Where GI's Get Their Guns Project Manager Soldier Weapons
By Robert Bruce

Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army’s Program Executive Officer Soldier is responsible for virtually everything the soldier wears and carries in a tactical environment, integrating more than 370 programs from thermal underwear to thermobaric munitions. Three Project Managers help carry out this enormous responsibility - Soldier Warrior, Soldier Equipment and Soldier Weapons. PM Soldier Weapons, the focus of this feature, supports soldiers through enhancement of current systems and development of next-generation weapons technology. Among the exciting initiatives at PMSW may be found: • XM8 Modular Assault Weapon System (Now OICW Increment I) • XM25 Airburst Weapon System • XM26 Modular Assault Shotgun System • XM307 Advanced Crew Served Weapon (25mm) • XM312 Advanced Crew Served Weapon (.50 caliber) • XM320 Grenade Launcher Module • XM110 Semiautomatic Sniper System • XM101 Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station. The following interviews were conducted on 17 May 2005 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Colonel Smith and his team were key participants in NDIA’s International Infantry and Joint Services Small Arms Symposium. - Robert G. Segel

1. Colonel Michael J. Smith, Project Manager for Soldier Weapons (PMSW). Background: Colonel Michael J. Smith was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Booneville, Mississippi. He received a Regular Army commission in the Ordnance Corps from the ROTC program at Mississippi State University in 1980 where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering. He holds a Master of Science in Engineering Science from the Naval Postgraduate School and was also awarded a Masters in Strategic Studies from the Army War College. His present assignment is Project Manager Soldier Weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.

SAR: When did you start as PMSW?

Smith: August 2nd 2002.

SAR: What do you consider the most significant achievement during your tenure?

Smith: It’s difficult to point to any one program. The bottom line is the most significant achievement is taking care of soldiers. I think we’ve done that, it’s been our focus, both supplying them with current weapons and developing new capabilities for them. I think we’ve done a good job of that. We’ve had the opportunity with the Rapid Fielding Initiative, with all the small arms fielding in the last few years, to reach out and touch going on to four hundred thousand soldiers. That is a significant achievement that is almost unparalleled and I can’t think of a single time when we’ve done that in such a short time since Vietnam.

SAR: How has this come about?

Smith: One way certainly is that we’re driven, like everybody else is, by the happenings in 9/11 where the US started its Global War on Terror and there was a shift. Before, the platforms were things like tanks, helicopters and field artillery pieces. But now the primary platform is the soldier with his rifle, the soldier behind the machine gun. That certainly shifted the emphasis into the small arms arena. That was the thing that has driven us, to why we’ve gotten the increase in funding, why we went out to reach so many soldiers.

Basically we were working on weapons - designs and often the weapons themselves - that were decades old. And so it was time to look at revitalizing the whole small arms industry, revitalizing the Army relative to what we gave our soldiers.

And then you lay on top of that what’s happening now as we “modulize” our units and reformat them to support this Global War on Terror. That modularity has significant increases in small arms requirements, translating into giving them more product.

SAR: What’s your next assignment?

Smith: I will become the Director of the Armaments Engineering Technology Center.

SAR: Parting thoughts?

Smith: I had a great team. There’s no way we could have done this without the team. When we started out we had thirty people. Now we’ve tripled in size and brought the right people on to do the jobs and all their vision and hard work has certainly been the key to our success.

2. Lieutenant Colonel Matthew T. Clarke, Product Manager for Individual Weapons. The PMIW team maintains and improves current individual weapons such as rifles, carbines, pistols, and grenade launchers, providing soldiers with a decisive overmatch by increasing lethality, range and capability. It also develops next generation individual weapons such as the XM29 Integrated Airburst Weapon System as well as fully integrated day and night target acquisition fire controls.

SAR: The 12 gauge XM26 Modular Assault Shotgun System (MASS) was supposed to be out in March (2005) and we’re sure the guys out in the field would like to have that. What’s going on?

Clarke: Our original goal was to award that contract by the end of March and we had a couple of hiccups that precluded us from doing that. Number one - probably the biggest - was availability of ammo to do our bid sample testing. Ammunition arrived a couple weeks late and once you have a delay its kind of additive. We had to regroup our bid sample evaluation program since we did have soldiers in the loop. So we had to reschedule a couple of events. It really caused us a good three or three and a half weeks slip just doing that piece alone.

That was the biggest piece. We also ran into some issues with our bid samples. We informed the contractors and let them come in and modify a little bit so we could continue and finish our testing. So we have not completed the total evaluation yet but I expect that to be done the next couple of days. My expectation now is we will award the contract within the next two weeks.

SAR: That’s a down-select for the particular weapon?

Clarke: That is correct. And from there once we award the contract we’ll initiate a start work meeting with the contractor - the vendor who will provide. We’ll establish what our expected delivery schedule is going to be and we’ll deliver samples - systems - to go into testing. We will do a full DT, Developmental Test, and Operational Test against this.

SAR: A ballpark figure on when the MASS might be type classified and begin fielding?

Clarke: I have to work out the schedule with the test community. Usually I go through what’s called the TSARC (Test Schedule and Review Committee) process, to get soldiers in a test location and to get the operational test locked into schedule. That’s a six month event and - obviously - we’re in jeopardy a little bit because of our slip thus far. But my expectation is that, within a year we’ll be able to start fielding. Twelve months after contract award. (Editor’s Note: The XM26 MASS has been awarded to C-More Competition, Manassas, Virginia, in a contract signed on 20 June 2005)

SAR: Heckler & Koch won the competition for the XM320 Grenade Launcher Module. Any idea when we’ll see the first unit equipped?

Clarke: Depending on their strategy - whether or not we can do a kind of concurrent Operational Test along with our Developmental Test to curtail our schedule by overlapping these - my expectation is probably end of the first or second quarter ’06.

SAR: Does this come under the heading of spiral development?

Clarke: No, spiral development really deals with spiraling out technology, not exactly how you test it. Typically our testing is done in a linear fashion. What I’m going to try to do is overlap the different test events to shorten the overall schedule. And that’s not unheard of, we’ve done that before in the past.

SAR: Because of the urgency?

Clarke: That’s correct. Number one because of the urgency and desire to field. Number two, the system we selected is a relatively mature system. It’s not a new system. It’s been fielded before to different countries, even the United States. We’ve procured some of their systems before, for some of our special operations units. So it’s now a matter of me convincing the test community to accept outside data, to accept data from other government agencies that support SOCOM (Special Operations Command). This will help me go to the milestone decision authority and prove to them we’re ready to move down the road with the program.

SAR: What’s happening with the 25mm XM25 Airburst Weapon System?

Clarke: We’ve built systems, we’ve built fire controls, we’ve built weapons, and we’ve built ammunition. We’re shooting ammunition; our TPs (target practice) - just basic slugs - and our HEABs (high explosive air burst). Now they’re not our full up lethal HEABs, because we didn’t pack ‘em with the full explosive. It’s more of a spotter type round than it is a true lethal round. But we’re doing that to test our capability of programming the round and making it burst exactly where we want it to burst. Filling in the explosive is the easy piece.

We’ve been very successful with this integrated system where fire control rules with respect to capability. Fire control “talks” to the ammunition and of course, the soldier operates the fire control. Can a soldier identify a target, correctly lase to the target to get a good ballistic solution? Can a fire control convert that data to a ballistic solution for the ammunition and then transfer that information to the round and then launch the round and have the round execute the information that it was provided? Thus far we’re finding that we’re very successful. We’re within a meter of burst from the point of aim - our target - so we’ve been very happy with that.

We’ve found that our aim error is much lower than we expected it to be - much lower. This comes from testing at ARL (Army Research Lab) using real soldiers in the loop to do the aim error evaluation and real soldiers moving out on the target field. So they’re lasing against other soldiers - moving as well as stationary - and proving to be very, very accurate with their ability to lase to the target and get an accurate distance to the target and then formulate that ballistic solution inside the fire control itself.

On the flip side to that, once we have a solution - whatever it is just pick one at random - and then we launch the bullet, we’re finding that the bullet is fairly accurate with exploding or going right to where its is supposed to be with respect to the solution it was given. So we’re pretty happy with that so far.

SAR: Any particular challenges that might slow down fielding?

Clarke: Well yes. We’re coming toward the natural end of the current phase and getting ready to transition to SDD, System Development Demonstration. We have to hit a Milestone B to do that - show up to the table with your test data and prove that you’ve matured the system enough to allow it to transition.

The other requirement is documentation. The OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) program went through a transformation to the different increments; 1, 2 and 3. The Infantry Center has written the Increment 1 requirement document, the CDD (Capability Developments Document) that has gone through the AROC (Army Requirements Oversight Council) and is going through the JROC (Joint Requirements Oversight Council) staffing right now. That is our standard process that we take.

The Infantry Center is now developing - or I should say redeveloping - the requirement document for Increment 2. So it’s not yet an approved document.

SAR: Redeveloping?

Clarke: Infantry Center is rewriting the requirements of the system to match what work we’ve done and the strategy of Increments 1, 2 and 3. They go through a capabilities analysis, they identify gaps, and they cross level that against the missions that are required to execute and through that they develop the capabilities they need in a weapon system to counter those gaps. To bridge the gaps so they can execute all the sub missions within their overall mission.

They already did this once with the OICW which was the combined system, we broke it up with respect to capabilities. Increment 1 is the KE (kinetic energy) capability, Increment 2 is a stand-alone airburst with a fire control and rounds that go with it. Increment 3 will be once again a marriage of capabilities between the two. It may not necessarily be a marriage of the exact hardware, but of the capabilities that those two increments bring to the table. And hopefully we will improve on them as we get better with technology - we get light or get more distance out of what we’re trying to do, get a little more lethal, because we may have better technology on how to produce our rounds to get a more even spread of burst fragments.

That is probably my biggest “check the block” that I have to accomplish is get an approved Requirements Document so I can go before the Milestone Decision Authority. We are completing what we need to do with respect to the programmatic documents - acquisition strategy, acquisition plan, our test and evaluation master plan, environmental studies, human factor studies, cost analysis, and life cycle. So we’re getting very close to being ready to go in front of the MDA (Milestone Decision Authority), but I need a requirement document - a complete menu so to speak - first.

SAR: What would you like to tell today’s soldiers who are using legacy weapons about what’s on the way from PMSW?

Clarke: First of all terminology - we call these weapons our “current family.” “Legacy” to me is something that’s in the past, that’s no longer there. Our current family is very important to us, just like the work we do with our future family to make sure we get it right. We did that with our current family years ago while we were developing them. And I would say number one, the systems we have out there are world class systems, they’re good and if they weren’t good we wouldn’t have given them to our soldiers. But we are of the philosophy that you can always improve. And it’s our obligation to the soldiers to execute continuous improvement, figure out ways to make them function better on the battlefield. To be safer, to be more lethal, more effective and all that. That’s what I would tell them.

On the other hand I don’t tell them a lot of stuff. I listen to them. I listen to what they need. We send teams all the time - PEO Soldier and the Army in general - to go out to the field to listen to what the soldiers have to say, to see what they’re doing, so we get a better understanding of what they’re doing, what their needs are and we try to meet those needs. And we do it a lot of different ways including RFI, Rapid Fielding Initiative. So things we can get - something out there that is an immediate need and they’re buying it themselves - we’ll take that challenge on and we’ll get the system to start procuring it and then make sure soldiers get it.

With respect to weapons systems, we tend to be conservative. We want to be fast but we want to make sure we do it right. Schedule’s key but even more so to me is getting something that is good and not just something that’s fast. And I think we’re definitely on the path to doing that. The systems we’re working on are definitely going to be more reliable in all environments, they’re definitely going to last longer, they’re definitely going to give the soldier capability and system growth because of modularity, because of parts commonality, because of quick attach and detach type of things like we explained on the shotgun and on the grenade launcher.

And growth is key to us because we don’t just want to put a static system out there so “what you have is what you have until it goes away.” We want to put a system out there that truly is an integrated system, from the fire control or the optics that go on it, eventually to the different types of ammunition that we will fire through it. We want to make sure it integrates well with the soldiers and that soldiers are very effective with it.

And it’s not just a point of getting a system out there and giving it to them. You want to link it to the soldier so it becomes part of a soldier and the soldier becomes very adept very quickly at using the system.

The other part of it is we want to try and save money. We want to try to gain efficiency somehow to reduce life cycle cost. A lot of things to balance or juggle out there but that’s always been our focus since I’ve been in this PM. And I can guarantee you that’s the focus of everybody in my chain of command.

3. Lieutenant Colonel Kevin P. Stoddard, Product Manager Crew Served Weapons. The PMCSW team maintains and improves current crew served weapons such as light, medium and heavy machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, sniper systems, and associated fire control and target acquisition products. It also manages research and development of all small arms ammunition.

SAR: Why does development of the new sniper rifle - 7.62mm XM110 Semiautomatic Sniper System (SASS) - fall under crew served weapons?

Stoddard: The sniper mission is a team mission, you have a spotter and then you have a shooter as well. We look at that as a team or crew approach. When we do the system level package it means the spotting scopes as well as the guns and their optics. So it’s not just a gun being handed to a soldier.

SAR: What is the status of this program?

Stoddard: There is a down select ongoing right now from competitors that came in under this solicitation. We expect that evaluation to end in June, and go through the formal evaluation of that material, that data, and go on contract award at the end of July for a single competitor. (Editor’s Note: As this issue goes to press, the XM110 SASS contract has not yet been awarded.)

SAR: Can you crystal ball when the first unit might begin receiving the SASS?

Stoddard: I sure can if we stay with the basic schedule. Comparing it to the M107 which really came out of the M82, the Marine Corps sniper system, when we brought that on it was a non-developmental item but there were improvements we did on it. We went into technical testing in Phase 2 after we selected this weapon and found there were some improvements we needed to make.

But if (SASS) technical testing doesn’t reveal major things that need to be worked on, once we get the requirements, we see how well it’s shooting, how well it fits human factors wise with the soldiers, reliability issues, those types of things, we’re looking at around the 2nd Quarter of 2006 to go into the Operational Testing window. From there we’ll start the Material Release process and then receive the Systems Evaluation Report. By the end of the summer and fall time frame you’re looking for the First Article Testing and go into the hands of the soldier. So it will be in the end of FY (fiscal year) 06.

SAR: A quick update on what is going with the XM307 and XM312 Advanced Crew Served Weapons?

Stoddard: Right now the 307 program (25mm) is in SDD, Systems Development and Demonstration phase, started in April of 2005. Our primary customer is FCS (Future Combat Systems) as the main and secondary armament on eight of their ground vehicles - both manned and unmanned. In terms of SDD, the primary piece of that is reliability work in the ammunition where we’ve selected the fuze, selected the microprocessor that we’re going to use, and we’re going to be working on the warheads themselves.

Additionally, because the gun right now is a mounted requirement, we are working with Stryker and their ORD (Operational Requirement Document) which calls for a “Future Weapon System.” So to specifically answer what FWS is, they have sent a letter up to Department of the Army saying “that is the 307.”

Their future requirement is for mounted and dismounted versions so what I look to do is continue working with FCS and their requirement, plus have the additional requirement of the Stryker - which is the dismounted version as well. This allows us to leverage both organizations and get a lot of the work done with the gun on the FCS requirements. Whatever additional - like the fire control piece of it - can be done on the Stryker requirement. And then I’ll have a mounted/dismounted capability.

SAR: So these are sources of both money and rationale?

Stoddard: No. This morning [panel discussion at NDIA Small Arms Symposium] as I spoke I talked about guns being a system. You’ve got the fire control, the gun, the ammo, and what it’s mounted on. Well that’s different between a ground mounted, dismountable gun and a fixed gun that’s inside a vehicle because you can use the fire control on the vehicle and that’s what they would use on FCS. What it’s a matter of is making sure I have a customer that can round out that whole gun. And as I said, I’m already moving down the road on the gun, on the ammunition, and the dual feed capability. What I’m missing for the dismounted piece is the fire control. I have a real requirement for that. And so I can leverage the Stryker requirement to get the goodness of what we’re doing with FCS and then we have the additional piece with them to make it a dismountable gun.

SAR: The new aviation version of the M240 is an exciting development.

Stoddard: We’re very happy with that gun.

(Editor’s Note: The 7.62mm M240H Aviation Machine Gun is a tremendous success story for PM Soldier Weapons. It is already beginning to replace the aging and unreliable M60D, dramatically improving the self protection capabilities of the Army’s UH-60 and CH-47 helicopters. Based on the combat-proven M240B, key features of this modified door gun include spade grips with butterfly trigger, extended charging handle with return spring, Picatinny rails on the top cover and alongside the gas system, improved flash suppressor, and an emergency egress kit for use as a ground gun. Its special mount with cradle and pintle features safety stops and locking devices, link and case collection system, and ammunition box magazine. Type classified in August 2004, the first systems got to Iraq in less than eight months. FN Manufacturing, Columbia, South Carolina, has a contract for 3,914 gun systems.)

SAR: We were talking with Major Dring at the Picatinny booth about ARDEC’s work on lightweight remote control weapon mounts. Is this the “CROWS Lightening” program?

Stoddard: They’re actually doing that in concert with our efforts. Look at that in terms of trying to make sure the whole process is healthy. I’ve got a CROWS (XM101 Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station) that’s out there now developed to a certain standard, 395 pounds up on the vehicle. It’s only a natural progression to want to improve systems in the future. Lightening the load would be something you’d want to do with the CROWS or any system.

You mentioned the M240. We’re got the 240E with a titanium receiver. It’s only a natural progression that you do that. Well in order to do that you want guys in the tech base world to start to tell you how to do that, to go out and do the market research, to actually do some of the developmental work in that area. So, when we begin to do the CROWS lightening piece of it, for those other applications, I can feed both the CROWS lightening - titanium instead of steel or something of that nature.

The other piece of it is that fire control and the optics. There are some great new optics out there. I’d like them to go out and research that and see what else is out there in industry. Also, you’ve got to make sure that suite of optics can talk to your software, can interface. That’s another important part of what we’re getting from ARDEC.

More information on the work of PEO Soldier may be found on the web at www.peosoldier.army.mil

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N3 (December 2005)
and was posted online on March 29, 2013


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