Threat to HK 416 production rate?

Could the US Marine Corps (USMC) choice of the HK 416 assault rifle to replace its M4 and M16A4 threaten the smooth delivery of this gun to the French armed forces? In a press release dated 11 August, the USMC announced that it had begun exclusive discussions with German manufacturer Heckler & Koch (HK) for the delivery of 50,184 M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles (IAR), the U.S. variant of the HK 416.

Corporal Alfredo Ibarra of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit of the US Marine Corps practices the M27 IAR in June 2017
(Credit: USMC / Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan R Clay)

A request to industry was made in March for a timeline to produce and deliver 11,000 M27 IARs which have been used on a small scale by the USMC since 2010. The new pre-solicitation notice of 50,184 “appears to be in addition to the earlier order” according to the Marine Corps Times. “Everything I have seen suggests that the M27s we have been using for some time have been the most reliable, durable and accurate weapons in our rifle squads,” General Robert Neller, commndant of the marine corps, said in an official statement last April.

The 11 August announcement might seem trivial, if it was not likely to directly impact the French FAMAS replacement programme. The French AIF programme contract won on 22 September 2016 by HK is for the delivery of 117,000 assault rifles by 2028, of which nearly 5,000 by 2017 and more than 21,000 by 2019. These are significant figures which, juxtaposed with the U.S. requirement, raises the question of HK’s ability to manage several major contracts in parallel. Especially that with 182,000 military personnel in the USMC, the IAR contract could be just the first of a number of purchase orders.

Add to that the probable replacement of the German G36 by the HK 433 and the HK 417 in good position to replace the US Army ‘s M4, and the question that arises in our mind is: will HK be able to maintain this production rate without threatening the AIF programme?

The answer could come from across the Atlantic, with, for example, a strengthening of HK’s production capacity in the United States. But for the time being, the expansion of HK’s only U.S. production unit in Columbus, Georgia, is incomplete and appears intended to support increased demand in the domestic civil market.

Nevertheless, there remains a slim hope, because the IAR contract, which is only at a preliminary stage, also leaves the door open to any manufacturer “who believes it can meet the conditions” by… 28 August.