Room for improvement in newest weapons
July 13, 2003
Duct tape kept some going. Zip ties did the trick for others. Needed: buckshot rounds.
These were just some of the comments soldiers and Marines had for teams of researchers who fanned out across the battlefields in Iraq to find out which weapons were what the troops needed and which ones weren’t up to snuff.
The war in Iraq tested not just the soldiers and Marines on the ground, but their gear as well. Two after-action reports from a Marine Corps Systems Command Team and an Army Special Operations Battle Lab collected comments recently to rate everything from uniforms to weapons.
Here’s what troops had to say about their weapons:
M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon
Soldiers found this light machine gun to be exactly what they needed. They fielded a version with a short barrel and forward pistol grip that soldiers loved.
“It provided the requisite firepower at the squad level, as intended,” the Army report stated. “The short barrel and forward pistol grip allowed for very effective use of the SAW in urban terrain.”
Soldiers also lauded the soft ammunition pouches as an improvement over the previous hard plastic pouch. Still, they said, there is room for improvement.
They said a better design for stowing the bipod legs is needed when using the pistol grip. Open bipod legs made urban movement difficult, the report said. The soldiers also rated the smaller 100-round pouch better than the 200-round pouch, in which linked ammunition became tangled.
Marines said the SAW they fielded was “worn out and apparently beyond repair,” the report said. “Many Marines are duct taping and zip tying the weapons together.”
Marine reconnaissance units requested a “parasaw” — a shortened version of the M-249 SAW designed for close-quarters combat and used by special operations units. Infantry units wanted a version with a collapsible butt stock.
M-240 machine gun
Marines who gave the first real-world test to the M-240G, the heavier successor to the old M-60 machine gun, weren’t disappointed.
“Marines who did not know what to expect were extremely impressed with effects on target,” the report said.
Soldiers, too, were impressed with their version, the M-240B. “Soldiers have great confidence in this weapon,” the Army report stated. “The vast majority of comments were positive.”
Still, soldiers said, some improvements could be made. Among their suggestions: a lighter tripod, and collapsible bipods like the M-249 SAW.
M-203 grenade launcher
Soldiers thought the M-203 grenade launcher attached to the M-16 was the “weapon of choice for combat.”
They praised the 40 mm grenade’s performance, but said it could have been more effective had troops been given more training with it.
The soldiers found that keeping a round in the chamber, ready to fire, was unsafe; they opted to keep the weapon empty until needed.
When soldiers did need the grenade launcher, they wanted a better round, especially for urban combat. “Some mentioned the need for a buckshot-type round,” the Army’s report said.
Marines, however, asked for something more like what enemy Iraqi forces carried: a rocket-propelled grenade, which had a range beyond what the M-203 could offer. The Marine report stated that the desire stemmed from the rocket-propelled grenades having been the most effective weapon used against them.
Both soldiers and Marines preferred shotguns for breaching doors. The Marine report said many doors in Iraq were heavy steel and reinforced with cross bars, making battering rams ineffective.
“Most agreed that, at a minimum, small units need to have a shotgun to breach the doors,” the Marine report said.
Soldiers felt the breaching shotgun could be shortened, according to the Army report. Some soldiers replaced the stocks with purchased pistol grips, and many said they would have preferred “sawed-off” versions.
Marines, in their report, said the six shotguns issued per battalion were not enough. They wanted one per squad and opted to use slugs over 00 buckshot, which they reported didn’t work well.