BREAKING: US Army Releases RFI for New 7.62mm Interim Combat Service Rifle

The US Army’s Program Manager for Individual Weapons has issued a new Request for Information (RFI) to the industry for a new 7.62x51mm Interim Combat Service Rifle, which seeks to bring out the best battle rifles the market has to offer. The RFI, posted at FBO,gov, reads:

DESCRIPTION: This announcement constitutes an official Request for Information (RFI) for an Interim Combat Service Rifle (ICSR). The U.S. Army, Army Contracting Command – New Jersey at Picatinny Arsenal is conducting a market survey on behalf of Product Manager Individual Weapons to identify potential sources for a combat rifle system.
This Request For Information (RFI) is for planning purposes only and should not be construed as a Request for Proposal or as an obligation on the part of the Government to acquire any services or hardware. Your response to this RFI will be treated as information only. No entitlement to payment of direct or indirect costs or charges by the Government will arise as a result of contractor submission of responses to this announcement or Government use of such information. No funds have been authorized, appropriated, or received for this effort. The information provided may be used by the Army in developing its Acquisition Strategy, Performance Work Statement and Performance Specification. Interested parties are responsible for adequately marking proprietary or competition sensitive information contained in their response. The Government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI or to otherwise pay for the information submitted in response to same. The information provided herein is subject to change and in no way binds the Government to pursue any course of action described herein. The U.S. Government is not obligated to notify respondents of the results of this survey.

Desired Attributes of Interim Combat Service Rifle:

• The rifle must be a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) system readily available for purchase today. Modified or customized systems are not being considered.
• Caliber: 7.62x51mm
• Available barrel lengths, to include 16 and 20 inch barrels, without muzzle device attached.
• Muzzle device capable of or adaptable to auxiliary devices for:
— Compensation of muzzle climb
— Flash suppression
— Sound Suppression
• Fire Control: Safe, Semi-automatic, and fully automatic capable.
• All controls (e.g. selector, charging handle) are ambidextrous and operable by left and right handed users
• Capable of mounting a 1.25 inch wide military sling
• Capable of accepting or mounting the following accessories.
— Forward grip/bi-pod for the weapon
— variable power optic
• Detachable magazine with a minimum capacity of 20 rounds
• Folding or collapsing buttstock adjustable to change the overall length of the weapon
• Foldable backup iron sights calibrated/adjustable to a maximum of 600 meters range
• Weight less than 12lb unloaded and without optic
• Extended Forward Rail

Those looking to make a submission should follow the link to the FedBizOpps website for further information.

It seems that the current theory behind this switch lies with the US Army and Congress’s concern that current 5.56mm ammunition will be unable to penetrate hard ceramic body armors like the Army’s current ESAPI plates without switching to the larger 7.62mm round. While on the surface, this move seems to be logical, its legitimacy thins considerably when the situation is considered in detail. First, neither current 5.56mm nor 7.62mm ball ammunition (M855A1 and M80A1 EPRs) can penetrate ceramic armor at any combat distances, nor could any kind of hypothetical round that did not use a heavy metal. This means that for a 7.62mm rifle to be effective, it must fire not the current M80A1 round, but a tungsten-cored AP round such as M993 or the upcoming XM1158 ADVAP which almost certainly also has a tungsten core. What makes a switch to 7.62mm on this basis strange is that with tungsten-cored ammunition 5.56mm will also penetrate ceramic body armor out to 100-200 meters.

It would be incorrect to suggest that this solution in either caliber is “neat”. Rather, both are less than satisfying for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the extreme limited availability and high cost of tungsten material. Tungsten-cored ammunition is 4-5 times as expensive per round, and cannot be used in “industrial” quantities for large-scale economic war the way that normal ammunition can. Therefore, this solution – in either caliber – is problematic, and the question of what the right solution is if hard ceramic armors are expected to proliferate remains essentially unanswered, even with a 7.62mm ICSR.

All this raises the question: Is the armor issue simply an excuse for a larger-caliber infantry rifle? The suggestion that it might be draws attention to the very serious concerns I presented in my previous article about the ICSR effort. If the supposed benefits of the 7.62mm round in addressing a critical need to defeat next-generation body armor are more or less fiction, then what is so compelling about this move that a litany of major penalties to the rifleman’s effectiveness in both training and combat are deemed acceptable?

Thanks to Daniel for the tip!