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The U.S. Army’s next generation rifle and machine gun will have a number of features borrowed from other products, whether computers that used to fit inside tanks to cameras that come with high-end smartphones.
The Next Generation Squad Weapon, which will arm infantry and other ground troops, will incorporate new technologies never brought to the field of small arms before, including target tracking, facial recognition, and hydrophobic coatings for lenses.
According to Military.com, the Army’s new solicitation for the Next Generation Squad Weapons series of infantry weapons lays out what the service wants from industry. NGSW is an effort to design a new infantry rifle or carbine to replace the M4A1 carbine and a new squad automatic weapon to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The M4A1 is an updated, refined version of the M16 first adopted by the Army in 1965, while the M249 was first brought into service in the late 1980s.
M249 Squad Automatic Weapon during a live fire exercise.
Warfare has changed a lot since then, and the Army feels it has catching up to do. One of the chief requirements for both guns is a ballistic computer capable of projecting, the exact impact point of a bullet on on a pair of goggles, monocular eyepiece, or weapon-mounted optic.
Although modern infantry bullets travel at speeds of up to 3,000 feet per second, gravity inexorably takes a toll. Gravity gradually slows down bullets, pulling them close to the earth, to the point where a modern 5.56 bullet will drop 3.08 inches at 200 yards, and 59 inches at 500 yards. If the rifle barrel is 59 inches above the ground, this is the point where the bullet strikes the earth. Wind will also shift bullets in the direction of travel depending on wind speed and the velocity of the bullet.
In the 1970s main battle tanks began receiving ballistic computers that could estimate the point of impact of tank guns under almost every firing scenario, from shooting on the move to high winds. That’s the sort of tech that makes the M1A2 Abrams’ M256 main gun capable of ninety percent accuracy at 2,000 meters (1.2 miles). Thanks to Moore’s Law, the tech shrank dramatically in the last four decades, to the point where that sort of aiming assistance can now fit on the top of an infantryman’s rifle.
Other features the Army wants in the fire control system include target tracking, facial recognition, wireless connectivity, and a one-second boot time. The rifle optic will also feature scratch-proof lenses that repel water.
Next Generation Squad Weapons will also incorporate key changes into the weapons themselves. The guns will use a new 6.8-millimeter round more capable of punching through body armor at longer ranges. To offset the heavier round, the Army also wants the new round to weigh twenty percent less than conventional brass casing rounds, which will probably necessitate new technology such as polymer casings, caseless rounds, or case-telescoped bullets.