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Workhorse rifle failing US troops in Afghanistan

#1
After nine years of operations it might have been a worthwhile exercise to have listened to
a few of the Old & Bold in the first place.

Independent Article 22/5/10

Workhorse rifle 'failing US troops in Afghanistan'
By Julius Cavendish In Kabul
Saturday, 22 May 2010


The US military thinks it may have got one of the basics wrong: its guns are not good enough. A US Army study found that the M-4 rifle, the workhorse weapon of America's troops, is ineffective at ranges of more then 300m because bullets lose the velocity necessary to kill an enemy.

Although the dense vegetation and warrens of mud-packed houses in parts of southern Afghanistan lend themselves to close-range fighting, there are also many battles where Taliban fighters make use of the heavier calibre of their AK-47s to ambush Nato and Afghan soldiers from afar.

The AK-47's 7.62 mm round is effective at more than 400m. And the AK-47 is extremely durable, as are most of the other marks of Kalashnikov weapons. "You can dip it in the river, drop it in sand but it still works," an Afghan security contractor said.

In comparison, the M-4 fires a lighter 5.56mm round. "The 5.56mm calibre is more lethal since it can put more rounds on target," Colonel Douglas Tamilio, a programme manager at the US Army's centre for small arms development, told the Associated Press. "But at 500m to 600m the round doesn't have stopping power."

Nato sources said the alliance's soldiers use the M-4 "because it's a close-in weapon, since we anticipate house-to-house fighting in many situations". The M-4 worked well in Iraq, where much of the fighting was close-quarter battles in cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah. But in Afghanistan, some Taliban fighters will open fire at ranges of close to a kilometre. Taliban snipers held up US Marines and their Afghan comrades during Nato's operation to clear the farmlands of Marjah, in central Helmand, this year.

Among the solutions the US Army is proposing, is that nine soldiers in each infantry company carry the new M-110 sniper rifle, which fires a 7.62 mm and is accurate to more than 800m. Infantry companies already include sharpshooters with M-14s, and weapons teams carrying grenade-launchers and light machine-guns.

Another idea is to design a rifle with a heavier calibre than the M-4, trading in some of its high rate of fire for greater range. But some experts argue that the 5.56mm round is maligned by the US Army report. Instead, they say that the M-4's failings are the result of its shorterbarrel, which makes it easier for soldiers to wield as they scramble in and out of vehicles. The M-4 is a compacted version of the M-16 rifle, a more cumbersome weapon. "Unfortunately, weapon engineers shortened the M-16's barrel to irrational lengths," Martin Fackler, a ballistics expert, said. The British Army uses the 5.56mm SA-80, backed by the 7.62mm "gimpy", the general purpose machine-gun with a high rate of lethal fire.

But in the labyrinth of vineyards and orchards in Kandahar province, where much of this summer's fighting is expected, range is unlikely to be an issue. The dense vegetation lets insurgents get within 200m before opening up on Nato troops, well within the M-4's range.
 
#3
same lesson we learned with our new designated marksman rifle then? It's not really the guns fault, more the ammunition chambered?
 
#4
Do the Taliban use the AK47 or the 5.56 derivative of it? An honest question.

Does this mean the US will go back to the M14, or will struggle on until they have developed another 7.62 weapon?
 
#6
RhodieBKK said:
...
Although the dense vegetation and warrens of mud-packed houses in parts of southern Afghanistan lend themselves to close-range fighting, there are also many battles where Taliban fighters make use of the heavier calibre of their AK-47s to ambush Nato and Afghan soldiers from afar.

The AK-47's 7.62 mm round is effective at more than 400m. And the AK-47 is extremely durable, as are most of the other marks of Kalashnikov weapons. "You can dip it in the river, drop it in sand but it still works," an Afghan security contractor said.
...
I'm wondering about this. What kind of tricked AK-47 are they using for these long range ambushes? A Tabuk might suffice. I think not. Now if they were talking about getting shot to pieces out beyond 400M by chaps with SLRs or even septuagenarian SMLEs I'd understand the groaning more.

The 7.62x39mm used in an AK-47 is similar to a redneck 30-30. Works very well at normal combat distance but it's got a drop of over 40 inches at 400 yards and the energy is rapidly dropping off. This isn't an ideal long range round and the surplus ammo that's often used in them makes things even worse.

The AK-47s gas system and wobbly tolerances are designed in to provide a very rugged almost zero maintenance weapon not pinpoint accuracy. As I recall the old AK-47 typically shot into 4 MOA. That's OK for the 200M range the Red Army routinely practiced at. 400m is a real stretch right at the end of the effective range for the standard weapon.

It's also got to deal with targets wearing body armor these days. For seeking out soft spots at a distant you'd be better off with a very accurate weapon like the one the Muhj really prized back in the day: the 5.45x39mm AK-74 or an old skool M-16 for that matter. It's true the chopped down M-4 has a shorter effective range (just 40M shorter than the AK-47) but its routinely got better sights on it and is still inherently more accurate than the old warhorse.

I recall dashing chaps nonchalantly water-skiing past AK-47 armed snipers back during the civil war Beirut. Are devious Pashtun hillbilly gun smithing really improving the old AK-47 that much or is it the talibs ISI training, well maintained beards and rigorous pre-spray Deobandi prayers? Or is it all just hype.
 
#7
RhodieBKK said:
*Snip*

Among the solutions the US Army is proposing, is that nine soldiers in each infantry company carry the new M-110 sniper rifle, which fires a 7.62 mm and is accurate to more than 800m. Infantry companies already include sharpshooters with M-14s, and weapons teams carrying grenade-launchers and light machine-guns.

*Snip*
M110 :? It'll be hell man-packing this! :lol:
 
#8
alib said:
RhodieBKK said:
...
Although the dense vegetation and warrens of mud-packed houses in parts of southern Afghanistan lend themselves to close-range fighting, there are also many battles where Taliban fighters make use of the heavier calibre of their AK-47s to ambush Nato and Afghan soldiers from afar.

The AK-47's 7.62 mm round is effective at more than 400m. And the AK-47 is extremely durable, as are most of the other marks of Kalashnikov weapons. "You can dip it in the river, drop it in sand but it still works," an Afghan security contractor said.
...
I'm wondering about this. What kind of tricked AK-47 are they using for these long range ambushes? A Tabuk might suffice. I think not. Now if they were talking about getting shot to pieces out beyond 400M by chaps with SLRs or even septuagenarian SMLEs I'd understand the groaning more.

The 7.62x39mm used in an AK-47 is similar to a redneck 30-30. Works very well at normal combat distance but it's got a drop of over 40 inches at 400 yards and the energy is rapidly dropping off. This isn't an ideal long range round and the surplus ammo that's often used in them makes things even worse.

The AK-47s gas system and wobbly tolerances are designed in to provide a very rugged almost zero maintenance weapon not pinpoint accuracy. As I recall the old AK-47 typically shot into 4 MOA. That's OK for the 200M range the Red Army routinely practiced at. 400m is a real stretch right at the end of the effective range for the standard weapon.

It's also got to deal with targets wearing body armor these days. For seeking out soft spots at a distant you'd be better off with a very accurate weapon like the one the Muhj really prized back in the day: the 5.45x39mm AK-74 or an old skool M-16 for that matter. It's true the chopped down M-4 has a shorter effective range (just 40M shorter than the AK-47) but its routinely got better sights on it and is still inherently more accurate than the old warhorse.

I recall dashing chaps nonchalantly water-skiing past AK-47 armed snipers back during the civil war Beirut. Are devious Pashtun hillbilly gun smithing really improving the old AK-47 that much or is it the talibs ISI training, well maintained beards and rigorous pre-spray Deobandi prayers? Or is it all just hype.
The Taliban's Long Range Rifle is the Lee Enfield. Apparently.
 
#10
Whet said:
Do the Taliban use the AK47 or the 5.56 derivative of it? An honest question.

Does this mean the US will go back to the M14, or will struggle on until they have developed another 7.62 weapon?
Fairly sure the AK74 uses the 5.45mm, which has similar, if less effective characteristics than 5.56 NATO.
 
#11
This whole article appears to talking tat.
The Taliban are using the AK47 at ranges over the effective 300M of the M4? What planet is the author on? The AK is a lot of things, but a accurate one shot, one kill ranged weapon is not one of them! "Foliage" as an issue for range, what is that all about? Foliage, would seem to imply issues with seeing the enemy. Ergo the ranges would drop away to well with the 300M range.
Another thread on here recently, had a NY Times report about Taliban snipers (included video footage too). Unlike this story it was amply researched and offered documentary evidence. The ranged weapon that the US Marines there were encountering, was thought to be Lee-Enfields in most cases.
It is hardly realistic to compare ANY assault weapon, to a full power rifle, as each was designed with differing objectives in mind.

This is the same historical rant about needing "longer ranges" for service weapons that has been bubbling up since the 19th Century. The debate is over, Assault Rifles won the issue. I am no apologist for the M4/ M16 family, they are weapons that are conceptually a generation behind the L85.
I dearly love to shoot my L1A1, but as a WEAPON, the L85 is clearly superior in the respects that matter in action (namely rate of fire, weight of the ammo that you will fire etc).
As to the "Designated Marksman" concept, that does make sense to me, and has again been covered in my better detail in other articles/ threads on ARRSE. It will, no doubt, require some form of Battle Rifle, but to imply that the AK is it, is ludicrous in the extreme!
 
#12
IndianaDel said:
This whole article appears to talking tat.
The Taliban are using the AK47 at ranges over the effective 300M of the M4? What planet is the author on? The AK is a lot of things, but a accurate one shot, one kill ranged weapon is not one of them! "Foliage" as an issue for range, what is that all about? Foliage, would seem to imply issues with seeing the enemy. Ergo the ranges would drop away to well with the 300M range.
Another thread on here recently, had a NY Times report about Taliban snipers (included video footage too). Unlike this story it was amply researched and offered documentary evidence. The ranged weapon that the US Marines there were encountering, was thought to be Lee-Enfields in most cases.
It is hardly realistic to compare ANY assault weapon, to a full power rifle, as each was designed with differing objectives in mind.

This is the same historical rant about needing "longer ranges" for service weapons that has been bubbling up since the 19th Century. The debate is over, Assault Rifles won the issue. I am no apologist for the M4/ M16 family, they are weapons that are conceptually a generation behind the L85.
I dearly love to shoot my L1A1, but as a WEAPON, the L85 is clearly superior in the respects that matter in action (namely rate of fire, weight of the ammo that you will fire etc).
As to the "Designated Marksman" concept, that does make sense to me, and has again been covered in my better detail in other articles/ threads on ARRSE. It will, no doubt, require some form of Battle Rifle, but to imply that the AK is it, is ludicrous in the extreme!
Apart from the bit in bold I'd generally agree. How do you think the L85 is conceptually superior to the M16/M4?
 
#13
I've no idea what "conceptually superior" means in this context, but I've played with the M4 a few times and never been a fan. It feels like a toy and isn't 'natural' to hold and fire like the L85.
 
#14
DeltaDog said:
I've no idea what "conceptually superior" means in this context, but I've played with the M4 a few times and never been a fan. It feels like a toy and isn't 'natural' to hold and fire like the L85.
If most of your experience is with the L85 you will find other rifles feel awkward, In fact, the ergonomics and balance of the L85 are appalling compared to practically anything else - people just get used to it.
 
#15
EX_STAB said:
M4 has a similar length barrel to the minimi LMG ( the version we bought) so that must have similar problems of range.
The USMC were using the longer barrelled version of the Minimi (SAW) whilst we were there, packed a better punch than our Para versions.
 

maguire

LE
Book Reviewer
#16
'The debate is over, Assault Rifles won the issue...'

...then why are the both the UK and US fielding DMR - type weapons then? the US might be thought to have the budget even if it not strictly necessary, but the MOD to stump up for them as well? given how tight they seem to be with the purse strings, someone somewhere must **really** think they're needed.
 

Biped

LE
Book Reviewer
#17
screwup982 said:
Whet said:
Do the Taliban use the AK47 or the 5.56 derivative of it? An honest question.

Does this mean the US will go back to the M14, or will struggle on until they have developed another 7.62 weapon?
Fairly sure the AK74 uses the 5.45mm, which has similar, if less effective characteristics than 5.56 NATO.
The AK47 uses the 7.62x39 round. Not as punchy as our 7.62x51, but still a lot more effective over longer distances than the 5.56, provided they can shoot it straight enough, which is the big problem. All the same, if there's enough rounds comng down, they only have to get lucky.

A lot of the sniping is being done with the 7.62x54 Russian sniper rifle I believe, which again, is a good deal more effective than anything at all in 5.56.

The only answer to this problem is to do what we are doing now, but perhaps on a larger scale: Forget following the stupid fcuking yanks every time they decide to hoist another daft-arrsed calibre on the rest of NATO, and stick with what's best.

This would be anything from the 7mm bullet that we wanted to use in the 50's, to the 6.5x55 Swedish - arguably one of the best military cartridges out there, or the 7.62.

I think a good compromise would be to go with the Swiss round. Fast as a fast fcuking thing, flat as you like, and enough punch to smack the sh!t out of things like brick walls. Just like the 7.62, but a better BC, faster, flatter, and you can carry more than if you were carrying 7.62.

Edited to add: Just my personal opinion of course. Probably need to refer to the 'Optimum Calibres' thread for more info.
 
#18
screwup982 said:
Whet said:
Do the Taliban use the AK47 or the 5.56 derivative of it? An honest question.

Does this mean the US will go back to the M14, or will struggle on until they have developed another 7.62 weapon?
Fairly sure the AK74 uses the 5.45mm, which has similar, if less effective characteristics than 5.56 NATO.
The M14 really is long in the tooth. It only survived testing against the FN FAL due to chauvinism, pork and it's similarity to the trusty M1 Garand. I doubt there'll every be a general return to 7.62mm, in these walking about wars weight still matters. Though more and better body armor might change that.

The US Army might be better just sticking with the M16A4 like the USMC. Perhaps not so handy for room sweeps and commuting to the battlefield in a Rumfeldian Stryker but it has a good 200M on the truncated M-4. Not perfect but a better general purpose compromise.

The AK-74 I've heard is 20-50% more accurate than the old AKM, making it similar to the M16. There are some stories about 5.45mm spectacular wound channel Voodoo very similar to those about the 5.56mm "Armalite" back in the day, there is not much in it ballistically. The Muhj adored even the hacked down AKS-74U, a weapon even less suited to mountain fighting than the M-4. If you are being supplied by mule train those light little bullets are an Allah send.

This chap looks very happy posing with his rarely used trophy:


I'm not surprised to hear the talibs are using SMLEs, their fathers used them against the 40th Army as well.
...
The Lee-Enfield is one of the oldest, and still widely used, rifles on the planet. Over 17 million were manufactured between 1895 and the 1980s. While there are more AK-47s out there (over 20 million in private hands), these are looked down on by those who use their rifles for hunting, or killing with a minimum expenditure of ammunition. The 8.8 pound Lee-Enfield is a bolt-action rifle (with a ten round magazine) noted for its accuracy and sturdiness. The inaccurate AK-47 has a hard time hitting anything more than a hundred meters away, while the Lee-Enfield can drop an animal, or a man, at over 400 meters.

There are millions of Lee-Enfields still in use throughout India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even Iraq and other Persian Gulf nations. These are largely World War II leftovers. In the early half of the 20th century, the British gave out millions of these weapons to allies, or those being courted. Noting the accuracy of the Lee-Enfield (.303 caliber, or 7.7mm), the locals came to prize the rifle for hunting, and self-defense. There are still many gunsmiths throughout the region (and at least one factory in India) that will refurbish century old Lee-Enfields to "like new" condition. Ammunition is still manufactured, with the high quality stuff going for a dollar a round, and lesser quality for 25 cents a round. These rifles sell in the west for $500-1,000. The Lee-Enfield will carry on well into the 21st century.

One place where the Lee-Enfield found lots of fans was Afghanistan. There, the Afghans had been introduced to rifles in the 19th century, and they treasured these weapons. This was particularly true with the introduction of smokeless powder rifles in the late 19th century. Many Afghans were still using black powder rifles well into the 20th century. But once Lee-Enfields began show up in large numbers after World War I (1914-18), no one wanted the larger, heavier and less accurate black powder rifles (which always gave off your position, with all that smoke, after you fired a round.) Now, wealthy drug lords are buying expensive hunting and sniper rifles for their militias, but so far, the Taliban Snipers appear to be using grandpa's old Lee-Enfield.
Early on in Soviet Afghan war some characters in the CIA were actually advocating shipping the Muhj SMLEs rather than AK-47s and RPG-7s. They reckoned the talibs tactically more able fathers actually had the skills to make use of the weapon's greater accuracy. It was a belief not entirely based in romantic Reaganite conservatism. Talibs fresh out of a Pakistani Deobandi Madrassa reputably don't typically have such skills but may be learning the hard way.

There's been recent reports of talibs carrying the old .303 and 5.56mm casings being found in sniper incidents which suggests they are more aware of the AK-47s limitations than some Journos
 
#20
Further to alib's post:

The AK-74 & AKSU were 'trophy' weapons carried by Muj, normally commanders,
as it denoted that they might actually have been up-close-n-personal with the Sovs.
They were rarely ever fired as resupply meant further contact with the Sovs,
not something they were all that keen on.
Or, buying ammunition from Kabul's 'Brezhnev Market' [now called renamed Bush] a time consuming & somewhat costly process.
Many of the early .303 were either Darra knock-offs with all sorts of peculiar stamps in varying places or a litlle later on ex-Pak police/army.
The muj first got AKs from Egypt which had their Arabic sights filed clean so the country of origin could not be identified.
It didn't make much difference to muj shooting skills as they always used full-auto mode anyways.
When the Chinese AKs came in -around 83-84- the Peshawar Pak police took the lion's share & got rid of their real .303s,
which were then passed on to the Muj who sadly never put them to real good use.
General training of the muj was lacklustre at best.
Sov-made AK47s were also 'trophies', but as likely came from the DRA as from Sov units. These were used.
Just an observation, the enemy we face today are in a different league to the Pushtun Muj of the 80s.
The Taliban's training, commitment & tactics are of a wholly different order to what the Sovs ever faced.
 

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