The Army stood up PEO Soldier in June 2002 to combat the problem. In October of that year, Keane ordered Moran to launch the RFI — a program that created a special kit of “off-the-shelf” soldier equipment — rugged boots, lightweight long underwear and modern weapons optics — based on conditions faced on the battlefield. To date, more than 800,000 soldiers have received an RFI kit before deploying to the war zone.
“I thought, ‘thank God for Jamie Moran;’ you talk about a guy who was at the right place at the right time when we were trying to do something for soldiers and get them the kind of gear they need,” Keane said. “He was tough enough to wade into the acquisition corps and fight for what he needs.”
But Moran’s ambitious push for the XM8 was in trouble from the start, a victim of the tension that existed in the Army’s small-arms development world, individuals familiar with the program say.
Based in Fort Benning, Ga., the Infantry Center is responsible for writing Army requirements for soldier weapons. PEO Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va., and its subordinate Project Manager Soldier Weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., are responsible for developing weapons that meet those requirements.
The two commands hold the most influence over what weapons soldiers take into combat, and they began to clash in September 2002, when PEO Soldier described “Urgent U.S. Army Requirement for the XM8 Lightweight Carbine,” in a Sept. 9 memo.
“Program Executive Office Soldier has an ongoing requirement to reduce the weight of the equipment carried by its warfighters. This requirement includes reducing the weight of their weapons,” wrote Col. Michael Smith, the head of PM Soldier Weapons at the time.
“The XM8 Lightweight Carbine is currently under development as the weapons portion of the XM29 Integrated Airburst Weapon System. … This lightweight weapon will provide the warfighter increased mobility during combat. This increased mobility equates directly to an increase in combat survivability and combat effectiveness.”
The target weight for XM8 was 5.9 pounds, a 20 percent reduction over a similarly equipped M4 carbine, weighing in at 7.4 pounds.
Infantry Center officials quickly challenged the need for such a venture, according to a report by Capt. David LaFontaine, a project officer for the Small Arms Division of the Directorate of Combat Developments, or DCD, at the Infantry Center. The report detailed an Oct. 1, 2002, contract meeting in Oberndorf, Germany, which included representatives from Picatinny Arsenal and Heckler and Koch, the firm slated to build the XM8.
“I made it clear that XM8 was ... not a DCD effort,” LaFontaine wrote, stating that there was no operational requirement document or supporting analysis for the XM8. “We have not done analysis to support any of the capabilities being considered, including the weight level.”
During developmental testing, some testers raised concerns that weight-saving design features such as the all-polymer receiver degraded the performance of XM8. In the end, such criticisms, however, didn’t prevent XM8 from sailing through the Army’s approval process.
Asked about the weapon, DCD officials insist the Infantry Center was very supportive of the XM8 effort.
“We are always open to people that have new ideas, new technology, new capabilities,” Jim Stone, deputy director of the Infantry Center’s Directorate of Combat Developments, told Army Times.
“When it came down to writing the [Capabilities Development Document] for XM8, it was written here. I think it was a team effort.”
But when the CDD was completed in June 2004, the key document required for XM8’s future development recommended changes that sent the program in a radically different direction.
Within the OICW Increment I document, the Infantry Center indeed supported the XM8 family of weapons, but added a new requirement — a new light machine gun to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon. Infantry Center officials described the addition as “the number one need” for soldier weapons.
The new requirement caught XM8 program officials, including Lt. Col. Matthew Clarke, completely off guard.
“Everybody was taken a little bit by surprise,” Clarke told Army Times. “You never heard wind of that before.” At the time, Clarke was one of XM8’s key program officials as the head of Product Manager Individual Weapons.
The Infantry Center’s move prompted Claude Bolton Jr., the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology, to order a competition to decide which commercial weapons maker could best meet this new requirement. As a result, the XM8 — which does not include a light machine gun variant — was on hold. In March 2005, Bolton invited small-arms makers to participate in the OICW Increment I competition to select a replacement for its M16 rifles, M4 carbines, M249 squad automatic weapons and selected M9 pistols.
The OICW Increment I program, meanwhile, had come to the attention of DoD Inspector General officials. The DoD Inspector General’s office criticized the Army in a formal audit of the program, stating Bolton should not have opened competition until the Army followed DoD guidance to provide documentation “that justified the continued development and acquisition of OICW Increment I.”
In a May 27, 2005, memo, the DoD IG recommended Bolton’s office suspend the competition process until the Army provided more proof that it needed a new family of weapons.
In addition, the IG criticized the Army for underestimating the program’s cost, a critical factor in determining who has authority over the program.
The IG put the cost at $2.19 billion for 1.3 million weapons. The higher cost required the program to come under DoD oversight, the IG memo stated.
The Army argued that the program cost — approximately $2.08 billion for 800,000 weapons, according to PEO Soldier briefing documents dated June 29, 2005 — would allow the Army to oversee the program under DoD guidelines.
What had started as an Army effort to expedite fielding of a new carbine by fast-tracking its own development process now had become mired in DoD bureaucracy. Army program officials attempted to garner support within DoD, arguing that soldiers deserved the best weapons available now — while they were in the war zone.
In a July 7, 2005, e-mail to Anthony Melita, deputy director of defense systems with Land Warfare and Munitions for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Technology & Logistics, Moran wrote, “Various organizations and individuals seem to be at work to try to stop a competition to provide the best possible weapons to our soldiers in combat. We had eight vendors respond that they could achieve this new requirement. … We owe it to the soldiers in the field to allow the competition between these competitors to proceed.”
Bolton’s office suspended the competition process on July 19, 2005, but continued to maintain that the program was on track, even when he canceled the competition in October 2005.
The head of H&K blames the death of XM8 on the conflict between Moran’s office and Infantry Center officials.
“The right hand didn’t coordinate with the left hand,” said John Meyer Jr., a retired Army major general who became the CEO of H&K in June 2005. Meyer criticized the Army for not having a “coherent, coordinated game plan for the future development of small arms.”
Small-arms officials at Benning said the Infantry Center gave the XM8 program every consideration, describing the lengthy “user assessment,” which involved a variety of soldiers, from basic trainees to Rangers, shooting XM8s.
“The whole purpose of the user assessment that the Battle Lab ran was to try to give it an objective look,” Stone said. “We and a lot of people said, ‘ok, there is some goodness here, but maybe there is not enough goodness to spend a whole lot of money on it.’ … The XM8 really didn’t offer us a significant leap in capability.”
But acquisition experts argue that the failure of PEO Soldier and the Infantry Center to agree on a united direction for the XM8 program cost the Army this chance to arm soldiers with a potentially better weapon.
“There was not a common vision between the two,” said Col. Robert Carpenter, an acquisitions officer who formerly worked PM Soldier Weapons. “We have a broken process. When you don’t have a requirement and acquisition process with a shared vision, you are not going to get anything, and you are going to waste a lot of money.”
Keane is still bitter about XM8’s demise. The loss of the H&K-made weapon didn’t matter as much to him as the Army squandering a chance to raise the standard for soldier weapons.
“To have the best means you have to regenerate to get the best every so often,” Keane said. “And I also thought that watching what H&K was doing with weapons technology, to have them competing would force competition to a much higher standard. We could not help but win in the deal. . . . In this case, our bureaucracy failed our troops.”