Soldier Weapons Review: 2013

By Kevin Doell, Public Affairs Specialist, PM Soldier Weapons, PEO Soldier

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Armor & Mobility magazine. 
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There was significant activity on the Army small arms front in 2013. Leaders “pulled triggers” on decisions covering everything from which service rifle soldiers will carry for years to come, to new applications of remote weapon stations that make soldiers even more lethal on the battlefield. What follows are program updates provided by PEO Soldier’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons (PM SW) out of Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. PM SW leads the charge on Army small arms to ensure that soldiers on the battlefield have overmatch capabilities in individual and crew served weapons.

PROJECT MANAGER INDIVIDUAL WEAPONS

The M4A1 Carbine Program

PM SW fielded approximately 9,000 M4A1 Carbines to the 101st Airborne Division early in the year and is in the process of procuring components that will enable the Army to convert existing M4s into M4A1s starting in the second quarter of FY 14. Compared to the M4, the M4A1 has a heavier barrel for greater barrel life, improved sustained rate of fire, fully automatic trigger and selector switch, consistent trigger pull, ambidextrous controls, and improved ergonomics. The Army is also conducting a forward rail competition that is exploring the feasibility of further improvements to zero retention.

The upgraded M4A1 Carbine provides soldiers with full auto capability and an ambidextrous selector switch.

The upgraded M4A1 Carbine provides soldiers with full
auto capability and an ambidextrous selector switch.

The upgraded M4A1 Carbine provides soldiers with full
auto capability and an ambidextrous selector switch.[/caption]

XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE)

The Army’s developmental XM25 airburst weapon system fires a high-explosive, 25mm programmable “smart” round that either airbursts above the target or point detonates out to 700 meters. The Army learned valuable lessons from several Forward Operational Assessments, including how soldiers employ the weapon in combat and design improvements for improving the weapon’s performance. The system continued through its Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) phase in 2013. Through the EMD process, improvements have been incorporated into the design that upgrade reliability, performance, and manufacturability of the weapon, as well as its target acquisition fire control and ammunition. In September, the engineering team assessed the system’s final design, clearing the way for formal government testing.

Improved Weapons Cleaning Kit

Soldiers know the importance of keeping their weapons clean. They also know the importance of traveling light, which is why they typically take only the cleaning kit components absolutely necessary to get the job done. Taking a “soldier knows best” approach, the Army awarded a contract last year to procure a lightweight individual kit that can fit into a cargo pocket and contains tools to clean just 5.56 mm weapon systems. In addition, each four-man fire team will receive a team kit that will contain cleaning tools for 5.56 mm, 7.62 mm, 9 mm and .45 caliber systems. The new approach provides better functionality at a savings of nearly 65 percent per squad.  First delivery is expected in June 2014.

PRODUCT MANAGER CREW SERVED WEAPONS

Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station (CROWS)

The CROWS system enables Soldiers to surveil, acquire, and engage targets with an array of sensors and machine guns while inside an armored vehicle or other protected space. The system has proven to be an invaluable asset since it was first fielded in theater in 2008 under Urgent Material Release (UMR) protocols. The CROWS program is now supporting joint and non-DoD customer requirements for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Department of Energy.

The program continues to expand, in part, due to the ease of integrating CROWS with new applications and capabilities. One Army example is the use of CROWS in a fixed-site installation that allows soldiers to better monitor areas and target threats remotely from inside a protected structure such as a bunker that may be located far away from the weapon station itself. Fielding teams installed more than 150 systems in the past two years to strengthen force protection at various combat outposts and forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan.

A new twist on the tower application is an urgent requirement to field a CROWS integrated within a container with a telescoping tower to provide a “Containerized Weapon System” (CWS). PM Crew Served Weapons worked with the Rapid Equipping Force and PM Close Combat Weapon Systems to integrate and field several CWS units to Afghanistan in 2013. CWS increases options for integrated base defense by providing the ability to fly in place a fully functioning, containerized CROWS system for use in difficult to reach and remote locations.

The next chapter for CROWS will unfold over the next several years as the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence’s new requirement documents are staffed, approved, and executed. The next-generation CROWS could include improvements such as increases in sensor capability for enhanced situational awareness and longer engagement stand-off. No matter what upgrades come, CROWS will continue to save lives and serve as a force multiplier that increases soldier lethality and survivability.

M205 Lightweight Tripod for Heavy Machine Guns

In November, the 1st Armored Division became the first Army Division to be fielded the new M205 tripod, which is replacing the M3 tripod for use with M2/M2A1 and MK19 machine guns. The new M205 provides a strong, stable firing platform at significantly reduced weight and represents a significant design upgrade over the M3, which was first put into service in 1934.

At 34 pounds, the M205 weighs 16 pounds less than the 50-pound M3.

1AD Soldiers train on M205 Lightweight Tripod with a mounted M2A1 .50 Caliber Machine Gun at Fort Bliss, TX. The M205’s lightweight pintle allows greater weapon elevation and depression than the M3’s pintle.

1AD Soldiers train on M205 Lightweight Tripod with a
mounted M2A1 .50 Caliber Machine Gun at Fort Bliss,
TX. The M205’s lightweight pintle allows greater weapon
elevation and depression than the M3’s pintle.

The new tripod also has an integrated Traverse & Elevation (T&E) mechanism, which is similar to the T&E on the M192 lightweight ground mount. The new T&E allows faster, more accurate target engagement. Soldiers can even operate the T&E with one hand and make bold or fine adjustments. There’s also an adjustable traverse limit stop to control left and right fields of fire, which is especially effective for night-time missions. The lightweight M205 pintle also allows greater weapon elevation and depression than the M3 pintle, and the tripod has a built-in pintle storage slot to prevent loss when stowed. The Army will be replacing all M3s over the next several years with the new M205s.

COMPETITION IN THE YEAR AHEAD

Modular Handgun System

In October, the Army approved a requirement to pursue a “Modular Handgun System” (MHS) as a replacement for its 9mm M9 pistol. The requirement was built upon a document initially issued by the U.S. Air Force for joint consideration. The approval will result in a full and open competition that will begin in 2014 among commercial off-the-shelf designs. The requirement calls for the MHS to be more lethal, accurate, ergonomic, reliable, durable, and maintainable than the M9, which has been the Army’s standard sidearm since 1986.

The modularity aspect shall permit maximum common and interchangeable parts and allow users to configure sighting, accessories, actions, and sizes to match missions. The system design will enable the user to integrate accessories such as aiming lasers, illuminators, and suppressors.

To help inform the final request for proposals from industry, the Army is undertaking a handgun cartridge study that will narrow the field of calibers ultimately considered during the competition. The Army will be sharing information and gathering critical feedback throughout multiple planned industry days so as to maximize communication between the government and industry.

2014 and Beyond

The Army has a long record of continuous improvement upon its fleet of individual and crew served weapons. Through activities such as product improvement programs, engineering change proposals, and industry competitions, the Army continues to take any and all steps necessary to ensure that its soldiers are equipped to dominate the battle space.