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By Scott R. Gourley

09 Dec 11. In April 2011 testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Airland, Lieutenant General William Phillips, principal military deputy to the assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, and Director, Acquisition Career Management, responded to questioning by Senator Scott Brown on the future of the US Army’s M4 carbine program.

“Sir, we have a dual-strategy for the M4 carbine,” Phillips explained. “And, number one, we are going to continue to improve. Right now, we have done about 62 different improvements to the M4 over time. It’s a world-class weapon. There’s over 600,000 of those that are out there, that exist today. And we’re going to continue to improve it. The next phase will be a heavier barrel, an ambidextrous trigger, and also a selector switch that will allow it to also operate on automatic. So, we will continue to improve the M4.”

“At the same time, we’ve improved the ammunition that they’re using in Afghanistan today, the 556,” he added.

The improved ammunition that Phillips was referring to is the new 5.56mm cartridge, the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round, which began replacing the M855 round in 2010.

According to a late June 2010 press release from the US Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, “The M855A1 resulted in a number of significant enhancements not found in the current round. These include improved hard target capability, more dependable, consistent performance at all distances, improved accuracy, reduced muzzle flash and a higher velocity. During testing the M855A1 performed better than current 7.62mm ball ammunition against certain types of targets, blurring the performance differences that previously separated the two rounds.”

In late October 2010, just a few months after Soldiers in Afghanistan began using the new M855A1 round in combat, manufacturer ATK announced the start of full rate production “for nearly 300 million rounds of the new M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round (EPR)” at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, MO, adding, “ATK produced the initial 20 million rounds of M855A1, which were delivered to the troops in Afghanistan earlier this year. “

In his April 2011 Senate testimony, Phillips continued, “At the same time, we want to make sure that our soldiers get the best individual carbine that we can deliver…So, we’re going through a full and open competition for the next individual carbine.”

“We just had an industry day, about a week ago, where I opened that conference, where 38 industry partners were there,” he added. “And we’re excited about what industry may come and offer, in terms of what be the next — what might be the next individual carbine.”

In their own description of the 30 March 2011 industry conference, representatives for the Army’s Program Executive Office – Soldier (PEO Soldier) highlighted “nearly 40 weapons manufacturers packed into a hotel across the street from the Pentagon knowing that only one of them will prevail in the Army’s carbine competition to determine who makes the best carbine in the world.”

According to the PEO office description, “The group gathered to hear Army leaders answer questions regarding its full and open competition, which is slated to begin in May [2011]. The competition is part of the Army’s ‘Dual Path Strategy’ to improve its M4 Carbine weapon system while simultaneously challenging industry to present a better carbine.”

Speaking to the gathering, Colonel Doug Tamilio, who at the time was the US Army Project Manager Soldier Weapons, told the audience that the Army expected to release its final “Request for Proposals” (RFP) in May 2011 and would give each industry member 90 days to submit their single weapon design that they feel best meets the Army requirement. The competition phase was expected to last two years, although the time frames will vary based upon the number of entrants recei

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