Sometime this year, the U.S. Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW)competition will conclude, a contest that pits some of the world’s biggest defense heavyweights against each other: Textron, SIG Sauer, and General Dynamics.
According to the U.S. Army, the NGSW program aims to “develop operationally relevant, squad-level lethality to combat proliferating threats” via several different program requirements. Chiefly among them: ammunition.
Though many of the NGSW program specifics are “competition sensitive” and therefore not known, all three NGSW contenders must be able to fire an Army-specified 6.8mm intermediate rifle cartridge. The 6.8mm projectile is dimensionally in between the 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO-standard rifle cartridges but is expected to provide range and accuracy superiority, and therefore increase soldier lethality.
And, in the case of General Dynamics (GD), their 6.8mm ammunition is particularly unique. GD has partnered with True Velocity, a Texas-based ammunition manufacturer that specializes in unique polymer-cased ammunition that they claim weighs about 30 percent less than the traditional brass casing.
The benefit to the soldier is obvious: a reduction in ammunition weight would be a boon to grunts in the field, as they could carry more ammunition at around the same weight point, or the same amount of ammunition at a lower weight point. The logistical benefit is likewise similar.
Aside from the potentially game-changing ammunition that General Dynamics has built their Next Generation Squad Weapon around, the rifles themselves are also a radical departure from the M4 and M249 SAW weapons.
Unlike SIG Sauer and Textron’s NGSW prototypes, both of General Dynamics’s two NGSW prototypes are bullpup designs, with magazines loaded behind the trigger group for a fairly compact platform. Thanks to GD’s bullpup design, their rifle benefits from a relatively long barrel length and therefore higher muzzle velocities and greater range.
The downside to the bullpup design? A non-adjustable, fixed-length stock that is less ergonomic. This one-size-fits-all design would hinder shooters that are above- or below-average height.
Both of GD’s designs also feature a short, rather bulbous sound suppressor that appears to be a flow-through design. This would be a good choice considering the potential for lead and gas ingestion given how close a shooter’s face is to both rifle’s ejection ports. Additionally, GD's automatic rifle design appears to feature a fluted barrel for better accuracy and head dissipation.
General Dynamic’s Next Generation Squad Weapon entrant combines several truly radical ideas — light-weight, polymer cased ammunition and a silenced bullpup rifle design. Interestingly, General Dynamics is the only NGSW entrant that opted for a bullpup design for both their prototype rifles, both of which are magazine-fed, rather than belt-fed. We’ll see if it pans out.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.