U.S. Army gunning for more firepower as it upgrades M-4 rifle

The GI’s best friend and first line of defense is getting its first overhaul in a generation.

The Army is looking to replace the M-4 carbine and M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon now used by frontline combat troops in favor of firepower better suited for the Pentagon’s new top mission of countering “near-peer” adversaries like China and Russia.

And the other services are watching closely. As the largest branch of the military, the Army’s choice is likely to heavily influence the purchasing decisions of the other services.

Right now, top Army officials are evaluating three finalists for an initial contract of about 100,000 weapons as part of their Next General Squad Weapons (NGSW) program.

The Army’s new modernization strategy considers the NGSW as one of its top priorities. In 2018, it began working with gunmakers to develop a more lethal carbine and automatic rifle.

“The current weapon systems we have are OK in the fight,” in Iraq and Afghanistan, now retired Army Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski told a congressional hearing in 2019. “The issue runs deeper, though, with respect to a peer or near-peer threat.”

The M-4 carbine and M-249 squad automatic weapon have a long lineage with the Army. The M-4 is a more compact descendent of the storied M-16 rifle first fielded in the mid-1960s. The M-249 was adopted in the mid-to-late 1980s to give soldiers the ability to provide sustained suppressive fire.

Potential candidates to replace the M-4 and M-249 are coming from gunmakers Sig Sauer, General Dynamics Ordnance and Textron Systems. The Army also will adopt a more powerful 6.8-mm round for the new weapon rather than the smaller 5.56-mm round it has been using for decades.

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