The military is looking into an eventual replacement for the M-16/4.
The H&K XM8 rifle is a leading candidate, and the military received test rifles on Oct. 30:
The linked site says:
Developed by the US Army’s office of Project Manager for Soldier Weapons located at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey in close conjunction with the US Army Infantry Center, the XM8 Future Combat Rifle is intended to replace existing M4 Carbines and select 5.56mm x45 weapons in the US Army arsenal beginning as early as the fourth quarter of FY05.
You can see the similarities to H&K's G36 (chambered for 5.56), which looks more like an "assault rifle" as the anti-gunners define one, and less like a toy:
Personally, I think it makes more sense than arming every soldier with the large, high-tech, expensive OICW, which combines a 5.56 rifle with a 20mm cannon.
However, from the specs I've read, I'd prefer the 6.8mm Remington SPC round (discussed in an earlier post, showing an image of a Barrett upper chambered for it) to the wimpy 5.56x45mm round. StrategyPage reports the 6.8mm Rem SPC has been undergoing tests by SF for two years:
November 17, 2003: For the last two years, Special Forces troops have been testing a 6.8mm M-16 and M-4 weapons. The purpose of this is to provide an assault rifle round that has better accuracy and penetration at longer ranges, and does more damage to people and material (like walls or doors) at short ranges. The 6.8mm round (6.8x43mm long) was selected because it allows an M-16 to be adapted to the new cartridge with minimal effort (new barrel and a few adjustments.) Existing 6.8mm cartridges are longer than the M-16 round (5.56x45), thus the special 43mm long 6.8mm (.27 caliber) cartridge being used in the tests. But the 6.8mm round is fatter than the 5.56 round, so the 30 round M-16 magazine only holds 25 6.8mm rounds. There is also talk that the 6.8 round has enough heft to work as a "whisper round" (a low velocity, slower than the speed of sound bullet that can be fired from a silenced rifle and makes very little noise.) Special Forces like this sort of thing, as it makes it easier to achieve surprise and not be detected. Note that, 70 years ago, when the U.S. Army was developing a new rifle (the semiautomatic M-1 Garand), the designer suggested using a 7mm round. He was overruled by generals who believed (wrongly, as it turned out) that a lighter round would not be successful on the battlefield. One rifle that lost out to the M-1 design proposed using a 5.56x45 round. So there is a sense of déjà vu to all this.
Peter gets downright excited about the 6.8 upper in this PDB Blog post, and expects uppers chambered for the 6.8 REM SPC to be available to the American public from multiple manufacturers within the next 6 months.
Do we really need a completely new weapon, with all the attendant development, testing, and distribution costs? Why not just change the uppers on existing M16s and M4s. The SF M4 with short barrel and collapsible stock is already a very small weapon, and we have the benefit of nearly 4 decades of refinement of the original AR-15. But, the military-industrial complex being what it is, we can expect an entirely new rifle within the next 5 years.
I'd think we should also look around at available battle-proven weapons, such as Israel's Tavor 21, which uses the bullpup design (clip behind trigger):
For a stronger opinion with more dramatic blog-like narrative, read Kim du Toit's two recent posts on the matter (scroll down to them).
This 60s inspiration for the OICW is pretty funny.
For an update, check out this 24 JAN 04 ACE review of the Soldier of Fortune article on the XM8 in the Feb 04 issue.