Thursday, January 7, 2010

Contradicting Myself Again

I'm about to do something that irks me to no end--bloviate about the war from my nice, safe house here in the US. What brings this on is that some soldiers, congressmen, and gun nuts are up in arms about the supposed fragility of the M4 and M16 series rifle. I have a lot of experience with the M16A2, and am getting to know the M4A3 professionally. I have my own neutered civilian version of it, the M&P15 carbine, but we got issued M4A3s in my 'guard unit last summer. So far, everyone likes them. Most of us liked the M16A2 too.

Any Counterstrike ninja or internet commando will tell you that the M16/M4 (hereafter M4 for brevity) is fragile and requires constant, intricate maintenance to operate in inclement conditions. A lot of the guys in my unit five years ago when we deployed were fretting about it, even though the only people who experienced malfunctions were office rats who insisted that running them dry made them easier to clean (which meant turning them in faster, which meant more downtime). I always ran my M16A2 with a good coat of CLP, and it never did me wrong.

Overseas, I had occasion to see the M16A2 (and M240B) used in combat when my squad got cornered by a slightly larger force, and the result was an hour long gunfight that ended with all of the good guys alive, and a number of bad guys with a severe case of lead poisoning. But I admit we were lucky. Tactically, we were in bad shape--surrounded on three sides with our backs to a 500ft shear cliff. We had the high ground and plenty of cover provided by the stone and concrete skeleton of a half-built school building. The bad guys were also disorganized, and not terribly motivated, as the attack slowed considerably as soon as our SAW and M240B started laying down fire. So I do have some experience with the M16A2 in combat. Everyone who fired had their weapon work just fine. I only expended about six rounds before taking up a spot marking targets for the M240, but several guys ended up shooting four or five magazines. Our SAW spent 300 rounds, and the M240 spent about 350 over the course of 45 minutes to an hour. This against a hailstorm from probably 18 AK47s, at least 3 RPG launchers (we found the tailfins from 11 rockets all together), an RPK, and two PKMs. Well aimed fire, and judicious use of machineguns on high-priority targets won the day.

Then I find this story of a couple of very unfortunate service members who were killed when their M4s and SAWs quit working. I am sincerely sorry for their loss, and extend my condolences to their friends and families. This is not something to make light of, and it isn't terribly fair of me to armchair quarterback this like I'm about to do, but I think I have a point, and I think my point could save lives.

The following quote makes my case: "My weapon was overheating," McKaig said, according to Cubbison's report. "I had shot about 12 magazines by this point already and it had only been about a half hour or so into the fight. I couldn't charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down."

He had fired 360 rounds in thirty minutes! Our standard combat load was 210 rounds! I'd like to know how many of those 360 rounds hit anything at all. One SAW had fired 600 rounds in 30 minutes! That's just too much shooting with NO effect at all. I wasn't there, and I don't know how heavy the incoming fire was, but if you are shooting that much with no effect, you need to either move to flank, or break contact. I know how hard it is to stop pulling the trigger when tracers flicker and pop over your shoulder--I've been there and done that. But that sort of fire is just plain excessive, and would probably have overheated a piston-driven M4 like an H&K416, which is what a lot of SOCOM guys and internet commandos are pushing for.

They say direct-impingement guns like the current M4 run too dirty and too hot, and cause jams, cook-offs, and other malfunctions. My case is that while piston-driven guns keep the dirt and heat away from the bolt, they still get hot and dirty. The heat and dirt just accumulate in different places. And shooting 360 rounds in 30 minutes will make anything way too hot, especially when you consider that some places in Afghanistan are 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit most of the year.

What would have kept these guns in the fight, and what may have saved these brave young men's lives is leadership that took control of their team's fires. Standing there blasting away with no effect may make you feel better, but it won't win the fight. What do you do if you do win the fight with no casualties, but shoot off all your ammo? How do you defend your patrol base until supplies reach you? How do you fight off a second wave if everyone is blowing their whole allotment of ammo in the first 30 minutes of the fight?

Is the M4 perfect? No. I actually like the idea of the Remington ACR a lot more. I also like the SCAR and SCAR-H. Is the M4 a death trap? Is it a detriment to our troops? I hardly think so. Yes, you have to maintain and lube it. Yes, it gets hot. But if you as a trooper train hard and control your adrenaline--and therefore your trigger finger--you'll stand a better chance. If you are a team leader, it is your responsibility to direct your team's fires and that includes rates of fire. If your SAW gunner is ripping through belts too fast, it's your job to say something. I know how hard it is to do these things under fire, but training will help, and keeping things like this in your mind will help a lot more.

1 comment:

James said...

In my experience with direct impingement AR-15's, military or otherwise, I don't think I've ever managed to get the action hotter than the barrel. Same deal with a SAW. Not being able to chamber a round - that's an overheated barrel. If you've managed to heat up the BCG on an AR-15 enough to make it choke in the receiver, the barrel was already toast.

Piston guns like my AUG are nice, but I've never managed to make any of the Army's M16's jam outside of a mag failure, which can be distressingly common when you're in a shitbag unit like mine.

It would be very nice if the Army came up with an service rifle that could sustain say 40 rounds a minute for an indefinite period of time. But I'm not sure that weapon exists, and if it does, it's either too bulky or too expensive.