Skip to comments.Army Report: GIs Outgunned in Afghanistan
Posted on 04/03/2010 1:03:04 PM PDT by neverdem
American troops are often outgunned by Afghan insurgents because they lack the precision weapons, deadly rounds, and training needed to kill the enemy in the long-distance firefights common in Afghanistan's rugged terrain, according to an internal Army study.
Unlike in Iraq, where most shooting took place at relatively short range in urban neighborhoods, U.S. troops in Afghanistan are more often attacked from high ground with light machine guns and mortars from well beyond 300 meters (327 yards, or just over three football field lengths). The average range for a small-arms firefight in Afghanistan is about 500 meters, according to the study.
Unless U.S. troops under attack call in artillery or air strikes and risk civilian casualties, the only way they can fight back is with long-distance precision shooting -- a capability currently in short supply among infantry units, according to a study done at the Army's School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., by Maj. Thomas P. Ehrhart.
According to Ehrhart's paper, Army infantrymen do not regularly train and practice shooting at distances of more than 300 meters. The round fired from their M4 carbines and M16 rifles, the 5.56mm bullet, don't carry enough velocity at long distances to kill.
While the Army has moved recently to equip each infantry company of about 200 soldiers with nine designated marksmen to overcome this problem, they don't often carry weapons with sufficient killing power at distance, and there aren't enough of them, Ehrhart reports.
Army spokesmen had no immediate comment on Ehrhart's paper, which was released by SAMS last month and given wider circulation by defensetech.org and the Kit Up! blog on military.com.
Most infantrymen in Afghanistan carry the M4 carbine, a version of the standard M16 rifle, but with a shorter barrel. It was designed to allow soldiers to operate from cramped armored vehicles and in the city neighborhoods of Iraq. But the shorter barrel robs the weapon of the ability to shoot accurately at long distances, because the bullet doesn't acquire as much stabilizing spin when it is fired as it does in a longer barrel.
Soldiers commonly are taught in training to use "suppressive fire,'' in effect returning enemy attacks with sprays of gunfire, which are often ineffective in Afghanistan.
One reason is the ineffectiveness of the most commonly used round, designated the M855. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, was once accidentally shot in the chest with an M855 round from a light machine gun; rather than being killed, he walked out of the hospital several days later.
Ehrhart recalls seeing a soldier shot with a M855 round from a distance of 75 meters in training. Twenty minutes later he was "walking around smoking a cigarette.''
Such incidents may be flukes, but they do illustrate that the rounds can lack killing power. Most infantrymen are equipped to fire the M855 round from their M4 carbine, M16 rifle, or the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon), a light machine gun. When a firefight erupts in Afghanistan, they are unable to fire back accurately at more than 200 or 300 meters, leaving it to soldiers with heavier weapons -- the M240 machine gun, 60-mm mortars or snipers equipped with M14 rifles.
"These [heavier] weapons represent 19 percent of the company's firepower,'' Ehrhart wrote, meaning that "81 percent of the company has little effect on the fight.
"This is unacceptable.''
One quick fix, he suggested, is to equip the designated marksmen within each company with a powerful weapon that can kill at long distances, the M110 sniper weapon, which is effective out to 800 meters.
These rifles are expensive -- about $8,000 apiece. But you could outfit every infantry squad in the Army with two M110 rifles for the price of one U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor supersonic stealthy fighter, Ehrhart noted.
Ironically, American doughboys in World War I were better trained and equipped for Afghanistan-style firefights than today's GIs.
"The U.S. infantry weapon has devolved from the World War I rifle capable of conducting lethal fire out to 1,200 yards, to the current weapon that can hit a target out to 300 meters but probably will not kill it,'' Ehrhart wrote.
The School of Advanced Military Studies, where Ehrhart was a student last year, trains the Army's brightest young officers for senior leadership. His unclassified paper, written last year, does not reflect official Army positions. But the paper has rocketed around in military circles and has been read avidly in some units preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
But even before his report began circulating widely, some Army units were acting on the hard-learned lessons from Afghanistan, where the Army has been fighting for almost nine years.
Several weeks ago I watched an infantry battalion of the 10th Mountain Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team working on live fire maneuvers in central Wyoming.
One key focus, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Maddi, was to hone soldiers' skills in high-angle and long-distance shooting -- precisely the skills not widely required in regular Army training, according to Ehrhart.
Where normal Army marksmanship training is often conducted on level ground against pop-up targets, Maddi and the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Chris Ramsey, had their men shooting up towering ridgelines and down steep inclines, and at distances out to 600 meters.
The battalion's troops, wearing their full battle kit, also were firing live rounds while running, and while running with heavy packs, up and down the steep Wyoming ridges.
"We're here to replicate the environment of Afghanistan," said Ramsey, who brought his battalion to Wyoming from its home base at Fort Polk, La. "We don't get this kind of terrain at home."
Ramsey told me he had not read Ehrhart's paper before his battalion deployed to Wyoming for a month's training in early February. Polishing those skills was "intuitive," he said. But he said the paper now has been read across the battalion.
At a meeting with reporters this week, Army Secretary John McHugh was asked whether he was familiar with the Ehrhart report. McHugh said he was not, but after hearing a brief description, he said he would track down the paper and read it.
The only M-14s still in the Army inventory are probably those in museums and with units like the Old Guard which uses them for ceremonial purposes. Most of the M-14s were probably destroyed after they were fully replaced by the M-16. Most likely new production line would need to be created to begin manufacturing them again..
I’m trying to imagine the accuracy of an AK-47 at 500+ meters...do the bad guys ever hit anything?
FWIW, I suspect the ranges also depend on what part of Afghanistan you are in, but 500+ meters is a LONNGGG way for an Afghan to try shooting.
Send some more M-1A’s over. Heavier to carry, but good out to longer ranges.
But I’d rather be hit with the 7.62x39 than the 5.56 pea-shooter. Are there any Western bloc assault rifles (i.e. not machine guns) that fire the 7.26x52, besides the M14?
I remember one of the Delta operatives in Black Hawk Down in Somalia preferred the M14. We never learned the lesson from Mogadishu that 5.56 is not an acceptable round for military purposes.
Oops, meant I’d rather be hit with the 5.56 than the 7.26x39.
Naturally, seeing as how our defense budget is dwarfed by that of the insurgents.
Actually, Springfield Arms still makes semi-auto versions, the M-1A. I just bought one for my son. And there are still M-14’s in inventory in some obscure warehouse somewhere, I’m sure.
It’s Bushs’ fault!!!!!!!!!!
M16/M4 in those valleys are useless.
McNamara still killing American troops as he roasts in hell.
Better yet if the m110’s are built here. We can stimulate the economy and the enemy at the same time.
The HK-417 is 7.62mm but the Bundeswehr doesn’t use it, they use the 5.56mm
You’d rather be hit with a 7.62? Me, I’d rather be shooting a 7.62 than a 5.56 at you, providing you were the enemy. Especially since the famous tumbling M-16 round isn’t made any more, or I don’t think it is.
The Israelis use the 5.56mm the Chinese use the 5.6mm and the Russians use the 5.45mm
I have one and they are the same as the M-14 to the point that my M-1A came from Springfield with a military M-14 tear down manual.
yes it is. the SS109 is the current one in US military. It is fired with the 1:9 twist barrel.
Why not go to DSA Arms and get the FAL-FN clones for $1700.
O wants our troops ground up in Afghan and Iraq for his bosses. He wants our best and bravest over there not back here.
M14 production tooling was sold in 1967 to the Republic of China (Taiwan), who in 1968 began producing their Type 57 Rifle. The State Arsenal of the Republic of China produced over 1 million of these rifles from 1969 to the present under model numbers of M305 and M14S.
like china would sell ‘em back to us...
Problem is they do have to be toted through some pretty tough terrain over there.
7 MM is tops! let’s get some sporterized mausers...
I think the bigger issue are the rules of engagement that don’t allow artilery and air strikes to be called in. You shoot at us with a mortar or light arms fire, we rain down artilery fire or call in the warthogs.
I got it backwards when I wrote it. Momentary dyslexia. :-P
500+ meters is excessive range for their weapons, and hitting anything at that range is more a matter of luck, our soldiers are trained in deliberate fire (single aimed shots) and are more effective. Also current doctrine having snipers being a battalion asset leaves platoons shorted when having to engage at long distance, including some long guns at the platoon level is probably the right call for Afghanistan, and we'll probably start doing that once the lessons are fully digested, if it isn't already being done.
Saying WW1 soldiers were better equipped to handle Afghanistan is also something I disagree with. Sure they had long rifles (what else were you going to arm them with at that time?) but they didn't have our comms/training/air support/mobility/etc...
They just need longer barreled m16s with scope. The 556 nato round is just fine. Little more accuracy, little more velocity...that’s all that’s needed.
I’ve been saying for years they need to ditch brass cases and upgrade to high strength aluminum alloy cases and then boost up chamber pressures.
Then upgrade the recoil system with an oil filled system for really smooth shooting. Better compensators on the end of the muzzle would help too.
Bigger bullets is the wrong way to go, imo. More speed is the best solution.
BTW, 556 shoots further than 762. This article is not entirely honest.
762x39 is way easier to stop with a vest than 556nato. 556nato is just fine. it’s the dam short carbine rifles that suck.
We’ll go broke fighting wars like that. a bullet is way cheaper than a plane carrying a missile.
I like this choice. in 308?
It’s still made. It only tumbles when shot from longer barreled rifles. No tumbling when shot from a m4 carbine.
Drop a BIG BOMB and quit using small arms.
This war should have been over a long time ago.
Just drop a bomb and let God sort it out.
Does anyone else wonder if 0bama doesn’t get some kind of perverse pleasure from the deaths of our Military? Maybe it’s just me.
Its not the Ak’s so much as the 7.62 round on a belt fed machine gun mounted on a tripod up high... lots of punch from a distance
accuracy by volume
Taiwan, you mean?
Is it any wonder why GWB opted for a change of venue in the War on Terror?
.223 varmit round vs .308 mankiller. Not much of a contest.
This is very old info, about 20 years, but I taught with a guy who’d served two hitches as an Lt in 2nd Rangers. He’d regale me with stories about where he’d been and what he’d done. I asked him once about the M14. He loved the weapon and told me that they were being reserved for future use where their positive attributes, long range and that Garand action that fires in peanut butter, would be useful. He specifically mentioned desert and mountain environments. That was 20+ yrs ago so who knows now.
I dropped a mule buck at 250 yards on the buttes of western North Dakota last fall. The tool at hand was a Ruger M77 Hawkeye chambered in .270 (basically a necked down .30-06 round) and Leopold glass. The first round passed under the deer, the second one trashed both lungs and smashed a rib while blowing a hole out the other side.
I'd call the combination cheap and lethal to 300+ yards.
Thanks for the link!
In any case, it points out the classic US Military problem of emphasizing bells and whistles at the expense of basic equipment.
I've got an SKS, whhich shoots the same 7.62X39 mm round as an AK, and as far as accuracy goes, it's good for about 100-150 yards. After that, the bullet loses energy fast and drops like a rock.
I read during the Klinton Admin that he gave 54,000 M-14s to the Balkans. Just what we need to face.
Didn’t Clinton destroy 100,000 M14s or some huge amount?
That's exactly what Carlos Hathcock (RIP) did in Vietnam.