FEB 04 cover
I've finally read the Soldier of Fortune article on the XM8 which I mentioned earlier. While you should buy a copy of SOF and read it yourself (I highly recommend a subscription.), I'll mention a few key points.
The article doesn't answer the question on the cover (giving it only a 50% chance at this point), but it's a good summary, with good photos and illustrations of the variants.
It's officially called the "XM8 Modular Assault System." Most are enamored with the modularity of the M16/4 rifles, and this extends that concept.
Why do we need a new rifle? The article notes that the early problems with the M16 in VN were (eventually) resolved, but the short-barreled M4A1 Carbine resulted in a "new set of difficulties centering on bolt velocity, pressure curve, and etc." There is also a desire for a quick-change barrel. (And, let's not forget the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex (MICC) needs new weapons expenditures to feed its voracious appetite for green paper.)
The Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) Program was established to specify the requirements for a replacement rifle. In the wake of it, a number of new weapons are being designed, including the XM8.
In 2002, Heckler-Koch began work on the XM8, which is a close descendent (more stylized) of the German H-K G36.
It is essentially the 5.56mm component of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW), with modular assemblies to make it stand-alone: "Multi-position, collapsible buttstock, forend, sight base, carrying handle, and bipod."
The US units involved with the XM8 are the Army's Office of Project Manger for Soldier Weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ and the Army Infantry Center. H-K USA development has been at its Sterling, VA Defense Design Center. A new manufacturing plant is being built next to Ft. Benning in GA. (making it's acceptance as a US weapon far more palatable).
Four variants are being developed: "Baseline carbine (shown below with 40mm grenade launcher), ultra-small compact carbine,sharpshooter, and automatic rifle."
(graphic from H-K USA booklet)
The XM8 can potentially be converted (with a barrel change) for different cartridges, such as the 7.26x39mm, 5.45x39mm, and 6.8x43mm (heavily hyped on the net).
The XM8 uses a short-stroke gas-piston system of operation, and a positively locked, multi-lug rotary bolt. 10 and 30 round magazines, as well as a 100-round drum will be available. The high-strength polymer can be had in different colors. (Perhaps if the civilian version were pink it would be acceptable to those who judge firearms by appearances rather than what cartridges they fire.)
Reliability and longevity are probably the main justifications for a new rifle (not to mention the fact many of the current M16/4s are near the end of their expected barrel life, so some expense will be necessary anyway). The XM8 claims a barrel and minimum component life of 20K rounds, compared to a reported 8K for the M4. Reportedly, test rifles have fired 15K rounds without cleaning or lubrication.
One caveat re. these reliability claims is that the M16s were originally issued in VN without cleaning kits (as several references at Murdoc Online note), as they were deemed so reliable as to not need cleaning. Ha! Somebody got sold a bill of goods on that one, and men lost their lives as a result of a slick sales pitch and inadequate testing under battlefield conditions. Before the military commits to this weapon, a limited number should be battle tested for months in Korea, Germany, Afghanistan, and Iraq, alongside a control group of M16/4s.
The XM8's ambidextrous cocking handle lies exposed above and forward of the bolt carrier, precluding the mounting of mounting optics close to the barrel as on the M4 flattop.
Variant barrel lengths are 9, 12.5, and 20 inches. Muzzle velocity for a 5.56mm M855 round ranges from 2410 fps to 3114 fps, depending on barrel length. Overall length ranges from 20.5 to 40.5 inches. The current weight of the carbine is 6.4 lbs. vs. a 5.7lb objective. Rifling is 6 groove, 1 in 7 inch RHT. Cyclic rate of fire is 775/min.
H-K USA is not expected to offer a XM8 to the general public, even if the assault rifle ban is allowed to sunset. It may be offered to LE.
H-K USA may be developing a modified, piston-driven upper for the M4. It is covering its bases. Gotta do something with that new factory.
Read more about the XM8 at the H-K USA site.
Replacing the AR system with an entirely new rifle system cannot be justified based on the problems associated with the gas tube. The AR-18 (1968 patent) was piston-driven (resulting in a cleaner receiver), and the Armalite's new AR-180B is piston driven, and relatively cheap (under $700).
Original AR-18, with metal stamped receiver (designed to be produced cheaply in smaller countries)
Reincarnated AR-180B, with polymer lower receiver
It also looks cheap, but then so does the XM8 and its mother, the H-K G36, to me.
To illustrate how circular rifle development can be, the XM8 is a derivative of the H-K G36 , whose internals draw on the AR-18/180.
All these fireams (and the OICW even more) seem to be inspired by the OMA (One Man Army) gun of the early 1960s (which may have also inspired the current recruiting slogan "An Army of One").
UPDATE: See this 27 FEB 04 ACE post. In an Army Times article, the editor of the Armed Forces Journal tells 8 things he likes about the XM8, following a special firing session for selected enthusiasts. There are also links to videos there.