Recently the US Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapons program moved into its next phase, with three companies down selected, one of these was SIG Sauer. We had the pleasure of sitting down to speak with SIG Sauer’s CEO, Ron Cohen, at the 2019 Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) exposition in London. We were able to discuss SIG Sauer’s next generation of weapons with Cohen and find out a little about the company’s approach to the NGSW program and the development of not only their weapon prototypes but also the ammunition they designed around the US Army’s new 6.8mm projectile.
SIG Sauer’s new family of weapons began with the MG-338, a lightweight medium machine gun chambered in .338 Norma Magnum, which began development three years ago. When the Army launched its NGSW program SIG was in a good position to develop a competitive submission.
The Ammunition is Key
Cohen explained that the heart of SIG’s submission and what he truly considers ‘next generation’ is the ammunition and the requirements the Army placed. “The ammo is really the catalyst to make a major leap… nobody can ignore what’s in front of us right now.”
SIG began developing their 6.8mm round with a number of factors in mind, firstly they didn’t want to fight 180 years of ammunition development, instead they wanted to evolve the conventional case’s capabilities. They also didn’t want to render global ammunition manufacturing infrastructure obsolete. Cohen felt it was important to find a way of meeting the requirements while retaining the benefits of conventional ammunition including avoiding an untested system and allowing a path to continued inter-operablility with partner nations. He believes that “walking away from the NATO synergy of ammunition would be a big problem.” SIG believe the costs of transitioning to a polymer round are just too great and the gains don’t justify the cost.
SIG’s answer, the 6.8x51mm, uses a hybrid case design with a brass upper and a lighter steel base. “Our ammunition enables everything else, I think the ammo is the key to everything.” SIG state that the hybrid round is 20% lighter and Cohen feels that with the hybrid metal case SIG are “achieving the goal of more velocity while reducing the round’s weight” but another factor they considered was the impact of a polymer-based case on the environment. “It was clear for us from the beginning that to make billions of rounds in polymer is definitely not a path that makes any environmental sense.”
The choice of a case derived from the 7.62x51mm case also allows SIG’s NGSW-Rifle and NGSW-Automatic Rifle to also be easily chambered in 7.62x51mm – both rifle and automatic rifle have the ability to change calibre by simply replacing the 6.8mm barrel with a 7.62 one. This, Cohen believes, could allow the US military to use up existing stockpiles of ammunition during some elements of training and perhaps operationally. With the 6.8x51mm hybrid round retained for situations that require more punch – likening it to putting nitro in a car.
SIG also confirmed that they are continuing to refine the cartridge and there is scope for a further reduction in weight, as much as 30% total. This, however, would require the use of more expensive, exotic metals like titanium in the place of the steel base.
A New Generation of Weapons
From the MG-338, designed by SIG Sauer’s engineering team, evolve the MG-6.8, using the same recoil mitigation technology and short-stroke gas piston system. The machine guns are joined by the next evolution of SIG’s popular MCX series, the newly unveiled MCX-Spear. When asked about the guns Cohen said “SIG invests in R&D more than any other company in the space”, continuing, “we are a complete systems provider” providing weapon, ammunition, suppressor and optic – “we offer harmony”. It’s this synergy that he believes gives SIG an edge over its competitors who have partnered with multiple companies.
Check out our in-depth first look at the new family of weapons here.
With the large quantity of weapons that would be needed if SIG won the final NGSW contract I asked if the company was ready for the scale of manufacturing that would be needed, especially with large commitments like recent orders from India for SIG716 rifles. Cohen noted that SIG “has grown more than any other firearms producer in the last 15 years… it’s not a challenge for our volume.” He struck a confident tone explaining that “our two competitors have never made as many guns as we do in a year… they don’t make weapons, they are R&D houses and their experience comes from larger systems, they don’t have our expertise in weapons or ammunition.” Cohen pointed to recent successes with the production of the Modular Handgun System and that the company recently achieved monthly production rates 25% above those required by the Army.
A New Generations of Suppressors
SIG is also on the cusp of launching their next generation of suppressors, something which Cohen is extremely proud of. SIG have sought a ‘holy trinity’ during their suppressor development aiming to not only reduce sound and signature but also the back flow of gases.
The new suppressors, including the MIL-SLX68-QD, reduce the back flow of gases and toxic particles significantly. The amount of carbon directed back into the user’s face has been reduced. SIG has designed a new suppressor system which reduces the back flow to levels similar to those seen in an unsuppressed M4 Carbine. Cohen was eager to explain the potential health benefits this offered by reducing exposure to toxic back flow, while also preventing the clouding of optics by gas particulates.
Naturally, our next question was how do the new suppressors achieve this? SIG have a patented system which the company can’t go into too much detail about yet but Cohen explained “it’s a blend of a very intricate flow of gas within non-traditional baffles,” he continued “it’s not really a baffle stack, its a maze!” He claimed that the new suppressors were able to withstand up to 30,000 rounds, surpassing the machine gun barrels they were fitted to. He said that the suppressors have already been shown to US and NATO militaries and that some are “already in the acquisition mode.” Cohen said “we think we’ve solved the major, major problems of health and functionality with our next generation of silencers.” SIG doesn’t yet have a name for their new line of suppressors but we can expect to hear more about them soon.
Cohen described the US Army’s Next Generation weapons program as the “One of the largest single projects SIG Sauer has ever undertaken” but believes the two weapons they have submitted are “phenomenal, with the ammunition they use making them all the more relevant.” He is confident, noting that SIG has a “track record with the Department of Defense that shows we can execute.”