I hope that this article proves useful as there are many misconceptions and outright fabrications drifting through the netherworld of the internet regarding military weapons and how they are employed. Every year or so I see a chain e-mail popping up on message boards, Facebook, and other venues on the internet. It is supposed to be a “weapons report card” written by an Army officer or a Marine, depending on which version people are re-posting that day. The problem is that this “report card” is widely circulated and is filled with inaccuracies and misconceptions. The end of the message also contains an amateurish geo-political break down of the situation in Afghanistan. Many believe the entire thing to be fake and I think that the vague political overtones hint as to why it was written to begin with.
With this in mind, I’ve written my own “weapons report card” with a special focus on the type of information that I think re-enactors and enthusiasts are interested in, such as how Army Special Operations troops carry and employ various weapons systems.
The M4 rifle is a shortened M16 carbine and is by far the most common weapon found in the hands of US forces today. Special Forces troops carry the M4 and utilize the new SOPMOD 2 package which includes the EO Tech 553 holographic reflex site, LA-5 infrared laser, foregrip, the M3X visible bright light (tactical light) and associated accessories. Also included is the Elcan Spector telescopic sight which is adjustable from 1 power to 5 power via a throw lever on the side of the optic. While this is an interesting idea, nearly all Special Forces troops leave these sights in their card board boxes to collect dust and simply use to EO Tech 553. We felt that the Elcan was a little bit too much and perhaps over engineered. Now, if we had been facing long range engagements in Afghanistan, rather than precision raids in Iraq, maybe we would have felt differently. Along with the EO Tech, the LA-5 is much smaller than the PEQ-2 and together these are the most valued items in the SOPMOD kit.
The M9 Beretta pistol is essentially the military version of the civilian 92F. I never cared for the pistol due to the double action trigger and poor placement of the decocking lever. Another failing of this weapon is that it is chambered for the 9mm round. Most of us would have preferred a .45 caliber hand gun. The manner in which this pistol is carried may be unfamiliar to some so I will explain here. To load the pistol, the slide is locked to the rear, a loaded magazine is inserted, and the slide is released to chamber the first round. The decocking lever is then depressed to safely drop the hammer. Next, the decocking lever is switched back up into the fire position. Special Forces do not consider the decocking lever to be a safety and do not use it as such. The weapon is considered to be safe while on fire with a round in the chamber due to the fact that it has a double action trigger. At this point, the pistol is safely holstered.
As I mentioned above, I never cared for the double action trigger, it makes sight alignment difficult with such a long squeeze needed before the hammer drops. Rumor has it that some Special Forces soldiers have taken apart the trigger mechanism and cut the springs to make for a shorter trigger pull. I never did this myself, but one hears things. Of course, it is highly illegal under military law for an operator to go inside and make modifications to his weapon in this way.
The M249, or SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) is somewhat looked down upon Army-wide due to malfunctions. However, I suspect that many of these issues derive from the machine guns getting “shot out” and never being serviced by armorers or refurbished in anyway. For instance, the SAWs we had in Ranger School were a nightmare to keep operational. Still, when properly maintained, the SAW works like a charm and is an important force multiplier in a fire fight. In Special Forces the SAW is usually left in the Humvee as a contingency weapon, while in Ranger Battalion, each Fire Team has one Private carrying a SAW (now the newer Mk46) even while clearing rooms. You can only imagine the devastating effect that this machine gun has in close quarters when fired standing up as you would shoot a rifle. Special Forces and Rangers both utilize the shortened SAW barrels and collapsible butt stocks, making the weapon much more versatile and adaptable for mounted operations as well as CQB.
The M240B is generally used by Special Forces teams by being mounted on their humvees to supplement the M2 .50 cal. Usually, the M240B is mounted on swing arms positioned on the sides or on the back of GMVs (Ground Mobility Vehicles, Humvees designed for off-road travel), and crewed my riflemen until the convoy reaches the objective. With the wide spread use of armored vehicles, the M240 is more often than not mounted at the rear air-guard hatch. This has been the case when we used the Stryker armored vehicle and later, the MRAP. Little changed, the M240B continues to be a mainstay in the US arsenal as a superior general purpose machine gun.
M2 .50 cal
Known affectionately as the Ma Deuce, the .50 cal is no stranger to soldiers or military enthusiasts. I had an instructor in the Q-Course who told me that his father fired the M2 in Vietnam, his grandfather in Korea, and he himself was a .50 cal gunner in Afghanistan. I suppose that pretty much tells you all you need to know about this timeless weapon. Not much has changed, except that you might see some strange looking funnels at the end of the heavy barrels used by the M2. These are flash suppressors that, as Weapon’s Sergeants, we fitted onto the barrels. At night they do a fairly good job at reducing muzzle flash.
On my last deployment we were no longer permitted to use the MK19 inside the cities, so these were left to collect dust in my weapons shed until myself or my Junior Weapons Sergeant gave them a cleaning every so often. While fun to shoot, I always found the 40mm rounds to be under powered, not providing sufficient explosive impact. Then again, I never had the chance to use the MK19 against dismounted infantry. I did have a friend who was a MK19 gunner in Afghanistan when his convoy was ambushed. He rotated his turret and let it rip on the enemy positions to devastating effect. One point to remember with the MK19 is that you have to charge it twice, that is to say, rack the charging handles, drop the bolt, and then repeat the procedure once more to seat the first round all the way down onto the bolt face. Not knowing how to do this properly can result in an accidental discharge, or worse yet, leave you firing on an empty chamber during a firefight!
Mossberg 500/Remington 270
Another timeless weapon. One thing I would like to clarify so there is no confusion is that at no time did we use the shotgun to clear rooms or otherwise use it as a primary weapon. The shotgun is carried for ballistic breaches only. The shot gun is loaded and carried in a particular manner to ensure safety and ease of use once on the objective.
The weapon is always left on fire, never on safe as the safety is difficult to manipulate, especially while wearing gloves and under pressure. The user shucks the shotgun and then pulls the trigger on the empty chamber. Now the shotgun is loaded, usually with Hatton rounds made specifically for door breaches. Once the shot gun is fully loaded it is snapped onto the operator’s kit, usually by an elastic bungee cord and stowed into an aluminum holder on the soldier’s belt or body armor to hold it in place.
On the objective, the shot gunner moves forward to the breach site, slings his rifle, and releases his shotgun. Shucking the weapon, he loads the first round into the chamber. The muzzle of the shotgun is placed above the locking mechanism of the door and canted at an angle. When fired, the shot blasts through the wooden door jamb. SOP is to fire two shots into the door jamb, then kick the door and step aside for the assaulters to flow through the entrance.
Barret Anti-Material Rifle
In my experience, the Barret .50 caliber anti-material rifle is much despised by the Sniper community. Mostly, this is due to the weapon’s lack of accuracy. I suspect that this reputation and resentment is also due to a misunderstanding. The Barret is not a sniper rifle but an anti-material rifle. It isn’t designed to shoot a person but to shoot an engine block or a generator. However, that isn’t always how the weapon is used and it is understandable that many snipers demand a higher quality rifle for long range engagements. Another issue I’ve had with the Barret is that it often fails to chamber a round and requires the shooter to manually push the charging handle forward.
The M110 is the newest addition to the sniper’s arsenal and was conceived and developed to meet the sniper’s need for a semi-automatic platform for close-in urban engagements. I carried the M110’s predecessor, the SR-25, and was very happy with it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the M110. Issues include the trigger mechanism breaking, resulting in the rifle firing on full auto. Friends of mine in the sniper course also tell me that they have had barrels get shot out extremely fast, with just a few hundred rounds. This results in rounds flying wildly off target, suddenly dropping off eight Minutes Of Angle (MOA) or more. I believe that one day the Army will have a quality, reliable, semi-automatic sniper rifle, but it will probably take another ten years or so to work out all the issues with the M110 due to the bureaucracy involved. For now, I would much rather stick with the tried and true bolt-action M24.
M67 Fragmentation Grenade
On most missions, each Special Forces operator carries two M67 grenades. These grenades now include safety clips that snap into place over the spoon as an added precaution. According to the Army Safety Center, soldiers are no longer permitted to tape up their grenades as the safety clip is sufficient. We discarded the safety clip and taped up our grenades anyway. I’ve seen these grenades used in tight and enclosed spaces such as alleyways in Iraqi cities. The effect this has on enemy insurgents is devastating to say the least.
Flashbang: Over the years I saw a variety of different flash bangs used in the military. Some of them were actually recalled due to manufacturing defects that cost a few soldiers their fingers. On my final deployment in 2010, we used the M84 flashbang to great effect. I also issued some of these to my Iraqi troops to use during missions. Sometimes they would come back to us in bewilderment and say they pulled the pin, threw it, and nothing happened. We would explain that you have to pull BOTH of the TWO pins before throwing the flashbang. Remember, these grenades don’t work like ordinary fragmentation grenades. Flashbangs usually have a one second fuse and have to be thrown directly into the room you want them in. Any attempt to “cook off” a flashbang will result in lost fingers or hands. It was our SOP that once the pins are pulled, you throw the flashbang no matter what, even if not needed. If the situation no longer warrants a flashbang you just toss it in a closet or out on the street with no attempt made to put the pins back in place.
Exotic and Foreign Weapons
We had only one of these in my team house and I was dying to use it. Thermo (Heat) + Baric (Pressure) is the basic formula used to destroy bunkers, enemy compounds, spider holes, and the like. The trick is that the thermobaric device needs to be thrown, or shot into, the interior of the compound. The rapid increase of heat and pressure is what actually collapses the structure from the inside.
Rarely do US soldiers resort to carrying weapons captured from the enemy, but it happens. When I was a sniper in Ranger Battalion we didn’t have enough M9 pistols to go around and my SR-25 sniper rifle was awkward to use in a vehicle. For this reason, I carried an AK-47 while in transit to the objective.
Years later, while training an Iraqi SWAT Team as a Special Forces adviser, the indigenous troops carried the folding stock variety of the Kalashnikov. They also had rail systems on their AK’s with tactical lights and foregrips attached to them. I had one of my platoons constantly asking me for new tac-lite batteries. I was scratching my head trying to figure out why they were burning through those batteries so quickly until an interpreter told me that they sell for five dollars each at the shops up north in Kurdistan!
The SWAT team members also carried Glock 19 pistols as a sidearm. I found the combination of AK-47 rifles and Glock 19 pistols to be a perfect match for the Iraqi troops due to the rugged reliability of these two weapons. Soldiers find lots of things to complain about in Iraq, but this certainly wasn’t one of them. Truth be told, I ended up forgoing my Beretta for one of the Glocks on many missions.
Milkor Mk14 Grenade Launcher
Much to my delight, we received this brand new weapon halfway through our deployment last year. Based on the older South African design, the Mk14 was a pleasure to shoot. Basically, it fired like a giant-sized revolver…because that is exactly what it is. The cylinder has to be rotated as it is spring loaded, then the 40mm grenades can be loaded. The frame of the weapon is then swung shut and locked into place. Just for fun, I once loaded it full of flare rounds and cleared our shoot house.
An outstanding weapon that lives up to the expectations that most people have in a suppressed weapon. With the integral suppressor, the HK-made sub-machine gun is so quiet that all you really hear is the bolt racking back. The first time I fired it I kept performing corrective actions because I thought the gun was having a malfunction when it was actually cycling perfectly. I had a great time shooting drills with this gun out at the range, but suppressed weapons are usually used in a little less of a dramatic fashion then most people would expect. Normally, they are used to shoot dogs in a quiet manner while approaching the objective during a mission as to avoid the compromise of a loud gunshot. That might sound harsh but these are feral animals. I was on one mission where a soldier got bit in the ass and had to get a series of rabies injections afterwards.
What the future holds:
Here are some weapons that are in various states of being phased into Army Special Operations units.
The SCAR rifle has been in field testing for I don’t know how many years now. I was told by someone who works in the military’s weapons acquisition program that if the SCAR had a SEAL trident on it, we would have had the rifle ten years ago. That’s the Army for you, I guess. The SCAR uses what FN calls a gas piston system of operation. To my mind, I can’t tell how this is any different than the gas tappet system that has been around for over a hundred years. Setting these complaints aside, the SCAR is a step up from the M4. It is not the revolution that I think some expect it to be, but it is the next step in the evolution of infantry small arms.
I found the rifle to be insanely accurate. I was able to zero the SCAR in the unsupported position (without a rest or sandbags) which I never would have been able to do with a M4. The included suppressor functioned extremely well, much better than the suppressors we have had for our M4’s in the past. On automatic I was able to hold my sights on target while burning through an entire magazine with ease, impressive to say the least. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the SCAR is that it is a modular platform that allows the user to switch bolts and barrels to fire different calibers and have various barrel lengths. This benefits the soldiers, and in my opinion, was a very shrewd decision on the part of Fabrique Nationale. They managed to end the 5.56 vs 7.62 debate as the user can now have it his way.
Two main issues persist. First, the placement of the safety selector makes it difficult to manipulate from fire to automatic and back again. Second, the charging handle is difficult to rack due to the amount of overlap of the EO Tech sight off of the top rail. I’ve been told that FN is working with EO Tech to correct this issue.
The Mk46 is the intended replacement for the SAW. It is more reliable and does not include a magazine well for firing M16 style magazines in an emergency. The only other mechanical difference immediately noticeable is two small metal paws on the feed ramp which hold the belt of ammunition in place during the loading procedure. No more canting your weapon to one side, holding the belt in place, and then slamming the feed tray cover down.
The Mk47 grenade launcher is in the inventory of most Special Operations units at the moment and replaces the MK19. Internally, the Mk47 also functions much like a giant revolver as it has a rotating cylinder inside that ferries the 40mm rounds into position. One interesting feature that soldiers quickly notice is the rip chord. Instead of a charging handle, the gunner pulls a plastic grip attached to a nylon string that charges the weapon. It’s almost like starting a lawnmower.
The Mk47 includes an elaborate thermal imaging system. It is easy to zero, and easy to fire as the on-board computer quickly and accurately computes trajectories for you and tells you exactly where to fire in order to hit your target. In fact, the system is too elaborate to use on mounted operations with the cables running everywhere. The grenade launcher can be stripped down when mounted in the turret of a vehicle, otherwise the full set-up can be used in static defensive positions.
The most memorable remark about this weapon I ever heard was, “That is the lightest heavy machine gun I’ve ever seen!” As a Corporal, I was a Gun Team Leader in Ranger Battalion where my team made great use of the Mk48 in training as well as combat. The Mk48 is the size of a SAW but packs the 7.62 punch of a M240B. Its small size makes it perfect for immediate support by fire in dismounted, urban environments.
Chimera Gun: This gun was home built from scavenged parts by one of the Iraqi SWAT team members I trained. It consists of an AK-47 receiver, a Browning Hi-Power pistol grip, PKM barrel, BB gun scope, and a custom made butt stock, magazine, and M16 style charging handle! I watched him shoot it on a number of occasions so I know it worked, but I always stood at a safe distance just in case.
SCAR: Back at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, field testing the new SCAR rifle. I found the shortened barrel and sound suppressor to be an ideal combination.
M2: The Ma Deuce, still in service after all these years. The strange looking thing mounted where the barrel meets the receiver is a type of rail system for mounting different types of visible and infrared lasers. This was taken during a convoy to a small outlaying village in 2010.
Iraqi AK: This is another picture taken during a training mission I was conducting for the Iraqi SWAT. The Kalashnikov is ubiquitous among Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi SWAT variety is seen here with a rail system, foregrip, and tactical flashlight.
TCP: Running a tactical checkpoint in Iraq in 2010. I’m wearing the new “Desert Dune” pattern camouflage uniform from Hyperstealth which I found to be perfect for this environment. Note the LAW rocket launcher under my right arm. We carried them because we infiled with the Iraqi Air Force and wanted to make sure we had some extra fire power while we were out there without our gun trucks.
SR25: Post-Mission after a raid in 2005 when I was a sniper in 3rd Ranger Battalion. Visible on my right side is the AK-47 I carried for use while in the vehicle. Mounted on my SR-25 is a UNS, or Universal Night Sight.
Kit: This is a picture of me from behind as I pull some rebar out of the way on an objective in 2010 where we discovered a terrorist safe house. You can see how over-burdened we were with body armor and equipment