Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Thomas Coburn
Date: Aug. 1, 2012
Location: Washington DC

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ARMY WEAPONRY

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, it is pretty unusual for me to come to the floor to say I want to spend money. But I have had a longstanding problem as I sign the letters of condolences to hundreds of families in Oklahoma who have lost their loved one by serving this country.

I come to the floor to offer a critique on one of the most important things to the people who truly put their lives on the line for this country. It is a national security issue, but it is truly about our men and women in uniform and the most important deployed weapon system over the last 10 years of war; that is, the Army service rifle and their other small arms.

There is nothing more important to a soldier than his rifle or her rifle. There is simply no excuse for not providing our soldiers with the best weapon, not just a weapon that is ``good enough.''

As I go through this, I am going to give a history of what the military has done--or, rather, basically what they have not done--in terms of having available for our soldiers a weapon that is capable of giving them the best possible chance when they serve our country.

Over the last few years, we have spent $8,000 per soldier on new radios, but we still are using a weapon that is 25 years old when it comes to their M4.

I first got involved in this when I got e-mails. I gave many in the Oklahoma National Guard--who served multiple tours, with lots of life lost in Iraq and Afghanistan--I gave those soldiers my personal e-mail, and I said: If you are having a problem over there, e-mail me.

I started hearing about the malfunction, the lack of effectiveness of the M4 for the Oklahomans who were over there. It is the same weapon the career Army has. It is the same weapon everybody who is issued a standard rifle is given, except for our special forces and others in the world who have a better rifle than the U.S. soldier on the ground fighting on our behalf.

I have noted before in the Congressional Record that I have lifted my objection to the nomination of Ms. Heidi Shyu to be the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions. It is an important position. She is in charge of $28 billion worth of expenditures. My objection was due to the Army's continued lack of urgency in modernizing and fielding new rifles, carbines, pistols, light machine guns, and ammunition for our troops in combat. Ms. Shyu has been very responsive to me and has provided some information regarding the Army's future plans for small arms and ammunition.

So when I started getting the questions from our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, I started looking into what was happening. Most of our soldiers know exactly what to do and how to care for their rifle. They know how to take care of it. So we looked into the issue. What we found was that there were several studies that raised questions about the reliability of the M4 rifle and whether there was a better weapon out there for our troops.

For example, a special operations forces report in February 2001 said the M4's short barrel and gas tube increased the risk that a round might not eject from the rifle properly after it is fired. In other words, they fire it and the round does not come out. That is called a jam--when you are having bullets coming at you and your rifle is jamming.

What we did was we set up a test, and the Army would not do it. So I put a hold on the Secretary of the Army Pete Geren's nomination. We talked, and he assured me we would have a new competition for a new rifle for our troops. That was in 2007.

Here we are, 5 years later, and the Army is now telling us we are going to complete a new competition in 2014. But in the meantime, we had a test done against our soldiers' rifle and others available in the world, in terms of a dust test, and we came in last.

So we are sending our troops to defend us and fight for a cause that we have put blood, sweat, tears, and $1 trillion into, and we are sending them with one that does not work the best.

My question to the Army is, Why? I can tell you why. Because the guys who are responsible for making the decision on purchasing the rifles are not the guys who are out there on the line. Because if they were, we would have already had this competition and our service men and women would be getting new rifles.

It is not that we cannot do it because what we learned--as we went back in
and reupped in Afghanistan--we determined that the MRAP was not suitable for the rocky terrain as compared to what we used it for in Iraq.

In less than 16 months and after rapid testing and fielding, new MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles--that was designed specifically for Afghanistan; a complicated piece of vital equipment, costing $ 1/2 million each--started arriving in Afghanistan.

So it is not that we cannot supply our soldiers with a new rifle. It is not that it cannot be done. It is that we refuse to do it.

For $1,500, we can give every person on the line something equivalent to what our special forces have today.

Let me show some history.

The average age of our troops rifle is 26 years. The average age of the German military rifle, small arms, is 12 years. For the U.S. special operations forces, theirs is 8 years. Guess what. They have new technology. Our regular frontline guys, they do not get it. They cannot have it. It costs the same, but they cannot have it because it is not a priority for the leadership in the Army to give the most deployed piece of equipment our troops need--that defends

them, protects them, and gives them the ability to come home alive--we will not give it to them. It is shameful. It is shameful.

Let me give a history of what happened just once in Afghanistan.

It was called the battle of Wanat. On July 13, 2008, in the battle of Wanat, in Afghanistan, 200 Taliban troops attacked U.S. troops at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban were able to break through our lines and entered the main base before eventually being repelled by artillery and aircraft.

What is notable about the battle was the perceived performance of the soldiers' small arms weapons in the initial part of the battle.

Here are some quotes:

My M4 quit firing and would no longer charge when I tried to correct the malfunction.

I couldn't charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad I threw my weapon down.

It would be bad enough if this was the first time it happened. But it is not the first time it has happened. It has happened multiple times to our troops in our present conflicts.

All we have to do is go back to what happened with the M16 when they were first used in Vietnam. There were instant reports of jamming and malfunctions. One tragic but indicative marine action report read:

We left with 72 men in our platoon and came back with 19. Believe it or not, you know what killed most of us? Our own rifle. Practically every one of our dead was found with his M16 torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it.

That is occurring now, except it is not getting any press. Again, I would ask my colleagues in the Senate: Why would we not give our soldiers the capability that almost every other soldier has except ours?

There is another aspect of this that I think needs to be shared; that is, the fact that it is all about acquisitions and culture rather than about doing the right thing. I do not like giving this talk critical of the leadership of the Army. But when it is going to take 7 years to field a new rifle and in 18 months we can build and design a completely new $500,000 piece of equipment, an MRAP, for Afghanistan or when we can spend $8,000 per troop to give them a new radio--which are all going to be replaced in the next 2 years with another $8,000--and we cannot give them a $1,500 H&K or something equivalent, there is something wrong with our system. Our priorities are out of whack.

If the Department of Defense had spent just 15 percent less on radios, they could give every soldier in the military a new, capable, modern weapon, and it does not just apply to their rifle.

One of the biggest complaints, after the M4, is the fact that the regular Army gets a 9-millimeter pistol that weighs over 2 pounds, but our special operations forces get a .45-caliber pistol that weighs less than 1 1/2 pounds. That is a big difference when you are out there all day. But the most important thing is, a .45-caliber round is twice the size of a 9-millimeter round, so when you are shooting it and you hit somebody, it is going to take them down. A 9-millimeter does not. So we are giving them an inferior pistol throughout the military.

Then, finally, here is what an M4 carbine looks like compared to an HK416, as shown on this chart. One other point I would make. This piece of equipment fires on automatic. This other piece of equipment--because the military wants to save some bullets--will not fire on automatic. So our soldiers are facing people who have automatic fire and they can fire in bursts of three and at half the rate of what they are facing.

Why would we do that? The real question is, we are asking people to defend this country. For essentially the same amount of money, we can buy an old-style, 26-year-old M4 or we can buy a brandnew one that gives them everything they need and gives them the best weapon. Do they not deserve that?

A lot of people do a lot of things for our country. But nobody does for our country what the soldier on the frontline does--nobody. This is a moral question, Mr. Secretary of the Army. This is a moral question. Get the rifle competition going.

Members of Congress, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, do not allow this to continue to happen. Do not allow this to continue to happen. There is no excuse for it. We should be embarrassed. We should be ashamed. Because what we are doing is sending our troops into harm's way with less than the best that we can provide for them.

As I have noted, I have lifted my objection to the nomination of Ms. Heidi Shyu to be the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions. This is an extremely important position for an organization as large as the U.S. Army which spends $28 billion per year on acquisition of goods and services. My objection was due to the Army's continued lack of urgency in modernizing and fielding new rifles, carbines, pistols, light machine guns, and ammunition to our troops in combat. Ms. Shyu has been responsive to me and provided some information regarding the Army's future plans for small arms and ammunition.

I first got involved in the Army small arms issue 6 years ago when Oklahoma National Guard soldiers told me that their issued weapon, the M4 carbine, was jamming in Iraq. These soldiers were told by their superiors that jamming resulted from poor weapons maintenance on their part and not from any fault of the rifle. While cleaning and proper maintenance of a weapon are extremely important, sand and dust in Iraq are a daily occurrence and any small arms weapon our troops use there should be able to fire reliably in spite of some sand and dust.

Also, the National Guard soldiers from my State--as is the case for Guard soldiers from many if not all of our States--are somewhat more likely to hunt or serve as police officers or security guards in their civilian lives. In other words, National Guard soldiers in the infantry generally know better than most how to care for rifles. So my staff looked into this issue and found that there were studies that raise questions on the reliability of the M4 and whether there was a better weapon out there for our troops. For example, a special operations forces report in February 2001 said that the M4's short barrel and gas tube increased risk that round might not eject from the rifle properly after firing.

I also learned that in the early 1990s Colt received funding from the Army to produce the M4 carbine, which would be a shorter variant on the M16 rifle. This was not done through a competition and was considered merely an extension of Colt's original M16 contract.

This lack of competition would later greatly benefit Colt. In 1999 Colt charged the military less than $600 per M4 carbine. This would rise to more than $900 in 2002 and more than $1,200 for a fully equipped carbine in 2010 when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in more M4s being bought.

So in 2007 I raised these questions and even put a hold on the nomination of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren. To his credit, he ordered a full and open competition for a new carbine rifle no later than the end of 2009.

It is now 2012 and the Army still has not completed a competition for a new carbine rifle, now scheduled for 2014. The window for the regular Army soldiers to battlefield test an improved rifle in a war we have been in for 12 years is rapidly closing. This extended and lengthy process is for a weapon system that--while vital--costs less than $2,000 each.

This 7-year effort differs greatly from their effort to field new armored combat vehicles in Afghanistan. According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2008 Army leaders determined that the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, MRAP, vehicle was not suitable for the rocky terrain of Afghanistan. In less than 16 months and after rapid testing and fielding, new MRAP all-terrain vehicles, M-ATV, a complicated piece of vital equipment costing $500,000 each--started arriving in Afghanistan.

In contrast, according to the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense spent more than $11 billion buying newer models of existing legacy radios from 2003 to 2011 and is currently planning on spending billions more on even newer radios to replace the ones just purchased for Iraq and Afghanistan. There are only 1.4 million troops on active duty so the Department of Defense has spent nearly $8,000 per troop on new radios. A brand new rifle--that soldiers don't have--costs around $1,000 to $1,500.

If the Department of Defense had just spent 15 percent less on the billions and billions they spent on newer models of legacy radios in the last 10 years, every soldier in the Army could have had a brandnew carbine rifle going to war.

In addition to the rifle, there remains a great need for improvement of the Army's service pistol. This pistol, usually given to officers but also as an additional weapon to some infantry soldiers, is the M9 Beretta. This pistol entered the Army in 1985, 27 years ago, and fires a 9mm round. The M9 pistol had the lowest satisfaction rate of any weapon surveyed by the military in 2006 on troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with half feeling that the 9mm ammunition is insufficient.

Is the Army's failure to modernize its rifles, pistols and machine guns a recent occurrence? Sadly no, the Army's reluctance to field new weapons runs throughout its history. In far too many instances U.S. Army troops have entered battle with an inferior weapon to their adversaries and either during or after the war ended the Army was reluctant to change and adapt to the superior weapons.

In 1776 colonial forces faced the British at the Battle of Brandywine where the British used a new breech loading weapon that loaded at the rear of the weapon rather than the muzzle or front of the weapon. As a result trained British soldiers could fire more than twice as fast as trained colonial American soldiers. The breech loading weapon was not used much in the Revolutionary War but where it was used, such as at the Battle of Brandywine, it was described as acting magnificently: 93 British killed and 400 wounded compared to over 300 Americans that died, 600 wounded, and 400 prisoners captured.

However when Americans again fought the British in the War of 1812--36 years later--the Americans were still using the same muzzle loading weapon they fought with during the Battle of Brandywine.

U.S. Army troops at war against Mexico in 1845 did not have breech loading rifles, but rather continued to carry muzzle-loading rifles when fighting against Mexico--nearly 80 years after the breech-loading rifle was invented.

During the Civil War one Union officer in particular was unsatisfied with the Army's standard muzzle-loaded rifle and decided to do something about it. Colonel Wilder, commander of the Union's ``Lightning Brigade'' decided to go around the Army bureaucracy. His men spent $35 out of their paychecks to buy Spencer Repeating Rifles direct from the factory for his mounted cavalry. In one of the first battles using this new rifle Wilder's ``Lightning Brigade'' of 1,000 soldiers defended the Union flank against over 8,000 Confederate troops that could not pass. At one point one company of Colonel Wilder's men held off ten times as many Confederate troops using their repeating rifles for 5 hours.

However, the Army did not widely adopt the repeating rifle after the Civil War. More than 30 years later in the Spanish-American War, 5,000 American soldiers armed with single shot rifles attacked fewer than 1,000 Spanish soldiers armed with a German `Mauser' repeating rifle. While Americans won the battle by attrition (there were 10,000 U.S. troops in reserve), the U.S. Army suffered over 1,400 casualties, with 205 killed, while the Spanish lost fewer than 250, with 58 killed, before surrendering.

A telling American newspaper column title from 1898 aptly summarizes the problems: ``The [U.S. Army] Gun: It is Inferior in Many Respects to the Mauser [rifle] used by the Spaniards.'' The article states unequivocally that the ``enemy's [Spain's] weapon is easier to load [and] can be fired more rapidly''.

The 20th Century would see a great deal of further modernization, improvement, and innovation in the area of small arms to include lighter fully automatic assault rifles capable of firing at a rate of more than 10 rounds per second rather than per minute.

The United States entered World War I with a Springfield 1903 rifle, named for the Armory and the year it was produced, which was possibly the third best rifle in the world at that time. The British Enfield-Lee rifle held ten rounds instead of 5 and could fire upwards of 20 rounds per minute. The American rifle held only 5 rounds and fired 10 rounds per minute which was similar, but still inferior to the German rifle that was capable of firing more rounds per minute.

The U.S. Army did enter World War II with one of the last great battle rifles, the M1 Garand, but its success during that conflict may have blinded the Army to a revolutionary development in small arms: the invention of the modern lightweight fully-automatic assault rifle. From 1942 to 1944 Germany invented the world's first assault rifles--rifles that could fire 550 to 600 rounds per minute and held detachable 30 round magazines. However, it would be over two decades later before U.S. Army soldiers were permitted to have lightweight assault rifles.

Shortly after World War II ended the Soviet Union invented the AK-47 fully automatic assault rifle. This rifle's success is easily stated: over 90 million AK-47s or derivatives have been built. It is very likely a weapon that has inflicted more casualties than any other weapon on earth. Soviet troops had this rifle nearly 20 years before the United States Army would issue assault rifles to its soldiers.

In 1958, an American inventor named Eugene Stoner developed the AR-15 rifle in less than 9 months, which would eventually become the M16. This revolutionary rifle weighed six pounds and fired at a rate between 700 and 900 shots per minute with little recoil and the lightweight but still deadly 5.56mm ammunition meant soldiers could carry more firepower than before.

However, it took the then-Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Curtis LeMay to purchase 85,000 of them for use by Air Force base defense airmen before they got into the military at all. The U.S. Army was strongly opposed to the M16. Some of these weapons were used by Special Forces troops serving as advisers in Vietnam, increasing the pressure for the Army to adopt it. The Army initially refused the AR-15s stating the ``lack of any military requirement.''

At this point, it should be clarified that the Army has used the phrase ``lack of a requirement'' for more than 50 years to justify slowing down and not innovating in the area of small arms. I first encountered the phrase ``lack of a requirement'' in 2006 when asking why the Army couldn't field a better carbine rifle that didn't jam in the desert. I am hearing the same phrase today when I ask why soldiers can't have a better light machine gun or pistol. Soldiers have complained about these weapons but they can't have a new one because there is no ``military requirement.'' Congress is often frustrated by the term ``military requirement'' because it can be used to deflect responsibility from the person using it. It says the Army is fearful of offering its judgment on whether or not someone made a weapon that is better than what the Army has, so it instead says that the weapon is not needed.

It took intervention by President Kennedy and Secretary of Defense McNamara to order the Army to adopt the M16 rifle--the military version of the AR-15. Then what happened in Vietnam was a tragic occurrence that took the direct involvement and investigation of Congress and deaths of thousands of soldiers to remedy.

When the M16s were first used in Vietnam there were nearly instant reports of jamming and malfunctions. One tragic but indicative Marine after-action report read:

We left with 72 men in our platoon and came back with 19. Believe it or not, you know what killed most of us? Our own rifle. Practically every one of our dead was found with his M16 torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it.

Before the necessary fixes could be made to the weapon which included switching back to the original type of ammunition propellant and issuing cleaning supplies in early 1967, nearly ten thousand American soldiers had been killed. Before the Army made the changes these soldiers were told--much as soldiers are told today--that problems with their weapons are their fault: a lack of care and cleaning or operator error. There is no formal process where soldiers are required to provide feedback to Army leadership on a jammed weapon in order to accurately note issues with reliability.

There were six warnings from various arsenals and offices within the Department of Defense as to the problems with the M16. However, the Army Materiel Command and Army senior leaders would not listen. It took public pressure and a massive congressional investigation by the House Armed Services Committee to get to the bottom of the problems with the Army's small arms in Vietnam. It was discovered that the Army was using a different ammunition propellant--procured from a sole-source contract--that caused the M16 to jam. After Congressional intervention, the original propellant was used and the problems with the M16 nearly disappeared. After Vietnam, the Army formally adopted the M16 as its service rifle and by 1968 nearly all troops surveyed said they preferred the M16 to any other rifle.

The post-Vietnam era saw changes for the M16 weapon, few of them positive. In 1980 the Army adopted a different, heavier 5.56mm round that required different rifling for the caliber which marginally improved penetration of armor and helmets but at the cost of greatly reducing.

U.S. troops would find out in Iraq and Afghanistan that the enemy did not wear helmets or armor. As a result the rounds would penetrate through the enemy and exit the other side without causing enough damage to incapacitate him and he kept fighting. Soldiers have regularly reported having to fire multiple rounds into enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result.

In 1982 the Army also altered the M16 to prohibit soldiers from firing on full automatic. The current M16A2 rifle has a choice between semiautomatic and three-round burst. The M16A2 is now the only major assault rifle in the world fielded for military use that does have a full automatic capability.

As I said the problems we see with small arms procurement may not be sinister, but they are serious and they are current.

On July 13, 2008 in the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan around 200 Taliban attacked U.S. troops at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban were able to break through U.S. lines and enter the main base before eventually being repelled by artillery and aircraft. What is notable about the battle was the perceived poor performance of the soldiers' small arms weapons in the initial part of the battle. Some selected quotes from the report:

My M4 quit firing and would no longer charge when I tried to correct the malfunction,

I couldn't charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down.

Nine soldiers died and twenty-seven were wounded at the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan.

For too much of its history from the Revolutionary War to today the Army has shown a slowness and reluctance to adopt improved small arms weapons and ammunition developed by others. It has also been slow to recognize and fix problems with its small arms. The Army has repeatedly engaged in poor negotiating and contracting on behalf of the American people. Senior Army leaders continue to go work for incumbent small arms manufacturers after they retire.

However, a major problem is also Congress. There have been far too few hearings and oversight on the topic of small arms. The House Armed Services Committee report in 1967 stands out as an exception that proves this point. Senior military leaders in uniform and civilians are regularly challenged and questioned--and in some cases chewed out--on all manner of programs and weapon systems here by Members of Congress including medical benefits, stealth fighter jets, missile defense, the size of the Army and Navy, and armored vehicles.

However, for some reason Congress, for the most part, has seen fit to give the Army a pass on small arms. For some reason the oversight committees responsible do not aggressively and regularly question whether the Army's rifle--the most deployed weapon system for the last ten years--is the best that American industry can offer our troops. There are many small arms experts that are independent of the industry that can inform Congress on this issue. I call on my colleagues to hold long overdue hearings on this topic with independent witnesses as soon as possible and will continue my efforts on this issue to raise awareness and push the Army to procure the best weapons and ammunition for our troops.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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