Tactical Tailor

US Army Begins Fielding Next Generation Squad Weapons

Having recently completed Production Qualification Testing of the XM7 Rifle and XM250 Automatic Rifle, the US Army has begun issuing the first of the Next Generation Weapon System to 2nd Bde, 101st Airborne Division. Of note, the famed 101st was also the first unit to receive the M17 Modular Handgun System.

The capability

Manufactured by SIG SAUER, the NGSW consists of the two weapons along with a new hybrid cartridge in 6.8x51mm. These new weapons are being referred to by the Army as the, “most lethal small arms capability in the world” and are intended to replace the M4A1 Carbine, M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and 5.56mm family of ammunition. But not every Soldier is getting these new weapons. They are reserved for the Close Combat Force which consists of Infantry and Cavalry Scouts as well as select Combat Engineers and enablers. All told, the Army aims to field around 100,000 XM7s and 20,000 XM250s.

XM7 Rifle

XM250 Automatic Rifle

6.8mm Family of Ammunition

The Common Cartridge Family of Ammunition has similar performance to the commercially available .270 Win Short Mag cartridge and consists of the XM1186 GP ammo along with reduced range, blank, tracer, and a marking round for force-on-force training.

XM157 Fire Control

To further enhance lethality, NGSW is paired with a new Fire Control System manufactured by Vortex Optics. It integrates a number of advanced technologies including a variable magnification optic, backup etched reticle, laser rangefinder, ballistic calculator, atmospheric sensor suite, compass, Intra-Soldier Wireless, visible and infrared aiming lasers, and a digital display overlay.

The NGSW-FC is the planned replacement for the Close Combat Optic, Rifle Combat Optic, and Machine Gun Optic within the Close Combat Force.

It is important to note that the Army’s position is that Fire Control doesn’t replace training but enhances the fundamentals.

For those of you wondering, the XM157 uses two CR132 batteries and the life is 250 hours on the low setting.

Additionally, the Army has conducted integration testing between the XM157 and Integrated Visual Augmentation System in each iteration, including IVAS 1.2 which is currently in testing.

The team

To field NGSW, the Army has assembled a team of teams which include PEO Soldier, JPEO Ammunition, Close Combat Cross Functional Team and Army Test and Evaluation Command.

The road to the selection of a NGSW system was started about six years ago with a short lived quest for an Interim Combat Service Rifle in 7.62 NATO which quickly morphed into the search for 6.8mm weapons which resulted in contract award in April 2022.

SAAC Study

The Small Arms Ammunition Configuration study was published 26 June 2017 and several conclusions informed the requirement for NGSW.

They are:

-Caliber doesn’t matter

–Secondary performance driver

-Ballistic energy on target does matter

-Advanced bullet tech matters

-Fire control matters

-Aim error reduction has largest impact on performance

–Advanced fire control reduces aim error in lieu of extensive shooter experience /ability or significant training

The path ahead

On 25 Sep 2023 the A Co, 2-502nd, will go through New Equipment Training followed by a demonstration of the new capabilities of NGSW brings to the table.

Beginning 10 Oct 2023, the unit will participate in a Limited User Test which will examine Soldier mobility (timed) with both the new weapons as well as legacy systems. They will also evaluate overall system performance, how Soldiers interact with the new weapons, and how they feel about them. The NGSW team will also begin to consider how they may transform TTPs.

Additionally, a squad from the Ranger Regiment will join the members of the 101st in the LUT to gain SOF insight into the weapons.

In the coming months is environmental testing including desert, jungle and arctic and an Operational Assessment will be conducted 1st qtr 2025. This is an event designed to determine how Soldiers will fight with the new capability.

The Army plans for the 1st Bde, 101st to be the first unit equipped in 2nd Qtr, FY24, likely in March.

Turning cover into concealment

During a visit earlier today to Aberdeen Army Test Center, PM SL representatives demonstrated that the 6.8mm round will defeat cinder blocks used in the construction of buildings around the world and a barrier which the 5.56 cartridge fired by the M249 SAW will not penetrate through and through. This new capability is a huge advantage for those fighting in built up areas and against trench and bunker complexes.

As LTC Micah Rue, Product Manager Soldier Weapons, PEO Soldier put it, “NGSW turns cover into concealment.”

Ammunition production

Currently, the Army is manufacturing the 3-piece GP projectile which is based on Enhanced Performance Round technology and SIG is producing the cartridges at their factory in Arkansas.

Lake City Army Ammunition Plant will establish an interim capability in 2024 and transition to an enduring capability in 2026. All the while, SIG SAUER will continue to produce ammunition, pursuant to their contract.

The Elephant In The Room

If there’s a common criticism of the XM7 it’s the weight. Weight is certainly an issue for the Soldier and there is some good news and some not so good news when it comes to NGSW.

The raw data when comparing an M4A1 with Close Combat Optic to an XM7 fitted with the XM157 NGSW Fire Control System and suppressor sees the XM7 at three pounds heavier. However, that would be comparing apples to oranges. With the XM7 the Soldier is not only getting an Infantry Rifle capable of firing a more lethal projectile, but also a suppressor and an advanced optic which greatly increases the ability to hit targets, particularly out past 300 meters.

On the other hand, the great news with the XM250 is that it is 2.7 pounds lighter than the M249 SAW it replaces, both with 100 round belts in place. The Soldier is also getting a suppressor with the XM250 and that same 6.8mm round which will defeat cinder blocks at ranges exceeding 300 meters.

Constant improvement

As a completely new capability the program has faced some engineering challenges including toxic fumes, reliability and dispersion. However, the PM has worked with industry to quickly solve these problems and keep the program on track.

Other changes have been made to the weapons to enhance their performance. For example, SIG added an additional feed pawl to the feed tray cover which makes it easier to load a belt without lifting the cover. They also removed the forward assist from production versions of the XM7 to reduce the weight of an unneeded feature.

This is happening

NGSW is an Army modernization priority as they push forward with their fielding plan. Although there are still several events between now and First Unit Equipped, it is only six months away. This program is moving very quickly and will transform the squad in ways we are not even aware of yet.

All images and charts provided by PEO Soldier.

41 Responses to “US Army Begins Fielding Next Generation Squad Weapons”

  1. Davy says:

    Have any other NATO countries decided to switch to the new round?

  2. NTX says:

    SSD…did they say if Sig was successful in convincing the Army to approve of an ECP for a hinged front handguard on the XM250?

    I remember Jason St. John saying multiple times that they hoped to get that pushed through for the weapon.

    Additionally, I know that NGSW is the priority, but is anyone in the Army talking about plans for non-squad weapons and 6.8?

    • SSD says:

      No quick change barrel, no hinged front handguard, yet. That conversation will become relevant once units get the M250 and realize it outperforms the M240. Then, we might see one of several COAs which include retrofitting the M240 fleet to shoot 6.8 and/or changes to M250 including a longer barrel.

      The Army’s effort is currently NGSW. However, if you read SSD, you know that PGS is underway. The PAAC study is complete and should be published late fall. After that, the Army will consider next steps which will likely include Lightweight Medium Machine Gun.

      • NTX says:

        Interesting, thanks for the update. I didn’t know that they had already finished the PAAC, I thought that was to follow FUE with NGSW.

        I do follow SSD, and on the topic of PGS…do you expect that FN and MARS will allow articles on their proposals prior to the Army moving to round 3?

        • SSD says:

          Interestingly, the competition is being used to fast track the technology and inform the formal requirement. Not every vendor who has developed PGS technology entered the contest.

          I will be at the Future Forces Capabilities event next week and will report on any PGS (or other developmental systems) which are releasable.

  3. JJ says:

    Curious if units issued these new systems will still use the Army standard 40 point 50-300m weapons qual? Seems like a waste to have all the capability and only test out to 300m.

    • SSD says:

      There is a new qualification coming but soldiers will use the reduced range round.

      • Jonathan Ferguson says:

        How are they accounting for the different performance of the full power round as and when those are issued for actual fighting?

        • Eric G says:

          Reduced range rounds are used with multiple platforms. They select a range where they want the two rounds to perform precisely and everything outside of that range differs.

          It’s a means of using the range facilities you have available.

          • Jonathan Ferguson says:

            Sure, but this is pretty unusual. Reduced range rounds for infantry rifles are the exception – here, they’re the norm.

            • Ian says:

              They might be the exception when it comes to forecasting ammunition requests in TAMIS, but 5.56mm reduced or short range training ammunition has been in the Yellow Book for quite a long while.

              M1037 and M862 for 5.56mm has been a thing. Most units just don’t need it, since live fire ranges have been designed and built to accommodate standard 5.56mm SDZs since forever. Nonetheless, they’re available. The “need” is what’s new.

              With the 6.8 round, Reduced Range Ammunition is going to be the norm because there isn’t enough money and real estate across all Army ranges available to extend them to satisfy the impact area requirements for the full power GP round.

              So, what’s the Army to do? That which is unfeasible or that which is cost effective and easy to do?

              There are intentions to build out new ranges for the NGSW and SDMR requirements, but they won’t be built overnight. Nor will they likely be built right on top of existing Army qualification ranges. It will take a lot of time and resources to accomplish.

              In the mean time, reduced range ammunition is the digestible solution. Likely, it will be the long term solution for individual weapons qualification.

              It does not validate skill that can exploit the full capability of the new system. But, the reality is that we don’t do that now, with the M4A1. Nor has it been the case with the M16A2/A4. The Army only qualifies folks out to 300m for the standard qual. Nonetheless, those weapons’ max effective ranges are 500m. We only test Soldiers to 60% of the weapons’ capability. We’ve been leaving free chicken on the table for decades. Not testing to a weapon’s limits is nothing new.

              Punchline: it is what it is. You, me, and everyone else’s desires otherwise…it ain’t gonna change the Big Green Weenie.

              Just my 2 cents.

        • The Evil Nadman says:

          Jonathan,

          I am sure there will be live fire ranges dedicated for the XM 1186 ammunition, so soldiers can get a sense of the real recoil and capabilities of their new weapon systems.

        • Ian says:

          Where the reduced range round’s trajectory becomes divergent, the FCU’s disturbed reticle can make the differences invisible to the shooter, for the most part.

          • Jonathan Ferguson says:

            Interesting, thanks. I wondered/hoped that the FCU would be able to mitigate this.

  4. Richard Schagen says:

    That things going to be so much fun in vehicles, urban, thick bush…….

    • SSD says:

      It’s the same length as an M4 with the stock folded and it has a suppressor. Considering it will punch through concrete walls, it’s going to be great in urban environments.

      • Richard Schagen says:

        one way to house clear I guess

      • Jonathan Ferguson says:

        But can it be used effectively with the stock folded?

        • Richard Schagen says:

          its there for a reason, and they wanted a suppressor so………..

          On a side note, I live in Africa a mate ex RLI and 32 Bat said to me “he who make to most noise wins” – just a thought if your in this part of the world

        • Eric G says:

          Can any weapon with a folding stock? If your opinion is yes, then yes, it can. If your opinion is no, then your answer is no.

  5. William says:

    Sig should try more exotic materials like lithium-aluminum to replace 7k series aluminum and cut the weight

  6. mark says:

    Is the Army still pursuing the SP ‘Special Purpose’ ADVAP tungsten AP round? Or is the hard armor defeat aspect of NGSW no longer a priority?

  7. hodge175 says:

    Times are changing.

  8. roy says:

    It all looks very impressive but the cost must be staggering.

    Any idea what the cost would be for the hardware and ammunition to equip and properly train each soldier? $200k per soldier?

    Equipment without training is worse than dangerous. And training requires a certain number of rounds to ensure competency: ten rounds a year, due to to cost, will fail. And if the total cost to equip and train is too high, will we have a military where 100 soldiers are fully equipped and trained with this new system? Not trying to be facetious but so many systems envisioned by the military start with an expectation to field a significant number and then the actual number is far, far less.

    • Ian says:

      Open source reporting of the Army’s procurement budget puts the M7 around $15k and the M250 around $22k, with the RRA costing around $2.50 each. For now.

  9. Burdy says:

    Id be more pissed about the loss of forward assist, especially on a suppressed weapon. It’s like losing the ability to bump the back of your pistol slide after a press check. Is it “needed”? Debatable. Do I like it there? Absolutely.

    • SSD says:

      No, absolutely not. If a round doesn’t want to chamber, get rid of it and chamber a new round. If that has the same issue, fix the gun.

    • RayMiller says:

      Keep in mind, you already have something on the weapon that acts like a forward assist: the oft-derided left-side charging handle. Soldiers liked it, so they prioritized it over the foward assist. Still works, and provides some weight saving.

      • Rob says:

        This is the first time that I have heard that the left side handle can act as a forward assist. Can anyone confirm this? Seems like it would be mentioned at one point or other in the numerous articles and spec sheets.

  10. frank says:

    Slowly inching back up to the 7mm territory the Army claimed was unnecessary 50 years ago. Next we’ll probably hear the 9mm isn’t really as effective as the old .45 after all. Maybe those old time gunfighters back in the 19th century knew what they were talking about?
    Point two; great new weapons for a force being ground down by ‘woke” ideology. I think the “great Gen. Milley’s citation refers to him as “themselves”. How stupid can one get.

    • billows says:

      Real sad that despite the fact that this article was in no way political, was describing a technical topic, and was about a gun, you’re somehow compelled to drag in some constantly regurgitated comments about a woke ideology and a general using them instead of him.

      What’s even sadder is how fragile and maladjusted this type of behavior is. Did you ever consider that you’re own completely irrelevant comments about shit like this is actually perpetuating the conversation around the topic you seem so disgusted in? This is an article about a fucking gun.

  11. Ron Chewning says:

    Are there any plans to develop a simulated weapon “trainer” for the XM250? And if so, who would be doing it? Thanks.