Friday, March 18, 2005

Getting Down To Specifics

In "The Right Weapon for the Job" I laid out some general ideas for the future of invidual small arms selection and training. Well, I seem to have had some decent response to the post, but folks seem to want to get into more specifics, i.e. what rifle, what pistol etc...

I wanted to mostly stay away from that in the general posting, but I thought I'd go into it here.

So, I laid out the need for the following

  1. A medium machine gun
  2. A light machine gun
  3. A battle rifle
  4. An assault rifle and assault carbine
  5. A Sub-machine gun
  6. A Short barreled shotgun
  7. A Sidearm
We already have a weapon in each of these slots, as follows

  1. FN-MAG/M240 (medium machine gun)
  2. FN-MINI/M249 (light machine gun)
  3. Springfield Armory M14 (battle rifle)
  4. FN and Colt (and others) M16 and M4 (assault rifle and assault carbine)
  5. HK MP5 (Sub-machine gun)
  6. Mossberg 590 (shotgun, though not short barreled)
  7. Beretta M92FS/M9 (Sidearm)
In the first piece I talked about selecting all the components from a single manufacturer, and I think this is both a good idea, and easy to do with HK (and to a lesser extent with FN, who is already our primary supplier of assault rifles). They provide each element covered here, and in most cases they are at or near the top of that market.

The all HK solution would look a little something like this
  1. MG3 or MG21 (medium machine gun)
  2. MG43/MG4, MG36, or MG23 (light machine gun)
  3. G3 or SG1 (battle rifle)
  4. HK33, 53, G36, or XM-8 (assault rifle and assault carbine)
  5. HK MP5/10 or UMP45 (Sub-machine gun)
  6. Fabarm FP6 (shotgun)
  7. HK USP Compact or Tactical (Sidearm)
I don't think all of these are necessarily the ideal choices, for one thing the Mossberg 590 in a short barreled configuration is a GREAT shotgun, and I wouldn't change it. I rather like the M240 medium machine gun, though it is a bit heavy, and the HK solution here is sub optimal.

I also see little reason to stop using the M14, but if we wanted to single source, and to keep to one operating system and ergonomic configuration, the G3 and it's variants are great rifles.

For the LMG, assault rifle, SMG, and sidearm elements however, I think HK offers either the best, or at least one of the best options, especially if the current 5.56 weapons were chambered in the more effective 6.5 or 6.8 alternatives.

I'm especially a fan of the MG4, and all indications show the XM-8 to be a decent rifle.

The MP5 can be chambered in 10mm and .40 cal (the MP5/10 and the MP5/40), which means it could be chambered in .357 sig with no re-engineering. If the basic design can handle 10mm, it can certainly be chambered in .45 super. Moving to the UMP .45, it is already capable of handling .45 super.

I want to go a little deeper into the assault rifle and sidearm discussions:

(I'm'na put on my asbestos pajamas here for a sec).

I'm honestly not sure what is more controversial, the pistol, or the assault rifle. Of course those that are most vehemently against our current choices are mostly advocating moving back to the 1911, and the M14 (or even the M1 garand). To those people... just go away, I'm going to piss you off too much and probably just ignore your comments anyway. Its 2005 not 1945 or 1955. The days of your youth are gone, and just because it worked for grandpa doesnt make it the best choice today. That doesn't mean it doesnt work, lord knows more bad guys have been killed with m1's and 1911's than any other weapons, just that there are better choices available today.

First, the pistol...

Let me say first, I am a big fan of the 1911 pistol. I own two of them, I typically shoot 200-500 rounds per week through them, and I carry one on a regular basis. The 1911 is the finest auto pistol ever devised.

That said, we are never going to go back to a 1911 for our service pistol, and I don't think we should. Even in commander form, the 1911 is heavier and longer than it needs to be. It is a large pistol (in both length, and height, though it is nicely thin) for it's caliber and barrel length by modern pistol standards. More importantly, it's a single action pistol, which is not the right choice for a military sidearm today.

I think we need an SA/DA, DAO, or safe-action type pistol. I prefer one with a safety, though that's not absolutely necessary, and I personally want a safety, or a safety and a decocker, not just a decocker. It should have either a polymer or alloy frame (for weight and corrosion resistance), and I'd prefer a stainless slide, though with the right finish it isn't absolutely necessary.

As to caliber; I noted in the other piece, I think we should move to .357sig, 10mm, or .45 super, and I prefer the .45 super because you can also chamber .45acp. I choose these three, because they are the best options in auto pistos for stopping power and the ability to penetrate soft body armor (with hot loaded penetrator cored hardball), while still being controllable in a leightweight, and reasonably sized package for daily carry.

SIG, HK, Glock, Kahr, and Ruger all make suitable pistols that are, or could be, chambered for these rounds, and offer these features(as do others, but I don't consider them strong competitors).

Of all of them, I personally think the HK USP compact, or the USP tactical are the best options available (I happen to own a USP compact, which I love). The USP is already chambered for .45 super; like the Glock, it is part of a full range of weapon configurations from more than full sized, to compact, with the same ergonomic configuration; it can be fully ambidextrous if desired; it has a three position safety (safe, fire, and decock), a decent trigger, and it is easily suppressed. Like most other pistols in this class, the only thing I dont like, is the slide is a bit bulky, and could be a bit thinner.

I just sold my SIG p229, and I miss it greatly. I love the SIG's in general, and they already make excellent pistols in .357sig (obviously). I would love to see SIG make a .45 the same height as the p220, (which is a bit thick in the grip, and a bit bulky for some), but the length of the p245. The 220 is a bit long, the 245 is a bit stubby in the grip, and in the ideal world, both could be 1/4" thinner. Basically I'd like a .45acp p229 only a bit thinner. The only think I don't like about SIG's in general, is the decock only operation; as I've said, I prefer having the option of a safety, especially in a non DAO pistol.

A lot of folks would suggest the G21 (or the G20), but I don't think it's a good service pistol option. I own one, I like it, but it's not right for everyone. I like having the safety option, Glock triggers are pretty bad out of the box, and it's quite thick and unwieldy. I have very large hands, and STILL the G21 isn't a very comfortable gun to hold and carry. All that said, if Glock made a single stack (or narrow double stack), commander sized .45, capable of handling .45 super, with an 8-10 round capacity (like the USP compact), I would say it was a great choice as a new military sidearm (and I'd buy it for myself in a heartbeat).

I don't personally care for Rugers offerings in this class. The Ruger designs just dont feel great to me, and their quality is inconsistent.

While I like Kahrs, and in fact my EDC piece is a Kahr K9 (which I got REALLY cheap or I would have taken the K40), they don't offer a suitable service pistol yet. I love how thin, and how light they are (without being too light for the caliber); they are very well made guns, and they have decently smooth and reasonably light triggers (though they have a long trigger pull).

I make the same statement about Kahr's as I do about Glock: If they made a single stack (or narrow doublestack), commander sized .45, capable of handling .45 super, with an 8-10 round capacity, I would happily choose it for a new military sidearm, and I would happily buy one myself.

On to the assault rifle...

The assault rifle picture is a bit simpler, because there are fewer options, and there has been a lot of recent developement in this area.

Basically, the major options today are as follows:

  1. Keep the AR platform, but rechamber it in a more effective caliber
  2. Keep the AR platform, rechamber it, and convert it to an op-rod system
  3. Move to the HK XM-8 system, and rechamber it
  4. Move to the FN SCAR, and rechamber it
  5. Move to the Robinson Armaments XCR, and rechamber it
Of all these options, obviously the easiest and least expensive is the basic rechambering, to either 6.5 grendel, or more likely to 6.8spc. Let's just assume for now that the 6.8 becomes the new default chambering. The 5.56n is just inadequate as an assault rifle chambering, and the U.S. will never issue weapons in 7.62x39.

We could easily rechamber the AR for 6.8 with a bolt, carrier, barrel, and spring change (and probably a different gas port diameter), and it would be a far more effective rifle; but I have said before in "The Myth of AR unreliability" that while the direct gas system of the AR isn't as big a problem as some believe, it isn't the ideal. If we are going to have a significant modification or upgrade of our service arm, it would make sense to move away from direct gas, and convert to an op-rod or tappet system as with Armstech or Kurts guns. This would allow us to maintain our current base of knowledge and training with the AR platform, retain our accessories, and greatly reduce our transition costs, because almost all the parts of the current rifle system could be retained.

Despite all the reasoning above, I don't think either of those options are likely. For political reasons, I think it more likely we will simply adopt an entirely new rifle.

The advantage of the three new rifle platforms above, is that they are all modular systems. Two of the three are directly convertible to multiple calibers, and all three can be converted from assault carbine, to assault rifle, to battle rifle, and to LMG configurations with various parts changes.

Recently FN's FNC based Special Operations Rifle has been selected for the Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) program. Covered reasonably well here at world guns, it looks like a decent piece. It is apparent however that the FN was selected over the Robinson XCR for entirely political reasons.

The Robinson Armaments XCR is actually a very similar concept to the FN, convertible calibers, modular system etc... hell, they even look a lot alike, but the XCR has more of the features I would consider "ideal" for an assault rifle system (check the FAQ here). Robinson is also the only U.S. manufacturer to offer a reasonable entry for a new assault rifle; yes the others have U.S. manufacturing facilities, but Robinson is an actual American company.

More important than any of that however, is that from all testing reports it is the better weapon, but Robinson is a small manufacturer and they couldn't offer the same purchasing perks as FN. FN has the advatage of being the current primary military rifle contractor, and they could both offer better terms on the new rifle, and penalize us on existing contracts for the M16, which apparently they did.

According to some reports FN has held up some M16 and M249 rebuild contract fulfilment while their products were under evaluation, and back channel threatened other slowdowns if their products werent selected. I wont link them here because, firstly I don't know how trustworthy the reports are (though I trust the sources), and second, because the people who've said this could get in trouble.

The current frontrunner in the XM/M program, to replace our current issue assault rifle, is the HK XM-8

Again, it is a modular system, designed to be convertible between basic assault rifle, assault carbine, battle rifle, marksmans rifle, an almost SMG, and squad automatic weapon configurations. There've been a hell of a lot of articles written about this gun lately, so I'm not going to go into it deeply, Ill just point you to the writeup from world guns. Also, I'll say I think it's a decent rifle, and it's accessories are great, but I also think it's a bit gadgety. I don't really believe one rifle can cover every need, and HK is trying to sell the system that way.

Of all these options, I think the XCR is the best weapon; in fact I plan on buying one, with the 5.56, 6.8, and 7.62 kits for it when they become available some time later this year. That doesn't mean it's the best rifle to issue to our armed forces however. While I think RobArm could have supplied enough rifles for the SCAR contract, I don think they would be a good company to provide the general issue rifle. They really are jsut too small, and they know it, which is why they didnt put an entry in.

Realistically, I think we should keep the AR, convert it to a gas tappet/op-rod system, and rechamber it for 6.8; but like I said above, I don't think that's going to happen. I think we are going to choose the XM8, and HOPE that our selection people have the balls to chamber it in 6.8.