The U.S. Army is soliciting a contract for a new rifle chambered in 7.62 NATO. They’re calling it the Interim Combat Service Rifle or ICSR.
The request is for up to 50,000 rifles to be used for specific missions against combatants wearing a new kind of body armor.
The decision to seek out a new rifle has some people scratching their heads as current 7.62 NATO has similar problems with body armor and weighs significantly more, even with hybrid polymer cartridges.
This may be apparent even to the ARMY. With “interim” right in the name of the solicitation, and such a relatively small number of guns in the request. The window for solicitations is also very small. The Army wants companies to respond by September 6 of this year. This doesn’t leave companies a real option to develop a gun specifically for the contract — it will have to be an off-the-shelf rifle.
The Army needs the gun to be semi- and full-auto-capable with the new M80A1 Enhanced Performance Round, or EPR, a scaled-up version of the 5.56 NATO M855A1 EPR.
The FN SCAR is a leading contender for the contract, but there are many companies making AR-10 variants that could pass the test. With the increased popularity of self-loading .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO rifles there could be serious contestants in the running.
Other requirements include compatibility with optics, pointers and suppressors. Some features are not required but welcome including ambidextrous controls, folding and telescoping stocks and backup iron sights.
Critics of the M4 and M16 family of rifles have been easy to come by. Recently Gen. Mark Milley, retired, testified against the 5.56 NATO cartridge to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The 5.56mm round, we recognize that there is a type of body armor out there, that it doesn’t penetrate,” said Milley. Milley pressured the committee to switch to 7.62 NATO and select a gun that could be used in place of infantry rifles and machine guns alike.
Unfortunately, the 7.62 NATO EPR cartridge has the same limitations as the 5.56 NATO version. The Army is working on a new type of armor-piercing projectile for 7.62 rifles that can also be produced in a 5.56 variant.
It could be that the tall requirements and extremely short window for solicitations are the Army’s way of stopping outside pressure to replace the M4. In many ways switching to 7.62 NATO represents a step backward for the Army.
Testing the rifles using EPR cartridges could be another sign that the Army just wants to shut this move down. The last big push to solicit an M4 replacement was the Individual Carbine Competition, which ended in failure in part because of the 5.56 EPR round. The overpressure EPR cartridge directly lead to performance issues with guns built to run standard 5.56 ammunition.
The Army is currently investigating cartridges in the 6mm and 6.5mm families for AR-pattern rifles. Some of these cartridges only require a new barrel and sometimes other easily-replaced components and work with in-production rifles.
Cartridges like 6.5mm Grendel and Creedmoor are quickly spreading across the commercial market for self-defense, hunting and long-range shooting. These types of cartridges are flat-shooting and have excellent penetration properties.
Time will tell what direction the military takes, and if it’s the right one.