The Army’s new Rifle, and what it means for body armor. 

The Army's new Service Rifle

The last time the US military Issued a Service rifle was back in 1967. Now, over half a century later, A new service rifle, and Squad Automatic weapon is taking over the legacy M4s and M249 SAW. 

Over the last 50 years, the landscape of modern warfare has changed quite significantly. Body armor technology has come a long way, and more and more militaries are fielding modern equipment and advanced armor. 

So, to meet the evolving requirements of the modern battlefield, the US Military launched the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NSGW) program back in 2017. The objective was to develop a new service Rifle, Squad Automatic Weapon, and Sidearm for the US Military. 

Now, in 2024, the US military has started fielding the new weapons developed under this program. They are being tested by the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. So, let’s talk about the NSGW Program, the firearms developed in it, and what it means for the future of body armor and Infantry fighting tactics. 

What is the US Army’s New Service Rifle?

Under the NSGW Program, the XM7, which is the military variant of the Sig MCX Spear, was chosen as the US Military’s new Service rifle. It is chambered in a new 6.8×51 mm Cartridge, which is designed to have better ballistics, range, accuracy, and Penetration Power than the 5.56×45 mm ammunition used with the M4. 

The XM7 is heavier than the M4 Carbine, weighing 8.38 lbs. without a suppressor, it has lower capacity Magazines, and a lower combat load as well with seven 20-rounders. However, where the rifle makes up for it is its larger caliber, which is capable of firing at extremely high speeds, and at higher pressures than the 5.56 NATO. 

Is the US Army getting a new Machine Gun?

Yes, under the NGSW program, the Military is also replacing the Squad Automatic Weapon or light machine gun. Previously, the Army used the M249 SAW, but now it will be replaced by the XM250, which was specifically designed for the Military by Sig Sauer. 

The XM250 light machine gun is also chambered in the new SIG 6.8x51mm cartridge. It weighs 13 lbs., or 14.5 lbs. with a suppressor. Because of the larger caliber cartridge, it has a lower combat load of 600 rounds, as opposed to 800 rounds of the M249 SAW. The rounds are carried in three 200-round semi-rigid pouches, and weigh 20.8 lb in total. 

So, overall, the XM250 is lighter than the M249 SAW, but its combat load is slightly heavier. Still, it offers significantly improved range and higher penetration against body armor and Light Vehicles. 

When will the XM7 and XM250 enter military service?

The new squad weapons, including the XM7 and XM250, were delivered to soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division and 75th Ranger Regiment in September of last year. As of March 2024, the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division officially began fielding the rifle.

Still, it will take the military some time before they can completely replace the M4. It’s important to understand that the military is feilding an entirely new Caliber, made specifically for the new weapon systems. So, they need to up the production of the new Ammunition to meet the training and fielding demands, which can take quite a while. 

Can the 6.8×51 in the XM7 rifle penetrate body armor?

According to military reports, Yes, the new 6.8x51mm Cartridge, when fired from the XM7 rifle can penetrate even Level IV SAPI Armor Plates. However, the only testing I’ve seen to prove this has been with the civilian version of the rifle. 

The Sig MCX Spear is the civilian version of the XM7. It fires the civilian .277 Fury Cartridge which is virtually identical to the 6.8x51mm. This cartridge, when fired from the MCX Spear, can defeat level III and level III+ body armor. Even level IV armor can barely stop it. 

Of course, the Military will have a larger variety of rounds available to them. For instance, extreme penetrator rounds like the 5.56 green tips. Moreover, according to reports from Sig, the Hybrid Casing of the military 6.8x51mm round, can even handle higher pressures than the 80,000 Psi of the .277 Fury. Of course, this will improve its anti-armor capabilities. I’m certain that the XM7 will be able to defeat Level IV body armor, at a longer effective range. 

What does the NSGW program mean for Body Armor in the civilian Market?

Though it may not seem that significant now, the new 6.8x51mm Hybrid Cartridge, along with the XM7 rifle will have a massive impact on body armor around the world.  As we have seen before, even in the Civilian market, People like to own the firearms that the military uses. 

Take the AR-15 for example. As the civilian version of the M4 carbine , it is the most popular rifle in the US civilian market. So, eventually, people will move to the new standard military platform, i.e. the Sig MCX Spear chambered in 6.8x51mm. 

This new caliber can easily penetrate level III and level III+ rifle-rated body armor. With special bullets, like the extreme penetrator, it can even defeat level IV armor.

As this new platform becomes more popular, body armor manufacturers will need to create stronger armor to keep up. However, it will take a long time, possibly decades, for civilians to widely adopt the new XM7 platform. The AR-15, for instance, was adopted in the 1960s, and it took many decades to become popular among civilians. Many other factors could delay the popularity of the Sig MCX Spear in the civilian market.

Still, the development of the 6.8x51mm caliber is a huge step forward in armor penetration. This new cartridge uses a hybrid steel-brass casing. This new casing can handle extremely high pressures, up to 100,000 PSI according to some reports. This means that in the near future, even more high-pressure calibers like the 6.8x51mm will be developed. When these new calibers are combined with armor-penetrating cores, current body armor standards will no longer be sufficient.

Final Thoughts

In summary, while it may take a long time for civilians to widely use the new XM7 rifle and 6.8x51mm caliber, the advancements in armor penetration are significant. Body armor manufacturers will need to innovate to keep up with these powerful new calibers.

Still, for the time being, you are more than safe investing in high-quality Level IV armor plates. The Level IV plates from Ace Link Armor, are a great option. They can even stop up to 30.06 AP rounds. 

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