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 cancelling 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 cancelling 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.