New firearms are light and deadly
By Justin Willett
Staff Sgt. Jose Rosales knows what it's like to have a rifle jam during a firefight.
During his time in Afghanistan, and most recently in Iraq, it happened many times with his M-4 rifle.
"If you get any dirt or anything in the M-4, it's going to jam on you and cause a misfire, and then the enemy has the advantage," he said Tuesday afternoon at Fort Bragg's Range 44.
Rosales, who is with the 307th Engineer Battalion, was one of dozens of 18th Airborne Corps master gunners getting a chance to test fire the M-4's expected replacement, the XM-8.
Rosales said the XM-8 is lighter, more versatile, more durable and, because it's a "closed system," shouldn't jam like the M-4.
Jose Gordon of Heckler & Koch USA, the gun's maker, demonstrated this last fact when he buried an XM-8 in Fort Bragg's red dust and then fired it.
"It looks like it's from the future, but it's a weapon we're going to need," Rosales said.
"Basically, it's going to save lives because the weapon's not going to misfire and jam on you."
Representatives of Heckler & Koch USA and the Army's Program Executive Office Soldier were at Fort Bragg Tuesday and will return today to give soldiers a chance to fire the XM-8 and an experimental hybrid machine gun and give their feedback.
The representatives have traveled to Fort Stewart, Ga., and Fort Campbell, Ky., to let troops get a feel for the weapons.
Col. Michael J. Smith is the small arms project manager for the Army's Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvior, Va. He said the office, called Team Soldier, is responsible for developing, producing, fielding and sustaining everything that the soldier wears, carries and operates.
Part of its charge is seeing these new weapons into the hands of soldiers.
The XM-8 won rave reviews from the Fort Bragg gunners. In addition to being virtually jam-proof, it has a modular design that allows it to be four guns in one.
With attachments, it can go from a compact rifle with a 9-inch barrel for close combat shooting to a sharpshooter rifle with a 20-inch barrel for 600-meter range.
It costs less than an M-4, is lighter and is capable of firing 20,000 rounds without malfunctions.
The XM-307/312 hybrid machine gun also drew praise.
It has five changeable parts, which allows it to be switched from a 25 mm crew-served machine gun to a .50-caliber machine gun in less than three minutes.
It is meant to replace the M-2 .50-caliber gun, which was first fielded in 1917, and the MK-19 grenade launcher.
Lt. Col. Rob Carpenter, Team Soldier's project manager for crew-served weapons, said the XM-312, which is the .50-caliber machine gun, is about 80 pounds lighter than the M-2. It has virtually no recoil, unlike the M-2.
The XM-307, while also lighter than the weapon it is meant to replace, is being designed to shoot "air burst" ammunition, which will allow soldiers to rain shrapnel on enemy positions.
The new hybrid machine gun could be available as soon as 2006. It would cost about $4,000 more than either the M-2 or the MK-19 but would be lighter and more deadly.
Carpenter said that's the whole point.
"This is the guy you see on TV every night walking through Baghdad," he said of the soldiers the new weapons are intended to help. "We're trying to make him more lethal, the guy who is there every day."