M4 rifle faults in Afghanistan prompts debate

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Bob Owens, a Blogger for Pajamas Media, writes a very interesting article on the recently discredited M4 carbine now used by US troops in Afghanistan.  In an article entitled: Fox News Gets It Wrong: M4 Rifle Works Fine; the Problem Is the Cartridge, Mr. Owens argues persuasively that the problem is not with the M4 which he characterizes as being “long in the tooth,” but in the relatively weak 5.56mm caliber bullet used in this weapon. 

Mr. Owens goes on to suggest that “the 6.8 SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) was designed explicitly to overcome the shortcomings of the 5.56 cartridge. Just as importantly, it was specifically designed to work with the Army’s existing M4 rifles. It outclasses the AK-47s cartridge in every measurable way.”  Now I am not a ballistics or weapon’s specialist – in fact, the most lethal weapons in my arsenal are a knife and fork – but clearly something is amiss with the weapon and/or cartridge currently being used by our troops deployed in Afghanistan.  This was confirmed in a detailed US Army study on the effectiveness of the M4 by Maj. Thomas Ehrhart.

Mr. Owens then goes on to say that “the story that Fox News missed is a simple one: why hasn’t the Army begun upgrading it’s 5.56 M4 rifles to the more powerful 6.8 SPC cartridge? It offers superior performance at every range, with less recoil and weight than the heavier and older M14. No doubt there will be logistical hurdles to overcome in making such a transition during a time of war, and such transitions aren’t inexpensive, but they require almost no retraining and provide our soldiers with a distinct edge over their enemies.

Our media should be asking generals to explain why our soldiers are still using weapons in a caliber that was known to be suboptimal in many situations nearly half a century agoOur soldiers should have the best tools to complete their mission.”

Indeed, this is the question that SFTT, our troops and many concerned families have been asking our military leaders and those entrusted with providing our troops with the “best tools to complete their mission” and come home alive and in one piece.   Is it because we don’t want to undermine the complex trade and military supply agreements with other NATO countries to produce a “NATO-standard” weapon with “NATO-standard” cartridges?  I hope someone has the answers, because our military leaders don’t seem to know and, perhaps, don’t even care.

Richard W. May

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Congressman Carney and defective military helmets

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Congressman Chris Carney (D-PA) has rightfully asked that defective military helmets now produced by UNICOR or Federal Prison Industries (“FPI”) be turned over to private enterprise.  In yet another stunning indictment of a thoroughly incompetent, ineffective and some might argue corrupt military procurement system, the Department of Justice recently launched an investigation into the recall of 44,000 military helmets which failed to meet required military test procedures.   The contract was awarded to ArmorSource LLC, who in turned subcontracted the work to Federal Prison Industries. 

According to a Pennsylvannia Politics news release,  the Army apparently awarded Federal Prison Industries a contract to produce 600,000 Advanced Combat Helmets in 2007, more than half of the Army’s needs.  “This contract was awarded on a non-competitive basis to FPI pursuant to a provision in the U.S. procurement regulations that gives FPI the first right of refusal on contracts with the U.S. government.”

The article goes on state that in 2008 “FPI was awarded another ballistic helmet contract, this time for the delivery of 100,000 Lightweight Helmets for the U.S. Marine Corps. This represented 100 percent of the Marine Corps needs and effectively shut out private industry from supplying this product. Congressman Carney’s office has learned that under both of those contracts, Federal Prison Industries has failed to pass first article testing, the process to ensure the equipment meets specifications. Both contracts are now more than 18 months past due without a single acceptable helmet being delivered. And based upon information received from the U.S. Department of Justice, FPI’s production of helmets is under investigation.”

SFTT has not yet been able to confirm the allegations detailed by Congressman Carney’s office, but certainly the broad scale of this investigation is disturbing, but hardly surprising given the lax supervision and controls in our military procurement process.   It would be most interesting to know who the beneficial owners are of ArmorSource LLC and whether they have the “right” to subcontract work to third parties under US military contract awards.

Also, I understand that Congressman Carney believes that there are least two well-qualified firms in Pennsylvannia able to step in to produce the military helmets.   Since the private sector has proved to be as equally incomptent and negligent as FPI in producing combat equipment to specifications, I am hopeful that that “reliable” testing and vetting occur before any new contracts are awarded.  I am sure that Congressman Carney would place our National interests ahead of any parochial interests to insure that our young men and women have the best combat gear possible.

Richard W. May

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M2 Heavy Machine Gun Fails Troops in Afghanistan: More on DoDIG Report

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As readers of SFTT News are aware, I had previously reported on the blithering incompetence demonstrated by the US Army and DoD in the procurement of spare parts for the M2 Heavy Machine Gun that is essential to the survival of our troops in Afghanistan.   “Blithering incompetence” are my words, but reading the Department of Defense Inspector General (“DoDIG”) on the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) handling of critical spare parts for the M2, my words seem mild compared to the outrageous and indefensible behavior of those entrusted to make sure that our frontline troops have the proper combat equipment and protective gear. 

The DoDIG essentially informs  the Secretary of Defense that after eight years of combat in Afghanistan and seven years of combat in Iraq, the bureaucrats in the DLA do not have a minimally-acceptable process that gets our frontline troops the right spare parts for their M2’s in a timely fashion.

In fact, the DoDIG tested 21 different spare parts and one 98-piece spare part kit, all of which are designated “critical application items,” which are defined thusly:  “A critical application item is one that is essential to the preservation of life in emergencies or essential to end-item or system performance, the failure of which would adversely affect the accomplishment of a military operation.”   Here is the “good” news from the DoDIG report:  “At least 7,100 items did not conform with quality standards for 24 of the 103 contracts, including parts that:

  •  contractors manufactured incorrectly,
  • did not meet specific quality standards, and
  • contained inadequate phosphate surface coating to prevent corrosion

Many readers will recall previous DoDIG and GAO reports documented how the Army acquisition bureaucrats had subverted the First Article Testing process to ensure substandard body armor was issued to our frontline troop, and these readers will not be surprised that in this investigation report, DODIG found the responsible DOD agency:   “. . . did not include a first article test requirement in 79 of the 103 contracts we reviewed. For 21 of the 79 contracts, contractors ultimately provided parts that did not conform to contract specifications. If [DoD] had included appropriate quality assurance provisions in these contracts, such as a first article testing requirement, it could have identified contractor deficiencies at an earlier date.”

The DoGIG also noted that a DLA office had “performed 20 product verification tests on items associated with the M2 contracts we sampled. Contractors failed 14 of the 20 tests . . .”  So, contractors failed 70% of tests of their “products,” products designated as “critical application items” essential to our frontline troops having fully functioning M2’s.  No one pays a penalty; contractors get paid for shoddy work; bureaucrats get paid for showing up. Business as usual in today’s Military Industrial Congressional Complex.

There’s a lot more to digest in this DODIG report, but let’s end with these two findings:

“. . . did not always use appropriate and effective contracting quality assurance procedures to ensure that contractors provided M2 machine gun parts that conformed to contract specifications. This increased the risk for the warfighter, who had to wait for critical M2 gun parts.” [Duh!!]

“. . .contracting officials were not holding contractors accountable for late deliveries of critical application M2 gun parts. Monetary compensation for nonperformance is a key element DSCC can use to hold contractors accountable for complying with contract delivery terms.”

If by chance, you share SFTT’s outrage at this egregious negligence and dereliction of duty on the part of those who sole responsibility is to support America’s great frontline troops, you might want to ask your elected representative how many thousands of dollars went to DLA last year for “superior performance” bonuses?  I recall the outrage at bonuses being awarded to executives of AIG and Merril Lynch after the bail-out.   Shame on the DLA and those officials who continue to condone this serial dereliction of duty and blind incompetence in our military procurement process.  Our troops deserve better. 

Last point, the Army shares in the “joy” of this report due to its documented failures in making DLA aware of this situation with sufficient “emphasis,” and for the flaws in both technical data packages and overhaul projects for the M2.  The sad truth is that no one involved demonstrated even a minimal concern about getting critical spare parts to those whose very survival might well depend on getting them in a timely manner, i.e., before their next firefight.

Roger Charlges

Senior Investigative Report and SFTT Editor

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Wreath Ceremony in Arlington Cemetery for Col. David Hackworth

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On May 22nd, Eilhys England Hackworth, the widow of Col. David Hackworth celebrated his legacy with a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Found below is a video of the wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown.

As we approach Memorial Day, we give thanks to the many who have sacrificed their lives to keep this country free.

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More on Military Helmet Recall

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We had previously reported that the US Army had recalled 44,000 military helmets that failed to meet the required government mandated test standards.  The manufacturer, ArmorSource in Hebron, Ohio, is now under investigation by the Department of Justice.  To determine if you have been issued a defective helmet, please consult the guide below that was furnished by Stars and Stripes:

Defective Helmet Checklist

In an interesting, but by no means surprising development, the Stars and Stripes reports that these defective military helmets had actually been subcontracted to UNICOR, the Federal Prison Industries.  A spokesperson for UNICOR indicates that production has been suspended.  Apparently, a new investigation has been instituted to determine how many other military contracts have been awarded to the Federal Prison Industries.

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44,000 Military Helmets Recalled

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse, it has now been reported that the US Army has recalled 44,000 helmets which failed to meet US Army testing standards.  In an article reported in Yahoo news, helmets manufactured by ArmorSource in Hebron, Ohio currently issued to troops serving in Afghanistan were recalled following an investigation by the US Justice Department.

According to Brigadier General Pete Fuller, who is quoted in the article, the helmets were issued to American troops in 2007, including soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Says General Fuller, “We don’t know where they (helmets) are. So they could be on some soldier’s head in either Iraq or Afghanistan. They could also be anywhere else in the world.”

ArmorSource, claiming to have been surprised by the investigation, has issued a one-page statement on their website claiming they will cooperate with the investigation into the defective military helmets.

General Fuller indicated that  ArmorSource manufactured 102,000 helmets under a 2006 contract at a cost of $250 a piece. Of that number, 44,000 were distributed to troops and have been recalled, while 55,000 are still in storage and the military refused to accept the remaining 3,000.

In yet another glaring indictment of the DoD military procurement process, it is worth recapping the current ongoing investigations:

  • body armor currently worn by our frontline troops failed to meet minimum test protocols as reported by the GAO and IG and is currently being investigated by the Committee for Government Oversight and Reform;
  • the standard issue M4 carbine is not effective for combat in Afghanistan according to US Army sources;
  • the DoD Inspector General has reported on serious deficiencies in the supply of spare parts for the M2 heavy machine gun deemed essential for combat in Afghanistan.

As Roger Charles, Editor of SFTT, has reported “the shoddy procurement process within the DoD only confirms that the problems indentified by SFTT are truly systemic and not unique to body armor.”

If we would accord our brave heroes the same level of oversight that we pay to defective brake pedals, most of our troops would probably be in a stateside repair shop since the combat equipment we are providing them seems best suited for paintball warfare.  Where is the outrage?

Richard W. May

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M-14, AK-47 seem better than M4

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The recent disclosures that the standard issue M4 may not be the best military carbine for US troops in Afghanistan has prompted considerable debate both within and outside the military community.  I recently visited the Fox News Site which currently has 58 comments to an article which compared the AK-47 to the M4.

Now I am not a gunsmith and have little intelligent commentary to add to the debate, but I was struck by the knowledge and articulate views of the readers who weighed in on the subject.    I am hesitant to reprint the Fox photograph of the two weapons, since one astute reader (panadox177) pointed out that the M4 (weapon shown below)  is actually a picture of the “semiautomatic civilian AR-15 with a flat top upper and a 16″ barrel, instead of the correct 14.5″ barrel found on a real M4.”  Happy to receive any feedback on this observation:

AK-47 and M4 (below)

With the recent DoD Inspector General report detailing the problems of sourcing spare parts for the M2 Heavy Machine Gun, our troops now seem to woefully under-armed on the Afghan battlefield.  Clearly, the M4’s lack of lethal effectiveness over 300 meters as documented by Maj. Thomas Ehrhart is a most pressing issue, but “fixable” according to most of the experts who commented on the Fox report.

I was, however, amused that one commenter suggested bringing back the M-14 (the weapon I fired in Basic Training) which was eventually phased out in favor of the M-16 (essentially an early version of the now modified M4) for Viet Nam.  I still remember the training officers telling us to “keep your weapon clean and well oiled” since it had a proclivity to jam (sound familiar?).    I seem to recall that the Viet Cong were using the trusty AK-47 which didn’t jam and still seems to work after 60 years of warfare.  We can put a man on the moon, but have difficulty building a serviceable and effective military carbine.  Go figure!

Richard W. May

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DoD Waste and Incompetence Cited by IG in sourcing spare parts for M2 Heavy Machine Gun

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Thanks to Mother Jones writer Adam Weinstein who brought this item to our attention, SFTT has reviewed a recent DoDIG report  (Department of Defense Inspector General) that documents yet more absolutely blithering incompetence inside the multi-billion dollar DoD Procurement bureaucracy.  The issue in this case is spare parts for the M2 .50-caliber Heavy Machine Gun (“HMG”), better known as “Ma Duece” by those who rely upon it to reach out and “touch” Jihad Johnny in a memorable way.

M-2 Heavy Duty Machine Gun

 

This DoD IG investigation was kicked off by field reports of slow-to-no response for critical spare parts needed to keep their M2’s in “lethal” condition. When DoD IG inspectors looked into cited complaints, they found a level of incompetence that would be laughable were it not for the reality that these M2’s are life-saving to our troops and death-dealing to our enemy when they are fully functioning. But, when M2’s are sidelined for lack of spare parts, we all know who pays the price in blood and gore for not having their HMG to hammer through mudwalls or to nail some jihadii who is out of range of the pathetically under-powered M-4 carbine

Here’s what the DoDIG folks staked out as their objective on this investigation: “What We Did: We determined whether the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) used appropriate and effective contracting procedures to provide customers with critical application M2 machine gun parts.”  Now for the meat of their findings: 

DLA did not have effective internal controls in place to ensure appropriate and effective contracting procedures related to contract quality assurance, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and oversight of contractor deliveries. Specifically,

  • Contractors provided at least 7,100 non-conforming parts on 24 contracts.
  • DLA did not adequately process 95 of 127 product quality deficiency reports.
  •  DLA did not deliver 60 spare part kits on time to support a U.S. Army program to overhaul 2,600 M2 machine guns and provided non-conforming parts in kits.
  • DLA did not pursue adequate compensation from contractors who were significantly late in providing critical parts on 49 contracts.

As a result,

  • Warfighters had to wait for critical M2 gun parts as DLA had backorders on 7,183 requisitions for 60,701 parts during a 12-month period. Priority group 1 comprised 4,097 of these requisitions for 40,333 parts.
  • A US Army program to overhaul M2 machine guns was negatively impacted.
  • DLA missed opportunities to identify contractors with performance problems and obtain adequate compensation.
  • Because of the quality problems, the Government spent at least $655,000 in funds that could have been put to better use.
  • DLA missed an opportunity to obtain approximately $405,000 in contractor compensation for late deliveries.
  • DLA has initiated several corrective actions to improve the quality of M2 machine gun parts.
  • Implementing our recommendations should improve DLA’s internal controls over contracting.

 Here’s the DoDIG “kicker” for DLA:  “. . . establish controls and implement measures to improve its contract quality assurance procedures, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and contractor delivery oversight . . .”  This is equivalent to the DoDIG telling the Secretary of Defense that no such effective controls and measures are currently in place. That’s right, in 2010, after over eight years of combat in Afghanistan and seven years of combat in Iraq, the desk-jockeys of DLA do not have a minimally-acceptable process that gets our frontline troops the right spare parts for their M2’s in a timely fashion.

The sad truth is that no one involved demonstrated even a minimal concern about getting critical spare parts to those whose very survival might well depend on getting them in a timely manner, i.e., before their next firefight. 

There is more to this report that I will be covering in a subsequent article.  However, for those who have followed SFTT’s investigation of the mix of unexplainable behavior and incompetence that produced the Interceptor Body Armor fiasco, this report on the shoddy procurement process within the DoD only confirms that the problems indentified by SFTT are truly systemic and not unique to body armor. 

It is absolutely unacceptable that we seem unable or unwilling to provide our men and women serving in harm’s way the proper equipment to do their job and come home alive in one piece.  Folks, we have a serious problem in our military procurement system and unless  Americans raise their voice and say “enough,” it is likely to continue that way.  Find out what you can do to support SFTT’s mission by becoming a Member or by Volunteering your services to get the SFTT message across to our Congressional and military leaders. 

Roger Charles

Senior Investigative Reporter and Editor

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USMC General Cartwright argues for change in military procurement

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General James CartwrightIn a refreshing but somewhat rambling presentation, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, USMC General Cartwright, suggests diverting money from high-tech military procurement programs to give our troops the proper combat equipment to fight the “low-end wars” that we are in for the “next five to ten years.”  In an article published in the Army Times, staff editor John Bennett writes that General Cartwright said that “there is nothing out there that tells us we won’t be wrapped up in these conflicts for as far as the eye can see.”  His remarks were at a sponsored forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Echoing a message that seems to be coming from many quarters both inside and outside the Capital beltway, General Cartwright argue that the  US military will be “persistently” wrapped up low-level regional conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq “in different places and at different levels” for the foreseeable future.  Citing Secretary Gates, General Cartwright stated that if the DoD “continues pursuing expensive weapons packed with countless advanced subsystems, it will be able to afford only a handful of each platform.”  Furthermore, he argued that the current economic environment placed a serious constraint on military spending.

Calling for a greater “partnership” with our allies, General Cartwright suggested that the men and women in the field will play a far greater role in these conflicts.  “The question is, how many bomber squadrons do we need versus how many troops expert at stability operations,” said Cartwright.  “We need quantity more than quality.”  If this is, in fact, the new military doctrine of engagement then it seems reasonable to expect that greater attention will be focused on make sure the grunt on the ground has the best equipment possible.  Certainly, this is long overdue given the attention now focused on the poor quality of our body armor and more recently, the failings of the M-4 rifle.

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