According to press releases, the U.S. Army has awarded General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products a $35 million order to manufacture M2A1 quick change barrel (“QCB”) conversion kits. According to the news release, “the QCB conversion kits feature several direct-replacement parts to modify existing M2 heavy barrel (M2HB) machine guns to the M2A1 configuration. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in January 2011 and will continue through December 2012. ”
“‘With the QCB conversion kits, the U.S. warfighter can change the machine gun barrel in a few seconds. The M2A1 features fixed headspace and timing, which eliminates the need to manually calibrate the weapon after each barrel change and reduces exposure time to enemy fire,’” said Mike O’Brien, vice president and general manager of gun systems for General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products.”
Since its introduction in 1921 - Yep, 1921! - the M2 Heavy Duty Machine Gun has been one of the most reliable weapons for US ground troops. Earlier, Senior Editor, Roger Charles had reported that the DoDIG had found serious deficiencies in the procurement of spare parts for the M2 in Afghanistan. While hopeful that the logistical nightmare that plagued troops on the ground has now been remedied, we trust that the M2A1 will prove to be more effective than its predecessor. Nevertheless, our troops deserve reliable weapons and an effective supply chain that guarantees them that the “right” parts will arrive at the “right” time.
In a fascinating article published on September 27th in the National Defense Magazine, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales argues that the Department of Defense (“DOD”) ”has failed to pay adequate attention to improving the equipment and training for small infantry units” currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gen. Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College and military historian, claims that while “we’re still the best ground force in the world . . .” when it comes to ground combat, the American military “hasn’t come as far as it should. It doesn’t dominate in the tactical fight.”
In a speech delivered to a gathering of defense experts and journalists at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Gen. Scales argues that the tactical superiority the United States enjoys in the air and on the sea hasn’t manifest itself on the ground. According to the National Defense Magazine article which summarizes Gen. Scales presentation, “In Afghanistan, small units have been hugely vulnerable to enemy ambushes and roadside bombs because commanders don’t have the necessary intelligence and often fight blind . . . Despite deployments of thousands of unmanned spy aircraft, units lack information, or even adequate means to communicate with other units that are not within the reach of human hearing. In Afghanistan, the Army operates 512 autonomous outposts, run by small units. More than half of U.S. combat deaths occur while trying to find the enemy, Scales says. Almost all combat deaths take place within a mile of the enemy, and within 400 meters of the road.”
“Years of combat have shown that the soldiers and marines who are the most likely to die are the ‘least trained and equipped for this dangerous calling,’ Scales says.”
Citing a “Beltway culture this is fixated on big-ticket weapons,” policy-makers “ dodge meaningful discussions about the tactical aspects of war on the ground because close-contact combat is ‘dirty, horrific and bloody,’ says Scales. ‘People just don’t want to talk about that.’” Citing his experiences at a recent congressionally mandated panel, Gen. Scales commented that during countless hours of testimony “I don’t believe the topic of ground combat ever came up.” “These wonderful neat things inside the Beltway tend to trump the bloody and uncomfortable aspects” of the wars U.S. troops are now fighting, he says. “There are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing.”
The Defense Department’s scientific communities have never made small units a strategic priority in research and development. Scales specifically pointed his finger at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “The greatest disappointment is DARPA,” says Gen. Scales. “It doesn’t appear that the reality of the tactical battlefield has worked its way into the scientific and technological development entities . . . We still view the preparation of small units as an industrial process of mass production.”While we spend billions of dollars on instrumented training ranges and digital simulators, Gen. Scales notes that “small unit leaders still have to gain proficiency the old fashioned way: in combat, by shedding the blood of their soldiers.”
Gen. Scales is not the first to point out that the grunts on the ground appear to get short-changed in the procurement process when it comes to making sure that they have reliable – why not the BEST? – combat gear and protective gear. Are we too fascinated by the techie toys such as the Predator to consider the well-being and safety of our troops? Perhaps, it is as Gen. Scales so eloquently argues, “there are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing . . . close-contact combat is dirty, horrific and bloody!”
General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently argued that “low-end” wars would become increasingly common and that these wars would call for increased emphasis for troops to be deployed in hostile war zones. If this is a war-planning scenario that our military leadership believes probable, shouldn’t we be making haste to insure our ground troops have the best combat equipment and protective gear available. Gen. Scales believes so - as do many of the families of troops currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Whether you are on active duty or retired, a friend or family member we encourage you to share your story. As proud Americans we salute our heroes and thank you for your courage and sacrifice. We want to hear from you and so do our readers.
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Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation established by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training.
In the past four-plus years SFTT'S active campaign has focused on ensuring America's frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.
Donations and contributions from concerned Americans help fund the SFTT website.
Includes rare footage from Hack's memorial service at Fort Myers Chapel and burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
All donations received from purchasing of The Hackworth Memorial DVD go to Stand For The Troops a 501 (c) 3 non-profit, non-partisan apolitical foundation established by Hack and his wife Eilhys to make sure that America's front-line forces—the kids Hack loved out at the tip of the spear—always have the right training, leadership and equipment to meet their assigned missions and make it home alive and in one piece.