Here is a classic statement of official policy straight from the Infantry School's official discussion board:

"The main concern for the Army right now is to capitalize on the strengths of the Modular Weapon System while addressing its shortcomings."

"Any future combat arm must reduce the amount of training required, reduced the effort of maintenance, and reduce the weight burden of the soldier. The Chief of Staff of the Army has set a goal of 40-50 lbs. for a soldier's fighting load. The weapon and ammunition are included in that load and have historically made up a large percentage of it."

"Our current suite of accessories requires a lot of training, and the myriad of combinations only adds to the problem. Greater integration of capabilities, reduced boresighting procedures, and reduced weight are the challenges of the day."

CPT LaFontaine
Small Arms Division

The only parts of this statement that should be retained are the overall weight goal of "40-50 lbs" and "greater integration of capabilities".  Simply set it at 50 lbs and relieve any general who presents a 50.5 lb system.  That optimum assault weight has been known for at least three millennia.  The problem is the perennial failure of auctoritas on the part of CG TRADOC and the CoS when the Iron Triangle of TRADOC/AMC/Contractors delivers up yet another load bust.

Not one word in there about increasing the future weapon's lethality, range or accuracy.  Here is a key part of the problem.  We are not even attempting to design a squad or small fire unit.  We are attempting to PIP parts of the existing unit.  There is bold talk now about engineering a 2010 soldier 'system' but this effort also appears directed towards optimizing the existing components.  In any event the 2010 objective describes technologies and systems that don't currently exist and will certainly not reach fhe field by 2010 given our current methods of RDTE.

The remainder of the criteria appear designed to ensure that M16/M4 remains in service until 2020 or the forthcoming Chapter 11 proceedings of the USA, Inc., whichever occurs first.  Back in the real world the same discussion board had links to photos of M-14s (not M-21s) back in service in Afghanistan and Iraq circa 2003 A.D.  The gap between the Power Point Briefing techno-mumbo jumbo buzz words from the proponents and the reality on the ground for real soldiers dying is too great to describe in words.

Special Operations has divorced itself entirely from any dependence on R&D produced by the traditional system, and rightly so.  If I were to make a presentation to the CoS I'd enlist Aberdeen's small arms museum and the CMH.  For this we need 30 soldiers in three squads and a week of TASC graphics work on large boards to display the accompanying weapons data. 

Squad 1:  The USA squad as equipped in 1919.  The base weapon was the M1903 .30-06 Springfield.  The Browning Automatic Rifle (right) was already fielded to this squad.  The squad also possessed HE rifle grenades with several hundred yards range.

Squad 2:  The USA squad equipped for 1955.  This may have represented an overall peak in range and destructive power.   

Squad 3:   The USA squad equipped for 2003.

 The results of this squad comparison are very mixed.

1.  Weapons.  Both the range and destructive power of the squad's individual kinetic energy weapons, and hence the squad in aggregate, declined throughout the 20th Century.  The results of other developments are also mixed.  The M203 represents a 200 meter improvement on rifle grenades.  AT-4 represents only an incremental advance over the 3.5 inch bazooka.  It is retrograde compared to mid 1940s recoilless rifles, which is why Ranger battalions are now equipped with 84mm Carl Gustav's purchased from Sweden. 

The JAVELIN anti-tank missile is often presented as an advance and it is a very remarkable weapon.  The JAVELIN is a heavy man-movable system that is employed at squad and platoon level.  The current unit cost is still over $70,000 and total U.S.A. inventories remain under 12,000 total missiles.   With 14 active division equivalents including the USMC these small stockpiles will limit the entire basis of issue to under 1,000 weapons per active combat division for a long time.  With a production rate under 2,000 units per year there is no hope of significant emergency surges in production to meet a combat consumption surge.  It is clear this missile is no substitute for the old 75m or 90mm recoiless rifles for other than destroying very high threat targets.

2.  Survivability.  The only area that has seen any true advances, and these only in the last five years.  Once again, this was not the result of TRADOC/AMC efforts.  Interceptor ballistic armor was developed by commercial firms responding to the police market.  The next breakthrough in materials technology has already occurred elsewhere in Japan with zylon.

3.  Mobility.  Strategic and operational mobility has greatly increased.  But tactical mobility has only recently gone up a bit because of the soldier confidence inspired by #2, i.e. improved body armor.

4.  Command and Control.  No change.

5.  Target Acquisition.  Night time improvements arising from NVDs.  Otherwise no change.

The two most serious questions arising from this comparison of the different era squads are the following:

a.  Would a 2003 squad trained under the Army's current minimalist training approach and manned according to the current personnel management system possess any significant combat overmatch against a 1919 squad with one year's training as a cohesive team, or manned by personnel with a decade's experience in the field (average Afghan Mujaheedin)?  Would it possess ANY overmatch?  'Overmatch is today's great RDTE buzzword.  But it exists in the virtual reality of ppt briefings, not in the field nor in pre-production.

b.  Which squad is better equipped to defeat a 2010 enemy infantry squad possessing reasonably projected 2010 individual body armor made from zylon?  From this viewpoint the 1919 squad upgraded only with zylon armor is undoubtedly more lethal.  It's weapons are more adaptable to enhanced ammunition than our 2003 equipment.

The answer to a. is a measure of the results of 80 years and billions of fruitless RDTE.  The answer to b. is the greatest justification for a wholesale bureaucratic purge and 'sunset review' of every component of the existing RDTE structure.

The overall conclusion is inescapable.  Rather than anticipating the future as in previous eras the US Army's infantry RDTE effort is already in a lagging reactive mode and has been for at least a decade.  And the gap is expanding, not closing.

                                                                                         Mark Gallmeier

Editor Comments

     I had an article on this subject last year: Modern Infantry Squads A .50 caliber rifle can easily penetrate body armor, but semi-automatic models are too heavy for an infantry squad.  A 22 lb bolt-action .50 cal with five rounds is lighter, but not ideal for an infantry squad.  The best weapon is a debatable issue, but a good choice is the 15 lb. semi-automatic Barrett M98 which fires the .338 LM (8.6mm) from a 10-shot magazine. (below)  Each infantry squad should have at least one heavy rifle. Once this rifle is fielded, it will be easier to increase the number per squad when necessary.  For close engagements, each squad should also have a short .338 LM assault rifle with a 20-round magazine for blasting through light armored vehicles, walls, cars, or body armor.


     The only drawback is a new .338 LM round will introduce the burden of another munition in the inventory for infantrymen.  However, it may be time to upgrade the 7.62mm machine guns.  Lester Grau noted that during fighting in Afghanistan: "The Soviets discovered that small-arms fire from the AK-74 assault rifle and the RPK-74 squad assault weapon was often ineffective against ambushes since their 5.45mm round is relatively short-ranged and lacks penetrating power against dug-in forces. The PKMS 7.62mm machine gun was somewhat better, but still lacked range and penetration."  A belt-fed .338 LM (8.6mm) machine gun which fire rounds with twice the kinetic energy seems ideal. 

      Perhaps the heavy .50 cal. (12.7mm) machine guns in the weapon's company can downsize to new .338 machine guns, allowing them be carried by infantrymen.  The 84 lb. .50 caliber with a 44 lb. tripod is "man movable", but not something to be carried in the assault or on a hike.  Ironically, the .338 LM round dates back to 1983 when it originated from a US military project conducted by Research Armament Company.  The US Army expressed no interest, so it was produced by Finland for big game hunters.

                                             Carlton Meyer