April 21st, 2008
08:11 PM ET

In the Line of Fire

-CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

The rifle has always been a soldier's best friend, but these days it was never more true for the thousands of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who may round a corner and suddenly find themselves in a firefight. That brings us to news over the weekend about the M4 carbine, the workhorse of military rifles. The military and Congress are beginning to look at alternatives.

But guess what? The US Special Operations Command is already on the case.
SOCOM is home to the nations’ most covert troops, the commandos who hunt Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists around the world from the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq.  SOCOM is about to put a new assault rifle in the hands of its operatives that the military says is more reliable than the M4. And while most troops have never even seen the new rifle, I got to fire it...  

Before we get into what that was like, a couple highlights: SOCOM says the new gun won’t jam in the desert dust, is more reliable overall, and most importantly has interchangeable components. For example you can put a shorter barrel on the front if you are about to kick down a door, enter a building and go around tight corners. And with greater accuracy than older rifles, a soldier can stand further away from the enemy and stay out of range.

I got a chance to field test the new weapon a few weeks ago at McDill Air Force Base in Florida. SOCOM assigned two young Army Rangers to show me how to fire the new gun.   

Perhaps I should mention at this point that despite covering the Pentagon for a certain number of years that I'd rather not get too precise about, I had never even touched a real weapon.  So it did seem remarkable that the first one I fire is a new assault rifle for commandos that hasn’t even made it into the field yet. 
What was it like?  To aim this assault rifle properly you have to place the side of your face against the stock and look through the sight. I was convinced it would kick and hit me in the cheekbone.  It didn't, but for the unexperienced it was hard to hold steady.

So here's what happened. “Ranger number one” -  no names please, they tell me  —  says okay “now you can take the safety off.”   And so I looked at him and said, of course, ‘Uh can you please tell me which of these things is the safety?” Being a well trained military operative, he had sunglasses on so I couldn’t see if his eyes were rolling at that point. Once I got the safety figured out, I fired about 12 rounds at a target shaped like a human outline. I'm pretty sure I hit the target, but I don't know how many times. (Several of us fired, and we didn't check the target).  It was a sobering experience to handle the same weapon that these young troops will start using in the field later this year, when a reliable rifle can in fact mean the difference between life and death. When the US military goes into battle, there’s no such thing as a fair fight. US troops want to shoot to kill, and end the firefight. The hope is this new weapon will help make that happen.

The question now is what will happen when Colt’s M4 production contract runs out in the next several months. Will the rest of the Army also buy the new rifle that I tried out?

Filed under: Afghanistan • Barbara Starr
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Claudia

    This new weapon sounds great however, what would help our soldiers more is the bring them home. Unfortunately the terrorist always have been able to adapt to any new technology we have used. This is just another example of how unprepared we were entering this war.

    April 22, 2008 at 11:54 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    With all the advantages of the new rifle I would question why the military wasn't buying it after the contract for the Colt's M4 ran out. Anything that keeps our soldiers safer and gives them an edge in battle to make that battle shorter, and the win faster really shouldn't have to wait on the Colts contract to run out – our military in Iraq and Afghanistan should be getting those rifles now.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 21, 2008 at 8:44 pm |