Update on the IAR competition

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

A couple of days ago I blogged about H&K winning the USMC’s IAR competition. There has been much confusion regarding the IAR competition since then.

Dan Lamothe, who broke the news, updated his The Marine Times article and added that it now appears that the H&K IAR has not officially won but is the frontrunner

With several months of testing ahead, the decision isn’t considered final, but it makes the H&K model the clear front-runner in the competition.

The Corps will now put H&K IAR through five months of testing beginning in January and taking place in locations ranging from Panama to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in California, Eby said. The Corps has ordered 24 H&K IARs for testing, said Capt. Geraldine Care

Rob Curtis who blogs at GearScout (also part of the Military Times) wrote that the DoD appear to done a downselect, rather than awarding H&K an outright win …

From what we understand, this is actually a downselect to just one system as opposed to a contract win

Dan send me an email regarding my previous comments on the supposed weight of the H&K IAR, which is almost identical to the standard HK416 carbine. He sent me the spec document which H&K provided him with. It does indeed list the weight as just 7.9 lbs!

Daniel E. Watters wrote that he suspects that the Marine command may have been framing the IAR as a partial M249 replacement but in reality they may have just wanted a piston operated full-auto carbine. By procuring what is sold as a new class of weapon they could sidestep the inter-service politics and bureaucracy …

The weird thing is that the HK416 IAR is roughly the same weight as the M16A4, if not lighter when the latter is fitted with the M5 ARS. I’m certain that someone in Congress will ultimately ask what the HK416 can do that their issue M16A4 retrofitted with full-auto trigger groups can’t.

Like others have mentioned, I can’t help but wonder if the USMC didn’t game the IAR requirements so that a basic carbine could win instead of a HBAR. The idea would be to gradually increase the number of IAR issued so that they could later justify standardizing on it to replace not just the infantry squad’s M249, but their M16A4 and M4 as well. By framing it as a service-specific supplement to their M249, they skirted the need to argue with the other service branches over a set of joint requirements.

As for winning the contract, everyone needs to remember that Colt, FN, and HK were already awarded Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contracts for their IAR last year. An IDIQ contract guarantees the awardee that they will have a specific minimum of items ordered, with the possibility of additional orders up to a specific maximum. There is no guarantee that more than the stated minimum will ever be ordered. I’ve long suspected that contracting officers have been purposefully making multiple awards of IDIQ contracts prior to a final downselect in order to head off potential award protests by the disgruntled losers. It is my understanding that by accepting their IDIQ award, the contractor only has grounds to protest if the guaranteed minimum has not ordered before the end of the contract. They cannot protest that they did not receive additional orders in excess of the guaranteed minimum.

Make of all this information as you will. All I know is that DoD procurement was never designed to be understood by a mere mortal such as myself!

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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  • Some Guy Some Guy on Dec 26, 2010

    Look, the 5.56mm round sucks.

    As well, the military buys cheap barrels, usually only having light rifles. A lot of times the barrels simply don't have rifling in them, also known as smooth bore, or don't have very much rifling (a piece of steel with a hole drilled in it is pretty cheap; rifling requires a much more complicated process), which would explain why the M16 is at a contract "7 MOA" and gets 948 m/s at the muzzle from a 20 inch barrel, instead of 920 like the rest of the world.

    Using an already unreliable, weak, easily deflected .223 round in a, basically, poorly rifled, cheap M249 barrel doesn't necessarily produce a large amount of suppression.

    The failure of the M249 is not in it's weight, but in it's lack of firepower. A 17, or even 20 pound weapon really isn't that big of a deal, if it can provide the kind of suppressive firepower necessary. But the weapon just can't provide it; nothing like the M240, or even the M60. The Mk. 48 is a wonderful weapon that is roughly 18 pounds, has a 19.5 barrel, and is 39.5 inches long, with relatively good accuracy and stopping power.

    The M249 is, basically, far too bulky, heavy, and large to be of much use when it's only firing 5.56mm x 45mm NATO rounds.

    Why use a 17 pound, 22 pounds loaded, weapon that's basically just as good as any modern assault rifle?

    The IAR isn't intended to replace the M249.

    The IAR is intended to replace a position that the M249 failed to full-fill.

  • Geodkyt Geodkyt on Dec 27, 2010

    Some Guy,

    You said, "A lot of times the barrels simply don’t have rifling in them, also known as smooth bore, or don’t have very much rifling (a piece of steel with a hole drilled in it is pretty cheap; rifling requires a much more complicated process), which would explain why the M16 is at a contract '7 MOA' and gets 948 m/s at the muzzle from a 20 inch barrel, instead of 920 like the rest of the world"

    WTF? What video game alter reality do you come from?

    You are quite factually incorrect in your underlying "facts", making your comclusions ludicrously false.

    First, the M16 gets 948 MPS from the muzzle when firing M855 (US implementation of SS109) ball from a 20" barrel. The Italian AR70/90 (another roughly 18" barrel) gets 950 MPS. The L85 gets 940 MPS from a 20" barrel. The SAR-21 claims 945 MPS with SS109 from a 20" barrel.

    The FAMAS G2, HK G36, FN FNC, HK G41, and others get around 920 MPS or slower. . . but ALL have significantly shorter barrels than the M16A2.

    The Israeli TAR-21 claims 910 - 920 MPS from an 18" barrel, and the HK XM8 claimed about 900 MPS from a 12.5" barrel! (There are good scientific reasons to question the HK velocity claims, leading many military ordnance engineers to question their other claims for the XM8.)

    Second, the US military requirement is that every single M16A2 and M4 must be capable of NO WORSE THAN a 5 MOA group at 100 yards (and they must all be in a set area within the test target, even with the sights mechanically centered, to ensure that there is plenty of adjustment room in any direction for individual soldiers to zero to their personal settings), with 50% of the rounds within a group of no larger than 1.4 MOA at 200 yards. Most M16A2's and M4's turn out about 3-4 MOA with service ball (M855). Matter of fact, FM3-22.9 has a wonder example in it of sub-3.5 MOA groups at 300 yards out of both M16A1 (with M193 ball) and M16A2 (with either M193 or M855 ball) rifles -- only when the M16A1 was fired with M855 ball did the accuracy go to Hell (roughly 24 MOA), as the 1:12" twist isn't fast enought to stabilize the M855 bullet.

    "Smoothbore" they ain't, not by a long shot!

    Third, the M16 family is widely known for it's accuracy. Even Mikhail Kalashnikov has commented on the exceptionally high (for a military service rifle) accuracy of the M16 family -- it was one of the COMPLAINTS he had with the design, stating to Eugene Stoner (among others) that the rifle traded accuracy it didn't need for reliability it did need!

    Fourth, while I agree with you that the M249 (a squad LMG, remember) isn't as good at suppressing large areas as a 7.62x51mm NATO GPMG. Wow, bigger bullets make a louder noise when whistling past your ears, and so are more likely to be noticed (thus initiating suppression through fear). This is my shocked face -- 8o

    I also agree that the new MK48 is a better GPMG than the M249 SAW is. The MK48 is almost certainly good enough to replace ALL dismounted GPMGs in US line service. Of course, the additional ammo weight means that dismounted patrols won't be carrying a lot of 7.62x51mm NATO if they try to use it as a squad LMG, so it will be out of action a heck of a lot sooner.

    Note that even the Marine Corps thought teh SAW accuracy was just dandy -- it was it's WEIGHT they questioned, as it inhibits the SAW gunner from keeping up and using his LMG as if it were a SMG. Since the US issues rifles (to line infantry -- Sooper Sekrit Skwirl outfits are different) WITHOUT a full automatic setting ("BURST" is not "AUTO"), the SAW gunner is the ONLY fully automatic weapon in the squad! So the complaint that the Marine squad needs a handheld room broom may be valid -- but DOES NOT translate to a need for that same Marine to have a 7.62x51mm GPMG!

    Maybe a better solution would be to find a lighter squad LMG that can actually feed and reliably fire from the standard rifleman's magazines at need, yet can perform as a true LMG, and junk teh failed expirement with "BURST" -- it DOESN'T save ammo (troops can waste ammo just as easily on BURST as on AUTO, they just have to move their fingers more often), it DOES inhibit accuracy (mechanically, what the BURST bits do to the M16A2's SEMI trigger pull is make it heavier, stacky, and unpredictable), and it DOES inhibit the ability of troops to clear rooms (since they don't have a fully automatic weapon anymore).

    So, a better solution is:

    1. Replace the M60 and M240 with the MK48 in the roles where it will be normally dismounted and carried (rather than vehicular mounted guns or guns for units that WILL NOT be conducting dismounted patrols with their GPMGs). The M240 is a FANTASTIC gun, just too heavy for the rifle platoon or squad in most situations. (But tits off a tripod in static roles or for the hatch gun for a track or truck. The full size M240s just have a skosh more range, and I'll bet they hold up to extended firing longer with the larger mass of operating parts.)

    2. Replace the M249 SAW with the Ultimax MK4 or MK5. 2/3rds the weight of the SAW, feeds reliably from M16 pattern magazines, still has a quick change barrel, exceeds the SAW in accuracy, respectable ROF (about 600 RPMs -- not too high, not too low), and also has a single shot capacity for those times you don't want to let off a burst. (Making Hajji have to play the game, "Who's got the LMG?" before deciding where he wants to break cover first.)

    3. Replace the M16A2 style BURST trigger groups with M16A1 AUTO groups. The parts will just drop in. If it really bugs you, grind off the word "BURST" on the receiver, etch in "AUTO", and reanodize the bright patch of exposed aluminum. ANYONE qualified to be an assistant armorer (or who can read a freakin' book) can swap the trigger groups, and even the machine work and reanodizing can be done within the battalion (again, it might require giving someone a set of anodizing instructions that are a whole page long! The horror!) Of course, any depot level repair facility could swap FCGs and remark the receivers as a routine, short turn-around, job in batches -- that sort of stuff is why they EXIST.

    Now, EVERY troop (not just one per fire team) will have the CQB capacities of the IAR program, and every squad will have the LMG capacities of the M249, and every platoon will have a GPMG that can keep up no worse than the fireteam SAW gunners are doing now.

    Everyone will be at least as mobile, many will be more mobile, total firepower goes up for CQB, no firepower is traded away, logistics and training aren't made more complex by introducing an additional operating system, manual of arms, (or worse) caliber of ammunition into the fireteam.