Since I got some pretty good traction on my rant about the V-22 Osprey boondoggle (and its habit of plummeting from the sky and killing enlisted men) I thought I'd bring you another clipping to file under "Oh Hell Yeah, We Are Supporting the Shit Out of the Troops."
I'm not the kind of person who watches the Military Channel and masturbates to the various gun porn now playing 24-7 on satellite TV, but looking at these issues from a nuts-and-bolts perspective offers an excellent snapshot of how "Support the Troops" means "Support the Military-Industrial Complex" in practice. When the choice comes down to saving the lives of the (poor, rural, or colored) enlisted people or building some $30 billion flying coffin to appease Lockheed Martin, there's really no choice at all. That's why we have 19 year old kids getting shot up in poorly armored, poorly defensible Hummers, body armor that is proven to be far inferior to an alternative product now available, helicopters that fall out of the sky and now rifles that occasionally don't fire.
Part of this stems from the generalized tendency of the military to resist change. It's in the military doctrine to convince themselves that whatever they're using is the best, and therefore replacements are always viewed skeptically. But the recent tests of the M4A1 standard battle rifle shows that the military is also capable of sticking its head in the sand, ignoring empirical data, and disregarding the complaints of men and women who are forced to use a weapon in which they have questionable confidence.
Briefly, the M4A1 is a very old design, modernized over the past three decades but based on the 1960s-vintage M16 design that fared so poorly upon introduction. Essentially the M4 is a carbine (lighter, with a shorter barrel for use in close quarter combat) version of the M16, using the same flawed action and equally difficult to keep clean and prevent jamming. If you're not familiar with the saga of adopting the M16 in Vietnam (it was originally designed as a cheap, plastic rifle for guarding stateside military bases, not for being dragged through swamps) you can get some background here. Let's just say it proved very difficult to keep clean, tended to jam regularly, and did not endear itself to soldiers.
After years of Congressional prodding (led by GOP Senator Tom Coburn) the Army finally conducted an "extreme environment" dust test of its rifle alongside competitors used, or under consideration, in other branches. Not to put too fine a point on it, the M4A1 was the Dennis Kucinich of this competition. Each weapon fired 6000 rounds (cleaning every 1200) in an "extreme dust" environment, like, you know, one finds in Iraq or Afghanistan. For example.
The prototype XM8 jammed 127 times, followed by the Special Forces SCAR (226) and the Marine Hk416 (233). The M4 pulled up the rear – and that's being generous – with 882 jams, nearly 4 times as many as its nearest competitor. To put that in perspective, that is 1 in 68, and a clip holds 30 rounds. So the average soldier can expect his or her rifle to jam and refuse to fire approximately once every two clips. Not to get too heavily into the mechanics of warfare, but…let's just say that one's rifle not firing is a bad thing. Imagine trying to disassemble, clean, and reassemble your toaster while someone is trying to kill you. That'll give you a rough estimate.
Of course the fine folks in command have decided that the tests were bunk, in no way influenced by the new, massive deal signed with manufacturer Colt Firearms. Top buyer General Mark Brown responded to the tests with, "The M4 carbine is a world-class weapon. (Troops) have high confidence in that weapon, and that high confidence level is justified, in our view, as a result of all test data and all investigations we have made."
Huh. That's an interesting interpretation of the test data.
Once again I suppose it's up to Congress to do something, as unlikely as that seems, because the likelihood of the Executive Branch or military-industrial gangbang dealing with an issue by prioritizing lives over lobbyists is statistically equivalent to zero. Why the military seems to believe that "pretty good" is the gold standard, irrespective of the number of superior alternatives, is baffling by any other logic.