The close combat forces’ replacement for both the M4 carbine and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is expected to be in troops’ hands in 2022.

After more than half-a-century relying on the 5.56 mm round, the Army in 2018 settled on the intermediate caliber 6.8 mm for the Next Generation Squad Weapon program.

The round falls between 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm calibers in the squad- and platoon-level inventory. The government version of the 6.8 mm actually outperforms the larger 7.62 mm in range, accuracy and lethality, while coming in at a lighter weight than the heavier machine gun caliber.

The Army leads the program and has companies designing weapon prototypes and a new optic.

The optic will include a “ballistic computer” and the future ability to link with new night vision devices to connect the goggles with the weapon site for target acquisition and engagement. Two companies that provided prototypes were Vortex Optics and L3 Technologies.

Since the original prototype competitions, General Dynamics turned over its project to LoneStar Future Weapons, which is collaborating with Beretta on parts manufacturing.

Textron Systems is no longer part of the competition. The down-select is now between the Sig Sauer design, which closely resembles existing assault rifle ergonomics, and the GD/LoneStar/Beretta bullpup configuration.

The bullpup design features a shorter overall length, with space saved by putting the magazine well behind the grip in the buttstock. That design is common in some foreign militaries but not so in U.S. units.

The Army is scheduled to select the winner between August and October 2022.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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