The plastic, no-account M-16 rabbit shooter that our Army warriors have painfully packed since early in the Vietnam War might at long last be on its way out.
I can only say “good riddance” to a bad rifle that’s been outmatched by the Soviet AK-47 since Ho Chi Minh became Enemy No. 1. I condemned it in my first after-action report while I was with the 1/101st Airborne in Vietnam in 1965, but – in spite of many such complaints across the decades from trigger-pullers wading through the world’s killing fields – that lousy sucker has remained in service longer than any other rifle in U.S. history. A shameful testimony to the power of generations of military-industrial-congressional-complex porkers.
The M-16 and its popgun cousin, the M-4 carbine, have neither the range nor the bang. Nor is their tiny 5.56 mm slug much of a grunt morale multiplier. Ask the Rangers who fought in Somalia how many insurgents they drilled – and drilled again – who just kept coming.
The hot contender currently being tested by the Army to replace these lemons is the XM-8, a revolutionary smart-weapon being put through its paces by professionals who, so far, give it two thumbs up. It’s a different kind of rifle, lighter and less expensive, yet it offers additional features and performance not available in any other assault rifle in the world.
For instance, the XM-8 is a flexible system easily converted into a carbine, and there’s a sharpshooter version for increased range, an automatic-rifle version for more squad firepower and the ultracompact carbine variant for close-in fighting or use by armored-vehicle crewmen.
Whiz-bang options include an easily attachable single-shot 40 mm grenade launcher with side-opening breech and a lightweight 12-gauge shotgun module. Either system can be quickly added to the XM-8 in the field without the need for special tools.
Think of it as a 2005 Mercedes replacing a 1970s Ford Pinto. But that’s only if we’re talking an XM-8 with an upgraded 6.8 mm slug that can put an enemy down and keep him there. That’s what is needed to give our soldiers confidence in their primary fighting weapon.
The best serving master gunner I know says about the 6.8 mm upgrade that Special Forces is presently reviewing, “If we are going to go through the cost of providing a Mercedes like the XM-8, we should be prepared to put Pirelli tires on it.” He asks, “You wouldn’t want to have a Mercedes but run it on low-octane gas, so why have a Mercedes-quality rifle and run it on 5.56?”
Should the XM-8 get greenlighted, Germany’s Heckler & Koch plans to build a factory to produce it in Columbus, Ga. Unlike so many companies exporting jobs overseas these days, H&K touts this as its “Buy American” project.
If everything clicks, the new weapon could start getting into our grunts’ hands as early as 2005 – and at last our soldiers will have a rifle that’s GI-proof. For starters, it’s not a jammer. Carbon doesn’t build up inside the receiver group, which greatly reduces the need for cleaning. It also has a battery-powered sight right out of James Bond’s inventory that includes a red-dot infrared-laser illuminator and a close-combat optic system with a backup etched reticle that’s factory-zeroed. And last, but far from least, it shoots faster then the Terminator – it can fire more than 15,000 rounds without lubrication or cleaning, and tests show that it works as smoothly as a sewing machine in desert environments, which should make the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan a whole lot happier.
These days there’s a lot of flag-waving going down about supporting the troops. But the best way to take care of our grunts is by making sure they can outgun their opponents. And no way is that happening when we allow greedy or uncaring pork contractors, no-time-in-the-trenches engineers and folks in Congress and at the highest level of our armed forces to stick them with a worthless, Mattel-like excuse for a rifle.
With the upgraded XM-8, our warriors will finally have a weapon that will do as good a job punching holes in enemy soldiers in the 21st century as the M-1 and Browning Automatic Rifles did in the 20th.