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“The government failed to test the quality of the critical gun parts it bought and, as issues were being reported from the battlefront, took months to find out where most of the defective parts had ended up. Yet the Pentagon awarded new contracts to the same contractors, waiving new quality tests along the way. Records also show US military contractors made mistakes manufacturing critical weapon parts after the government waived quality tests, and often took months to fix the problems. – When Big Guns Go Down [at motherboard.vice.com]

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35 Responses to Quote of the Day: The Government Failed to Keep Our Machine Gunners Safe Edition

  1. This is why the Marine Corps actually has a dedicated Machine gunner MOS and school for gunnery. We learn how to dissassmble and reassemble the machine guns, headspace and timing, malfunction clearance, etc. We are required to be able to disassemble and reassemble every machine gun in under three minutes. Including completely taking apart the M2 bolt.

    • Very true, but you’re assuming that perspective from a T/O Infantry Battalion. Several real echelon units would put Cooks, Bakers, and Candlestick Makers in guard towers behind these weapons systems after receiving a hip-pocket class. There was also a significant surge of Military Transition Teams (MiTTs) flowing through OEF/OIF during the years associated with most of these quality control reports. The personnel put behind some of these weapon would not necessarily have the MOS training required to identify deficient parts. These MiTTs had a very officer and SNCO heavy composition by design–in order to directly embed with the Host Nation Security Forces (whether that was Army or Police–Iraqi or Afghan). Of course, we had to go through a refresher training on crew served weapons and show that we were proficient in the diss/ass of M249, M240B, and M2–to include setting the headspace and timing after a barrel swap. I just thank God that I was manning the 240 while rolling around in downtown Mosul.

  2. Honestly I’m not surprised. In a world of people who have lost much of their mechanical aptitude, this seems like an unavoidable problem unless training is given more focus.

    A surprising number of people don’t even know how to change spark plugs, oil or work on their own lawn mowers.

  3. So 99.9% of this story is about the criminal or near-criminal production and sale of non-spec parts to the government, which is putting our soldiers at great risk, and that one quote is what you get out of that? I expect better from TTAG.

    • Nar, what I expect better of is SGM Preston. He’s got dangerous parts being issued to his soldiers, he knows it, and his comment is that they have a lack of aptitude?
      That is an NCO failure at so many levels. Making sure your troops are trained and effective is your first priority. Allowing those deficiencies to stay in your chain is a mistake, but not teaching every solider who could use that weapon on how to identify those deficiencies is solely an NCO failure. And who’s at the top of that chain?
      Go back and read your NCO Creed SGM Preston, you’ve forgotten it.

  4. Sort of true….The sophistication of many mechanical items around your house are now such that you cannot fix them without special tools. I’ve not been able to work on my own car since the mid 1990s.

    The other component is that WW2 thru Vietnam era firearms were not designed by CAD and manufactured on CNC machines. By default, they’re a lot easier to tear down and re-assemble.

    The difference is in the level of training. The amount of overall training time remains the same- but now you have to train on so much more material covering so many more items, you lose the ability to spend a solid week on assembly/disassembly of an M-60. That week is now 8 hours on the 60, and 8 hours on Consideration of Others Training, and 8 Hours on Law of War, and 24 Hours on how to use the radio.

  5. That vice article is good.

    SGM Preston’s comment is a stinking pile of dogshit. In the abstract, yeah it’s probably true today’s youth are less mechanically inclined. So what? It’s the leader’s job at all levels to ensure soldiers are properly trained. We apparently have the $$ to give beltway bandits billions of dollars per year to solve solved problems, but we can’t spend the money on training. Bullshit.

    Besides it does not require a high degree of mechanical aptitude to run a 249. Lock bolt to rear, open cover, place belt, close cover, kill enemy. My recollection on the M2 is hazier, but not setting head space and timing should result in the gun not running, not half losing a leg. Enjoy your defense contractor job Sergeant Major.

    • Headspace and timing are critical on the ma deuce. Failure to fire is the least of the problems. If timing occurs too early, detonation of the receiver is possible.

    • Achmed, your points were all good but, “not setting head space and timing should result in the gun not running, not half losing a leg.” is not the case. Either one of those being significantly off will be a problem. The worst of which, and a real possibility, if not likelihood, is that the round detonates prior to be fully chambered. In that case, a .22LR is an inconvenience. A .50BMG is deadly.

      • Speaking of headspace & timing….. for some reason, those gauges were almost as rare as unicorn farts downrange. We only had three in the company (with four M2s), and one of them was personally bought from eBay and secured by me. I kept it tucked into the top of my boot, and let nobody know I had one. I still have it, too.

        But the others went missing on a regular basis (usually before going outside the wire) and our sister units evidently had the same problem, because they often would come to us hoping to borrow one. But our armorers and supply guys had no problem getting the latest & greatest attachments, upgrades, and optics for our 249s and 240s.

  6. I wondered why the Corps wanted to ditch the M-249 so badly! This is the rerst of the story. Once again the army screwed them with bad parts.

  7. So, contracts are still being awarded on faulty equipment and the higher ups are just brushing off the failed testing…

    Yay, Military Industrial Complex!

  8. Three points:

    1) I work for a firearms manufacturer. Apparently we put a lot more pride and quality into your plinking gun than these military contractors put into machine guns that are going to see combat in the hands of our troops.

    2) What’s with all of these no-name manufacturers getting the contracts for critical parts? Shouldn’t that contract have stayed with FN? Why not just order an extra bunch of bolts from the same production line that made the originals?

    3) A lot of the issues described here could have been avoided by simply installing the parts on an M2 at the contractor before they were sent out. If the gun still shoots with the part the contractor made, then it’s at least more likely to be conforming. However, because of all of the red tape surrounding post-86 machine guns, these contractors apparently don’t even do that. More victims of gun control.

  9. Earlier in my military career I worked logistics, including a four year assignment as a Reserve contracting officer at DLA in both San Antonio, TX, and Clearwater, FL. The article doesn’t begin to address the frustration I and others had with the contracting process (but that would require a whole other article). Suffice it to say the quality issues aren’t just limited to firearms. We were aware of defective and counterfeit parts entering the supply chain, such as cracked bolts that were used to secure helicopter blades. It can become a “needle in the haystack” search to locate these items, and often you don’t find out about them until some failure is reported in the field.

    I was surprised by the comment “It wasn’t until 2010 that the US military felt it was time to modify the design of the M2 to eliminate the need to manually calibrate it after each barrel change, an operation that increases the risk of accidents and the exposure time to enemy fire. “It was never in the budget to do the redesign,” Preston said. “But recently there was the possibility to do a low-cost upgrade. It’s good for taxpayers and soldiers.” That year, the US Army awarded the redesign contract to General Dynamics.”

    A low-cost quick-change barrel modification for the M2 has been around at least since the 1980s, and was offered to the US Army decades ago. As I recall, it was developed by either the Belgians or French. Head spacing was preset in a barrel extension fixed to the receiver, so all one had to do was slip in a new barrel. No timing check was required. It’s sad to learn it took two more wars for us to finally adopt something like that.

  10. I wonder how many of the .gov stooges truly believe most of the armed forces would be on their side in a revolution.

  11. Maybe I’m not up on military contractors, but it was a surprise to see anything from FN on the list for defective guns. At least, this is the first time I have heard about FN doing something this poorly.

    • I think it was parts made by people who got the contracts for the replacement parts causing the issues, not FN guns with FN parts.

  12. I worked for a good few years as Contract Administrator (private sector side) for D.o.D. contracts. This story does not surprise me in the least. Dollars to donuts the sleazeball parts supplier is a “Small Business” and is also best buds with a Congressman or two. Few people even in D.o.D. procurement know that the Small Business Administration can over-rule a contract award decision, and there is no appeal except to a higher level in the SBA. Congress of course funds the SBA. I saw this little maneuver used time and again to pull contracts out from under reputable suppliers and handed to shysters. THAT is one big way that bad contractors keep getting D.o.D. business. There are probably others.

    As for DLA source inspections, they are often a joke. We got inspectors time after time who had no expertise whatsoever on our product. All they knew how to do was the paperwork. If I ever got a guy familiarized to our product and how to inspect it, he’d be sent to some other industry the next month. Then there are the resident inspectors…..don’t let me get started on those.

    • The F-35 was a failure before it was ever built. It has no mission that can’t be filled by present fighters.

      I feel like such a failure. I can’t even post slowly enough.

  13. I’m not going to comment on the training or operation of the Ma Deuce. There are men here who can hold forth far, far more competently than I will ever be able to do so about the training, care, feeding and operation of the M-2 HMG.

    What I would like to address are issues of failures in heat treatment of components of guns, and why heat treatment of steel in guns is such a critical issue and why/how shortcuts are taken.

    The common idea of heat treatment is that you heat up steel red-hot, you dunk it in water, it gets hard, and you then temper (or “draw” in British lingo) it back to the reduced hardness you need. Two thinks happen to steel when you do this: a) the steel becomes hard, and b) the steel gains in tensile and shear strength. In practice, heat treatment is now a very highly specialized business with lots of science and engineering behind it. I might ad-hoc heat treat my hand-made tools (eg, specialized screwdrivers, punches, pins, etc), but guns, I’ll send out to have heat treated by professionals with better equipment than I can ever justify in my shop.

    Something like a breech block not being heat treated as hard as it was supposed to be (which, from the M2 spec, a proper breech block is nearly un-tempered – it is near full hardness) leads to an issue of excess friction and galling. One of the interesting techniques in firearms design is that pieces of metal that slide past each other (eg, a bolt in a bolt action rifle) should either be harder or softer than the surrounding receiver. This prevents “galling,” where the metal starts rubbing, and both sides start to push up a small ridge of deformed metal as the other part slides over it.

    To prevent this galling, the common technique is to harden one side of the parts interface to be at least, oh, 8 to 10 points higher on the Rockwell C scale. If you look at a Mauser 98 (preferably one made before 1942), and you hardness test the receiver and the bolt, you’ll see that the bolt (esp. the forward end of the bolt, the lugs, bolt nose, etc) is harder than the hinges of Hell, and the receiver is typically in the Rc 35 to 38 range. Later in the war, Mausers, even the ones made in Germany, were sometimes subject to sabotage by the slave labor in the plants. There have been late-war Mausers I’ve met up with that were sent out at full hardness, no tempering whatsoever. I’m amazed that they don’t shatter, they’re so hard.

    Heat treatment is an expensive operation – not just for the heat treatment and tempering, but also the verification you got it correct, the parts are within the specified hardness range, etc. One of the reasons why the M1A/Garand are so expensive to make is their heat treatment specifications. It is also the reason for the three-piece bolt on the Remington 700, and the reason for the floating connector in the Rem700 trigger, which is the source of their problems with that trigger. By hardening only the exact parts they need hardened, Remington is reducing their COGS.

    Back to the Ma Deuce: A breech block being too soft will wear or peen out more quickly, going out of dimension, and it might well gall, slowing down the speed with which the block will come forward in operation.

    A contracting agency that allows out-of-spec hardness parts into the supply chain is showing that their people don’t know what they’re looking at in the spec. I might change my tolerances of size on a part much more readily than I’d change hardness requirements.

  14. You have to teach them now. They don’t bring any usable skills with them. Many can’t even change a flat tire by themselves. Daddy’s credit card fixes everything.

  15. Sherman tank. Brewster Buffalo. Devastator torpedo bomber. Pretty much any American made torpedo for the first 18 months of ww2. Treaty cruisers. Shipping m16s without cleaning kits. The m16……

    What the .gov fucked up again? Well color me surprised.

  16. Actually the Torpedo problem wasnt actually fixed until the end of the war, the M-16s didnt have chromed barrels or chambers,making the A2 with a pencil thin barrel so they wouldnt have to change M203 hanging hardware (they were supposed to have thick barrels to resist warp-age in fire fights) Phantom jets designed and built without guns, the Sheridan light tank, Switching the M-60 MG’s plastic ammo box with a cardboard one which disintegrated in wet climates jamming the weapon, The M-60s barrel change out system, the old style protective masks which took 3-5 minutes to change out the filters and you were supposed to hold your breath, the PRC-77, failure to put gun shields on Hummers the MPs used (even the AF was smart enough to do that) , first Hummers issued went to the 82nd who promptly found out actually pushing the brake peddle caused it to break of, the M-9 problems, etc etc etc.

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