Since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, the United States Army has repeatedly talked about replacing ‘aged’ weapons systems. Through it all, the M4, originally designed by Colt, chambered in 5.56 NATO, and based on the venerable Colt Carbine concept, has remained the go-to weapon for the Army.
However, in a shocking announcement, they have declared that, while they are not ditching the M4 and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, they did announce an astonishing change. The new weapons acquired by the Army will be chambered in a new round: the 6.8.
When the Army entered World War I, it used Springfield bolt-action rifles chambered for 30.06 ammunition, a round that has remained common.
When the Army entered World War II, it used the same round, but fired it through the semi-automatic M1 Garand.
The 5.56 didn’t become a widespread round in the American military until Vietnam, when it replaced the 7.62×51 NATO. However, since then, it has been a common feature on battlefields where American troops or NATO allies operated.
The 6.8 represents something of a middle ground between the ease-of-use and the low weight of the smaller 5.56 round, and the ability to ‘reach out and touch’ the enemy that the 7.62 provided.
This strange new round is not so new after all, either. A similar round was made in a collaboration between the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and famed rifle and ammunition manufacturer Remington.
This comparable round began with the case from a .30 Remington cartridge, a now-obscure round that was the company’s response to the much more famed and favored .30-30 Winchester round.
The case was elongated to fit into a magazine that would properly fill the well on an M4 rifle.
The projectile fired by the new round is based on the .270 Winchester round, a popular hunting caliber.
This strange round was the brainchild of Army Master Sergeant Steve Holland and Chris Murray, a gunsmith from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, who hoped to create a round that would ‘bridge the gap’ between the round the military was using, and the one that it was being forced to fire from decades-old rifles due to the need for additional range in the mountains of Afghanistan and the cities of Iraq.
6.8 SPC was never issued to the conventional military, although beginning in 2004, it did see successful fielding with various SOCOM units, especially in urban and close-quarters battles.
However, it began to falter at longer ranges, though it performed better than the 5.56, and delivered a harder hit, during urban firefights.
Perhaps best of all for the United States Army (and for other branches of the military that might want to utilize it), changing currently-issued weapons to fire the more powerful round doesn’t require much.
Although many businesses currently sell full upper replacements, which would simply switch out the top half of a rifle, there is a cheaper option.
All that military gunsmiths would need to do is replace the barrel, the chamber, and a number of other, much more minor modifications, to switch an existing rifle over.
More interesting than the shocking change to a new caliber, however, is what that change forecasts.
With the wars in the Arab world winding down, and due to aggressive expansion from both China and Russia, the Army decided that the 5.56 was not going to cut it against enemies equipped with modern body armor.
In other words, the choice of new caliber suggests that the military believes that the next big enemy won’t be disorganized terrorist organizations, fighting at close ranges.
The refined 6.8 is said to pack a bigger punch, and boast greater range, than the 5.56. It represents a major shift in the Army’s doctrine of war.
It could also mean the end for the various projects and positions, especially if it is capable of greater accuracy at a greater range.
This could mean the end of the ‘Designated Marksman Rifle’ projects, which sought to provide a rifle capable of longer-range accuracy to a small number of soldiers.
According to the Army Times, production of the new weapons could begin as early as 2021.
If the first batch of weapons works well, the Army could reconfigure all of its SAWs and carbines with this fantastic new round.