In July 2008, Iraq submitted a slew of official requests to buy over $10 billion worth of American defense equipment, in order to equip its forces with tanks, armored cars, weapons, and even key infrastructure. In December 2008, additional requests reached the formal notification stage, while some of their July 2008 requests have been clarified or modified.
The volume of these announcements, and their content, strongly suggests an Iraqi military that is making significant strides in organization and responsibilities, and is beginning to order the equipment to match. Gen. David Petraeus’ December 2008 presentation in Washington [Transcript | Slideshow] regarding the less recognized aspects of “the surge,” and the current situation in Iraq, would appear to back that up. Time will tell.
One of the requests that was modified by the December announcements was Iraq’s request for LAVs, similar to the amphibious vehicles used by the US Marine Corps…
Beretta U.S.A. Corp. in Accokeek, MD recently received a 3-year, $8.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for 20,000 Beretta 92FS 9mm pistols. Work on this contract will be performed in Accokeek, MD, with an estimated completion date of Oct 20/09. One bid was solicited and one bid was received by TACOM Contracting Center at Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island, IL (W52H09-09-D-0037).
The Beretta 9mm pistols have received extensive criticism since the pistol’s inception in the 1980s. Modern front-line soldiers, who frequently face armed, drug-enhanced opponents in the Middle East and Afghanistan, have re-echoed some of those criticisms. This problem is not exactly unknown in certain American neighborhoods, either. American law enforcement agencies seem to prefer Glock pistols, and many are also moving to heavier rounds; .40 caliber is becoming dominant, and some are even using .45 caliber pistols. Or perhaps the best solution lies in the bullets?
Many of the current conflicts are essentially infantry battles, which makes firepower overmatch a critical goal. Whether fired singly from an M203 rifle mount, used in a remote-control vehicle system like CROWS, or as an infantry platoon’s crew-served heavy weapon, the 40mm grenade brings considerable firepower to the infantry fight. It’s also lethal against unarmored or lightly armored vehicles. Some companies are even offering shotgun-style repeating launchers, like Milkor’s MG-32 – or even weapons that can be fired around corners!
As FY 2008 ticked down to a close, the US military issued over $120 million worth of contracts for its staple 40mm weapon – the Mk19 grenade machine gun. It also got set to begin testing an interesting addition to infantry firepower – a programmable 25mm air bust weapon that offers comparable lethality, but can be carried by a single soldier…
Militaries tend to reflect their national cultures in various ways, and Americans have always been inveterate tinkerers and inventors. It’s a streak that runs deep in the culture, as even a casual glance at America’s late night TV will confirm. Cases in point on the military side of things include the Chavis turret, Hummer mine-rollers, and the door-ripping Rat Claws.
The American political-military-industrial complex has a mixed record when it comes to putting these kinds of innovations in the hands of people on the front lines. On the other hand, the current war has offered an illuminating side by side comparison of the American system vs. other militaries. Despite its size, the American system compares well, thanks in part to agencies like the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force. Another source of encouragement is the Army’s annual “Top 10 inventions” recognition program, which began in 2002.
These programs winners over the past 2 years [2005 | 2006] ranged from modified M113 APCs to wound dressings with built-in blood clotting agents. In June 2008, a new set of winners were announced. Presenting, the US Army’s Top 10 inventions of 2007:
As Iraq’s military gets back to its feet, it has received armored vehicles, up-armored Hummers, and assorted weapons, vehicles, and aircraft. The initial priority on armed combat forces that could be supported by American combat logistics has started to give way to a buildup of Iraq’s own logistics and maintenance capabilities.
On March 21/08, the US DSCA announced a formal request by Iraq’s government for various vehicles, small arms and ammunition, communication equipment, medical equipment, and clothing and individual equipment as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $1.39 billion.
FN Manufacturing Inc. in Columbia, SC received a $7.7 million firm-fixed price contract for 17,433 M249 Short Barrels. Work will be performed in Columbia, SC, and is expected to be complete by Oct 31/08. There was one bid solicited on Sept 24/03, and 1 bid was received. The U.S. Army TACOM LCMC, Rock Island, IL isued the contract (DAAE20-03-C-0100).
The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW, aka. “Minimi”) is a 5.56mm gas-operated, air-cooled, belt or magazine-fed light machine gun used in US Army and Marine Corps squads as a higher volume of fire complement to the M-16 rifle or M4 carbine. It weighs 16.41 pounds and can fire 100 rounds per minute in sustained fire, or 200 rounds at its practical rapid rate. Note that this contrasts with maximum theoretical “cyclic rate” of 650-850 rounds/ minute continuous fire, which is far less accurate and requires barrel replacement once per minute due to heating issues. While most SAW variants will accept M-16 or M4 magazines, the Army Field Manual instructs soldiers to “Use the 20- or 30-round magazine for emergency use only when linked ammunition is not available.” A 200 round drum or less-noisy 100 round soft pouch is frequently used instead, and the weapon is belt-fed [good YouTube video shows loading]. A more compact variant known as the Mk46 is used by Special Forces, and by the US Navy.
The M249 has many positive characteristics, but has been the subject of some complaints from the field…
In the Close Quarters Battle that characterizes urban warfare, jungle warfare, and other “close encounters” terrain, the ability to quickly and accurately point a weapon can determine who lives and who dies. If you’ve ever wondered why many pictures show troops with a little grip handle pointing downward near the front of their rifle, that’s why. On the other hand, there are situations in which accuracy is key. Urban situations with many civilians, for instance, or any other kind of situation that requires marksmanship. Cameras aren’t the only things that shoot better when stabilized, which is why you often see sniper rifles with folding bipods, despite their bulky inconvenience and annoyance factor. Bipods are also attached to light or medium machine guns to give them more stability despite heavy recoil, and deliver accurate fire for effect.
The US Army has run into controversy over its plan to replace its existing rifles with M4 carbines, without competition, and despite recent test results that show significant improvements from other 5.56mm weapons and even an M4 variant in use by US special forces. The US Marines and Navy have been known to use M4s, but it is not their primary battle rifle. The M16A3 is a fully automatic version of the M16A2, and is used by the US Navy. The M16A4 is the standard rifle of the US Marine Corps. Its biggest innovation is replacement of the M-16 family’s the well known carrying handle/sight with the MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail that lets troops mount and remove a carrying handle, sights, and other useful attachments without specialized tools. Other MIL-STD-1913 rails can be found on the front grips et. al. of the A3s and A4s, where they mount useful items like flashlights, laser pointers, grip pods, et. al.
Unlike the M4 Carbine, which is procured as a sole-source item proprietary to Colt, M-16 production is competed. Contracts are issued based on bid prices from qualifying vendors, with better pricing resulting in proportionately more contracts. This kind of competition may also be part of the reason that the longer, heavier replacement barrels for the M16 cost $100, while spare M4 carbine barrels cost $240.
In July 2006, “The 2006 Saudi Shopping Spree: A Hardened, Networked National Guard” explained the SANG’s importance within the Saudi political structure, and covered a $5.8 billion request for LAVs wheeled armored personnel carriers, weapons, and C4ISR equipment to modernize that force. That official DSCA request has yet to be followed by a contract; when we talked to GDLS in October 2007, they said that negotiations were underway, and that they expect to complete a deal some time in 2008.
In the meantime, a second request for LAVs, Hummers, trucks, and weapons has been submitted. At $600+ million, the October 2007 request on behalf of the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation is comparatively small. Barring some unforseen Congressional resolution within 30 days, the clock can begin ticking on negotiations for a second set of LAVs and related equipment for different branch of the Saudi armed forces.
In September 2006, “Up to $750M in Weapons & Support for Iraq” described Iraq’s order for a number of American small arms, as well as helicopters and blast resistant vehicles. About a year later, we have a follow-on order that extends a number of the trends that request started. While the temptation exists to focus on the helicopters, blast-resistant vehicles, small arms, et. al., that would be a mistake. This is an extremely important contract for Iraq’s armed forces, and none of those systems are the reason why.
On Sept 25/07, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF format] Iraq’s formal request for vehicles, small arms, ammunition, explosives, and communications equipment as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $2.257 billion. The request includes: