Tanks are pretty much the ultimate platform for heavy artillery, but they’re not very much on mobility. You can’t get an M1A1 to climb up a narrow mountain pass or lie motionless in a field, patiently waiting for the enemy without being seen. As the infomercials declaim, there’s got to be a better way!
Well, now there is, thanks to a new U.S. Army weapon that puts something equivalent to the power of the M1 Abrams right into the hands of a soldier out in the field.
The Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle is set to replace about 80,000 M249 squad automatic weapons as the army’s light machine gun. While it may look like a regular machine gun, the NGSAR will have quite a bit of power behind it.
“Armed with the NGSARs, soldiers will have the confidence of knowing the new weapon can be relied on for stopping power against sophisticated adversaries who arrive to fight in advanced body armor,” Fox News reported. “The goal is for the weapon’s chamber pressure to achieve similar levels to battle tanks. Recent conflicts have shown that currently issued weapons have not been sufficient when tackling the challenge of forces with defense innovation and access to modern equipment.”
At a range of 2,000 feet, the NGSAR should be able to penetrate body armor.
“The aim is for the NGSARs to fire bullets at pressure levels similar to those achieved by tanks when they fire,” Fox News reported. “Rounds will smash through advanced adversary body armor even at a distance, allowing soldiers to accurately shoot while maintaining a safe distance from the threat whenever possible.”
“The Army would like the new weapon chamber pressure to be between 60 and 80 KSI (kilopound per square inch). To put that into context, the Army’s M1 Abrams main battle tank fires at that chamber pressure. Assault rifles tend to be around 45 KSI, so this will definitely be higher.”
Military.com reported earlier this week that the new weapon should be ready to fielding the NGSAR as early as 2022 or 2023. One of the challenges that will have to be overcome will be making a type of ammunition that’s lighter than the brass-cased M855A1 5.56mm Enhanced Performance round yet provides the kind of performance and lethality being specified.
Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski said that the NGSAR is “not for every soldier,” meaning that the venerable M249 will still be in the army’s arsenal for many years to come.
However, he noted that the Army was aware “that the 5.56mm is not going to be the round of the future because we have issues associated with adversaries’ body armor.”
Even given that, he said that the “5.56mm is going to be in our inventory for a long time.”
As for how to reduce the weight of the rounds, Ostrowski said that there could be a variety of approaches, most of them substituting polymers for part or all of the brass casing.
“Some will probably come with a polymer case that looks just like a current 5.56mm round except there won’t be as much brass; some will come with a polymer case that is of the non-traditional form … We don’t know. We are allowing (companies) to make that decision,” Ostrowski said.
“We have given them our priorities and said ‘innovate,’ and these companies are doing it.”
Textron, the article notes, has been working on polymer-cased ammunition for over a decade. However, other companies working on the problem have discovered that “standard cartridge designs made completely from polymer are not strong enough and are prone to damage during the extraction process.” Part of the solution could involve brass at the base of the casing with polymer for the rest.
As for who’s going to end up building the NGSAR, there were five candidates named in a notice posted this past week, according to the Army Times: Textron, FN America, General Dynamics, PCP Tactical and Sig Sauer.
So, yes, there is a better way — albeit one that’s in the process of being found. It won’t be here for a little while, and high-technology military platforms are obviously subject to frequent delays.
However, once it’s here, the NGSAR is going to be an unstoppable force — one that could put something with a power equivalent to tanks in the hands of our troops.
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