Nearly 80 percent of Soldiers said in a recent survey they are satisfied with their weapons, though almost half recommended a replacement for the standard-issued M9 pistol or ammunition with more stopping power.
Additionally, nearly 30 percent of Soldiers in the December 2006 survey, conducted on behalf of the Army by the Center for Naval Analyses, said the M4 carbine should be replaced or more deadly ammunition fielded.
"Across weapons, Soldiers have requested weapons and ammunition with more stopping power/lethality," the report said.
The study was commissioned by the Army's Project Manager for Soldier Weapons to address concerns raised by Soldiers returning from combat about the dependability and effectiveness of their small arms.
"This study assessed Soldier perspectives on the reliability and durability of their weapons systems in combat to aid in decisions regarding current and future small arms needs of the Army," said the study, which was obtained by Military.com.
CNA surveyors conducted over 2,600 interviews with Soldiers returning from combat duty, asking them a variety of questions about accessories, weapons training, maintenance and recommended changes to their small arms.
"The U.S. Army Infantry Center is conducting a study to refine the Army's Small Arms Strategy, which focuses on the employment of rifles, carbines, ammunition caliber, and future technologies," said Army spokesman, Lt. Col. William Wiggins, in a statement. "All Services are participating in this study, which is expected in the July/August 2007 timeframe."
The survey lends weight to Army claims that current-issued weapons are effective despite growing criticism from Soldiers and lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the service should re-assess the standard M4 - as well as the M9 pistol.
In April, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) sent a letter to acting Army secretary Pete Geren taking issue with the service's sole-source contract to buy about 500,000 M4 carbines despite evidence that new rifle technologies could provide more reliable weapons.
The study found the most stoppage problems with the M249 machine gun and M9 pistol, with an average of about 30 percent of respondents saying they experienced stoppages with each weapon in firefights. About four in ten Soldiers who said they experienced jams during combat with their pistols or machine guns claimed it took them out of the fight.
Though vocal critics of the M4 say it's prone to jamming in the talcum-like sand environments of Iraq and Afghanistan, only 19 percent of M4 users said they experienced stoppages in combat.
But of those with malfunctioning M4s, nearly 20 percent said they were "unable to engage the target with that weapon during a significant portion of or the entire firefight after performing immediate or remedial action to clear the stoppage," the report said.
Soldiers who attach accessories to their weapons experienced a disproportionate number of malfunctions, with M249 users nine times more likely to experience a stoppage "if accessories were attached via zip cord, four times more likely if attached with duct tape and three times more likely if attached with dummy cords or rails."
"Accessory attachments had a significant impact on reported stoppages," the report said. "Those who attached accessories to their weapon were more likely to experience stoppages, regardless of how the accessories were attached."
The CNA surveyors also asked Soldiers for their opinions on possible improvements to their small arms. The top request from Soldiers was for more knock-down power, reigniting the debate over America's small arms caliber choices.
"When speaking to experts and Soldiers on site, many commented on the limited ability to effectively stop targets, saying that those personnel targets who were shot multiple times were still able to continue pursuit," the report said.
A full 20 percent of M9 users said they wanted a new weapon, and "some were more specific and requested a return to the Colt .45 for standard issue pistols," including others who asked for hollow-point ammo.
Hollow point rounds have been deemed illegal for military use.
Additionally, M16 users were "consistent and adamant" in asking to be re-issued the more compact M4.