In recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, admitted during questioning that the Army is looking at alternative rifle platforms to the current M4 Carbine. Milley’s comments were made primarily during a conversation with Senator Joni Ernst, transcribed below:
Ernst: “I appreciated Senator King’s comments talking about small arms and the need for modernization and the fact that our 5.56 doesn’t penetrate Russian body armor; I think that was a really important point that was brought out at my subcommittee hearing, and one of the reasons I think many of us will agree the need to prioritize small arms modernization in this year’s NDAA. So, General Milley, once the army does settle on a caliber, then would you rather have something that could be specifically built for infantry forces, and the Army at large, or would you accept something that could be purchased off the shelf.”
Milley: “I don’t know that the two of those are mutually exclusive. There are systems out there today that are off the shelf that with some very minor modifications could be adapted to munitions that we’re developing at Fort Benning that could be used to penetrate these SAPI plates that our adversaries are developing. So, it’s not necessarily an either/or proposition on that one. I think that there’s weapons out there that we can get in the right caliber that can enhance the capability of the soldier.”
Ernst: “That’s good, and I’m glad to hear you say that, because I think there could be some potential savings if we are looking at systems that could be modified taken off the shelf and used for our soldiers. I think that would be something that would be very beneficial to our forces. Retired General Scales testified at that subcommittee hearing and he spoke about a weapon that could fill the role of both the machine gun and the rifle, a light machine gun and a basic rifle. So is the need for a machine gun, would that be a higher priority than that of a basic rifle. Or would they be at the same level of priority?”
Milley: “Well, they are both very important, they compliment each other. I think what he’s talking about is what the Marines are adopting as the M27; we’re taking a hard look at that, and probably gonna go in that direction as well, but we haven’t made a final decision on it. You know, infantry squads, infantry platoons, they gotta have an automatic weapon for suppression, they gotta have the individual weapon as well, so you need both, it’s not one or the other. You have to have both in order to be effective in ground combat.”
Ernst: “OK, well thank you General very much.”
Milley did not elaborate as to whether he meant that the US Army is looking at the HK416 as an option for a standard infantry rifle, or whether he meant that the Army may replace the belt-fed squad automatic weapon with a magazine-fed infantry automatic rifle (IAR), as the USMC has done. Without being able to get inside the general’s head, it is difficult to tell.
The idea that the Army is taking a good look at the HK416 is not entirely surprising. The US Army recently chose the Heckler & Koch G28E to be its Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS), a 7.62mm rifle which is very closely related to the 5.56mm HK416. Given an apparently new 7.62mm projectile development from Fort Benning designed to counter Level IV body armor, and a recent announcement that the Army is looking toward fielding 7.62mm infantry rifles, it seems plausible that the “upgrade” Milley mention was to the 7.62mm caliber, rather than to a new 5.56mm platform.