Monday, November 23, 2009

M-4 Carbine Updates

According to Army Times's Matt Cox, the US Army is proposing six changes to the M-4 carbine. The most major among the six are a heavier barrel and a piston gas system. As I discussed in my previous articles, M-4's reliability problems comes from chamber heating, leading to failures to extract. These two changes help to mitigate against that problem.

A heavier barrel will increase the heat capacity of the barrel by adding mass, ie, more heat energy is required to raise the temperature by one degree. Therefore, the new M-4 will fire more shots before the chamber heats up to extraction failures.

A piston gas system gives a sharper tap on the bullet case during extraction, compared to the current gas-impingement design. That higher transient force may be enough to overcome the case "sticking" to the heated chamber, further improving reliability.

So these changes are a good fix to the M-4. However, we still have the problem of excessive heating. The fixes only postpones the inevitable. I wish the Army would go to the root of the problem and either 1) slap a cooling fin/heat sink on the barrel nut, or 2) go to a longer barrel (16 - 20 inch) that the 5.56mm round was designed for.

Hat tip: the Firearm Blog.

PS: Added links and tags.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fort Hood and the Second Amendment

I've been reflecting upon the Fort Hood massacre and the Second Amendment. As many of you know by now, military bases, like all federal facilities, are gun-free zones. They strictly regulate personal weapons, and concealed carry is prohibited. Doubtlessly, a soldier with a weapon would have disrupted MAJ Hasan's killings. In general, soldiers allowed to carry personal weapons will make terrorist attacks more difficult [against the military].

At the same time, the military regulation of personal weapons came from past experiences. There are many young, immature, and passionate men in the armed forces, who are very likely to shoot each other in a moment of passion, if they have a gun at hand. The challenge here is to reconcile the needs of force protection against good order and discipline.

It is eminently sensible, then, to allow a limited conceal-carry scheme in our military. Specifically, commanders (O-5 and above) can give their officers and non-commissioned officers license to carry their own weapons in garrison, and perhaps on liberty. Officers and NCOs are [hopefully] more mature than the rank and file. Traditionally, officers have sidearms to enforce discipline, so this policy is a natural continuation. Moreover, officers are to look out for the welfare of their subordinates, making concealed carry a logical extension of that duty. Being at the commander's discretion, this licensing scheme allows commanders to apply their judgement. If a licensed individual is at psychological risk, his commander has the right to revoke the license and place him under observation.

In the field and on deployment, soldiers are issued weapons, so they do not need to carry personal weapons. Personal weapons at war may also complicate the Laws of Warfare.

Of course, today's military, as John T Reed reminds us, is a micro-managing institution that fears the concept of accountability. Even if the generals were willing to delegate such a responsibility, their JAG lawyers will probably talk them out of it. I cannot see us implementing this policy any time soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Afghan Auxiliaries in the Making

Here are two encouraging pieces of news from Afghanistan:

1.) Danger Room reports that the Coalition is paying villagers to maintain militias, somewhat similar in concept to the Sons of Iraq in OIF and the Strategic Hamlet Program of Vietnam. Not everyone is onboard with the idea, of course.

2.) Danger Room also reports that the Coalition will hire some Afghans to man the base security for some FOBs. This one sounds like it came from a Good Idea Fairy, and has the potential to end very badly. On the other hand, this could be the manifestation of a treaty between the base commander and the local chieftain.

These two pieces show that the Coalition is building up security from the local level, arming villagers to defend themselves and paying sub-warlords to maintain their armies. In a previous article I said that the Coalition was failing to learn their lessons from Iraq. That the Coalition is now building up Afghan militias, shows that they are implementing some lessons, at least.

There has been some arguments in the public domain, saying that we need to give money directly to the Afghan provinces, rather than Karzai's central government, following the Afghan election disputes. That's good news, especially since some of the advocates were American political appointees. We are moving strategically away from the Westphalian paradigm by focusing on local, rather than national, governance. However, we can't bypass the Karzai administration completely, as he appointed the governors, who presumably return the favor by tributes and political supports.

In any event, we are taking baby steps to recognize the non-Westphalian realities on the ground, which is that people only have loyalty to their own tribes/villages in Afghanistan. However, we will continue to fail in Afghanistan until all parts of the Coalition comes to accept this paradigm change (yes, I'm looking at you, State Dept.) The German soldier quoted in Nathan Hodges' article clearly needs a paradigm shift as well.