After a 65-year history with the M16/M4 rifle and the 5.56mm rifle cartridge, the US Army selected Sig Sauer’s XM5 rifle and XM250 Automatic Rifle as the next weapons for troops beginning in late 2023 is a true game-changer.
At the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) held in Tampa this week, the New Hampshire-based gunmaker was on hand and talking about the evolution of the Army’s new weapon.
Sig Sauer President and CEO Ron Cohen spoke to the media on Wednesday and reiterated that the first weapons won’t be in soldiers’ hands until late next year.
“Fundamentally, they want to start deployment of the first unit around spring or summer of next year,” Cohen said to National Defense. “This will reshape all infantry warfare in a way that hasn’t changed since the early 1960s.”
The XM5 and XM250 will use the new 6.8mm ammunition that Army officials say will increase its combat troops’ accuracy, range, and lethality. The Army has been searching for a replacement for the 5.56mm round that has been in use since the Vietnam war.
Brigadier General Larry Burris, the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team director, said of the XM5/XM250, “This is revolutionary.” Each XM5/XM250 will be equipped with Sig Sauer’s suppressors, which will reduce harmful gas backflow, sound signature, and flash
“We should know that this is the first time in our lifetime – this is the first time in 65 years the Army will field a new weapon system of this nature, a rifle, an automatic rifle, a fire control system, and a new caliber family of ammunition,” he said.
The new XM5 and XM250 will at least initially replace the M4 in infantry, scout, combat engineer, and special operations units. While the M4 will continue to be used by the rest of the Army. The weapons will also be available for the other armed services to adopt as well as eventually be available for foreign military sales to the US allies.
“Both weapons provide significant capability improvements in accuracy, range, and overall lethality. They are lightweight, fire more lethal ammunition, mitigate recoil, provide improved barrel performance, and include integrated muzzle sound and flash reduction,” the Army said in a released statement when the contract was announced.
New Improved Optics Will Accompany Weapons
Both of the Army’s new weapons will feature the XM157 Fire Control optic, which is being made under a contract awarded to Vortex Optics subsidiary Sheltered Wings in January. According to Army officials, that contract will be worth $2.7 billion over the next 10 years, as they produce 250,000 optical units.
“The NGSW-FC system is a ruggedized fire control that increases accuracy and lethality for the Close Combat Force. It integrates a number of advanced technologies, including a variable magnification optic, backup etched reticle, laser rangefinder, ballistic calculator, atmospheric sensor suite, compass, Intra-Soldier Wireless, visible and infrared aiming lasers, and a digital display overlay,” the Army’s Cross-Functional Team-Soldier Lethality wrote in a press release.
Sig Sauer’s New 6.8mm Ammunition Far More Lethal And Increases Range
The new ammunition is why the weapons won’t be fielded until late 2023. The ammunition uses a hybrid-metallic casing of brass and steel, reducing its overall weight.
The Army will have enough ammunition to begin field-testing the weapons next year but is building a new facility at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri that should start producing ammunition in 2025 or 2026.
Steve Rose, executive vice president at Sig Sauer, said the ammunition is the key to the new weapons. “The ammunition is the technology. It is the leap forward in capability,” he said. “The guns, although it’s great to talk about them, they’re simply the vehicle to deliver the technology and enable the ammunition to shine.”
The 6.8mm ammunition will travel supersonically longer than the current 5.56mm ammunition, which will provide the troops with a more accurate and lethal round as well as a more controllable round than the current 7.62mm in the automatic weapons. According to Army officials, the 6.8mm round is optimal for close combat between 500 and 600 meters.
American combat soldiers will now have weapons to effectively engage enemy combatants that fire the 7.62mm ammunition at effective ranges that they can not do now. The M4 is an excellent weapon in close-quarters combat, especially in building clearing operations, due to its compact design. But at longer ranges, US troops were outgunned. The XM5 can now fill the gaps that were left by the M4.
Once these Sig Sauer weapons begin being fielded, the Army will be more accurate and lethal in close combat situations. It isn’t a slight improvement but a revolutionary one that will flip the balance of the battlefield in favor of US troops.
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and another military news organization, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 10 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.