27 Oct 2015

US Military Small Arms Need Replacing

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Jim Schatz, in National Defense, makes an irrefutable case for replacing US primary-issue small arms. US forces need a more reliable rifle and both new rifles and new pistols firing more potent rounds.

Since the end of World War II, only 10 U.S tank crew members have been killed in warfare. This is an amazing testament to fighting vehicle technology and the money spent to develop and sustain that tactical edge over our enemies.

In that same period, the United States has lost some 60,000 soldiers in small arms engagements, an approximate one for one exchange.

Few foes on the planet could hope to dominate America in a tank, air or naval battle. Yet every bad actor with an AK-47 takes on U.S. and NATO ground forces in a small arms fight. We are no longer suitably armed to prevent it.

This happens because the current U.S. Army small arms development and acquisition system is dysfunctional and virtually unworkable, even for those within the system. It has not brought troops substantial evolutionary small arms and ammunition capabilities in years, or even decades, and too often not at all, and almost never on or under budget. Lives are often lost as a result. …

Small arms are the most deployed weapon systems in our arsenal, yet the age of America’s eight most numerous conventional military small arms are on average more than 35 years old. While we have replaced uniforms, helmets, body armor, radios, rations and footwear countless times in three decades, the weapons and ammunition we use in 2015 are little more than variants of Vietnam-era technology possessing the antiquated capabilities of a bygone era.

The Army continues to procure weapons with old performance specifications that have been repeatedly eclipsed by superior commercial small arms used by our allies, our top-tier special operations forces and sometimes by our enemies. Elite units — with a few exceptions — do not use the standard-issue U.S. Army small arms or ammunition. Why? Because they are inferior to the more advanced weapons selected by these units. There is a fundamental difference between their acquisition process and that of the “Big Army,” where there are hundreds of decisions makers and countless agencies and offices involved.

Read the whole thing.

Schatz doesn’t get into it, but I think the root of the problem is cultural. America has become, in recent decades, much more a nation of metrosexuals than a nation of riflemen. The shooting sports are completely alien to the largest urbanized sector of American society.

We now have to look to Germany & Italy to buy military-quality small arms. Colt is in bankruptcy. The Winchester factory in New Haven closed years ago, and Winchester today is just a revived trade name building its products in Japan. The American chattering classes are not concerned in the slightest with feminization of American men or the decline of our domestic arms industry. They’d like to confiscate and destroy all our guns.

10 Feedbacks on "US Military Small Arms Need Replacing"


The statistic on Armor crewman killed since WW2 is incorrect. In Vietnam 2,720 “tankers” served in Vietnam of that number 725 were KIA, or 27% the highest death rate of any military MOS. Someone doesn’t have all of the information.


The military can’t spec decent small arms because we’re a nation of gun-hating metrosexuals? If that were true then our tanks would suck too (how many people own a tank?)

Lazarus Long

That low tanker death may have been referring to tank-on-tank engagements. But there sure were a lot of tanker MOS deaths from other causes in the ‘Nam.


If some fateful day the U.S. and Russia go head to head in a tank battle Russia will win. They have better tanks and a hell of a lot more of them. The stats on tanks reflected the fact that in the “wars” since WW II we were the dominant actor.

If you want better reliability than make the AK47 the new U.S. battle “rifle”. But it won’t do the job that the entire M16 M4 family does today. That means we would need different rifles with different ammo and all the problems that go with that. However I concede that the M16 and M4 platform does on occasion have reliability problems. Fine! Replace it with a better design.

You want a 30 caliber than again I say fine make the main combat rifle 30 caliber. But know going in that the soldiers will have 40%-50% less ammo because of the 40%-50% increased weight of ammo. So which is it? More fiire-power (ammo) or bigger holes??? Ask yourself if you would survive being shot in the chest with a 5.56 or .30 cal? Honestly not a lot of difference in outcome. But most of the arguement about the “problems” with the M16-M4 platform comes from the pro .30 cal people. So which do they want? .30 cal at any cost or more firepower???

I like the AK-47 but here is the problem: The U.S. will NEVER adopt the AK-47 (and probably shouldn’t. So they will make something else and it won’t be as good as the AK or as good as you think it will be. I mean, seriously, have you seen what the government comes up with after every special interest gets involved?

Regarding the 9mm arguement this again is typically an arguement that comes from the pro-1911 45. They don’t give a crap about any other issue just that they love the 1911 and miss it.


I pretty much agree with GONE WITH THE WIND’S comment, but I do have kind of a funny story related to me by a young Marine that did 3 tours in Afghanistan. While on patrol there one day they got pinned down by Haji who was higher up on a hillside. Haji was armed with a M1 Garand and the Marines couldn’t touch him with their M4’s. After Haji ran out of ammo, he threw down the Garand and disappeared.
Heard a similar story from a ‘Nam vet. A howitzer round solved their problem.

Dan Kurt

re: AK 47 vs. AR 15 platform. Note: AK is .30 caliber and AR is .22 caliber.

One problem with the AK .30 caliber is that it is a LOW POWER .30 round (7.62×39mm). It is not equivalent to the .308 (7.62×51mm NATO) or .30 ’06 (7.62×63).

Both the AK and AR platforms are for short to moderate (realistically less than 500 meters, some experts say less than 400 meters) and the AR is a more accurate platform.

The original Stoner AR was the AR-10 and a full size .30 military cartridge. Current AR technology can produce AR platforms that can shoot full size, long range (1,000 meter) .30 caliber cartridges. See:

Dan Kurt


The number about tanker deaths has to be an error.

There are so many different variants we could explore with rifles now- Round Design, Materials Composition: Lead v Tungsten Core v Depleted Uranium (DU), Powder Loads, Tracking Point, smart 20mm grenades, Optics v Sight Radius, etc, Self Consuming Case…the list of enhancements is much longer.

But as is pointed out- we’re not a nation of riflemen anymore. It’s highly unlikely you’ll have Teddy Roosevelt participating in a modern rifle shoot-off.


Forgot to add….There is no way I would support issuing Glocks in their current configuration to the entire US military.

The lack of a safety cannot be overcome in any condition involving Pvt Snuffy.


Dear Santa,

Please give me a magazine fed AR platform with knock down power sufficient to stop a water buffalo or a rhinoceros.

Dear Paul

Here’s a .458 SOCOM or a magazine feeding straight .45-70

Rich McCormack

1. I doubt that we need to expend time and energy on a new, longe range, more powerful small arms round. I think the existing ones are all fine, by far more than enough for what is needed, and better areas for improvement will be sighting systems, triggers, better barrels (especially more durable ones), and possibly better propellants. Jeff Cooper wrote over and over again that despite the development of new, more powerful, longer range cartridges throughout the 20th century, as well as the reverse, lighter, smaller, more mildly behaving cartridges, that the 30-06 was still the very best all around cartridge. I won’t claim that the 30-06 has to be anyone’s first choice, but some existing cartridge likely is.

2. Re: barrel durability, I remember shooting several 1903 Springfields, with disappointing accuracy. Lorin indicated that he had had several similar experiences with 1903s, and my results were typical. Years later, I read the book, A Rifleman Went to War, in which the author reveals the lack or durability in 1903 barrels of the WWI vintage, telling us that the great results we observed at Camp Perry would not last 1,000 rounds, and that any 1903 circulating in the civilian market later, if shot more than 1,000 rounds previously, would not exhibit the legendary Springfield accuracy. The author reported wearing out 1903 barrels in as little as 500 rounds. This book is very helpful reading for any rifleman, real or aspiring. I understand today’s (modern) barrels remain sweet and accurate much longer, but additional gains would be appreciated.

3. I really like the AK 7,62 X 39mm round, but not because it is powerful or has a long range. Quite the opposite: it is mild in power, very mild in recoil, and only has moderate range. I like it because it is “just powerful enough” for most of my needs, has a bullet of appropriate weight and shape to work well over its moderate range, and combines this with a tapered shape that feeds especially well in self-loading rifles. Although I have not seen it in writing, I suspect that part of the AK reputation for reliability has to do with the tapered shape of the cartridge.

4. Our M-16 / M-4 platform is fussy to say the least. I have reports that our USMC, when fighting in the sandy deserts in the past decades, have settled on a procedure according to which they have to stop, clean and lubricate their weapons twice a day, EVEN IF THE FIGHT IS ONGOING at that moment! I think better platforms exist right now, and no development is needed.

5. According to interviews I have seen with our riflemen in Afghanistan, they have confidence in our 7,62 X 52mm NATO round more than our 5,56 NATO round, and the reason has mostly to do with being able to use the 7,62 NATO round to engage their enemy at distances beyond those in which the enemy is effective. I’ve watched documentary films where our SF guys claim the enemy is very dangerous to about 175 yards, but the SF shooters are similarly dangerous to 250 yards or more. Statements like that are noteworthy in part, because “advanced” marksmanship skill is not needed to shoot to that distance. In the film I’m thinking of, the SF shooter had a Trijicon ACOG, an excellent real world optic. This is not “sniper” equipment.

6. I have read that DARPA has made attempts to develop a smart small arms round, one that understands its target, once locked in by the shooter, and thereafter can steer its way to the target. Cost? Huge! I suspect we can make the same gains via better instruction, practice, and so forth.


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