"We are an enthusiastic supporter of the Army's 6.8mm Next Generation Squad Weapons," Col. Joel Babbitt, of Program Executive Officer Special Operations Forces Warrior, told Military.com recently. "We expect there will be Next Generation Squad Weapons in our formations as soon as we can receive them via fielding."
The Army is in the final phase of evaluating NGSW prototypes from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.
If all goes as planned, Army modernization officials will select the final design for the rifle and automatic rifle variants from a single firm in the first quarter of 2022 and begin fielding them a year later.
PEO SOF Warrior is working with the Army to become part of the NGSW fielding plan at some point over the five-year, future-year defense plan, Babbitt said.
U.S. Special Operations Command hasn't always been as supportive of conventional Army weapons programs, such as the failed XM25 Counter-Defilade Target Engagement System, which was known as the Punisher.
During an operational assessment, elements of 75th Ranger Regiment refused to take XM25 with them for a raid on a fortified enemy compound in Afghanistan, sources familiar with the incident said. The Rangers found the XM25 too heavy and were also concerned that the limited basic load of 25mm rounds was not enough to justify taking an M4A1 carbine out of the mission.
But this has not been the case with the NGSW effort, which has involved special operations forces in all of the soldier touch point evaluations.
"Our operators have been in from the beginning on the soldier touch points, and we have been working very closely with [Program Executive Office] Soldier all along," Babbitt said. "Our operators ... are providing feedback to help make the weapons better."
The NGSW's auto rifle variant is so promising that PEO SOF Warrior may not go forward with a separate effort to develop a light machine gun chambered for 6.5mm Creedmoor, he added.
"We have currently put our 6.5mm Creedmoor lightweight machine gun on hold pending the results of the Next Generation Squad Weapon," Babbitt said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.