As early as April of 2017, there have been mutterings across the internet via some “in-the-know” websites that the US Army was seeking information on a new service rifle cartridge. Although it’s been talked about for years, leaving the 5.56NATO has, until recently, seemed like a very distant prospect. With the Army’s new adaptation of the M855A1 cartridge and the proliferation of the Mk262 SOST bullet, it seemed that rather than adopt an entirely new cartridge, the services were more interested in making the 5.56NATO more efficient.
But fast forward to just a few days ago when Military.com reported that the Army was now officially seeking information on a commercial, off the shelf (COTS) 7.62×51 rifle to be fielded as the “Interim Battle Rifle”. The full article can be found here.
The RFI specifically calls for a 7.62×51 rifle that has either a 16 or 20 inch barrel, collapsible stock, “extended forward rail”, and be magazine fed with at least 20 round magazines. Oh, and by the way, make it less than 12 lbs.
General Milley also very clearly stated that it could not be a “custom” rifle, and had to be readily available. Additionally, he made it known that not every rifle in the Army’s inventory would be replaced with the “IBR”, but rather the 7.62 guns would be issued out to squads and teams as needed, depending on mission, environment, threat level, etc.
What does it mean for the future? Well, that’s hard to say. I think it signals the Army’s belief that a “more potent” cartridge is needed, but going back to the 7.62 wholesale just brings back problems that created the 5.56NATO and M16 in the first place: weight, magazine capacity, and load carrying ability. I think what’s more likely, based on the “INTERIM” label, is that a new “intermediate plus” cartridge will be more closely examined: something between the 5.56 and the 7.62. Will it ever actually happen? I’m a little doubtful. Price alone and conversion would be a pretty hard sell, but who knows.
My personal thought is that the Army is basically saying in this RFI is this:
Nice G28, Bundeswehr. We’ll take some of those.
The US Military has hit some home runs with H&K in recent history, and I suspect they’ll be looking hard at the 417 as a COTS rifle to fill their immediate needs. But that’s just me.