In the wake of Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley’s testimony to Congress on the present and future state of the US Army, there has been a significant amount of speculation and in some cases misleading reporting regarding his statements on small arms and ammunition. Authors such as Todd South with Army Times and Eric Graves of Soldier Systems have presented their take on General Milley’s comments, but in doing so have presented an interpretation of his testimony that I do not think reflects what he said or meant. Therefore, briefly, I’d like to go over some of these interpretations and explain why I think they are not accurate and what General Milley meant, instead. After each bullet I will list the interpretation that I think is incorrect, followed by General Milley’s statement regarding it, and then my own explanation.
Myth: Fort Benning has developed a new bullet, which is 7.62mm M80A1 or 5.56mm M855A1
Milley: The 5.56 round, we recognize that there is a type of body armor out there that it doesn’t penetrate – we also have that body armor ourselves – and that adversarial states are actually selling that stuff on the Internet for about 250 bucks. So, yes, there’s a need, and there’s an operational need, and we think we can do it relatively quickly. The key on any of these things is not so much the rifle, it’s the bullet. It’s the ballistics of the bullet, and down at Fort Benning, we’ve done some developmental work, we think we have a solution that we know we have developed a bullet that can penetrate these new plates, so-
King: “Does this bullet require a new rifle?”
Milley: “It might, but probably not. It could, it could be chambered – the bullet can be chambered in various calibers – I don’t want to get into the technicals of ballistics, but it can be modified to 5.56, 7.62, or, uh-”
[From a later conversation with Senator Reed]
Milley: “We’ve developed a pretty effective round down at Fort Benning. We think that we can get that into production here in a year or two,”
Reality: In all likelihood, General Milley is actually referring to the XM1158 Advanced Armor Penetrating (ADVAP) round. Very little is known about this round so far, but it has been in development for at least two years, supporting the idea that it could be fielded in “a year or two”, as per Milley’s comments, something that does not support the idea that he is referring to M80A1.
Myth: The Army has developed a new 7.62mm round that is compatible with the M4 Carbine
Reed: “Just one quick follow-up question with respect to small arms: To what extent if we adopt a new round would it impact the inter-operability of our relationship with NATO countries and the rounds that they have, and related to that is what would it cost us to refurbish the worldwide stockpile, which is now 5.56 and 7.62?”
Milley: “Right, and those are all part of the analysis that we’re doing down at Benning, but just to put your mind at ease a little bit, what we’ve developed is a 7.62 bullet. So, it’s not something that’s not in the inventory anywhere. We’ve developed a pretty effective round down at Fort Benning. We think that we can get that into production here in a year or two, and get that fielded out to the force. It is 7.62, not 5.56, but not everybody necessarily needs – uh – this idea that the entire Army needs the same thing all the time is not necessarily true; there are some units, some infantry units that are much more highly likely to rapidly deploy than others, and conduct close quarters combat, that we would probably want to field them with a weapon – a better grade weapon – that can penetrate this body armor that we’re talking about.
Reed: “And, uh, but would this round be inter-operable with NATO allies?”
Milley: “I, uh, I should probably owe you a specific answer – I think yes. It’s a 7.62 round, so I think the answer is “yes”, but let me get a specific ballistics answer.
Reed: “Thank you, sir.
Reality: General Milley is still talking about the aforementioned new 7.62mm projectile, not a new round. It’s Senator Reed that mistakes this for a totally new cartridge, but the General’s comments make it pretty clear what he means:
[J]ust to put your mind at ease a little bit, what we’ve developed is a 7.62 bullet. So, it’s not something that’s not in the inventory anywhere.
The General’s hesitance to affirmatively answer Senator Reed on the inter-compatibility of the new 7.62x51mm round with NATO allies doesn’t appear to indicate any new cartridge specification. It probably simply means the General is unsure whether the new 7.62x51mm round has been tested in allied weapons, such as the MG3.
Myth: The Army is going to adopt the M27
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.”
Reality: While General Milley does clearly state that the Army is considering off the shelf rifle systems, his testimony also seems to strongly hint that any “upgrade” will come in 7.62x51mm caliber, not 5.56mm. My read on this comment is that General Milley is talking about the HK416/417 family in general, not the M27 IAR specifically. When he says the Army is “probably gonna go in that direction as well”, he most likely means procuring a variant of the 7.62mm G28E, adopted as the M110A1 CSASS. This is more inference on my part, but no other explanation makes much sense to me. The Army adopting the 5.56mm IAR concept in general seems unlikely (but it could happen), and Eric Graves suggestion that this statement refers to adopting the M27 as an echelon weapon for non-infantry makes little sense, either. Having said all that, the General’s comments here are ambiguous.