Our standard weapons meet Matador

A couple of readers have emailed me on this subject, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Insurgents in western Iraq fight to finish
This story from yesterday centers on the 3-25 Marines, the Reserve regiment that was mentioned earlier for losing an entire squad either killed or wounded. The fact that this regiment has been the center of most stories seems to indicate that the WaPo reporter, apparently only one of three American reporters actually reporting from Matador, is embedded with them.

It’s a good report stuffed full of details. It’s too bad that the media doesn’t have more guys outside the wire. I guess they’d rather hang out in the relative safety of Green Zone hotels and file reports on suicide bombers instead of covering the war.

Here’s a snippet from page 2:

They turned up weapons cache after weapons cache: bombs made to be dropped from airplanes, a bicycle with a seat made of explosives and an antenna for remote-control triggering, a vest rigged with explosives, a car rigged with bombs, mortar tubes, rocket launchers with new backpacks full of rockets, artillery shells.

The costly equipment, as well as body armor later recovered from the bodies of dead insurgents, suggested that the fighters were foreigners, the military said. Though the level of foreigners’ involvement in the insurgency has been disputed for nearly two years, Muslim men have come to Iraq from neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and from as far away as Chechnya and Indonesia to fight the United States and its allies.

The Marines also found Soviet-designed PKM machine guns and belts of armor-piercing ammunition. In contrast, Lima Company was armed with M-16 assault rifles and carried nothing comparable — nothing that could penetrate walls and floors and still pack enough force to kill. [emphasis mine]

First of all, we’ve heard that many of these guys are foreigners and appear to have military training and equipment. Not your typical raghead jihadist.

They’ve not only got heavy weapons that can defeat our body armor. They’ve got body armor of their own.

This is trouble.

We’ve been going against, by and large, Joe Jihadist now for the past couple of years. This guy, for the most part, scrapes together whatever he can and charges the US Marines. He often gets a step or two before he’s cut down.

Now, really for the first time since the invasion, we’re running into trained, organized, disciplined soldiers who are equipped to fight a modern soldier. Now, don’t get me wrong. The Devil Dogs are wiping the floor with them.

But it probably isn’t nearly as easy as they’re used to. And it could be a harbinger of things to come.

Our Marines with M16 rifles are finding themselves outgunned.

Let me repeat that. Just in case it didn’t sink in.

The Marines are, on occasion anyway, seriously outgunned.

This isn’t a reason to run for the hills in panic. But it’s certainly a reason to pause and reassess our plan for the future. Marines with M16s are having trouble. What does that forbode for troops with an XM8, for instance? The XM8 fires the same 5.56×45 round that the M16, but the barrel is significantly shorter. So the velocity just isn’t there to punch through walls or body armor.

“As soon as he kicks the door, the machine-gun fire cuts him down,” said Hurley, a Dayton, Ohio, police officer serving in the Marine reserves. The Marine survived, but a second fell as well, fatally wounded. From inside, a foreign fighter fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the door.

At some point, the screamed prayers began: “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great.”

Marines fell, unable to tell the source of the screams or the shots. They fired blindly, as machine-gun rounds cratered the walls and floors around them.

“Our rounds couldn’t get through the walls,” Hurley said.

I hope a decision-maker is reading this very carefully.

Now, this news story on MSNBC.com certainly highlights the negatives and praises (though oftentimes with words of Marines) the tactics of the enemy. But the fact that our Marines were astonished by an enemy’s weaponry is troubling. I expect them to be amazed at the suicidal tendencies the jihadists often show. But something needs to be done about this 5.56 mess, XM8 or no XM8.

Meanwhile, ACE thinks that the 6.8 SPC will soon be no more than a collector’s item.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I don’t think the 5.56 NATO is it.


  1. re-reading. Them having more inches than us. Fubar. IMHO there is only one way out and that is to engage the people of Iraq. Seriously. Any silly idea out there, possibly mine, floating at the REF, that puts something – anything – into the hands of the iraqis to deal with these bozos militia style – no weapons, but at least some intel. Let me tell you, its going to work. Coz this stuff ain’t getting made in Iraq, baby. First rule of logistics IF YOU CANT SUPPLY IT, IT DIES

  2. You could go days arguing about the 5.56 vs 7.62 and never really get a difiniative result. In most cases a 5.56 is fine. The only real edge a 7.62 has is at ranges above 500m. If I had to choose, I would tend to go with more ammo over longer range. That said, the real issue is not the weapon, but rather the ammo. You can design a 5.56 round to shoot through a building. See http://club.guns.ru/eng/barnaul.html But then you are going to get collateral damage as your bullets start killing people a half mile down the road around the bend. IMO, the real answer is a combo weapon. A 4.3 mm caseless primary weapon. The G11 is a good model. The ability to carry 100+ rounds is a big plus. Then you have a ‘penitrator’ weapon based on the the Beowulf. As the bepwulf is mechanically based on the the M-16, the cost aspect is minimal. ?The .50 Beowulf uses a bullet of a true .500 caliber, with loaded ammunition offered from the factory in either a 400-grain soft point or a 325-grain hollow point, with velocities listed at 1800 and 1950 feet-per-second, respectively.’ As a short term effort, you can modify a M-16 to handle the bigger round. Upgrading 1 or 2 M-16’s in a squad could be justified.

  3. OK, the Hajjiis have PKM machineguns with AP ammo. The Marines have M240G machineguns, and AP ammo is available for them. Both weapons fire roughly equivalent 7.62mm rounds. So it’s not really a firepower mismatch. Plus, the Marines have M2 .50 caliber HMGs available to back them up. I won’t argue that the 5.56 is the ideal round, because I don’t think it is. But saying it won’t shoot through brick walls is being a bit disingenuous. The 7.62x39mm round used by the AK-47 won’t shoot through brick walls either. Neither was designed to do that. Both rounds will penetrate soft body armor. Neither will penetrate hard body armor. I am somewhat suprised that no Army mechanized infantry with Bradleys were sent in with the Marines. The Brads are smaller than the AAVs, able to get into tighter spaces and have better armor. Plus, 25mm TP-T rounds do a number on masonry walls.

  4. Yes, I realize that comparing M16 assault rifles to PKM machine guns isn’t constructive. And it’s not just what happened in this story (which seems to be written to give the enemy most of the glory) but the overall picture of the effectiveness of the 5.56. I’m more concerned about the body armor issue, to be honest. With so much of the Army using the shorter-barrelled M4, and the new assault rifle’s standard barrell possibly being even shorter, I’m hoping that higher-ups are looking at the sort of situations our guys are in today with today’s weapons. There’s no doubt that the 5.56 gets the job done most of the time.

  5. There is body armor, then there is body armor. I would be shocked if the body armor found is of level 3. Good enough to stop a M-16. So I would be interested in finding out what armor is out there. As for the M4, its being used because M-16 is too bulky for urban combat. So odds are no replacement weapon with a long barrel is going to work. That said, the Army is playing its usual game with the XM-8. I suspect that someone in congress is killing the gun. An american soldier should be armed with an american weapon and that jazz. I suspect, that we will not get a new weapon until at least 2009. Even this I would have some doubts. Our only saving grace is the special forces. I but you an apple pie, that whatever new rifle we get, will not come through the army procurement, but through the special forces picking the gun and the grunts damanding it.

  6. I do not like the idea of us being outgunned – ever. It’s not necessary. It is a sign that the U.S. military has been neglecting Infantry small arms in favor of other weapons systems for decades. Here in 2005, we are using the weapons developed during Vietnam – the M-16, the M203, the M-60 (now being replaced by a similar weapon). The X-weapons being developed are just improvements on the same weapon types. The XM-8 is just an M-16 type weapon made with more modern materials and the biggest flaw (direct gas system) fixed, replaced with a different flaw – too short a barrel. If the XM-25 really gets rolled out, it may be a useful weapon in these types of fights. The higher velocity HE or Armor Piercing rounds would hopefully punch through walls. The Flechette rounds would be great for clearing rooms once inside. High-powered caseless rifles? Sounds good. Submachine guns versions for non-riflemen (truck drivers, cooks, officers, etc..) Sounds good. Too expensive? I don’t care – cancel a destroyer, stop paying for old folks drugs, cut the endowment for the arts, just get us the best weapons possible. The bottom line is that the military should be taking the development of Infantry weapons just as seriously as other systems such as the Joint Strike Fighter. We should not be continuously hitting the snooze button – putting band-aids on 40-year-old designs to avoid costs.

  7. The mattie matel special (M-16) has a birth defect called the 5.56 bulletwannabe. I read most of the comments. Note that the 240G and the PKM use a similiar performance bullet. Armor piercing cartridges are available in 7.62. If the projectiles from the PKM were penetrating structure, armor piercing projos from an M-14 would too. About more ammo vis a real rifle cartidge. Gimme a break. The M-16 poodle shooter has poor killing power, and bad knock down power. So you need more ammo with a 16 … a lot more. Bottom line if the 5.56mm is illegal to shoot deer with in the state of Kansas (read large German Shepard size deer) it is immoral to sent kids into combat with it when we have decent cartridges.

  8. Hey, Posted some comments on this over at ACE. .50 Beowulf is a good CQB round, but ammo and controllability (as well as wear and tear) are problems. I suggest another Alexander arms product. Check out the 6.5 Grendel. Better energy retention than a 7.62 Nato past 300 yards and almost as much energy as the 6.8 SPC at CQB ranges (and it passes the 6.8 around 25 to 40 yards). Excellent general purpose round, kicks a little less than the 7.62×39, has better range, and fits in EXISTING RIFLES.

  9. On strategy page, they just put up an article on the marines gettng an automatic shotgun. It sounds like it has some potencial. 300 rounds per minute with low recoil? (I’ll have to wait to see the video on that one) ‘the Marine Corps is testing a family of 12 gauge shells designed to deliver blast, fragmentation, and high-explosive armored piercing projectiles out to 200 meters. The high-explosive armor piercing projectile uses a shaped charge that has been demonstrated to put a 1 inch hole in quarter-inch steel plate’

  10. i admit,from various sources that i have researched(especially an excellent article in harris publications special weapons for military and police)that going with the 6.8/26 grendel would be the best of all worlds solution to our current cartridge efficientcy issue.if the military were not so hung up on not utilizing a bull-pup configured rifle,i would heartily endorse the rather excellent FN F2000.perfectly suited for use in tight(read cqb and mout operations)quarters,PLUS,you get a weapon with a decent barrel length(in the case of the fn,about 16 inches)AND,it ejects to the front of the weapon,takes care of that nasty right-hand ejection of the brass into the firers face.toped off with their range finding suite for the 40mm grenade launcher,coupled with the 6.5 grendal and our guys would have a warfighting package that provides tactical overmatch on our adversaries, with a KILLING(YES,killing,as in make the enemy dead with one,rather then several rounds)cartridge that has a superior ballistic coefficient,range,and better retained energy in all senarios,be it up close and personal,to WAAAY out there.as it stands, we are buying most of our personal standoff weapons from FN anyway(m249/m240/m-16a4 and now possibly the scar-light.)sounds like a perfect solution,and in a perfect world,would make great sense.niether my self,nor others,as well as our fighting men will get this wish made true,so long as the bean-counters count dollar signs as having higher value than the life of a uniformed 19/20-some thing year old fighting for their freedom to live free from tyranny.until some-one has a flash of common sense in the halls of power,we will have to make due with the tools we are given,even if they happen to be antiquated pieces of vietnam era crap.

  11. The solution is obvious. Ditch the M16 rat rifle and issue real battle rifles. HK-91, FAL, M14, etc. I’d take a ’98 Mauser over the silly M16 any day. Show me the body armor that will stop its 8MM round.

  12. The only problem with going back to the full battle rifle is recoil on full auto. Its the whole reason they went away from the M14 to the M16. The 7.62 NATO is just plain uncontrollable in a light (Assault/battle) rifle instead of a GPMG or MMG platform. The 6.5 gives you battle rifle ranges, with above 5.56 stopping power at all ranges, better energy retention than the 7.62 NATO, fits in the AR15 platform (though I agree another platform is in order), weighs about midway between the 5.56 and the 7.62, and doesn’t reduce your ammo capacity as much as going back to the 7.62 would. Its as controllable if not more so than the 7.62×39 on full auto. Did I mention it was SPR/Designated Marksman/Sniper accurate? http://www.65grendel.com And vefore you ask, no I am not affiliated with, nor do I get money for pushing the grendel…wish I did though ;)