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The Objective Individual Combat Weapon or OICW was the next-generation service rifle competition that was under development as part of the United States Army OICW program; the program was eventually discontinued without bringing the weapon out of the prototype phase. The acronym OICW is often used to refer to the entire weapons program.
It was started in the aftermath of the Advanced Combat Rifle (or ACR) during the 1980s. Like the ACR program, it has largely been a failure in terms of achieving the specific program goals (e.g., replacing the M16) and has cost millions of dollars, but has resulted in many innovative weapons and weapon concepts as well as offshoot programs of its own.
The central idea of the program was to develop a rifle that enabled the attacking of targets behind cover by using airburst munitions. The munitions were to be much smaller than pre-existing grenades and grenade launchers, but large enough to be effective. The idea was refined into a combination of a short assault rifle and semi-automatic, low-velocity cannon firing air-bursting munitions. The OICW aimed to use advances in computer technology in a weapon that fired grenades automatically pre-set to explode above or beside targets hidden from view. Fragmentation from the exploding grenades could hit the target when normal rifle fire could not.
The winners of the first competition for the project during the 1990s were ATK and firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch with the XM29 OICW. They went on to build numerous prototypes of the rifle for the United States military in the late 1990s. These projects centered on using a programmable 20 mm airburst munition-firing rifle by itself or with other projectile-based weapons attached. The 20 mm launcher was analyzed in various configurations, including a launcher by itself, with a 5.56 mm weapon (based on the HK G36), or with a MP7 PDW.
By the early 2000s, the weapon had settled on a design and was classified as the XM29. The XM29 was based on the HK CAW (Close Assault Weapon) (Cal. 18.5×76mm or 12 Gauge non-conventional). However, the weapon had serious problems: it did not meet weight or cost targets, and the 20 mm High Explosive Air Bursting (HEAB) did not seem to be lethal enough in testing. To compound matters, the kinetic-energy component had to be light and short in length. As a result, the 5.56×45mm NATO barrel had a length of only 250 mm (9.8 inches), which is too short to generate enough muzzle velocity to be effective as a standard infantry rifle. It was also too heavy and too large to be operated effectively by a soldier.
This resulted in the army starting development on new weapons, and finally shelving the XM29 in 2004. The kinetic energy component split off into the XM8 rifle program and the airburst component developed into the XM25 airburst weapon. According to a presentation by Major Kevin Finch, Chief of the Small Arms Division of the Directorate of Combat Developments at the U.S. Army Infantry Center, there were three main parts to the OICW program:
In the aftermath of the ACR program, the OICW program began. There were two main contenders, one design by AAI and its companies, and the other by ATK (with H&K and other companies); ATK and H&K won.
OICW concepts/prototypes in the 1990s:
Some weapon programs involved with, stemming from, or using technology from the OICW project include: