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Small News Items on Army Small Arms

Today we have another re-post from our departed friend. Kevin O’Brien, AKA “Hognose” owner and writer of weaponsman.com.

There’s a bunch of little news bits going around the Army about maintenance issues and problems. We’ll cover them from most to least serious:

Item: Somebody Blew It

Beretta_M9_FAIL

File photo of failed M9 slide. Not the mishap firearm.

In late 2015, a very high (but unknown) round count M9 pistol had a catastrophic failure of the slide. With the Army scrimping on O&M money, especially on the ripe-for-replacement Beretta handgun, failures are not unusual and usually turn out to be fatigue failures from parts that have been carelessly used long past their service life. So was this one. The pistol was older than the soldier shooting it, and, as it turned out, someone, somewhere had pencil-whipped the maintenance records.

Slides fail every week, somewhere in an Army with hundreds of thousands of pistols that were almost all bought 30 years ago. But what happened next wasn’t supposed to happen. When the pistol slide failed at the slide’s weakest point, the locking-block cuts, the rear half of the slide kept on motoring, striking the GI in the cheek and upper jaw area and causing non-life-threatening injuries.

The investigation determined that a mandatory maintenance work order, MWO 9-1005-317–30-10-1, issued twenty-seven years ago in March, 1989, had never been complied with. They couldn’t track where the pistol was at the time it was not repaired; Army units and activities with M9s had until June, 1993 to comply.

Somebody reported that his M9s were in compliance, when they weren’t. This is what you get when a zero-defects, up-or-out culture undermines integrity while at the same time penny-pinching undermines maintenance. The soldier who drew that defective M9, and every soldier that’s been drawing and shooting it since 1989, is damned lucky to be alive. (Fortunately, when a slide fails on most pistols (or a bolt on a Mauser C96, etc.), gravity usually  ensures that the part hits below the eye, on cheek, jaw, chest or shoulder).

Meanwhile, the Army sent an urgent Safety-of-Use message mandating an Army-wide inspection of all M9s for completion of the MWO. Since the resources for completing the MWO no longer exist, the remedial action is to immediately deadline and turn in the offending M9 and draw a replacement.

How many units pencil-whipped their response to that ALARACT message?

Item: Safety? Sometimes it’s Evolution in Action

FOOM!

Word is, some genius removed himself from the breeding population of Homo sapiens in 2014 by “improvising” M203 ammo (may have been 320) by cutting the links off of (higher-pressure) Mk19 belted ammo. The links were actually designed so they couldn’t snap off by hand, to prevent that.

Can we get a “FOOM!” from the assembled multitudes?

And oh, yeah, trying to belt up 203 ammo and fire it in an Mk 19 leads to FOOM also, of a different variety — out of battery ignition. Another opportunity for poka-yoke missed.

Item: Ambi Selectors Reaching Troops.. slowly

The Army has finally woken up to two facts:

  1. About 10% of the troops are left-handed, and
  2. There are lots of good ambi selectors available.

So the Army chose one and put it into the pipeline. So far so good, right? Not entirely. The selectors are only being replaced when the weapons are overhauled. And they don’t fit in the M12 racks many units still have. Work around is to cut a notch in the rack with a torch, or with a file and plenty of time, or to bend the part of the rack that hits the right-side selector out of shape so that the selector clears the rack.

Also, the slow migration of the ambi selectors means not all M4/M16 weapons in any given unit have them. Why don’t they just push the parts down to the unit armorers? Three reasons:

  1. The big one: they’re afraid of armorers stealing parts if they take rifles apart
  2. It doesn’t fit the concept of echeloned maintenance, even though that’s being streamlined;
  3. They don’t trust the armorers let alone the Joes, not to botch the installation.

On top of that, of course, it’s not penny wise and pound foolish in the great Army tradition.

Item: New Stuff Coming in, Old Stuff Going Out

A number of new arms are reaching the troops, and old arms are going away.  We’ll have more about that in the future, especially the M2A1 and the coming “rationalization” of an explosion of shotguns and sniper rifles. We just broke it out of this post to keep the length manageable.

ITEM: MG Maintenance Problems = Operator Headspace & Timing

m249-PIP

The biggest single problem the Army has with the current pair of machine guns (M240 and M249) is burned out barrels. That’s caused by not changing barrels, either in combat, or especially on the range. Often, units go out without the spare barrel so it’s not like they gave themselves any option.  (The M2 version of this is going out with only one set of gages for the M2s. The gages are not required for the M2A1). The Army is falling back into the peacetime mindset of “leave it in the arms room and we can’t lose it.” True enough, we’ll just destroy the one we take out instead.

The fact is, and it’s a fact widely unknown to GIs, MGs have rate-of-sustained-fire limitations that are lower than they think. (Remember the MGs that failed at Wanat? They were being operated well outside their designed, tested envelope).

The M249 should never be fired more than 200 rounds rapid fire from a cold barrel. Then, change to a cold barrel, repeat. The Army being the Army, there are geniuses who think that they can burn a couple belts in a few seconds, change barrels, burn a couple belts in a couple more seconds, then put the original honkin’ hot barrel back in and burn — you get the idea. If you have a situation where you’re going to fire a lot of rounds from a single position, like a predeployment MG familiarization for support troops or a defensive position, you might want to lay in some extra barrels (and yes, Army supply makes that all but impossible, so you have to cannibalize your other MGs).

The M240 is a little more tolerant but should still be changed every 2 to 10 minutes of firing, and even more frequently if the firing tends towards real sustained fire. (The deets are in the FM, which is mostly only available on .pdf these days).

One last thought, your defensive MG positions need to have alternate, displace positions, and you need to displace after sustained fire from one position — unless you want to share your hole with an exploding RPG, ATGM or mortar round. “Where’s your secondary position?” or “-fallback position?” should not produce the Polish Salute.

As ordnance experts have observed ever since World War II, a barrel can be burnt out due to overheat and still mic and even air-gauge good. You only know it’s hosed when it can’t shoot straight.

Well-maintained MGs are more accurate than people seem to give them credit for. Some SOF elements have selective fire M240s and really, really like them. (The standard M240 has no semi setting). They’re capable of surprising accuracy from the tripod.

ITEM: For Want of a Cord, a Career was Lost

GIs frequently lose or throw away the idiot cord on the PVS-14 night vision monocular. If these sights were being properly inspected, which they usually aren’t until a team comes in just before deployment, they’d be tagged NMC (non mission capable) for missing  that stupid cord. You don’t want to be in the bursting radius of a unit CO who’s just been told 85% of his night vision is NMC… especially when that news is delivered in earshot of his rater and senior rater. It’s a bull$#!+ requirement but it’s in the book, and if the Army ever has to choose between following the book or winning the war, the book comes up trumps every time.

You’re not going to stop GIs from losing cords, but replacement cords are in the supply catalog

The K.I.S.S. Fallacy.

I am a big fan of Keeping It Simple, Stupid (K.I.S.S.).  But I hate when the idea is used wrongly.  K.I.S.S. should be used to help prevent failure both in equipment and operator, not as an excuse to save money or reduce capability.
With regarding firearms, I often see the argument for K.I.S.S. used when a fighting long arm is set up with only iron sights, and no accessories.  Now if your gun is only a toy, set it up however you have the most fun with it.  But if you intend to fight with a firearm, wouldn’t it be foolish to not give your self every advantage you can get when your life is on the line?
A basic iron sighted AR is often shown when the term K.I.S.S. starts getting thrown around.
We know guns are expensive. It can hurt to have to open the checkbook again to cover the cost of an optic.  But are iron sights really a better choice for a fighting weapon?  I’ve seen people say that iron sights never fail.  I don’t know about you guys but I’ve bent several front sight posts.  To get to my main argument on sights, I think it is clear that optics are far simpler to use than iron sights.
When you put a gun into the hands of a complete novice, you will see that they are much quicker and more confident with an optic.  Especially something simple like a red dot or duplex reticle.  Many of us may say that it is better to start training someone with iron sights, but the benefit of any optic becomes extraordinarily clear when you put a firearm in the hands of a novice.  Those advantages don’t disappear when you put that same firearm in the hands of an experienced shooter.  Optics provide greater speed, target identification, and just general ease of use over iron sights.  Really, trying to argue otherwise is foolhardy.
Once I had someone tell me that scopes were only for people too lazy to shoot with iron sights.  I asked him if our U.S. Military Snipers were too lazy to use iron sights and he sorta hemmed and hawed with out giving me any sort of real response to that question.
It would be foolish to say that it is quicker and easier to “center a front sight in a rear sight while focusing on the front sight not the target or the rear sight” instead of just putting an optic’s reticle on a target.
Some extremely useful tools are very complicated. For example would be pairing night vision with an IR aiming laser. This is not only complicated but very expensive. It has many potential points of failure.  It would be easy to point out that both a Night Vision Device (NVD) and an IR laser each would need their own batteries.  Each have their own controls.  An IR laser would need to be zeroed.  A NVD would need to be focused.  It takes a great deal of work to run a setup like that, but it is what makes the difference between stumbling around blind in the dark or being an apex predator that owns the night.
A bicycle would be the K.I.S.S. alternative to an automobile.  I think most of us would gladly pay the additional cost and risk the additional points of failure just so we could have the much greater capability of the automobile.
Think about weapons the same way. Sure there are plenty of stuff we don’t need, but some are massive force multipliers should we need that capability.  Not ever gun needs a scope, bipod, light, or laser but there are some guns where you would be massively improving their capabilities and ease of use by adding some of these things.
Don’t try and set up the simplest/cheapest firearm, but make the firearm that excels at the job it needs to do.

Optic of the week: Nightforce 2.5-10X24

For a long time the Trijicon ACOG was my favorite scope.  Transitioning from iron sights to 4x magnification was a massive force multiplier.  From there I tried some various optics and the Nightforce 2.5-10X24 became my new favorite scope.  (The Leupold MK6 eventually replaced this as my favorite).  Still I love these so much I own two of them.  Aside from the cost, I’d love to have a dozen.  I feel it is a great light little general purpose scope and would love to throw on each .22 rifle I have.

As always, all good things must come to an end, so Nightforce discontinued this scope.  But there was so much demand that they do little production runs of an updated model every so often.  They still command a premium.

There are two big draws to the NF2.5-10X24.  First is that it is quite small and feels right at home on smaller and lighter guns.  There is even a picture floating around of a Navy SEAL armory where they have one of these mounted on a MP5.  That leads right to the next reason for its popularity.  The major durability and reliability of the Nightforce scopes got them used by groups like SOCOM.  People seeing Navy SEALs running around with these scopes drove up the demand and price.  I paid about $1300 for each of mine, I’ve seen people try to sell them for over $2000.  At $1300 I think they are great, but I wouldn’t pay $2000 for one.

Adjustment were available in 1/4 MOA and in 1/10 MIL.  Some were made with 1 MOA elevation adjustments.  Most of these scopes have exposed turrets, but some have capped 1/4 MOA turrets.  I prefer the milradian adjustments with the mildot reticle.  Clicks are slightly spongy, but very clear and you are not going to accidentally miss one.  The turrets are plenty stiff so they are very unlikely to get accidentally moved.  Many of these scopes do not have any zero stops.  Some do.  I’ve read that the newer scopes have a different style(improved) zero stop.  The stop on this scope requires removing the elevation knob and using an Allen wrench to turn a physical stop into place.

The scope also offers illumination with multiple brightness including a night vision setting.  These settings are not daylight bright.

The small objective lens allowed this scope to be mounted over IR lasers such as the AN/PEQ-2 or a DBAL-A3 like in this picture.  Unfortunately this small objective lens limits the incoming light and makes this scope less than ideal for low light.  A 32mm objective lense was put on the 2.5-10X32 scope this model that replaced this one in production.  Later a similar model with a 42mm objective and adjustable parallax was made.  The 42mm model is still in production.

This scope, as great as it is, shows its age when you look at its features.  It is second focal plane, having been designed before 1st focal plane scopes became very popular.  It seems to have a mixed following in the gun community as people recognize that it is a very durable and reliable scope, but the combination of a unforgiving eye box and eye relief along with lower max magnification made it less popular.  People snatched these up to put on MK12Mod1 clones then found when they were trying to shoot tight groups on paper that they would prefer to have something else.

I think I would best describe this as a major step up from the ACOG for farther distance shooting, but in a similar use.  You use this to to hit targets that are smaller or at farther distances than an ACOG.  But if you are dedicated to one hole groups on paper you would be better suited by a scope with a parallax adjustment, greater magnification, and a finer reticle.

Oh, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tons of adjustment this scope has.  The 10.5 inch 5.56 rifle in the picture above was zeroed at 100 yards and I could reach a 1000 yards by dialing up and holding over with the reticle.  100MOA or 27.3 mils of adjustment on the respective models.

Here are a picture of the mil dot reticle.  The dots are hollow which I really love.  This scope was offered with a variety of reticles but the mildot seems to be the most common.  A mildot reticle with 1/4 MOA turrets may have been the most common configuration.

They did offer a 1-4x version of this scope that was slightly shorter but it didn’t seem to be very popular.  Of the various 1-4X power scopes the Nightforce version seemed to have none of the benefits and all of the downsides.

I hate to say it, but this is really like a more tactical 3-9x scope.  Unless there is some particular feature of you scope you need, you could get very similar performance out of a much cheaper more available 3-9x scope.  Much like the Unertls, these have become collectible.  But technology has surpassed them, and for pure cost to capability there are much better options now.  That said, I love mine and I won’t part with them.  I do wish that Nightforce would consider making a cheaper version that is just a fixed 10x.

If you ever see a Nightforce labeled RECON, NAV-SPEC or ARMY-SPEC on the bottom it shows that it is a standard production scope that had a little more abusive testing than normal.  Those really command a premium.

Misc rambling on the A4.

I was looking at my notes and realized I hadn’t shot my AR15A4 in over a year, so I took it out last weekend.

The reason I keep an A4 configured rifle around is because I carried one in combat.  I actually carried the M16A2 more while I was in the service, but I had an A4 in Iraq.

I know that I write a post like this each year, and I’ll probably have another one for you all next year.

When we carried the M16A2 in the Corps we felt it could do everything we needed.  From CQB to 500 yards.  Now one could argue if we really could do what we felt we could do.

Ignoring what our actually capability might have been, we had no idea what we were missing.  Since our experience was only based around the A2, we didn’t know how much of a combat multiplier an optic would be, or how much handier a carbine would be, etc.

It was common knowledge in the Corps back then that the M4 was too unreliable, inaccurate, and didn’t have enough stopping power for military use.  Just like how it was common knowledge that the M14 was the best service rifle ever and it would one shot kill commies even if you shot them in the toe, and the .50 BMG created a super shockwave that would rip people to pieces even if you missed by three feet.  Then other things that were taught and believed started to get really silly.

Now I think going to the M16A4 over the A2 was as big improvement as suddenly we learned that we could customize our weapons to fit our mission.  Optics made for a huge improvement in hit ratios.  Story goes that there was a quiet investigation on the Marines during the invasion of Iraq because so many enemies were being shot in the head that higher ups thought that Marines were executing people.  Turns out it was just a massive increase in head shots due to the ACOG optic.

We could suddenly effectively mount lights, lasers, night vision devices, thermal, bipods, etc to our rifles.  Not that we couldn’t before but we couldn’t do it easily.  The old barrel mount for the AN/PEQ-2 IR laser required us to beg an Armorer to install it.  Now we could just slap an IR laser on anywhere.

I remember being in Iraq and seeing another unit that was issued Harris Bipods and Surefire M900 lights and being so jealous of them.  But their higher ups were worried about guys loosing the equipment, so they were required to have both on their rifles at all times.  That must have been so heavy and awkward.

The A4 got the job done, but the M4 would have done just fine.  Now it is clear that the future is all carbines.

I find it hilarious how the Marine Corps used to say that a 14.5 inch M4 barrel was not good enough for general use but then they decide that a 16.5 inch barrel is good enough for an automatic rifle.  I really think the adoption of the M27 IAR was the Corps trying to get a carbine with out buying the M4.

I spend a great deal of time to get my Colt AR15A4 set up exactly the way I wanted it, but each time I shoot it it is a reminder that the A4 just doesn’t excel in any particular area.  It isn’t a precision rifle, it isn’t a light handle carbine, it is just a sort of jack of all trades.  Using it is like owning many knives, but none of them sharp.

Optic of the Week: Leupold CQ/T

First time I used a Leupold CQ/T it was mounted on a friends M1A.  It seemed to me an impractical combination as it was mounted really high making it awkward on the M1A and I’d much rather have more magnification on a .30 cal.  That aside, I found the CQ/T rather interesting.

The Leupold Close Quarters/ Tactical is a real odd duck of a scope that really came out before its time.  Before the 1-X variable power craze of nowadays, there was the 1-3x CQ/T.  It is fast and easy to switch between 1x and 3x because the entire ocular section of the scope (up to the rail) rotates.  The Leupold CQBSS received rave reviews for this feature, but it was in the CQ/T long before it.

Most of the CQ/T scopes have a circle dot reticle (much like the Eotech) that can be illuminated in amber or red.  The circle dot is always visible.  Before it was discontinued Leupold did finally make some with their CMR reticle, an ACOG like bullet drop chart(BDC).

Reticle is 2nd focal plane.  It is eteched At 1x the Dot is 3 MOA and the circle is 18 inches at 25 yards (~69 MOA), at 3x the Dot is 9 MOA and the circle is 6 feet at 200 yards (~34 MOA).  The math is much simpler if you round to 72 and 36 MOA which I think was the intent.

Illuminated reticle is bright, but still somewhat lacking outdoors.  The adjustment has 12 positions including OFF and night vision modes.  The reticle will blink if you have a low battery.  I couldn’t get a good picture outdoors of the illuminated reticle so here is an indoor one.

Adjustments are a simple 1/2 covered turrets.

The “battery pack” is easily removed or secured with less than a quarter turn.  

Weirdly, you have a removable container to put the battery in.  If you had several you could do quick battery changes, and this also would protect the optic should the battery leak.  It doesn’t slow down battery changes, but makes the process different from other optics.

The mount is rather weird.  The CQ/T has a narrow section so that it can mount to an AR15 carry handle.  Unlike other scopes that can do that, this one has 3 threaded holes to give different eye relief options.

The rail mount is two piece and pinches the scope to your rail.  Solidly mounts the scope but makes it annoying when you are taking it off or moving it.

I am really impressed by the CQ/T and I think it is a good scope, but it is just shy of a great scope.  Leupold seemed to make some odd design decisions regarding it.  For example the rails on the scope, they should have either gotten rid of them, or gotten serious with low profile adjustment so that there would be a usable amount of rails.  The circle is huge, I think they would have been better off with a 1 MOA dot and a 19-20 MOA circle.  A mount that doesn’t get all loose and floppy when you are removing or attaching it would also have been an improvement.  The battery pack was an interesting idea but could be replaced with a simpler cap.  I think the biggest possible improvement would have been an illuminated horseshoe reticle with an ACOG like BDC.

I went and read some old reviews of this scope and the complaints were generally about cost, weight, size, and eye relief.  I think this came out in a time when people were not used to spending a good bit of money on an rifle optic.  Now people gladly spend large sums for AR optics.  This scope is 17.5 oz, so it is heavy, about twice the weight of an ACOG.  But to put it in perspective it is a 1/3 pound lighter than the similar Elcan Specter DR.  To me it doesn’t feel overly large or heavy on an AR.  Eye relief seemed fine to me, but unlike a reflex sight, you still have strict limits on where you can place your head to use it.

I put this scope on my 5.45 AR (pictured in the first picture) and did a little bit of rapid fire and shot some clay pigeons at 50 yards.  I found the CQ/T to be very fast and easy to use.  I like it, but I feel it is just shy of being a great optic.  I would not recommend it because it has discontinued, not to mention there are now 1-6x scopes that are similar size, weight, and MSRP.  I think that is a shame because I think with just a little work it could have been exceptional.  Lastly, there are some being sold really cheap lately, if you want one, now might be the time to get one.