Why the Army Thinks It Needs a Bigger Bullet
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Why the Army Thinks It Needs a Bigger Bullet

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Since current warfare frequently involves combat beyond about 330 yards – that longer than three football fields -- the Army is looking at arming soldiers with ammunition that is lethal at a longer distance.

That would mean replacing the M4/M16 assault rifle with a new carbine, according to the Army Times website. The aim is to provide troops with a weapon and ammo that would increase accuracy and firepower and provide the same number of rounds without adding weight.

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The 5.56 mm round in wide use is outmatched by enemy combatants in many instances, the Army Times said, citing a recent study. Under consideration is adopting a caliber in the 6.5 mm to 7 mm range.

Most Army soldiers are equipped with the M4, a shorter, lighter variant of the M16, which has been in service since the Vietnam War and is still issued to many G.I.s. The Army Times quoted retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, an arms expert, as citing three concerns that are pushing the military leadership to move beyond the M4/M16 and 5.56 mm ammo:

  • Upgraded enemy body armor, which is more difficult to penetrate with the 5.56 round.
  • A recognition that ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other adversaries are firing more lethal bullets.
  • The problems with jamming that have plagued the M16/M4 for decades.

In an article in The Atlantic two years ago, Scales recounted a firefight in Vietnam in 1969. “To this day, I am haunted by the sight of three of my dead soldiers lying atop rifles broken open in a frantic attempt to clear jams,” he wrote.

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Scales said that the Army has estimated that a new rifle would cost more than $2 billion. But he proposed arming only the infantry with a replacement for the M4/M16. “The cost, for about 100,000 infantrymen at $1,000 each, is then reduced to roughly $100 million, less than that of a single F-35 fighter jet,” Scales wrote.

The Army has been studying the ammunition issue for several years but is expected to reach some conclusions in the next few months.