Army sets sights on XM8, a lighter, more-reliable rifle
NJ.com gives us this story on the XM8. It’s pretty standard and geared mostly for folks unfamiliar with the weapon (i.e. people who don’t read MO). Main points are the increased reliability, the ability to fire it more easily from vehicles (due to the shorter length of some configurations), and it notes the controversy over continuing to use the 5.56 round.
If independent experts have a quibble with the XM8, it’s that it fires the same diameter 5.56 millimeter bullets as the M-16. Those lack the stopping power of the heavier 7.62 millimeter slugs fired by the Russian AK-47, the rifle favored by Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban.
“The M-16 just doesn’t reach out and tap the bad guys who are firing with a weapon that has a heavier round,” said Roos, a former Army officer.
Bruce Canfield, a military historian and weapons expert, said small-arms designers moved away from the bigger bullets, which have greater range, after World War II and Korea because battle records showed most kills took place at 300 yards or less. The need was for weapons that could fire more bullets. Smaller bullets, which weighed less, were the answer.
“Anything you do with the weapon is a tradeoff,” Canfield said. “If you’re going to have lighter weight, you’re going to have less firepower.”
This “tradeoff” remark is right on the money. Just like the issues surrounding the new Stryker LAV, every system is a combination of multiple factors. If the troops want lighter weapons (and I think that’s a very valid request) they’re going to be made out of lightweight materials and probably fire smaller rounds. There’s no doubt that the M14, with its wooden buttstock, heavier machining, and 7.62 ammunition, is a more powerful weapon. But it was those very factors that led to the M16. Some of the same factors that have led to the M8 were responsible for the creation of the M4 carbine variant of the M16.
You can’t have it all. You decide what the most important factors are, design a weapon that meets those requirements, and then do the best you can with the other, less-important factors.
I am one of those who is not sold on the viability of the 5.56 round. This isn’t from personal experience, but is based on many, many comments by our fighting men. The XM8 supporters will quickly point out that their weapon is capable of being upgraded to the 6.8 round, but then so is the M16/M4 weapon. I think the 5.56 vs. 6.8 vs. 7.62 debate is separate from the debate over the need for a new assault rifle. However, I think the debate over the round our boys are going to be throwing at the enemy needs to be resolved before we decide to invest heavily in a new rifle.
A comment made frequently by some military folks and observers is that the XM8 looks like a toy and that it appears to be made of plastic. Well, isn’t that the exact same thing said about the M16 when it was introduced? I don’t know that these arguments really hold any water.
A big advantage that the M8 seems to have over the current weapons is the reliability factor. Many MO readers have pointed out in comments to previous posts that the M16 was touted as extremely reliable when it was introduced, to the point of not issuing cleaning kits with the weapon. The main reason for the overestimation of the M16’s reliability seems to stem from the fact that the M16 was designed for cartridges using the Improved Military Rifle powder (IMR) but ammunition using standard ball-type powder has always been used.
What are the reasons for using the ball powder over the IMR powder? Expense? This is a valid concern when talking about millions upon millions of rounds over decades of use, but the operations and lives of our servicemen are also valid concerns. What would be lost by converting to the IMR powder? Besides increased weapon reliability, would we see any other benefits? Besides cost, would there be any other downside? It seems to me that the increased cost might be worth it, especially since it might be offset so a degree by the savings of not converting the entire US Army to another standard rifle.
(I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’m hoping that MO’s well-informed and experienced readers might be able to shed some light on this.)
Also, word was that two Army brigades were going to be issued the XM8 this year. I’ve been unable to determine which brigades these are and when it might happen. Anyone out there have any info?
(I’m not really interested in any “I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you”-type info, though. It would seriously hurt my posting rate.)
UPDATE: ACE has a great find – In a post about the 101st Airborne he notices that some of the Screaming Eagles appear to be armed with M14s, the pre-M16 7.62mm rifle of the US military.
I noted back in January that at least some of the infantry squads in the Stryker brigade had an M14-armed sharpshooter. This may be more of the same thing in the 101st.
The current situation in Iraq calls for more sniper-like firepower, as opposed to massed bases of fire by automatic weapons to pin down enemy units during a heavy firefight. I find the fact that M14s are showing up in Iraq units very telling.
If units using the M16 and M4 need a guy with an M14, where does that leave units that might switch over to the new XM8? The XM8 in its base configuration has a barrel 2″ shorter than that of the M4. So, despite the fact that shorter barrels are handy in vehicles and in urban settings, there is still enough call for longer barrels to pull M14s out of the warehouse.
Yes, the XM8 does have a 20″ sharpshooter barrel available, but that still leaves the question of the 5.56 round. If the 5.56 round is sufficient, why aren’t they using M16s? The fact that they’ve elected to us the 7.62-firing M14 speaks volumes, I think.
UPDATE 2: I just happened across this pic on army.mil.
The caption IDs the subject as a “sniper” in the 82nd. I’m not sure if the sharpshooters in the Stryker brigade (or the 101st as noted above) have this sort of scope on their weapons, or if this guy might be part of an actual sniper team. It appears to be an M14, but it might also be an M25. Or an M21? Despite all my posts on the XM8, I do not claim to be a gun expert of any kind. Help me out, here. Click on the pic for a very large version.