In Iraq, a Soldier's personal weapon is a status symbol. Officers and senior NCOs, for example, generally walk around the Forward Operating Base (FOB) with their Beretta 92F pistols. However, the true status symbol on any FOB is the M-4 carbine, the shortened version of the M-16 rifle, which is the weapon of choice for sweeping through urban environments, particularly while wearing body armor. Only the true "door-kickers" get the privilege of carrying the M-4 around the FOB; and for that reason, FOBbits will stab each other in the back just to get one. Bonus points if it has an ACOG sight. After all, not only does the M-4 look cool, but it's a lot easier to carry through the line in the dining facility.
But while the M-4 is great for close-combat urban fighting, firing from the pilot's seat of an OH-58D, and for "Geardos", it has some disadvantages in Afghanistan, where mountain firefights often take place at ranges over 300 meters. According to an influential paper written by Major Thomas Ehrhart, an infantry officer attending the US Army's School of Advanced Military Studies:
In conventional offensive infantry combat, the enemy is located and the elements of combat power are used to kill him, destroy his equipment or force his withdrawal. The enemy in Afghanistan blends into the environment, travels light and fast, and normally controls the high ground. The modern infantryman is burdened with heavy equipment to include weapons, communications gear, and protective armor. Additionally, he is not conditioned, acclimatized, or trained for operations at altitude and his performance in this terrain is reduced. Consequently, once the enemy is located it is difficult to maneuver against him.Major Ehrhart recommends an "arms room" concept, where weapons can be customized with optics, buttstocks and barrels to accommodate the operating environment. He also recommends improving marksmanship training, little changed since the 1960s, when American troops were training to engage Soviet Forces in the Fulda Gap. Still others recommend upgrading to more accurate rifles, such as the HK 416, which jam less frequently, and are more easily customizable.
Combat in Afghanistan has shown several trends. The enemy takes advantage of the terrain and engages patrols or convoys from high ground. He also combines this advantage with heavy weapons systems and mortars from a distance, typically beyond 300 meters. From the infantryman’s perspective, he attempts to fix the enemy, since his equipment limits his ability to maneuver, and attempts to kill the enemy through close air support (CAS), close combat attack, (CCA) or indirect fire. The infantryman’s ability to fix or kill the enemy with organic weapon systems at distances beyond 200 meters is limited by his equipment and training. The incapacitation mechanism of small caliber bullets, such as the 5.56-mm, comes primarily from bullet fragmentation.
Bullet fragmentation occurs only at a sufficiently high velocity. All 5.56-mm weapons are most effective when employed within 200 meters due to velocity limitations. Once contact is made, the fight is limited to machine gunners, mortars and designated marksmen. In the table of organization for a light infantry company only the six –M240B 7.62-mm machineguns, two- 60-mm mortars and nine designated marksman armed with either 7.62-mm M14 rifles or accurized 5.56-mm M16A4’s rifles are able to effectively engage the enemy. These weapons systems represent 19 percent of the company’s firepower. This means that 81 percent of the company has little effect on the fight.
Focus: Do you love or hate your rifle?