The U.S. Army ignored its own 2015 test report that showed the Magpul PMAG polymer magazine outperforming the service's new Enhanced Performance Magazine before fielding the EPM a year later, Military.com has learned.
The U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center's 2015 Final Report for the M855A1 Conformance Testing on Commercial Magazines shows the PMAG Gen M3 performed better than the nine other commercial magazines, as well as the service's Enhanced Performance Magazine and its previously issued magazine.
Since then, the Marine Corps, U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force have selected the Magpul Gen M3 PMAG, an improved version of a combat-proven 30-round 5.56mm magazine that has been in use since 2009.
But instead of following its fellow services, the Army remains wedded to its Enhanced Performance Magazine.
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The Army's Program Executive Office Soldier is wrapping up another test to make sure the PMAG Gen M3 doesn't damage Army weapons, PEO Soldier commander Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings told Military.com in a Sept. 22 interview.
"Right now, there are no degradations to the weapons and all of the reliability numbers are good," he said. "Testing is not complete, but enough testing has been done that the results are clear that the magazine with the weapon is reliable."
For now, the plan is to continue fielding the Enhanced Performance Magazine. If Army units want the PMAG Gen M3, they will be allowed to purchase it with unit funds once the Army authorizes it, Cummings said.
"When you take a look at the Army, you have just got to remember I have about one million rifles that are out there. ... My job is to make sure that that magazine is not going to damage those million weapons."
The Army's cautious approach is part of a repeating behavior that many in the defense industry maintain is a subtle way of protecting Army-created programs such as the Enhanced Performance magazine. It has fueled the perception that the commercial vendor is not a viable option.
"There is certainly a 'not invented here' kind of mentality when it comes to small arms programs to a large extent," Duane Liptak Jr., executive vice president of Magpul Industries, told Military.com.
"With the Gen M3, there are zero magazine-related failures in any of the testing that has been completed to date."
Proven in Battle
The Gen M3 is an improved version of the PMAG that offers increased reliability over the Gen M2, the magazine that was issued to 4th Infantry Division soldiers before the Oct. 3, 2009, battle at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan, as part of a soldier load experiment.
About 60 cavalrymen from Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, of the 4th ID fought a ferocious, 12-hour battle against an enemy force of about 350 insurgents.
Sgt. Eric Harder, a team leader with B Troop, described his M4 carbine's performance as "excellent."
"I shot over 40 magazines that day; didn't have one jam, no problems whatsoever," Harder said during a Defense Department video interview shortly after the battle.
From Magpul's perspective, "one stoppage more than absolutely has to happen is unnecessary," Liptak said.
"Every stoppage you decrease, that's an opportunity to save someone's life or to allow them to engage an enemy," he said. "Every stoppage you accept over whatever the best option is just saying, 'Oh, it's OK if I put someone's life in danger.' "
Other Services Embrace PMAG
The Marine Corps was the first service to embrace the PMAG Gen M3.
Marine Corps Systems Command released a message in December authorizing the Gen M3 PMAG for the M27 infantry automatic rifle, as well as the M16A4 rifle and M4 carbine.
Test results showed that the Army's M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round caused reliability and durability problems in the M27 in particular when using government magazines such as the Army's Enhanced Performance Magazine.
U.S. Special Operations Command, a user of PMAGs in the past, authorized the new Gen M3 in January.
The Air Force put out guidance in July that all government-issued M16/M4 magazines -- including the Army's new Enhanced Performance Magazine -- will be replaced by the Gen M3 PMAG.
The Air Force relied on the Army's 2015 Final Report for the M855A1 Conformance Testing on Commercial Magazines to make its decision, Air Force officials told Military.com.
Aberdeen Test Results
U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center evaluated 10 commercial magazine designs and two government magazine designs for Product Manager Individual Weapons.
Testers loaded the magazines into M4A1s, M16A4s and Marine M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles, and fired thousands of rounds during the evaluation.
The magazine vendors were identified alphabetically as A-L in the evaluation to hide the identity of each magazine design, both commercial and government.
It's not until page 38 that the report details findings, showing that vendor Foxtrot performed better in the test in the M4A1 and M27 than any other magazine evaluated. Vendor Foxtrot was Magpul's Gen M3 PMAG, company officials confirmed.
Vendor Kilo was the Army's legacy magazine with the tan follower, and vendor Lima was the Army's new Enhanced Performance Magazine, according to a source familiar with the vendors, who asked to remain anonymous.
In some cases, Lima, or the Enhanced Performance Magazine, didn't perform as well as Kilo, the older Army magazine it was designed to replace, according to the report.
Cummings said the test did not fire enough rounds through the magazines to be conclusive.
"The answer, to be honest, is really simple: We just didn't fire enough rounds to be confident," he said. "You have to fire so many rounds with so many weapons to have a level of confidence that the numbers are correct."
Cummings said he saw no reason to test the Gen M3 PMAG further instead of fielding the Enhanced Performance Magazine in 2016.
"We had a magazine," he said. "We had a magazine that met the requirements."
More Rigorous Testing
PEO Soldier's current test involving the Gen M3 PMAG is more rigorous and used more than 100,000 rounds, but it does not include the Enhanced Performance Magazine, Cummings said.
"I didn't do a comparison test," he said. "The EPM has already had its test. I am strictly trying to prove out that the Magpul magazine is reliable, not damaging the M4s, and that units can go purchase it. That's what I have done."
Even if the Gen M3 PMAG performs better, it would cost too much to replace the Enhanced Performance Magazine with it, Cummings said.
"Oh my gosh, when you multiply, like I told you, one million times, every rifle gets seven magazines. That's a lot of money," he said.
Currently, the government price for the Gen M3 is just over $10 each, so it would cost about $70 million to equip one million rifles and carbines with seven PMAGs each.
"It is just that if I arbitrarily today tell the Army, 'Let's take all of those aluminum magazines out there and replace them,' that's a cost," Cummings said. "It's a huge cost, huge."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.