Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times has written a lengthy piece on the battle of Wanat (or Want), that I covered in so much detail. Hating on the M4 plays a prominent role in the article. Part 1 is here, while part 2 is here. A sampling of quotes follows.
The warrant officer said he and fellow Special Forces soldiers have a trick to maintain the M4A1 — the commando version: They break the rules and buy off-the-shelf triggers and other components and overhaul the weapon themselves.
“The reliability is not there,” Warrant Officer Kramer said of the standard-issue model. “I would prefer to use something else. If I could grab something else, I would” …
In 2002, an internal report from the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey said the M4A1 was prone to overheating and “catastrophic barrel failure,” according to a copy obtained by The Times …
A former Army historian who chronicled the infamous Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, where nine U.S. soldiers died after their M4 carbines jammed, tells The Washington Times that his official account was altered by higher-ups to absolve the weapons and senior officers …
But the gun’s supporters have pointed to a single sentence in the official Wanat history issued in 2010 by the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. It blamed the gun’s sustained rapid fire that day, not its design, for the malfunctions.
“This, not weapons maintenance deficiencies or inherent weaknesses in weapons design, was the reason a number of weapons jammed during the battle,” the sentence read.
Higher-ups inside Army command edited that sentence into the history, the report’s author says.
“That was not my conclusion,” said Douglas R. Cubbison, a former Army artillery officer and principal Wanat history author. “That was the Combat Studies Institute management that was driven from the chief of staff’s office to modify findings of that report to basically CYA [cover your ass] for the Army. You know how that works.
“Other soldiers have informally told me of similar problems they had with the M4 at high rates of fire,” said Mr. Cubbison, who is now curator of the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum …
Higher-ups made other changes, such as removing much of the historian’s criticism of senior officers for not better preparing the outpost for an attack.
I have a copy of the (I believe unedited version) Cubbison report. I agreed not to divulge the contents of the report except to comment on the content (rather than reproduce the content).
There were indeed many problems associated with Wanat, such as ensconcing a unit too small to defend the location, Taliban massing of forces (to approximately a Battalion size force), something I had tracked and discussed at length. There was also the lack of logistical support, lack of (or untimely) CAS, lack of heavier weaponry, and delay of more than one year in setting up the FOB, allowing the enemy to make careful plans for his attack.
I scoured my e-mail thinking that I had exchanged mail with Mr. Cubbison, but I couldn’t find any. In any case, I found Cubbison’s writing to be clear, well crafted, and well researched. He is a good historian. But on the issue of the M4 I disagree with Mr. Cubbison (although I will stipulated that it is extremely bad form to change the prose of another author just because it is uncomfortable to read it).
I’ve heard it all before, this idea that the gas-operated rotating bolt system allows the AK to cool better than the direct impingement system that Eugene Stoner designed. This isn’t the whole story. The AK-47 is also a less accurate design, is prone to malfunctions in the field (according to first hand reports I trust), is heavier and fires heavier ammunition, and as one crusty old Marine general said, plenty of Marines have survived a shot by 7.62 X 39.
Any weapon system has its advantages and disadvantages. Give Soldiers an M14 and they will complain that it’s too heavy (like they did in the jungles of Vietnam). They will complain that its ammunition is too heavy and they can’t carry as much (and they will be right, considering that kit is now around 80 pounds without ruck, 120-130 pounds for a couple of nights out in the field).
Does this mean that they shouldn’t carry an M14, Remington 700 or Winchester Model 70 for long range shooting? No. Should a DM (designated marksman) with the unit be prepared to shoot DM rifles? Yes.
But shooting uphill should also be taught at the ranges (the report correctly notes the difficulties associated with being in a valley), and fire control should be taught and emphasized for a multitude of reasons. As my son put it to me, “shooting 500 rounds in 30 minutes means that you’re shooting at everything, and at nothing. And it also means that you’re making yourself a target.”
Compare the high rate of fire with one lesson learned from this Marine Corps engagement in Afghanistan when faced with massing of troops.
Fire Discipline: Engagements have lasted from two to forty hours of sustained combat. Marines must be careful to conserve rounds because there may not be any way to replenish their ammunition and it is not practical or recommended to carry an excessive number of magazines. Marines took a few moments to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship and this greatly improved the ratio of shots fired to enemy fighters killed. Crew Served Weapons do not always need to be fired at the rapid rate. Good application of shoulder pressure will tighten beaten zones and lead to effective suppression. Talking guns will help conserve ammunition.
Finally, Travis Haley has shown what can be accomplished with precision fire using a scoped AR-15 with a 20″ barrel.
The Eugene Stoner design is well-suited for CQB and up to 400 meters, firing with low recoil (thus allowing quick target reacquisition), and carrying large quantities of ammunition. It is also known for the projectile’s yaw in flight and significant tissue damage.
Ridiculous counterinsurgency strategy and stupid flag and staff officers are responsible for the failures at Wanat. Cubbison’s study is correct about that. But the M4 (and AR-15) still stands out as a superior weapon system for all but extreme distance shooting.
As one last comment (and this one is perhaps the most interesting to me), take note of the post date of my article on Cubbison (it was four and a half years ago). The Washington Times is just now getting around to writing about this, or perhaps just learning about the Cubbison study.
Main stream media really should pay more attention to blogs. It makes them look very out of touch and slow to respond when they are so unaware of things going on with their competitors.