Ending years of anticipation, the Army announced Tuesday, April 19, that SIG Sauer will build two of the primary weapons that infantry squads will carry in the coming decades. The new Next Generation Squad Weapon variants will replace the current M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
The Army awarded SIG Sauer a 10-year contract to produce both weapons, with an initial delivery order of $20.4 million for approximately 25 XM5 rifles, 15 XM250 automatic rifles, and a large quantity of the 6.8mm ammunition both weapons chamber to start the production line, Army officials said Wednesday during a media briefing.
“Both weapons provide significant capability improvements in accuracy, range and overall lethality,” according to an Army news release ahead of the briefing. “They are lightweight, fire more lethal ammunition, mitigate recoil, provide improved barrel performance, and include integrated muzzle sound and flash reduction.”
SIG Sauer’s MCX Spear, or XM5, rifle features ambidextrous controls and weighs about 8.4 pounds, making it slightly heavier than the current M4, which typically weighs about 7.3 pounds. The SIG LMG lightweight belt-fed machine gun, or XM250, weighs about 12 pounds, significantly lighter than the M249 SAW, which weighs approximately 18 pounds.
Once delivered, the weapons will drop the “X” designator and be known as M5s and M250s.
While the 6.8mm ammunition is larger than the 5.56mm used by the M4 and SAW, it’s also lighter, built with a hybrid cartridge that is part brass and part composite material.
The search for a new weapons system began in 2017 after Gen. Mark Milley testified to Congress that the M4’s 5.56mm round could no longer penetrate new body armor plates used by enemy forces. Later that year, the Army decided to look for a replacement for both the M4 and M249.
Some observers hoped the Army would go in a radically different direction and select a bullpup rifle — such as General Dynamics’ submission — to be the Army’s next go-to service weapon. But YouTube personality and firearms reviewer Garand Thumb accurately predicted “some variant of the MCX is likely going to be the next weapon” adopted by the military.
SIG Sauer, General Dynamics, and Textron Systems were the finalists in the NGSW competition. In 2017, the Army also selected SIG Sauer to manufacture the M17 and M18 9mm pistols, dubbed modular handgun systems, that will eventually replace the Beretta-made M9 9mm pistol across all branches of the military, Military.com reported.
Both of the new weapons will be paired with a new optical sight announced in January, the XM157 Fire Control, a “ruggedized advanced fire control system that increases accuracy and lethality for the close combat force,” according to the Army release.
Col. Scott Madore, project manager of the Army’s soldier lethality team, said the combination of the fire control with the weapons marks a significant capability increase.
“It improves or increases the probability of hit for the individual soldier, reduces aim error, and it’s a game changer,” Madore said. “So that’s really what excites me about these two systems as we saw them go through testing.”
Soldiers and Marines tested and provided feedback on the rifle and machine-gun models during the final stages of the 27-month prototyping and evaluation process. While the NGSW program has been spearheaded by the Army, Madore said other branches “have expressed interest” in the new weapons.
Army officials expect to buy roughly 107,000 of the rifles and 13,000 of the larger LMGs for its close combat force, which includes infantry, scouts, combat engineers, medics, forward observers, and other combat arms specialties.
Army officials indicated Wednesday that the total contract is expected to be in the range of $4.7 billion for the weapons and ammunition. Additionally, Army Times reported that the 10-year contract for the XM157 sights is expected to be $2.7 billion.
The service hopes to start fielding the rifle and machine-gun variants to soldiers by late 2023, a timeline dictated by ammunition production. The switch to 6.8mm marks the first time in more than 60 years that the service has introduced a new caliber of ammunition. The Army says it is confident it will have built up a large enough stockpile of the new 6.8mm ammunition by the anticipated 2023 rollout, both through SIG Sauer and previous contracts with Winchester Ammunition, which has taken over operations at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri.
The first production run of the MCX Spear is already available on the civilian market, with a price tag of $7,999.
This content was originally posted by Coffee or Die magazine in April 2022.