In 2008 Afghanistan firefight, US weapons failed - Yahoo! News
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There are many posts about this story on blogs and Internet news websites. The M-4 is a basically a shortened version of the M-16A2 with a collapsable stock. Many gun writers and bloggers hold the 5.56mm round in disdain for is lack of stopping power. The criticism isn't new, it has existed since the Vietnam War when the M-16 debuted. The original M-16 was also maligned for stoppages and malfunctions. The official Army response was the soldiers weren't properly cleaning the weapon. Eventually modifications would result in the fielding of the M-16A2 in the 1980's. Unfortunately, these modifications addressed the issues encountered in the jungles of Vietnam. The improvements were further compromised, in my opinion, when the Army tried to make the 5.56mm into an armor piercing round. The M855 green tip rounds were developed to defeat Soviet body armor and became standard issue in combat zones. The problem was US forces were sent to the desert with a fine sand akin to talcum powder. These sand would work into M-16s and cause the metals to seize. In Somalia and Haiti, soldiers weren't firing at Soviet heavily armored troops at long range but rather light clothed insurgents in short, urban encounters. The M855 rounds simply did not produce enough shock to stop an insurgent with a single shot. The insurgents would take several hits before they were unable to return fire. From accounts in Mogadishu during 1993, the M9 pistol had better stopping power at the short ranges in Somalia. Now 16 years later, we are still seeing the same problems. Our soldiers and Marines are not armed with reliable firepower that will stop enemy soldiers. Senior leaders are unconvinced of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I'd heard, but have not been able to substantiate, that back in 2004 the US Marines were refurbishing 1911-A1s because of the superior stopping power of a .45acp loaded with a 230gr FMJ compared to the 9mm when loaded with a 115gr FMJ. As neither round expands, it comes down to the .45 punching a bigger hole in the enemy. There has been studies looking at upgrading soldiers and Marines to a larger caliber round of 6mm. The higher ups are convinced this is unnecessary and merely better shot placement will obfuscate the need for a larger caliber round. Ever try to shoot with someone shooting back at you? Forget the movies and TV, adrenaline courses through your system and only the most highly trained military personnel can maintain the fine motor skills to make accurate shots. The rest need every advantage they can get. A Vietnam vet I knew said his favorite weapon to break up an ambush was a Browning 12 gauge. The shotgun's superior stopping power at close range made it a logical choice.
The fascination with keeping with the 5.56mm round seems more based on the ease of training someone to shoot it well versus actual combat experience. The changes in physical education in high schools meant the military have to deal with recruits who may lack the physical strength to carry heavier weapons. Females physical fitness standards are lower than males but they still need to be armed. Therefore, the 5.56mm affords the lowest common denominator in a round that can be chambered in a light, easy to handle weapon easy for men and women to qualify in. Police have followed the same line of reasoning for some time, hence the abandonment in part of the proven .357 magnum in favor of 9mm or .40s&w. If the only consideration was switching from revolvers to automatics, why was the 10mm (which has identical ballistics to the .357 or even .41 magnums) not the de-facto standard? The 10mm is a powerful round but is no more difficult to master than a large framed .357. The problem was fewer officers would be able to qualify with the 10mm so departments opted for the 9mm. The trade-off of course is a less powerful round striking the target. There is an alarming report out of Pennsylvania with a police officer shooting a suspect 22 times (center mass) with a .40s&w before the assailant finally died. While certainly atypical, it shows that even with a powerful round like a .40s&w a determined assailant can take multiple hits. Therefore, arming our soldiers and police with smaller, lighter bullets seems dangerous and irresponsible.