Skip to comments.Troops who fought in Afghanistan list benefits, troubles of weapons
Posted on 08/04/2002 11:27:23 AM PDT by demlosers
Part one of two
ARLINGTON, Va. Army infantry troops deployed to Afghanistan are struggling to keep weapons clean and in good working order, with soldiers particularly concerned about the maintainability and reliability of the M-4 carbine and the squad automatic weapon, according to an Army report on lessons learned in Afghanistan.
But soldiers also are more than pleased with the performance of other weapons, such as the M-240B machine gun, which won a 100 percent vote of confidence overall.
And troops often described a love-hate relationship with the same weapon, such as the soldier who called his squad automatic weapon the perfect weapon for war but added that it does not work well in sand and dirt it could be smaller and lighter.
The assessments are part of a lessons learned report generated in April by Natick Soldier Systems Center, Natick, Mass.
A team from Naticks Operational Forces Interface Group asked 200 Afghanistan combat veterans questions not only about weapons, but also clothing, food, boots and other standard-issue items at the suggestion of Command Sgt. Major Vincent Myers of the Coalition Forces Land Component Command, Southwest Asia.
In Afghanistan visiting troops who had fought in Operation Anaconda in March, Myers had some observations about what soldiers were wearing and not wearing in the cold-weather, high-altitude conditions, according to Lt. Col. Charlie Dean, director of operations and customer interface at Naticks Soldier Systems Center.
Myers called Naticks hot line (DSN 256-5341) with his comments, which Natick forwarded to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., Dean said in a Thursday telephone interview.
In turn, CENTCOM asked Natick to send a team to Afghanistan to canvass deployed infantry soldiers regarding their equipment, including all platoon-level small arms, and report back with the findings.
Soldiers participating in the survey included Operation Anaconda participants from the 101st Airborne Divisions 1-187th Infantry, 3rd Brigade in Kandahar, as well as soldiers who had participated in the battle from the 10th Mountain Divisions 1-87th Infantry, who already had returned to Fort Drum, N.Y., when the Natick team talked to them, Dean said.
According to the report, weapons basically performed well in Afghanistan, although there were some issues worth noting.
The majority of weapons problems soldiers reported had to do with difficulties keeping their weapons clean and operating in Afghanistans austere environment a problem some soldiers said was made worse because the Armys standard-issue kits contain insufficient cleaning supplies.
In the Natick survey, soldiers routinely reported having to purchase their own weapons cleaning kit items (in many cases asking friends and family to send them from home). Thirty-five percent of soldiers surveyed added barber brushes and 24 percent added dental picks to the cleaning kits issued to support the M-4 carbine, which is the infantrys compact version of the M-16 rifle.
Other weapons problems arose in Afghanistan because replacement parts werent readily available, soldiers said.
For example, nearly half of soldiers on M-240 Machine Gun teams indicated they had problems getting spare or replacement parts in Afghanistan, with shortages of extra barrels, springs, small roll pins, traverse and elevating pins, heat shields, sear pins, spare barrel bags and cleaning materials.
Meanwhile, nearly half of the machine gunners also noted that they have problems carrying ammunition and that they need they need improved ammunition bags, the report said. The soldiers who carry the M-240 also suggested an improved sling for the weapon that could be disconnected quickly.
Problems keeping weapons clean apparently prevented soldiers from feeling certain that the arms would work when called upon to do so. While 89 percent of soldiers polled said they had confidence in the M-4 carbine, only 77 percent felt it was reliable.
Soldier comments indicated that the discrepancy reflected how much time troops had to adequately clean and service their weapons.
If I did not have so many opportunities to clean [my M-4] Im not sure how reliable it would have been, one soldier commented.
But of all the weapons surveyed, the squad automatic weapon a gas-operated, man-portable automatic weapon that can deliver up to 750 rounds per minute at ranges up to 800 meters was unique in its ability to inspire both praise and blame from the same soldier.
Im sure its great when new, but gets worse over time, one soldier said.
Another SAW gunner called it big and heavy, but this is the weapon to be behind in a combat situation.
The SAWs record in combat also was spotty: Three out of the seven soldiers who reported engaging enemy targets with the SAW said the weapon malfunctioned in combat.
As with other weapons surveyed, the misfires may have been related to the reports by half of the SAW gunners that they had trouble cleaning or maintaining the weapon.
The most common problems were rust, dust and dirt accumulation, and trouble getting into many spots to clean them adequately.
Meanwhile, of the 28 SAW gunners surveyed by the Natick staff, half were satisfied that the weapon was reliable, but even more, 64 percent, had confidence in the gun just one of the puzzling mismatches that caught the attention of the Natick researchers.
Soldier comments on the SAW are hard to categorize because they truly are ambivalent, the report noted.
For example, the weapon got fairly good marks for lethality (79 percent said it was lethal) and accuracy (82 percent said it was accurate), but miserable marks for both ease of handling (32 percent approved) and ease of maintenance (15 percent said yes).
Not everyone was wishy-washy about the weapon.
Its big, awkward, [and the] drums fall off, one soldier said. Replace it.
The M-203, on the other hand, got excellent reviews. The M-203 is a single-shot, 40 mm grenade launcher with an effective range of 350 meters that is designed to fix directly to both the M-16 rifle and the M-4 carbine.
Half of the soldiers surveyed said they had used their M-203s to engage the enemy in Afghanistan, using it to attack personnel, buildings, bunkers and vehicles.
Some soldiers suggested improvements to the launcher, including adding buckshot rounds to its arsenal of munitions. Other soldiers asked for a better safety switch, a non-slip grip on the hand guard, and a 40 mm muzzle cap, which would help keep the launcher clean when not in use.
The M-4 carbine prompted less applause, with a sizable percentage of soldiers who said they either were unhappy with the weapon, or toting it without much thought one way or another.
While the majority were satisfied with the M-4 carbine in terms of ease of maintenance, lethality and range, those characteristics [also] had a sizeable percentage who felt neutral or dissatisfied, the report said.
Out of 54 soldiers surveyed on the M-4, 27 stated that their M-4 carbine has malfunctioned, although Dean noted that the question was not specific to Afghanistan.
The most common problems were double feeds, feeding jams, rounds that failed to chamber and misfeeds.
The M-4 gets dirty fast for a self-cleaning weapon, also double feeds when rounds get wet, one soldier said in the survey.
And about one-third, or 18 of the soldiers, reported that the hand guards rattle on the M-4, and six soldiers noted that the weapons hand guards get uncomfortably hot while firing.
Natick has sent the results of the report to more than two dozen offices, including Army headquarters at the Pentagon, the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia, the Armys new Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va., and the Armys Program Management for Small Arms at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., which is responsible for research and development efforts for all the weapons listed in the study.
Army officials at the various centers now are reviewing the study, comparing reported problem areas with comments that already have been collected in other Natick studies, which number in the dozens each year, said David Nelson, deputy project manager for soldier equipment at PEO Soldier, in a telephone interview.
In the case of weapons, Army officials at PM Small Arms next will cross-check their lists of ongoing improvement projects for example, an improved ammunition bag for the machine gun is almost completed and then decide whether new studies should be funded, Nelson said.
B/3/325 INF ABN 82nd ABD
Man, oh man! Isn't it time that the military gave up on the M16 and its cousins? I've been hearing this stuff about it for decades. It seems as if it's just too tempermental for actual combat situations.
Any other views on this?
LOL, I was just looking for a good pic of the M-240b (I want one!) and found this instead. One of the reasons I hated being in the Army was that firearm safety was a joke.
My own suggestion would be to go to an AK type weapon. With one M-14 per fire team, for long-distance work.
If that is too complicated, then just bring back the M-14.
Hey no worry
I think the military designated the M60 to (or upgrade variant)the M240 series. The M-240B machine gun won a 100 percent vote of confidence overall.
Yes, very well indeed.
If so, why did US switch?
Cold War politics. 9mm is the standard NATO pistol round. And, by the time of the switch, the .45s in service were all 40+ years old and kind of worn out.
Well, you are using your head. The M1911A1 has been available in 9mm for many years.
The problem is that 9mm ball is not a very good round. If someone is excited and/or drugged, they can take a handful of 9mm ball and still have enough fight left in them to kill you before they die.
I say, bring back the .45. It is a proven fight-stopper. And .45 ball (non-expanding) works great.
My father's generation (WWII) all brought home their M1911A1s, didn't you?
Unfortunately, no. Post-Vietnam the Corps keeps its weapons.
I do have a very nice stainless .45, but I bought it on the civillian market.