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Is the US Army’s Individual Carbine Program Doomed?

Earlier today, in a statement by Ms. Lynne M. Halbrooks, Principal Deputy Inspector General, Department of Defense Inspector General before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform entitled, “Opportunities to Reduce Waste and Improve Efficiency at the Department of Defense and Other Federal Agencies,” she made a rather interesting comment about the US Army’s proposed replacement for the M4/M16 family.

In another example, we are auditing the Army’s acquisition of the individual carbine program, which is an acquisition the Department may want to re-evaluate. We expect to report concerns that DoD may not have an established need for this weapon nor developed performance requirements for the $1.8 billion acquisition. Currently, the Army is modifying its existing M4 rifle and, at the same time, seeking to develop a new rifle. However, key performance parameters such as accuracy, reliability, and lethality have not been established. In addition, it is unclear what additional capability this new rifle will have over the modified M4. Further, the Army is seeking to acquire more rifles during a time when their total force structure will be reduced. We expect to issue our draft report within the next two months that will further elaborate on these concerns and provide recommendations for the Department to increase efficiencies.

Considering the Army’s dual path strategy that is alluded to in the statement which concurrently improves the performance of existing M4A1 carbines while simultaneously working to acquire an entirely new weapon, it is no wonder that DoD is reconsidering the replacement half of the equation. Industry analysts have long questioned the notion that a new weapon would offer a dramatic increase in performance without first undertaking a caliber and associated ammunition change. The IC program does not adequately do this. And then there’s Sequestration…

17 Responses to “Is the US Army’s Individual Carbine Program Doomed?”

  1. Lloyd says:

    with the development of heavier rounds and the increases in terminal ballistics due to it I think the army really should drop the IC program and focus on getting M4’s force wide (there are still unit’s with old A2’s) to have a force standard barrel twist rate, phase out the old lighter stuff, and then focus on the heavier and improved rounds. That satisfies the increased lethality they were trying to achieve with the IC as well as cut’s cost’s and focuses in the scope of an already approved program. I would love as much as the next guy to see something shiny and new get fielded but let’s be realistic here with budget’s the way they are they can get a whole new weapon for practically nothing with a simple ammo standard change and a focus on a single weapon standard.

  2. Bob says:

    It’s a shame that one of the few times the army really gets something right, it gets cut. The dual strategy was a way that even if we lose, the warfighter still wins, i.e. we still get a better carbine than we currently have. I don’t think the army was off-base ordering more rifles when the force structure is shrinking, because there are still large parts of the force with older generations of rifles, as well as the ever present possibilty of needing a larger force for future conflicts. While sticking with 5.56 may seem like it limits the growth of a platform, two things come to mind: one, the AR derivitives we use today are amazing guns, but limited by some choices made over the years that new variants outperform. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, changing calibers is never a smooth transition. We as a nation, have abandoned several attempts to adopt different calibers over the years, either because the technology was not mature enough, or a war came along and we could not support the force in the fight with one caliber and the new troops with another. Hopefully one half of this program continues and results in our troops recieving the finest rifle America can produce.

  3. FormerDirtDart says:

    I really don’t see the Army procuring a new rifle until the LSAT program reaches maturity. And, right now the program seems to be waiting on a determination of which type of ammunition to use, cased telescopic or caseless. Once ammunition type has been determined, they’ll have to decide if the projectile from the M855A1 will be the basis for ammunition chosen, or scale the system up (or down).

    • majrod says:

      Caseless ammo is no where near ready. Biggest hurdle is hot chambers causing premature explosion and then ammo that is tough enough for rough handling.

  4. majrod says:

    The ICC program was never “for real”. It was a program to satisfy congress with data should they ask why we didn’t go to _____ (fill in latest fad or favorite rifle) and simultaneously goose the industry into developing tech that really increases lethality, reliability, weight or accuracy.

    If one looks back at our history it’s very obvious there were very significant advances that justified the transition to a new battle rifle.

  5. Doc B says:

    This is really not all that hard to knock out, in my own opinion. Get rid of 5.56mm ammo in everything but the M249, because in some cases volume of fire will allow fellow infantrymen to lay down a proper grid of nasty with accurate fire.

    Far as that, the M-16 family of weapons has proven itself quite good to go, though improvements have most certainly been made. Find them, and adopt them into a rifle in a real caliber – I would like to see 7.62 x 51, or even better, 7.62 x 63. Build out the M-16 platform into a technologically advanced rifle of the same overall form to fire it, and training gets cut down from a week or two on a whole new system, to a matter of hours.

    Imagine the Marines being given a proper 7.62 x 63 battle rifle with the ergonomic structure that is already familiar to them. They already train everyone to cut someone down at 500 meters with iron sights on a 5.56mm platform when they are but babies, thus I shudder to think what capabilities such an enhanced rifle might give them.

    • Trajan says:

      7.62×51 replaced the .30-06 due to advancements in technology, specifically in gunpowders. .30-06 will never be used again as a military cartridge.

      Might as well advocate going back to .45-70 GOVT.

      No revolutionary technology currently exists to suggest replacing the AR-15/M4 family of weapons, especially now with advancements in the platform. For increased lethality, why not look at heavier rounds in the 70-80 grain range, both OTMs and BBs?

      • Doc B says:

        I realize that it won’t actually happen, at least in x 63, but a boy can still dream. Advances can be made in any area put to use, though as you say, x 51 is doing well at the moment. Besides that, less headache to employ a caliber already in wide allied use around the big blue ball.

        For what it’s worth, the .45-70 is one hell of a caliber for a brush gun. Use it all the time on one of my lever actions.

        • Kris says:

          I think you may have read too much of COL. Coopers writing. While those are combat proven cartages they are 50+ year old technology. There are 21st century options available to the infantryman that increase range and lethality over the 5.56 while keeping recoil and weight down compared to 7.62×51.

          • Doc B says:

            The M16 family is buffered, and 7.62 x 51 isn’t terrible on the recoil front. It’s a caliber already widely fielded by our allies, all over logistics system, and it’s just not so heavy as to be bypassed without consideration. Weight is what weight is, and has been a factor for as long as there have been soldiers. That said, life support weighs what it weighs.

            50+ year old technology is a meaningless term, as applied to many .mil things. The M2 might as well be a hundred, the B-52 has been around for at LEAST a decade, now…list goes on. Technology isn’t static, and in general gets used to make stuff better in every aspect of life. The more a thing gets used, the more improvements it tends to see.

            Here’s my thing: 7.62 x 51 is already in our logistics system, and in the systems of our allies. Seems easier to expand its use than to be a guinea pig for (as examples, I know the list is longer) 6.5 or 6.8. These may well be some of the improvements you allude to – and in many contexts I believe them to be – but they can still be outdone by the 7.62 x 51 round. That round, too, has been and can continue to be improved upon.

          • Nick says:

            I’m just throwing out an idea, but a saboted 6xmm round in a 7.62×51 or 300 BLK cartridge could solve some headaches logistically and provide manageable recoil and increased lethality as long as the manufacturing costs weren’t too high. Then again, just an idea that might not break the bank regarding the R&D side of things.

    • bulldog 76 says:

      i was thinking more along the lines of 300 blackout all the need to do is a barrel swap and a new gas system

  6. ME says:

    Sorry, but the IC program was dead on arrival the first time. PM Soldier Weapons isn’t looking for a new gun, they’re looking for an advanced capability that represents an evolution in firearms technology. That’s not going to be a new gun. It’s going to be a new bullet, and then the family of weapons will follow.

    Simply repackaging the 5.56/7.62 in a new launchpad does nothing for that. So, until that new capability is realized (around 2025), we’ll see incremental updates and modifications to the M4/M16 family as appropriate.

    But don’t expect to see any new guns till at least 2025.

  7. Matt m says:

    In this particular instance, an imptoved M4 would offer both improved functionality at a lower cost then reissuing a brand new weapon system. I vote that as the best choice overall. A longer Free float rail, surpressor compatible FH, better trigger, and updated controls would do just fine.

    Plus, kick the M855A1 to the curb and realocate the money. Less wear on the existing stable of weapons as is eill save money in the long run and possibly lives as well. SOST is also a plausible direction to take as well.

    Not to mention, why dont we just selectivly field it to units that will use/require it? Not everyone needs it.

  8. Mr. European says:

    What WERE the parameters for considuration of a replacement carbine?
    The ACR program I hear had 100% improvement requirement over the M16A2.
    I’m getting the impression that whatever requirements any new carbine has would be far lower than 100% improvement over the M4…

    Despite its occasional shortcomings, the AR platform is insanely versatile, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they just make tiny adjustments in the forseeable future, such as materials, lower receiver fabrication, variable calibers, new upper receivers, etc. Still a few decades in that platform before they need a new standard. Why else would they have abandoned a G36 derivative?
    Maybe they’ll have another ACR competition then. I just hope LSAT has better luck in it than the G11 did in the first ACR program.