History certainly does repeat itself, at least where Army procurement is concerned. US Senator from Iowa Joni Ernst has, in an address to Vice Chief of Staff Daniel Allyn on Capitol Hill earlier last week, called for a new upgrade program for the US Army’s standard issue rifle. According to Military.com, she said:
I do commend the Army’s recent action on upgrading its handgun. The fact remains that it took far too long to happen, but we are underway… Russia continues to upgrade its rifles and this really needs to be a priority as well for the Army. So again to you, besides more money, what can we do to upgrade other small arms and how can we do it faster?
Ernst references Russian weapons upgrade programs as a reason for a new US rifle program. I have no question about Sen. Ernst’s intentions to give the troops the best equipment, but I think it should be noted that it is the Russians, not us, who are playing catch-up in infantry small arms in many respects. Their AK-12, which is now cancelled, would have been a close equivalent to the US Army’s current M4 Carbine, and the AK-12/400 – which has followed the AK-12 in development – is certainly no better than current US weapons in most respects. The new Kalashnikov SVK designated marksman’s rifle, which has not yet been procured by the Russian Army, is at best the equal of the US Army’s new M110A1 CSASS rifle from Heckler & Koch. I am not suggesting that Sen. Ernst is wrong to call for weapons upgrade programs, nor that the US Army should not continue to pursue every advantage. Instead, my point is to clarify that doing so would be maintaining an edge that the Army already possesses in many respects (and has for a long time), not catching up to new developments elsewhere. I am sure Sen. Ernst is already aware of this, but given comments from other voices recently, I still think it bears repeating.
Rather than purchase all-new weapons now, it seems that the most prudent course of action for the US Army would be to continue upgrading the M4 Carbine to M4A1 standard (perhaps with a further upgrade program), while funding more advanced technology programs like CTSAS or a composite cased effort. With a new kind of ammunition in the works, a new procurement program would naturally follow. The risk here is that previous Army programs like SPIW, ACR, and OICW all were too ambitious, and bore little fruit. While I personally believe that lightweight cased ammunition like CT are far less risky than those programs, over-ambition is still a definite concern with government programs of this type.