2 weeks, 5 days ago
On the heels of the Marine Corps’ desire for a new rifle for its infantrymen, the U.S. Army now says it is contemplating a dramatic switch in rifles. The service is considering going back to battle rifles—heavier rifles that can hit targets at longer ranges. The last time the Army fielded such a rifle was in the 1960s.
The story, broke by Soldier Systems Daily, says that U.S. Army troops feel they’re “in a street fight with a guy with longer arms.” That longer arm is the 7.62x54R cartridge, the cartridge used by the PK machine gun and Dragunov SVD sniper rifle. The PK squad machine gun is extremely common; it’s in use by the Taliban, the Islamic State, and most insurgent and terrorist groups worldwide. Longer and heavier than the 7.62×39-millimeter round used in the AK series of assault rifles, a PK with the 7.62x54R round has an effective range of 800 to 1,000 yards, versus only about 350 yards for an AK-47.
On the Army side, the maximum effective range of an M4 carbine against man-sized targets is about 500 yards, depending on the skill of the rifleman, and 700 yards for the M249 squad automatic weapon. Both fire the same cartridge. That leaves a dead zone of roughly 500 to 1,000 yards where the bulk of a nine person infantry squad can’t engage individual enemies. In a platoon of 40 soldiers, on average only about six soldiers armed with M249s, marksman rifles, and M240 machine guns have the range to engage an enemy in the dead zone.
U.S. Army troops may have an edge on paper, but guerrilla groups don’t adhere to a bureaucratic equipment roster that says each unit can have a certain number of weapons. Taliban and IS groups routinely have a large number of heavier machine guns, and what they lack in skill they often try to make up in firepower.
While there are a number of readers who would applaud this move in favor of a 30-06 (the old Garand) or .308 (7.62mm), a “real battle rifle,” I think it will go nowhere and lacks traction. It certainly lack traction with me for reasons I’ll explain.
The excuse that the Taliban shoot machine guns and longer range weapons is disingenuous. As I documented in my coverage of the battle of Wanat, the issue with fighting the Taliban had nothing to do with the M4, and everything to do with deployment of Soldiers in bad locations, slowly enough that the Taliban had time to mass troops on a roughly ten to one ratio. They had a near Battalion size group fighting a platoon size group of Soldiers on low terrain.
There were other problems with Soldiers in the Hindu Kush such as the lack of training in shooting uphill (as well as not owning the high ground). One problem that could be corrected is that the M4s the Army fields have been shot so many times and the parts so worn that they malfunction easily. Many Soldiers don’t know enough to modify their own weapons, wouldn’t be allowed to if they could, and lack the funds to do it. But there are ways to assist your rifle in its accuracy, reliability and longevity.
But take a closer look at what they’re asking for. They want to field the 7.62mm, with its weight additional weight and the weight of the ammunition, and they expect their men (and women, unfortunately) to be able to shoot accurately beyond 500 yards and up to 1000 yards. This will require the use of good optics, not an ACOG or the Army equivalent, but scoped shooting.
Consider The Firearm Blog and one writer’s position that the Marine Corp Scout Sniper training is the best combined precision and marksmanship observation packages in the United States. It has a high failure rate, and takes months to complete. No unit can go without Marines for long enough to send hundreds or thousands of Marines to this training. And there aren’t enough classes or instructors to go around even if they could.
My son, Daniel, has been through all of the shooting instruction in these classes, albeit not the observation and tracking. It does indeed take months of training to understand and use high power scopes for precision shooting. For the Army to pretend that they’re are going to send thousands of brand new Soldiers at Fort Jackson into classes to learn parallax, windage adjustments, elevation and humidity effects on shooting, and so on, is a pipe dream.
I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you or your family not have your own higher caliber and bolt action precision chassis weapons as well as your CQB and shorter range weapons, or that you forego the time and accoutrements to use them properly. Every gun has its purpose, and you need all the right tools for the job ahead. I’m suggesting that America isn’t going to make snipers out of their Soldiers by switching from 5.56mm to 7.62mm.