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The Pentagon has clarified the Army’s stance on a recent safety message that effectively banned a certain high-performance, commercial M4 magazine, which means soldiers can keep using their PMAGs.
The confusion began when Army officials from the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command issued a message in April, declaring that the only government-issued aluminum magazines were authorized for use in the M4 and M16 rifles.
TACOM officials released the message to address reports of Army units using “unauthorized” commercial, polymer magazines such as the popular PMAG, introduced by Magpul Industries Corp., in 2007. The decision left combat troops puzzled, since the PMAG has demonstrated its extreme reliability in combat and has an Army-approved national stock number, which allows units to order them through the Army supply system.
Army officials acknowledged June 6 that TACOM’s message was poorly written and not intended as a directive on the use of PMAGs. Matthew Bourke, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon responding to questions from Mililtary.com, said the message should have included guidance that the final decision rests with commanders in the field.
“At best, the message is incomplete; at worst the message allows soldiers to jump to the wrong conclusions,” Bourke said. “Maintenance Information Messages [from TACOM] are permissive. They are not an order. They are not a directive. All content and direction in those messages are optional for the recipient.”
It’s still unclear why TACOM issued the message at this time, but sources say it might have something to do with the $10.7 million contract TACOM Rock Island awarded to Brownells Inc. in 2009 to produce 1.4 million improved magazines by January 2010.
Program Executive Office Soldier set out to develop the improved magazine after the M4 finished last against three other carbines in a 2007 reliability test. The “dust test” revealed that 27 percent of the M4’s stoppages were magazine related.
The improved magazine uses a redesigned “follower,” the part that sits on the magazine’s internal spring and feeds the rounds into the M4’s upper receiver. The new tan-colored follower features an extended rear leg and modified bullet protrusion for improved round stacking and orientation. The self-leveling/anti-tilt follower reduces the risk of magazine-related stoppages by more than 50 percent compared to the older magazine variants, PEO Soldier officials maintain.
In late May, Military.com asked PEO Soldier if weapons officials had tested to see how the improved magazine performs against the PMAG. The command responded through Army public affairs that weapons officials had conducted “limited side-by-side testing and found that no commercial magazine was superior to the improved magazine,” Bourke said.
By contrast, PMAGs have developed a word-of-mouth reputation for being extremely reliable as well as durable. Special operations units such as Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment issue PMAGs as do many infantry units before war-zone deployments.
Soldiers from B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, had been issued PMAGs before deploying to Afghanistan in 2009. On Oct. 3 of that year, they fought off a bold enemy attack on Combat Outpost Keating that lasted for more than six hours and left eight Americans dead. Some soldiers fired up to 40 PMAGs from their M4s without a single stoppage.
Army officials maintain that TACOM’s message was intended to make soldiers aware that not all commercial magazines have gone through the same testing as the improved magazine, but concede that there are exceptions.
“The main message we want to get out is – although the Army does support and is confident in the improved, tan-follower magazine – we don’t want soldiers to fear punishment for using PMAGs,” Bourke said.