The Army has, unceremoniously and forthrightly, cancelled the Individual Carbine Competition, a series of trials to determine what, if any commercially-produced rifle might be able to replace the M4 in service today.
The trial matched pit eight carbines against the M4, including rifles from Adcor, Beretta, Colt, FNH-USA, Heckler & Koch, Lewis Machine & Tool, Remington and Troy.
After completing the first two of three phases of the competition, the Army put the three-year project on hold, with the intent of redirecting the $49 million pledged to the competition towards other uses to offset military budget cuts.
This following the results of a Department of Defense audit that found that the cost of continuing the competition exceeded the Army’s interest in finding a potential M4 replacement, and that the ICC was not consistent with the M4 Product Improvement Program, an effort to upgrade M4A1s with free-floating barrels and railed handguards.
The total cost of replacing the M4 with a new carbine was estimated at $1.8 billion.
Recently the House Armed Service Committee voted unanimously on an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that the Army complete the competition, essentially forcing them to either pledge the money for phase III or cancel the program before the NDAA became law.
The Army chose the latter. But in part because none of the rifles submitted for evaluation met the competition’s initial reliability requirements.
According to the Program Executive Office, “Following extensive testing of vendor-submitted carbines, the Army announced today that the Individual Carbine (IC) competition will formally conclude without the selection of a winner. None of the carbines evaluated during the testing phase of the competition met the minimum scoring requirement needed to continue to the next phase of the evaluation.”
“At the conclusion of Phase II testing, however, no competitor demonstrated a significant improvement in weapon reliability — measured by mean rounds fired between weapon stoppage. Consistent with the program’s search for superior capability, the test for weapon reliability was exceptionally rigorous and exceeded performance experienced in a typical operational environment.”
Essentially, the rifles were subjected to an extreme torture test and checked for performance at close and long ranges (out to 600 yards). While the Army is not disclosing how, exactly, each rifle performed, none of them met the requirement of firing 3,592 mean rounds between failure.
Part of this could be due to the conditions of the evaluation but also because of the ammunition used.
The competition was developed around standard M855 ammunition, phase II trials used the new M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round cartridge.
The new ammo entering service now operates at near-proof pressure, adding considerable heat and stress to any weapons loaded with it.
“The Army’s existing carbine requirement assumed use of the M855 ammunition; the weapons tested in the IC competition all fired the next generation M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round currently in fielding,” the press release stated. “The use of the M855A1 round likely resulted in lower than expected reliability performance.”
The performance of the competing rifles has not been published and the Army isn’t likely to release it. However, they did say that the M4A1 had 1,691 mean rounds between failure.
It’s very possible that the M4 was not the best performer of the lot, but whatever the case, it’s clear that the Army does not want to spend the money to replace it, especially as they work to upgrade it.