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02-03-05, 10:56 AM #1
Fresh firepower:With a few old standbys wearing out fast, here’s a look at what weapo
February 07, 2005
With a few old standbys wearing out fast, here’s a look at what weapons may replace them
By Laura Bailey
Times staff writer
These days it’s unheard of to find a Marine whose career has outlasted the M2 .50-caliber machine gun.
But unlike the venerable “ma deuce,” many of the Corps’ older infantry weapons just aren’t holding up as well.
Weapons such as the Vietnam-era MK19 40mm grenade launcher have been around for decades and are nearing the end of their service lives. And the harsh realities of combat in Iraq are taking their toll.
But while this may leave Marines stuck making frequent repairs, a major windfall of new weapons is coming soon.
In the next three to four years, the Marine Corps will begin retiring many of the old standbys, bringing grunts a whole new generation of weapons.
Some of those could hit the fleet as soon as 2008, while others may be a little longer in coming. Consider this a sneak preview of what’s on the way out and what’s in the works.
So long, SAW
With reports of grunts in Iraq holding M249 Squad Automatic Weapons together with duct tape and zip-ties, the SAW is among those apparently in most dire need of replacing.
According to a Marine Corps Systems Command survey of Marines in Iraq, many SAWs were worn to the point of exhaustion.
The April 2003 report, which compiled comments from Marines in Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah, said the weapons had “far exceeded their service life” and were “apparently beyond repair.”
In August, the Corps’ infantry weapons officers gathered for their annual symposium at Quantico, Va., and recommended the Corps replace the SAW with an automatic rifle as soon as possible.
A report detailing the gunners’ recommendations states the “SAW is virtually at the end of its life cycle and has numerous problems that render it less than ideal for continued use in the current operating environment.”
As Systems Command seeks a replacement, the Corps will continue to repair and rebuild the weapons for the foreseeable future, a command official said.
While the weapons have seen wear and tear in Iraq, they are still repairable, said Lt. Col. Rick Adams, the infantry weapons program manager at Systems Command. He said the Corps is rebuilding those weapons that need it and upgrading the SAW inventory with a rail system to allow attachment of the new Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight.
Reports of Marines duct-taping their weapons usually came from those who used tape not for repairs but to attach flashlights, sighting systems and other items to suit their individual preferences, he said.
“In almost every case of duct tape, they’re putting something on the weapon that’s not supposed to be there,” he said.
Corps officials have not yet selected a company to provide the SAW’s replacement, but purchasing could begin as soon as 2007, Adams said.
The new weapons could be in the hands of infantry units as soon as 2009, he added, noting that units outside the infantry will have to wait until 2015.
Regardless of which manufacturer is chosen, the replacement weapon is likely to be a true automatic rifle, Adams said. The 5.56mm SAW is a light machine gun that is being employed as an automatic rifle, a situation that has left some in the infantry community frustrated.
“The Marine Corps has had a long-standing love of the automatic combat rifle, and I think we’re going to go that way,” Adams said. “With an automatic rifle, you can get point targets. The SAW is still an area weapon.”
Corps weapons experts have long debated whether the SAW, which was introduced in the 1980s, is the right weapon to provide an automatic-fire capability to the fire team.
With Marines now frequently operating in close-quarters urban environments, they can afford to sacrifice some firepower in favor of a lighter weapon, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Patrick Woellhof, the infantry weapons officer occupational field manager at Quantico.
“We want a true automatic weapon,” Woellhof said. “The SAW was a good weapons system when the fight was against the mass Red hordes,” but now the weapon is “too heavy, too bulky, too unwieldy and too difficult to master.”
Woellhof said the SAW could be retained for use in fixed security scenarios but that an automatic rifle is the answer for street patrolling.
“We’re not saying get rid of the SAW completely. We’re saying within the rifle squads, the guys doing the urban patrols would have a different rifle.”
One possible replacement is the XM8, manufactured by Sterling, Va.-based Heckler & Koch.
The Marine Corps has watched as the Army develops the modular XM8 rifle as a possible new service rifle to replace the M16 rifle and M4 carbine. Gunners tested the XM8 at their August conference, and if the 5.56mm weapon makes its way to the Corps, the most likely place for it would be as the SAW’s replacement, Woellhof said.
“The XM8 would be a good replacement for that because it has an automatic rifle variant. But everyone would have to compete,” he said.
Slower pace for the MK19
Also on the list for replacement is the MK19 40mm machine gun. The automatic grenade launcher, first fielded during the Vietnam War as a riverine patrol weapon for the Navy, is expected to reach the end of its service life around 2012.
The grenade launcher is in much better shape than the SAW, however, and the Corps isn’t in the same rush to replace it.
“The MK19 seems to be holding together pretty well,” Adams said. “By and large, it’s not a major maintenance headache.”
In the meantime, Systems Command will give the MK19 a minor safety upgrade, with the addition of safety kits that allow users to preset timing adjustments, which helps prevent misfires. And the weapon also will see the addition of a rail system for new optics.
Manufactured by General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products of Charlotte, N.C., the last MK19 rolled off the assembly line in 2003; the Corps is targeting 2008 as the year to begin buying replacement weapons, Adams said.
The command is not looking at specific weapons at this point and Adams declined to speculate on who might manufacture the replacement grenade launcher, but he said the Corps plans to stick with a 40mm weapon.
He said the Heckler & Koch Grenade Machine Gun and a General Dynamics Automatic Grenade Launcher are being looked at most frequently.
A few GMGs already are in the hands of special operations troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gunners tested it in August and gave the weapon high marks.
The chief warrant officers said it was a tremendous improvement over the MK19, highlighting its reliability, safety features and modern design.
“I think the Marine Corps should take a hard look at it, a real hard look at it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Alex Heberlein, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
He praised the weapon’s simple, reliable design, durability and ease of operation.
The design includes a unique “direct-strip” feeding system and easy-to-change ammunition box that can be placed on either side of the weapon. The operator can change the direction of the feed without the help of an armorer.
Gunners also liked the lightweight GMG tripod, which offers a height adjustment that allows the user to fire from a seated or standing position, making it particularly suitable to rooftops. The 19-pound tripod is less than half the weight of the current 44-pound M3 tripod used with the MK19.
The Multiple Grenade Launcher
Another weapon that won high marks from the gunners is the 40mm Multiple Grenade Launcher made by Milkor Marketing Ltd. of Wasilla, Alaska. It could eventually replace the M203 grenade launcher now used with the M16 and M4, but for now, it has been purchased in small quantities to be tried out in urban convoy situations.
The gunners submitted a request to purchase a limited number of the weapons, which are going to Iraq with II Marine Expeditionary Force this spring for use in convoy operations.
“We’re going to try to work with them and see how they perform, but I don’t think we’re going to try to work them down to the squad level yet,” Woellhof said.
The lightweight, semi-automatic, shoulder-fired launcher can fire six rounds in three seconds from its revolver-style chamber, Milkor officials said. Because it can bring a lot of firepower to bear in a concentrated area, it could be just the ticket for convoy security operations.
Gunners also like its ease of use. “With this you can fire a round, you can see the impact and adjust without taking your eye off it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gene Bridgeman, the gunner for Camp Pendleton’s School of Infantry.
But because it’s an entirely separate weapon instead of an add-on, if the Corps were to buy the weapon in large numbers, it would likely require the creation of a dedicated grenadier position within fire teams, and that grenadier would still need to carry another weapon for self-protection.
Ma deuce forever?
As for “ma deuce,” don’t expect to see that go away any time soon.
The .50-caliber machine gun is slated to be replaced in 2012, but the World War II-era weapon has held up so well that replacement plans are somewhat tentative, Adams said.
“People have been talking about retiring the M2 forever, but it just keeps holding on for us ... I don’t think any of us are seriously considering a strong replacement for the .50-cal. at this point. It’s just a workhorse.”
For now, the plan is to keep rebuilding it to keep it safe and serviceable.
Among the possible changes: the addition of a quick-change barrel that the Army is developing for its M2 machine guns, which would allow gun crews to change the barrel more quickly and cut down the risk of a malfunction, such as misfires and double feeds.
02-03-05, 12:35 PM #2
Am I the only one who feels 5.56 has got to go, we as a nation have spent over 40 years proving it dont work as designed or inteneded.. why spend billions on a new rifle, if is just going to use the same old tired, and non-effective round..
Why would we equip America's military with weapons that are not even made by a American comapny?, HK is not American, we know what works, and we know what is effective, what is the point of being able to carry more ammo, if you just have to shoot your enemy more times to kill him? it seems no one at the top is seeing what is happening at the bottom, weapons held together with duct tape and zip ties, there is a LOT I could say about that, but it would be best if I didn't. How many would turn down a "old and Antiquated M14" in trade for the A4s and SAWs they are now carrying? I would be first inline..
02-04-05, 04:48 PM #3
The MK-19 Did not come into the Inventory until 1988. There was a type of grenade launcher during the Vietnem Era, but it was not the MK-19.
02-04-05, 08:20 PM #4
You are not alone on this one Naglfar I agree 100% I would take an M14, M79 and M60 any day of the week over the crap we issue today. Do a google search for the Swedish Marines, yeah that got HK's and FN's but they also issue M14's. 7.62mm and 40mm rule. New aint always better.
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