The Army Isn't Getting Rid of Its M4s and SAWs Any Time Soon, General Says

Washington Army National Guard soldiers during squad live-fire and tactical movement training
Washington Army National Guard soldiers, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment "Dark Rifles", 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, defend an offensive position during squad live-fire and tactical movement training, on March 4, 2021, at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Adeline Witherspoon/U.S. Army National Guard)

The Army is moving quickly toward a replacement for the M4 carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun, but don't expect those old weapons to head into retirement any time soon.

"That is a future decision to be made, very much dependent on the prototyping we have going on now," Gen. John Murray, head of Army Futures Command, told lawmakers during a House Armed Services subpanel hearing Monday when asked about the force's timeline on shelving the M4 and SAW.

Sig, Textron Systems and General Dynamics are competing for contracts in the Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon, or NGSW, effort, designed to begin arming units with a rifle and light machine gun chambered for a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, as opposed to the M4 and SAW's 5.56mm ammunition.

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All three companies have designed new rifle and machine gun prototypes soldiers have already been testing. The Army is expected to make a decision on who will supply the force with new weapons and start fielding them next year.

While the service does not have a clear timeline on when the weapon replacement will be complete, many soldiers might be training with the old weapons for a long time, partly because the new ammo could be in short supply for a while.

It could take "three to four years" for the Lake City Ammunition Plant, the military's largest producer of small-caliber ammunition, to fully transition to making 6.8mm rounds on a large scale, Doug Bush, who serves as acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, told lawmakers. The facility is in Independence, Missouri.

While the Army is looking into new guns and slowly moving to field 6.8mm ammunition, the force could see a dip in the number of bullets it buys next year. The force's 2022 budget calls for a reduction of more than half a billion dollars in ammo spending. The administration's proposed budget outlines $2.1 billion for ammo versus $2.8 billion this year.

The service is taking a hit in the new budget proposal, which still has to be approved by Congress. The administration is asking for $173 billion for the Army, a drop from this year's $176.6 billion.

Murray said the Pentagon looked at places to make cuts, and ammunition was where the Army took a big hit. He noted that the force has a stockpile but didn't specify how big or whether training drawdowns during the pandemic saved the force a lot of ammo.

"We looked at where we could find acceptable risk," Murray told lawmakers. "We thought that was an acceptable level of risk, considering our stock on hand."

President Joe Biden is calling for a relatively flat Defense Department budget amid unprecedented levels of spending on domestic projects, including pandemic relief. The move is taking heat from Democrats for spending too much and from Republicans for not spending enough.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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