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Firearm Infobox
Name, Image, type, origin
Name XM8
Image 300px
The latest version of the XM8
Type Assault rifle
Place of origin Flag of Germany Germany
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Flag of the United States United States
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Service history
In service Cancelled
Used by None
Wars
Production history
Designer {{{designer}}}
Designed 2002
Manufacturer Heckler & Koch
Produced 2003–2004 (prototypes only)
Number
Variants See variants
Specifications
Weight See variants
Length See variants
Width {{{width}}}
Height {{{height}}}
Barrel length See variants
Diameter {{{diameter}}}
Crew {{{crew}}}
Cartridge 5.56x45mm NATO
Caliber {{{caliber}}}
Action Gas-operated, rotating bolt
Muzzle velocity 920 m/s
Effective range {{{range}}}
Maximum range {{{max_range}}}
Other identifying characteristics
Wood parts (Y/N) {{{wood}}}
Common color {{{color}}}
Imprint {{{imprint}}}
File:20059114333SYMPOSIUMXM8MARINE.jpg

The XM8 is a developmental U.S. military designation and project name for a lightweight assault rifle system that was under development by the United States Army from the late 1990s to early 2000s. The Army worked with the small arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch (H&K) to develop the system to its requirements in the aftermath of the OICW contract, for which H&K had been a subcontractor to ATK. Although there were high hopes that the XM8 would become the Army's new standard infantry rifle, the project was put on hold in mid 2005, and was formally cancelled on October 31, 2005.

General Dynamics was involved in latter stages and H&K had plans to produce the rifle at a plant in Georgia. H&K was British owned at the start of the project, but was later bought back by a group of German investors. Engineering work was done at facilities in the United States and Germany.

OverviewEdit

The US Army's purpose in contracting for this prototype weapon was to provide replacement options for the venerable M16 rifle after the XM29 program ran into problems. The Army's goal was a weapon that was cheaper, lighter, and more effective than the M16 and M4 Carbine series of weapons. The XM8 was not just one weapon, but a system which could be reconfigured with appropriate parts to be any one of several variants from a short-barreled personal defense weapon to a bipod-equipped support weapon. It also included an integrated optical sight and IR laser aiming module/illuminator.

The XM8 was based on the kinetic energy module of Alliant Techsystems's XM29 OICW project, of which the weapon mechanisms were the responsibility of H&K. Following the indefinite delay of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program, the U.S. Army requested that the contractors design stand-alone weapons from the XM29's kinetic energy and high explosive modules.

The first 30 XM8 prototypes were delivered by November 2003 for preliminary testing. Later, at least 200 developmental prototypes were procured. Among the complaints during testing was that the battery life was too low for the weapon's powered sight system and some ergonomics issues. Two other key issues were reducing the weapon's weight and increasing the heat resistance of the hand guard, which would start to melt after firing too many rounds. The main testing was largely completed, and the Army pushed for funding for a large field test. However, in 2004 Congress denied $26 million funding for 7,000 rifles to do a wide scale test fielding of the XM8 in 2005. At the time the rifle still had developmental goals that were incomplete, primarily associated with the weapon's weight; the battery life had been extended, and a more heat-resistant plastic hand-guard added. The earliest product brochure lists the target weight for the carbine variant at 5.7 lb (2.6 kg) with the then current prototype at 6.2 lb (2.8 kg). The weight of the carbine prototype had since grown to 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) according to a brochure released by HK and General Dynamics in January 2005.

File:XM8.jpg

During the same period, the Army came under pressure from other arms makers to open up the XM8 to competition. The main argument was that the weapon that was being adopted was a substantially different system than for the original competition that ATK and H&K had actually won (see XM29). Other issues were that the Army has a legislated obligation to prefer U.S.-based manufacturers, and that a previous agreement with Colt Defense required the Army to involve Colt in certain small-arms programs. The XM8 program was put on hold by the Army in 2004. The exact reason why this happened is a matter of debate; some combination of the aforementioned technical issues, funding restrictions, and outside pressure being involved.

In 2005, the Army issued a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) for the OICW Increment One family of weapons. This RFP gave manufacturers six months to develop and deliver prototype weapons with requirements very similar to the XM8 capabilities, but with the addition of a squad automatic weapon (SAW) configuration. Currently, no XM8 prototypes have been shown that actually match the capabilities of the M249 (e.g. fast barrel replacement, high sustained rate of fire, belt feed). The OICW Increment One requirement for the SAW includes fast barrel replacement and high sustained rate of fire, but leaves the ammunition feed choice up to the manufacturer.

Funding for the XM320 grenade launcher, which is a single-shot under-barrel grenade launcher similar to the M203 that was originally intended for the XM8, was approved. The launcher is actually heavier than the M203, but does offer some advantages. The XM320 was designed for use with the existing inventory of M16s and M4s and is also compatible with the XM8. It can also be used as a stand-alone weapon.

As of July 19, 2005, the OICW Increment One RFP was put on an eight-week hold, with an indication given that the program was being restructured as a joint procurement program including the Army and unnamed other branches. On October 31, 2005, the OICW Increment One RFP was canceled until further notice.

In an article in Jane's Defence Weekly, April 26 2006 (Vol 43, page 30) we learn that "The US Army has again delayed the procurement of its future infantry weapons, this time for more than five years, and is working to field two interim guns in the meantime."

Technical characteristics and variantsEdit

VariantsEdit

File:XM8wXM320 sharpshooter.jpg

For much of its life, four different models were proposed: a compact PDW (personal defense weapon) with a 9.5 inch (241 mm) barrel, a carbine with a 12.5 inch (318 mm) barrel, and sniper and automatic rifle variants with 20 inch (508 mm) barrels. In addition, accessories such as optical sights, a grenade launcher, and a bipod were integrated using a new system which allows for precision attachment (so that, for example, scopes do not have to be readjusted each time they are attached). Like the M4 and M16, the XM8 was chambered for the standard 5.56 mm NATO round and was normally equipped with a 30-round plastic box magazine. However, this magazine was not compatible with M4 and M16's metal STANAG magazine. A 100-round dual drum Beta C-Mag style magazine would have been used, as well.

File:XM8-Poster.jpg

One of the XM8's unique features was its modularity. In addition to attachments mentioned above, this modularity allowed for quick repairs, barrel length changes, and even caliber changes in the field. Along with its basic components, the XM8 would have complemented the XM29, with such features as identical accessory mounts.

The number and type of variants in the family varied over its lifetime, this overview with three main versions is based from a press release in the early 2000s.

  • XM8 Carbine with XM320 grenade launcher
  • XM8 Compact Carbine: 9 in (229 mm) barrel, PDW configuration, folding stock or buttcap.
  • Automatic Rifle / Designated Marksmen: heavy 20 in (508 mm) barrel, integrated folding bipod, 4X sight, 30/100 round magazine
File:XM8Compact.jpg

Characteristics and FeaturesEdit

Materials and WeightEdit

The materials used to build the XM8 are almost entirely composites — with the notable exception of the cold hammer forged steel barrel. Preliminary tests in desert and Arctic conditions have shown XM8 to be a rugged weapon, though some complaints arose. It is reported to be capable of firing 15,000 rounds without cleaning or lubrication and up to 20,000 rounds before barrel replacement. The M16A2 needs to be cleaned often, and has a barrel life of approximately 7,000–8,000 rounds.

Much of the cost and weight savings, not all of which have actually been achieved in the current prototypes, are from the weapon's electronic sight. The sight is much more than a 1.5x red dot scope, including IR lasers and pointers as well. The baseline XM8 carbine (with its integrated sight), for example, can be compared to an M4 carbine with a host of previous-generation electronic add-ons like the AN/PEQ-2, M68 CCO, ACOG, and/or BUIS. Without the advantage of the next-generation combined electronics sight, the XM8 would be both heavier and more expensive than the firearms it is intended to replace. The XM320 grenade launcher, intended to be used with the current M4/M16 firearms as well as the XM8 family, includes feature enhancements.

PCAP and MIL-STD-1913Edit

XM8 abandons the standard MIL-STD-1913, for attachment of weapon accessories, in favor of a new standard referred to as PCAP (Picatinny Combat Attachment Points), small oval holes on the forward grip. (A variant was designed with MIL-STD-1913 rails — XM8 R — and some early XM8 prototypes had rails.) PCAP is not backwards compatible with currently fielded attachments that use MIL-STD-1913 rails without using an adapter. The benefit of PCAP, however, is the precision of the accessory's connection with the body of the weapon; accessories utilizing MIL-STD-1913 rails often need adjustment if they are removed and reattached. Additionally, most standard accessory functionality is built-in to the XM8. Where functionality was missing, it was anticipated that accessories would be redesigned to utilize PCAP. In the new OICW Increment One competition, the Army has left the choice of attachment technology up to the manufacturer, with requirements built into the RFP as to the ability of sights to maintain their zero.

OtherEdit

File:Xm8005.jpg

The M4 carbine barrel is 14.5 inches (368 mm) and the XM8 barrel is 12.5 inches (318 mm) but the rifles have the same overall length. Although a shorter barrel generally results in lower muzzle velocity, H&K claims octagonal rifling will offset the effect of the shorter barrel. Ballistic results to confirm this have not been released to the public.

An electronic bullet counter is proposed for the XM8. The system, which is likely to be fielded on existing weapons as well, tracks the number of rounds fired and the date and time of each fire. The data can then be accessed wirelessly by a device like a PDA. The tracking will greatly improve the ability to keep tabs on weapon wear and tear, and make it easier to identify weapons that are in need of overhaul or new components. The battery life, according to a presentation on the system, is a few years, thanks to an ultra-low power circuit and a comparatively large battery (the tracker is intended to be located in the hand-grip). Another benefit would be to able to cut down on, or at least be aware of, unauthorized weapons use and to corroborate field reports. For example, if a squad reported engaging targets, simply by checking the counters, the exact times and rounds fired by each member could be identified. The soldiers that used too much ammo or didn't fire at all could be quickly identified.

For much of its life, the XM8 was going to be adopted essentially as described above; it was an off-shoot of the OICW program. However, as of 2005, it will face competition in the OICW Increment One program. All the effects that this will have on the specifications and variants is unclear. At the end of 2005 the OICW 1 program was also cancelled.

Other featurers include total ambidextrious controls, three different "skins", and an integrated red dot/3x optical zoom scope (which was later changed to a red dot/1x sight). However, in its "sharpshooter" (designated marksman) configuration, the mounted sight is a 3.5x magnification.

Other Selected specifications:

Caliber: 5.56x45 mm NATO

Action: Gas-operated, rotating bolt

Overall length: 838 mm in basic configuration, butt extended

Barrel length: 318 mm in basic configuration; also 229 mm in Compact and 508 mm in Sharpshooter and SAW versions

Rate of fire: ~ 750 rounds per minute

Magazine capacity: 30 rounds or 100-rounds double drum in Automatic Rifle/SAW role

Adoption statusEdit

File:Xm8 sideview.jpg

According to a Jane's Defense news article in 2005:

In budget documents released at the beginning of this year, the army set aside US$32.5 million to buy 10,400 XM8 carbines in Fiscal Year 2006. That procurement is now on hold pending the competition.

The competition is Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) Increment One, which is similar to the previous goals of the XM8: a family of weapons with high parts commonality that can be configured for various functions.

The text of the request for proposals from the Army reads:

Non-Developmental multi- configurable 5.56 mm modular weapon system. The system shall consist of four variants to include: Special Compact (SC), Carbine, Designated Marksman (DM), and Light Machine Gun (LMG) (or Auto Rifle). All variants need to function in both semi-automatic and automatic firing modes, with the LMG primary firing mode being full auto. The SC variant will provide Soldiers an enhanced close quarter battle capability providing effective lethality through 150 m. The Carbine is slated to be the standard issue individual combat weapon with an effective range through 500 m. The DM variant will provide accurate fire at longer ranges as well as offering an automatic rifle capability. The LMG variant will offer the role of suppressive fire through 600 m.

Had this program not been cancelled, the XM8 system may have faced competition from weapons such as from the FN SCAR, Robinson Arms XCR, or H&K 416, all of which can be re-configured to various roles. The U.S military's XM8 program was cancelled in fall 2005 after being suspended earlier in the year. Independent work by H&K on the XM8 has continued. It was altered and entered as a candidate for the SCAR competition but was unsuccessful.

In July 2007, the US Army announced a limited competition between the M4 carbine, FN SCAR, HK416, and the previously-shelved HK XM8. Ten examples of each of the four competitors were involved. Each weapon had 6,000 rounds fired in an "extreme dust environment." The purpose of the shootoff was for assessing future needs, not to select a replacement for the M4. [1] The XM8 scored the best, with only 127 stoppages in 6,000 total rounds [2], while the M4 carbine had 882. The FN SCAR placed second with 226 stoppages, and the HK416 had 233. The difference between the XM8, HK416, and FN SCAR was statistically equivalent when correcting for the less reliable STANAG magazine.

The competition was based on two tests that were conducted in 2006 and in the Summer of 2007 before the latest test in the Fall of 2007. In the Summer 2007 test, additional lubrication was credited with "drastically improving" the M4's performance over the initial 2006 test which involved both M16 rifles and M4 carbines, scoring a total of 307 stoppages. The Fall 2007 test was also conducted with the additional lubrication used in the Summer 2007 test but resulted in 882 stoppages. This discrepancy of 575 stoppages is so large that it has thrown the validity of all three dust chamber tests into question. Army officials are looking into possible causes for the change such as different officials, seasons, and inadequate sample pool size, but have stated that the conditions of the test were ostensibly the same. This points to the test itself as being irreproducible and invalid as a legitimate basis for evaluation of the rifles.[3]

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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