Yesterday, we said a few unkind things about Army small arms maintenance policy, more or less in passing. Let’s elaborate on that today.
If you have been an armorer in the Army for many years, you could very well be pig-ignorant of how firearms fail and what maintenance they require, without that lacuna in your knowledge having the least effect on your advancements and career prospects. You will, however, have mastered maintenance paperwork and the Illusion of Maintenance. Then you can become a Small Arms Maintenance Warrant Officer, and reign over all kinds of rusty barrels, mismatched parts, and forgotten & unrecorded round counts. Finally, let’s not forget the defunct optics, which as everyone knows, are merely storage repositories in which unit armorers and supply sergeants keep dead batteries.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at this 2014 list of “Small Arms Do’s and Don’ts” that was sent out in February of last year by Fort Stewart’s stalwart maintenance support organization, and published here on an Army maintenance website. Blockquoted text, indented and in italics, is what the original document says; bold inside that is their emphasis. Plain text like this is our commentary. At the end, your own opinions may be solicited.
Small Arms Do’s and Don’ts
The Ft Stewart Logistics Readiness Center (LRC) offers these do’s and don’ts to keep your small arms armed and ready:
Do understand how to fill out a DA Form 2407-E. That’s how you open a job order to get something fixed at LRC. The SAMS system generates the form for you.
Like we said, it’s all about the forms. As far as Army big-L Logistics is concerned, an SF company with 84 ready-to-rock M4A1s and a company with 84 correctly filled out 2407s are utterly fungible. However, only one of those is capable of engaging the enemy, a matter of indifference to Army logisticians.
Don’t lock bolts back for storage and transport. If bolts are left locked back, the springs can’t relax and soon have to be replaced.
This is, for any term or period in which this model firearm, let alone this specific one, will be in United States Service is complete and utter bullshit. Springs can experience elastic fatigue when held in compression for a very long time, but given the specification of this particular spring it will still work if you lock the bolt back and forget it until you dig the rifle up in 2065. Like most well-designed springs, it is actually designed for infinite life1. Spring design is not rocket science, no more is it the sort of voodoo to which comments like this try to raise it. It is engineering, and a well-developed, well-supported, branch of engineering that anyone can learn with a little mathematics and application.
If the spring is left deflected under full load and the load is more than the yield strength of the material, then the “resulting permanent deformation may prevent the spring from providing the required force”2
But even worse, if the bolt is locked back and someone forgot to remove a round, the weapon can fire if the truck hits a bump during transport. This happened at Ft Stewart.
We call bullshit, again. The only weapons in the world that can do this from this cause alone are open-bolt firearms guns with fixed firing pins. If this happened with an AR, think about it: sudden blow releases bolt carrier group from hold-open. Bolt slams home, into battery, chambering the round carelessly left in the mag carelessly left in the truck. Then what? Until somebody pulls the trigger, the hammer’s held back.
Maybe that’s what the statements said happened, and somebody’s covering somebody’s ass here.
Do change machine gun barrels at the range and keep barrels matched to receiver. Many M249, M240 and M2 barrels are ruined every year because units go the range and fire hundreds of rounds through the same barrel. A single barrel can cost $800. Simply switching barrels, which takes just seconds, can save your unit money and grief from your CO.
This is actually really, really good advice and unfortunately most small arms users (including armorers!) are never taught the hazards of sustained low rate of fire in damaging a barrel, sometimes in ways that physical inspection won’t find.
Don’t grab just any barrel. The M249 and M240 barrels have been headspaced to a specific weapon. If you use the wrong barrel, you could damage the weapon and injure yourself.
You would think this would not be the case in this era of interchangeable parts, but it is — for these weapons. But what about the self-headspacing latest version of Ma Deuce?
Even with the new M2A1, which can use any M2A1 barrel, it’s a good idea to use only the two barrels dedicated to that particular M2A1.
That’s the Army for you. “Hey, this anal retentive program has no practical value, but it shows how concerned we all are.” “Yeah, let’s also do more than it requires!”
That will save you accountability problems later when you turn in the two barrels for that specific M2A1. All barrels should have a dog tag with the serial number for their weapon. It’s a good idea to use a marker to highlight the receiver’s serial number so Soldiers can quickly find it.
Do transport M2s either in a rack or lying flat and secured to the truck bed. If you stand up an M2 and its barrels, they will take a tumble within the first mile. That breaks components like the sights and ruins barrel threads.
But… but… but… Big Green says weapons transport cases are a waste of money, and that SF and other SOF have been “squandering” their money on this kind of thing.
Millions for broken sights and barrels, not one cent for prevention. There’s Army Maintenance in a nutshell.
Don’t disassemble your weapon more than you’re supposed to. If you do, the parts are often lost or the weapon is reassembled wrong. With the M16 rifle, it’s usually the trigger assembly that is put back together wrong. Then the rifle can fire on auto when you’ve got it set for single shot. That’s dangerous. Clean and lube your weapon like its -10 says. Then stop!
You know, if more people were taught how to do that, someone in the unit could fix it if Joe over-disassembled his M16 or M4. We understand why higher echelons of maintenance discourage this; there are at least four reasons:
- They do indeed get weapons that some idjit disassembled, in a unit where no one can assemble a weapon, or that some idjit reassembled improperly. (Note that Army armorers often can’t fix this kind of problem, because they know less about the weapon than you learn in the Colt or SIG or S&W (etc). 4-hour “armorer school.”)
- They do get weapons where some idjit who disassembled them improperly assembled minus a part. The parts most vulnerable to improper assembly are springs; the parts most vulnerable to loss in the field are extractor pins and extractor springs. (Last we checked armorers at company and battalion were allowed to keep spare extractor pins and springs for just that reason).
- They do get weapons damaged by improper assembly. Since hardly anybody in the Army has been taught to properly detail-strip a weapon, there are cases where improper tools are used, or pins are forced in or out violently. This is happening less thanks to the dissemination of correct information online, but it still does happen. One of the most common damaged parts is the pistol grip attachment screw, which tends to get scarred up from wrong-sized, hardware-store screwdrivers that don’t fit right.
- If you know how to do it, it’s not their secret any more. That’s why they have the jaws even when SF weapons men (who are trained and authorized to do this on organizational weapons) maintain lower receiver internals. They will often fall back on shibboleths about the Army’s holy Echelons of Maintenance at this point, like an imam trapped in a losing argument, groping for a suitable hadith. The Echelon concept is, of course, part of the problem, not the solution (don’t get us started on what it means for radios).
Do turn in both machine gun barrels when you send a weapon to maintenance. Your direct support will need both barrels to do the required repairs and gaging.
Want to know a secret? In 1942, the army fielded a machine gun in which any barrel would headspace “well enough” to any gun. And spare barrels became a supply item rather than a serial numbered weapons component. Pretty neat, huh?
Of course, it wasn’t our Army, but the enemy. Naturally, when we tried to copy that weapon,the German MG42, we botched it. Then we incorporated a few features from the Rheinmetall wonder gun on our next GPMG, and got most of them wrong, including barrel interchange. Now that we can ignore serialization on one single weapon (the M2A1 .50 caliber machine gun), the maintenance griots continue to pass down the same primitive, voodoo folkways on that weapon, too. Pitiful.
Do thoroughly clean your weapon as soon as possible after firing close combat mission capability kit (CCMCK) rounds. If the wax left in the barrel from the rounds becomes too hard, it’s very difficult to clean out. Then a round can stick in the barrel. Sometimes it’s impossible to remove the round without damaging the barrel. Pay particular attention to the chamber and barrel. If you can’t clean out all the wax, tell your armorer. He’ll use dry cleaning solvent.
We should probably write about the CCMCK system, which is the Army’s attempt to standardize (and bureaucratize) the Simunitions type force-on-force training SOF has been doing for what, 20 years now. One advantage of Sims is that they don’t use the same barrel as lethal munitions; the CCMCK was specified to use the standard barrel, and they’re right that it leaves the barrels messy and congeals into a difficult plaque.
Don’t forget to remove batteries from sights before storage. Each year, many sights are ruined because batteries left inside leak. There’s no fix for that.
Well, as the saying goes, you can’t fix stupid. This is a valid point, but there are several layers of ways to prevent this from happening. Why would an armorer accept a weapon for turn-in that still had batteries in the optic? OK, things get hurried, mistakes get made. So you have a Joe assist and double-check? Just having a system like that reduces your quantity of mistakes by an order of magnitude.
Then, why not have the armorer get a Joe once a week, and while doing an inventory, double-check optics (assuming, of course, the optics didn’t have to come off to rack the guns anyway) to see that the nasty little acid containers are out of ’em?
(And, incidentally, it is possible to design electronics so that failed batteries don’t damage the gadget, or at least damage only inexpensive, and easily replaced, contacts. The Army just doesn’t specify this when they order stuff).
The guys who wrote and disseminate this list of Do’s and Don’t’s are trying. The problem is, they’re trying in a system that is stacked against them. And their weapon of choice remains tribal knowledge (at best), voodoo folkways (at worst), and passed-on oral sagas and legends that they don’t understand.
- Valsange, P.S. International Journal of Engineering Research and Applications (IJERA), Vol. 2. Issue 6, Nov-Dec 2012. P. 514 (section 1.1.3). (Note particularly the application of Zimmerli’s data that renders torsional endurance limits for all intents and purposes a constant in steel springs). Retrieved from: http://www.ijera.com/papers/Vol2_issue6/BY26513522.pdf
- Ibid., p. 514 (section 1.1.5).