Infantry: September 22, 2000


: MARINE WEAPONS DEFICIENCIES; The Marines are studying various problems with their current weapons and how to improve them.

@ The current mortar ammunition (M252 for the 81mm and M225 for the 60mm) has three settings: impact-delay, 0-3 feet above the ground, 3-13 feet above the ground. This works nicely in open field battle, but in an urban environment this is useless in suppressing enemy troops on the second (or higher) floors of buildings. (The round will detonate below the level of 2nd floor windows as it detects the street below.) What is needed is a round that could be set to detonate an increments up to 50 feet above ground level.

@The Marines have limited ability to deal with elevated targets in an urban environment. The Dragon, TOW, Predator, and Javelin anti-tank missiles are expensive and designed for anti-tank work; their usefulness against bunkers and fortified positions is limited. Wire-guided missiles have numerous problems in urban areas, particularly if electrical power lines remain active. The AT4, Shoulder launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon, and the Short-Range Anti-tank Weapon are all limited to a few hundred meters. What is needed is some kind of portable direct-fire cannon that the Marines could manhandle into firing position. One possibility is the venerable 106mm or 90mm recoilless rifle. 

@ The M16A2 assault rifle is generally regarded as excellent except for one arguable factor: the three-round burst mode. This was installed, replacing the fully automatic mode, to limit ammunition expenditure by poorly disciplined troops. Infantrymen in both the Army and Marines gripe that there are times they actually do need full auto (e.g., clearing buildings) and that it should be possible to instill fire discipline in the
troops. So far, the Pentagon isn't trusting the troops.

@ The Marines complain that the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) is too heavy at 22 pounds and has not yet become as reliable as it should be despite a series of modifications. Recoil is too heavy to allow accuracy when fired from a standing position. The 5.56mm round is too light to pound its way through log bunkers. In close quarters, the SAW has numerous failings. It cannot mount a bayonet, and as it fires from an open bolt (to keep the chamber open for cooling), it has a tendency to jam on the first round. This isn't a problem in an open field battle as the gunner just works the bolt to clear the jam. In a close quarter battle inside a building, a jammed weapon is a ticket to early retirement. When moving, the gunner has to carry the weapon with the bolt closed (to avoid accidents) meaning he cannot fire without manually working the bolt. The SAW consumes ammunition at a prodigious rate, and because it is in links it is not readily compatible with the M16A2 rifles. While the SAW was designed to use a magazine if belts were not available, it has a high chance of jamming and can empty the magazine in a second. The SAW was designed as a light machinegun (complete with a spare barrel carried by a rifleman) but is being deployed as an automatic rifle. It might be better to replace two of the ones in each squad with the HBAR, a variant of the M16A2. This has a heavier barrel, bipod, and forward hand grip, as well as a carrying handle. It can mount a bayonet, weighs only 12.75 pounds, fires from a closed bolt, and can be carried and fired as an automatic rifle. This would give the platoon leader the option of using all three SAWs as a base of fire, freeing all three rifle squads to maneuver.--Stephen V Cole 




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