There was significant buzz around FN America’s booth at SHOT 2023 a couple of months ago. FN America unveiled a brand new rifle, developed for a US government requirement. I had the chance to take a look at the rifle and speak to FN about the weapon.
The new Individual Weapon System, chambered in a new .264 round, was on display in a case, tucked away in the military section of FN America’s booth. On first sight you might mistake the rifle for a SCAR-H or an AR-10 pattern marksman’s rifle but on closer inspection the rifle is a different beast. With the weapon only displayed inside the case this is the best footage I could get of it.
FN explained that the new weapon and ammunition was developed for the Irregular Warfare Technology Support Directorate (IWTSD). Interestingly, the aim for the project was to provide overmatch against emerging great power competitors and future threats. A similar goal to the US Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon System which coalesced on a 6.8mm round. It’s important to note, however, that the IWS was not FN’s proposal for NGSW – that instead was based around an adapted FN HAMR and a belt-fed weapon in 6.8mm.
What is the IWTSD? The Irregular Warfare Technology Support Directorate is responsible for carrying out research and development to support U.S. and allied organisations involved in irregular warfare. Originally set up in 1999 as the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, its name was changed in 2021. The Department of Defense defines the Irregular Warfare Technology Support Directorate role as:
“to identify and develop capabilities for DoD to conduct Irregular Warfare against all adversaries, including Great Power competitors and non-state actors, and to deliver those capabilities to DoD components and interagency partners through rapid research and development, advanced studies and technical innovation, and provision of support to U.S. military operations.”
The IWS chambers the Lightweight Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (LICC), developed from .264 USA. The 6.5x43mm round uses a steel case, which FN America says reduces weight by 20% compared to equivalent brass. No data on velocities has been released yet. The round has a two-piece, lightweight steel design with a stainless steel head and case body. A variety of loads have been developed with a number of different projectiles, including a 130gr Reduced Ricochet Limited Penetration round, a 109gr copper open tip match (OTM), a 120gr copper OTM and a soft nose 125gr cartridge. To date FN haven’t yet released any data on the rounds performance.
According to the 2019 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), which outlined the programme’s requirements, polymer cased ammunition was considered and two proof of concept rounds were desired for Phase 1: 108gr OTM with a muzzle velocity of 2650 feet per second, from an 11.5 inch test barrel, and a frangible training round.
In Phase 2 IWTSD required Combat Barrier rounds loaded with Special Operations Science and Technology (SOST-style) projectiles and an M855A1-style enhanced penetration round which could penetrate no less than 12-inches of 10% ordnance gelatin at 800m and no greater than 18 inch at 25m-150m when fired from a 14.5 inch barrel or 25m-450m when fired from a 11.5 inch barrel.
A new 25 round polymer magazine has been developed for the rifle, sized somewhere between a 5.56x45mm STANAG magazine and a 7.62×51mm AR-10 pattern magazine. The proprietary magazine was developed by an industry partner – believed to be Magpul. FN say that when fully-loaded loaded with 25 rounds it is equivalent in weight to a Magpul P-Mag loaded with 30 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition. From the IWTSD 2019 BAA we know that a box magazine no longer than a STANAG magazine with a “self-lubricating non-tilt follower and high-quality corrosion resistant magazine spring” which could be loaded with ammunition in stripper clips using speed loaders was required.
The Individual Weapon System began concept development in the late 2010s. In 2018-19 IWTSD published their annual Broad Agency Announcements which outlined the requirements for the IWS and its ammunition.
Here is how IWTSD describe the IWS and its ammunition:
“Tactical operators require an integrated, user-tailorable, lightweight shoulder-fired individual weapon and lightweight intermediate caliber cartridge (LICC) that can overmatch the current maximum effective range and terminal effects of peer, near peer, and future threat individual weapons and ammunition, while also defeating current and emerging threat individual protective equipment out to 800 meters. This weapon system shall be comprised of four main components: a lightweight .264 inch (6.5 mm) intermediate caliber projectile loaded in a lightweight polymer cartridge case; a lightweight purpose-built caliber .264 USA detachable box-magazine; a purpose-built lightweight modular weapon platform. The IWS weapon system shall be developed, tested, and delivered for developmental and operational testing by a single contractor who shall develop/obtain and integrate all subcomponents into a fully mature, safe, and reliable system.”
In 2019, FN America were awarded a contract to develop a weapon system to meet the IWTSD’s requirement. FN America is the lead contractor on the development working with a team of other industry manufacturers which includes four ammunition manufacturers, a magazine manufacturer [Magpul], and a suppressor developer.
According to the 2019 BAA the suppressor requirements stipulated that the “sound signature shall be no greater than 140 dB when measured at the operator’s ear firing .264 USA SOST-style ammunition.” It also calls for the suppressor to be not larger or heavier than a standard SOPMOD suppressor. It also mentions that the suppressor should “reduce back-pressure and blow-back into the weapon” suggesting a requirement for a flow through suppressor. The suppressor which was on display was indeed a flow through design which appeared to be from Huxwrx (formerly OSS).
FN representatives noted that the COVID pandemic inevitably slowed development but by late 2020 the ITWSD had decided to accelerate the project. The summer of 2022 saw the weapon under go initial User Acceptance Testing and Performance Evaluations.
The IWS uses a long stroke piston operating system and a paired with a three-lug bolt. FN note that the weapon is designed to run without any adjustments when operating suppressed or unsuppressed via the virtue of a self-regulating gas block.
Development of the ammunition and weapon has been an iterative process and three variants will be delivered: an 11.5” Close Quarters Battle carbine, a 14.5” Carbine, and a 18.5” ‘Recce’ (Designated Marksmanship Rifle). FN America say these variants weight 7 and 9 pounds, empty depending on configuration.
The 2019 BAA gives some further details on the IWS variants, and noted that it wanted operators to be able to change configurations by swapping out the upper receiver. Here are the weight requirements for the various configurations, according to the BAA:
CQB Carbine: weight 6.5-7lbs.
Carbine: weight 7-8lbs.
Recce Rifle: weight 8-9lbs.
The weapon is fully ambidextrous, has a self regulating gas block, a non-reciprocating charging handle, a two stage trigger, a self contained operating group, a monolithic upper, a full length top rail and an MLOK forend, a folding stock and several built-in recoil mitigation mechanisms. Details on these mechanisms haven’t been disclosed yet. Interestingly, throughout its description of the desired weapon characteristics the BAA uses the Colt Canada C8 SFW as a reference point for overall length, and felt recoil, also noting that “reliability, durability and safety of the LICC IWS shall be equal to or better than the Colt Canada C8 SFW with 14.5 inch barrel”.
Later this year FN America will be delivering 55 of the LICC IWS. Three configurations, along with a number of the EVOLYS-based LICC Assault Machine Gun, along with ammunition will be delivered. Canadian Special Operations Forces are a co-sponsor of program and they will also be receiving a batch of the weapons and ammunition for testing and evaluation.
It remains to be seen what applications the LICC IWS has in the field but on the face of it appears to be an interesting answer to a similar question the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program has sought to answer.
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Broad Agency Announcement FY2019, CTTSO/TSWG – Now IWTSD, (source)
FN America’s New Individual Weapon System, TFB, (source)
FN America (FNA) Previews the Lightweight Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (LICC) Individual Weapon System (IWS), SSD, (source)