When I encounter a weird story that might be an interesting core for some bloggy ruminations, I usually email it to myself. Email is my “post it note” and it’s been a great technique since I keep a complete archive of my emails going back to the 80s. The problem is that I have an in-box that consists mostly of weird messages from myself (2000+ at present).
Some mornings I think, “now, what the hell?” and all I see is horror and evil. This morning, it’s surrealism. Sure, I could go back in my mind and pull out the framework of the piece I’ve been mentally writing for 2 years, about the CIA torture program, but do you really want to hear about that? It’s over, right? We tortured some folks but now we’re good guys again and it’s time to move on.
There’s some embedded hero of the resistance, I have concluded, who has decided to join the anti-imperialist effort by doing their best to make the US military ineffective and over-priced. I imagine they’re about my age, so they’re in some senior position in the procurement system. They probably helped promote the F-35, and they helped promote the need for this thing:
I thought it was a joke. Like the meme of the American gun-nut mall ninja with the over-accessorized junk – a weapon that is safe and friendly because it’s unusable.
But, that thing is apparently real and they’re apparently threatening to issue those to actual soldiers, to make their lives miserable. I am going to try to explain the inexplicable: that’s a shotgun attachment for a battle-rifle. You’ll note the rifle has a short-range ‘scope on it, so it’s more accurate at ranges around 150-250 meters, which is 2-5 times a shotgun’s effective range. So, the first thing is that the scope is useless if you’re using the thing as a shotgun. But that’s only the beginning. Note the protruding magazine, which is large because 12-ga shot-shells are much larger than the little pissant .22+ rounds the M-16 line fire. The poor infantry soldier is expected to normally shoot the rifle using the upper set of controls, but when they are using the shotgun thingie they are supposed to somehow effectively use the bottom set of controls. And while they are running through tall bush and throwing themselves prone on foreign soil, they need to be careful not to hit the bottom of that great big magazine and break it or otherwise jam the shit out of it. It’s absurd but it could be worse: they could have made the magazine for the shotgun go horizontal, like a British WWII Sten, which was actually a pretty good design if you were a gunsmith who had formerly moonlighted as a plumber, and drank too much of the British empire’s fine alcoholic beverages. But this “combat shotgun attachment” is more like something out of a bad heroin nightmare; someone ate a whole bag of nacho cheese flavored Doritos while they were high as a kite and they cooked this monstrousity up while they were waking up in the bottom of their shower.
The American military’s love of shotguns is problematic; Browning invented a very nice pump-action shotgun in the 1890s, and it has been pretty much the design for non-entertainment shotguns ever since. (“entertainment shotguns” being the break-open sort that are specific for sporting clays or slaughtering birds that are being released from cages – aka “Lawyer guns” if you’re Dick Cheney) The original Browning design was evolved, by Browning, to a gas-operated design that was basically a semi-automatic “street sweeper” just in time for WWI. American troops called it a “trench gun” and it was popular in that role, to the point that the Germans got combat shotguns on the banned weapons-list when the Geneva Conventions were drawn up. Sore-heads, the mighty Germans were, in those days, before Hitler came and made Germany great again. So, the US did what the US always does with banned weapons: used them anyway, but was sneaky-ish about it. I’ll note that the ironic reason the Germans gave for why combat shotguns were bad is because they are “indiscriminate” – this, during a war that was notable for its massive bombardments of precision artillery that hammered whole parts of Flanders into pin-point craters adorning a sea of explosive-churned mud. In an environment like Ypres, combat shotguns were, indeed, inhumane.
The M-26, above, represents a quintessential something about American strategy: it’s a weapon for close-in long-range combat. Romans could, and did carry the gladius for close-in nasty, and the pilum for long-ish nasty. But one characteristic of the Roman military was that it was generally vastly more competent than its opponents: they were smart enough to march to where the fighting was going to be (usually a time and place of their choosing) then put down all the crap they were carrying and rest their feet a bit before battle. American soldiers are more inclined to ride a helicopter into the forward edge of the battle area, then stagger off the ‘copter carrying a month’s supplies and a Playstation 5 with a generator for it, a mini-gun, and canned food. The M-26 is for soldiers that are going into a battle in which they have no idea what they’re going to be doing: house-to-house combat or hunkering down in a fire-base defending an opium field. For close-in combat, the shotgun is admittedly great – but, not that thing. Imagine reacting effectively to a suddenly appearing enemy, with that thing. It has two sets of controls. Basically, it’s two guns, with the bottom one attached like some kind of parasitic gun-leech onto the top one. Don’t believe me? Look closely: the shotgun hasn’t got a bolt or discernable cocking mechanism. How does it work? Close inspection indicates that the AR-15 on top has been modified so the gas tube, which is normally on the top on M-16s, is on the bottom and the M-26 is patched into the gas tube inline, like some kind of … gas leech. If you slam that thing into a rock really hard, you may be able to not only break the M-26, you may be able to render your M-1 (that’s what an M-16 is called now, the army ran out of ‘6’es during one of the Gulf Wars) manual-cycle only. Manual cycle on an M-1 or M-16 means pulling back that little ear-like thing at the back of the receiver, right above the top of the stock, where your face should be when you’re shooting. I don’t have any information about it, but I’d predict that the addition of the M-26 not only makes the top rifle heavier and harder to fire accurately, it makes it less reliable, as well.
If you’re perceptive and you really could bear to look at that thing, you may have also noticed that the M-26 attachment is canted upward at a slight angle, so its firing-point converges with the ‘scope’s line of sight at some mysterious point downrange. To me, it looks like it’s about 20 feet, or a couple of freedom units or whatever the French call them. Also “point blank range” – any soldier who needs to aim at that distance needs to find another job that does not involve carrying or using rifles or shotguns.
You’re probably wondering, “but, doesn’t that save a lot of money? The M-26 doesn’t need a stock, which is a heavy piece of plastic that probably costs $100 or something like that.” But if you were wondering that, you’re naive. The M-26 costs $1,600 to the federal government, which is $300 less than the civilian cost of a Benelli M4 tactical 12-ga, which is a ruthlessly practical, rugged, ugly, piece of killing machinery. We can’t give Benellis to soldiers, though, because they don’t know in advance if they will be going “house-to-house” or cowering in a hole spraying fire at women and children hundreds of yards away. By the way “house-to-house” in the new American way of war consists of calling in air strikes and then walking over the rubble once it has cooled, trying to figure out by their outlines where the houses were. The Romans (or Napoleon’s army) would have solved this problem by having designated shotgunners, and designated rifle-men and they’d each engage with the enemy in their own peculiar manner. In fact, Napoleon’s army did – they were called “voltigeurs” or, in the US Civil War army, Sharps shooters (named for the Sharps .50 which could actually hit things at a distance) and they were as effective as all get-out. As Horatio Nelson and Edward Braddock and many others, none of whom were killed with Swiss Army 25-bladed firearm-thingies.
As Quentin Crisp said, “what separates Man from the lower orders is our ability to accessorize” and the US military would put a bunch of drag queens to shame. (I am complimenting draq queens, in case you didn’t catch that) Back in the Department of Researching Useless Military Stuff (DRUMS) the poor infantryman has another thing coming:
[the drive] Yeah, that’s the IVAS augmented reality helmet. And, you can tell how well it works because the machine-gunner is still pretending to use the gun’s built-on sight because apparently the helmet doesn’t just put the cross-hairs on the target automatically. Not to mention: proper machine-gunners (I lugged an M-60 for 2 years of reserve duty; I’ll let you decide if that qualifies me as a proper machine-gunner or not. I did kill a bug with mine once, by hitting a large cockroach with the butt) don’t lie in the field wearing white plastic sniper-bait on their heads. If those helmets are infrared night-vision, too, then they probably light up like a roman candle, if you’re watching them from a distance also wearing night-vision.
The IVAS is the same sort of augmented reality stuff as Magic Leap glasses, which kind of worked, had some pretty meh games, absorbed a massive amount of R&D money, and had batteries that held up for several minutes of game-play.
The U.S. Army recently awarded a massive contract, which could ultimately be worth close to $22 billion over the next decade, to Microsoft for the production of new augmented reality vision systems. These helmet-mounted systems feature advanced sensor fusion capabilities, similar to those found on the latest generations of night vision and other image-enhancing optics. In addition, they will have the ability to project a wide array of data piped in from various sources, including off-board platforms, providing improved situational awareness and other potentially game-changing benefits to troops in the field.
The Army announced the deal for production of what it calls the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) on March 31, 2021, but said that it had actually been signed five days earlier. The contract includes “a five year Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ)-like ordering period” and “five one-year options for CLS [contractor logistics support],” with “a potential agreement ceiling of $21.88B,” the service told Breaking Defense.
I am literally incapable of refraining from this:
(Soldier in the field) “Hey sarge!? Sarge!?”
(Sergeant) “What’s up?”
(Soldier in the field) “My eyes are rebooting. It says it’s installing a Windows 10 update.”
(Sergeant) “Well, take the fucking goggles off!”
(Soldier in the field) “But I’ve forgotten how to, you know, look at stuff.”
This is the high-tech military that has indicated over and over that it is incapable of building a system that 14 year-old hackers can be kept out of. Nobody in their right mind is going to put that on their head and sashay into battle.
Joking aside, I know these things will have their moments of usefulness. I know, because I used to make fun of people who carried Swiss Army knives, until Leatherman tools came along. That was back in the day when I carried a shoulder-bag (an old Swiss army gas mask bag I dyed black) that was a mini toolkit containing multiple screwdrivers, vice grips, socket set, hacksaw blade holder with half a blade, glass cutter, lockpicks, etc. I could not just fix a bicycle, I could build one, if you spotted me the frame and rims. Meanwhile, try assembling 20 servers into racks with a Leatherman instead of a cordless screwdriver and a magnetic extension driver. So let me predict what will happen: did you notice the amount? (“worth close to $22 billion over the next decade”) That’s a payoff to Microsoft to stop them litigating that they lost the cloud services contract to Amazon. Once that money’s been spent, the helmets will wind up in a tech recycling lot and the components (which have to be: a PC, since it’s Microsoft) will wind up on Ebay for the endless delight of hobbyists. I just hope soldiers start calling it the “Head-mounted F-35”
Meanwhile, let’s go back to ignoring the fact that the US has lost every insurgency it has ever engaged in, except the first one where we were the insurgents. The problem is not a technical problem, people, it’s a strategic problem.
You know why special forces are so effective? They don’t have to carry all that shit.