Military News Highlights: January 27, 2011

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Dispute With Parliament Leaves Afghan Leader Isolated

President Karzai’s isolation was preventable, and now enters a period of increased tension and uncertainty as to his ability to lead and work with “power brokers.”  The list includes:  losing parliamentary candidates who he has “deserted”; new Parliament members who were delayed more than 5 months from “governing”; and most importantly, further alienated “western backers” who have lost faith in his abilities. 

While US/NATO continues heavy-handed military operations, efforts at good governance and extending the reach of Afghan capacity and services suffers daily – what’s in it for the common Afghan.  The impact is already being felt as Afghani support for the war erodes.  COIN can only succeed with a host-nation that is seen as legitimate by the populace counter-insurgents are trying to secure.   Compounding any claim to legitimacy is the blatant isolation that President Karzai finds himself in. 

If a singular self act of immolation and social media can prompt unrest to cause Tunisian autocrats to flee, and in turn create awareness amongst similar repressed population in neighboring countries who are beginning to storm the gates (i.e. Egypt, Algeria, Yemen), then one shouldn’t be surprised if a similar grass-roots ground swell takes place in Kabul. 

Ask the British, who learned this painful lesson in the 1840’s, when Afghan tribes revolted and forced a death march eventually resulting in the end of British rule. 

The ingredients are ominously present.

A Reservist in a New War, Against Foreclosure

Buried in this awful mess of a story about a warrior whose home was unlawfully foreclosed while he was deployed to Iraq is the fact that the root of his financial woes began when he was required to spend his own money to purchase maintenance kits to support his mission.   It is understandable that some warriors, prior to deployment, might shell out some cash to purchase fieldcraft items (i.e. head-harness flashlights, pocket knives, specialized wick-away cold weather gear, sunglasses, etc…), but to dole out personal funds to purchase critical mission-related equipment is beyond the pale.  

Lack of Full Auto on M4s Cost Lives

The majority (if not all) of the currently fielded M4 Carbines do not have a fully automatic fire capability.  An operator can select semi-automatic or a three-round burst.   Mark Westrom’s critique and analysis of the current M4 upgrade program currently underway is revealing because it supports the contention that when the M4 carbine removed full automatic capability, that that decision in turn cost lives.  The fact that the M4 carbine upgrade program (i.e. re-establish fully automatic capability) is under-funded and only addresses 20% of the current stock will only place trigger-pullers on the ground in greater danger.  Not comforting at all.

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Military News Highlights for November 10, 2010

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235th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps!

To all the Devil Dogs out there today, congratulations on the 235th Birthday of the Marine Corps!

M4 Carbine and Accessories

Mark Fingar M4 Carbine Poster

If there was any question as to whether the M4 Carbine currently issued to Soldiers and Marines will be replaced for a more durable and lethal carbine or not, one only needs to look at the accompanying layout of the M4 Carbine and Accessories to see  how difficult this proposition will be to carry out.  It is not going to be a simple task considering all of the accessories and associated equipment that will be replaced as well.  In fact the M4 Carbine has become a complex system that is modified and tailored to meet individual and unit requirements requiring a dedicated logistics and maintenance support system that oftentimes is not sufficiently responsive on today’s battlefield.  Ultimately the debate to replace the M4 Carbine must take the “accessories”, the logistics and maintenance tail, and the increasing contractor support base into account.  Hopefully this “poster” featured on Mark Fingar’s Blog brings this issue into perspective.

The list of accessories includes the following:

  • Colt M4 (SOPMOD STYLE) with KAC RAS Handguard & KAC Vertical Grip.
  • Optics & Iron Sights:  ACOG; EOTech 552; Aimpoint COMPM2 & 3X Magnifier; Leupold CQ/T MK4; Nightforce NXS Riflescope; Trijicon AccuPoint; Trijicon Reflex; Colt C-MORE Tactical Sight; A3 Detachable Carry Handle; LaRue Tactical IronDot; Troy BUIS; Matech BUIS; A.R.M.S. #40 BUIS; LaRue BUIS; LMT BUIS; Troy Front Sight; PRI Front Sight
  • Lasers:  PEQ-2A; PAQ-4C; DBAL-A2; OTAL; VITAL-2
  • Lights: Surefire L72; Surefire M910; Insight M6; Surefire Millennium; Surefire Scout
  • Silencers & DD’s: Knight’s Armament M4QD; YHM Phantom, and QD Flash Hider; GemTech M496D; Surefire M4FA556-BK; Ops Inc CQB 15th Model
  • M203 Grenade Launcher with AN/PSQ-18A Day/Night Sight
  • Night Vision: PVS-22; PVS-14 & Magnifier; PVS-17
  • Misc Hardware: LMT SOPMOD Stock; Magpul CTR Stock; Colt M4Stock; LaRue Tactical Free-Floating Handguard; TangoDown Vertical Grip; TangoDown Battle Grip; Magpul MIAD Grip; Magpul Magazine Pull; Harris Bipod with LaRue QD mount

Gates: U.S. Open to Talks on Post-2011 Presence in Iraq

Secretary of Defense Gates said yesterday in a news conference in Malaysia that the United States is open to the idea of maintaining a troop presence in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline to leave, but only if Iraq were to make such a request.  Secretary Gates stated that the required conditions for these discussions to take place include: the Iraqis forming an inclusive and non-sectarian government; selection of a president, prime minister, a speaker of the council of representatives; and ministerial-level appointments.  No mention of improving security, no mention of countering Iran’s ascendancy, and no mention of defeating a reemerging AQ in Mesopotamia.

Obviously the US is committed to a strategic partnership with Iraq in the future, but we also know that the Iraqi’s voted on and approved the deadline for all US troops to withdraw from Iraq no later than December 31, 2011.  Any signals contrary to remaining resolute on the deadline will only increase the growing sense of instability and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi’s to govern.  Further, the 50,000 US troops currently deployed in Iraq (and subsequent replacements that will serve there until December 31, 2011) contribute to the more than 250,000 US troops deployed in the region.  Maintaining this troop end-strength to allow the Iraqi’s to continue dithering with “democracy” will not increase “dwell time” for the rest of the Army as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Casey recently asserted whereby the 50,000 troops in Iraq that would no longer be required for Iraq as of December 31, 2011 would provide relief to troop deployment requirements.

Review Will Influence U.S. Troop Pullout

There will be an increasingly mixed bag of reporting on the pending Afghanistan review this December – shift in strategy; increase of resources; metrics of success; the genius of COIN; the lethality of CT; the increase in casualties; influencing US pullout, etc…as this Reuters news report provides.

What would be useful to keep in mind during this period is to recall exactly what President Obama stated on December 1, 2009 when he announced his decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

“These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”

The intent is pretty clear: the increase of troops would allow for accelerating the handing over of responsibility; the transfer of forces begins in July 2011; the transition will be executed responsibly and be conditions based.

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Equipping the Soldier of the Future

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The Army Times had an interesting article on Equipping the soldier of the future.  Found below are key highlights of the article and SFTT’s analysis.

Key Highlights and SFTT Analysis:

  • The Army has been pushing to identify gear soldiers need or want, find the best solutions and field them quickly. The result is state-of-the-art gear going from idea to inventory in less than a year. Some of these projects have made their way into the ranks; others are just around the corner. 
  • SFTT is encouraged that progress is being made to develop and field new and improved equipment to front line troops.  More encouraging is that feedback from the deployed force was used to bring about change.  In many respects, SFTT has maintained the leading edge in keeping specific items of equipment on the front burner (i.e. Body Armor, the Advanced Combat Helmet, the M-4 Carbine, the 9mm Beretta, and Combat Boots) and credit is due for applying pressure on policymakers while informing the public on the critical need to improve and/or replace them.
  • SFTT supports the following common-sense improvements:
    •  Tactical Assault Panel – This panel is another key piece of the new combat load. It enables soldiers to carry more magazines with wider distribution – and mobility equals survivability. Eight single pouches can be configured to carry either 10 M4 magazines or six magazines with other gear such as the Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio, or MBITR; the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver, or DAGR; or M14 magazines. The design also reduces the soldier’s profile.
    • Medium ruck – Countless troops gave the same report: The assault packs are too small for longer missions and the 72-hour ruck is too big. The new ruck provides a midsize solution – with added benefits. Its detachable harness allows paratroopers to access the pack after they are rigged for jumping without compromising pre-jump inspections. The ruck is one of more than a dozen pieces of gear that comprise a new combat load issued to troops in, and headed to, the ‘Stan.
    •  New boots – Soldiers headed into theater also get two pairs of Danner boots. But Army officials are expected to select a new boot any day. Three lighter, stronger boots are being evaluated, and the Army is expected to take delivery early in 2011. The modular boot will be optimal for Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, and will have a sock device that can be pulled over it to keep the soldiers’ feet warm without causing them to sweat.
    • ‘Green ammo’ – A 2006 survey of combat vets found enemy soldiers were shot multiple times but were still able to keep fighting. One in five U.S. soldiers polled recommended a more lethal round. The answer is the M855A1 enhanced performance round, also known as “green ammo.” It provides more stopping power at shorter distances. The older round had to get into a yaw dependency for maximum effect. If it hit the enemy straight, it would punch right through them. The new ammo is not yaw dependent. If it hits the enemy, he is going down. The Army plans to produce more than 200 million rounds in the coming year.
    • SFTT will continue to highlight concerns with the current strategy to improve and replace Body Armor and the M4 Carbine – specifically, the need to replace the “plate carrier” which the Services currently aren’t planning to do, and for the services to issue a “better carbine altogether” versus continued modification to the current M4 Carbine platform.
  • The Army Times’ updates on these two programs include:
    • 2nd-Generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest – The 2nd GEN IOTV uses a plate carrier to allow soldiers to shed up to 15 pounds while keeping vital organs protected from 7.62 caliber, armor-piercing rounds. The IOTV still provides protection from flame and shrapnel. The side plate carrier is adjustable to provide better comfort and protection. The soldier’s quick-release cable is covered to prevent it from being caught during egress. The medic cable is contained in a canal to keep it in a comfortable position. This cable enables a medic access to a wounded area without completely removing a soldier’s body armor.
    • New carbine — Soldiers will soon get either an improved M4 or a new, better carbine altogether. The first part of the Army’s dual strategy is to radically overhaul the M4 to give grunts an improved version of the special operations M4A1. This offers a heavier barrel, automatic fire and ambidextrous controls. The next 12,000 M4s will be A1s. Another 25,000, as well as roughly 65,000 conversion kits, will be purchased. The second path challenges industry to come up with a better carbine. No caliber restriction has been placed on a new design. The Army simply wants the most reliable, accurate, durable, easy-to-use weapon. It will be at least a 500-meter weapon and have a higher incapacitation percentage. This weapon also will be modular and able to carry all the existing attachments soldiers use. The winner will selected by the end of 2011, depending on funding.
    • In regards to improvements being made to the Advanced Combat Helmet, which the Army Times did not mention, SFTT is following the industry as it continues to develop prototypes, and will provide updates as they become available.  For the tech-science reader this article from “Composite World” describes a recent effort to develop a prototype that could meet the survivability standards SFTT advocates for.  One caveat is that this prototype is specifically for the shell and does not address padding and the helmet harness, areas that must be improved to mitigate the concussive effects resulting from blast injuries. 
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USMC passes on Army upgrades to M4

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The Marine Corps Times reports that the USMC has decided  to pass on the US Army upgrades to M4

Key Highlights:

  • As the Army moves to field more than 10,000 conversion kits designed to make the 5.56mm M4 deadlier and more reliable, the Marine Corps says it has no plans to update its inventory. Upgrades will integrate a heavier, more durable barrel, strengthened site rails, a piston-charged operating system and the ability to fire in full automatic mode — fixes designed to address complaints about the weapons’ lethality and reliability. The plan calls for distributing 12,000 conversion kits in the short term, effectively turning existing M4s into improved versions of the special operations M4A1, said Army Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, commander of Program Executive Office Soldier. An additional 25,000 M4A1s and 65,000 conversion kits would be purchased through additional contracts.
  • “We’ve been looking at our small arms for a long time, you know,assessing the effects on the battlefield, knock-down power, killing power, those types of things,” General Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps said. “We are never going to be a carbine Marine Corps, OK. We’re never going to go completely to the M4. We’re a rifle Marine Corps. We believe in long-range shooting skills, and those skills are just not as resident in a carbine as they are in a service rifle.”
  • U.S. combat troops have complained about the stopping power of both the M16A4 and M4 in recent years, particularly in Afghanistan, where combat is frequently in open fields and valleys that require powerful, long-range shots. In response, the Corps began replacing its conventional Cold War-era 5.56mm M855 ammo this spring with an enhanced 5.56mm Special Operations Science & Technology round that uses an open-tip design common in sniper ammunition. The Corps also is considering a new, lead-free Army round fielded recently, the M855A1, and will evaluate both options in coming months.

SFTT Analysis:

  • This article pre-dates the Army’s recent decision to retro-fit all of the Army’s M4 inventory, but at least here, we get the rationale on why the Marine Corps passed on this conversion.
  • If this report is accurate, the Marine Corps has ceded the argument that they want to replace the M16A4 due to “cost”.
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DOD Calls for Changes in Military Procurement Practices

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In a delightful article published by Huffington Post entitled “Pentagon’s New Contractor Policy Doesn’t Scare the Defense Industry At All,” Huffington’s editors sadly conclude that recently announced measures to improve the efficiency of the military’s procurement process are likely to produce little more than a yawn from contractors who have long thrived on the ineptitude of the Defense Department.

Ashton_CarterIn a June 28th Memorandum for Acquisition Professionals, Defense Department Acquisition Chief Ashton B. Carter,, calls for military suppliers to “. . . abandon inefficient practices accumulated in a period of budget growth and learn to manage defense dollars in a manner that is, to quote Secretary Gates . . .’is respectful of the American taxpayer at a time of economic and fiscal distress.'”   I  assume that most American taxpayers would be incensed to discover that military spending profligacy needs to be curtailed only during periods of “fiscal distress.”  This seems to be a damning indictment of the questionable and most likely corrupt procurement practices that are now so firmly entrenched at the Pentagon. 

Huffington Post goes on to say, “it’s a testament to how corrupt the now $400 billion a year contracting process has become that the changes outlined Monday seem in any way dramatic; they are, mostly, simple assertions of common sense. Among the new policies, as summarized by me (Huffington Post):

  •  Cut down on awarding contracts without genuine competition.
  • Cut down on contracts in which government pays for all or part of cost overruns.
  • Reward higher productivity, innovation and excellence, rather than other things.
  • Get credit for government’s generous cash-flow policies.
  • Eliminate valueless overhead and administrative fees; for instance, don’t pay contractors’ bidding and proposal expenses when there was no bidding.
  • Add more and better government acquisition workers.
  • Improve audits.
  • Let cost considerations shape requirements and design for new programs such as the presidential helicopter, the ground combat vehicle and the new nuclear submarine fleet.
  • Don’t allow contractors to reduce production rates without approval.”

Our troops in the field are painfully aware of the inadequacies of our military procurement process as evidenced by the improper testing of body armor, the recent recall of military helmets and ceramic plates, the inability of the Defense Department to supply replacement parts for the M2 heavy duty machine gun and the reported ineffectivness of the M4 in Afghanistan.   If the Defense Department really wanted to show the taxpayers and military contractors that they mean business, the should begin by firing government employees whose oversights and/or indiscretions are responsible for those failures and ban military suppliers from bidding on new contracts where neglect has been shown as reported by the DODIG or GAO. 

Mr. Carter’s soft memo to “Acquisition Professionals,” is the equivalent of giving prison inmates a copy of Emily Post’s book on Etiquette.  The military industrial complex is alive and well and thriving at taxpayer expense and in the blood of our young men and women serving in harm’s way.

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Weapon Jamming Reported in Afghanistan

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SFTT has had a single report from a credible source that a unit in Afghanistan has problems — jamming — with their government issued magazines for their 5.56mm weapons.    These single-spring magazines are jamming in Afghanistan firefights and some believe these government-issued magazines are inferior to the double-spring magazines currently available  commercially.

These problems appear to be due to the single-spring magazines not having sufficient force to work when exposed to sand, dirt, etc. — that is common during normal tactical conditions encountered in a firefight.  The commercially purchased magazines provided by family/friends back in the U.S. have a double-spring design, and the additional force provided by the second spring results in far fewer jams.

SFTT is asking for readers to actively inquire from contacts with frontline troops to see if this problem is an isolated one, or whether it is more widespread.   Please respond to the Editor of SFTT with as much detail as you can provide: specific weapon, tactical situation, etc. (Confidentiality is guaranteed to all respondents. SFTT will require information sufficient to  confirm validity of reports.)

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter

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Flaws in M2 and M4 Expose Troops in Afghanistan

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Article first published as Deficient Guns Expose Troops in Afghanistan on Technorati.

On the heels of the General Accountability Office (“GAO”) report of the improper testing of body armor supplied to U.S. troops and the recall of 44,000 defective military helmets manufactured by Federal Prison Industries, comes equally discouraging news of serious deficiencies in the M4 carbine and M2 Heavy Machine Gun (“HMG”) supplied to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In a report entitled “Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Take back the Infantry Half-Kilometer (11/09),” Army MAJ Thomas P. Ehrhart concludes that the M4 carbine as presently configured is not the proper weapon for the Afghan terrain. Bullets fired from M4s 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 at a distance of 2,000 to 2,500 feet.

Also discouraging is the alarming report from the Department of Defense (“DoD”) Inspector General (“IG”) that documents the blithering incompetence inside the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) is supplying spare parts for the M2 Heavy Machine Gun. The M2 .50-caliber HMG is better known as “Ma Duece” by those who rely upon it to reach out and “touch” Jihad Johnny in a memorable way.

Senior Investigative Reporter Roger Charles of Soldiers for the Truth (“SFTT”) reports that the “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.

The DoD IG inquiry was sparked by troops who cited “slow to no response” in receiving spare parts for this critical weapon to engage the enemy at distances beyond the range of the M4.

The slew of reports detailing inadequacies in the military procurement process indicate that these problems are truly systemic and require a total overhaul.

It is absolutely unacceptable that our military and political leaders seem unable or unwilling to provide our men and women serving in harm’s way with the proper equipment to do their job and come home alive and in one piece. These alarming studies show that 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.

Read more: http://technorati.com/politics/article/deficient-guns-expose-troops-in-afghanistan/#ixzz0q9M0kHwF

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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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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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