Infantry: May 30, 2001

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Work continues on the U.S. Army's replacement for the 40 year old M-16 rifle; the OICW (they gotta get a catchier name for this thing.) The much criticized weapon is not due for service until the end of the decade. This will give the M-16 the longest career of any U.S. infantry rifle. Before the OICW reaches the troops, the army says it will get the weight down from 18 pounds to 14. This is still much heavier than the current eight pound M-16. The troops will not be happy, unless the OICW does what it's developers promise. What the OICW has set out to do is enable our troops to get at enemy infantry who are hiding behind cover (wall, trench, tree, Etc.). This is done using a 20mm shell that will explode over, or next to, the enemy troops. It does this using a laser range finder and microelectronics in the shell. The system works, at least in tests. No one will know, until it's tried in combat, how effective it will actually be. The M-16 has long used a add-on 40mm grenade launcher that was able to get at hidden enemy troops about ten percent of the time. The army feels the OICW will improve this to 50 percent. But, as always with weapons like this, the only real test is on the battlefield. The army has also pointed out that the $24,000 cost of the OICW is not that outrageous. U.S. infantry can currently use an M-16 with 40mm grenade launcher and night site add-ons. This costs over $30,000 a system and weighs as much as the 14 pound OICW. Moreover, the army plans to buy only 22,000 OICWs, equipping a third to half of each infantry squad with the weapon. In the past, only about 20 percent of infantry were equipped with the M-16s/ 40mm grenade launcher attachment combo. Expect to see the army get some OICW prototypes to the troops as soon as possible, so that when there is an opportunity, the weapon can get some combat experience to settle the current uncertainty about its effectiveness. 

 


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