XM29 OICW Mockup

The OICW – Objective Individual Combat Weapon – was part of a program in the 1980s and 1990s to replace the whole lineup of uS small arms with a consolidated group of new high-tech ones. The M4, M16, and M203 would be replaced by the OICW, the M240, M2, and Mk 19 would be replaced by the Objective Crew Served Weapon, the M40 sniper rifle would be replaced by the Objective Sniper Weapon, and the M9 pistol would be replaced by the Objective Personal Weapon. The OICW was basically a mashup of a 5.56mm carbine with a semiautomatic 20mm grenade launchers. The weapon received a lot of attention because it sounded really impressive on paper – the grenades could be programmed with a laser rangefinder to detonate at any desired range. Just past walls, just inside windows, that sort of thing. The weapon had a big multi-function optical sight that would allow both day and night vision and a bunch of other features.

In reality, however, the XM29 (as it was designated) was a 15-pound clumsy and awkward boat anchor of a weapon. While the many capabilities may have looked good on paper, the XM29 was pretty awful for regular soldiering – heavy to carry and slow to use. The whole program would end in the mid 1990s. However, the carbine element of the OICW would go on to become the XM-8 family of rifles, which did make a serious bid at replacing the M4/M16 as American standard infantry weapons. We will look at the XM-8 family tomorrow…


  1. OICW was, as Ian points out, a continuation of things like the SPIW–Both of which were conceived in a tactical and operational vacuum. No real thought was given to how these weapons would integrate into either tactics or operational doctrine. It was all “Wouldn’t it be cool, if…?”, more than it was someone realistically working out what the US military needed to support how it actually intended to fight. Massive waste of money and time, and what do we have to show for it…? Nada.

    OICW is one reason I say we need to raze the procurement establishment to the ground, sterilize the people involved so they can’t continue to contaminate the gene pool, and salt the earth where it stood as a lasting monument to discourage others. These woryhless drones have only produced worthwhile products by sheerest accident, and the list of their folly goes back to the Hall system of the early 1800s.

    • I think part of the problem is “good idea, wrong way to implement it.” The rest of it is called “wine, dine, and use taxpayer money as payment for disservice.” No good solution comes from some isolated ivory tower of self-proclaimed geniuses. Good gun makers will compete and learn from each other, just as automakers compete and learn how to get better performance. If Russia’s most famous gun maker (guess who?) saw the XM29, he’d chide America for making the most soldier-unfriendly weapon! Given a choice between hauling the OICW around and a Colt R75A, I think I would have the latter on the grounds that the weapon has less dead weight than functioning weight! I could be wrong.

      • You’re not wrong; you are incomplete, though.

        Root problem isn’t even with the design/human engineering factors. The fundamental flaw is an almost willful lack of interest in what is going on downrange where the enemy is. Same set of problems with the US understanding of combat created the M14, its unplanned supplementation and eventual replacement by the M16, and everything else since. We procure by accident and misadventure, refusing to learn from experience. The M4 is another iteration of that, and the process by which we set the barrel length on that weapon is a study in feckless stupidity.

        The US is abysmal at small arms and their minor tactics, as well as the effect those both have on operational art.

        • “The US is abysmal at small arms and their minor tactics, as well as the effect those both have on operational art.”
          For me as observer it sometimes looks like making “repairs” with usage of duct tape and then becoming idle or even content – after all most urgent problems were “solved”.

          “is a study in feckless stupidity.”
          I would say lack of understanding (and testing) weapon and its ammunition as system should be treated as undesirable trait among anyone linked with their development.

        • About the only response I can make to that is that the British SA80 program was another textbook example of a design process having absolutely nothing to do with the actual needs of the end-user, coupled with cost-cutting being the watchword of the production side, exacerbated by a near-total lack of anything remotely resembling quality control.

          And yes, SA80 was a blatant ripoff of AR-18, in the process restoring all the flaws that Armalite eliminated from the AR-18 to begin with. Thank you for nothing, Sterling Engineering and Enfield.

          PS; HK shares responsibility wih AMC, Army Ordnance, and Enfield for both the OICW and SA80 debacles. They mostly designed the former and were called in to salvage the later. Two epic fails in a row.

          And G36 (basis of XM-8) makes three.

          clear ether


          • “HK shares responsibility(…)SA80(…)epic fail”
            Where I can find more data, according to http://modernfirearms.net/en/bez-rubriki-en/sa80-l85-eng/
            the initial field reports from the British troops, engagedin the Afghanistan campaign of 2002, were unsatisfactory. Most problems,however, were traced to improper care and maintenance of weapons, and for now the L82A2 performs fairy well both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
            What H&K could done, but did not?

          • Yes and no. The SA80 concept met the requirement for a short rifle with a long barrel firing the smallest cartridge consistent with a 300M effective range, in the age of Cold War mechanised warfare. I’ve never much liked it, but it was a response to a reasonable user requirement at the time, like the AUG and FAMAS.

            Sterling had nothing to do with the SA80. When they first saw the Enfield, they were (as we say here) “well miffed” that RSAF had ripped off their AR18 design and made it worse. They neglected to tell Enfield the latter, for obvious reasons of pique.

            HK fixed the fundamental reliability and build quality issues with the A2. The A2 is pretty good, for a 5.56 bullpup. The latest A3 is an incremental improvement on it, too.

            Steve Raw’s book “The Last Enfield” describes in great detail the procurement cluster of the original SA80. It is a sad saga in which politicians, industry and the military are all implicated. No-one comes out of it well.

            The LSW/SAW/LMG L86 variant is particularly lamentable. Not only did the A1 version share all of the flaws of the A1 rifle, it could not produce effective (accurate) burst fire beyond short range. The only SAW/LSW/LMG I know of that was more effective at normal engagement ranges on semi-auto than full. The Army briefly tried to re-purpose it as a Marksman/Sharpshooter rifle, then quietly retired it and bought LMT AR10s instead (which are very nice indeed, the guys love them).

          • I wouldn’t blame HK, really. They were asked to do something really stupid by the US military, and they did their best in trying to make it work. That it did not isn’t something I’d lay at their door, responsibility-wise. Blame the idjits that asked them to try it…

            Something like the G11? Yeah; that’s all on HK. The OICW/XM-8 fiasco? Blame the US Army and its inherent inability to set realistic and attainable small arms program goals. Show me a single program that they’ve had over the last century, and I’ll show you an endemic series of flawed choices and inability to either comprehend modern battle, or even listen to the guys doing the nasty bits up near the enemy.

            Given the lead, US Army ordnance would probably have us still carrying the Garand or a derivative, because that’s what they think we need to fight with. Never mind the weight, the over-powered cartridge, or anything else, that’s what we need. According to them, the assault rifle is just a passing fad…

            And, watch what happens with what is going on right now in regards to procurement. The issues start with their definition of the problems, and a fundamental inability to coherently define where we are right now, and where we want to go. Ask these geniuses how our weapons work in combat, in terms of delivering effects to attain tactical and operational goals, and they’ll just stare at you and mumble something about “Overmatch…”. They don’t know, they don’t even care to know that they don’t know, and they’re going to keep ‘effing it up by the numbers until they are either replaced, or have no other option left but to do the right thing. Which will likely happen by sheer accident. Just like the M16, the M4, the M240 in the ground role, and… Yeah, I get tired of pointing it out. Suffice to say, when it comes to small arms, minor tactics, and the operational art, we’re afflicted by the mentally deficient. I guarantee you that were you to pose the question to these supposed military geniuses of “What are our small arms supposed to do, and how do they work together as a holistic system…?”, they’d likely stare at you in bafflement, and be entirely unable to even begin to articulate anything that would coherently and cogently answer your questions.

            For the love of God, we’re still issuing the same basic tripod that went under the M1917 and M1919 series of Browning machineguns. What the hell does that tell you? Anyone notice the prevalence of trenches, in modern warfare…? Yeah; exhibit number 1,273 in a continuing evidentiary series documenting our essential dysfunction at this game called “war”.

          • “Show me a single program that they’ve had over the last century, and I’ll show you an endemic series of flawed choices and inability to either comprehend modern battle, or even listen to the guys doing the nasty bits up near the enemy.”
            I think that this is exaggerated – what about Light Rifle which produced M1 Carbine – while maybe not ideal from beginning, it looks to fit reasonable well then current battlefield.

      • “XM29, he’d chide America for making the most soldier-unfriendly weapon”
        It would be serious competitor to American Armament Autotmatic Aircraft Cannon
        From booklet regarding this weapon: The gunner is seated facing one side of the gun and with his eye at the sight at all times. With his left hand he operates the elevating hand wheel whilst with his right hand he traverses the piece by means of a traversing hand wheel. He fires the gun with his left foot while his right foot works the breech pedal that is used to lock the gun in traverse, releasing the right hand to feed clips of ammunition to the magazine.

    • BTW: Objective Individual Combat Weapon term itself sounds wrong for me: why combat, can we have non-combat (peaceful?) weapon? Also what does Objective mean here exactly? Unbiased does not fit, purpose also not.
      Similar French development – PAPOP seems to be at least named more reasonably (as it is 2-in-1 weapons able to throw 2 different type of projectiles).

      • It is “objective” as in the goal-oriented sense of the word: “Our objective in this exercise is to train and evaluate our ability to deploy by air…”.

        English as she is spoken by the US military would drive baby Shakespeare to tears. It does serve an operational security purpose, though, because if we can’t understand whatever bafflegab drivel is coming out of the Pentagon, our enemies sure as hell won’t, either.

        • Well, “objective” was mostly borrowed from the Red Army; see “objective conditions”, i.e. what’s actually happening as opposed to what apparatchiks or etc. are assuming is happening in accordance with their (flawed) Visualizations of the Cosmic All.

          Unfortunately, OICW was an expression of the latter rather than the former.



          • Mmmm… No. I think the flow was probably the other direction, which is unfortunately true for a lot of BS crap that the hierarchy in the US has developed. Terminology and doctrine ideas are one thing, but the obfuscating BS that our staff/civilian weenies come up with is something truly wonderful to behold, if one has a darkly humorous attitude towards it all. Orwell probably studied the US Army as he made up his Newspeak dialect of English for 1984.

            You only start to see the Soviet/Russian military doing that after they started copying us, back in the 1960s. Precisely why they felt the need to bureaucratize the whole thing, on either side? No idea, but I’ll submit that it came in once most of the WWII combat generation had retired, and the peacetime parasites took over running everything.

            The key thing goes back to the infamous 13th Analect of Confucius, where he speaks of the “rectification of names”.

            Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”

            The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.” “So! indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”

            The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.”

            “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

            “When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.

            “Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

            The obfuscating and arbitrary use of made-up BS terminology and jargon in most US military affairs is a sign that the majority of the practitioners really aren’t that intelligent, and don’t have a damn clue what the hell they are doing, in profoundly fundamental terms. You can identify the same syndrome in any enterprise–Listen to the people running the show, and if you hear nothing but bafflegab that makes no damn sense once you parse it, well… You’re dealing with idiots.

          • “Soviet/Russian military doing that after they started copying us, back in the 1960s. Precisely why they felt the need to bureaucratize the whole thing, on either side?”
            I can’t said about whole, but I personally though Main Artillery Directorate (later renamed Main Rocketry Artillery Directorate) which was responsible for weapons development (including small-arms, which strictly speaking are not artillery, but traditionally are under control of that entity) keep terminology concise – avoid over-burning it with unnecessary terms and introduced new terms which followed existing situation.
            If this is not clear, maybe example will help.
            General-purpose machine gun (GPMG) equivalent is Единый пулемёт, which literally means sole machine gun (or single meaning one and only one) and has in roots in what they wanted achieved with introduction of PK – as they did not think that let’s made machine gun, so soldiers can switch its from role from light to medium but rather to produce one machine gun with different “flavors” which are “bipod” (PK), “tri-pod” (PKS) and “pintle” (PKB) which were introduced to replace respectively RP-46, SGM and SGMB.

    • “Massive waste of money and time, and what do we have to show for it…? Nada.”
      Well, in USSR similar weapon prototype was crafted namely 80.002
      yet back in 1973, but it was somewhat different as used special 12,7 mm cartridge and magazine of capacity 10 of them. It was also never intended to implement “smart” grenades. 12,7 mm “smart” grenade was impossible to craft using then available technology of USSR. Keep in mind that USSR was always somewhat behind in electronics area, in 1950s “cybernetics” was dubbed capitalist pseudoscience
      despite later shift of that attitude there was difference between USSR and West level of that technology. Notice that MiG-25 (or FOXBAT if you wish) fighter introduced in 1970 was equipped with radar build from vacuum tubes.

      • Electron tubes (which includes gas filled tubes) as still used in high power radars, nuclear weapon initiators, high energy gas lasers and other high power industrial and military applications. More specifically, thyratrons, krytrons and sprytrons are used as switches for kA and kV applications (kiloampere is a LOT of current). There are also some applications where vacuum tubes are still used for amplification as well, for example klystrons are used in high power radio transmitters, including radar. Magnetrons are of course inside every ordinary microwave oven.

        In 1970 transistors were still relatively new technology. For example some versions of the AIM-9 heat-seeking air-to-air missile used miniature tubes all the way to the 1970s. The radar of the MiG-25 probably could have been built predominantly by using solid state electronics, but in general it is not a very good example of old-fashioned Soviet electronics.

        • “in general it is not a very good example of old-fashioned Soviet electronics.”
          My point there is not about old-fashioned but rather miniaturization.

          • On the plus side, those “old-fashioned” vacuum tubes were less affected by EMP than the later solid state systems.

            Something to consider if you’re anticipating firing AAMs at a bomber carrying live thermonuclear weapons.



          • “On the plus side, those “old-fashioned” vacuum tubes were less affected by EMP than the later solid state systems.”
            I do not know, but IIRC such system might be harder to jam, although obviously no system is immune to it immediately and should be always keep in mind, otherwise you might end as one unlucky F-117A which was shot down with ancient Soviet Ground-to-Air missile developed yet in 1950s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_F-117A_shootdown

    • The 1952 Operations Research Office paper by Norman Hitchman, “Operational Requirements for an Infantry Hand Weapon”, which got the whole Project Salvo juggernaut rolling in the first place, makes for fascinating reading.

      The paper provides interesting data and a provocative hypothesis. The problem is many presumptions are made in the paper. The paper should have been the starting point for more experiments, testing of the assumptions, and development of the hypothesis. Instead that paper apparently was received as a final answer from Big Science, sending Army small arms development into a decades long course of fruitless navel gazing.

      The Hitchman paper/Project Salvo fiasco might be a excellent case of the modern dilemma of ‘Scientism’, where too many people worship Science as a new religion and believe its secret wisdom is only provided by a new Clerisy of eggheads and academics.

  2. This is the most deservedly Forgotten Weapon, par excellence. Its origin come straight from clerk’s desk to be sure. I do not think military (grunts) itself ever called for it. As dummy as this thing is, it was followed by no more successful XM-25. Same destiny ensued.

    Now, it is true and pertinent to remind ourselves that two more militaries (if not three) have attempted same and even brought their versions into inventory. It is Chinese PLA and South Korean defense force. However, they made it little easier for themselves by having the grenade launching part hand operated. But after all I believe this is a flawed concept anyway. Capital waste of money and brainpower.

    • Too bad they didn’t ask soldiers for honest opinions on how their gear could have been improved. My approach would be based on the opinions of the “local environmental expert,” a veteran of a particular campaign per given region (desert, forest, mountain, and so on). Are there different needs for each terrain? Yes, there are. Can we introduce a long arm that can be customized for each region rather than have one rifle forced onto everyone as a supposedly “universal go-anywhere-do-everything” weapon? We should probably do that rather than force everyone to wield glorified movie prop guns. And as we all know, firearms are systems of basic components and changing any part requires some testing to see if anything else must be modified to mitigate any potentially negative effects of first change. Using organizational rank as reason for anyone accepting change of equipment parameters is generally a path for immediate failure. Just ask the British about their infamous bull-pup disaster…

      • The real problem stems from the fact that there’s a huge disconnect between the practitioner and the laboratory/science guy. The US military has pretty much nothing in terms of bottom-up information flow, despite all the hype they put into it. It’s all top-down driven, and the people up high in the system are making the decisions on this stuff, and those decisions are not based on the needs of the soldier.

        Case in point–XM-25 program. This “refinement” of the OICW system was supposed to be the be-all and end-all for infantry low-level fire support in the direct and indirect roles. As such, since it was the “coming thing”, the program starved the things we really needed, like a product-improved HEDP round for the 40mm grenade launcher. See, that would have competed with the OICW, so the system did everything it could to make any other option untenable. Same syndrome can be seen back when the M16 came in–It was a stop-gap measure, intended to bridge between their last iteration of abyssal stupidity, the M14, and the new hotness, the SPIW. Didn’t work, did it? Just like with the XM-25, the guys back up in the procurement/development system were doing their own things, and all the little guys like me who were saying to them “Hey, we need a better 40mm multi-purpose grenade…” got ignored.

        The system is dysfunctional. Not only did it give us the M60, but when that system aged out and we were due to either re-capitalize the fleet or buy a new MG, they had nothing ready to go in the pipeline. Left to the idiots in procurement, we’d still be running the M60, likely in its original version, and we’d have just bought a bunch more of what we had. Instead, the Rangers and Marines did an end-run around the system, and got us the ground version of the M240, which while a better weapon than the M60, does display other examples of dysfunction–Everybody who has used the MAG-58 in the ground role has wound up bitching about the weight, and both the South Africans and Israelis were so dismayed by that that they went out and designed and built their own GPMG for dismount use. Did we take a hint from that experience…? Oh, no… Only a few people even knew about that. I actually talked to a couple of Ranger officers who were involved in that whole deal who were apparently unaware that the M240 was a coax version of an existing gun that was widely issued around the world–They thought it was strictly a US-only deal, which blew my mind. They were completely unaware of the Israeli and South African experience with the gun in the LMG role, and how its excessive weight wrought havoc with their intended use of it.

        The US military is extremely bad at anything relating to historical lessons and/or learning from the experience of others. I think I’ve mentioned before what a British Army exchange NCO once told me, which was essentially that he thought the US Army Center for Army Lessons Learned was very badly named; in his opinion, it shouldn’t have had the acronym CALL; instead, it should have been named the Center for Army Lessons Identified and then Bloody Well Ignored.

        I ruefully have to agree with him.

        • “Did we take a hint from that experience…?”
          While this is not fastest answer to requirement in weapons history of last century, it was finally made in form of Mk.48 Mod.0 machine gun
          in 2001 year, which is 8,2 kg heavy (gun only) and evolved from FN Minimi 5,56×45 weapon and become belt-fed-only.
          Interestingly this is very similar to Czechoslovak UK vz. 59 which also evolved from intermediate-cartridge firing dual-feed weapon (vz. 52/57 machine gun) and even has similar mass (8,6 kg with light barrel).

      • I had once exchange on this subject (OICW) with founder of Soldier of Fortune magazine, Mr. Peter Kokalis. I wish I still had his letter handy; he loathed it.

        • Kokalis was a guy who knew his stuff, with small arms. I can’t think of anything he really got wrong, whether it was maintenance or design. I read damn near everything he wrote, and his stuff on the M60 was nothing short of inspired; I don’t know how many times I handed his article on that weapon out to armorers and gun crew leaders for educational purposes.

          Kokalis represents an element we badly need to integrate into the whole shoddy edifice that is our small arms procurement system. However, as we can see, nobody ever wanted to engage with men like him, and here we are. Dysfunction, thy name is…

    • Also, to paraphrase a quote about the Tranter revolver, you can hardly expect an infantryman to play cornet-a-piston on his rifle/grenade launcher in the middle of a firefight.



  3. Ian

    In the video you keep referring to the OICW as the “Objective Infantry Combat Weapon”. Which I thought was odd and probably incorrect. Then I read your text story where you correctly describe the OICW as the “Objective Individual Combat Weapon”.

    Just a little verbal tick?

  4. Kirk is right, basically.

    On the one hand, you have the science/tech guys who don’t really know what the user wants and come up with impractical nonsense. Like this thing, or the G11. Or SPIW.

    On the other, you have the front line users, who have mostly these days BTDT, but don’t get the science/tech. Some of whom at the extremes (not all), would want to carry a Desert Eagle in a drop-leg holster, Micro-Uzi (“it’s in Grand Theft Auto, cool, I want this!” – direct quote from personal experience of an infantryman encountering a Micro-Uzii, I would have hoped he’d said “what a niche gun of no relevance to my role”, but didn’t and showed it off to his mates), and a pistol-grip pump shotgun. I guess that most US infantry in 1945 would have asked for an M1 with a bigger magazine. Eventually, they got it, as the M14, which was not exactly a great choice.

    So the tech guys will favour tech over usability. The users will be the reverse. A few guys, often though not only SF, will find a middle way.

    Where procurement falls down is the function between scientist and user. It often falls (eg user trials feedback) to junior officers who neither understand the tech, nor the fighting very well, but feel obliged to “add value”. The safety on the SA80 is a good example, as is the at best useless forward assist plunger on the AR15 platform.

    • A lot of the problem stems from the fact that here in the US, we really don’t train people to attain real expert status in skill-at-arms with most of our small arms systems. The usual run of soldier is not an expert marksman, in real terms–There’s no real incentive to be one, or to master the craft. And, as such, when the powers-that-be go out to take “field surveys”, they ask questions and get answers that aren’t at all relevant to the very real issues that exist. Much of the time, the guys out on the ground don’t even know what they don’t know, or what they should know in order to assess their performance.

      One of my pet peeves is with the machine gun–Go look at how we train and qualify our gun crews. The courses of fire and ranges to support the MG are basically replications of static trench warfare scenarios from WWI or the late part of the Korean War. There’s no real fidelity to how we actually use the guns today, and because of that? Well, we don’t know how to properly use a machine gun to deliver effective support during mobile infantry actions. Add in the fact that to the US, a machine gun is a support weapon, rather than a maneuver weapon, and we have the abysmal performance we have demonstrated in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is conducting long-distance MG fire operations on our units, and we can’t effectively answer them because our gunners and leaders are not trained to do so, and their equipment, quite frankly, sucks. The M122/192 tripod is a sad joke; you can’t adjust the damn things to adapt to the terrain you’re on, they’re really only suited to static defense use from prepared positions, and the guns are not capable of effectively answering fires from the bipod past 800m. It’s a mug’s game, without decent tripods and effective training. But… Do we recognize that fact? Do we do anything to fix the problems? Nope; they are still training the gunners as though their only real role is on the defense, from static positions. The tripods are still the same inadequate, sad joke–Some seventy years after DISA showed the way forward with what the Germans termed the Lafette 34/42 when they adopted it.

      You show that thing to the average US officer or NCO, and the first thing they see is the weight and complexity, not recognizing what that weight and complexity gives you in added capability.

      My guess is, after studying the German use of that tripod and the MG34/42 weapons with their Gebirgsjager units during WWII, that those units would laugh long and heartily at the tactical problem presented by the Taliban, and then use their guns to wipe those PKM positions off the face of the earth–And, do it in less time than it would take to describe their actions.

      But, you go looking for anyone in the US forces that’s even aware of what those nasty, nasty Nazi Germans did with their guns, and you’ll find a couple of guys who are vaguely aware of the reputation the MG42 gained, but the first thing they’ll comment on is that, of course, the rate of fire was too high. Not recognizing that that rate of fire was a deliberate choice, and that it had a real tactical use, in that the Germans wanted to absolutely saturate the beaten zone down range as quickly as possible, before the targeted infantry could possibly go to ground. Which played into the massive casualty lists those guns helped create in the Allied forces…

      All these things lead to “garbage in, garbage out”, with regards to things like “surveying combat veteran soldiers and leaders”. Even with something like the Somalia “Blackhawk Down” incident, the utility of any information gathered from those veterans is going to be highly subjective, and really not of much value. I got to know a couple of guys who were junior enlisted and junior NCO guys-on-the-ground with the Ranger support unit that was there, and the interesting thing about them was that one of them swore up and down that the M4 was an utter piece of crap, because he’d witnessed himself hitting Somali gunmen at close range not going down after being hit, and he “knew” he’d hit them because he saw puffs of dust raised from their clothes where his bullets struck them–And, they didn’t go down, so he assessed the M4 as useless, and grabbed a 7.62mm MG to fight with from a casualty, and started seeing actual effect on the Somali gunmen. Other guy? Diametric opposite experiences–He had used his M4 and an M16, and said they were veritable death rays, and his position was that the first guy just wasn’t hitting anything with the rifles.

      Now, what was interesting was hearing such opposed impressions, and knowing that both these guys were actually pretty damn good marksmen, having seen them shoot.

      So, knowing all that… Who to listen to? Which of those two guys was right? The first guy insisted that the only effective weapon was one in 7.62mm, the second was just as certain that the 5.56mm was entirely adequate. Survey the two of them, and their impressions cancel each other out, so what do you use to help make your decisions about what to procure…?

      Me? I’m ambivalent. I don’t think the 5.56mm is adequate; I want more energy delivered, and I want a bigger, better hole in my targets. But… I’m also honest enough to admit that I reach that conclusion purely based on subjective impression, and that I have no hard-and-fast numbers to back it up. I don’t know, in a fundamental sense, that I’m right–And, equally, I can’t say that I’m wrong, either.

      And, this is the state of things in this regard–We just don’t know a lot of what we should. Hell, try to establish verifiable numbers for how much energy you need to deposit into a human to get them to stop fighting, and you’re gonna be all over the map. Go looking at how they established a lot of the numbers everyone refers to, and you’re gonna find a bunch of crap that quite simply isn’t at all supportable–The NATO armor penetration standard, for one example. Penetrate both sides of a German steel helmet at X meters? WTF? How is that at all objective? That’s just someone pulling numbers out of their asses because it sounded good to them. The reality is that we simply don’t know what the hell you need to do to effectively stop someone from fighting–There’s no minimum number, no maximum number, just purely subjective crap that someone made up. And, I’ll grant that there are a huge number of variables that go into all this, but the sad fact is that nobody is looking. You want to find out how effective your small arms are, you need to do what they do with combat vehicles at the National Training Center, wire the guns for sound, capture the data, and start examining what is really going on in combat.

      We rely on reports and after-action reviews of things to try and approximate what is going on in battle, but I’m here to tell you that those are generally both useless. Why? Because the guy on the ground who’s doing the reporting is not a good judge of what the effects of his rounds are, downrange. I watched one firefight in Iraq play out on the “big screen” up at Division headquarters, and the amazing thing was seeing how much like the NTC the whole thing was–The guys reporting things said that they took fire, and returned fire, eliminating the ambush element. Fact was, from what we could observe via telemetry from overhead drones, the fires they returned didn’t hit anything besides the empty hillside behind the enemy ambush element, and what actually killed the ambush party was MG fire from an unknown source, not US, and which we presumed represented another insurgent element attempting to fire on our guys… In other words, the actual source of the fire that eliminated the enemy ambush force was their own guys, and what had actually happened was a case of enemy blue-on-blue.

      Try to derive an accurate idea of what we’re doing, and how effective we are? From that quality of information? LOL… Ain’t happening. We just don’t know a lot of what we need to know, and there’s little to no interest in trying to get the information we need.

      Then, there’s the other thing: Terminal ballistics. You want to know how effective your weapons are, you need to go downrange, grab enemy casualties, and do some analysis. What killed them, what was the mechanism, and how does that compare to what we thought we had going on with our weapons? Just looking at the ones we get back into the medical system won’t do the trick–Those are the guys who lived, and who actually kinda represent the failures of our weapons. You want to know how effective you are, you need to be the morbid and cold-blooded bastard, and go look at the dead. And, yes, I’m advocating essentially desecrating their corpses in order to study what killed them, in order to assess the real-world effects of our weapons. I am certain that we’d learn some very interesting things, like which specific weapons are doing the work.

      And, there’s still more things to consider with all this: How do you assess “weapons responsibility” for a given kill? If your bayonet charge scares the enemy badly enough that they leave their safe fighting positions and get out in the open where your MG teams can lay waste to them, those guys are never going to show any bayonet wounds, now are they? Yet, one could arguably assert that they were actually killed by the moral effect of the bayonet, could you not? The MG round wounds that they actually have wouldn’t be there, unless a bunch of mad bastards with shiny sharp bits on their rifles scared the crap out of them, and they legged it for the rear, making it possible for those nice guys with the MG units to kill them from afar. So, how do you work that factor into your assessment of which weapons are most efficacious at killing the enemy?

      Warfare is actually not a science, because you can’t do like the Soviets tried to do, and reduce actions down to an engineering equation. As soon as you say “Well, we inflicted X amount of attrition, so we won…”, you wake up to find the Red Army quartering itself near the Brandenberg Gate. It’s darkly humorous, but one of my friends who was a US Army intel officer, and trained extensively on Soviet doctrine? His laugh line was that by Soviet doctrine, given all the losses inflicted on the Red Army during WWII, the Germans really won the war, and that the entire post-war era was thus a figment of our imaginations…

      Calculate all you like, but the raw fact is that the whole enterprise is not all that predictable, and becomes less so with poor information. Which is precisely what we’ve got going, here in the US–The data is bad, its fed into delusional thought processes, and the decisions that come out are only vaguely workable due to sheer accident. Oh, and because God looks out for fools, habitual drunks, and the US Army… Not sure why, but I’d have to use the success of the M16/M4 series of weapons as evidence for that theory, because there is no rational reason that whole fiasco should have worked out as well as it did. Sheer accident, and it’s now the longest-issued individual weapon in US military history.

      Which is, in and of itself, evidence that the “system” is FUBAR.

      • “FUBAR”
        After some thinking I find one example supporting it: as you might know U.S.A. forced 7,62×51 as default NATO cartridge, despite other were working on weapons firing true intermediate cartridge – .280 British is probably best known, but there were also other attempts – for example French CEAM Modèle 1949. So NATO members development rifles for 7,62×51 cartridge, among them was G3 which spawned HK 21 machine gun, yet in 1960s, which weighted 7,92 kg (HK21A1 – 8,3 kg), which would made it interesting option as replacement of M60. Did U.S. forces evaluated HK 21 back then? If yes why it was turned down? If not: IRONIC.

  5. Ah, the whole “Soldier of the Future” concept. I was in the 1st and then the 2nd Infantry Divisions in the 1990’s, and even then we thought it was a waste. The backpack that accompanied the system (for communications and electronics for the weapon) was massive, we could not see carrying it in combat. I carried an M203 on and off for most of my whole career, including in combat in Iraq. Any grenadier worth a crap could drop a grenade out of his M203 behind a wall or into a hole with a little practice, but we always wanted a better grenade (BIGGER BOOM) not a smaller grenade with a “brain” that could do what a man with a little practice and skill could do. They wasted a ton of taxpayer dollars that could have been much better spent. But of course they never asked us for our opinion — LOL!!

    • The things about Force XXI that really made the big differences were the night vision, the sights, and the situational awareness gear they carried. We did an exercise with those guys, where we set up a battalion-size conventional defense, and they attacked with a single platoon of Force XXI-equipped light infantrymen. From the time they started attacking us until the following morning around dawn, when their batteries ran down…? They were essentially unstoppable, due to the superior ability they had with that gear to spot our guys, and essentially snipe them with the IR laser pointers and NVDs. We had conventional night vision for the weapons, no IR sights, and NVGs for our drivers and co-drivers. Even prepared, knowing they were coming, and having had more than adequate time to prepare fixed conventional defenses, it was like shooting fish in a barrel for them. I think that the end result was that we had about a 60% overall casualty rate going, with the MILES gear. We never inflicted a single casualty on them until dawn hit, they ran out of power for their fancy gear, and we had them cornered in their rally point.

      But, basically, that set of gear enabled thirty guys to render an entire battalion combat ineffective in a little less than six-seven hours of night. Imagine the effects on morale, had that been real-life–It felt like we were fighting ghosts. All you would hear over the radio net was “We’re taking fire from outside the perimeter…”, and then a bunch of fire from weapons, followed by “Oh, shit… I’m dead…”.

      The biggest effect with small arms, these days, is not the weapons. It’s the sights, the accessories, and the command/control pieces. If I had to assess the differences, I’d say that a single modern platoon could easily do the amount of damage we used to associate with battalion- and brigade-sized elements.

      The thing that really made you stop and think, about that Force XXI exercise? Those guys were limited to their organic weapons for that entire attack on us. Had they been able to bring in the full range of their supporting fires, like the company mortars and artillery support? We’d have lasted about as long as a water drop on a red-hot griddle.

      • Very true about the sights and night vision. Those parts were worth it once they got the electronics and more importantly the batteries down to a manageable size. I know first hand that any Iraqi who tried his luck at night met his demise in most cases having never seen the soldier with night vision/sights who took him out. We owned the night. My comments were more aimed at the whole smart grenade concept, which a good 203 gunner can duplicate with experience and a shell with twice the payload for probably just a thousandth of the cost.

  6. Geezer, Andrew, Kirk…. this is very worthwhile reading you put forth here. It gives me answers to some doubts/ questions from time when I was in industry. Thank you for your keen and self less contribution!

  7. The comments are full of words like “waste” and “dyfunctional”.

    It’s not waste if someone gets the money, it’s not dysfunction if someone gets a career billet/promotion.

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