Note: The "X" in front denotes an experimental weapon. Should it reach production, it will be known as the Heckler & Koch M8.

The features list for this futuristic (and fluidly organic, looking as if the M41A Pulse Rifle, or the assault rifle from Halo were crossbred with ... a shark) weapon reads like a slightly simplified version of the ZF1. Made for both lefties and righties with fully ambidextrous firing controls including a "centrally located charging handle that doubles as an ambidextrous forward assist when required, ambidextrous magazine release, bolt catch, safety/selector lever with semi and full automatic modes of fire and release lever for the multiple position collapsible buttstock."¹

That's just the start.

The XM8 can also accept the XM320 40mm grenade launcher and LSS lightweight 12 gauge shotgun module - both field-equippable by the soldier (not an armourer, which is the case with most current configurable weaponry), without tools.

Awed yet? Let's continue.

The buttstock is likewise exchangeable by the user in minutes - a video shows how this is done and it is jaw-droppingly simple. The operator can choose from "the standard collapsible multi-position version", a plain cap for portability, or a "folding or sniper buttstock with adjustable cheekpiece for special applications".

Special Applications. Oh yes.

Another module which is usually impossible to replace at user level is the rifle barrel. The XM8 boasts the ability to replace the barrel in under 2 minutes (video seems to indicate a need for a special tool however), at user level. 9, 12.5, 14.5, and 20 inch variants are all available, with 12.5" being standard, the 9" being offered for the Compact Carbine variant (with buttcap), and the 20" being packaged (presumably) with the sniper buttstock. All barrels are cold-hammer-forged, which apparently is the method for creating the smoothest, hardest metal - this extends the lifetime of the component and reduces fouling.

The ease of disassembly down to the bolt group and barrel means that the XM8 can be altered to fire different caliber bullets. Obviously there's a limit set by overall weapon size - you won't quite rival the Barrett M82A1, or that Rotary machine gun Blaine had in Predator - and the lack of specifics on this feature suggests that the components would have to be manufactured separately, driving up the cost of such a weapon. It seems the buyer (US Army) is not quite sold on this one, so production of various caliber bolts/barrels is not yet settled.

Other nifty things about this rifle are the fact that you can keep it in the firing position (without having to sling it up) while reloading and charging the rifle; a video actually shows this, and while it does look a little awkward, it means that a soldier lying prone does not have to adjust him(her)self to reload the rifle. Handy when under fire.

Finally, unlike the Colt M-4A1 which has to have the MIL-STD-1913 Rail System installed specially to accept attachments, the XM8 has integral attachment points for optical devices (compatible with the above standard). Naturally, the "battery powered XM8 sight includes the latest technology in a red dot close combat optic, IR laser aimer and laser illuminator with back-up etched reticle" which exceeds all current optical aiming devices - technology simply moving forward here, nothing odd.

Safety

There is the standard safety catch, of course. But that's not all. The XM8 boasts the ability to fire 20,000 rounds before cleaning is required (compared to 6,000 for the M16/M4 systems). It claims to be able to fire when full of water without the need for draining (shown on video). It takes 70% less time to clean. The lack of fouling attributed to the pusher rod system (opposed to direct gas in the M16/M4) increases time between cleanings as well. The hardness of the barrel should prevent rupture if barrel is blocked, something not guaranteed in the M16/M4 systems. There are barrel blow-out vents, directing catastrophic failure gases down and away from the operator. Finally, propellant gases are expelled away from the shooter. All of these improvements either protect the operator directly or, by decreasing time spent on taking care of the weapon, increase the time spent scanning for threats.

It becomes obvious that the XM8 takes potshots at all of the M4/M16's complaints and issues and does away with them. However, mind that this is from a marketing blurb (a very direct and informative one though) and so some results may not be as ahem, honest as they should be.

Specs

Caliber: 5.56x45 mm

Weight: 6.4lbs current (planned 5.7lbs) - vs. M16 at 8.85lbs

Length (variable):
Carbine (12.5", extended stock) - 33.3"
Compact Carbine (9", buttcap) - 20.6" - that's shorter than the MP5, a submachine gun!
Sharp Shooter (20", sniper stock) - 40.2"

Cost (this is probably wildly inaccurate at the moment): $600 bare, $1800 with integrated sights (including IR laser/illuminator, sights, built-in mounting system). By comparison, an M4 rifle with similar attachments weighs in at $2539. I would be highly skeptical of these costs for the moment - but I guess when an Army buys units in terms of tens of thousands...well, we'll see.

Cleaning time: Under 4 minutes. From the video, I believe this.

Cyclic Rate of fire: 750rpm

Sustained Rate of fire²: 85rpm for 210rds.

Muzzle Velocity for 20" / 12.5" / 9 barrels: 3005 / 2675 / 2365 fps.

Firing modes: semi-auto or full-auto; there is an optional 2- or 3- round burst (it is not explained what "optional" means in this context).

Ammo magazines: 10 or 30 round clear-plastic, or 100 round drums.

Assorted Speculation

At some point the OICW was touted as the next-generation multi-purpose assault rifle. Sadly, not only has it turned out to be hideously expensive, it was also too heavy and too fragile all at once. While its onboard night vision and smart grenade deployment system is very, very cool, it just wasn't practical for every soldier to be equipped with one - it might still make a comeback for assorted special forces though.

There is an anecdote (source unknown), that the Army Sergeant assigned to test the OICW listened patiently to the R & D guy as the latter expounded on all the neat features of the weapon, then grunted and asked one simple question: "If I run out of ammo and have to brain an oncoming enemy with this, can it take the impact of skull?" The conversation and research ended shortly after...

Presumably the XM8 can. Volunteers for testing?

The Heckler & Koch G11 was also tested to evaluate its readiness for the "next-generation" rifle, due to its solid profile and light-weight caseless ammunition. While there aren't any obvious features that the XM8 has adopted from this funky-looking weapon, chances are the G11 had some impact on XM8's development as well.

I'm a little surprised to see the new generation rifle not being a bullpup design, but I think that's easily explained by a) the size is already economical, b) not as feasible to switch out magazines as this design and c) bullpups would be a radical change - it is possible the design (which still looks vaguely like the M4) is meant to inspire familiarity.

Final bit to mention is that I have rarely seen anyone shoot any weapon one-handed, unless it's a movie. However, the videos show the head HK honcho shooting it one-handed repeatedly, with little barrel waver (of course the grouping probably sucks, but still). In one video, he even extends his arm straight out, to demonstrate the light weight and low recoil. While hazardous and probably stupid in combat, it still looks darned impressive.
¹ All quotes from HK's official page at http://www.hk-usa.com/pages/military-le/rifles-carbines/xm8.html.
If it's not in quotes but looks technical, it's paraphrased by me.
² Sustained rate of fire is the rate of fire which can be sustained without the weapon overheating. By comparison, H&K claims the M16's is 50rpm for 210rds.

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