Monday, May 21, 2012

Patrol Platform

A friend, reader, and forum reader at the Guncounter forums put forth an idea yesterday that I thought might be interesting to talk about here.

"The Glock has replaced 1911s and other pistols in the hands of the police because a monkey can be trained to operate it and it is reliable even if not properly maintained.

I think the AK might be like the glock of rifles and would serve our police force better than the AR-15s.

In the hands of a trained operator* and when properly maintained the AR is a superior rifle to an AK. The AR is just as reliable, but easier to shoot well, and has a superior control layout. That said, at least 75% of the patrol force out there is incompetent, unmotivated, and downright stupid. Some of them shouldn't be issued anything more than an old 38, and no bullets. They will not undergo the training necessary to achieve proficiency with the operation of an AR, they will not practice with it to benefit from its accuracy, and they will not clean it to ensure its reliability.

The fact of the matter is that our cops are much like the group of people for whom the AK was designed. The reliability is an advantage because they won't maintain them, the lack of accuracy is not an issue since they can't shoot that accurately anyway.

So my argument is that instead of AR-15 rifles, our cops should be issued semi-auto AK-47 pattern rifles. Let the flame-war begin! "

Actually, I almost agree with him here, excepting the (intentionally... this person is a bombthrower by nature) inflammatory description of American patrol officers (there is SOME truth to the concept he's speaking of, but not to the degree he's talking about), and the two major problems that:

1. U.S. Police departments will almost certainly not be politically able to use AK pattern rifles.

I believe this one difficulty is insurmountable. The AK really is through of around the world, and particularly in the media, as a terrorist gun.

The sight of American cops shooting at American citizens (even if they are criminals) with AK pattern rifles, would be entirely politically unacceptable; even if the rifles were U.S. made, and looked nothing like the AK of the middle eastern terrorist etc...

2. An AK pattern rifle is longer, heavier, bulkier, less maneuverable, and more snagprone in vehicles, and tight quarters, than an AR pattern rifle of equivalent barrel length

Though this can be compensated for somewhat, with the right configuration and accessories; it can't be completely mitigated. Being made almost entirely of stamped or milled steel, the AK pattern rifle will always be heavier than the AR pattern rifle; and the receiver of the AK pattern rifle is considerably longer than the AR pattern rifle, and can't really be shortened.

And a few minor issues like:

3. The 7.62x39 round is louder, has more muzzle blast and recoil (though admittedly, not a hell of a lot), and is more likely than 5.56n to overpenetrate through obstacles (as opposed to people... and experience has shown that cops are far more likely to hit things other than people) while retaining wounding potential.

This of course could be compensated for by simply chambering the rifle in 5.56, or 5.45... or for that matter any number of other intermediate chamberings).

4. the AK pattern rifle is generally more difficult to adapt for accessories, adjustable stocks etc...

These accessories are actually very useful to the law enforcement mission and the mission impacting factors, of the patrol carbine. The issue is pretty easily addressed; however, when you do so, the rifle becomes just as expensive as an AR, negating one of the advantages of the AK platform.

Essentially, even excluding the insurmountable political issue; after modifying the AK platform to match the useful aspects of the AR which should be retained for the patrol carbine mission, I don't believe the AK platform presents sufficient advantage... or any advantage really... to warrant adopting the it over the AR.

All that aside... I think this is actually a good opportunity to address a more fundamental issue represented by the entire concept of the law enforcement patrol carbine.

In general, I believe that the U.S. law enforcement mission (at least in urban, and suburban environments, for local law enforcement) is better served by the patrol shotgun, than the patrol carbine.

Though I believe the patrol carbine is a useful tool to have, and we should retain it as an option available to officers; the patrol shotgun is more tactically appropriate and more mission appropriate, in most circumstances; and gives the officer more flexibility in response options, than the patrol carbine.

I have nothing against the patrol carbine. It fills a genuine need, while being familiar to many officers from military service and recreational shooting; as well as being understood and accepted by the general public (now anyway, more than 10 years post 9/11. When it was first becoming common in the early to mid 90s, it was a huge political issue).

...I just don't think the patrol carbine meets the urban and suburban law enforcement mission as well as another option might.

Note: I should say, I'm not exactly an original thinker in this. What I'm saying now has been said by hundreds of law enforcement trainers, and thousands of law enforcement officers, for years... But I have rarely seen this discussion in the gunblogger realm, and it's something I thought my readers might be interested in discussing, and in many cases may be able to contribute their firsthand or relevant knowledge and experience to

The two mission challenges addressed by the patrol carbine (as opposed to the personal sidearm, or patrol shotgun) are:

1. marksmanship and immediate response capabilities at 15-100 yard distances; to be able to rapidly respond to situations in that tactical regime without waiting for a SWAT callout.

2. Effective, immediate, response against lightly barricaded subjects (particularly those barricaded in or behind vehicles), or subjects wearing light to medium body armor; again, to allow an officer to rapidly respond to these situations without waiting for SWAT callout.

A note: I am qualifying myself with "urban and suburban" here, because there are some mission challenges in rural law enforcement, and in highway patrol, that may be better met by rifle caliber weapons. In these environments, an officer may be a very long distance (or long response time) away from backup, support, or enhanced capability response units.

Further, an officer may commonly encounter a need to respond to situations best met by a rifle. Dispatching wildlife, handling longer range engagements (lots of clear space around highways, and in rural areas, for hostile subjects to engage an officer), dealing with subjects that are more heavily barricaded or in deeper cover (or are barricaded at greater distances... particularly in or behind vehicles at greater distance), disabling vehicles; and in extremis, engaging rifle armed subjects (which, because of the time and distance involved, can't wait for a SWAT callout; if the organization even has such resources available).

I would advance the proposition that a better solution to the tactical challenge the patrol carbine addresses, at least for the urban and suburban patrol officer, may in fact be better addressed with a PDW concept weapon which gives armor penetration capability (such as the P90).

In general I would posit that the patrol officer does not need response capabilities for heavily armored, heavily barricaded, or excess of 100 yard situations; in which rifle caliber weapons would provide a decisive advantage over PDW concept weapons. These situations should be handled by SWAT or tactical response; or other heavy armor, and rifle equipped, response units.

The patrol officer is neither trained, nor equipped to handle this mission (nor should he be under normal circumstances), and should only be responding to these situations in extreme circumstances (except in a supporting role. Establishing and maintaining a perimeter, handling the public, etc...).

The PDW concept offers light weight, ease of maneuverability and handling, good ergonomics, rapid fire capability with little recoil, precision marksmanship within its accuracy envelope (100 yards and under), and armor penetration within its high percentage performance envelope (50 yards and under).

I believe these advantages and performance envelope are better matched to the needs of the urban or suburban patrol officer, than the advantages and performance envelope of the rifle caliber weapon.

As of 2012, there are several PDW concept weapons that have been proven effective in operational use (most notably the P90, but there are others).

I believe the PDW concept may not yet be mature enough to consider for wholesale adoption by American law enforcement (and I remain doubtful as to the general military mission for the class of weapon); however, it may present a better solution in general, to the patrol officers mission challenges, than the rifle caliber patrol carbine.