Weapons: March 9, 2004


The army recently allowed journalists to fire the US Armys new XM-8 assault rifle for the first time. Most of the reporters involved had military experience, and were able to quickly compare the XM-8 to the M-16. The XM-8 got high marks for lightness (an M-4 weighs more than two pounds more) and ease of handling. To make a point of the XM-8s ruggedness, each weapon was buried in sand and dunked in a barrel of water in between each user. Not one of the XM-8s failed, despite thousands of rounds being fired. Left handed users were pleased to discover that, as advertised, the rifle works equally well left or right handed. Overall usability of the XM-8 was much admired. In particular, the way the integrated sight (battery powered infrared laser and illuminator, red dot reflex sight and unpowered backup) was put together and fit on the rifle was much appreciated by those who had used the M-16 or M-4 with such equipment attached. The XM-8 appeared to be at least as accurate as the M-16/M-4, and actually allowed for higher rates of sustained fire (85 rounds per minute versus 50 for the M-16) because of superior design.

No one outside the Department of Defense has been able to fire those XM-8s chambered for the new 6.8mm round. Reports of field use of the 6.8mm round continue to be positive, but no decision has been made yet on whether all, or some, of the M-8s will use the 6.8mm round. To further complicate matters, the army is also looking into what appears to be the first workable non-metallic cartridge case for rifle rounds. American form Natec, Inc, has developed a polymer based cartridge case that is easier, and cheaper, to make than the traditional brass ones, and weighs 25 percent less. This means that ammo would be about twenty percent lighter to carry. The lighter polymer cases also result in less propellant being needed, and thus less recoil. The Natec cartridges use the standard brass or aluminum base caps, primers, propellants and bullets. A round for the M-16 is available now, and a 7.62mm round will be available this Summer. The Natec cartridges are new developments and have not received much field use and testing yet. 


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