By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army has narrowed the field to build prototypes of the Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle to five gun makers.

Contracts to build the replacement for the M249 squad automatic weapon were awarded to AAI Corporation/Textron Systems, FN America LLC, General Dynamics-OTS Inc., PCP Tactical LLC and Sig Sauer Inc.

The contract awards are the result of a Prototype Opportunity Notice the Army released in March, and each firm will submit one weapon, a fire-control system and 2,000 rounds of ammunition within 12 months.

The weapon must combine the firepower and range of a machine gun with the precision and ergonomics of a rifle, yielding capability improvements in accuracy, range, and lethality. The weapon can’t weigh more than 12 pounds, including sling, bipod and suppressor, and the fire-control system must weigh less than three pounds. The maximum length of the weapon is 35 inches, two pounds less and five inched shorter than its predecessor.

Textron may have a leg-up on the competition due to its long term work on next-generation light machine guns that fire case-telescoped ammunition in its Lightweight Small Arms Technology program.

“We are leveraging and building upon our lineage of lightweight squad weapon technologies that we have been working on over the last 14 years,” said Wayne Prender, vice president of Applied Technologies & Advanced Programs at Textron Systems.

The Army also wants ammunition to weigh 20 percent less than the current brass-cased ammo. Textron has invested a large amount of research into its case-telescoped ammunition technology. Futuristic cartridges that utilize a plastic case rather than a brass one to hold the propellant and the projectile offer significant weight reductions compared to conventional ammo.

Despite Textron’s expertise, Prender admits it will still be a challenge to deliver what the Army wants.