The Heckler & Koch XM8 modular assault weapon system may be the immediate future of individual weapons systems. Currently undergoing its second round of testing by the American Military, the XM8 could replace existing M4 Carbines in the US Army arsenal as soon as Q4, 2005.The XM8 is a family of weapons with differing barrel lengths designed to address all the needs of an infantry squad. Each XM8 variant can be turned into another variant in the field in less than ten minutes depending on mission requirements. There’s also the capacity to change a range of "accessories" and parts to adapt to the individual needs of each soldier – apart from the barrel, the handguard, lower receiver, buttstock modules, sighting system and carrying handle can all be changed. In the accessory area, there’s a rapidly detachable single-shot 40mm grenade launcher and a lightweight 12 gauge shotgun module which can be easily added WITHOUT tools. The XM8 family has a 9-inch compact, 12.5-inch carbine and a 20-inch sharpshooter and automatic rifle. The various possible configurations allow the XM8 series to replace a range of weapons from the M9 pistol to the M249 SAW. The standard 12.5-inch carbine model is expected to be around 20% lighter than the current M4 carbine and far more reliable, particularly in dusty, dirty field conditions. In testing so far, it has proven very functional and easy to maintain, with claims of a 70% saving in cleaning time compared with the current M4. The XM8’s barrel also has twice the life of the M4’s barrel and testing has shown the weapon can fire more than 15,000 rounds without cleaning or lubrication in the worst operational environments.The XM8 began testing in December 2003 and the weapon has been modified based on the results of those tests and the second round of testing began earlier this month (June 2004) and is anticipated to be finished by December 2004.Despite the fact that the M4 Carbine it replaces is the longest serving weapon in US military history, the unit cost of the XM8 will be less. Read the full story at http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/m8-oicw.htm">Global Security or visit the Heckler and Koch site.