Sig Sauer has shipped their submission for the NGSW to the United States Army’s Ordinance evaluation and have announced the move with a video and soaring fanfare of exciting string instruments… I’m not kidding, hit play, they have the track on repeat and it wouldn’t be out of place in a superhero movie during a build up battle montage of some sort. I think they needed a longer sampling of music, personally.
But anyway, the emotional evocation is certainly there among the soaring notes as the video highlights the work they SIG team did even through COVID-19. They put together the NGSW-AR and NGSW-R with their new hybrid bi-metal ammunition and their take on a flow through suppressor design and locked them into cases as shipped complete systems. Thus begins the next chapter of the US Military service rifle trials.
The other branches are paying attention, especially the USMC as the only other branch with a significant ground combat mission, and I am certain NATO has an eye on the trials too as they may follow suit over time. However the STANAG and cross NATO standardization of 7.62 and 5.56, along with certain amounts of supporting equipment, do not seem to be as much of an immediate priority this time around. This is likely taken from the lessons learned by coalition forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan about the overall problems with cross compatibility even with “standardized” items like SS109 ammunition and the lack of need since logistically they were able to provide. This isn’t to say the new US Round might not become a third NATO standard and the fact the 7.62 magazines and dimensions seem to be adhered to makes it easier but the US Military has long left the realm of “standardized” ammunitions even without changing calibers.
SIG’s video highlights the NGSW-AR, the belt-fed 6.8mm select-fire machine gun that incorporates the recoil mechanics of its larger sibling, the MG338. Multiple improvements over current belt-fed individual systems have been integrated into the AR (Automatic Rifle). It’s longer range and slightly lighter weight than the M249 with a chassis built around accepting force multiplicative optics and integrative aiming systems. It is a belt fed weapon but SIG did develop a soft skinned ‘magazine’ and M-LOK magazine well to hold belts of the 6.8 ammunition for quicker and smoother reloads. The top cover doesn’t need to be opened to reload either and when it does open it hinges to the side and not forward, optics won’t hit each other or the receiver. Finally the NGSW-AR, like the MG 338, is select-fire, it has a semi-automatic setting with a AR/MCX style thumb selector to enable easy optic zeroing and single shot accuracy if needed by the user.
The NGSW-R is a scaled up version of the MCX VIRTUS carbine that SIG has teased in the past. The two major differences from the current MCX are the receiver and operating system are built around the 6.8/6.5/7.62 NATO cartridge frame and that they’ve added a non-reciprocal folding left-side charging handle. Other than that, the MCX SPEAR as they’re titling the carbine, is a very conventional take on a basic carbine. The barrel length is interesting in that they are 13″ guns, similar to the popular MK17 CQC loadout, but that 6.8 and even 6.5 Creedmoor loads do better operating out of shorter barrels than 7.62 loads. The 6.8×51/.277 Fury that SIG has come up with is designed for that 13″ barrel and operates at a very high internal pressure comparatively. This higher pressure allows it to achieve the range and penetrative capabilities enumerated in the solicitation but it did illicit some maintenance concerns as parts replacement rates were rumored to be higher than current M16 and M4 rifles.
Higher pressures and the Army’s required, I believe 180gr, EPR projectile would make barrel life a challenge. The enhanced projectiles used in M855A1 were causing greater than expected wear in the M4A1 and M27 rifles. I haven’t read if M80A1 had a similar effect but it was also only ever for M240 and possibly M60 utilization.
The brilliance of both the Rifle and Automatic Rifle designs from SIG is how conventional they kept the designs while meeting the project goals and providing significantly upgraded platforms. Hand any soldier or Marine the MCX SPEAR and they’ll figure it out in about 60 seconds. It’s a familiar rifle. It feels like their rifles. The changes on it are logical progressions from their rifles that are intuitive and logical.
Even if you explained none of the new features on the MCX to an M4 user, they could load the MCX, unload the MCX, shoot the MCX, and clean the MCX to an acceptable field grade standard without issue. Folding stock, side charging handle, gas piston, suppressor, and 6.8 range could all be figured out as you go but the rifle itself will make immediate sense. They didn’t reinvent the wheel on anything, they just made a damn good wheel.
The MG 6.8 Automatic Rifle is the same way. Anyone who has spent time an an M249 SAW or M240 would easily orient themselves on the MG 6.8 NGSW-AR. The selector lever would make sense. The soft magazine system would make sense. The whole thing is going to feel fairly intuitive and natural coming from the M4 and M249. Both systems would be natural extensions of what soldiers know, not 90 degree turns in operational logic with strange changes in configuration, cartridge design, or mechanism complexity.
It comes down to this. The only thing SIG’s guns have to do… is run. Even if Textron and General Dynamics submissions run too, their oddity departures from the conventional soldier’s understanding will hinder them in selection unless they show a clear decisive edge in operational characteristics. I honestly don’t see that happening with how hard SIG is working on their end product.