Army Major General (Ret.) Robert Scales wrote an excellent article (Gun Trouble) in the January/February 2015 issue of the Atlantic Magazine. The thrust of this article echoes the complaints, pleas and curses of untold thousands of American infantry for the last fifty years. To wit: The M-16 rifle (and its latest iteration, the M-4 carbine) uses underpowered ammunition, fired from a fragile weapon; that is completely lacking in the lethality necessary on today’s battlefield.
From his personal experience he explains the results of this folly perfectly by describing the June 1969 battle around Hamburger Hill in Vietnam: “At 3 o’clock in the morning, the enemy struck. They were armed with the amazingly reliable and rugged Soviet AK-47, and after climbing up our hill for hours dragging their guns through the mud, they had no problems unleashing devastating automatic fire. Not so my men. To this day, I am haunted by the sight of three of my dead soldiers lying atop rifles broken open in a frantic attempt to clear jams.” Two years ago the movie “Lone Survivor” was very popular. It portrays a SEAL mission in June of 2005 (in Afghanistan) that went terribly wrong. The movie was, for the most part, very accurate and true to life. In fact, disconcertingly so, as observation of the SEALs engaging the jihadis showed. In virtually every scene the SEALs were shown shooting every Taliban two to three times with their M-4 rifles. The reason for this being that they could not stop them otherwise! With only a finite amount of ammo on their persons, they were definitely NOT showing off their marksmanship.
More recently are the events of September 11, 2012 in Benghazi. In their book “Under Fire – The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi” Fred Burton and Samuel Katz describe the heroism of the five Diplomatic Security (DS) agents and the tiny band of CIA agents in holding off a reinforced platoon size group of veteran jihadis. In describing the main rush of the enemy against the DS & CIA men on Page 187: “The GRS (the CIA rescue team) response was measured and double-tap accurate: two shots to the chest, one to the head for good measure, sight alignment done quickly with the red-dot lasers.” Now a good rifleman would admire the fact that they could shoot the same moving target three times; but would also see the two wasted shots! If the average jihadis, weighting about 150 to 160 pounds were hit by a clean chest shot with a 7.62X39mm bullet (the AK-47 round) he would have been on his way to the dirt before a second round could normally be fired. Even better, if he were hit by a 7.62X51mm (the M-14 round) he would have been flung backwards violently.
A July 11, 2015 Internet article from Fox Business: “M4A1 Carbine Upgrades Could Make One Company Very Happy” describes the new Army program to upgrade the M4A1 Carbines at an estimated cost of one half billion dollars. It published the Army’s eight-point plan to “improve” the current M4A1. One requirement stood out: “…proof that the new design is more accurate (enabling a five-inch grouping at 600 meters)”. To say this aloud in a group of experienced riflemen would invite peals of laughter. Most infantrymen of the world are happy to get consistent five inch groups at 100 meters.
Back in the mid-1970s the Officer-In-Charge of a USMC Rifle Range was dealing with the minor annoyance of a materials shortage for the making of the cloth and wood target frames to which the large paper targets were pasted. Week after week more targets were pasted to the same cloth. As expected, the paste and paper accumulated to more than 3/8th inch thick in the center portions of the targets. One morning, as the Marines were firing their M-16s at 500 yards, the range staff discovered that the best placed shots striking the thickened bull eyes were not penetrating. In fact, some were embedded in the paste and paper, and some had actually bounced off and fallen to the concrete below. Therefore, even if you could improve 600 yard accuracy; the bullet has so little energy at that range as to be annoying rather than lethal to our enemies.
The M-16A1 and its descendant the M-4A1 are both fragile, use a lightweight (55 or 62 grain) .22 caliber bullet [compared to the AK-47’s 7.62X39mm 124 grain bullet with twice the mass] or [the 7.62X51mm bullet (150 grain) with almost three times the mass] What does “lightweight” mean here? Well, if you have a healthy jihadist, wearing body armor and with a snootful of Afghanistan’s finest opiates; maybe you need two in the chest, two in the head and two anywhere else you can hit him – if you want to live.
What is proposed here has been done before; in point of fact, the venerable M1903 Springfield 30.06 caliber rifle (used in WW I) was a copy of the 1898 Mauser bolt action 8mm rifle from Germany. For their part, most of the efforts of the U.S. government’s Springfield Armory in the design of the M1903 was in making it NOT look like a Mauser. [The proof of this is the documented patent lawsuits that followed WW I, where Mauser received cash remuneration from our government for the patent infringement of the U.S.] Simply put: If the enemy’s weapons are superior to ours, use the damn enemy’s weapons!
Even better, we could use an allied country’s creation that is an improvement on the enemy’s weapon. The Galil ACE 32 is a recent product of Israel Weapon Industries Ltd. (IWI). It is superior to what we have because:
• It is a better caliber (mass, stability, simplicity & dependability)
• It is a better platform (eliminating flaws of the original platform)
• It is “cheaper” in lives
• It is cheaper in money
• It is cheaper in ammo availability
Let me tell you why this proposal is the answer to the prayers of every “down in the dirt” grunt; be they Ranger, Marine, Green Beret or SEAL.
The 7.62X39mm round is extremely dependable. Traveling down a quality barrel, guided by a good optical sight, it is every bit as accurate as any M-4 (less than 1” groups at 100 meters). The piston gas system is superior to the M-4’s direct impingement system that fouls the chamber. Now the “cheaper” part: LIVES – less of our people die in a firefight if most of the enemy goes down with the first shot! MONEY – 7.62X39mm ammo with its steel cases is cheaper to make. (check the Internet: 5.56mm = $0.48/round 7.62mm = $0.22/round) AVAILABLILITY – The Galil ACE 32 uses the exact same magazine and the same ammo as the AK-47. Use the enemy’s supplies for a change when you are surrounded and outnumbered in Jihadisville.
While some politicians might object to “buying rifles from a foreign country for our soldiers”; it must be pointed out that Belgium’s FN Herstal is manufacturing the M-4s right now down in the Carolinas. Further note that IWI has licensed a factory in central Pennsylvania to build their popular Tavor bullpup light rifle design for the American market. That factory, and another nearby that makes civilian versions of the AK-47, could easily turn out all the rifles required.
Exactly how many rifles would be required? Not so many as you might think. Drawing on Major General Scales’ thoughtful article mentioned above we learn that, whatever the total number of personnel that serve the ground forces of the United States (say a million), the actual infantry, special operators and Marines only number about 100,000. MG Scales provides the plan in one succinct paragraph:
“The Army has argued that, in an era of declining resources, a new rifle will cost more than $2 billion. But let’s say the Army and the Marine Corps buy the new rifles only for those who will use them the most, namely the infantry. The cost, for about 100,000 infantrymen at $1,000 each, is then reduced to roughly $100 million, less than that of a single F-35 fighter jet. The Army and the Marine Corps can keep the current stocks of M-4s and M-16s in reserve for use by non-infantry personnel in the unlikely event that they find themselves in combat.” [NOTE: in WW II there were two M-1 rifles: the M-1 Garand in 7.62X63mm (nearly identical ballistics as 7.62X51mm) and the M-1 Carbine in .30 Carbine (similar ballistics to the M-4). More Carbines (used heavily by support troops) were produced for that war than Garands (used heavily by the infantry)].
Why is this radical departure from our recent past best for the future? Simple, consider the following facts. The USA is 5% of the World’s population; with a volunteer military, there are always going to be fewer of us. In the back of the mind of every grunt in somebody else’s wasteland the “Alamo Experience” is always there. They should have a better fighting chance in every bad situation. By the numbers: the 7.63X39mm power + Yankee accuracy = stopping them dead. Every time you must shoot a bad guy 3 times; you let 2 other bad guys get away or shoot you. Every business day in America, somewhere a manager is doing a PowerPoint presentation where he or she explains why their company must use the “best of breed” technology to give their company the edge in the marketplace. To get the “best of breed gun” how about we start by taking this out of the hands of politicians and civilian bureaucrats? [Apparently many other countries have come to this conclusion as a short Internet search will show that many substantial armies have a variety of calibers and origins in their battle rifles. Many countries mix 7.62 and 5.56 weapons. Russia has two units that have M4 Carbines, there must be a reason.]
Have a “bake off”! Select (by unit election or lottery) 100 Non-coms from strictly Army infantry/Marine/Spec-Ops units. Let them set up a “test course” at a military range complex. Then take two weeks and run the 3 or 4 best candidate rifles (along with the M-4) battle rifles through the exact same course. At the end, with a secret ballot, each grunt lists the rifles best to worst numerically. A computer spreadsheet will tell you what you need to know. If there is a rifle better than the M-4 or the Galil ACE, we need to know. It is imperative that we supply the special operators, the Marines and all the elite Army combat troops with the “best of breed” where they must do business – in the marketplace of death.
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