Sunday, November 23, 2003

The Right Tool for the Right Job: Ditch the M16. 
Well, the secret's out. After months of combat, after Kosovo, after Bosnia, after Haiti, after Mogadishu, the Associated Press and the Army finally realized what we figured out after about 90 minutes on the ground: the M16 is too beaucoups for vehicle-intensive, urban peacekeeping operations. Story here.

The truth is, we seem to be the only suckers out here trying to fight with them. Most of the Cav guys carry carbines. The special ops guys around here all arm themselves with some variant of a carbine, or machine pistols such as the TEC 9 and HK. Ditto the Brits.

I just talked to a British paratrooper the other day. (See, Josh Marshall--we're not "all alone" as you say!). American troops gripe when their rotation goes beyond 6 months. He just spent five years patrolling the mean streets of Belfast. The British have been there for decades. You'd think they'd have learned a thing or two about urban counterinsurgencies.

We talked to some of his troops about their armaments. All of them carried a variant of the submachine gun design, with folding stocks or no stocks at all.

Even the insurgents are cutting the stocks off their AK-47s!

Most of our drivers would rather drive through town armed with a 9mm pistol than try to defend themselves with the bulky M16. You might as well try jousting.

We were supposed to get issued the M-4 carbine variant of the M16, soon. Basically, a smaller version of the M16, but we got mobilized and never got around to it. The article is correct: there would be a slight decrease in the effective range of the weapon. But the Max effective range of the M16A2 is 525 meters. Nobody is likely to even acquire a man-sized target at ranges beyond 300. And the vast majority of engagements here take place within 200 meters, and even down to point-blank range. So in reality, the reduction in the effective range wouldn't hurt us. At longer ranges, we're usually able to bring other, larger caliber weapons to bear just fine.

Meanwhile, some of our more connected individuals have procured sub-machinegun type arms for themselves, such as the Heckler & Koch MP 5, which is also the favored arm of the US Special Forces guys around here.

It works just fine for this environment. The 9mm slug can pack a decent wallop at very short ranges (the high velocity 5.56mm M16 round has an annoying tendency to pass straight through the target at very close ranges, thus transferring only a fraction of its energy to the self-propelled sandbag on the other end of the sight picture).

But a hidebound procurement system--which SF units are able to circumvent but which we are not--makes it impossible to issue the weapon on a broader basis, regardless of the tactical need.

And if we did get into a major fight with them, the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the regular ammunition supply system would cause my ammo NCO to tear his hair out trying to explain the rate of 9mm ammunition expenditure to the brigade S4 so we could actually resupply the MP-5 shooters. Why? Because the way the ammo resupply system is designed, I can only order up to the Uniform Basic Load of 9mm ammunition for each 9mm pistol carrier in my unit. Obviously, a machine pistol is going to require a lot more ammo than a handgun. But if I tried to order more, it would get kicked back with a nasty note.

It's the same lesson we should have learned years ago. The M16 is a fine weapon for dismounted ops, and engagements on the rolling planes of Europe. But this is has got to be the most widely anticipated urban peacekeeping operation in the history of modern warfare, and we're still trying to use a hammer to turn a screw.

The army should proceed apace with the issuing of the M-4 carbine--starting with the Oregon and Washington national guard units recently mobilized for service in Iraq. They can still get to a range at the Mobilization station and properly train on and zero their new weapons.

The Army should also liberalize the procurement system down to the battalion and brigade level, and allow commanders to tailor their weapons mix to the mission at hand, BEFORE the deployment. And the ammo supply chain needs to fill the increased 9mm usage you'd get with the expanded issue of MP-5s. We have the cargo capacity. It's a low intensity war. Ammunition expenditure rates are not taxing the available transport. It's simply a matter of fixing the bureaucracy.

Take it from Scottie said on Star Trek: "How many times do I have to tell you, use the right tool for the right job!!!"


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