In 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.
In yet another alarming sign that US troops do not have adequate combat gear, the US Stars and Stripes now reports that the US Army standard-isssue M-4 rifle may not be the best weapon of choice for Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain. This disclosure comes on the heels of a new Congressional inquiry on body armor procurement and testing procedures.
Slobodan Lekic of the Associated Press reports that the “U.S. military’s workhorse rifle (the “M-4″) is proving less effective in Afghanistan against the Taliban’s more primitive but longer range weapons.” The M-4 is simply a revamped version of the Viet Nam era M-16 that was designed for close combat.
Several reports are circulating within military circles, but one recent study by Major Thomas P. Ehrhart strongly suggests that the M-4 as presently configured is not the proper weapon for the Afghan terrain. Bullets fired from M-4s don’t retain enough velocity at distances greater than 1,000 feet to kill an adversary. In hilly regions of Afghanistan, NATO and insurgent forces are often 2,000 to 2,500 feet.
To counter these tactics, the U.S. military is designating nine soldiers in each infantry company to serve as sharpshooters, according to Maj. Thomas Ehrhart, who wrote the Army study. They are equipped with the new M-110 sniper rifle, which fires a larger 7.62 mm round and is accurate to at least 2,500 feet.
According the AP report, “At the heart of the debate is whether a soldier is better off with the more-rapid firepower of the 5.56mm bullets or with the longer range of the 7.62 mm bullets. ‘The reason we employ the M-4 is because it’s a close-in weapon, since we anticipate house-to-house fighting in many situations,’ said Lt. Col. Denis J. Riel, a NATO spokesman.”
While there have been persistent reports of weapons jamming, these new studies strongly suggest that our frontline troops do not have the proper weapons to engage the enemy. We remain hopeful that our military leaders will take decisive action to quickly remedy this situation rather than wait several months or years for the GAO or IG to issue after-action reports concluding what we already know: the US military’s 40 year-old M-4 ain’t up to the task! Indeed, our troops are still waiting for proper body armor after years of stone-walling by our military brass. Let’s take action and get our troops the equipment they deserve.
Richard W. May