Eurosatory 2024 – SIG UK details plans for growing footprint

Sam Cranny-Evans

SIG Sauer is expanding its investment in the UK’s economy through SIG UK. It will be bidding into large procurements such as Project Grayburn, which is expected to replace the UK’s SA80 assault rifle, but has plans to continue developing its relationship with the British customer regardless

While not yet a large-scale supplier into the British military, SIG has fostered a close relationship with end users in the UK over the previous decade. “There are examples where SIG has taken specific UK requirements and made bespoke products for those users. For a $1.4 billion US company to work closely with a small user base like this is quite unique,” Dr Duncan Stewart, Director, Business, and Program Development at SIG UK told EDR On-Line during Eurosatory. “There are a few mainstream SIG products that have been directly influenced by British end users,” he added.

The UK entity was established in August 2023 and will be co-located with Accuracy International until its growth enables an independent facility. “We are working with Accuracy International and the Edgar Brothers to bring a stock of products to the UK market in early 2025,” Stewart said. “We want to compete for Project Grayburn of course, but we have customers here and we will be supporting them with a UK-based maintenance and support facility regardless,” he added.

Domestic manufacturing has become incredibly important to the British government, a feature that is highly likely to endure into the next administration. “We recognise this at SIG, and we are showing that by investing in the UK’s only small arms manufacturer up front,” Stewart said. He added that there are also ambitions to build a new ammunition assembly plant in Europe or the UK, “Everyone wants their own ammunition plant, the further east in Europe you go, the more they want it.”

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SIG offers a range of small arms for military users and was selected by the US Army to produce the 6.8 mm XM7 assault rifle and XM250 Next Generation Squad Weapons to replace the M4 carbine and M249 in US service.

The US provided the 6.8 mm projectile which has an exposed penetrator, and stated that companies would have to deliver that projectile at a set velocity and range. In order to do this, SIG found it was necessary to re-engineer the cartridge to take 25% higher barrel pressure. This was achieved by adding a new steel base cap, which increases the strength of the weakest part of the round. It allows the amount of propellant to be increased resulting in a pressure increase from 60,000 PSI to 80,000 PSI. “This led to the need for a new barrel to withstand the higher pressure, and that in turn required new more highly engineered platforms,” Stewart explained.

The 6.8 mm calibre has been selected to increase lethality and ensure that US weapons are effective against emerging body armour, and in urban environments. However, SIG is developing its hybrid cartridge technology to other calibres, namely 6.5 mm, 7.62 mm and .338 Norma Mag. This results in lethality and range improvements by increasing muzzle velocity. For example, all things being equal, an M80A1 7.62 mm projectile travels at approx. 800-850 m/s from a conventional cartridge, whereas a hybrid cartridge will fire the same projectile at around 940 m/s. The resultant muzzle energy of the projectile is approximately 400 joules higher. “In tests at 100 metres, a conventional cartridge and M80A1 setup is unable to penetrate a 6.5 mm plate of Rolled Homogeneous Armour. The same projectile with a hybrid cartridge has no trouble,” Stewart said, showing a test plate as proof.

“The requirements for Project Grayburn are not yet clear, if the British Army decides it needs to continue with the 5.56×45m mm calibre, we will be able to offer the MCX family of rifles.” Stewart explained. The 5.56 round was adapted for service in the 1980s after a lengthy development period; its ability to penetrate body armour has declined as more advanced ceramics and steels have entered service with potential adversaries.

“We have also developed the Lightweight Medium Machine Gun (MMG) to fire .338 Norma Mag ammunition, the range and lethality of the .338 round, coupled with the weight of the machine gun, means that it is capable of replacing the UK’s General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) as well as its Heavy Machine Guns (HMG),” Stewart said. He added that some aspects of the MMG Gen IVs came as a result of direct collaboration with British users.

Replacing a family of assault rifles and adopting a new standard calibre is a major undertaking with ramifications for training, logistics and support, supply chains, and production. However, it also tends to be a long-term commitment. The SA80 became the UK’s standard issue weapon in 1987 after 12 years of development. It has stayed in service since with several modifications as well as additional smaller procurements for other assault rifles to improve lethality since. It will still be the standard issue weapon in 2027, which indicates that a service life of 40 years for whatever comes from Project Grayburn is reasonable. It follows that whatever the British Army chooses, it should ensure that it will still be the right weapon in 2067.

Photos courtesy US Army and S. Cranny-Evans