While testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was asked about the ongoing development of a new rifle to replace the M4 and its 5.56mm bullet.
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According to Army Times, the topic came up because Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) was present at a subcommittee hearing last week which featured retired Army generals who have long pushed for a new round and rifle to replace the 5.56mm M4.
“One of the things we learned [at last week’s hearing] was that the current M4 caliber ammunition will not penetrate the newly developed body armor of our adversaries, which is to me a disaster in waiting,” King told Milley. “Your thoughts on a new weapon and how do we do the procurement in a timely and cost-effective way, and avoid some of these problems that we’ve had in the past. First do you think this is an important area of attention, and second can we pull it off in a reasonable amount of time at a reasonable cost?”
“I think yes and yes,” Milley said. “I think it is critically important. 70% of American casualties are ground forces, typically infantry, special forces type units or units performing infantry missions, and the small arm and the other equipment to include body armor SAPI plates, and so on is critical, and we oughta be providing the very very best for our soldiers that our nation can provide. The 5.56 round, we recognize that there is a type of body armor out there that it doesn’t penetrate—we also have that body armor ourselves—and that adversarial states are actually selling that stuff on the Internet for about 250 bucks. So, yes, there’s a need, and there’s an operational need, and we think we can do it relatively quickly.”
“The key on any of these things,” Milley continued, “is not so much the rifle, it’s the bullet. It’s the ballistics of the bullet, and down at Fort Benning, we’ve done some developmental work, we think we have a solution that we know we have developed a bullet that can penetrate these new plates.”
King asked Milley if the bullet would require a new rifle, to which Milley replied that “it might, but probably not.”
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“Is there a possibility of an off the shelf, an existing rifle that could be an upgrade to the M4?” King asked.
“Yes,” Milley said. “There’s several options out there.”
As Army Times notes, the U.S. Marine corps is buying the Heckler & Koch 417 in 5.56mm, while the Army is buying the same gun chambered in 7.62mm for squad designated marksmen.