Pondering my AR builds, both extant and forthcoming, as well as modern combat trends has given me some ideas on how one ought to kit out an infantry force. A couple of them aren’t very revolutionary, and one is pretty different. We’ll start with the least controversial, and go on towards things that will require a bit more arguing.
Premise 1: Issue body armor all around.
This one’s a pretty easy sell. Frontline troops have been widely issued body armor since (at least) the Vietnam war. That body armor was a flak jacket, which is designed to provide protection from fragmentation weapons. Body armor saves lives, and that protects the investment in soldier training, plus looks better to the civilians at home. The trick with body armor is to balance weight and protection, which will be the focus of another article. It’s important to not forget to include load bearing equipment in the body armor system. The vest should be designed to distribute the weight of the armor already, and PALS webbing (or similar) saves having to deal with yet another wearable. This is not only awkward, but it makes it harder for medics to get to an injured soldier to provide care.
Premise 2: Every longarm should have an optic
Once again, this one’s pretty simple. Optics are way better than iron sights. The trick has always been getting them rugged enough and cheap enough to issue generally, and we’ve been nailing that since the 90s (maybe earlier). With modular picatinny rail mounts, we needn’t specify which optic to the weapon designer. There are a lot of options here, and we’ll have a future article devoted to the choice. In brief though, there’s the red dot optic, the low-magnification, fixed-power scope, and the low magnification, variable-power scope. Magnification gives the ability to identify targets at range if they’re hiding (maybe insurgents in a crowd, or maybe soldiers in the brush), but the dot is simpler and faster to use. A well designed low power variable scope gives the best of both worlds, but the variable power adds weight and complexity, and they’re not as rugged.
Premise 3: Pistols suck. Therefore, issue carbines
This one’s pretty easy to argue. Happily, it also hurts the feelings of idiots. But a carbine is a much more lethal weapon than a pistol. It shoots a more powerful round, holds more ammo, and is easier to shoot well. Carbines rock. Issuing carbines generally to officers has the fringe benefit of making them stand out less in a sniper’s scope. Pistols are historically a badge of authority. Or, a ‘Shoot Me’ indicator, depending on which side of the scope you are. So there’s a benefit there. The issue, of course, is that carbines are bigger and heavier than pistols. In a highly mechanized force though, this isn’t a huge problem since one’s base vehicle can carry that carbine backup weapon. Even light infantry type forces can go this route: the US Marines issue M4s to just about everybody. Even officers as high as Lieutenant Colonel get M4s. We should follow suit. About the only role I can think of that can’t is fighter pilots. Maybe if I break the weapon down I can get it into a survival kit.
Premise 4: Every carbine, rifle, and man-portable machine gun should have a suppressor
Okay, here’s the one that’s a little out there, mostly because I no longer have a real world force to lean on. SOCOM does this, but they’re all special forces guys. So why would we do it generally? Like optics in the 90s, we’ve got suppressors that are mature enough to minimize the disadvantages. Modern suppressors are reasonably lightweight and quite durable. The Surefire SOCOM RC2 (5.56) suppressors, for example, weigh just over a pound and the Surefire SOCOM-556MG suppressors weigh just under a pound and a half. Great! But, as well-educated firearms enthusiasts, we know that suppressors don’t actually silence firearms like you see in lame action movies. That’s fine. We actually get many benefits from the suppressor anyway, even if it can’t turn a bunch of grunts into ninjas.
The first and most obvious benefit is that a suppressed gun is easier on one’s hearing. This is most noticeable indoors, and is why so many special forces and SWAT guys run suppressors. The suppressor might be thought of as taking the edge off of a gunshot, and this is great if you train a lot indoors, or find yourself indoors. It takes the edge off outside too, which is helpful when you and your buddies are engaging some enemy scumbags. Suppressors also eliminate flash. This brings two more advantages: first, this helps mask a soldier’s position. There’s no big obvious flash to pinpoint his position. Second, in a low-light setting where a soldier might be using night vision equipment, a suppressor prevents flash from washing out the light amplification systems in the goggles. Finally, that ‘taking the edge off’ of the report of weapons also helps obscure the soldier and make his position less obvious in a quick engagement or ambush. It’s not about completely eliminating sound, it’s just about managing it and making it harder to track.
There we go. Four ways to maximize the effectiveness of soldiers. And one of them is even pretty aggressive and forward-looking.
Edit to add: Since it’s come up a few times in the comments, and I’d hate to leave conclusions there to fester, let’s talk prices and make some comparisons. Currently, SOCOM has tested and approved Surefire suppressors for deployment in the field. The MSRP of one of these models is $1,375.00. Let’s look at the MSRP of some other pieces of equipment commonly issued. The USMC’s standard issue optic has been the Trijicon ACOG. The current model of choice is the TA31RCO-A4CP which has an MSRP of $1,724.00. Aimpoint doesn’t list MSRPs on their website, but their Comp M4, used by the US Army, the Norwegian Army, and a whole bunch of others, seems to have an MSRP of about $850.00 or so. Oh, and while not being sold to civilians, the price of one of the super awesome GPNVG-18 Panoramic Night Vision goggle sets used in the Bin Laden raid is about $65,000.00. All prices given in US Dollars and are current to the best of my knowledge as of April 10, 2018.