topics: Army Modernization Programs Deploy On Time Despite COVID-19 Delays: General
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