This article is a direct rebuttal to one recently penned by Tim Kirkpatrick of “We Are The Mighty”, and re-circulated by Business Insider. The article naively provided the reader with 4 reasons why the United States Marine Corps has no need for fully automatic weapons – an asinine assessment of the needs of an infantry squad in modern combat. Ever since July 1st, 1916 in the Somme when 21,000 British troops would be cut down by German Spandau machine guns, the automatic weapon has found itself a place amongst infantry formations all over the world. Here, I will give you four reasons why they’re still needed.
1. Machine guns utilize a larger cartridge than the battle rifles carried by the infantry in combat. In some cases, much larger. This provides the infantry squad with the ability to disable vehicles, penetrate most forms of cover used by an enemy, and engage targets at a much further range. The maximum effective range of an M4 is considered to be 600 meters -1/3 that of an M240B, which is capable of delivering withering fire on enemy formations out to 1,800 meters. Nothing makes a machine gunner happier than hearing “Troops in the open”, right before making the green grass grow. The idea that the machine gun lowers accuracy – another reason given by Tim Kirkpatrick – is completely unfounded in modern combat.
2. Machine guns are capable of firing for longer periods of time without experiencing a malfunction. I know, I know.. If you’ve ever been a SAW gunner, you’ve most likely had a link stuck inside the weapon, requiring a bit of maintenance before being able to resume firing. However, for the most part, a well-maintained machine gun will last through even the longest engagements without having to be disassembled. One point brought up in the previously mentioned article was that the gunner had to perform barrel changes – that’s not a negative, that’s a positive. The ability to perform barrel changes is one reason machine guns are still relevant today. The practice of barrel changes lengthens the lifetime of the barrel and quickly puts the weapon system back in the fight. Otherwise, the machine gun would rely on an antiquated cooling system such as a water-cooled barrel – and don’t get me started on how heavy THAT cooling system would be. The ability to change barrels on a machine gun allows the weapon system to be relatively lightweight and mobile when compared to antiquated machine guns.
3. Our rivals still use machine guns and are constantly designing new ones. For example, the Russian military has the new RPK-16 light machine gun, which takes standard 5.45 magazines or a 95-round drum magazine, as well as improvements made to the AEK-999, which is capable of firing for longer periods of time (a standard requirement for a machine gun), and do so while reliably suppressed. However, this isn’t just the case of “Our enemy has them, we should have them, too!” No infantryman wants to be in a formation under machine-gun fire, without having the capability of returning fire and achieving fire superiority – particularly if the enemy’s machine gun is located further than the infantry’s rifles are able to engage a target.
4. The After Action Review following the Battle of Mogadishu in Oct. 1993 still verified that the 7.62×51 machine gun is still the infantry platoon’s “most casualty producing weapon.” This is very much due to almost every “reason” why the erroneous article published by We Are The Mighty is incorrect. Of course, infantrymen can get “Trigger Happy”, as the article stated. The entire point of the machine gun is to fire a high volume of rounds at the enemy in a short period of time. It was practically made for people who are trigger happy, which is why the minimum combat load is 1,200 rounds.
In closing, the nature of the infantry requires automatic weapons, especially the machine gun. They are still required to close with and destroy the enemy by means of fire and maneuver. Someone much wiser than I once told me, “If you’re firing without maneuver, you’re wasting ammunition. If you’re maneuvering without fire, you’re committing suicide.” The machine gun provides the infantryman with the capability to maintain continuous, withering fire on the enemy while his friends close the distance and fix bayonets.
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