God Is In The Details

For those of you who don’t believe that – as an alternative construction – the devil is in the details:

“Buried deep within the latest news report on the deadly ambush of the 507th Transportation Maintenance Co. in Iraq on March 23, 2003, was a chilling nugget of information. It now appears that the soldiers who were killed or taken prisoner in that now-infamous firefight shared a common misfortune.

Their rifles had all jammed.”

Why did they jam?….

“The probable cause of this widespread weapons failure has been blamed on a government-issued lubricant known as “CLP” that has been provided to many … but not all … U.S. Army soldiers. A number of Army veterans and contractors have denounced CLP as totally ineffective in preventing sand and dust buildup in weapons in Iraq.”

“What is bewildering to veterans such as these is that there is a product that has proven effective in desert combat. MILITEC-1 Synthetic Metal Conditioner, manufactured by the company of the same name, has been approved for Army use and is already widely used by the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI and a host of other federal police agencies. But the Army apparently is still shipping CLP en masse to the troops and has resisted ordering the synthetic lubricant, forcing unit commanders to pay out of their own pockets to acquire it.”

“The problem, Kovacic said, is that the Defense Logistics Agency allegedly refused to ship MILITEC to a number of units heading for combat in Iraq, despite previous approval of the product for Army weapons. “So, if front-line commanders order this product,” he asked, “where does DLA have the authority to stop shipment? It is the brigade commander�s butt in battle and if he wants to use a different lubricant, because the government stuff does not work, he can.”

For want of a nail…

Actually the interesting lessons here are: a) the length of the feedback loop for procurement; and b) the importance of the smallest things.

Some of my shooting friends and I sent weapons cleaning kits as part of our contribution to the war effort; I’m happy to say that mine included no CLP…the units who we sent things to has specifically requested Militec.

21 thoughts on “God Is In The Details”

  1. CLP is a very fine cleaner, but in very dusty conditions as they had in Iraq, it catches too much airborne matter.

    So what?

    The problem is that weapons must not only be lubricated, they must be cleaned – not the same thing. The dry lubricant you referenced does not clean.

    The M16 rifle and variants thereof are all gas operated, meaning that some of the propellant gases are rerouted backward, through a thin metal tube, to push the bolt carrier assembly backward and cycle the mechanism to eject the fired round and load the next one.

    This kind of recoil mechanism always gets incompletely burned propellant matter on the mechanisms, which if not cleaned off regularly and well will adversely affect weapons performance.

    When I was a battery commander in the mid-1980s, the troops tended to soak their rifles in CLP, wipe them off fairly superfically, and reassemble them. All this did was make the rifle a dust magnet, of course. The CLP must be rubbed off thoroughly, until the metal feels dry to the touch. A very thin film still remains for lubrication. Dry lubricant can be added with no adverse effect.

    The weapons must be cleaned, not merely lubed. And only CLP or something like it can do that as of now.

    Another point – experienced combat soldiers clean or lube their weapons a lot, almost every chance they get. If the desert dust had built up in the 507th’s rifles to the point they would not fire, it tells me they neglected to check and clean them regularly. Just taking the bolt carrier out and wiping the dust off with a rag works wonders, and takes only a couple of minutes.

    That is a leadership and training issue.

    I agree that the Army needs to find a cleaner better than CLP for desert operations, but the rush to blame CLP alone, without considering the leadership and training responsibilities, is irresponsible.

    And the people yelling the loudest in the article you cite should (A) know that and (B) understand the difference between cleaning a weapon and lubricating it.

    But soapboxes are such great fun, and get such great publicity, why let a comprehensive look at the issue spoil the fun?

    I have learned to be as wary of military reformers who promote some cause “for the troops” as I am of the liberal-left who wants to start some program “for the children.”

    It makes we wonder what the real agenda is . . . .

  2. It is true that the early-issue M16s had the design problem that Sean’s cited article explains. And I am not defending the M16 per se, I can think of a number of things I don’t like about it. And I am pretty sure that there are other combat rifles that would not be as adversely affected by the dusty condtions as the M16.

    Again I say, “So what?”

    The M16 is what we have, and some version of it is all we’re going to have for years to come. That is fact, so the issue is making the best of it because that’s all there is. And to dismiss leadership and training as part of doing that is irresponsible.

  3. Or, you could just design a rifle that simply doesn’t jam in desert conditions, even if poorly maintained. Israel’s Galil, for instance. Bet the AK-47 wsith its simple, robust mechanism does well, too.

  4. Troops armed with M16s have been kicking the asses of troops armed with AK47’s force on force for almost 40 years.

    The Israelis have the Galil, but whenever you see video of IDF, they are carrying M16s.

    SF guys can choose the weapons they would like. They choose M16’s or, more likely, the M4 variant.

    But the M16 isn’t the problem that the convoy from the 507th faced, and neither is CLP. The problem they faced was that they got into bad guy territory, away from the patrolled MSR and were ambushed.

    This is fog of war stuff, and it isn’t unique to this Iraqi war. The highest ranking EOD soldier killed in Desert Storm (a Command Sergeant Major) was killed when the HMMVW he was in took a wrong turn, they came up to an Iraqi patrol, and they were shot and killed.

    PS, Joe, the AK is commie junk.

  5. Donald, I think your info on maintenance is somewhat dated. The current line on M-15/-4 maintenance in the training community is MPro7 – a cleaner that leaves no oily film.

    But my core point here wasn’t Breakfree good v. Breakfree bad, but the overall issue of attention to detail and, more important, how the folks actually doing the work – whether line military or assembly line workers – need to be enabled to deal with issues like this.


  6. Joe,

    Don is completely correct that you need to address the leadership and training aspects. Making the hardware better is a good idea, but there are also always tradeoffs. The AK-47 does tend to “keep on humping” no matter what, but it’s accuracy leaves a LOT to be desired. (That did have an effect on the casualty ratios in Iraq; though poor training of Iraqi troops in terms of marksmanship and proper small unit tactics was probably more important.) Good troops always take care of their weapons. I haven’t heard of any complaints of jamming problems from the line units in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

    That makes me think that Don is really on to something, and it suggests that there MAY
    (remember I’m the one who’s written about not jumping to conclusions based on limited data!) be a problem with “support troops” remembering that they are TROOPS and that means that they are supposed to be COMBAT READY even if combat is not their primary job.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get the best lubricant and cleaning compounds to the troops, OF COURSE we sould, but even the best cleaning supplies will not do the job if not properly used.

    Similarly, a “better designed” weapon MIGHT be an improvement, but you’ve also got ot be careful that you don’t give up to much in order to get a weapon that will always fire — it is nice to be able to hit a target with it, for example. The GALIL, particularly in 7.62 NATO is a fine weapon, but Israeli troops don’t neglect its maintenance. Designing a better combat rifle always runs into very serious confliets as to the best balance of conflicting design priorities, and no one weapon every is 100% on all of them. It simply can’t be done.

    The M16 was often maligned in Vietnam for being unrealiable, yet years before it was “offically approved” I knew Special Forces guys who loved it and wanted it (it was still being specially purchased as the “AR15” at that time) and they didn’t have a reliability problem with it — but THEY took care of their weapons. The same guys often had both an M16 and an M14 and used whichever was more appropriate for the mission at hand, and sometimes humped both of them along on patrol to deal with “unforeseen circumstancees.” Those guys preferred the M16 to the AK because it was much more lethal and they accepted the cleaning burden to have that lethality. Now, their choice may well not be right for everyone since they were, admittedly, what might be called “weapons fanatics,” but it does suggest that the right answer isn’t just to junk the M16 either.

    There’s a plausible argument that what’s needed is a different “side arm” type of weapon for support troops that’s optimized to be most effective out to perhaps 200 yards Something along the lines of the “M1 Carbine” of WWII, but with a more effective round. Personally, I always thought that the M1 Carbine should have been chambered for 0.45ACP since it really wasn’t intended for use at long range. (Again, that’s a topic that is open to legitimate debate in its own right.)

    One advantage to a larger cartridge is that it has more power available that can be used to overcome resistance in the weapons mechanism — 0.50 mgs rarely jam, dusty or not. Lighter cartridges let you carry more rounds. PERHAPS for the support troops the weapon should employ a heavier cartridge to make it easier to design a weapon that is less sensitive to proper care, while still able to maintain decent accuracy and lethality. Support troops aren’t as concerned with the weight of ammunition’s impact on individuals — and generally don’t carry the “basic load” of a line infantryman.

    Of course, if you tried to do that, you’d have to keep everyone from trying to design the weapon to be the “ultimate weapon for every purpose” and . . . .

    One good thing that has come up is that unit commanders have a lot more authority to very equipment to meet their needs than used to be the case (M14s have come back into fairly wide use in Afghanistan, and if my understanding is correct with some units in Iraq, because their longer effective range can be used in that situation)

    Still for that to work, we’re back to Don’s observation that it’s a COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY and the leaders have to train their people to use whatever weapons they have, and see that they are properly maintained.

    This is a good discussion, but, as with most of them, simple answers are hard to find.

  7. Yes, leadership problems go all the way up! I’d like to know whether the AARs from the Gulf War pointed this problem out – I can’t believe they didn’t. Why weren’t they heeded?

    I use CLP to clean my competition shotgun and wipe it down very dry, then lube as needed with dry graphite spray – and I don’t compete in anything like the environmental conditions Iraq has.

  8. M16 maintainence: When it’s wet, use a lot of oil. This prevents rust. When it’s dry, don’t use very much. This prevents sand from getting stuck to the rifle (keep a magazine in when it is dusty, even an empty one). Not too tough.

    The truth is, the M16 does fine if you clean it. M16’s have killed a lot of people. The M16 has been in service for over 40 years. The bugs have been worked out. M16 variants regularly win high power rifle matches.

    Maintainence units spend a lot of time on things other than cleaning weapons. They’re really mechanics. There isn’t a lot of time to learn infantry stuff too. I think they just neglected their gear. I was in a (National Guard) maintainance company (1/3650th if anyone cares). We took pretty good care of our weapons, but we were exceptional (we had some guys who had been in Desert Storm back when we were an ambulance unit. Our armourer was also a very good spec-4). Some of the weapons from other units were definately not given the best of care. I cleaned some of them. Are there any reports from the 101st or 82nd of rifle jams?

    I’ve heard some stories about the British SA-80 rifle. It is supposed to be a jamming POS, too. I’m sure it jams without proper maintainence.

    Take care of your weapon, and it will take care of you.

    Oh yeah. Try hitting anything with an AK-47 at 300 yards. Good luck. You’ll need it.

  9. This discussion needs context. Some reports of the 507th ambush mention the group had been traveling 60 hours without sleep breaks. They had been stopping to do their jobs – maintenance/repair of other’s equipment. Where does that leave opportunities for frequent small arms maintenance? How quickly will an M16 get dirty while driving through Iraq? Is it possible to clean an M16 in the dark in a moving Hummvee?

  10. Weren’t the combat formations in front travelling at the same pace? What are the AARs saying about their M-16s?

  11. Wasn’t there a similar problem with the propellants used in the early .223 ammunition for the M-16 when it was first introduced? I recall something about there being an abundance of old WWII propellant being forced on the military by congress because noone wanted to pay for the stuff. Screwed with the ballistics.

  12. John & blaster,

    The AK-47 may not be as accurate or quite as effective overall as the M-16, but it seemed to serve both sides well in Iraq, where most of the combat was at short range. As noted in http://windsofchange.net/archives/003286.html , a number of our guys riding in Bradleys regularly used captured AK-47s for close-in protection. And Don had an excellent analysis of the range of combat in Iraq at http://www.donaldsensing.com/2003_06_01_archive.html#200378330 :
    “…Almost all [Marine riflemen in Iraq] interviewed stated all firefight engagements conducted with small arms (5.56mm guns) occurred in the twenty to thirty (20-30) meter range. Shots over 100m were rare. The maximum range was less than 300m…”

    So, really, criticizing the AK-47 for being inaccurate at long ranges seems to be missing the point. That’s not what its designed for; at the ranges most of the fighting occurred in Iraq, it appears to have been very well-suited.

  13. I’ve read your links. The Bradley crewmen had AK-47’s because they were better than their Beretta pistols. Entirely true. Our infantry were using M16’s or the M4 carbine. The AK-47 is adequate at short range, but what happens when you get someone shooting at you from a ways off? I suppose you can get him with a heavy machine gun or grenade launcher, which is what happened most of the time.

    Interestingly, many soldiers started using old M21 rifles or Stoner SR-25’s. Or just M16’s with scopes. It’s not a real sniper rifle, but it’s better than nothing.
    This May 21 entry over at strategypage.com is illuminating

    The AK-47 will kill you dead. But it is interesting to note that no major power uses it any more. The Russians have the AK-74, which they would love to replace but don’t have the money. The Chinese have moved to a bullpup design. The AK-47 is a rifle for those who can’t get anything better. It will work, but it is obselete and not as good as a modern infantry rifle. By way of analogy, in WW2 the British Army used the Enfield bolt action rifle. It worked, but was inferior to the semi- auto American M1 rifle, and very inferior to the fully automatic German STG44, the first assault rifle.

    I like the AK. I have one (the semi- auto civilian version). Ammo is very cheap for it (around $.07 a round mail order.) I can’t hit small game with it. It is just too inaccurate. I suppose I could hunt deer with it, but I don’t want to wound the animal and have it run off. My AR-15 (civilian M16) can get small animals, but the bullet is too small for deer hunting, by law. I have an M1A with a scope, which is a semi- auto M14 made by Springfield Armoury. It is a wonderful rifle. Very accurate. It is also very heavy. Not a lot of fun to carry long distances. So I’d have to say the best rifle, if I were still a soldier (I am now too old, too fat, and too married), would be an M16. It’s accurate and light.

    Back to the 507th; they were being pushed really hard and probably didn’t have time for basic maintainence. The problem is, in war, that you can’t give excuses if you are dead. I’m not being hard on them. The Iraqi Fedayeen were hard on them. The 507th paid for their mistakes. Hopefully the Army will learn from those.

  14. John:

    I think you covered all the bases. For whatever reason, the 507th forgot they were in a combat area, and paid for that error. Most of the blame can probably be placed with the CO/ senior NCOs.

  15. I have not had time to read this thread yet but I wanted to drop a pop culture tidbit…that WD-40 was named due to it’s being page 40 of a researcher’s notebook of WD = “Water Displacement” formulations for use on the M-16 rifle. After the war (Vietnam?), it was resold as a consumer product for bicycles, squeaky hinges, and early assault rifles that you filed the pin off of to make them fully automatic.

  16. From wd40.com:

    In 1953, a fledgling company called Rocket Chemical Company and its staff of three set out to create a line of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers for use in the aerospace industry, in a small lab in San Diego, California.

    It took them 40 attempts to get the water displacing formula worked out. But they must have been really good, because the original secret formula for WD-40—which stands for Water Displacement perfected on the 40th try—is still in use today.

    Convair, an aerospace contractor, first used WD-40 to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile from rust and corrosion. The product actually worked so well that several employees snuck some WD-40 cans out of the plant to use at home.

    A few years following WD-40’s first industrial use, Rocket Chemical Company founder Norm Larsen experimented with putting WD-40 into aerosol cans, reasoning that consumers might find a use for the product at home as some of the employees had. The product made its first appearance on store shelves in San Diego in 1958.

  17. I just returned from service with an Infantry battalion that saw a great deal of combat. I also spoke to soldiers from many of the various units that fought. My experience, and that of my comrades, was that with any lubricant, or none at all, the M16A2/M16A4 and the M4/M4A1 are vastly supeior to the poorly made AKs and assorted European weapons we saw on the battlefield. Using live ammunition they almost never jam (with blanks they jam allot). In fact, marksmanship was, in my opinion, uniformly superb.

    I always felt we needed to improve marksmanship training in all the services over where it was just a few years ago. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, America did so in a way that saved countless Coalition and civilian lives. I personally saw accurate fire delivered (from a variety of weapon systems) on targets I could barely make out with binoculars and I know that in close quarter fights in trenches and buildings, American’s with M4s and M16s time and time again beat enemies armed with every weapon in the book. The 5.56 MM round itself was lethal to a much greater degree than the rounds being shot back at us.

    This success is due to lessons learned from Somali and elsewhere, that resulted in improved techniques and training and in the worlds best close combat optics and night fighting gear.

    I personally carried what had to be one of the oldest M16’s used in the war, and never had an problems with it in anyway and found it to be more accurate at longer ranges than I had expected.


  18. entertaining stuff guys, one more thing on the M4s failing. I just got back from Iraq and am in a unit with lots of choice on the gus it can carry. We are buying almost every gun imaginable and working on solutions to some very common problems. I was lucky enough to stumble onto a weapon just before I came home tat I really liked and wished I would have had to carry around in the citys and ride around in the trucks. It was the Sig Sauer SG543. Its basically an AK47 design built much like a G3. Its short enough to carry in the vehicles (about the size of an MP5 or a Krenkov) but is in 5.56mm. If you can check one out, I think they are somewhat uncommon, I think there would be alot of people who liked this thing. Its high quality and simple.

  19. the only reason i saw anyone pick up an ak in iraq was for the full auto option that everyone wants for a close up fight a.k.a spray n pray i can personally attest to the accuracy of the m 16 i personally shot an iraqi soldier @375 yards in bagdad

  20. Chris—Was that with iron sights? Didn’t the front sight completely blot out the target at that range?

    Thanks for your service,
    George Lee

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