Monday, January 2, 2012

Has Tactical Cool Overridden Tactical Sense?

There is nothing much cooler at the range than a short barreled rifle especially a M4 with all the latest new gizmos hanging off of it but has the cool factor actually become more important that the effectiveness of the current U.S. service weapon.  The U.S. military has always prided itself as being a force of riflemen and has fielded some of the best weapons in history the M1903 Springfield, the M1917 Enfield (made in greater numbers than the M190A3), the M1 Garand and arguably the M16 (which is technically a carbine with its 20” barrel). However the last few years has seen the U.S. military turning into a carbine armed force.  Even the Marine Corps which until recently resisted the M4 urge is deploying more of these weapons to troops headed to Afghanistan. 

            It is a fact that not all military forces have a need for a full sized rifle.  “It was recognized that the officer, medic, military policeman, and the tank crewman needed a weapon that could be carried constantly and safely for emergency self defense (Lewis, 2004).”  This was weapon was to replace the handgun then in issue (it never did).  This weapon was plagued by complaints of poor stopping power and poor reliability.  Fast forward a few years and now the military requires a “weapon to be issued to units and personnel with a requirement for an effective but compact highly portable/sling able hands free weapon (Lewis, 2004).”  This weapon was to initially replace all M3A1 .45 caliber submachine guns issued to tankers, and selected pistols and rifles.  This weapon is plagued by complaints of poor stopping power and poor reliability.  The first weapon was the M1 carbine of WWII fame and the second the current M4.  What makes this debate even more thought provoking is that both of these essentially personal defense weapons (PDW) made it to large scale front line usage.  With more than six million M1 carbines made it became the most produced weapon of WWII.  The M4 became the U.S. Army’s standard individual weapon in 2005 with most Special Operations units began use much earlier and as stated previously the Marine Corps acquiring significant numbers of them currently. 

            The popularity of the M1 carbine was due to its light weight and short length verses the heavy, long but very effective M1 Garand.  The M1 carbine is only 5.2 lbs and 35.6” longs compared to the 9.5 lbs and 43.6” long Garand.  This is a huge difference for rear echelon troops whose job does not require the use of a rifle on a daily bases.  It is an even bigger difference to combat troops who are most of the time encumbered with a ton of extra gear even back in WWII.  The M1 carbine was plagued by mechanical issues especially in cold weather, the fully automatic M2 was also prone to jamming.  The other issue was a lack of stopping power as the 110 grain full metal jacket bullet was only effective out to approximately 100 meters.  This is good enough as a personal defense weapon for supply troops, officers, and close in urban combat front line troops found this weapon and round wanting.

 Anecdotal evidence about the M1 carbine complained of a lack of stopping power and reliability. Marine Lt.  Joseph in a 1950 interview with S.L. A. Marshall after the defense of Hagaru –ri, Korea is quoted as saying “About 30 percent of our carbines gave us trouble, but the main reason my men lost faith in the carbine was because they could put a bullet right in a man’s chest at 25 yards and would not stop (Lewis, 2004).   The M1 carbine has been used effectively by hunters and police departments who are able to use expanding ammunition that the military is unable to use do to the Hague conventions.  This history lesson takes brings us to the U.S. military’s current carbine the M4/M4A1. 

The M4 and the 5.56x45 round struggles against targets especially in Afghanistan where engagement ranges often exceed 300 meters.  “The infantry’s ability to fix or kill the enemy with organic weapons systems beyond 200 meters is limited by his equipment and training.  The incapacitation mechanism of small caliber bullets such as the 5.56x45 comes primarily from bullet fragmentation.  Bullet fragmentation occurs only at sufficiently high velocity.  All 5.56 weapons are most effective when employed within 200 meters (Ehrhart, 2009).”  The M4 with its shortened barrel may have a much shorter effective range.  This lack of organic weapon effectiveness means fewer weapons in a fight if only Designated Marksmen (DM), medium 7.62x51mm machine guns, and 60mm mortars have the range to engage an enemy in the middle distance. 

While there is no doubt that the 5.56 rounds and the M16 family of weapons will be with the military for the foreseeable future (for cost reasons if nothing else) is the M4 the most effective weapon to fire this round from.  The 5.56 round due to its small size relies on velocity to do its damage.  The yaw and break of up of the bullet only happens when the bullet strikes the target above a certain velocity which is in the 2700-2750 fps range.  The 20” M16 with the 62 grain M855 ball round maintains this velocity to approximately 100 yards where it is moving at 2765 fps.  The 14.5” barreled M4 maintains the required velocity too approximately 50 yards.  So what does the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine gain for the loss of performance between the M16 and M4?  The M4 loaded weighs about a pound 7.36lbs than the M16 8.5lbs the big difference comes in length of the weapons were an M4 with the stock fully collapsed is only 29.75” long verses the M16 at 39”.  This makes the M4 handier when getting into and out of vehicles and in urban combat but is it really worth the effectiveness loss?  Where the M4 doe excel is in urban and close quarters battle situations it size is similar to submachine gun.  The SEALs that took down Osama bin Laden where using M4s and the weapon performed flawlessly while clearing the compound.   However even in urban combat shots of over 50 yards may need to be taken this will again show the weakness of the 5.56 rounds out of a short barrel. 

While the M4 is super cool and has a place in  urban or close quarters battle environment it may actually make units weaker.  A historical example is again the M1/2 carbine.  S.L.A. Marshall had this to say about small caliber fully automatic carbines. “The carbine, made fully automatic has provided no additional power to the infantry line in virtue of the change but to the contrary in hard terms of tactical practicality has served but to weaken the infantry firebase (Lewis, 2004).”  The current lack of an effective medium range infantry weapon has necessitated the addition of the Designated Marksman (DM) and his weapon system either a rebuilt M14 or the M110 both 7.62x51 mm weapons.  This was actually foreseen back in 1963 in a Guns and Ammo article about the military’s adaption of the M16. “Possibly, evolving combat doctrine will in the future make room for one or two sharpshooting snipers per squad, armed with long ranging rifles, perhaps even the M14 (Beecher, 2011).  This is a prophecy that has come true.  With the addition of the DM to a squad it actually might reduce the effectiveness of a squad in an urban area as it takes a weapon out of the stack that is helping clear an area. 

After WWII it was discovered that most military engagements took place a ranges of 300 meters or less.  Afghanistan is the exception to this engagement ranges are commonly 300 meters and approach 500 meters (Ehrhart, 2009).  The enemy knowing our troops engagement ranges will shoot at US forces with a medium 7.62x54 caliber machine guns that out ranges anything but a squad DM, a M240 gunner, or a vehicle mounted weapon leaving most troops out of the fight.  Enemy forces can then maneuver closer while US troops are pinned by the longer range fire.  The US military is excellent at long range engagements with precision weapons, artillery, and air.  The current carbine oriented military is also very effective in the short range 0-200 meters it is the 300-500 meter range band where most weapons systems organic to an infantry squad are ineffective. 

The military has not however sat on its collective hands and done nothing to counter this problem it has issued two new 5.56 rounds that to increase the effectiveness of the M16/M4 family of weapons there is the M262 Model 1 round that is basically a 77 grain Sierra Match King bullets with a lower yaw velocity that increases the effective range of the M16 to 200-225 yards and the M4 to 125-150 yards.  The new M855A1 round that started equipping US troops in 2010 according to the Army this round will be able to alleviate most of the complaints against the old M855 ammo and resolve the Carbine issue.

Also notable is the EPR's excellent performance against softer intermediate barriers such as car doors, windshields, or Kevlar fabric. The thinner metal found on car doors poses no problem. When engaging targets behind windshields with the EPR, ARL has shown an increase in the probability of hitting the occupant, due to both the steel penetrator and the copper slug remaining intact through the glass. Furthermore, ARL tested the round against 24 layers of Kevlar fabric out to 1,000 meters, but discontinued the test as the Kevlar showed no sign of being able to stop the EPR. The EPR also penetrates some lesser-quality body armors designed to stop 7.62mm ball rounds.
Another benefit Soldiers will see from the new round is its effectiveness when engaging soft targets at longer ranges.
As a small-caliber projectile's velocity decreases, it eventually will reach a point at which it can no longer transfer most of its energy to its target. Below this velocity, which equates to range, the round is more likely to pass through its target with little effect. The M855A1 can maintain consistent, desired effects at a much lower velocity, resulting in excellent effectiveness at far greater ranges along its trajectory.
In addition to the above-mentioned performance improvements, the EPR is more accurate than the M855. Accuracy testing during production lot acceptance has shown that, on average, 95 percent of the rounds will hit within an 8 x 8-inch target at 600 meters. It also uses a flash-reduced propellant optimized for the M4's shorter barrel
(Woods, 2010).           

                Since it is yet to be seen if the new ammunition can perform as advertised there has to be a middle ground where the average line infantryman can get a compact weapon with a barrel length adequate enough to propel the 5.56x45 round at high velocity.  Early in the War on Terror the SPR (Special Purpose Rifle) was put into use it had a collapsible stock and an 18” free floated barrel this is similar to the Marine Corps IAR (Individual Automatic Rifle that is replacing the SAW).  Both of these rifles are very accurate, Marines assigned the IAR are not allowed to use them during rifle qualifications because the rifle offers advantages over the standard M16A4.  Also with the collapsible stock a somewhat shorter barrel will allow for more handiness getting into and out of vehicles and in close quarters battle.  This will give the infantryman a weapon that can engage from 0-500 meters.  The military can then use the M4 for what it was intended Special Operations who do to the nature of their work need a smaller weapon and as a personal defense weapon for everyone else. 





Beecher, W. (2011). Fantastic New Weapons That May Replace it. Book of the AR-15 , pp. 120-126.

Ehrhart, M. T. (2009). Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half Kilometer. Fort Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies.

Lewis, J. (2004). The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons: The What and Why of Carbines. Iola, WI: Krause Publications.

Woods, J. K. (2010, November 26). Evolution of the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round. Retrieved January 2, 2012, from

Russian's using US caliber sniper rifles.

I find it interesting that the Russians are using a foriegn made and designed sniper rifle for their Spetnaz units in US calibers.

Very cool
I am not one for New Years resolutions but I do have some goals for this year.  Here they are in no particular order:
1. Work on five more seconds of patience. 
2. Finish getting my two gunsmith's training certificates
3. Shoot 50-100 rounds a month
4. Be prepared for the November election (this is not an ominous thing nor do I think the world is ending but this election could prove important to me personally).
5. Write more as schooling allows I really slipped the second half of last year of course being in the hospital for 11 days and not having a computer will slow down anyone.

Well there you have it five goals nothing fancy or earth shattering.

Oh and this one.  By the end of the year I will have built my SPR.
Flat top receiver, 1:8 twist 20" barrel, free floated barrel, and only enough rails hang a minimum of accessories on.  This I might have to do a piece at a time but that is alright as well.