NGSW: The US Army’s First Suppressed Service Rifle & Some History

A couple of weeks ago the US Army finally announced the winner of their long running Next Generation Squad Weapon program, selecting the SIG Sauer MCX Spear rifle as the XM5 and the LMG-6.8 as the XM250.

The topic of whether this was the right choice and if the 6.8mm round they chamber is the right direction to move in is the topic for another day. I wanted to highlight one important aspect of the program that’s been somewhat overlooked. The weapons will be issued with suppressors as standard.

All of the NGSW submissions had suppressors developed by various manufacturers as it was an Army requirement. SIG developed their own design in house. When fielded over the next few years the XM5 will become the US Army’s first service rifle to be suppressed as standard.

But this isn’t the first time the US Army has examined large scale issue of suppressors. The US Army first examined the usefulness of suppressors way back in 1910, over a century ago.

XM5 / MCX Spear and XM250 / LMG-6.8 (SIG Sauer)

The first viable firearm suppressors appeared just after the turn of the 20th century with a series of patents being granted on various designs between 1909 and 1920. One of the first suppressor developers was Hiram Percy Maxim, son of Sir Hiram S. Maxim, He experimented with valves, vents and bypass devices, however, he eventually finalised his basic idea based on baffles and developed a series of practical suppressors; which were sold through the Maxim Silent Firearms Company. He filed his first patent on 26th June, 1908, which was granted in March the following year (US 916,885).

During the 1910s Maxim sold a successful range of ‘silencers’, as they were then largely known, on the commercial market. As early as 1907 Maxim was looking at ways to suppress the Army’s new Springfield M1903.

M1903 Springfield with a Maxim Silencer
M1903 Springfield fitted with a Maxim Model 1910 Silencer (Cody Firearms Museum)

The US military first took interest in silencers in 1908. However, the 1909 annual report of the Chief of Ordnance wasn’t too enthusiastic stating that “the silencer be not adopted for use in the service in its present form” citing visible gases leaving the silencer and the difficulty of mounting a bayonet. The following year the Chief of Ordnance believed that the improved the Model 1910 silencer overcame “most of the defects found in the original” and that “five hundred of the silencers are now being procured with a view to the issue of one or more to each organisation for instruction of recruits in target practice, and for issue to the militia, on requisition.”

The US School of Musketry also tested the Maxim silencer. Twenty four soldiers were issued silenced M1903s for the test. The School of Musketry’s testing found that the report at the muzzle and the recoil felt by the rifleman was reduced when compared to a normal, unsuppressed, M1903. The School of Musketry’s report noted that:

An M1903 with a Maxim 1910 Silencer being test fired, left to right: H.P. Maxim, Lt.Col. R. Goodman, & Capt. E. Church (from the National Guard Magazine)

“The muffling of the sound of discharge and the great reduction in the total volume of sound which permits the voice to be heard at the firing point about the sound of a number of rifles in action, greatly facilitate the control of the firing line.” They also reported that “the silencer annuls the flash” a quality that they felt was a “positive military advantage in view of the extent to which night operations may be employed in future wars.”

Maxim did his best to develop a robust silencer that would meet the military’s needs. He incorporated a mounting point for a bayonet on the military variant of the Model 1910. The model 1910 silencer for the Springfield M1903, however, required the removal of the rifle’s front sight. This attachment method was felt to be the Model 1910’s weakest point and something Maxim himself actively looked to address.

The Maxim Silencer Company subsequently improved models and encouraged by early military interest Maxim envisioned a military silencer being useful in roles such as sniping, guard harassment and marksmanship training.

But Maxim was not the only designer working in the field and Robert A. Moore, his most competent competitor, also submitted a design for military testing. Moore’s designs used large gas expansion chambers which sat beneath the rifle’s muzzle as well as a series of vortex chambers ahead of the muzzle.

Ordnance Corps photograph of M1903s equipped with Maxim and Moore Silencers (US Army)

US Ordnance tests with Moore silencers began in 1910. When the two silencers were compared the US Army found that there was little difference between the two rival designs with regards to the reduction of sound, recoil and flash. Springfield Armory’s report in July 1912, found that the Moore silencer was more accurate and had a better attachment system. The Maxim silencer, however, was more durable and could withstand more prolonged rapid fire. While the suppressors were tested neither was selected for general issue and large scale contracts didn’t materialise. However, we do know that some of the suppressors were used during the US Army’s 1916 Mexican expedition against Pancho Villa and during the First World War some are confirmed to have made it to the Western Front but don’t appear to have been used in the field despite requests from officers.  

I go into much more detail about the early suppressors, their design, testing and whether they saw action in this article

Now fast-forward 100 years and the US Army is finally poised to adopt suppressors for close combat troops. In recent years the US Army has been testing suppressors at the squad level as far back as 2005 and this fed into requirements for the NGSW programme.

XM5 / MCX Spear (SIG Sauer)

In terms of the weapons selected SIG Sauer have developed their own suppressor designs to pair with the XM5 and XM250. SIG have said that the designs initially grew from their Suppressed Upper Receiver Group for USSOCOM. SIG’s suppressors are manufactured using direct metal laser sintering – essentially 3D printing with metal. SIG Sauer’s suppressor designs reduce sound and flash but also reduce gas blowback into the action and face of users. the SIG suppressors for the XM5 appear to be SLX suppressors, optimised for the reduction of blowback of toxic gases – SIG claim by as much as 70 to 80%) and are quick detach rather than direct thread, using a clutch lock system with an internal tapered seal. One thing the Army has not commented on is the efficiency of the suppressors so we don’t know to what levels the report of the weapons has been lowered to. Another thing that isn’t clear about the XM5 is if the Army had a requirement for mounting a bayonet. It certainly appears not to have been which would make the XM5 the first US Army service rifle not to mount a bayonet.

Of course the US Army are not the first service branch to suppress their rifles. The USMC is currently in the process of issuing Knights Armament QDSS NT4 suppressors for use with their M4A1 carbines and M27 and M38 rifles. The process began in late 2020 with the Corps citing many of the reasons originally identified back in in 1910 – reduced signatures, improved communication and hearing protection. 


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Bibliography:

The Next Generation: SLX & SLH Suppressors, SIG Sauer, (source)
US Marine Corps Selects Knight’s Armament Suppressor, TFB, (source)
Marine Corps Begins Widespread Fielding of Suppressors, USMC, (source)
Silencers, Snipers & Assassins: An Overview of Whispering Death, J.D. Truby (1972)
Firearm Silencers, N. Wilson (1983)
War Department, Annual Reports, Report of Chief of Ordnance, 1909, Vol.6 (source)
War Department, Annual Reports, Report of Chief of Ordnance, 1910, Vol.1 (source)
Silencer for Firearms, R.A. Moore, US Patent #1021742, (source)
Firearm, H.P. Maxim, US Patent #1054434, (source)

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