Curious Goings-On in Cancelled Carbine Competition

Back on June 16, the Army News Service distributed a press release that said soldiers will continue to use the M4 carbine or improved M4A1 carbine as their issued weapon, and that the Army has concluded the Improved Carbine Competition (ICC) without having selected a winner. Reason: None of the world’s best firearms could pass some of the requirements.

The Army originally proposed a replacement for the M4 in 2008. The eventual Improved Carbine competition kicked off in 2011, with a draft solicitation to industry. The draft asked for a non-developmental weapon that competitors would bring forward — i.e., weapons the companies might already have available for sale.

The new weapon would need to be something that “could exceed the current capabilities of the M4,” Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, with Program Executive Office — Soldier, said. “The intent was to determine if there was a weapon that could meet a much greater standard, in terms of requirements that were challenging but achievable.” During a media event June 14 at the Pentagon, Ostrowski said that none of the eight competitors in the Individual Carbine competition had been able to progress beyond phase 2 of the competition. As a result, the Army was not able to proceed with selecting a follow-on weapon for the M4.

At the time, the eight remaining companies included arms giants Beretta, Colt, Fabrique Nationale, Heckler & Koch, and Remington, along with smaller firms Adcor Defense, Lewis Machine & Tool, and Troy. Those competitors all passed phase one of the competition, but did not pass the second phase, the Army claimed.

Phase I tested the weapon’s ability to mount accessories on Picatinny rails, as well as each manufacturer’s ability to produce a sufficient number of weapons. Colt pulled its CM901 from the competition because the winner of the competition was required to provide blueprints to two competitors (each would make one-third of the necessary order).

Phase II tested the weapon’s accuracy, reliability and durability. The weapons tested in this phase were the Fabrique National FNAC, Heckler & Koch’s HK416A5, a modified Remington ACR, Adcor Defense’s B.E.A.R. Elite, the Beretta ARX-160, and the Colt Enhanced M4.

The civilian shooter must wonder what prevented these highly-regarded platforms from advancing. Ostrowski said that each weapon had a reason it failed to progress, but the Army has not yet done the forensics on the results to determine why each weapon did not progress to phase three. He said the Army will work with those competitors to find out what happened.

On July 18, one company, Adcor Defense, announced that it would not protest the U.S. Army’s decision to terminate the ICC.

In test results made available to the company, the Army concluded that the B.E.A.R. provided “Outstanding” accuracy, even after firing thousands of rounds.

“Though we are disappointed that the Army chose to discontinue a competition that could have provided soldiers with significant improvements in accuracy and reliability, we accept this decision,” said Jimmy Stavrakis, chairman and CEO of Adcor Defense.

The Army’s effort to replace the M4 was being scrutinized by the Pentagon’s Inspector General, which announced in March it was auditing the improved-carbine effort.

Then, in early May 2013, the Army announced that it was considering canceling the Individual Carbine competition. Apparently, the service learned that it had enough M4A1 carbines to last through 2018. Also, potential future budget and personnel reductions were concerns.

Then, on June 6 the House Armed Services Committee unanimously passed an amendment to the 2014 budget preventing the Army from canceling the competition before Phase III, when user evaluations were to be conducted. However, the Army didn’t need to cancel the competition if there were no eligible competitors left. So: “None of the vendors were able to meet the requirements to pass into phase three,” Ostrowski said. “I want to be very clear — none of the vendors met the minimum requirements to allow them to phase three. The Army is not canceling the Individual Carbine competition. The Army is in a position where it must conclude the Individual Carbine competition, because none of the competitors met the minimum requirement to pass into the next phase.” Right now there are more than 483,000 M4 carbines in the Army inventory. Ostrowski said surveys from soldiers returning from combat have shown that soldiers are happy with the weapon.

“We do extensive post-combat surveys after every unit redeploys from theater,” Ostrowski said. “Over the past four years, the survey results have revealed that in compilation, over 80 percent of soldiers are completely satisfied with the M4 coming out of theater. And that trend is moving upward. Over the last two years, it’s actually been 86 percent soldier acceptability for the M4. It’s battle-proven. It’s lethal. It’s accurate.” The Army plans to convert all of its existing M4s to the improved M4A1. That conversion includes a heavier barrel, and also provides an ambidextrous selector switch that allows fully automatic capability as opposed to a three-round burst. Other improvements have been ongoing with the M4 since its introduction.

“We’ve made 92 improvements to the M4/M4A1 over the course of time since 1990, when the weapon was introduced. We will continue that trend,” Ostrowski said.

Ostrowski said in a replacement carbine, the Army’s requirements community is looking for increased lethality, increased range and increased accuracy. Right now, he said, the Army will continue to look at the developing state of small arms technology and current carbines, all while considering the current fiscal environment.

“All of these are things that will determine the Army’s path going forward,” he said. “I will tell you this, there is not an immediate move to engage in another competition at this time.” The M4 Carbine was originally made by Colt Defense LLC. The M4A1 is the special operations version that features a heavier barrel and a full-auto trigger. The Army’s decision to dump the current three-round burst trigger will give shooters a more consistent trigger pull and lead to better accuracy, weapons officials maintain.

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Comments (18)

  1. I don’t know why ADCOR which has the best piston design on the market, if you have not seen it check it out, did not submit their gun in 6.5 Grendel. It is truly more accurate, powerful and much longer range than 5.56. The existing lowers can have the upper retrofitted without any difficulty. The round is more like the 7.62×39 just does not make good sense to look at this.

  2. Maybe they are looking in the wrong place? To my way of thinking there is only so much you’re going to get out of 5.56–capable and lightweight as it is. Find the cartridge that provides significant improvements then build the weapon to send it.

  3. We already have the M4 in stock. To replace it, the Army would have to buy a million units, which would require multiple producers, which would void the patent on the winning design. Not surprisingly, many companies aren’t wild about the Army’s terms, and nothing has been so great that it is worth such an expense and hassle.

    I am sure that every competitor’s rifle was better than the M4A1, some were even priced competitively, but I imagine most were not backwards compatible with the M16/M4 family.

    If a design of the Rock River Piston gun can be developed to allow new uppers to fit onto old lowers, then we could phase in a new weapon over a decade or two.

    It would take a dramatic increase in performance to force a wholesale replacement of the entire US military rifle inventory with an item that was not backwards compatible.

  4. The M4 doesn’t meet all the requirements! Mom & Dad want to buy you a brand new car but your old modified good enough relic will last a few more years?! Are you kidding me?! Many countries are taking advantage of modern modular new assault rifle systems. Some testers(American contractors)feel one is better than HK’s offering, the HK 416. Both of which are in the ICC. And most of the new rifles utilize many of the same features: piston, folding stock, abi controls, quick change barrels. You know nobody needs 600 horsepower in their car, but is it better than 200? YES! Especially if its driveable & you can afford it. I get you don’t “need” some things like a quick change barrel, but if it can with out loss of accuracy or reliability that makes it better. If your parents are telling you to get something new…get something new!

  5. AR platform goes off patent. Consumer market for AR platform explodes. Endless innovation, improvements, and customizations available in off-patent AR platform market. Army goes looking for new patented carbine design. Humm?

  6. Seeing the difference between my piston guns and the fouling of the direct gas impingement guns (not to mention the high temperatures the bolts are exposed to which degrade metal) there is NO QUESTION that over time, piston guns last longer and are more reliable. I also wholeheartedy gree with the tavor comment. This is why SEALS and other spec op groups have their OWN budgets. Infantry weapons (and maybe ALL weapns) shoud be designed and procured from a down-up, rather than top down procedure. Top down design and aquisition is fraught with politics, almost alwys providing soldiers, seamen, and airmen inferior weaponry. Maybe they ught to get rid of the defensless littoral combat ships and the too expensive to fire excalibur rounds and get our ground pounders a rifle that will work in dirt, sand, and sub zero temperatures. You know, like the HK 416 and 417 or the Tavor?

  7. It’s not a surprise “they” used that particular tactic to cancel the program. The M4’s accurate, light enough, and will function pretty well after the intensive cleaning and lube it requires( especially after being in that damned Afghani moondust.) However, after all the well publicized tests where the competitors literally beat the crap out of the M4 Big Army has no REAL excuse for not buying us something else. Hey, why buy a better weapon when there’s plenty of CLP, paintbrushes, and dental picks around?

  8. I would like to see a move to a standardized piston-driven model. It should be:
    – piston driven, to get the reliability of AK. I have a rock river piston and it is clean, light, reliable, and no buffer tube, so more flexible stock capability. SIG and Ruger piton designs are good too.
    – standardized – so a piston-driven mil-spec creates a market for parts and mods
    – compatible with current mil-spec rails, accessories, trigger groups, mags, etc.
    – convertible – to other calibers, and especially 22lr, for cheaper shooting
    – new ammo, that can be used in sidearm and rifle configurations.

  9. Tom, USMC doesn’t necessarily “need” different camo, but thank goodness it’s permitted to exercise independent discretion rather than being stuck with some of the disastrous, and MUCH less effective, choices of that the Army’s less responsive bureaucracy frequently makes. Non standardization doesn’t cost any more in the camo department. Army ACU, Marpat Woodland and Marpat Desert all cost the same. They make enough of each to maximize economies of scale. If they didn’t, then Marpats would cost way more than Army ACUs, because WAY more ACUs are manufactured–yet aren’t any cheaper. On battle rifles, different missions and different priorities will produce different requirements. That’s why some most Marine infantry still carry 20″ barrel M-16 variants, with longer range accuracy and hitting power than M-4 variants carried by other Marine units. Carried to it’s endpoint, your argument would be not to have separate services–just land, sea and air self defense branches under a single service. Indeed, there are those who want–and seek that. In my experience, most of those pushing for less “difference” and more standardization are either Army types resentful of the greater esteem the Marine Corps is generally held in, or accountants with no idea of the vastly greater importance of non-quantifiable, “human” driven variables on combat capability than simple cost/effectiveness and “efficiency” calculations.

  10. Why does the USMC and US Army need different rifles, ammo and cammo? The real question should be, how much is the non standardization of things like this cost and with that savings, could we supply with more effective equipment?

  11. why mess with a good thing?
    If a emart gun is needed, one that automaticly tracks and compensates for range spped etc then we can build something as an add on.
    We need to get away from metalic cartridges completely case free and or a totaly different projectile.
    explosive without over penetration in human tissue but tougher than hell on steel.
    it is being done with larger calibers.
    Propellent and lethality of a smaller round even dumdum or splintering.

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