LAND FORCES

New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

1/18/2019
By Nick Adde

Photo: Defense Dept.

Army leadership is committed to moving toward the adoption of a 6.8 mm round for the Next-Generation Squad Weapon. However, its development hinges upon addressing two key concerns.

The round must be suitable for close- and medium-range conflicts, such as house-to-house urban engagements. Likewise, it must function properly in long-range environments, such as those found in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Additionally, the larger ammunition should not add to the weight — and ideally, would lessen the burden — soldiers now currently carry. Of equal importance, it must be lethal.

The Army team responsible for the project believes that while it will take some time to come to fruition, they are on the right track.

“We’re looking at it holistically. We want our soldiers to never go into a fair fight, and always have an overmatch with their adversaries,” said Col. Travis Thompson, chief of staff for the soldier lethality cross-functional team at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Under the holistic approach, the three components — ammunition, the weapon and fire control — all must function together, in any and all combat situations, Thompson said.

The ammunition and weapon must perform within 200 meters — where history shows most combat confrontations take place — and at distances, where present-day enemies are increasingly seeking to engage U.S. and allied soldiers, he said.

The decision to settle upon a 6.8 mm round resulted from extensive testing and research by Army laboratories, staffed by experts who closely examined factors such as threats, target sets, weight, performance and controllability, Thompson said.

The research entailed looking at a multitude of combinations of barrel and weapon lengths, weights and calibers of both commercial and military systems.

“A lot of effort was done by our labs in looking at what’s the right caliber for the next-generation weapon,” Thompson said. “The decision was not taken lightly.”

Mark Cancian, a senior international security advisor with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a retired Marine Corps officer, said the Army “is trying to fix a tension that has existed in small arms for a century.”

Cancian noted the institutional desire on the Army’s part to improve the lethality of small arms, with the focus on ammunition. When the service published a semi-formal request for ideas on FedBiz­Opps last October, it specifically mentioned the intent to move to the higher caliber from the current 5.56 NATO round now in use with the M4 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon.

In the announcement, contractors were told to submit their ideas under an other transaction agreements authority, which is used specifically to solicit prototype ideas. The service would then review the proposals after 27 months, and then award a follow-on production contract.

The plan to adopt the higher caliber represents a “compromise” on the Army’s part, Cancian said, but not one without inherent challenges.

“It’s very expensive and very hard to change calibers,” he said. “Improving the ammunition is by far an easier way to improve lethality.”

The “tension” exists between proponents of ammunition suitable for short-range and longer-range fights. This, he said, is what the lethality team is coming to terms with today as it seeks to develop the new round and its corresponding weapon.

“The marksmen in the services would like to optimize long-range precision fire, and they point to engagements where that is important. These people say that in Afghanistan, particularly, there are opportunities to take long-range shots,” Cancian said.

Even though the history of infantry conflict shows that most engagements happen at close ranges, he said, shooters who want to hit a target at ranges of 500 meters or greater would need larger rounds with heavy bullets.

“But if you’re going to be fighting close in — at 100 meters or under 50 meters — you want something that can fire rapidly and then quickly,” Cancian said. “The 5.56 is very good for that.”

The compromise to which Cancian refers would entail development of a bullet that would fit in a relatively small weapon like the 5.56 does, but also could reach out to long ranges and still hit targets.

“That is what the Army is trying to do,” Cancian said. He believes the service is taking the right approach.

“If you don’t do anything, you’re more optimized for close-in. If you adopt a heavier caliber, you have to replace everything in the inventory. That gets very expensive,” he noted.

Moreover, once the U.S military makes such a change, allies and partner nations would feel compelled to follow suit, he said.

“It’s hugely problematic, and it’s not clear that you’re going to improve your performance close-in. You might get better at the long shot, but worse at the shots that are more common,” Cancian said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, a strong proponent of the round and new rifle, believes the weapon system will prove to exceed any military rifle in existence, and penetrate any body armor in use now and in the next 25 years.

“This weapon has an accurate range far in excess of any known existing military rifle today,” Milley said during a speech at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting in October in Washington, D.C.

The lethality branch team also is well aware of the issue of compatibility with the NATO round.

“We’re not ignoring it,” said Daryl Easlick, the branch’s small arms deputy. “First of all, the U.S. Army is going to have 5.56 and 7.62 weapons systems for the foreseeable future.”

Easlick and his team are in continuous contact with NATO allies. “They know what we’re looking for and why we [want] different calibers. They understand it’s threat-based, and that we’re trying to improve our capabilities,” Easlick said.

Also, NATO countries do not have the research-and-development capabilities inherent in the U.S. military, he noted.

“They sit back and watch what we do. Once we get the [research and development] out of the way they will … see about piggy-backing,” Easlick said.

Likewise, the team is aware of the concerns about efficacy at divergent distances. “Finding that balance in an acceptable way is the entire intent of the program,” Easlick said. “An infantryman’s engagement range is not fixed. Nor is it very predictable. He has to be proficient in that entire engagement band that he is subjected to.”

Easlick noted that commercial, off-the-shelf products exist that can provide long-range fires. Such ammunition, he said, may not necessarily be suitable for other scenarios. These products tend to be specific in what they are designed to do, he said. That specificity may prove of little use under the stress and duration of combat.

Thompson said that comparisons of military-grade 6.8 and 5.56 ammunition with civilian ammunition of the same ilk are irrelevant. Commercial manufacturers make good products for consumers, but “they’re not in the business of making bullets that kill our enemies,” he said.

Adaptation of the new round and weapon will follow guidelines set forth by the Close Combat Lethality Task Force, the group of experts Defense Secretary James Mattis established last March to respond to what he sees as an erosion of close-combat capability as it relates to threats U.S. forces now face.

Improvement in training and equipment is one key element among many, Mattis believes, that is necessary to counter threats from adversaries that are becoming more capable at a pace the United States may not be able to match unless changes are made.

Mattis specifically ordered the task force to “identify or develop options for investment that include more lethal and discriminating individual weapons systems, while recognizing the imperative to lighten load for infantry squads.”

Individual soldiers are carrying too much weight, Mattis’ directive stated. The result is a negative impact on an infantry squad’s ability to move, survive and destroy the enemy.

“This is all about the ballistics of a heavier bullet, moving at a high velocity,” Easlick said. “We did look at multiple calibers, and determined that we [wanted] something somewhere between the 5.56 and the 7.62. That landed us in the realm of 6.5 to 6.8.”

Based on that understanding, the team wants to emerge from the project with the right capability, and something that soldiers accept and use, and are able to do what they can do today with their automatic rifles, Easlick said.

With testing likely to take place at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, and other sites, Easlick and his team want to see how prototype weapons and ammunition fare as soldiers carry and use it on load effect assessment program courses, which are designed to assess the effects equipment and clothing have on performance.

“It’s a measure to see if soldiers can do the same tasks in the same amount of time, or maybe a little less, based on what their load is,” Easlick said.

The lethality branch performs such tests frequently, to conduct proof-of-concept assessments and ensure they are moving projects in the right direction. The 6.8 mm round will undergo such tests, Easlick said, but the Army is choosing to keep the testing schedule close to the vest.

All of this is evolving, Thompson said, with a mindful effort to minimize costs and maximize value for the taxpayer. Hence, the initial focus is to deliver the new ammunition and weapon to the 100,000 soldiers who do 90 percent of the fighting.

“We need to have an overmatch for the soldiers who look into the eyes of the enemy,” Thompson said. “The 6.8, and the Next-Generation Squad Weapon, will do just that.” 

Topics: Defense Department, Land Forces

Comments (17)

Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

Its a fad bullet the 308 fits the bill nicely . No need to come up with a different bullet and spend millions on nonsense because soldiers are recoil sensitive ? A 7.62 x39 case with a big bullet ? Nonsense stay with the 308

Joe at 11:35 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

So many people here are making such "well informed" comments. The 6.8 SPC, despite having more "stopping power" (momentum) at VERY close ranges, has drop comparable to a 10mm pistol after 200 yards. And it's up close performance is worse, for the same barrel length, than a quality 5.56 projectile. The tissue disruption from a faster bullet fragmenting is far deadlier than a simple non-expanding 6.8 ball round going at 2400 fps. The only 6.8 worth anything would be on an AR-10 platform with a tungsten core. If they don't use that, there's no point in upgrading. Modern 5.56 AP is great for armor. There's no perfect bullet. The best they could do is a better standard issue round with a cheaper penetrator core. The AP rounds are very expensive now, so a cheaper material would be able to defeat level 3. Level 4 can be defeated with velocity or 308 black tip, but cost is preventing this. There's no way to make a standard issue level 4 defeating ammo. It's too expensive. So if you want range, 6.8 is terrible (in an ar15 size platform). If you want AP, 6.8 is no better than any current options, and if you want cheap or lightweight, 6.8 is no good.

John Johnty at 12:06 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

Ralph Crane has it: anyone that has actually been in combat knows "there is no magic round". Stop wasting our tax payers dollars. 5.56 is OK for close in, 7.62 OK for "out there". Read about "confirmation bias" and learn why people dream up the garbage in articles. Look at the .300 Win mag and the .300 WSM. Almost identical ballistics, .300 WSM has much less recoil. Writers make the .300 Win mag the holy grail of long didtance accurate rounds, yet many others do the job as well. Pure writers BS, again, and again, and again.

Michael at 9:56 AM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

I love reading all the comments on bullets and their effectiveness are the lack there of . However, I seem to always look back on what one single sniper instructor said in a class. One fella in the class asked about what happens if you hit someone in a place that was not the target point. The instructor in a harsh low tone replied: "son it doesn't matter, if you hit him with this 7.62 and you are going to **** up his day!!!" So if 6.5 or 6.8 or 5.56 does it, so be it.

MIke Sr at 8:16 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

One only has to observe the increased lethality of the 6.8 vs. 5.56 on deer. Many Iraq/Afghanistan veterans have used the 6.8 SPC hunting man-sized deer as well as wild boar. It performs admirably, utilizing bullets from 85 grains to 140 grains. The military need only to swap out the barrel, BCG and magazine in current M4 carbines-perhaps utilizing a 16" barrel, which reveals no ballistic advantage over a full size 20" M-16 barrel. Such cannot be said regarding the 6.5 with its ridiculously long projectile protruding from its necked down case. Mathematically, the 6.8 is roughly a 7 mm., which the Germans used to great advantage during WWII. However, I can say from experience that the 6.8 SPC WILL add weight if issued in the same quantity as current 5.56 ammo. Still, 6.8 ammo has been best utilized out of 25 round mags, weighing roughly the same as 30 round 5.56 magazines-with considerably greater lethality as I'm sure Dr. Fackler would illustrate... Dr. Russo

Paul Russo at 6:59 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

The 6.8 sounds more like marketing fluff. The 5.56 works fine and the 7.62 is a genius bullet. IMHO, use both. However, I would not incorporate the 7.62 x 39 into the design of a new weapon. Why? So that if the enemy got lucky and managed to score a large cache of our ammo from us, they can use it against us? If I were calling the shots, I would look further into tapered jacketing (or something similar to Nosler's AccuBond Long Range) I think the reasons are pretty obvious as to why and furthermore, I would develtop a case from scratch...46mm in length so that it would only chamber in our rifles. A proportionally smaller diameter but thicker rim to allow higher capacity box magazines. Remember, we're talking about battles--not survival. I would also design them to be extremely customizable so that they can be precisely reconfigured to best suit the application--in seconds. It would be extremely low maintenance and would utililze counter-recoil devices/and barrel porting to minimize soldier fatigue. Finally, I would use the lightest and most durable materials. I would also have them available in carbines.

Pete Ahacich at 10:59 AM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

The 6.8 round is long overdue and I have to wonder what took them so long to come around... the 5 56 round was marginal from the get-go! Tales of US troops blasting a Cong with multiple hits only to have said Cong run away, or worse, able to fire back are legion, and started happening almost as soon as the round went into battle. If anything the Forever Wars only magnified the problem, because there were lots of times US soldiers engaged enemy at longer ranges (over 200 m) and getting certain hits, only to see the enemy run off seemingly unharmed! The M16's maximum range is repeatedly given, by the armed forces themselves as "up to 800 meters"meanwhile any troop with combat experience knows this is sheer fantasy, taking a shot in combat at even half that range is really pushing the limits of the round. At that range it has little lethal energy left and against an enemy wearing modern helmets and body armor 5.56 is often next to useless, even armor piercing rounds. Moving to the 6.8 caliber is really the only way to go, especially to engage increasingly well equipped enemy wearing modern kevlar helmets and body armor. The larger round also gives the ammo designer a lot more to work with, the 5.56 is clearly at a developmental dead end and is nearly obsolete, anyway.

Ben Franklin Jr at 5:45 AM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

The only weight comparison between the 6.8 mm and the 5.56 mm round I've been able to find on the internet is the bullet weight itself (110 gr vs 55 gr) which I'm not entirely sure of as I thought the military had upgraded the 5.56 mm to 62 gr. This doesn't account for any additional weight from the cartridge itself. My point being that the old Ranger axiom can't be ignored..."Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain". The whole reason the military switched from 7.62 mm (an "OK" round) to the 5.56 mm was the ability to caring more ammunition without incurring additional weight. Weight bearing has gotten completely out of control with infantrymen carrying as much as 100 pounds, adding weight is not an option. Trading weight for increased lethality is always worthy of consideration, but what do we take away from the infantrymen to compensate for the added weight ? In my day, I loved the 270 Winchester round...it had range and lethality and I'm sure I'd love the 6.8 mm round too. I'm not inherently against the 6.8 mm round, I'm concerned about the weight, logistics and interoperational aspects of the switch.

Brian Foley at 11:15 AM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

LWRC has a 6.8 platform. Use it and stop spending money on a new wheel. Put the 135 grain bullet in a shorter 6.8 SPC case and your done. Magpul already makes the magazines for it.

Clark Hanson at 9:02 AM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

The 5.56 has been a loser since it's introduction. A 65 grain bullet doesn't have the 'kinetic energy', or stopping power, needed even at close range. I personally saw many N. Vietnamese hit 4 times in the chest area, and still keep coming long enough to fire, throw a grenade or get the last RPG off the rails before they went down. A 6.8mm with a 135 -160 grain bullet is much more lethal at any range. A 27 month study time is beyond ridiculous. Testing and validation should be 6 months max. The new H&K 6.8mm with a 16" barrel should be in the troops hands in 12-16 months.

Craig Hitechew at 5:55 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

The article sounds very arrogant and condescending toward our allies. We should post an apology. If the new 6.8 round is 130 grains or more, then why don't we just stick with the M80A1 with a plastic case. I agree that we need more lethal ammunition but why spend a lot of money to reinvent the wheel?

Edward Randall at 12:23 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

I never liked the AR-15 because of the 5.56 x 45 round. 55 grain 5.56 millimeter loses a lot of effectiveness beyond about 130 yards from a 14.5 to 16 inch barrel. 55 grain 5.56 x 45 is a semi effective round out to around 275 yards. When .300 AAC Blackout round became popular for the AR-15 I bought a rifle and several hundred rounds of 124 grain .300 Blackout ammunition. I read they have over $990,000,000 set aside to start the rifle caliber change in the military. This new 6.8 millimeter round for the military will be great in increasing the effectiveness of the rifle and range of a United States Army infantry rifle. They can then likely keep a 15 inch barrel and have a rifle that is effective with the right shooter out to beyond 400 yards.

I Love Liberty at 5:31 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN THE 5.56. ROUND. IT WAS NEVER GOOD IN VIETNAM,AND NOT GOOD IN MIDDLE EAST. THE CLOSER YOU CAN GET TO .30 CAL. THE BETTER. 6.8 IS POSSIBLE BUT WITH A MINIMUM OF 120 GRAIN BULLET. THE COST OF CHANGE IS WELL WORTH IT.

KIRK MCFARLIN at 11:53 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

Stopping humans is a science with some art. I have seen Talibi take a couple rounds of .50 and finish dumping a magazine before becoming .combat ineffective. I have met a former SOG FAC who ran a couple hundred yards with a body full of RPG shrapnel and AK rounds, carrying his shot up Nung back seater. He lived to fight and tell the story. Will has something to do with it. There is NO magic bullit that infantry can carry. The 6.8 will be another good tool in the box.

Ralph Crane at 8:12 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

Sounds like a job for the 6.5mm Grendel.

Scott Forbus at 2:50 PM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

Hmmmm... I don't see this going anywhere, but if it were it would be enormously expensive. I can think of easier ways to address the problem that would cost a fraction of what rearming the entire armed forces with new small arms would cost. Or maybe I'm missing something.

Scott Stambaugh at 11:31 AM
Re: New 6.8 mm Round a Game-Changer for Ground Troops

There is no round yet, so how could it be 'game changing ' already? What a great article for showcasing today's ignorant, cheerleading media.

What at 10:45 AM
Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
 
Please enter the text displayed in the image.