In what could be the biggest change in American military small arms in 65 years, the U.S. Army announced a major new contract for Sig Sauer this week.
The Army's award on Tuesday of a 10-year firm-fixed-price follow-on production contract to New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer, covers the manufacture and delivery of the new XM5 Rifle and the XM250 Automatic Rifle, as well as the weapons' fodder-- the 6.8 Common Cartridge family of ammunition. The big prize of the Army's four-year Next Generation Squad Weapon program, the XM5 is intended to fill the role currently held by the M4 Carbine series while the XM250 will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, two 5.56 NATO weapons that have been on the frontlines for decades.
Of the new Sig Sauer rifle and machine gun, the Army said in a companion statement, "Both weapons provide significant capability improvements in accuracy, range, and overall lethality. They are lightweight, fire more lethal ammunition, mitigate recoil, provide improved barrel performance, and include integrated muzzle sound and flash reduction."
The XM5 Rifle, which was submitted as the Next Generation Squad Weapon-Rifle, is designed around Sig's MCX platform and is chambered in the new hybrid 6.8x51 round. It has AR-style ambidextrous ergonomics that Sig designed for a seamless transition from legacy weapons to the new system.
The XM250, submitted as the Next Generation Squad Weapon-Automatic Rifle, is Sig's Lightweight Belt-Fed Machine Gun. Also chambered in 6.8x51, Sig says it doubles the effective range and is 40 percent lighter than the current M249 while maintaining belt-fed operation. In addition, it brings reduced felt recoil and increased accuracy to the table as well. Like the XM25, it has ambi AR-style controls.
The Sig Sauer 6.8x51 Hybrid Ammunition is a lightweight cartridge designed to handle higher pressures resulting in increased velocity and terminal performance. Using Army-provided projectiles and Sig's in-house designed cartridges, the Army says the new ammo "includes multiple types of tactical and training rounds that increase accuracy and are more lethal against emerging threats than both the 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition."
The closest thing in the Army's recent history to the shift seen with the NGSW program was when the service, in 1957, selected the 7.62 NATO-chambered M14 rifle and M60 machine gun to replace the .30-06-caliber M1 Garand and M1919 machine gun.
The NGSW journey
As previously reported by Guns.com, in 2017, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasting the current M4 platform while calling for an open, one-year competition to develop a new and more effective rifle as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
After seeking submissions for 6.8mm caliber prototypes the Army issued a call for interested gun makers to fill a need for a new generation of light, man-portable weapons to replace the service's standard 5.56 NATO arms as part of a wide-ranging modernization program. Representatives from at least 37 companies attended various Industry Days with the Army to discuss the program. With funds greenlit by Congress, five competitors soon joined the program: AAI, FN, General Dynamics, PCP Tactical, and Sig Sauer.
By August 2019, the competition had been reduced to three teams: AAI Corporation/Textron Systems with small arms designer Heckler & Koch as well as small-caliber ammunition maker Olin Winchester as subcontractors; General Dynamics-OTS with Beretta as a subcontractor, and Sig Sauer. At that point, limited numbers of prototype weapons were submitted to the Army for testing.
"This award was made following a rigorous 27-month prototyping and evaluation effort that included numerous technical tests and Soldier touch points of three competing prototype systems," noted the Army in a statement this week.
Meanwhile, earlier this year the Army selected Wisconsin-based Vortex to supply as many as a quarter-million optics for the NGSW program's XM157 Fire Control, which includes a variable 1x8 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.
For now, Sig Sauer's contract is for $20.4 million to cover weapons and ammunition that will undergo further testing. However, the Army has said in the past the NGSW program could quickly see as many as 100,000 of the new weapons, with the platforms going to units “who are in close combat quarters-type duties such as Infantry, Armor, Cavalry, Rangers, Special Forces, combat engineers." The current contract also opens the door for other services to order the weapons and for potential Foreign Military Sales.
Once the platforms reach initial operational capability, their designation will change to the M5 rifle and M250 automatic rifle.
Sig Sauer in January announced a semi-auto first-run commercial variant of the rifle they submitted to the NGSW program – the MCX Spear. The company describes the Spear as "the most innovative and advanced AR platform in the world," and it is a multi-caliber, able to swap between .277 Fury, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 7.62 NATO via a simple barrel change at the user-level. It has rear and side non-reciprocating charging handles, a six-position folding stock, a lightened free-float M-LOK handguard, and a full-length Picatinny top rail for optics and accessories.
"This is a rare opportunity for passionate consumers to own a piece of history,” said Sig's president and CEO, Ron Cohen. "This first production run MCX-Spear, and all of the revolutionary technology behind its development, is being offered to the commercial market in a configuration that is a near match to our NGSW-R submission. Further, this is the only rifle submission to the program that is designed and engineered in the United States by a company with the manufacturing scale and proven adherence to military-grade quality requirements - which is a tremendous source of pride for everyone at Sig Sauer."
For those looking to get a closer look at the Spear, Sig will have it on deck at the upcoming SIG Freedom Days at the Ben Avery Shooting Range in Phoenix, Arizona in a few weeks.