The Army of tomorrow is one step closer to today as the Pentagon gave a $5.7 million thumbs-up to Textron’s Lightweight Small Arms Technology (LSAT) firearm. The new weapon will manifest itself as a rifle and Light Machine Gun (LMG) with the aim of replacing the M16 rifle, M4 carbine, M249 LMG, and possibly even the M240 General-Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG).
Textron, parent company of Bell Helicopter and Cessna, showcased a prototype LMG at a US Army conference in Tampa last week. The winning prototype came in at half the weight of the M249, which marks a significant advantage on the battlefield. But whether the LMG can maintain the same cost as the M249 is a whole other matter.
Pentagon eyes lighter machine gun design
Newer machine gun design is only part of the light direction that attracts the Pentagon; the other is ammo. Textron’s conceptual 7.62 mm ammunition trims weight by using a plastic shell casing instead of a metal one, cutting almost two-fifths of weight per round. A 5.56 mm variant, the standard for US small arms, is reportedly also in development.
The Pentagon’s contract means that the LSAT will enter service with the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Even with this big step, however, skepticism brews among commentators.
That’s because programs like the LSAT have a bad track record. The Special Purpose Individual Weapon, Close-Assault Weapon System, Advanced Combat Rifle, Future Rifle, Objective Individual Combat Weapon, Advanced Individual Combat Weapon are just a few of recent arms-replacement programs that witnessed a lot of progress and then a lot money wasted because of last-minute cancellations.
And even after the LSAT enters service, there’s no certainty that it’ll have a long run. The FN SCAR, the most reasonable candidate to replace the M4 and M16, entered SOCOM service back in 2009. Within a few years, the Pentagon cancelled orders and dumped inventory because of budget cuts.
Unfortunately, these missteps only reveal a bloated Pentagon’s bureaucratic inefficiency. Despite countless efforts, the US armed forces still rely on aging hardware out of conservatism and frugality. In this light, we must give the LSAT machine gun credit for making it further than previous military arms programs.
The potential for the LSAT machine gun is great, however. Such a modular firearm, available in carbine and LMG form, could replace multiple models of archaic weapons still in US arsenals. Furthermore, the tremendous loss in weight means less labor and more mobility for gunners, a critical gain in squad-level tactical combat. In an era of increasing urban warfare, tremendous firepower in a small package is an incalculable advantage.