The Army will test its new rifle and light machine gun in extreme environments this summer -- from hot and cold to mud and "salt fog," according to a Tuesday press release. The announcement added that the new equipment will continue to trickle out to line units and is expected to undergo airborne testing sometime next year.
The XM7 Rifle and XM250 Automatic Rifle, designed by Sig Sauer, are set to replace the M4A1 Carbine and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon within the next decade. Sig was awarded the contract for the initiative, called the Next Generation Squad Weapons, or NGSW, program, in 2022.
The Army, Sig Sauer and soldiers assigned to test the equipment "feverishly" worked to get the new pieces fielded, according to the release, concluding more than 100 technical tests, 20,000 hours of operation, and 1.5 million rounds of fresh 6.8mm ammo fired through the new weapons.
In addition to the extreme environment testing, the weapons' ability to handle malfunctions and blank firing will be assessed in what the service is calling Production Qualification Testing, or PQT.
"The soldier touch point allowed the program and Sig Sauer the opportunity to solicit direct soldier feedback on the systems post-contract award and inform simple design changes to improve the weapons before going into Production Qualification Test and Operational Tests in the coming year," said Capt. Tyler Morgan, assistant product manager for the Next Generation Squad Weapons program.
Overall, the weapons are reportedly popular with the special operations community, though there are complaints about the rifle's weight. Compared to its M4 predecessor, for example, the XM7 is two pounds heavier -- more than three pounds if equipped with a suppressor.
The XM250, however, weighs nearly 5 pounds less than its M249 predecessor.
One former 75th Ranger Regiment officer told Military.com that the XM250 "is a welcome replacement to the outdated and largely unreliable M249. It's lighter, more accurate, and uses a far superior round."
But the weapons aren't perfect, and the continued testing, especially the extreme environmental assessments that will occur between May and July, will likely show where those flaws may lie.
"The [XM7] is incredible in terms of its features and capabilities, but it's too heavy, and too large right now to be a standard infantry rifle," said the former Ranger officer, who was granted anonymity out of concern that talking to the media might impact professional prospects.
The fielding brings new ammo, as well. The lighter 5.56mm will be replaced with a heavier 6.8mm round. The additional weight, though seemingly minimal, adds up for grunts carrying it and a heavier weapon over long distances.
"The new round is amazing performance-wise, but the average soldier can't carry nearly as many rounds compared to the 5.56. … I see it [as] more of a designated marksman rifle [rather] than a standard issue combat rifle," the former Ranger Regiment officer said.
Once the PQT is complete, the Army will conduct further operational testing before rolling the weapons out to line units across the service next year, according to the press release.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.