This is a rant. I’ll preface it by saying I am not an expert on modern military conflict. My experience in the Army was so long ago as to be basically irrelevant. But I read, I watch, I have a sense of history and an awareness of it’s lessons, and I think critically about what I see. The following is a result of that; I make no claims to being an authority on the subject. This is just my (hopefully informed) opinion, and should be taken as such.
We went into World War 2 with the perfect infantry rifle for World War 1. When the M1 carbine was introduced for rear-echelon troops the front line troops wanted them too. When we acknowledged that conditions had changed in the late 1950s and started looking at the AR15 the Fudds in procurement went so insane they deliberately engaged in a strategy designed to get US service men killed to stop it.
Now they are fighting the XM-5. The XM-5 may not be the all-around perfect weapon system, but there are reasons the Army feels they need it. In a bizarre reversal the Fudds are now fighting against a battle-rifle rather than for it.
In the Middle east we discovered that there was a need to engage enemies at distances where the M4 was not effective, so we adopted the Squad Marksman’s Rifle to fill that need. There were also the usual logistic issues with providing troops with multiple calibers for different weapons; not too bad because we’re used to it, but not ideal either. There’s no argument that it will be a bad thing if we can simplify logistics.
Then there’s ballistic armor. Our soldiers wear it, sooner or later our enemies will too. Russians have it even if they can’t afford to make enough for it to be a general issue item yet. The Chinese have it, and while it’s not in general issue they’re working on it. Near-peer enemies will issue ballistic armor; it’s a question of when, not if.
Of course these days anyone with money and an internet connection can buy effective ballistic armor. It’s going to show up, not just on near-peer enemies but on individual enemy combatants as well. Not to mention that near-peer enemies can afford to equip special operations soldiers with it, and do.
You simply cannot make a 5.56x45mm cartridge that will penetrate this armor and be safe to use in existing weapons. We’ve tried and failed. If we are going to encounter this armor we need a weapon that can penetrate it. That means a bigger, more powerful cartridge. That means a heavier weapon. Deal with it.
Another objection is that in the modern combat environment if you wind up in an infantry engagement it’s a failure of your combined-arms strategy. Um, really? Because Combined Arms includes infantry. In most combined arms scenarios you still have guys with guns shooting at other guys with guns. Sure they have armored vehicles, aircraft and artillery on-call but there are still guys with guns shooting at other guys with guns. Not to mention that you can’t take a tank with you into a building and helicopters aren’t going in with you either.
We’ve stuck with the AR15/M16 platform for sixty years for a good reason. It met our needs and we couldn’t come up with anything enough better to bother with the expense and difficulty of replacing it. But technology marches on, warfare evolves and we anticipate scenarios where the current weapons will not meet our needs so we’re looking for a weapon that will. So now the Fudds are screaming about it and pulling every argument they can out of their ass to stop it. We have needed to engage enemies at longer ranges. Enemies will have ballistic armor. It’s smarter to deal with that reality now than it is to wait until we face it before starting a decade-long fight to adopt the weapon we need now.
There are a lot of reasons to adopt a new rifle based on a couple decades of recent combat experience, and the Army has acknowledged that the hodge-podge of stop-gaps we’ve been employing may not cut it in future conflicts. They are attempting to come up with a weapon that will better suit our anticipated needs. Is the XM-5 that weapon? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ve come far enough along that it’s time to find out, so people need to shut their flapping Fudd mouths and find out.
There, I feel better. Stay safe and take care.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 5 May 2022
I’ll start by saying I have no dog in this fight and never was in the military so you get what you paid for. I have heard reported from multiple sources on the ground in Ukraine that there is surprisingly little small arms fire being seen in combat, and most of the military casualties on both sides are from artillery, rockets and missiles. Apparently laser marking of targets using drones has allowed Ukes to do one shot one kill accuracy without having to waste munitions walking in artillery. I had no idea this was even possible or how this compares to other recent conflicts but it is a curious detail to this inexperienced pedestrian. The latest extremely successful tactic, on the Uke side, appears to be inexpensive commercial grade drones rigged to drop ordinary RPGs on Ork armor.
It’s actually pretty typical for most casualties to be produced by artillery etc. in modern warfare, but the infantry still need effective weapons. I don’t know if this is the rifle the US needs; time will tell.