November 17, 2004
Last year, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) issued a specification for the SOF (Special Operations Forces) Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR). At the time, the U.S. Army was also developing a new assault rifle, the XM-8, and it was thought that SOCOM might use a version of the XM-8 for its own needs. SCAR, however, is somewhat different from the XM-8. For one thing, SCAR must be able to quickly change barrels and receivers so that it can fire 5.56mm, 7.62mm (large cartridge, like the M-14 and American medium machine-guns) or the short (AK-47) 7.62mm rounds. Moreover, SCAR has to be even more rugged and reliable (and expensive to build) than the XM-8. As a result, the XM-8 lost out to a custom series of weapons from the Belgium firm, FN Herstal.
SCAR is actually two different rifles, the light version (5.56mm) and the heavy (7.62mm). Maximum number of weapons to be ordered will be 155,000 (84,000 standard lights, 28,000 closer-quarter combat versions of the light rifle, 12,000 light sniper types, 15,000 standard heavies, 7,000 heavy close-quarters combat conversions of the heavy rifle and 12,000 heavy sniper rifles.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has given all other rifle manufacturers one more chance to submit weapons to compete with the current Heckler & Koch XM-8. This is a sign that official acceptance and mass production is not far away. However, not all of the senior army, or Department of Defense, brass are willing to spend the billions of dollars it will cost to reequip the troops with the XM-8. There should be a decision by next year, however. Meanwhile, SOCOM will have SCAR, even if the army ends up not getting the XM-8.