I got a note from a Kit Up! reader on Monday alerting me to the release of PEO Soldier’s 2011 program almanac and wondering why the Army said on page 243 that even though it had about 500,000 M4s in the inventory, only about 100,000 were part of the upgrade program.

Well, according to Lt. Col. Chris Lehner — the PM for individual weapons — the deal is this:

There are about 12,000 new M4s left on the contract with Colt (which expired back in ’08 when the technical data package was released — in other words, when the patent expired). Lehner said he’d asked Colt to make those 12k guns in the M4A1 configuration (heavier barrel, full auto, ambidextrous controls) since the switch was a minimal impact to the manufacturing process. Those guns are being produced and fielded now.

Then there are about 24,000 new full-up weapons that are funded for fiscal 2011. Those weapons will be produced in the M4A1 configuration. But the big difference is that now that production will be competed. In other words, Colt’s monopoly is over on M4 production.

Right now we are firming up the solicitation for that … for a full and open competition. The interesting thing [with this order] is that that’s just what the Army needs. So it could be many multiples of 24,000 if you think of foreign military sales, other services and other agencies … so it’s a foot in the door for much more business than the 24,000…

Then, the Army has been given money in its FY ’11 budget to upgrade about 65,000 existing M4s to the M4A1.

We’ll compete the barrel, we’ll compete the trigger mechanism and we’ll compete the fire control assembly.

But the reason why the Army isn’t doing all 500,000 is schedule and funding.

Our acquisition strategy for these improvements is to make improvements to the whole fleet. That’s what’s been accepted by Army leadership. … You make improvements as funding and the budget allows you to do.

This raises an interesting dilemma — one our readers have been scratching the surface on over the last couple days. Can the Army get everything it wants with a Tea Party budget slashing Congress in session? Can it at the same time ask for hundreds of millions for M4 improvements while also asking for potentially billions for a whole new rifle (the Improved Carbine search we wrote about yesterday)? I’m not so sure…

And, oh, one more thing. Lehner said as the 100,000 or so M4A1s get produced and go into the field, the priority for those weapons includes deploying BCTs and SF units.

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