Army takes HK416s from special unit
By Matthew Cox - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 10, 2008 17:04:44 EDT
The Army has stripped the Asymmetric Warfare Group of its weapon of choice — the Heckler & Koch 416 — saying that its mission requires the unique outfit to carry the standard issue M4 carbine.
The decision reverses a policy that allowed the AWG to buy 416s instead of carrying M4s when it was established three years ago to help senior Army leaders find new tactics and technologies to make soldiers more lethal in combat.
Members of the AWG have declined to comment on the issue, but sources in the community told Army Times that the unit fought to keep its several hundred 416s, arguing that they outperform the Army’s M4 and require far less maintenance.
In a response to a March 6 Army Times query, the Army acknowledged initial approval of the AWG’s move to the 416.
“The AWG is empowered to procure, on a limited basis, select non-standard equipment to assist in identifying capability gaps and advise on the development of future requirements. To this end, the Asymmetric Warfare Group did purchase H&K 416 rifles,” said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Martin Downie.
“The AWG also advises units on training, tactics and procedures. In this capacity, the use of the standard issue M4 is required. In support of this mission set, the decision was made to transition to the M4 and the AWG is now turning in its H&K rifles.”
This is the latest round of controversy surrounding the M4 since late November, when the weapon finished last in an Army reliability test against several other carbines.
The M4 suffered more stoppages than the combined number of jams by the three other competitors — the Heckler & Koch XM8, FNH USA’s Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) and the H&K 416.
Army weapons officials agreed to perform the dust test at the request of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in July. Coburn took up the issue following a Feb. 26 Army Times report on moves by elite Army Special Forces units to ditch the M4 in favor of carbines they consider more reliable. Since then, Coburn has questioned the Army’s plans to spend more than $300 million to purchase M4s through fiscal 2009 rather than considering newer and possibly better weapons available on the commercial market.
Army officials have downplayed the test results, maintaining that soldiers using the M4 in combat praised the weapon in a recent study by the Center for Naval Analysis.
But this isn’t the first time the M4’s performance has come under fire.
U.S. Special Operations Command decided nearly four years ago that it wanted a better weapon than the M4. After a competition, it awarded a developmental contract to FN Herstal to develop its new SCAR to replace all of the command’s M4s.
But even prior to USSOCOM’s decision, the Army’s Delta Force replaced its M4s with the H&K 416 in 2004 after tests revealed that its piston operating system reduces malfunctions while increasing the life of parts.
The M4, like its predecessor, the M16, uses a gas tube system, which relies on the gas created when a bullet is fired to cycle the weapon. Weapon experts say the M4’s system of blowing gas directly into the receiver of the weapon spews carbon residue that can lead to fouling and heat that dries up lubrication and causes excessive wear on parts.
The AWG followed Delta’s example when it stood up in March 2005 to advise the Army’s senior leadership on how to identify and counter emerging threats on the battlefield. With Army approval, the unit bought several hundred 416s for its members to carry when they deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots.
Many senior sergeants in the AWG were angered that soldiers in the unit had to turn in their 416s, a process that began last fall, said a U.S. Military officer with knowledge the special operations and AWG communities.
“They were outraged,” he told Army Times. “It’s a reduction in capability. It’s a waste of money that was already spent, and it makes the job more difficult since [the M4] is much more maintenance-intensive.”