SMALL ARMS UPDATE
By Scott R. Gourley
As with most areas of U.S. defense equipment, the small arms arena features a myriad activities designed to meet the needs of today’s warfighters while attempting to identify the programs and technologies that will be required to meet tomorrow’s needs as well.
Several representative examples of meeting today’s warfighter needs were highlighted during the recent National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Joint Small Arms Symposium and Demonstration, held in Las Vegas, Nevada, during mid-May.
Several of the examples were offered by Brigadier General Peter Fuller, U.S. Army Program Executive Officer – Soldier.
Acknowledging the realities of both program and budgetary “ambiguities,” Fuller was quick to note, “One area that is not ambiguous is that the soldier is the centerpiece of the formation from the Army’s perspective. We also recognize that the Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy same the same about their individuals. But the Army recognizes that the soldier is the centerpiece of our formations and we need to provide the basic ‘kit’ for our soldiers. So when we talk about ‘counterinsurgency,’ we’re talking about ‘boots on the ground,’ where the soldier is the centerpiece. And that translates immediately into the types of equipment that they will have on an individual basis.”
“What we are trying to do is provide the weapons, all of the protective equipment, the uniforms, and any other individual piece of soldier equipment,” he added.
Emphasizing that the key issue was the need to view the soldier as a complete system – including training, optics, weapon, ammunition, and all related aspects – Fuller turned to what he described as “the weapons piece” within that vital system.
“We have a pretty good portfolio out there right now,” he said. “And one of the things we are doing is trying to increase the capability of that portfolio. For example, when we talk about the M4 carbine, we have a modular shotgun, the M26, that can be operated as an individual shotgun or attached to the M4. We have done the same thing with the M320 40mm grenade launcher. It can also be fired alone or mounted beneath the receiver of the M4. And what we’re trying to do is give the soldier that flexibility to operate in any environment.”
He continued, “We also have the XM25, which is going to be issued this summer to a unit for an assessment ‘downrange’ in theater. That’s a new capability that we have.”
In terms of representative crew served weapons inside the portfolio, Fuller admitted, “There’s a lot of discussion about crew served weapons right now because of their weight. When you get into a ‘7.62 environment,’ where you want that machinegun, how do you carry that weight at 8,000 feet and higher elevations?”
One solution to the weight challenge is that the Army has begun issuing the MK48 7.62mm machine gun already fielded by United States Special Forces Command. The Army’s overall goal is to provide to the units the flexibility and 7.62 firepower by issuing MK48s to cover the “gap” between the current M240B machine gun and the follow-on M240 LWMG lightweight machine gun with titanium lightweight receiver, that will begin fielding in about a year.”
Fuller then highlighted the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS), which he identified as “a big issue.”
“We look at it as a remotely operated weapon system but basically it is the ability to get the crew out from a hatch and get them under armor. There’s a big push right now to get these fielded onto our up-armored ‘Humvees’ and also onto our MRAP vehicles,” he said.
Highlighting some of the representative activities taking place in the sensors and lasers fields, Fuller observed, “We have IR capability. We have thermal capability. And now we have just fielded a new capability that combines the two of them together. So you can get the desired effects from your IR system and the desired effects from your t