Theodore's World: Weapons Failed US Troops During Afghan Firefight

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October 12, 2009

Weapons Failed US Troops During Afghan Firefight

The Army's new rife project was cancled. Here's what the SpecOps guys buy and use - according to what I could find.
SCAR (SOF Combat Assault Rifle) FN SCAR: Mark 16 and Mark 17- Special Forces Combat Assault Rifle (USA/Belgium

FN SCAR-L / Mk.16 rifle - prototype (1s generation, late 2004), left side view

FN SCAR-L / Mk.16 rifle, 2nd generation prototype, with FN EGLM 40mm grenade launcher attached

FN SCAR-H/Mk.17 rifle prototype in CQC (Close Quarter Combat, short barrel) configuration, 7.62x51 mm NATO version

FN SCAR-L/Mk.16 rifle partially disassembled; note additional quick-detachable barrel

5.56mm NATO FN SCAR-L/Mk.16 rifles of current (2007/2008) production, top to bottom in Long Barrel (LB), bstandard (Std) and Close Quarter Combat (CQC) configurations

The M240, formally identified as the United States Machine Gun, 7.62 millimeter, M240, is a family of belt-fed, gas operated middle sized machine guns firing the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. The M240 was adopted by the U.S. Military following a world-wide contest for a reliable 7.62 mm machine gun for use as a coaxial weapon for armored motor vehicle applications. The Coaxial edition of the legendary Belgian FN MAG 58 (Mitrailleuse d'Appui General or General Purpose Machine Gun), created by FN Herstal, won this contest. Despite not being the lightest medium machine gun in service, the M240 is highly regarded for reliability, and its standardization among NATO members is also seen as a major advantage. The demonstrated consistency of this weapon, 26,000 Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF), makes it the world's most dependable machine gun. ( The Gun Source )

Weapons failed US troops during Afghan firefight

It was chaos during the early morning assault last year on a remote U.S. outpost in Afghanistan and Staff Sgt. Erich Phillips' M4 carbine had quit firing as militant forces surrounded the base. The machine gun he grabbed after tossing the rifle aside didn't work either.

When the battle in the small village of Wanat ended, nine U.S. soldiers lay dead and 27 more were wounded. A detailed study of the attack by a military historian found that weapons failed repeatedly at a "critical moment" during the firefight on July 13, 2008, putting the outnumbered American troops at risk of being overrun by nearly 200 insurgents.

Which raises the question: Eight years into the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, do U.S. armed forces have the best guns money can buy?

Despite the military's insistence that they do, a small but vocal number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq has complained that the standard-issue M4 rifles need too much maintenance and jam at the worst possible times.

A week ago, eight U.S. troops were killed at a base near Kamdesh, a town near Wanat. There's no immediate evidence of weapons failures at Kamdesh, but the circumstances were eerily similar to the Wanat battle: insurgents stormed an isolated stronghold manned by American forces stretched thin by the demands of war.

Army Col. Wayne Shanks, a military spokesman in Afghanistan, said a review of the battle at Kamdesh is under way. "It is too early to make any assumptions regarding what did or didn't work correctly," he said.

Complaints about the weapons the troops carry, especially the M4, aren't new. Army officials say that when properly cleaned and maintained, the M4 is a quality weapon that can pump out more than 3,000 rounds before any failures occur.

The M4 is a shorter, lighter version of the M16, which made its debut during the Vietnam war. Roughly 500,000 M4s are in service, making it the rifle troops on the front lines trust with their lives.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a leading critic of the M4, said Thursday the Army needs to move quickly to acquire a combat rifle suited for the extreme conditions U.S. troops are fighting in.

U.S. special operations forces, with their own acquisition budget and the latitude to buy gear the other military branches can't, already are replacing their M4s with a new rifle.

"The M4 has served us well but it's not as good as it needs to be," Coburn said.

Battlefield surveys show that nearly 90 percent of soldiers are satisfied with their M4s, according to Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, head of the Army office that buys soldier gear. Still, the rifle is continually being improved to make it even more reliable and lethal.

Fuller said he's received no official reports of flawed weapons performance at Wanat. "Until it showed up in the news, I was surprised to hear about all this," he said.

The study by Douglas Cubbison of the Army Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., hasn't been publicly released. Copies of the study have been leaked to news organizations and are circulating on the Internet.

Cubbison's study is based on an earlier Army investigation and interviews with soldiers who survived the attack at Wanat. He describes a well-coordinated attack by a highly skilled enemy that unleashed a withering barrage with AK-47 automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The soldiers said their weapons were meticulously cared for and routinely inspected by commanders. But still the weapons had breakdowns, especially when the rifles were on full automatic, which allows hundreds of bullets to be fired a minute.

The platoon-sized unit of U.S. soldiers and about two dozen Afghan troops was shooting back with such intensity the barrels on their weapons turned white hot. The high rate of fire appears to have put a number of weapons out of commission, even though the guns are tested and built to operate in extreme conditions.

Cpl. Jonathan Ayers and Spc. Chris McKaig were firing their M4s from a position the soldiers called the "Crow's Nest." The pair would pop up together from cover, fire half a dozen rounds and then drop back down.

On one of these trips up, Ayers was killed instantly by an enemy round. McKaig soon had problems with his M4, which carries a 30-round magazine.

"My weapon was overheating," McKaig said, according to Cubbison's report. "I had shot about 12 magazines by this point already and it had only been about a half hour or so into the fight. I couldn't charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down."

The soldiers also had trouble with their M249 machine guns, a larger weapon than the M4 that can shoot up to 750 rounds per minute.

Cpl. Jason Bogar fired approximately 600 rounds from his M-249 before the weapon overheated and jammed the weapon.

Bogar was killed during the firefight, but no one saw how he died, according to the report.

Wild Thing's comment......

Our troops are brave, well trained professionals and so many have sacrificed their lives for our country. I do a lot of volunteer work with the military and with Veterans. When I meet our troops and Veterans in person, online, at the VA, the Disabled Veterans group or other places I am involved with I truly couldn’t be prouder of them.

I put a few guns for the graphics they are beautiful! The bottom lilne for me is I want the best for our troops whatever it takes, and I could care less what it costs financially.

....Thank you Mark for sending this to me.

3rd Mar.Div. 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment
1/9 Marines aka The Walking Dead
VN 66-67

Posted by Wild Thing at October 12, 2009 05:49 AM


TW - I will be spending today in thoughtful and prayerful reflection of our courageous fighters, their families and this country. Some gave all....we owe them no ceilings on the cost to protect human life for they had no boundaries for their love of freedom.

Posted by: jan at October 12, 2009 08:22 AM

With all do respects, but your gear down for some R & R and let the USAF AIRPOWER into this game, eh? WE drop - massive drops - and then you MOP UP!! Where have you gone General's Hap Arnold and Billy Mitchell? ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Posted by: darthcrUSAderworldtour07 at October 12, 2009 09:01 AM

Weaons procurement is based on defense $$. I am sure the Army and Marines could rearm their basic infantry weapons with much better equipment if the money was appropriated. Too many Generals and Admirals want the big fancy stuff and the politicians vote to have defense $$ spent in their district. Then there is the social side of spending which takes up so many tax$$. I am sure the Army and Marine infantrymen would love to have ACORN's tax $$ to spend on the small arms of their choice.

I am guessing that the 90% of soldiers liking the M4 are the 90% that are in support positions and never have to fire their weapons.

Special Forces and SEALs have their own appropriations and can buy the weapons they want. Many buy weapons other than the M16 family.

Another major problem we have is with the 5.56mm family of weapons. We desperately need a more powerful caliber. Preferably the 6.8mm or .30cal. For a light machine gun I still love the old M60 which has been upgraded and improved. It is now the M60E3 or E4.

Posted by: TomR at October 12, 2009 03:52 PM

Jan, I agree, no ceilings on the cost.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 12, 2009 07:40 PM

Darth, I am all for that. BOMB the heck
out of the place. Love it!

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 12, 2009 07:43 PM

Tom, thank you so much for your input
on this.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 12, 2009 07:48 PM

The M-4/M-16 is a good weapon but it's just a SOB to keep clean and that's ultimately been its fatal flaw. That and the 5.56 NATO Round.

They were working on a rifle called the Barret REC-7. It uses basic M-16 stock parts just a bigger reciever and barrel for a bigger round than the 5.56 NATO. This is it here.

Personally, I would much rather bring my Tactical 870 along with me to afghanistan. It's easy to use, and it will never jam. Plus, I'm just really good with a Shotgun. I often wonder why the Military doesn't use Shotguns more extensivley? Especially in the kind of combat we're facing.

P.S. I like the 240 it's a DAMN good Machine Gun.

Posted by: JohnE PFC U.S. Army at October 12, 2009 08:03 PM

It's interesting how the same problems persist. That disciplined firing range scenario is nothing like actual field conditions, dust and mud, mud and dust, the twins of the battle field. Hard to beat that proven M60 and it's derivatives, that M14 was heavy but faithful, accurate and used the same round as the M60. Every one of the M16's assigned to my unit had to have the buffer springs replaced in country. That is the wrong place to debug a system. Everytime I needed it, that blamed Mattel with it super slick stock had slid to the floorboards or was wedged between the drivers door and the drivers seat, you don't have the luxury of time to grope around for a fallen weapon, much less function one clogged with road dust or one that has been doused with bongwater and mud. You needed both hands and both feet to herd a truck over there, I took to packing that M79, it laid right across the lap and seldom moved and it provided the time to find Micky Mattel where ever it had slithered away. Ma Deuce in a turret rack on a 5 ton and twin M60's on M151's worked well for internal security, it's hard to beat that quad 50 for road work. As Tom astutely puts it, we need a more powerful round, that 5.56 0r .223 round is outlawed almost universally as a big game round for a reason, likewise the same reason that model 1911 .45 was adopted, to stop the advancing enemy in its tracks. From a loading standpoint and politics aside, it is only 1 or 2 cents difference between a real round and an innefective round.

Yes John, that 12 ga is a formidable tool.

Posted by: Jack at October 12, 2009 08:29 PM

Mattel, that was my first impression of the M-16. Never got one but had the M-1 then the M-14 both excellant. The Ma deuce and M-60 were top notch. M-60 portable too. Those two MG's could cut trees down. All machined parts, not stamped metal parts and a nice Wooden stock. The M-14 weighed 11.95 pounds if you ran out of ammo it could be used as a ball bat with a bayonet. I don't remember any jams with the M-14. But I heard about a lot of jams with the Matel M-16. And the blooper was always nice to have around.

But thats ancient history.

Posted by: Mark at October 12, 2009 10:14 PM