Just got off the road. Sorry, for technical reasons, no pict-o-graphic travelogue this time. Just a couple of observations.
One thing that continually chaps my ass is Uncle Sam's insistence that when traveling, you only get 75% of your per diem on travel days. Now, this makes sense if you're driving to a conference 138 miles up the road. But if you're travel requires a dedicated day and the inclusion of planes, trains, and automobiles, you're screwed. So, the day I'm pulling down only 75% of what the Army says I need in order to feed myself, I either pay airport extortionist prices or opt for no chow. Great. Yuh, it's not like I'm breaking the bank if I get a personal (cardboard tasting) pizza and a coke for $16, it's just the cognitive dissonance built into the system that makes me nuts.
Anyway, enough sniveling.
On this last trip, I was reminded of this article from SSG Wall in the Small Wars Journal. It's a great look at training requirements for the production of a real shooter, vice a soldier who has been trained to the minimum standard, and is therefor vulnerable to the vagaries of the long-shot engagements that are prevalent in Afghanistan. One thing the article doesn't cover, though, is the fact that the little .223 varmint round we use is going to be a limiting factor on long range engagements regardless of the training and proficiency of the shooter. I hear the SCAR rifle from FN has 7.62 variants for the average rifleman, which would greatly increase the efficacy of long range engagements.
But above and beyond training shortcomings for individual riflemen in Afghanistan faced with long range engagements, how about training shortcomings for the M2? The M2 training troops get now is weak, to say the least. The "Ma Duece" .50 calibre machine gun is arguably the best crew-served weapon ever fielded by our or any other army. Since it went into production in 1932, no significant design changes in the gun have been introduced. It's kind of like the Great White shark: why evolve if you're badass enough? However, the training and range work paradigm for the M2 sucks. The outstanding advantage it gives our troops in long range engagements is attenuated by the crap training we give M2 gunners (I won't go into detail here; take my word for it. If you disagree, let me know and I'll disabuse you of any notion that we spend the appropriate amount of time and effort training our M2 gunners).
Also, though, we've kinda sorta ignored improving optics that will maximize the effects this great weapon system generates. Different story for tankers and aviators, but infantryman (and those using the M2 for ground combat, like loggies in a convoy) fire the M2 using iron sights, thusly
For limited visibility engagements, the AN/TVS-5 is used
The M2 is a remarkably accurate weapon. Max effective range (the range at which the average well-trained gunner will hit the target 50% of the time) is 1800 meters, which is just over tracer burn-out. However, max range (the distance the round will travel with lethal effects) is a whopping 4.2 miles. So, do you think ergonomic optics would be a bonus in the long-range engagements of Afghanistan?
When using the iron sights, the gunner lines up the target, guesstimates the range, and depresses the butterfly trigger with his thumbs. He uses the tracer and the impact splash signature to figure out his round strike, and then walks it in from there. At night, he uses the AN/TVS-5 night scope, but the scope 1) suffers a "white out" effect due to the gun's prodigious muzzle flash and 2) knocks the snot out of the gunner, not quite leaving him with a blackened eye, but close.
So, I can guarantee that wherever we're using it, the capabilities of this magnificent weapon are not being leveraged for Joe. On the Mungadai, both Max Lumber and 19 Kilo Joe were M2 black belts, able to hit whatever they could see. But that was due to experience, talent, and determination--not to any range work the Army provided for them.
And, whatever shortcomings with regard to optics the M2 has, I'm more than sure that the Mark 19 has the same issues. Note that the young Marine gunner has a big ass white light attached to the weapon system so that he can shoot over iron sights at night. C'mon, we can do better.
On the topic of doing better, I ran into this article (sorry, I should give some attribution to whomever first linked to it, but I was a wee bit inebriated last night and have no idea) debunking firearms myths. Well worth a read. The only thing I would add to it is that weapons proficiency is a perishable skill. As great a gunfighter as you may have been at some point, if you're not on the range every day, you're not a great shooter. Period.
There are a bunch of bad habits which seem natural when one picks up a weapon that one needs to unlearn to be a decent shooter (let alone gunfighter). James Rummel points out one: the languid lean. I agree with everything he says--per usual--but would add that the same phenomenon is prevalent amongst fistfighters, too. Most boxers or strike-based martial artists will have to fight the inclination to lean so that the shoulders are behind the hips. Most MMA guys will fire off their punches from an upright position, most boxers (with their fists festooned with tape, padding and leather) take care to put their shoulders well forward of the hips. But the natural inclination of the novice fighter is to lean back, away from the bad man trying to punch one in the face.