Magazine article National Defense

Outdated Weapons Bring Calls for Speedier Upgrades

Magazine article National Defense

Outdated Weapons Bring Calls for Speedier Upgrades

Article excerpt

* The average age of a small-arms weapon in use by the Army is more than 30 years, far older than most of the soldiers who rely on them in combat.

While plans are in the works to modernize the service's rifle and handgun inventories, procurement timelines are such that soldiers and Marines will almost certainly finish out the war in Afghanistan with small arms that were already old when the conflict began.

The issue has drawn the attention of members of Congress, particularly Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that passed the Senate in November carried an amendment authored by Coburn calling on the Pentagon to report its plans to put up-to-date weapons in the hands of soldiers.

"Over the last few years we've spent $8,000 per soldier on new radios. But we still are using a weapon that's 25 years old when it comes to their M4," Coburn said in an Aug. 1 speech on the Senate floor. "Our priorities are out of whack. If the Department of Defense had spent just 15 percent less on radios, they could give every soldier in the military a new, capable, modern weapon. And it doesn't just apply to their rifle."

After the M4's shortcomings, troops complain the most about their aging and underpowered 9mm M9 pistols, Coburn added.

A 2006 study conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses found deficiencies in nearly every small-arms weapon carried by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, including pistols, rifles and machine guns. In a 2007 test of several comparable carbines subjected to dusty conditions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, the M4 came in last, a statistic Coburn and many troops have repeatedly offered in critiques of the weapon.

Coburn's amendment to the NDAA, which still must be parsed and then passed by the House of Representatives, calls for an audit of the Pentagon's small-arms acquisition strategy within 30 days of the bill's passage. The study would take into account the status of and plans to modernize every weapon system up to .50 caliber, including shotguns. The amendment requires that the study be finalized by Sept. 30.

The Defense Department does have several programs underway to address obsolescence and performance issues with its small arms, though perhaps not on Coburn's preferred timeline. None will result in the fielding of a new rifle or pistol before troops leave Afghanistan.

An effort to upgrade and ultimately replace a sizeable portion of the Army's 500,000 M4 carbines is ongoing. The Carbine Product Improvement Program, or PIP, will convert standard M4s into the special operations M4A1. The upgrades indude a heavier barrel for increased resilience and accuracy and fully automatic fire capability. At least 6,000 M4Als have been delivered to the 101st Airborne Division, according to the Army's Program Executive Office, Soldier. The program is currently budgeted to convert 300,000 M4s.

A second phase of the program will address the reliability, durability and ergonomics of the rifle.

A parallel competition will identify the Army's next rifle. A request for proposals for an "Individual Carbine" was issued in January 2011, to which 32 companies responded. In May 2012, the Army whittled the list to six: Beretta, Heckler & Koch, Colt Defense, Remington, Adcor Defense and FN Herstal. Over the next year and half, the Army will down select to two contenders. The competition is solely to replace the Army's M4 carbines. Other services have decided to stick with weapons currently in service.

A separate effort to replace the Army's primary sidearm, the Beretta M9, is also currently underway, though there is no published requirement yet.

The Army currently has 238,000 M9 pistols. It plans to buy 265,000 replacements. The increase accounts for the expectation that soldiers who now carry only a primary weapon--an M4 carbine--will in the future be "dual-armed" with a rifle in a pistol. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.