At an AUSA breakfast conference yesterday, US Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley gave us a hint at exactly what the US Army’s next rifle could look like, and the focus was on extended range capability. The rifle, Milley said, will give a 10x improvement in capability through the type of ammunition, optics, and degree of chamber pressure specific to it, with the aim of providing the soldier a weapon with much more accuracy and range than the current M4 Carbine. Milley also clarified that the term “10x” was not intended to be a precise measurement of the capability growth, but rather a term indicating significant improvement. The new rifle will come as part of an effort that also includes new artillery, tanks, aircraft, and virtual reality training facilities, Milley said.
The rifle program Milley is referencing is very likely the US Army’s Next Generation Squad Automatic Weapon (NGSAR) effort, which seeks to produce a carbine-like individual weapon that can counter crew-served weapons such as medium machine guns at ranges up to 1.2 kilometers. Milley describes the weapon demonstrators tested at Fort Benning as “an excellent system, they’ve done some proof of principles on it, it is real, it is not fantasy,” and said that “with appropriate funding, we should be able to have this particular weapon in the not-too-distant future.”
The full video of Milley’s speech, as well as the question and answer session, is embedded below.
Some of the general’s relevant answers from the breakfast are transcribed below:
on the term “10x”
I’m not interested [in] a linear progression into the future. That will end up in defeat on a future battlefield. If we think that if we just draw a straight line and simply make incremental improvements to current systems, then we’re blowing smoke up our collective fourth point of contact. And that is a dangerous thing to do. That is not good. So what I’m talking about is a significant, call it 10x, call it leap ahead, all of those terms, a very significant radical improvement in current capabilities. That is – because we want to be absolutely dominant, and we want the enemy to know we are dominant. And there are areas, Sydney, there are areas – and I’m not gonna go over too much of the specifics – but there are areas where you can get 10x improvement over current capabilities.
regarding the next generation rifle effort
I don’t want to overstate the term 10x. But we have a good rifle now. It’s a capable rifle, and it’s easily the match of rifles anywhere in the world. But we have the capability – we have the possibility- of developing a small arm for infantry forces, and cavalry forces and others, you know an individual small arm, a rifle, that is again, go back to Sydney’s term, or my term to Sydney, that is a 10x capability. And the hinge here is the weapon’s operating system, and the type of ammunition used. There has been some research and testing done down at Benning and with industry partners that indicates that we could, it’s possible, have a rifle in the hands of American soldiers or Marines in the not too distant future – I don’t want to put a time on it – that can reach out at much greater ranges than currently exist with much greater impact and lethality, and with much greater accuracy. I don’t want to go into too many of the details on it, but it has to do with the type of ammunition, the chamber pressure of the rifle, and the optics that are being used on the rifle. It’s an excellent system, they’ve done some proof of principles on it, it is real, it is not fantasy, and industry is moving out quickly, and we expect that with appropriate funding, we should be able to have this particular weapon in the not-too-distant future. And I won’t define what not-too-distant future is.
The demonstrator weapon Milley is referring to may be a variant of the Textron 6.5mm CT Carbine, showed off for the first time at the AUSA conference in October last year. The 6.5mm CT Carbine is a cased telescoped (CT) weapon, firing ammunition of approximately .260 Remington performance level, with a stripped, unloaded weight of 8.3 pounds. Sources confirm the CTSAS carbine was demonstrated to Milley and other officials in September of 2017, shortly before the cancellation of the Army’s ICSR program. It seems likely that the demonstrator weapon Milley refers to at the breakfast, whatever it may have been, was equipped with a sophisticated prototype optic that uses computers and sensors to automatically adjust to put rounds on target. Such an optic was the subject of a presentation I attended, given by ARDEC representatives at the AUSA conference.
Some industry insiders have speculated that the NGSAR program is intended to fast-track development of the Textron carbine specifically, with solicitation of other industry ideas being just a formality. Whatever end end configuration of NGSAR may emerge, it does seem plausible that the weapon will use a high energy, high velocity round that may be even more powerful than current 7.62mm NATO ammunition. In order to achieve this within a reasonable ammunition envelope, it seems likely that very high chamber pressures on the order of 75,000-100,000 PSI (520-690 MPa) would be needed, something which would require a significant technological advancement to make practical for a soldier weapon. The RDECOM’s rumored 6.8mm HV, a round equaling or exceeding the commercial 7mm RUM in power, would also present challenges in terms of recoil control and ammunition weight.