Saturday, January 21, 2006

Arming the Army: Print Vs. Function

When the U.S. military adopted the M-14, it didn't take long to realize it had made a mistake.
So a list of spec requirements were rushed out for a new weapon and in the 60’s the M-16 was adopted. As soon as it was used in combat, it was realized another mistake (bigger than the first) had been made.

So: new spec sheet, new contest.

First, everybody got exited over the XM-29, a huge (huge) battle-rifle/air-shot grenade combo. I’d hate to have to wrap my arm around that thing in combat. Or compete with it for a view of the target. Or, more so, have to lug that 18-wheeler around in a war zone. Or anywhere else.
This didn’t stop it from being touted on the cover of a (mostly) quality national magazine.
Thankfully, it lost. (The grenade-launcher part has now been separately developed into the XM-25, but I doubt it will be issued to any actual unit-based combatants.)

Then came the more-heavily touted XM-8. This one got front cover-age by two major technology mags, and was featured as the central weapon of a popular video-game.
It was very easy to carry around and (this was what impressed me) at least theoretically had the capability of being easily refitted in the field for available ammo.
But when it got right down to it, it looked more like a plastic toy than a lethal weapon, and the Army likes to think of itself as cool. (Though one could challenge that assertion by bringing up the adoption of the M-16.)
The XM-8’s funds were pulled late last year.

But now, also featured in a national magazine (sorry, haven’t seen any cover shots yet) is the FN SCAR. That’s Fabrique Nationale Special Forces Combat Assault Rifle. It is being produced in two variants (for the two major NATO-familiar rounds), designated L and H (light and heavy).
Both are capable of single fire and an automatic rate of 600 rounds a minute (one source said 500). Apparently no selection for restricted bursts (which is a concern in a weapon that looses ten rounds in a second), though. The SCAR is claimed to be capable of quick field alterations from assault rifle to sniper mortar, but is not said to be made to accept enemy munitions. (Alas, that’s really just too much to ask for. Heck, if it comes to that, our guys’ll just borrow the guns meant to fire other ammo.)

SOCOM has put in an order (for around a hundred thousand pieces, I’m told), and our Special Forces are expected to have their hands on them within a few months. Not bad, if it comes about. (Though, from its restriction to Special Ops, it seems SCAR is destined only to replace close-quarters weaponry, and the M-14. Nothing between, meaning the M-16.)

I am optimistic for SCAR’s success. It is small, and I have no way of saying just how well it will handle without more information (the grips seem a bit close together to hug under strain without cramping up), but it certainly looks promising. And the auto fire rate isn’t as uselessly profligate as the M-16. Over that weapon, obsolete at it’s introduction, it would surely be an improvement.
But there is also FN’s track record to go by. By rights their 280 FAL should have been adopted fifty years ago, rather than the M-14 which looked better on paper to some but whose functionality (not to mention objectives) was obsolete in the field.
If that had happened, if our boys in Vietnam had been equipped with the Belgian gun, who knows what grand direction our Army’s armaments might be headed today.

No comments: