The Army’s newest rifle and automatic rifle are already in the hands of soldiers for testing and will officially field to its first unit in 2024.

The service delivered the Next Generation Squad Weapon rifle and automatic rifle, known as the XM7 and XM250, respectively, along with its advanced optic, the XM157 fire control, to a platoon in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in late September.

That platoon, along with a squad from the 75th Ranger Regiment, conducted user tests over the subsequent months as the Army ramped up for full fielding to a not yet identified unit in the 101st by the second quarter of fiscal year 2024, officials told Army Times.

The XM7 will replace the M4 for close combat units such as infantry, scouts, combat engineers and special operations forces. The XM250 will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon for the same units.

The weapons and optics will drop the “X” in their names once fielded.

Non-close combat forces will continue to carry the M4 and M249 for the foreseeable future.

The legacy M4 and M249 fire the 5.56mm round while the XM7 and XM250 fire the recently developed 6.8mm cartridge.

The Army began development of the “intermediate caliber” to better defeat enemy body armor and increase both accuracy and lethality at longer ranges. That effort began in earnest following the 2017 Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study, which identified firepower and range gaps in small arms across the Army.

The Marine Corps has actively participated in multiple testing and evaluation sessions with the Army, provided feedback and is “monitoring” the Army’s development and fielding of the weapons systems.

The heavier round provides better penetration and outperforms the 7.62mm round used in the M240 machine gun system, typically found at the platoon level.

The increased energy of the round also allows shooters to penetrate barriers that deflected 5.56mm rounds, as demonstrated in a live fire during which an Army Times reporter participated in September at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Multiple XM250 6.8mm rounds drilled holes through cinder blocks and struck a human silhouette target while only a single 5.56mm round managed to damage, but not fully pass through the cinder blocks.

“That’s turning cover into concealment,” Lt. Col. Micah Rue, product manager for soldier weapons at Program Executive Office-Soldier, said at the time.

The current 10-year contract for the Sig Sauer weapons, builder of both systems, has a ceiling value of $4.5 billion, and the Vortex Optics/Sheltered Wings XM157 fire control cost ceiling is set at $2.7 billion.

The fire control allows for computer-aided ballistics, matching the round and weapon with the optic for better accuracy. The shooter can aim at the target, push a button on the weapon or optic and it will automatically adjust for distance and bullet drop, allowing the user to adjust fire rapidly.

The fire control has preprogrammed ballistics information and can be fit to nearly any small arms weapon system in the Army’s inventory.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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