The U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, is looking for a new mid-to-long-range round for snipers. At the same time the Army is looking at ways to improve the range of front-line troops.
While the Army’s search may take a bit longer, SOCOM’s options are ready right now. SOCOM is evaluating two popular commercial options, .260 Remington and 6.5mm Creedmoor. Both cartridges offer better performance at longer ranges than 7.62 NATO.
These cartridges are both well established, with components already in production. Both .260 Rem. and 6.5 CM are popular cartridges for hunting and sports shooting. With the long-range trajectory of more powerful cartridges, .260 Rem. and 6.5 CM have less recoil and handle well in lightweight rifles.
Of course SOCOM is still looking to push the envelope and is considering next-generation polymer-cased ammunition for additional weight reduction. Early designs show as much as a one-third reduction in weight compared to conventional brass-cased ammo. The command is looking to develop a complete sniper package around a new rifle and the new cartridge.
Other details are still in the air, such as whether the rifle will be bolt-action or semi-automatic. Speaking to the Military Times, Maj. Aron Hauquitz said “We’re purely in the exploratory phase. We’re trying to see if we can take a weapon that is 7.62 and give it greater range, accuracy and lethality.”
Both rounds have seen a lot of development on the commercial market in recent years. They Army is taking a longer route on the search for a potential new cartridge.
Like with SOCOM the Army is still in the early stages of development. But they’re looking for something to replace 5.56 NATO. One possibility is a cartridge that has been in testing for a few years, .264 USA. The Army wants a cartridge with greater reach and effectiveness for tomorrow’s warfighters.
“A Capability Gap exists for 80 percent of U.S. and NATO riflemen who are armed with 5.56mm weapons,” said Heckler & Koch speaker Jim Schatz, reports We Are the Mighty. “The threat engages friendly forces with 7.62mmR weapons 300 meters beyond the effective range of 5.56mm NATO ammo.”
“These 5.56mm riflemen have no effective means to engage the enemy.” While certain soldiers have weapons with greater range than 5.56 offers, the Army is exploring ways increase the effective range of all soldiers in the field.
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The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit may have the solution with .264 USA. This new cartridge is sized about halfway between 5.56 and 7.62 NATO. It also comes with a new rifle standard with an extended receiver to house the bigger round and longer magazines.
Another option would be to develop a larger-caliber cartridge that fits inside a standard M4-pattern magazine. This would be a cheaper intermediate cartridge option with the improved performance of the larger projectile.
Examples include the 6.5 Patriot Combat Cartridge and .277 Wolverine. Wildcat cartridges, these rounds use .264- and .277-caliber bullets with .223 cases. The only component that needs changing is the barrel. They are compatible with 5.56 bolts and magazines.
The most affordable choice would be to stick with 5.56 NATO and fit carbines with longer, free-floating barrels. Both the Army and the Navy use specialized designated marksmen rifles that outperform M4 carbines by using improved upper receivers.
This is the most drop-in replacement and would let the Army continue to use M4 rifles for soldiers who need smaller, lighter guns with complete parts interchangeability.
Is the future of fighting rifles 6.5mm wide? Or are 5.56 and 7.62 NATO here for the long haul?