Kit Up!

Keep it Simple



Submitted by Eric Daniel

You know, it's been said that the U.S. Army is the best equipped force in the world but I'm really more amazed by what we don't have that other armies do than what we do have, or what we want to have that others don't.

Take, for example, the four shot 25mm XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System currently in the works (the XM25 is itself an offshoot of the doomed XM29 OICW thingie).  It's supposed to be effective out to 500 meters against point targets, will have a built in multi-spectrum electro-optical sight, and will have the ability to individually program the burst time on the launched projectiles so that they explode behind or over the target, thus defeating any frontal cover the target might have.

Sounds good on paper, and I'm sure there's no other Army out there trying to develop a weapon specifically designed to attack a target behind cover, but the reality is, we haven't got one of these either (yet, and I don't see these getting issued soon either), and there are a lot of really simple weapons currently in service which could just as easily perform this mission. 

Rifle grenades:  What's wrong with rifle grenades?  We, the American army, used the hell out of them in WWII and Korea, but they went away after that.  Were they not high tech enough, or was this one of those "no guns on jet fighters" decisions, where we decided that the types of wars we'd be fighting in the future would render these weapons obsolete?  There are any number of designs out there now that could immediately enter service with the US military as short range (<300m) anti-personnel, anti-tank (ok, anti-APC), dual purpose, individually fired munitions, yet we haven't got any.

I understand that we have dedicated grenade launchers like the M203 now that can fill the role of the rifle grenade, but the 203 is an individually assigned weapon, and in the standard infantry squad there are only two (one per team) and in the Army's table driven organizational scheme, if your unit isn't authorized any (like mine) then you just go without.  With a rifle grenade, on the other hand, everyone in the unit has the capability of carrying one or two, and they can be fired by anyone (this capability would enable a commander to stockpile the grenades in a defensive position, or with a support by fire element, without disrupting unit organization by shifting grenadiers around.)

Shoulder fired weapons:  Next to the AK-47, the most common weapon carried by the insurgents is the RPG-7.  Introduced as a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon in 1961, it is now the most prolific such weapon in the world.  What is the US equivalent?  The single shot AT-4 (M136.)  The US used to have a reloadable shoulder fired weapon, the M1-M20 series rocket launchers (a.k.a "Bazooka" and "Super Bazooka") but the Bazooka was retired from service during the Vietnam war and replaced by the M72 LAW (tanks and the new ATGMs like the TOW and the Shillelagh would eliminate the need for a short ranged infantry based AT weapon) and later the AT4. 

While designed as anti-armor weapons, as the insurgents can attest to, they also serve admirably as "pocket" artillery, and what I wonder about is why we don't use something similar. We have a number of similar weapons (the Marine Corps has the SMAW and the M3 Carl Gustav is in service with SOCOM forces) in our inventory.  The exclusivity of the M3 especially bothers me. Of a similar weight and size of the AT4, it presents a significantly greater capability in that you can reload it and you can fire a variety of munitions through it.  Again it would be a lot easier for an infantry platoon to carry a pair of M3s and 40 seven-pound HE projectiles than it would be to carry 40 AT4s.  Yet its use is limited to SOCOM, while the regular Army has to settle for the AT4.

Battlefield Illumination:  As a tanker, one of the things I missed most about going from the M60 to the M1 was the elimination of that 2.5 million candlepower searchlight.  Yes, I know the M1 had thermal sights and did not need a light source, but there are times where having a way to light up the battlefield is nice, like when you're working with dismounts, who don't have thermals, and you want to point out something to them.  Battlefield illumination, I think, has become a lost art. We have become so used to, or maybe even dependent upon, night vision devices, that we simply don't do things at night if we cant see anything with our NODs (night vision, as you know, multiplies ambient light; if there's no ambient light to magnify, they don't work very well.)  We have a number of parachute flares of all sizes in the inventory, but few commanders, that I've seen, make use of them (no grenadier I encountered carried 40mm parachute flares and while most NCOs carried red star clusters for medivacs, none carried illum rounds, so if your unit did then I envy you.) One of the things I think folk forget is that the use of illum can have a significant impact on the enemy's ability to maneuver.  If visibility is limited, popping parachute flares downrange can light up the battlefield, denying the enemy the ability to move freely in the open.  Unfortunately, flares are neither sexy nor expensive, so I don't think the Army is very interested in using them.

Mind you, I'm not advocating the elimination of any existing weapon system.  All the stuff we currently have does, in fact, work.  What I would like to see though, is for us to expand our capabilities by add some existing low tech weapons to our arsenal to give commanders the ability to better tailor their firepower to the mission, rather than just do without until the wonder weapon we've always dreamed about comes on line 20 years from now.

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