Army Pushing Forward with SIG Sauer/Vortex Next Generation Weapons Program
The Army says it is moving right along with the largest small arms program in 65 years and is seeking nearly $300 million in next year's budget to help make it happen.
The Next Generation Squad Weapon program intends to use the SIG Sauer's XM-7 rifle to fill the role currently held by the M4 Carbine series, while the SIG XM250 light machine gun will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Vortex has been tapped to make the M157 Fire Control optics system to be used by both. The two planned NGSWs use a new hybrid 6.8x51mm cartridge while the two slated for replacement are 5.56 NATO caliber platforms that have been on the frontlines for decades.
"The new ammunition 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," says the Army.
First awarded early last year with Vortex being notified in January and SIG following in April, small batches of guns and optics have since been used in technical tests and a Soldier Touch Point with squads from the 75th Ranger Regiment and the National Guard at Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland.
Thus far, the Army has conducted over 100 technical tests, fired over 1.5 million rounds of 6.8mm ammunition through the guns, and logged more than 20,000 hours of soldier testing with the NGSWs.
"The Soldier Touch Point allowed the program and SIG Sauer the opportunity to solicit direct soldier feedback on the systems post-contract award and inform simple design changes to improve the weapons before going into Production Qualification Testing and Operational Tests in the coming year,” said Capt. Tyler Morgan, Assistant Product Manager, NGSW.
As detailed by the Army:
A soldier with the 75th Ranger Regiment said on the XM7, “Absolutely would take this weapon to combat in a heartbeat. It is light, functions very well, has an awesome load system, and is easy to handle and engage targets with.”
On the XM250, another soldier expressed, “I would certainly take this weapon into combat today. This feels like a huge upgrade as far as ergonomics of controls, recoil management and ease of manipulation over the M249.”
How many NGSWs Are Being Ordered?
According to the Army's 335-page FY24 Justification Book for the Procurement of Weapons and Tracked Combat Vehicles, the service wants $292 million in the coming year for the program. This is for the procurement and fielding of 1,419 M250 Automatic Rifle (NGSW-AR)s, 17,122 M7 Rifle (NGSW-R)s, and 14,932 M157 Fire Control systems. These will be roughly split between the regular Army and the National Guard in a 2:1 ratio.
The document also discloses that SIG has previously been given three incremental awards as part of the program, spaced between December 2022 and January 2024. These cover 2,381 M250s and 27,959 M7s, with delivery timed between October 2023 and August 2024. Likewise, Vortex received four awards between January 2022 and January 2024 for 29,316 fire control units, with delivery between December 2022 and January 2026.
In all, the Army's objectives for the program, at least as it currently stands, is for almost 250,000 weapons and FC units:
M7 Rifle (NGSW-R): 111,428
M250 Automatic Rifle (NGSW-AR): 13,334
M157 Fire Control (NGSW-FC): 124,749
Keep in mind that the NGSW is only expected to be used by soldiers in the Army's active (COMPO 1) and reserve (COMPO 2) close combat force – identified as infantrymen, cavalry scouts, combat engineers, combat medics, special operations troops, and forward observers. Army spokesmen in 2022 said other units and specialties will continue to use legacy small arms. "For example, the company supply sergeant will continue to carry an M-4 or another weapon, not the Next-Gen Weapon."
The NGSW program is now slated for what is termed Production Qualification Testing with two dozen updated XM7 Rifles and XM250 Automatic Rifles, scheduled to run from May through July.
Following PQT, the service will then move on to further operational tests, with the goal of equipping the first unit with the NGSW sometime in the second quarter of 2024.
For now, SIG is the sole source of the platform's ammo, with Winchester set to spool up additional production at the Army's Lake City Ammunition Plant.
Banner image: 4th Ranger Training Battalion soldiers demonstrate the U.S. Army’s NGSWs during a Rangers in Action Ceremony Sept. 16, 2022, at Victory Pond, Fort Benning, Georgia. (U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning Public Affairs)