For the last three decades, the US Army has issued the M16 rifle and the M9 pistol to its infantry personnel. Both weapons are standard for the American soldier and have worked well in many overseas operations.
With the possibility of military conflict with China and or Russia, the Army has made several preparations to replace its aging and outdated weapons.
In 4Q 2017, we documented how the Army is preparing for decades of hybrid wars across multiple domains - space, cyberspace, air, land, and, maritime. We examined the Army’s latest Training and Doctrine Command report, which highlights how the next round of hybrid wars could begin somewhere around 2025 and last through 2040.
Then last month, the US Army's chief of staff made it public that the service is expecting to procure the next-generation squad weapon would fire faster, farther than M16 and M249 infantry rifles and penetrate the most advanced body armor technologies in the world.
"It will fire at speeds that far exceed the velocity of bullets today, and it will penetrate any existing or known ... body armor that's out there," Gen. Mark Milley told Military.com at the 2018 Association of the US Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition.
"What I have seen so far from the engineers and the folks that put these things together, this is entirely technologically possible ... It's a very good weapon."
The contract solicitation on FedBizzOpps states the Army plans to award production for up to "250,000 total weapons system(s) (NGSW-R, NGSW-AR, or both), 150,000,000 rounds of ammunition, spare parts, tools/gauges/accessories, and engineering support."
As the series production of the next-generation assault rifle is imminent, the Army has also been replacing its outdated Beretta M9 pistol.
So what was wrong with the M9 and why has it been replaced?
Pistol technology had rapidly changed since the 1980s when the M9 was commissioned. Double-action strikers, uncommon three decades ago, have become standard, and for an excellent reason, said the American Rifleman. The striker system is sealed with no exposed hammer slot that does not allow dirt and debris into the gun.
The M9 is manufactured from an aluminum frame. Aluminum or steel frames were standard in the 20th century, but composite materials have replaced most base metals. Another negative of the M9 is its lack of a Picatinny rail to mount addition adds on, including lights, lasers, and or sights.
With all this in mind, 2018 has served as a transitional year for the Army in replacing its old weapons.
Earlier this year, the Army’s 101st Airborne Division was the first to receive the services’ new M17 and M18 pistol, engineered to give infantry an edge in the ability to fight in caves, tunnels, crawl spaces, houses, and other close quarter combat scenarios.
“You can close with the enemy in close quarter combat and engage the enemy with one hand. It is tough to do this with the M9,” Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for the 101st Airborne, told reporters earlier this year.
The new pistol is also designed with an ergonomic configuration that allows soldiers to enable rapid hand switching as needed in combat.
The M17 is said by its designer to bring much tighter dispersion, improved versatility, and next-generation accuracy.
“With this weapon, you can change quickly from right hand to left hand. If you are shooting something that is not comfortable on your hand and can't get a comfortable grip, it is not as accurate,” Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Flynn, 101st Division Master Gunner, said earlier this year.
The Army is now acquiring thousands of next-generation assault rifles and pistols in the pursuit of modernizing its forces before the next conflict slated for the mid-2020s.