Weapons: March 21, 2005


The saga of the M-8 Assault Rifle continues, and in an unexpected direction. Now there is going to be a competition, open to everyone, for a new weapon to replace the M-16. While many infantry officers are keen on the M-8, mainly because it is basically the highly successful Heckler-Koch G36 assault rifle, there are those who oppose the change. More reliable, lighter, flexible and accurate than the current M-16, the XM-8 was supposed to go into wide scale testing this year. But this was stopped because other American manufacturers wanted another chance to show they could make something at least as good as the G36. Also, buying a foreign rifle didn't go down too well in Congress, even if it was going to me made in the USA. Some army generals were not happy with the XM-8 either, for both practical and patriotic reasons. At the same time, the army is using this shoot-off as an opportunity to solicit new designs to replace the two decade old M-249 light machine-gun (or SAW- Squad Automatic Weapon). This 5.56mm weapon is very popular with the troops, but the existing ones were built in the 1980s and are wearing out. They either have to be replaced with new M-249s, or a new design. About 134,000 new SAWs are needed. The idea for the M-249, and the M-16, go back to the work of M-16 designer Gene Stoner. He offered both weapons to the army in the early 1960s, but the army wasn't interested. Eventually, the Department of Defense forced the army to take the M-16, but the SAW version of the M-16 was turned down. Some Special Forces troops got their hands on the Stoner SAW, and were very happy with it. It took another decade before this experience finally motivated the army brass to build the M-249. Strange are the ways of bureaucrats, and they never seem to change. Thus the resistance to the G36/M-8. 


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