courtesy navy.org

The military tends to hold onto things far longer than they probably should. One good example: the B-52 bomber. The low bypass engines evoke a twinge of nostalgia for the early 1960’s. While they’ve been updated and still work, do we really want to rely on a design that’s well over a half century old to deliver nuclear weapons if, God forbid, we ever have to?

Unfortunately that same “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach applies to JSOC as well. While there are ways around these attitudinal roadblocks for some gear, eventually even the brass come to realize that their aging materiel might be holding them back. Now news comes from Scout that JSOC may have reached that point and are looking to replace their arsenal with gear that’s much more up to date.

Special Forces operators have a standard issue set of equipment they can use, but as one would expect, there are ways around the system to get the gear they really want to use. I’ve spoken to a couple such individuals who have used non-standard and experimental equipment in the field and they tell me that if it looks promising enough, they can always find a way.

Now, though, it seems it’s time to updated the standard gear. Starting at the high end, it appears that JSOC is looking for a new machine gun to replace the aging M240B and M240L series. Chambered in 7.62 NATO which and produced under contract by FN, they’re not ideal.

Range seems to be the biggest complaint among those I’ve spoken to — the 7.62 NATO cartridge just doesn’t have enough oomph to make a difference at the distances where JSOC expects to be operating. It was a cartridge that made sense for urban European combat scenarios and relatively close range jungle combat. Out in the open desert of Afghanistan and possibly Syria, it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

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A heavy favorite for a replacement is General Dynamic’s .338 Norma Magnum machine gun, which we saw and got some trigger time behind at NDIA back in 2012. Technically the military says they’re looking for an “intermediate” cartridge for the replacement MG, but somehow I doubt that General Dynamics went through the trouble of building this thing and showing it off if there wasn’t an appetite for stretching that definition a bit to include “anything under 50 BMG.” The gun is an absolute beast, but still amazingly accurate at distance.

Next on the chopping block is the current compliment of sniper rifles. Rifles now in the JSOC arsenal are based on a typical action design with the barrel threaded and set into the action by an armorer. Changing barrels based on mission requirements isn’t really possible — it’s easier to swap the entire gun.

JSOC is requesting from the manufacturers a rifle design that let’s the individual soldier in the field swap the barrel with the removal of a single screw. That allows them to select the caliber and barrel length that gives them the most versatility and lethality in a given situation.

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Remington Defense is probably the crowd favorite for this one. They released their XM2010 rifle in (surprise surprise) 2010, and the Remington MSR or “Modular Sniper Rifle” is an improved version currently being considered by the military for other roles.

It meets the requirements and seems to fit JSOC’s demands as well, plus the fact that it’s a great rifle made by a well-known manufacturer. Other competitors include the Ballista from FN and some other minor entries from less well known companies.

Finally JSOC is looking for a replacement upper receiver group for their M4 rifles that they’re dubbing the “Suppressed Upper Receiver Group” to make their operators more stealthy. I’m pretty sure anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see where they are going with this.

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The SIG SAUER MCX was designed so that the upper receiver group could be dropped straight onto an existing AR-15 or M4 lower receiver and work flawlessly. Naturally they’d much rather sell the whole kit, but it’s a start. SIG has designed the upper receiver and their new silencers to work hand-in-hand to provide superior suppression and accuracy with minimal added weight for the operator.

If we’re talking about a complete upper receiver system for this purpose then SIG SAUER is head and shoulders above everyone else, with Remington and AAC coming in a distant second.

That’s what JSOC appears to have up its sleeve, and what my (somewhat educated) predictions are for what they have in mind. But as always, the procurement process is a dark and mysterious beast that no one really understands. Stay tuned.

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57 Responses to JSOC Looks to Replace Aging Machine Guns, Rifles, Sniper Rifles for Special Forces

  1. Makes sense to switch over to SBRs with integral suppressors – especially when that can be done by pushing out two pins and swapping the upper receiver.

  2. You have to be shooting a machine gun awfully far for 7.62 to “not have enough oomph”

    338 might serve a tank’s coax better though

    • Yeah… My response was a definite “wut?”…

      7.62×51 has the ability to reach out and touch someone far beyond the ability of even the most optimistic machinegunner’s ability to hit an individual target. Beyond 800 yards, if you’re not using magnified optics, the cartridge you’re using doesn’t really matter. (Provided you’re using a full power rifle cartridge.) Don’t forget, the 7.61×51 has more or less the same muzzle energy as the .30-06 that our troops were slinging at the Germans in WWI and WWII. That round was combat proven to well over half a mile under the right circumstances.

      Add to that the weight issue, and I just don’t see JSOC switching to something bigger than a 7.62×51 for their non-mounted MGs. Maybe in a vehicle role, but not anything an operator would need to carry up and down the hills of Goatfuckistan.

      • I’d love to be the guy who tells ’em their loadout now includes 200+ rounds of linked .338. i can hear the bitching from here.

        • Yes, until they came back depleted, and then they would ask for double.

          I think the problem (overall) is that things such as (weapon and ammo) ranges HAVE BECOME KNOWN. Napolean (is believed to have) said “You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war. Napoleon Bonaparte http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/napoleonbo124809.html” .

          The enemy will learn to operate outside your fusillade and thus make your firing weapons obsolete.

          Give the JSOC everything they want to play with, it is cheap R&D, it keeps us the “fresh-enemy with new boots”, it is a recruiting tool for the best and brightest, and all the good of it trickles down (eventually) to the rank & file.

    • If a squad/platoon is engaging an enemy in a situation that requires sustained full-auto fire and the enemy is beyond the effective range of 7.62 x 51 NATO, I think that squad/platoon needs air support at that point and the really hard hitting full-auto fire that only an airborne machine gun platform can deliver.

  3. “do we really want to rely on a design that’s well over a half century old”

    Say, don’t you carry an M1911?

    • I think “rely” might be a bit strong of a word to describe the M1911’s role at this point.

      This article’s line about the B52 made me depressed; it’s been like fifty years since our once great nation could commit itself to advancing military science & industry by leaps & bounds completely unprecedented. Now we squabble for decades over replacement rifles and tanker planes, while those in charge of our nation’s strategy conspire to sell our secrets and advantage to the highest bidder.

      • We dont rely on the B-52 for jack. We have the F-117, B-1B, and the B-2 for nukes. Not to mention all of our land and sub based ballistic missiles.

        Also, while I could see a sniper platform chambered in a Norma cartridge, I just don’t see a medium machine gun chambered in anything other than 7.62. Even for JSOC.

        • A good friend was a mechanic at Dyess AFB until recently. That’s where one of the U.S.’s two B1-B wings is based. The B1’s are crap. They are literally broken by the time they get into the air, every flight. They require such heavy, intensive maintenance after each flight that keeping them airworthy is a huge chore.

          The B-52s, meanwhile, are workhorses. It’s a fantastic design. Basically, like our Constitution, they were designed well. They don’t need fixing. They’ve been routinely upgraded with modern avionics and controls over the years, the only problem is age of their airframes. We could do a lot worse than simply tooling up factories to produce some brand new B-52s instead of dumping vast amounts of money into Boeing’s pockets to create designed-by-committee planes that are a practical nightmare.

        • Jeremy B: the f-117 retired around 2008. The B-1 is conventional only, no nukes since the mid 1990’s.

          Dude below him: from night-1 in Syria (where a B-1 flight lead was the strike package commander, leading F-15Es who ended up fumbling targets so the bone had to play pick-up) until the b-1 left the Middle East in early 2016, it flew less than half the flight hours over Syria and dropped almost 3/4 of the ordnance. Yes, it’s a complicated and maintenance-intensive jet, but not nearly as sensitive and maintenance-unfriendly as the B-2. Per flight hour it’s cheaper than the B-1 or B-52. This last month we flew near 90% of our scheduled sorties, and some of those cancels were due to weather. Mx is pretty damn good at getting them airborne and combat ready to go blow up shitheads.

          The buff is ugly and ancient, but it’s not going anywhere near a threat system. It’s gonna pop out ALCM/CALCM/JASSM or MALD and scoot home. Look those names up, specifically MALD and JASSM, for some insight into what a modern bomber is gonna do to the enemy.

          /rant off/

        • Rant back on…

          The buff is not the workhorse it used to be. Take a look at its electrical system alone, an archaic individual-wiring-to-every-component mess that results in a spiderweb of components. Add in 40-50yrs of sustainment upgrades and modernization, and its a maintenance worker’s nightmare (still not as bad as maintaining the B-2’s low-observable exterior). Electrical fires/failures are quite common, rendering entire systems inop.

          It’s not boeing’s fault. That was what they had in the 1950’s when this thing was designed. And we still have tail numbers dating back to that era; no kidding planes with patch work from north Vietnamese AAA fire. It’s a beast for sure, but it’s only role in a modern fight is lobbing MALD/JASSM or nuclear deterrence until the B-21 is in production. I have several friends flying buffs, so no personal vendetta against the plane. Those crews work hard with what they’ve got, and do a very important job. But the bones of the plane are entirely outdated for anything beyond low-intensity whack-a-terrorist.

        • Anner,

          I don’t disagree with anything you say, but

          . It’s a beast for sure, but it’s only role in a modern fight is lobbing MALD/JASSM or nuclear deterrence…

          …outdated for anything beyond low-intensity whack-a-terrorist.

          That’s about 99.999% of what we need bombers to do in “modern” warfare, because modern warfare is, pretty much, low-intensity whack-a-terrorist. Should we ever get into a fight with a real power, we’ve screwed up terribly, for one, and both sides will be using drones and lobbing JASSM as well as sea and ground launched missiles at each other from a distance, anyway. I’m not sure the B-21 role — flying a fantastically expensive airplane directly over a dangerous target — is a role we’ll ever need. I suspect the B-21 is going to go the way of the B-2: few produced and of limited utility.

        • Yo, Anner! I’m late to the game, but are you telling me the B-1 does not have a nuclear capability? I don’t even know how that could happen. Shoot, an F-4 had a nuclear capability! Or are you just saying the B-1 has no current assignment in a nuclear conflict, which could be changed in a week?

      • @barnbwt – I kind of look at it this way:

        In the 1950s, America built two aircraft so awesome that they still set the standard 60 years later.

        One was the B-52.
        The other was the C-130.

        You can’t set an appointment for genius, though.

        • As someone who flew one for 10 years, I would insist that the EC/KC-135 fits in that category, too. Even without the 707 passenger jet version. Most all of our combat aircraft depended on the KC-135 to accomplish their missions, including the B-52 and the C-130.

    • Just because something is old, don’t mean it’s bad. Say, isn’t there this gun the military uses called the Browing M2 HMG? How old is that again?

  4. Umm are you sure it’s not suppose to be the M249 that they want to replace? Because how it’s being describe it makes more sense, as it shoots the intermediate cartridge that are great for the close confines of the jungle or urban Europe but lacks the range for the open desert.

    • KAC has them covered if they want a lightweight 5.56 MG. They could also replace the M240 with a combination of Mk48s and LWMMGs.

      • Well assuming it is the M249, the LSAT is chambered for 5.56 too so if their issue is power they might wish for something in between 5.56 and 7.62.

      • The M249 has already been replaced for most squad level purposes in the USMC, though it’s still there last I saw in larger units.

  5. B52s definitely need modern engines (they’re working on it, as well as upgraded weapons launchers).
    Nothing really wrong with the airframe though.

    • I love the B-52, and it has lasted this long because it was simple and reliable with enormous capacity. The Air Force has abandoned the High-Low philosophy for stealth everything, which is pointless for bombing people in mud huts.

    • The AirFarce has be “working on new engines” for something like 30years. The 52 is a bomb truck with low hours which is all that really matters for a truck.

  6. The procurement process is very easy to understand. You simply do the right favors for the right people and you get what you want!

  7. Standard issue politics will destroy this switchover though. It’ll take 10x what it should, involve many false starts, assorted competitions whose results are ignored, eat up billions of tax dollars and manufacturer dollars, and in the end the generals will just pick the coolest looking stuff that will be riddled with flaws.

  8. This is the dumbest idea for military hardware I’ve seen in a while.

    Did we have some sort of tactical disadvantage with our small arms for the past 15 years of war? Nope.

    This, if it is serious, is just another boondoggle for defense contractors and the politicians that are paid by them.

    • “Did we have some sort of tactical disadvantage with our small arms for the past 15 years of war?”-
      Yes. In Afghanistan, we were regularly outmatched during dismounted patrols. M4s vs. multiple PKMs and RPKs is not where you want be.
      With an average initial engagement distance of 400 meters, which then often grew, we needed a lighter 7.62NATO belt fed and more .308s in general.

      • A much bigger disadvantage was carrying around 80 pounds of armor and gear. Tossing the armor is a much better idea. Using the 30-06 is a good idea too. But we won nearly every tactical engagement. I’d much rather fix our political will to win.

  9. Everything in ballistics is a trade off. More range equals more weight. And then as stated by a couple of folks already, the enemy will just try and hit you from farther away as you try and hit him from farther away. Having said all that and watched some of the shows like Restrepo and Taking Fire, the M4 with an Eotech would seem to be less than ideal shooting across a valley at guys behind bolders at 800+ yards.

  10. He lost it at the B-52. The bomber carries 20 AGM-86 ALCM cruise missiles Think an ICBM with 20 MIRVs.
    Then the B-52 carries a huge load of dumb bombs. Neither the B-1 or B-2 can match the conventional payload.
    What? If he thinks it’s “old” we must toss it out?

    • They’re no longer “dumb” bombs. The JDAM package makes “dumb” bombs pretty smart, pretty cheaply.

      • Yeah, I was at a reunion once briefed by a guy who flew B-52H in Desert Storm, way different than I had seen many times in Vietnam, 3 ships separated by around a mile each nose to tail, dropping strings of up to 105 dumb bombs each in a straight line through the woods. In DS, he had flown up from Diego Garcia and then flown holding patterns for around 2 1/2 hours, occasionally dropping a bomb over there, then a pair of bombs over here, pinpoint bombing of specific personnel or structures, while completely undetectable until the explosion. That’s pretty badass. I was flying -135s out of Jeddah, and knew nothing about the BUFFs except one had a problem and landed at Jeddah, big shit, gone by sunup. Their capabilities today are incredible. And someone around here should remember that all of these conflicts we are referring to have been conventional only, removing the necessity for B-1s or B-2s.

        • So this doesn’t have much bearing on the discussion at hand, but every time I read about BUFFs, I’m reminded of this story which makes me smile. It was related to me by my MDOS instructor at USAFA, who had been a Viper driver earlier in his career. He had taken off on a training flight when he experienced some minor issue (don’t remember what… nothing major or immediately threatening, but enough that he wanted to land and have it check out ASAP). He calls the tower requesting priority to land, due to his issue. They inform him he’s number 2 in the lineup. Calling back, a little miffed, he re-iterates that he is having an emergency/issue and would like priority to land. they confirm they heard him the first time, but there’s a BUFF coming in that had an engine flame out, giving them priority. My instructor (flying his single-engine lawn dart) replies that he understands… he really hates those SEVEN-ENGINE landings too… Makes me chuckle every time.

  11. The switch-barrel rifle project sounds like the single most silly thing I’ve ever heard of.

    Now, instead of hauling one rifle, and one type of ammo around, you’re going to haul one chassis, ‘n’ barrels and ‘n’ different load-outs of ammo?

    This is stupid.

    • I think it’s fair to say the operator would likely choose the caliber and barrel length prior to the mission, or keep the spare parts on one of those cool gun truck atv things their always running around in. It’s a better solution than taking an mk12, mk13, csass, msr and whatever huge 338 rifles they may be using these days.

      • So… how’s it different than having ‘n’ rifles back at the FOB, and taking the one out that you need?

  12. If someone wants more reach than a 308 in a portable machine gun, they are going to have to go to a high BC barrel burning 6.5 load. 338 is just going to increase weight, recoil and limit the number of rounds they can hump. Stupid.

  13. How about…. NO. Use that for an answer.

    There is no death laser bullet that explodes targets yet has no recoil while working well when suppressed.

    If individual weapons are worn, then replace those weapons. There is nothing new under the sun in service weapons. Nothing that requires a new weapons program. Hell, Glock 19 was the answer to the question “what is a good handgun for special operations units?”

  14. Is leghorn a combat vet? Or is he guessing. Farago and the rest of the tag crew that have never been in a gunfight military or civilian should be put in a time machine and sent back to A Shau plnned in an L shaped ambush with an m-16 jammed up with a little bit of water and dirt and get some perspective.

  15. Just to put this into a perspective that’s easier to relate to:
    I am now an “old fart” of 70. I grew up as an “Air Force Brat” and I still remember the first day the B-52s arrived at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, replacing the B-36s then stationed there. I was, if I remember rightly, about 12 years old at the time. Our house in the Officer’s Housing area quite literally used to shake whenever the B-36s took off (about 1 every 30 seconds or so during exercises), and that all stopped after the “BUFFs” arrived, although with the latter, you generally had to interrupt your conversations every 30 seconds to wait while each of THEM took off. They were noisy, but they didn’t actually shake the house or rattle the windows.
    So, in proper perspective – For most of today’s Americans, the “BUFF” has been the primary USAF bomber since before their grandparents reached puberty. That’s right, the B-52 went operational right around the same time as Rock and Roll was invented! On the other hand, the 1911 has been carrying the load since even before their great-grandparents were born!

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