Friday, February 29, 2008

An All-Stoner Iraqi Army?*

Apparently so. According to this article, the Iraqi Army plans on phasing out their existing stock of venerable old Kalashnikov-designed AK-47 to the, well, less-old but updated Stoner-designed M-16/M-4.
In a move that could be the most enduring imprint of U.S. influence in the Arab world, American military officials in Baghdad have begun a crash program to outfit the entire Iraqi army with M-16 rifles.

[. . . ]

So far, the U.S. military has helped the Iraqi army purchase 43,000 rifles - a mix of full-stock M-16A2s and compact M-4 carbines. Another 50,000 rifles are currently on order, and the objective is to outfit the entire Iraqi army with 165,000 American rifles in a one-for-one replacement of the AK-47.
Now I must admit that the first thing that jumped out at me in the article was this:
"We in the U.S. know that the M-16 is superior to the AK ... it's more durable," said Army Col. Stephen Scott, who's in charge of helping the Iraqi army get all the equipment it needs to outfit its forces.
Wait, what!?! Well, with regular maintenance it might (and that's a big "might") be a push, but c'mon. It's an AK, which has well over half a century of well-documented legendary resilience in the most deplorable conditions imaginable. However, there's a caveat to Col. Scott's statement, which hopefully will quell the never-ceasing, often-tiresome, and usually-good natured argument over which platform is better:
Scott added the mass of AK-47s from various manufacturers floating through the Iraqi army's inventory could cause maintenance and reliability problems. Getting both U.S. and Iraqi forces on the same page when it comes to basic weaponry is part of the argument for M-16 outfitting.

"I'm also a fan of AKs," Scott said. "But keep in mind most of these AKs have been sitting around in bunkers or whatnot for 30 or 40 years [and] are in various stages of disrepair."
OK, so it won't quell the arguments, but if it's true that the AK's the IA has now are falling apart (and a lack of maintenance and/or years of use/abuse will do that to any machine) then yeah, there's a need to replace exisiting arms. Why the M-16/M-4 family, though? First the positives, at least as I see them.

For starters, the M-16/M-4 is certainly more accurate than the AK-47 family; I've never talked with anyone who seriously disputes that. For the IA trainers on the ground, be they SF, Regular Army/Marine personnel, or civilian contractors, the task of training the IA is made much easier by having a universal platform with which the trainers are intimately familiar. For U.S. troops, knowing that the "good" Iraqis are the ones with M-16's will hopefully make friendly-fire incidents easier to avoid. . . at least until some of the new weapons fall into insurgent hands. Ideally, and this is touched upon in the original article, we or the IA will be able to trace any M-16's that fall into insurgent hands back to the units to which they were issued via serial numbers or other identifying marks. Additionally, and these points may be a bit niggling, the M-16 is lighter, easier to reconfigure for mission-specific roles, has less felt-recoil and better ergonomics (easier to shoot well), and, as mentioned above, uses the same ammunition and (obviously) parts that are already in the U.S. supply chain.

A further point, as Grim over at BLACKFIVE points out, is that this further cements a still newly-born modern Iraq with the west, at least as far as military-industrial supply chains and politics go:
Envision an army trained by the United States, with extensive counterinsurgency experience, an internal structure increasingly in line with the NATO standard (cf. the new NCO academy) -- an Arab, Muslim army that integrates Sunnis and Shi'ites in cooperation toward a goal of a modern state open to peaceful trade and prosperity. Now imagine this army in a future world with a happier Iraq, and no longer needing such large force numbers internally. Now imagine that army can tie into NATO supply chains, and partially deploy in support of future Coalitions dealing with further COIN operations -- an army that, like the army of El Salvador, remembers kindly American sacrifices that brought its people out of tyranny and chaos.

We've talked a lot about what future challenges face the world. Imagine what that army would be worth, in a decade or two. What investment would be worth having that army, that ally?
I admit I'm not too sure about such optimism; after all, I'm negative by nature. But hey, a future Iraqi army, well-trained and equipped by us, going on to help other oppressed peoples at least sounds good.

So that's the good; what about the bad things regarding the replacement of all IA AK's with M-16's or M-4's? There's the weapon itself; it's just not as well-designed from a reliability standpoint as the Kalashnikov family of weapons. Yeah, it's all that great stuff I mentioned above, but unless the troops are very well-disciplined regarding weapons maintenance, those slick new M-16's are going to crap out in a hurry in a small-parts-hostile environment such as Iraq. U.S. troops have to clean their weapons at least daily; after all, not having a working gun in a free-fire zone would really, really suck. Will the Iraqi Army be as diligent? I grant that this is a training issue; hopefully with the right kind of basic and refresher training, such problems can be alleviated, especially if the eventual withdrawal of U.S. personnel involves transitioning the IA into all Counter-Insurgency roles with embedded U.S. personnel advising IA units.

Then there's the much-derided cartridge/caliber of the M-16/M-4/AR-15 family: 5.56MM NATO. Yes, it's flat-shooting. Yes, it has a higher velocity than the AK-47's 7.62x39MM. Yes, it's an inherently more accurate cartridge than the 7.62x39. Yes, it has better range than the 7.62x39. Yes, under optimal conditions and good shot placement, it can instantly incapacitate or kill. . . though at shorter ranges the 7.62x39 has more inherent stopping power.** But is a 1/2 MOA difference in accuracy really worth the decrease in familiarity, the cost of procurement, decrease in reliability, and shorter-range stopping power?

And why the M-16, with it's rather notorious operating system? Why not use something along the lines of HK416 or any of the other piston-driven M16 derivatives that use the same magazines and most of the parts of the M-16? After all, if we ignore the ammunition issue for the moment, why not use an M-16 derivative that uses an operating system that plays a huge role in the AK's afore, and oft-mentioned reliability?

Well, the SECOND thing that jumped out at me in the article was something that wasn't there: who exactly is going to benefit from this armament transition? Well, considering Colt and FN make the majority of U.S. military small arms, I'd say Colt and FN. Especially in light of what Confederate Yankee found regarding Colt and The Hill:
Colt had relied on a series of lobbyists in Washington, but now [Colt President] Keys, a decorated veteran who played an important role in the 1991 Gulf War, has taken on more of those responsibilities himself.

"I knew a lot of guys up on the Hill," he said, referring to Congress. Among those is Rep. John Murtha, the powerful Pennsylvanian who is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee.

Keys' uncle, Thomas Morgan, also represented western Pennsylvania in the House and served as mentor to Murtha when he first arrived in Congress in 1974.

"You couldn't have a better guy than him, with his experience," Murtha said of Keys. "When he tells you something, you can take it to the bank. No matter how good a lobbyist is, talking to the president of the company means more."

Oh, well, that's great. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for American businesses making money, but how much of the Iraqi Army decision was swayed by the U.S. Government and how much was the U.S. Government swayed by lobbyists? As Confederate Yankee says, it's not a smoking gun, but it's certainly something to ponder.

I'll adjust my tinfoil hat a bit here, but speaking of large government contracts and the Iraqi's switching out their small arms, what about SAW's and crew-served weapons? Are we going to be replacing all those RPK and PK machine guns as well? I wonder if FNH-USA is about to get a large order for M-249's and M-240's. Again, something to think about.

So, is the Iraqi Army getting the best tool for the job and are we getting our money's worth? Only time will tell; but I can't help but get a sour taste in my mouth.

*No, I couldn't resist the horrible pun. I can't help it.
**I'm speaking of mil-spec, full metal jacket ammunition of course; the hollow-points et al. available to civilians in the U.S. is another matter entirely.

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