Over the years, I have been asked a number of times what my handgun caliber choice is & why. It’s not a simple, nor fast question to answer so I’ll make an attempt to provide a comprehensive answer here.
The rounds you will find by my side most often are some form of expanding 9mm hollow points. They are not +P’s or +P+’s, just your regular octane leaded type. Before I go on let’s get the definitions for mechanics of projectile wounding out there:
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss how a person or animal is incapacitated by projectile wounding. There are really two ways projectiles incapacitate a target, the first being massive hemorrhaging (blood loss). This could take some time to incapacitate as there are a number of variable factors: At what rate is blood loss occurring, what physical state is the target it, is the target pumped up on drugs, what is the mental state of the target, etc. The second way to incapacitate is to shut down the central nervous system (CNS). Shutting down the CNS is instant lights out! To summarize, you have two incapacitation options: you can wait for the target to drain and pass out or flip the CNS switch and be instantly out.
Let’s talk about draining the target….
If you want to drain a bucket full of water the bigger the hole you drill in the bucket the faster the water will flow out the bottom. The same thing for humans and animals, however there is no significant difference in flow rates between hole sizes in .35”, .40”, .45”. Yes I know there IS a difference but do the math. Let’s say the bucket has a bottom that’s 1.8m2 (average body surface area of a male human is 1.8m2 ), 19.3ft*2 , or 2970in*2. If you poke a .45” hole in the bottom then .0054% of the surface area is allowing water to escape. If you poke a .35” hole in the bottom then .0034% is allowing water to escape. Personally I don’t think their is much difference between .0034% and .0054% in relation to the human body. After all it’s only 0.002%!!!
There are lots of people who carry .45acp’s because of its “knockdown power” (a retarded term that I’ll dispel later), and because it’s “gona punch a big hole in someone”. What they don’t take into effect is how much recoil you now have to deal with and how limited you are on ammunition. There are also people who say they would rather have a bigger round so their chances of hitting a critical CNS spot are higher. Let’s do the math folks, a .45 is only 0.093 bigger than a .357, so you have an extra 0.0465” on either side to hit that critical CNS spot. THAT’S NOT MUCH AT ALL! So in order to get .002% more surface area and an extra 0.093” of diameter you’re adding MUCH HIGHER RECOIL and LIMITING THE NUMBER OF ROUNDS YOU CAN CARRY! Call me nuts but why the hell would you want to do that! Penetration? Yes penetration would be a good reason to consider. The FBI did some extensive tests a number of years ago, the penetration data from 9mm & .45 ACP shot into ballistic gelatin are below.
124gr Speer Gold Dot Penetration: 12.6” FBI Test
230gr Speer Gold Dot Penetration: 16” FBI Test
As the test data shows the extra weight of the .45 ACP round enables the round to push deeper into the gel then the lighter 9mm. This is a good thing seeing that most American’s are fat… oop’s I mean obese. So depending on what angle your target is at when rounds are in the air you might need all the penetration you can get, especially if you’re shooting for center mass and not trying to shut down the CNS. Penetration is also something to consider if you might have to shoot though barriers, windows, drywall, car doors etc. Speed is a good thing, a 9mm 127gr going 1050 is spanked by the .357 Sig (also a 9mm bullet) that’s traveling on average of 200 feet per second faster. Keep in mind that for most folks a good 12” of penetration will get you through the arm and find its way to the heart. Is 16” better? Yes. Is it necessary? It depends on the situation.
Now let’s talk about shutting down the CNS. This can be done by putting a round into the brain housing group (head) in the brain stem. This is a rather small target when compared to the upper torso. If you’re taught how to shoot correctly you know to keep shooting until the target drops. If you’re attempting to shut down the CNS with a head shot you might miss….. That said, wouldn’t you want to get back on target faster for a follow up shot? Would you rather deal with the recoil of a .500 S&W or the recoil of a .22LR? If I’m trying to poke holes in a target that’s small and moving I’d much rather deal with as little recoil as possible while sending a round down range that can penetrate the target and get results.
Ok onto “stopping power” now…. a term that each and every time I hear it I know the person who just uttered said words has no clue what they are talking about. I’m going to insert some work done by the FBI here to save time:
“Physiological factors such as energy deposit, momentum transfer, size of temporary cavity or calculations such as the RII are irrelevant or erroneous. The impact of a bullet upon the body is no more than the recoil of the weapon. The ratio of bullet mass to target mass is too extreme.
The often referred to “knock-down power” implies the ability of a bullet to move its target. This is nothing more than momentum of the bullet. It is the transfer of momentum that will cause a target to move in response to the blow received. “Isaac Newton proved this to be the case mathematically in the 17th Century, and Benjamin Robins verified in experimentally through the invention and use of the ballistic pendulum to determine muzzle velocity by measurement of the pendulum motion.” 4
Goddard amply proves the fallacy of “knock-down power” by calculating the heights (and resultant velocities) from which a one pound weight and a ten pound weight must be dropped to equal the momentum of a 9mm and .45 ACP projectiles at its muzzle velocities, respectively. The results are revealing. In order to equal the impact of a 9mm bullet at its muzzle velocity, a one pound weight must be dropped from a height of 5.96 feet, achieving a velocity of 19.6 fps. To equal the impact of a .45 ACP bullet, the one pound weight needs a velocity of 27.1 fps and must be dropped from a height of 11.4 feet. A ten pound weight equals the impact of a 9mm bullet when dropped from a height of 0.72 INCHES (velocity attained is 1.96 fps), and equals the impact of a .45 when dropped from 1.73 INCHES (achieving a velocity of 2.71 fps). 
A bullet simply cannot knock a man down. If it had the energy to do so, then equal energy would be applied against the shooter and he too would be knocked down. This is simple physics, and has been known for hundreds of years.  The amount of energy deposited in the body by a bullet is approximately equivalent to being hit with a baseball.  The tissue damage is the only physical link to incapacitation within the desired time frame, i.e., instantaneously.
The human target can be reliably incapacitated only by disrupting or destroying the brain or upper spinal cord. Absent that, incapacitation is subject to a host of variables, the most important of which are beyond the control of the shooter. Incapacitation becomes an eventual event, not necessarily an immediate one. If the physiological factors which can contribute to incapacitation are present, even a minor wound can result in immediately incapacitation. If they are not present, incapacitation can be significantly delayed even with major, survivable wounds. “
Ok so if you’re still with me I hope that you have learned something. That way next time you’re on the range or in a gun shop and you see some guy toting a 1911 and spitting out nonsense like “back in Nam” “the .45 would lift a gook of his feet” or generally discussing “knock-down power” you will instantly identity him as a buffoon.
Long explanation of why I carry a 9mm…. in short, It recoils less, I can poke more holes exactly where I need them- faster and I have more rounds onboard should I need them.
Additional notes……. Hollow-points (HP) are designed to expand at a certain velocity, thus if your hand-cannon launch’s said projectiles at a slower velocity they might not work as designed. Also keep in mind that if you clog a hollow point with clothing, or other materials it might not expand. Hornady recently came up with its Critical DutyTM line of ammunition that’s pre-clogged! They designed it so that it would perform predictably in most barriers shot during the FBI protocol. DON’T EXPECT a HP round to do magic! You’re only poking a hole in a target…. and IF the HP round does expand to cause a larger permanent cavity you don’t want to be sitting around with your thumb up your ass waiting for a target to bleed out. In closing if you can’t find a 9mm that fits your requirements (due to hand size or concealability) ensure that you carry some form of ballistic protection….. A .22 in the pocket is better then nothing!
Finally, after sixty plus years of Marine snipers making due with the 7.62X51 NATO cartridge, the Corps has given our long-range death dealers a tool to bring them into the 21st century. Little is known outside certain circles of the Navy's Mk13 series of rifles and how they came about. I thought I'd take the time to data dump what I know about the .300 Win Mags the Navy has been building for thirty plus years.
NAVY SHOOTING TEAM
Back in 1991-92, the United States Navy shooting team was looking to gain an edge on the opposition. The 7.62X51 cartridge wasn't cutting the mustard on windy days at the 1000 yard line. The shooting team looked to the .300 Winchester Magnum to field a new series of long-range competition rifles. The .300WM allowed the team to push heavier bullets at faster speeds, thus making the effects the wind had on the projectiles less than that of it's lighter and slower 7.62X51 little brother. Early on the Navy team saw a noticeable improvement downrange. The gunsmiths who were tasked with building the team rifles were the same guys responsible for building the sniper rifles for the SEAL teams. The smiths and the SEAL snipers both wanted the teams to have the same capability.
MOD ZERO IS BORN
The original rifles "Mod 0" version of the Mk13 had primarily 26.5" barrels with a few sporting 27". The scope base and ring set up on the 1st issue were typically one one-piece base with mounting slots, more akin to a typical Weaver two-piece scope base. Having Mil-Stander 1913 Picatinny rails was not a thing back then. NSW didn't get a solid hold of configuration management until later in 90's thus why so many variances.
At the time the only rifle mounted night vision device teams had access to was the KIGRE Simrad KN-200, then later on the KN-250. Both of these night vision scopes were mounted to the day optic via a special scope ring cap that enabled the device to mount over and onto the day scope. The KN's used a reflex mirror to get the night vision picture into the day scope. Back then the Joint Special Operations Programs office (JSOP) did not exist, so the Mk13 rifles were strictly issued to the SEAL teams.
Over the years the SEAL snipers and NSW armorers made small improvements to the rifles such as modifying the bolts to install SAKO style extractors. By the time the guns were being issued with desert tan stocks, a newer technology "in-line" night vision systems were coming online. These did not require the old "piggyback" mounting system. The choice mount at the time was the McAnn Industries rail. Early versions had no provisions for adding side accessories, the 2nd generation of McAnn rail enable SEALs to mount IR lasers at the 3 and 9 o'clock position.
CRANE & SOCOM
Around 2002 Naval Surface Warfare formed the JSOP office to share program technology with other SOCOM units. This opened up the unique capabilities of the early Mk13's to other SOF units who had a similar demand.
Come 2003 SEAL teams were asking for suppressed versions of the Mk13. The US Army's Ranger Regiment had commissioned a few Mk13's to be built specifically for them to evaluate the .300WM capability further. This is where the Mk13 Mod 2 came about. The Mod 2 brought about an Accuracy International AICS stock 2.0 (folder) and the McAnn rail was dropped for the Remington MARS rail. In addition to these changes, the barrel was threaded at the muzzle and fitted with a thread protector. The Ranger said they were going to install their own flash hider/suppressor mounts. At the same time NSW Crane began exploring various suppressor options for the teams. The teams already had a suppressor in the system that had a 7.62mm hole in it, and could also handle the excess pressure the .300WM would generate. This suppressor was being mounted on the Mk11's (Knight Armament semi-auto 7.62mm). The Mk11 was the only suppressed.30 caliber system in inventory, so the engineers at Crane began working to adapt the KAC suppressor to fit the MK13s. The first versions of suppressor capable Mk13 had a journal turned down on the barrel, and a mock-up of the MK11 gas block was pressed/pinned in place to house the locking pin slots and alignment pin.
THE MOD 5
Eventually, the SEAL teams looked to transition to a chassis style stock like the Mod2 used... Rangers Lead the Way! When the MK13 Mod5 came online, the M16 extractor replaced the SAKO style extractor; the McAnn MARS rail was retained, and the barrel was redesigned to eliminate the need for an additional fixture to mount the MK11 Mod0 suppressor. The Crane engineers designed a barrel profile that would incorporate the appropriate contour to allow the KAC suppressor locking pin slots to be milled directly into the barrel. The Mk 13 Mod5 existed in this configuration until the 2010/2011 timeframe. This is when a decorated SEAL sniper and experienced gunsmith Mr. Chris Higgins started working at NSWC Crane. Having spent a good amount of his career in all sniper roles, Chris was determined to fix a few of the issues he typically saw at the sniper school and in the field with the Mk 13 Mod5. Early Mk13 Mod5s were built on modified Remington M700 actions that had been reworked at Crane.
In 2010 Stiller Precision was awarded a contract to provide a Remington M700 replacement. The McCann and Remington MARS rails had caused many the screws that secured the rails to loosen or break under recoil with night vision mounted. The new Stiller action used a completely round receiver vs. the Remington M700s that had a "half-flat" rear receiver ring. Crane looked at transitioning to a split scope rail and night vision rail solution. Stiller provided a 20 MOA rail for their receivers, and Crane acquired Badger Ordnance 20 MOA rails for the Remington based variants in the field. Both receiver versions were outfitted with the Badger IMUNS mount which was installed at the front of the chassis system.
MOD 7 TAKES SHAPE
In 2013 two of the core Mk13 supply contracts had expired. These included the contract with Accuracy International for the AICS stocks and the contract with Knight's Armament for the MK11 Mod0/2 and accessories (including the MK11 Mod0 suppressor). That same year the SOPMOD engineering group was announcing the Family of Muzzle Brakes and Suppressors (FMBS) competition. Knowing that this was an opportunity to correct some of the big issues they had with the system, Chris Higgins got permission to write the requirements documents (with NSW/SOCOM approval) to solicit a new stock system more compatible with the array of accessories available as well as write a requirement into the FMBS RFP for a Win Mag specific suppressor. The SEAL community had also expressed a desire to go to a 2-stage trigger. When all was said and done, AI won the stock competition. Surefire won the MK13 configuration of the suppressor contract (as did AAC -dual award). X-Treme Shooting products triggers were initially used as the X-mark pro from Rem could not pass the drop test. Working with the JSOP office to get a Fielding and Deployment Release (F&DR) for this configuration when SOCOM Safety office weighed in that there were several significant changes to warrant a new MK/Mod as well as a complete Safety Release.
MOD 5's STILL BEING PRODUCED
Although the MK13 Mod7 was primarily conceived for the SEALs, NSW had quite a stockpile of old AICS stocks and MK11 Mod0 suppressors so, and the call was to keep building Mod5s until the supplies were depleted. So, the Mk13 Mod7 which Chris had painstakingly developed for his brothers was first issued to none other then MARSOC Marines! When I asked Chris about this, he said: "it was like being rigger's taped to a chair, eyes propped open with toothpicks and being forced to watch my own sister kiss some Air Force dude..."
Although the MK13 Mod7 is a SOCOM system, the SEALs and MARSOC were the primary customers. By this time, the XM 2010 project the US Army had been running had become the M2010 weapon system. USASOC units were directed to cease procuring the MK13 and transition to the M2010 (MFP2 dollars always trumps MFP11 dollars ).
In 2006 the Marine Corps established the Marine Special Operations Command, the Corps had finally become a part of SOCOM. Early on the MARSOC companies had been using the Corps standard issue M40A3/A5's and Mk11 & M110's as their sniper rifles. From prior experiences with Marine Corps Detachment One, the senior snipers inside MARSOC knew they needed a rifle with more reach. Procuring their own systems within the Marine Corps supply chain was not an option. Their easiest route was to use the only .300WM rifle in the Navy system, the Mk13. MARSOC had received a dozen or so Mk13 Mod 3's and later the Mod 5's. MARSOC kept a limited number of M40's for training and sustainment purposes. The downside of the .300WM cartridge is that its throat erodes at a much faster rate, thus requiring re-barreling at nearly 4-5X that of the 7.62NATO. Since the Mk13 was an official Navy program of record, each time a MARSOC Mk13 needed a re-barrel, it was sent off to NSW Crane for the work to be performed. MARSOC's 2112's could do the work if the unit was deployed however teh Marines I have spoken with don't ever recall a MARSOC 2112 doing so.
Some might ask why MARSOC didn't just jump onboard with the Army's large buy of the M2010's. Well doing anything the regular Army does for its snipers just wouldn't cut the mustard for the sniper in MARSOC. Since MARSOC was a SOCOM unit, they funding they had would be more effective if they used SOCOM systems. In the end, using the Mk13's vs. the M2010's was faster and less expensive for MARSOC.
The snipers inside MARSOC had some flexibility when it came to optics. Crane does not supply the Mk13's with optics. This is up to the individual units to do. So the MARSOC Mk13's were outfitted with a slew of optics including S&B, Leupold and Nightforce. As optics improved, the MARSOC snipers upgraded as they saw fit.
THE FLEET MARINES GET THE MK13 MOD 7's
MARSOC has great flexibility in what they do since they are a part of SOCOM. The conventional Marine snipers have to deal with the Corps procurement system, and moreover Marine Corps Systems Command. The fleet Marines started to seriously consider upgrading to the .300WM in 2015. By then the regular Army had been slaying bodies with that cartridge for years with great effect. The Marines had been making their 7.62NATO rounds work at distances exceeding what they Army is typically capable of with their .300WM. It was time for the Corps to get theirs. The decision to go with the Mk13 came about during a join maneuvers project at Fort AP Hill in 2016. Since the Mk13 was already in the Navy inventory it made it easier for the Marines get these into the fleet. Currently the Corps snipers are shooting the old inventory A191 190 grain HPBTs.
Goal: Provide vetted, trained and equipped armed low-profile presences in public and or private schools with little to no impact on existing budgets.
Where the volunteers would be sourced from NSPF would be compromised of active or prior service law enforcement and military members. These individuals have already separated themselves from the general populace when they decided to put their lives on the line for our nation or our communities. They have received standardized basic training through DOD channels or police academy’s nationwide. While this training may or may not be applicable to given situations, they may encounter in a school, by default they have far more experience dealing with stressful scenarios than Joe-Q-public.
Vetting Process: NSPF applicants would have to;
1. Show prior service (DOD/LEO), honorable discharge required.
2. Already be licensed to carry in the community they are serving.
3. Attend advanced psychological screening testing & screening above what the local law enforcement officers are put through, to ensure they exceed the standards as LEO’s in the community they are serving. Testing to include;
4. Demonstrate firearms proficiency by passing the highest standardized shooting tests administered in the state they wish to serve. For most this would be the State's SWAT or SRT shooting test.
5. Be interviewed by the School Resource Officer (SRO) in the community they are serving to ensure their personality is compatible with the environment they will serve in. If there is no SRO, the police chief or other designated LEO inside the department will conduct the interview.
Administration: The program administration would fall under the SRO or other LEO designee.
Conduct: Basic scheme of maneuver for the program
Funding: Whom would pay for the training? This is a volunteer force, so the individual would be responsible for all costs associated with screening, training and refresher training. Outside funding for the program would be acceptable.
I recently read the article the Washington Post put out asking why the Corps hasn’t fielded a long-range rifle to keep up with the other branches of service and more importantly potential future adversaries. The article I can only assume purposely glanced over two larger caliber rifles in current use by the Corps, however, it has once again brought a deficiency to light.
The Corps larger caliber rifles
The Corps currently has two larger caliber rifles in use that were not mentioned in the Post’s article. The Mk13 is a special built .300 win mag rifle made by NSWC Crane for MARSOC. Those in MARSOC, who have employed these rifles overseas, have achieved some amazing results at ranges beyond what the Mk13 was intended for. There are numerous reports and after action reports where Marines have successfully killed targets beyond 1500m, some just over 2000m. This is a real testament to the talent of the Marines behind the glass. The Post article also failed to mention the Corps Barrett M107. While some of the Corps M107’s are MOV (minute of vehicle) rifles, some have no issue shooting MOA (minute of angle) at distance with decent lots of Mk211.The Mk211 round is a high explosive, armor piercing, incendiary projectile manufactured by Nammo in Raufoss Norway. It’s a very accurate and lethal round, whose payload has helped change the outcome of many battles. Again some of the talented Marines who employ the M107’s have pulled off some remarkable shots beyond 2k while in Afghanistan. While the Mk13 is not fielded by the Fleet Marine Forces, the M107’s can be found in every infantry battalion along with LAR and the reconnaissance units. While some Marines think that the M107 needs to go away, it’s a tool that should never leave the proverbial toolbox. Far too often the U.S. military focuses its equipment & tactics on past conflicts. Those calling for the M107’s removal have lost the foresight that we may someday face a force with lightly armored vehicles in quantity. So despite what the Washington Post article said, there are larger calibers in use by the Corps other than the 7.62X51mm NATO.
Lack of requirements
I saw some comments on social media stating that the Corps does not have any written demand for a larger caliber rifle. In doing some quick research on a few different systems, I found a few urgent needs statements (UNS’s) and UUNS’s dating all the way back to 2004 specifically asking for .338’s. The requirements are there and had been submitted up the chain, they just fell on deaf ears at some point.
Let’s rebuild (again)
Instead of doing what most militaries do when upgrading capabilities (procuring a new weapons system), the Corps has a long history of making things last forever. The M40 turned into the A1, then the A3, to the A5 and as of current they are still planning on building another bolt action (the A7), in you guessed it- 7.62 NATO. The guys providing input into the project know there are much better platforms out there. However, they have their hands tied using the existing Rem 700 short actions. A majority of the semi-auto 7.62 NATO rifles the Corps employs have decent accuracy at distance and allow the Marine to carry one rifle vs. a bolt gun and an M4 for defense. So building another bolt action 7.62 NATO rifle makes ZERO common sense.
Logistically speaking before a new rifle could be fielded, the MPF (Maritime Prepositioning Force) ships, ASP’s (Ammunition Supply Points) and other locations across the globe would have to stock up on parts and ammunition to support the new rifles. Again this takes time and money. The last thing you would want is to go to war and not have your logistical supply chain ready to support those on
A stick with more than one trick
The SOCOM (Special Operations Command) Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) program lead to the successful fielding of the Remington MSR. The PSR program called for manufacturers to build super accurate multi-caliber rifles. I had worked with 3 of the companies who submitted rifles, and these rifles could shoot their asses off. Most of them allowed for the rapid change of calibers to best match the mission. Remington, Barrett, Desert Tec, and AI all had great designs, with Desert Tec being the only outside of the box bull pup submission. The PSR program specified that rifles must be able to convert between three calibers, 7.62X51, .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua Mag. Being able to use the existing match grade 7.62 & .300wm ammunition gave the end users more flexibility both operationally and in training. While the MSR rifle from Remington is a great rifle, I think that the Corps should look into a heavier switch barrel design. One that could fire existing .50 BMG munitions, however, should one adopt an actual long range performer like the .375, .408 or .416 it’s a mere 1-2 min change and your back in business.
There was an article in the Marine Corps Gazette 20+ years ago written by a LtCol who had taken the time to educate himself on the current calibers both our nation’s two top units were using, and the calibers dominating civilian long range competitions. The article was rather in depth and covered the +/-‘s of doing a caliber change. A lot has happened in the past 20 years. The Army had the foresight to field long-action M24’s back in the day that were chambered in 7.62 NATO. The Marine Corps M40A series consisted of a short action. The Army knew that someday they might want to go to .300WM… 25 years later that’s exactly what they did with the M2010. The M2010 is an entirely upgraded M24 built by Remington. It’s not technically a “new” rifle, as the existing M24 contract had an ECP (engineering change provision), thus allowing the Army to quickly “upgrade” the M24 without having to jump through the standard hoops. The Corps can’t do that. Thus, they would need an entirely new rifle. If you’re starting fresh one should also look at selecting the best caliber for the future, NOT what can be rapidly acquired through the other services existing ammunition contracts. There are some great calibers out there these days, however, most shooters just default to the .338 Lapua Magnum. While this is a good round, I would consider it only a starting point for discussions. The .338 Norma Magnum is having great success in a few SOF units. What’s the difference between the LM and the NM? The Norma cartridge was designed to optimize the 300 grain HPBT projectile and do so in a standard length magazine. It’s also reportedly easier on the barrel throats, so a longer accurate barrel life is a byproduct. There are lots of great long range cartridges out there to choose from. If you’re starting with a clean slate, one must dive into the caliber debate head first & do so with guys who have a full understanding of modern ballistics (PhD’s).
SYSCOM is in the driver’s seat
Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) or “SYSCOM” for short is charged with equipping and sustain Marine forces with current technologies and aiding in crisis response capabilities. They are the ones driving the train here. If SYSCOM wanted to answer quickly the call for a larger caliber rifle, they could take one of the easiest routes and implement what SOCOM has done with their PSR program. While this is not the standard route, it would get the Marines a multi-caliber rifle much faster. Doing so might be easy for those at SYSCOM to accept however it would get our Marines a more flexible long range rifle in their hands a lot sooner. I know a lot of great Marines and civilian staff who have worked or currently work at SYSCOM. However, a majority of their counterparts have proven to be incapable of forward progress promptly. A great MARSOC Marine, who is unfortunately no longer with us, said not too long ago “SYSCOM can’t move at the speed of war”… he’s spot on. The levels of bureaucracy on Planet Quantico is indeed mind blowing.
Saving up for new toys
No matter what way the Corps decides to go, if they roll outside of their standard calibers and simple bolt-on upgrades, it will take time to implement. First off one must allocate funding for any new rifles and associated ammunition. You need to understand fully the planning, programming, budgeting and execution (PPBE) process to grasp the timelines associated with funding a weapons system Corps wide. While sometimes I hear Marines who know more than the rest throw out the term “they have to POM (program objective memorandum) funds years in advance”, the POM is only a small subcomponent of the all-encompassing PPBE process. Before it is considered to hit even the POM as an initiative, it has to receive DOTMLPF (Doctrine, Material, Leadership & Education, Personnel, and Facilities) review. That review is just a high five from some old broke warriors who wear Polo shirts, and beer bellies, are mostly GS13-15’s and are now called “operations research analysts.” They need to verify that the initiative is doctrinally sound with how Marines fight. These guys work on Planet Quantico in places like SYSCOM, MCOTEA (Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity), MCWL (Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory), and MCCDC (Marine Corps Combat Development Command). It’s a lot of alphabet soup, I realize this but weapons systems and major end items have to go thru this churn in order to get properly vetted and end up with dollars lined up in the out years for their procurement. This process is mainly overseen by the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, then signed off on by the Commandant himself. While the process can be fast-tracked if the right Generals express interest, it’s typically a rather slow process.
Hopefully, the Washington Post’s article kicked up enough debate to get the Corps senior officers behind the push for a new long-range rifle system What will the Marine Corps do? I haven’t a clue. What I can say is that they should look into the latest technological advances and balance the costly cutting edge technologies with available budgets. I would also caution them on letting outsiders influence their decision. Pick the brains of everyone in the world, and then come to your own conclusion. After all it’s the current active duty Marines who will have to carry and employ these weapons around the world.
April 9th 2004 we found ourselves participating in one of the fiercest battles ever fought inside the “Triangle of Death”. What started off as a normal squad patrol with 15 Marines ended with hundreds of Marines battling their way through a town. For years I have been thinking about my actions on that day and what could have been done different. This is why I suggest everyone who carries a weapon for a living should bust their ass and train hard. You never know where you may end up and who’s lives may be on the line. Below is my account from that day, along with the Company CO, Battalion CO and others.
On 5 April 2004, Fox Company 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines participated in a five-day battalion operation to protect Shia pilgrims along Highway 8 aka “Route Jackson”. Over the course of the week, thousands of Iraqi Shia were expected to travel on foot between Baghdad and the cities of Najaf and Karbala in honor of the Shia religious event known as Arba’een. This was the first time in decades that the pilgrimage had been permitted and the number of people participating was greater than had been anticipated.
1st platoon occupied a firm base in the Karch Oil Facility and the rest of the company occupied a firm base several miles to the south in an ice factory. The company sent out patrols throughout the day and night in order to deter attacks on the thousands of Iraqis walking to the south. Fox Company positions were in Lutafiyah in the southern portion of the battalion’s AO while the other two companies occupied positions to the north in Mahmudiyah.
The company experienced contact each day, either through the detection or detonation of IEDs, mortar attacks on the firm base, or short firefights with insurgents. The company firm base was attacked with mortar and machine gun fire each night and several Marines were injured outside the ice factory when mortar rounds landed close to the company position. While the company’s Marines experienced multiple engagements throughout the week, no pilgrims were attacked within Fox Co’s AO.
I was the Platoon Sergeant for 1st Plt at the time and was responsible for taking care of my Marines and the platoon’s operational control while advising the platoon commander. We had set up the patrol base the day prior in an abandoned building the locals turned into a trash collection area.
It wasn’t the best place, but it didn’t stink and we could pull all the vehicles and Marines under the shade. The night prior myself and the Lt. climbed one of the highest tanks in the field located next to our patrol base. We did this at sunset so we could get eyes on patrol routes but hopefully not skyline ourselves in the process. After we had figured out the route the 1st squad patrol was to take, we sat for a while and enjoyed the sunset. We had been up there now for about 40 min when a long line of tracers appeared overhead, then started impacting the oil tank. Simultaneously two mortar rounds impacted in the area. We quickly slid down the backside of the tank to take cover. The attack was over in 20 seconds but drove home the fact that we were always being watched and the insurgents would exploit any opportunity we gave them. Once we got off the tank we launched a squad on patrol. Their 1st checkpoint was the area where the insurgents had launched their attack. Then they were to head north while skirting the city on the east.
The squad didn’t expect contact, since the insurgents typically don’t attack and stay in an area. The patrol was to return to base in 4 hours. As soon as the patrol got to their northernmost checkpoint they were heavily engaged. Murphy’s Law came into play and all communications with the squad went down. I remember looking to the north and seeing tracers flying through the air in all directions. I kind of felt like a father watching their kids get into their 1st fight in school…and was hoping that they came out unscathed. As the other two squads were preparing to depart and link up with Marines in the fight communications were re-established. No one hurt, and the squad was returning to base. Once they got back I debriefed the squad. Plans for 1st light were to launch another squad into the same area to search for evidence left behind the night prior. You might not think that this would be important but it really does help to know where you enemy set up, how long they were waiting, if they were employing multiple belt fed machine guns, bolt guns, etc. Every bit of intel you can gather is important.
The next morning I had the Marines assist in reinforcing an observation post on top of the tallest tank in the field. This would allow us to keep an eye on the patrols, and more importantly an eye on the town. I took up an M82A3 (.50 cal sniper rifle) and an M40A3 (7.62mm sniper rifle) and most importantly a Marine who could call wind. Cpl Tucker had been a range coach on Parris Island prior to getting to our unit. So he had a great understanding of how wind affects bullets, and how to read the wind. His ability to do so would prove critical that day.
The squad was to depart and head straight north to the southern edge of the town and then patrol through the easternmost part of the town until they reached the attack point from the night prior.
The patrol left the base around 07:00 that morning. As soon they were moving towards the town Cpl Tucker who was behind the spotting scope noticed a dead animal on the side of the road. Not too out of the ordinary. However, he did pick up a slight reflection coming off the animal. I got behind the glass and noticed the same glint. The squad was notified of a possible IED and preceded with caution. As they approached the dead animal they saw the wires leading into it so they set up a cordon per SOP.
Shortly after the cordon was set we noticed woman and children slowly clearing out of the area. All the Marines on the ground knew what that meant, but were unsure where the attack might come from. Cpl Tucker and I were actively scanning the area to their north for any sign of insurgent activity. EOD was called and they gave a 45 min ETA from their location. Moments later a motorcycle with two men on it drove by the squad; in their passing they dropped two grenades. By the time the grenades went off, the bike had disappeared behind buildings and made its way out. Then it seemed like all hell broke loose and the squad started taking heavy fire from the northwest. I immediately called for our remaining two squads to mount up and to link up with the squad in contact and extract them. They were to come into the town via the MSR then head east to link up with the squad. After that call both comm systems I had on the tower stopped working, we had zero ability to communicate with anyone.
The 1st shots out of my rifle were just over a thousand yards. Not an issue for the M82A3, especially since the one I had with me was one of the few that drilled. Cpl Tucker and I were both laying on a metal roof, surrounded by metal barriers, this combination reflects a lot of sound and about made us both deaf after the 1st shot. We took the 4 seconds to jam in some ear protection otherwise we would undoubtedly be completely deaf in minutes and practically useless.
The effect the Mk211 rounds had on the insurgents was devastating. Each guy who caught one of my rounds was blown into pieces and left a pinkish mist in the air. The insurgents were trying to flank the squad on the east, but our precision fires kept this from taking place. While all this was happening the other two squads at the patrol base were loading up and getting ready to drive into the fight. Meanwhile, the Company Commander and 2nd Plt left the Ice Factory to reinforce 1st Plt.
The squad in contact was taking more and more fire as the minutes went on, so they started moving to find a defendable position. As they were moving north two of the Marines became separated from the squad and the insurgents tried to maneuver on them. However, Cpl Tucker and I kept mixing metal & meat and the two Marines were able to rejoin the squad.
The squad eventually found themselves deep in the town. In their search for a defendable position they kept moving northwest. This made supporting them from my position even harder. As they would bound from one area to another Cpl Tucker & I would be scanning for targets of opportunity and killed them as they popped up.
Unlike how Hollywood might depict, it was not “one shot, one kill” 100% of the time. Most of the targets were moving & only stopped for seconds at a time. They were at various distances, and the winds were coming from multiple directions and gusting. If a round did miss the target and Cpl Tucker saw the splash he fed me instant corrections and the next round was out a second later. This enabled us to connect a number of times on distant targets under bad conditions.
The squad finally located a small schoolhouse they could easily defend. They cleared the school and set in for one hell of a fight. The school was the best defendable position around and they were being surrounded by insurgents the second they took it over.
While the squad was defending their position Cpl Tucker and I kept the insurgents off the rooftops, for if they got access to a vantage point they could lay down effective machinegun fire and kill my Marines. I was not about to let that happen. We noticed three insurgents with belt fed machineguns heading up a tall building north of the schoolhouse. The rooftop of that building would have allowed the insurgents to fire down into the schoolhouse and also keep reinforcements from reaching the schoolhouse. Taking this team out became our priority. The 1st round we sent out was off by a few mils. Cpl Tucker picked up the splash and gave me a correction. 2nd round was also off, but a lot closer than the 1st. The 3rd round landed on the stairway wall they were crouched behind. The backside of the wall turned red and we didn’t see any activity from that point on. During the debrief at the COC the next day the distance from our position to the insurgent machinegun team was 1614 meters as measured by Falcon View.
EOD arrived with one of the battalion’s CAAT sections. As they approached the squad’s position, the CAAT section saw the muzzle blasts from our position and mistook those fires for an enemy sniper. They engaged our position with .50 cal machine gun fire as they attempted to link up with the squad. This went on for a while. We would fire, and then get a volley of .50cal back at us from multiple machineguns. When the rounds started impacting the oil tank I became a little worried…after all we are sitting on top of hundreds of thousands of gallons of flammable liquid. Lucky for us the Russians who built the tanks built them well and they withstood the hundreds of rounds of .50cal that slammed into the side.
Due to the massive amount of fire received on their planned route, the company had to find an alternate route to reach the squad. The company CO, the BN FAC (forward air controller), and the 2d platoon commander (along with a squad from 2d platoon) moved to establish eyes on the enemy when they were engaged from the east-west road on the south side of Hy Salaam and the palm grove. They returned fire and attempted to move to a position where they could better observe the enemy positions and call for air support. As they were moving further east I noticed an insurgent heading down an ally way with what looked like an RPK. As he turned, I noticed the forend and the scope. By the time my round made it out there he jumped a wall and was gone. Seconds later Cpl Speer (a squad leader in 2nd Plt) was shot as he came around a corner. I did not know that at the time. By this time the QRF from 1st Plt had two casualties that needed to be airlifted out. I later found out that as the 1st Plt QRF came under heavy fire Marines that I once considered lazy, unmotivated, or weak minded were stepping up and taking charge.
The Battalion QRF was called in along with a Huey to evacuate the dead/wounded. When the BN QRF showed up with a full company (150+ Marines) and the BN jump CP, both companies got on line to clear the town from south to north. Fighting was intense for a few hours, but once the FAC got the F14’s rolling the insurgents started to head back home, and this was when time was on our side. From our point we could see insurgent’s running back home with weapons in hand. Most would go inside and not come back out; those who did were now targets of opportunity. I remember one middle aged man who ran to the hut in the back of his house. He dropped off his RPG and came back out with a pitchfork and began working his garden. 1st round out just missed him and he ducked behind a palm tree. Not only will the Mk211 round penetrate armor, it will also penetrate palm trees! The 2nd round made another pink mist cloud. These were bad people who had been trying to kill Marines, so in my mind (and in accordance with the ROE) they all needed to die.
As the day winded down, there were fewer and fewer people who needed killing. People started storing weapons and ammunition in coffins atop vehicles so they could drive them south out of the town past the Marines. I saw one group dump a body out of a coffin and fill it back up with weapons. We were bingo on Mk211 by that time and using my M40 would have not been effective. Had we more rounds for the .50 I would have thoroughly enjoyed dropping more bodies around the coffin.
The sun was starting to set so Cpl Tucker and I packed up shop and got off the tower. When we got back to the patrol base we were not surprised that everyone was gone. So we walked over to the guard building of the oil field. Inside we found 9 guards with AK-47’s. We did our best to ask for a key to one of the trucks, and eventually Cpl Tucker was able to talk the man into the keys. For those of you who know Cpl Tucker you know he’s a very diplomatic man who has certain abilities to persuade people. As we walked outside of the building the armed guards followed us. They started looking around for other Marines. The hair went up on the back of my neck and I started to talk on my non-operable radio. I then started pointing to various locations in the field and waiving. The guards also started looking. I pointed to my sniper rifle and then pointed to more locations. I was trying to give the guards the impression that we were under observation from multiple sniper teams. It must have worked because the guards got quiet and went back inside.
As Cpl Tucker and I were walking out to grab one of the vehicles and drive it back to base one of the CAAT teams drove in to pick us up (the driver would later become the SNCOIC of the Marine Scout/Sniper School in Quantico). As this was the last day of the Arba’een pilgrimage and the operation had concluded, the company then consolidated on Route Jackson and returned to FOB Mahmudiyah. Once we linked back up with the Plt I learned of our two casualties and Cpl Speer. When I heard what had happened to him and where it happened I was a kick in the balls. All I could think of was the insurgent with the scoped rifle and if he was the one who killed Cpl Speer. The ride back to the FOB was depressing. When we got back I went to the company CP to pick up my platoon’s mail. Next to 1st Plt’s mail was 2nd’s. On top of 2nd’s stack was a letter from Cpl Speer’s wife, with kisses all over it and little hearts. I knew she would be getting a visit by some Marines in Dress Blues shortly and it’s a visit no one wants to get…
It’s one of those thoughts that will never leave you, always wondering “what if”. Could I have done something different? Could you have trained harder? Should I have had that area inside my field of view? I was surprised that no other Marines were killed in that battle. It was 12+ hours of constant fighting with the sound of gunfire never leaving the town until sunset. This can probably be chalked up to the tactics the Marines employed and the leadership of the commanders.
Two months later I was hit by an IED and was medically retired from the Marines two years later.
From April 2004 to the time I retired, I trained those Marines in my charge as much as possible.
Even though my battle was over I knew the training I provided the Marines could possibly save their lives at some point & time. While I was going through the medical retirement process I was reassigned to the Division Training Center (DTC). Upon arrival the CO saw my drive and determination and asked me to stand up the 2nd MarDiv Pre-Sniper course. I couldn’t have been happier; my CO was able to pull some of the Marines’ most experienced snipers over to the DTC so they too could share the knowledge and experiences before leaving the Marines.
After retiring from the Marines in I moonlighted at Blackwater, one of the best places to train at the time. After being there for a while I thought it could be done better, so I started my own training company Tier 1 Group (T1G). T1G has since trained thousands of special operational forces, training that has saved dozens of lives (this is documented). I left T1G in 2012 to further improve on the way our military trains.
Comments from those Marines on the ground on Bad Friday:
“I had the privilege of commanding the “Warlords” of 2d Battalion 2d marines during this action and to this day I remember the reports, the radio calls, and the action on the ground clearly. I also remember the gut wrenching feeling of losing Sgt (posthumously) Mike “Papa Smurf” Speer and knowing that Good Friday took on a completely new meaning for me in terms of sacrificing one’s life for ones friends as Sgt Speer did. He was leading from the front, as I would expect any Marine NCO to do, and did so because it came naturally to him and because he was “heading to the sound of the guns” when he was struck down. Staff Sergeant Reichert has done a superb job of recounting the events of that day, the uncertainty surrounding actions in an urban insurgency environment, and the exceptional professionalism, skill, loyalty, and confidence exhibited by so many who are part of this Nations newest “greatest generation.” I will pass on to those of you who will read this a small excerpt from something I wrote about these amazing young people and ask that you keep Eliza Speer, and so many others in your prayers this day and every Good Friday. My Marines and Sailors have always been my heroes. My last letter to the families of 2d Battalion had the following at its conclusion and while I am seldom happy with things I say or write, in retrospect, this describes my admiration for those Marines and Sailors well: In closing, I will say yet again what an honor it has been to have been given the rare privilege of commanding such fine men under difficult conditions. They led, they fought for a nation and for a people, and they kept faith with each other and with you. They inspired the world with their example of what is best among the youth of our country and they have established a legacy of leadership and courage that will become the foundation for the leadership of the Naval Service well into the twenty-first century. As we reunite with our families and recall the moments of courage and compassion that changed our lives during the past seven months, I think you will see a change in these men. That change will reflect the special knowledge of what it means to have given freedom to a nation, hope to a people, and strength to each other during moments when the measure of a man’s life is defined by his actions. You and they will find that those actions will stand the test of time and be remembered with great pride. Freedom has taken hold in Iraq and it will not let go because of what these brave men have done. God Bless each of you, God Bless America, and Semper Fi from your Marines and Sailors in Iraq!” Col Giles Kyser “Warlord Six”
“I was the company commander of Fox 2/2 as a captain during the action Steve described above. Scenes from that day are etched in my memory as they are, I’m sure, for all the Marines that fought that day. I was with the rest of the company at the company’s firm base in an ice factory about three miles south of 1st platoon. We were tracking via radio how 1st Platoon was investigating a suspected IED when we got a call that a squad from 1st platoon was in heavy contact and pinned down with two Marines wounded. I grabbed Lt XXXXX, the 2d Platoon Commander, and we mounted up with his platoon to head north. We screamed up Route Jackson until we reached the palm grove west of Hy Salaam and the road that leads into the town on the south side of the palm grove. Once we arrived, I made radio contact with 1st Platoon. I was only able to reach 1st Platoon sporadically on the radio, but I heard enough to know that most of 1st Platoon had reached the engaged squad and now the entire platoon was pinned down. A canal, chain link fence, a line of market buildings, and a few hundred meters of palm grove separated us from 1st Platoon. The battalion quick reaction force (QRF), along with a forward air controller (FAC), arrived shortly after we did. As I explained the situation to the QRF, the FAC made contact with a couple of F-14s that had arrived overhead. The F-14s reported a large group gathering down the road to the east, but the pilots couldn’t tell if the group was armed. If we could get eyes on this group and they were armed, we could drop a bomb on them and put an end to this fight. Lt XXXXX and I pushed down the road with one of his fire teams and the FAC, using the market buildings for cover as best we could. Within a few dozen yards we drew fire and dropped to the prone. The rounds snapped over our heads. We were putting almost no fire back in return, as we had trained not to shoot unless we could positively ID a target. I saw a fighter running across the road at about two hundred yards away and pulled the trigger on my shotgun (back then a rifle company didn’t have enough rifles for the whole company- it’s a different Marine Corps now). I knew I’d have no effect at that range, but I hoped to get the Marines around me firing back at the enemy. The muzzle was just a couple feet from Lt. XXXXX’s ear and he was deaf on that side the rest of the day. It was obvious at this point that we were not going to get down this road and get eyes on this group gathering. We started bounding back the road, firing to cover one another’s movement as we went. At this point Lt. XXXXX got a call on his ICOM radio and I heard it on mine: “Cpl Speer’s been hit.” “How is he? Is he OK?” “I’d rather not say, sir…” By the time we bounded back up the road to where the rest of the company was, Cpl Speer was laid out on the ground, his legs sticking out from under a poncho. One of those rounds going over our heads as we were in the prone had hit Cpl Speer just above the plate in his body armor and exited under the back rim of his helmet (Michael Speer was promoted to Sergeant posthumously). I checked back with the QRF section leader and told him to hold the corner of Route Jackson and the road leading into Hy Salaam with his heavy machine gun vehicle while 2d Platoon and I would move around the north side of the palm grove to clear Hy Salaam from north to south. Shortly after we stepped off, the fire at the intersection increased and I doubted that the QRF could maintain their position while we went all the way around to the north side of Hy Salaam. We turned the group around and then plunged through the canal, pushing through the waist-deep mud and filth and then broke a hole in the fence. Now we were in the palm grove. I told Lt. XXXXX to spread his Marines out on line and we advanced toward where 1st Platoon was still pinned down. Episodic shots rang out to our south. As we advanced through the palm grove, I walked up next to one the 2d Platoon Marines. “Hey XXXXXX, how you doing?” “I’m fuckin scared sir.” “Yeah, I know- the enemy’s scared, too.” Within a few minutes, we reached 1st Platoon. The enemy had either broken contact after getting atritted by Reichert’s fire or they had seen 2d Platoon coming and pulled back. We led 1st Platoon back out of the palm grove to the road that we could use as an LZ for the wounded and to link up with LtCol Kyser (the battalion commander) and Easy Company who had just arrived from Mahmudiyah to our north. A couple of helicopters arrived and the company loaded Cpl Speer once one of the birds landed on Route Jackson. Our wounded were still being carried out of the palm grove when we got the word that the helicopters had to leave to support the assistant division commanding general, whose convoy had just been ambushed several dozen miles away. We raced to get our wounded out of the palm grove and on the bird just before it took off. Once the helos lifted, the battalion commander, operations officer, the Easy Company CO, and I gathered on the hood of a HMMWV and scratched out a quick plan to clear Hy Salaam. We put both companies on line and cleared through the densely packed neighborhood house by house. The enemy broke contact in short order. We later learned that the enemy fled out of Hy Salaam and the neighboring ville to the south with their weapons tucked in coffins. We had heard of the enemy using coffins to hide their weapons before; now the insurgents had to fit those weapons in the coffins along with the bodies of several of their fighters. We consolidated back on Route Jackson and prepared to head north- this was when Reichert and Tucker were making their way back out of their hide site and back to the 1st Platoon patrol base that 1st platoon had emptied during the fight. Lt. XXXXXXX (the 1st Platoon Commander) told the QRF he had lost contact with Reichert and they raced back in to the oil depot to pick the two Marines up. We returned back to FOB Mahmudiyah. wo days later I was back in Lutafiyah with a Fox Company Platoon to meet with the town council, our first meeting since the Hy Salaam firefight. As we approached the town we could see columns of black smoke rising to the sky- it turned out to be smoke from burning vehicles that were part of a logistics convoy that was driving up Route Jackson unannounced. It had been ambushed and was now in disarray for several miles up and down Route Jackson. It was the start of another long day in Lutafiyah. As I write this from Afghanistan ten years later, I find my memory of Bad Friday works in patches, with images, conversations, and short reels of time seared into my brain, but with foggy gaps between those sharp memories. I recall that radio call and the conversation in the palm grove like it was yesterday. I don’t remember a word that was said over the hood of that HMMWV. A lot of our Marines did some extremely brave things that day. I’m deeply in their debt for their actions on that day and many others. And I’m still awed that they all kept moving toward the sound of the guns every time they were called upon to do so. Semper Fidelis” LtCol Tim Bairstow “Fox 6″
“I will never forget you and I thank you with all my heart. You made many men humble and kept us safe engaging from your nest! THANK YOU SIR!” Cpl Jimmy Chappell 1st Plt Fox Co Team Leader
“Even among the small arms fire and other unspeakables, that 50 thundered and cracked across the sky with vengeance. Thank you.” Doc Aye-Vita 1st Plt Fox Co Corpsman
“Our son was one of the injured Marines airlifted out during this engagement… He was a member of 2Marines 2 D, Mike Speer was one of his best friends. My wife and I are forever grateful for your service. Thanks for keeping our son alive… ” Scott
For years Marine snipers have been using their coveted bolt-action M40s (A1/2/3/5) to take out enemies all over the world. These rifles are all built by hand at the Marine Corps Precision Weapons Shop (PWS) in Quantico, VA. The Marines at PWS build some of the most accurate sniper rifles in DOD, yet when 9/11 sent the Marines into Iraq and Afghanistan the shortcomings of the new M40A3 were soon apparent. Marines on the front lines needed rifles that were shorter and lighter, had better fields of view, and were quiet. But the weapons procurement timelines in non-special operational forces are long, and what should take months typically takes years. This is where the DARPA XM-3 came in.
Enemy Snipers Take a Toll
When urgent needs statements (UNSs) started coming from the sniper platoons on the front lines, one government agency was quick to respond—the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, better known as DARPA. In 2003 DARPA became interested in helping the Marine snipers counter insurgent snipers who had been successful in spotting and killing Marine snipers in hide sites. When our nation’s elite snipers are killed by enemy snipers, it tends to get the attention of all groups in DOD, DARPA being no exception.
DARPA looked at the problem from a technology standpoint. What could DARPA do to increase the Marine snipers’ chances of survival while improving their lethality? One project they were working on was a sniper detection system called the Boomerang. In 2004, as this system was being field tested at Camp Lejeune against Marine snipers on Hathcock Range, the Marine Corps’ representative to DARPA, Col Otto Weigl, was on deck watching the Marine snipers fire against the system. The Col noticed an older gentleman getting down in the dirt and talking to the Marines behind the rifles. The man asking the questions was LtCol Norm Chandler USMC (Ret.). He had been responsible for building Hathcock range in the 90s, so he took an interest any time a new technology was tested there. LtCol Chandler had noticed a Marine was having issues with his optics, and he asked what issues they were having in general with their currently issued M40A3s. That day on the range Col Weigl learned about the shortcomings of the Marines’ sniper rifles and equipment.
DARPA gets in bed
I was the SNCOIC of the 2nd Marine Division’s Pre-Sniper course in 2004 when I got a call from LtCol Chandler. I had known him for years and knew his company built some rock-solid rifles. LtCol Chandler told me he had spoken extensively with Col Weigl and that the Col might be able to provide some technological assistance for the next set of units heading out the door. I found it hard to believe that an O-6 would have taken such an interest so I called Col Weigl’s office at the Pentagon. The Col explained what DARPA could and couldn’t do, and asked to arrange a meeting with snipers and some key leadership within the Division. That year DARPA held a small conference with Marine snipers to gather information on equipment and desired improvements. To develop a new program, DARPA decided to do an evaluation of off-the-shelf equipment that could be acquired, deployed, and evaluated.
The conference and evaluation led to many developments. “In mid-2005,” Col Weigl recounts, “DARPA provided a deploying MEU with spotting scopes, laser range finders, clip on night-vision devices for weapons, carbine suppressors and deployed 2 Mirage 1200 counter sniper systems. DARPA also provided night vision and suppressors to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s first distributed operations platoon deployed in Afghanistan.”
The initial equipment DARPA fielded was used in combat on a daily basis. The technical reports and after-action reports provided DARPA with the justification needed to start the M40XM program. Since DARPA had used Iron Brigade Armory to get the equipment to the Marines, they had a great working relationship. The folks at DARPA also understood what a battle-hardened rifle needed, so it was a natural fit for them to select Iron Brigade Armory. In 2005 DARPA contracted IBA to build and test lightweight sniper rifles that incorporated the improvements the snipers desired in combat.
DARPA’s mission was to develop a complete sniper system for both day and night operations. The system had to be lighter and smaller than the existing M40s while having better accuracy, clip-on night vision that did not require a re-zero, better optics, and better stock, and it had to be suppressed.
Getting funding for the project was not an issue. According to Col Weigl, “Funding for the prototypes XM1 through XM3, as well as the 56 full systems was not a problem since there was interest from the DARPA director Tony Tether, SOCOM General Brown, and USMC General Mattis.” The support and funding made it possible to expedite the development and fielding of the systems.
IBA began development of the M40XM1 in early 2005. From the outset they wanted to develop a rifle that was lighter and shorter and that possessed a suppressor and night vision capability. Some of the issues with the Army’s M24 and the Marines’ M40A3s were long barrels, long actions (M24), weaver rails (M24), heavy stocks (M40A3), and fixed power optics. IBA had to look at each issue on the M24 and M40A3 with a critical eye. DARPA wasn’t interested in developing another M40A3 boat anchor. IBA looked at all the parts in a standard Remington 700 action and began working to lighten and modify any factory parts to achieve better results. So what made the XM3 so different? Here are some of the main elements that set them apart:
During the development, IBA went through a total of five configurations before settling on the XM3’s final configuration. The first and most obvious departure from a regular M40A3 was the stock. The Marines who used the M40A1 loved the sleek, low-profile stock. It didn’t weigh much, it was easy to maneuver, and it fit most guys well. The main downside to the McMillian A1 stock was the low comb height—plus the fact that the forend was not wide enough to accept the new in-line night vision mounts. I called McMillian Brothers in Arizona and spoke to Mr. McMillian himself. I explained what the XM program was about and asked if he could take an A1 rear, raise the comb half an inch, and use an A3 forend. He said it wouldn’t be a problem, and they got on it. Within three weeks I had the new A6 (as it was called at the time—it’s now the A1-3) stock at my doorstep. Now the stock problem was solved! IBA bedded the the new A6 onto my existing Chandler rifle and we began putting it through it’s paces. Within a month I had sent the stock to Rikert Engineering in MA to have it modified into a take-down stock. This same stock would eventually end up overseas on a Marine Corps XM-3.
The other major departures from the sniper rifles of the day were in barrel length and contour. The barrel had to be short enough to allow maneuverability yet long enough to deliver a 10” group at 1,000 yards. If the barrel was too heavy, maneuverability would decrease, yet if the barrel was too light it would only be able to shoot a few rounds before the groups started to shift due to barrel temperature. IBA tested a number of barrel lengths, ranging from 16 to 20 inches and in different contours and even a fluted version. Each rifle with a different length was assigned an XM designator starting with XM1 through XM3. In each case, everything on the prototype rifles was kept the same except the barrel. During the final phases of testing it was found that the 18” barrels had no issues keeping up with their longer 20” brethren. The final barrel length was set at 18.5”, and the contour was a modified #7. The straight taper on the barrel was only 2” vs. 4” and the overall diameter at the muzzle was .85” vs. .980”. This helped reduce a lot of the rifle’s weight while not negatively affecting accuracy or effective range. A number of the groups at 1,000 yards were -1 MOA.
Once the final rifle configuration had been settled on, the prototype XM3 was sent to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana for testing, safety certification, and a comparison test. The tests conducted at Crane were very scientific. Every round was fired on a fully instrumented range and recorded. The XM3 was tested side by side with the Mk13 Mod 5 and the Mk 11 Mod 0. The XM3 did extremely well during testing.
The time it took IBA to develop and field the XM3 rifle was light years ahead of typical government programs. By the time the first XM3 rifle had been shipped out the door, only 12 months had passed since DARPA had contacted them.
The DARPA XM3 rolls out
You would think with such support the Marines would be chomping at the bit to get these new weapons systems in hand. Despite the interest from Gen Mattis, some Marine program managers at Marine Corps Systems Command (SYSCOM) said there were no requirements for a new sniper rifle and made DARPA jump through numerous hoops. The Marines tested and evaluated the XM3 in Quantico. SYSCOM required an official safety certification from the Navy’s Surface Warfare Center, and once the bureaucratic pushback from SYSCOM, PWS, and unit armory and supply officers was overcome, the systems were sent to the units. In 2006 the Marine Corps started to take delivery of the XM3 sniper weapon system. The system included:
A number of the first units to receive the XM3 were West Coast infantry battalions. Col Weigl had been working with GySgt Ken Sutherby, one of the Corps’ top snipers, to ensure the rifles made a smooth transition into the fleet. GySgt Sutherby was instrumental in ensuring that the sniper platoons who received the XM3s knew how they operated and what they could and could not do. This was the first time the Marines had seen in-line night vision devices that did not require them to be zeroed to a specific rifle. It was also the first time the Marines had variable power scopes and most importantly the first time they were able to shoot their rifles suppressed.
Col Weigl and Norm Chandler, Jr. were on hand at Camp Pendleton when the first shipment of rifles was delivered to I-MEF. As with all IBA rifles the XM3s were test fired and zeroed before leaving the shop. When the Marines cracked open the cases and went to zero the rifles, they were pleasantly surprised that all the rifles were within a ½ MOA of their point of aim. The Marines were able to hit their targets all the way out to 1,000 yards with ease. But that night was when the Marines’ jaws really dropped. After the sun went down, the Marines tossed on the PVS-26 universal Night Sights. Using their prior data, more than 75% of the Marines had first-round hits at 900 yards, fully suppressed!
The Marines loved the fact that the rifle was more compact and lighter and had more capabilities than their existing M40A3s. The rifle was mostly able to keep up accuracy-wise with the longer-barreled M40A3s. Even though the barrel on the XM3 was a full six inches shorter, muzzle velocity was only reduced by 100fps on average. Did this make the rifle less accurate? No. It just meant that, depending on the environment, the rounds sometimes went trans-sonic prior to reaching the 1,000-yard mark.
DARPA XM3 Goes to War
Shortly after I-MEF took receipt of the XM-3s, the first units in II-MEF took receipt of theirs and two additional XM-3’s were built for MCWL (Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory). The two MCWL XM-3’s had a special low-profile take-down feature built into them. One of these stocks came off my personal Chandler rifle. By mid 2006 there were dozens of XM3s in Iraq quietly killing insurgents. One of the first reports back described a team of three insurgents emplacing an IED about 400 yards away from the team. It was just after midnight when the team shot the first insurgent. The other two had no idea where the shot came from and starting running directly towards the team. The sniper took out the second guy, while the third guy kept running towards the team. The third guy was dropped about 200 yards from the team’s position. There were reports like this coming back from theater monthly.
I thought the Marines themselves could best sum up their thoughts on the XM3:
DARPA XM3 issues
One of the few pitfalls of the XM3 program was that it wasn’t official. Therefore no structured training or maintenance plans were in place or ever implemented. This meant that if one of the rifles went down for whatever reason, its life was over. Although the XM3 could have easily been maintained by the 2112s, SYSCOM wouldn’t officially let them work on the rifles, which reduced their productive lifespan in the hands of the Marine snipers. I know of a few 2112s who would do the right thing and fix any sniper rifle a Marine is using, regardless of what paperwork is or isn’t on file at SYSCOM—but this only goes so far when the official policy gets in the way.
Another issue from a shooter’s point of view was the optic selected for use. The optic was the same one used by the SEALs on their Mk13s, but it was adjusted in MOA. When the XM3s were fielded, the Marines just started switching over to the SSDS with MIL adjustments. The veteran snipers knew MOA adjustments, but not all really understood them since their Unertl 10Xs were single-revolution BDCs. For a new sniper coming out of sniper school who knew mils, it was now necessary to also learn MOA. The scope also lacked the reticle in the first focal plane. This meant the only way to do correct mil readings or moving-target leads was to power the scope to its max. Some of the units used the Nightforces and did great with them, while others never could figure out MOAs and instead put on either old Unertl 10Xs or the new SSDSs.
Most of the XM3s became theater assets, meaning they were left in the combat zones and were transferred from unit to unit. This meant that an incoming Marine sniper was issued the XM3 upon entry into his area of operations. The Marine probably had no prior training and was relying on data someone else had gathered and that he had not confirmed for himself.
Nine years Later
In doing the research for this article I found that most of the XM3s have been sent to the Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB) in Albany, Georgia. Had there been a program of record, the 2112s could have worked on the rifles and kept them in service. As it stood when I initially wrote this article the 48 XM3s in Albany were slated for destruction in August of 2012. Four rifles remained in the fleet with the Marines.
The Marines could have done a few things with the XM3s to ensure they continue their service in some way. First, they could have spent end-of-year funds to get the rifles refurbished and upgraded by the manufacturer. This would add 52 more sniper rifles to the inventory, bringing the Marine Corps’ total number of sniper rifles near 1,200. The total cost to have all 52 rifles re-barreled, re-bolted, re-bedded, and upgraded to detachable box magazines would be just over $100,000. Second, the rifles could have been sent back to the manufacturer where any worn parts that would cause safety issues would be replaced, and the rifles would then be sold in the manner that Remington is selling the Army’s old M24s to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The third option would be to have every rifle chopped up and dropped in the dumpster.
To see these fine combat sniper rifles destroyed would be shame. I hope the Marine Corps does the right thing and puts these rifles to use, either in killing insurgents or in raising money for our wounded warriors. I feel personally attached to these rifles as I was involved heavily in their development.
Link: M40XM-3 Sniper System Safety Assessment Report (SAR)
Link: XM-3 Users Manual
Link: XM-3 Sniper Rifle Accuracy Crane Report
Link: 1st XM-3 for sale with CMP
Semper Fi Steve Reichert
8/15/2014: The article above caught the eye of a former Army logistician when it was published by SOF. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. EB, he was able to get the Marine Corps to transfer the XM3’s over to the US Army. The Army then transferred the XM3’s to the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). The CMP will start auctioning off the XM3’s at the end of August 2014. This is the 1st time in history a COMPLETE US Govt issued sniper rifle with documented combat history has been made available to the public.
9/20/2014: The 1st DARPA XM-3 was sold via auction on the CMP’s website. The final price was $16,001.00. It would have been higher had CMP’s website not crashed during the last 4 days of the auction. The rifle went to a firearms accessory company CEO who has done a lot of the Marines over the years.
11/18/2014: The 2nd DARPA XM-3 was sold to yours truly. I had been in contact with CMP for six months on a rather large XM-3 lot purchase, so I had a good idea of what was in the inventory. The folks at CMP were extremely receptive of my request to track down one of the rarest XM-3’s used by the Marine Corps. The Marines had 2 XM-3’s with take-down stocks, and only 1 of the take-down XM-3’s had a fluted barrel. I knew one of those two rifles had the 1st McMillian A6 stock on it (my old personal stock). After cutting a check, the guys at CMP shipped out one of the two MCWL XM-3’s. Upon opening the box, it felt like an old family reunion. The XM-3 with a fluted barrel that I held in my hand had been one of the prototype XM’s that we had tested at Blackwater. It was the only one ever made with flutes. I took the rifle apart to clean it up and upon looking inside the barrel channel I saw “SSGT REICHERT”. When IBA had bedded the 1st McMillian A6 onto my personal rifle, they stamped my rank and name into the stock. Months later IBA asked if I would be willing to switch stocks out so DARPA could have two take-down XM-3’s in their inventory. The stock went onto an XM-3 and off to MCWL. Upon inspecting the gun book, I saw that MCWL had sent the rifle into Ramadi Iraq for one of the the most infamous combat operations in the city. The 1st unit to get the XM-3 did an ok job at keeping the gun book up to date. There were 111 rounds logged in during the rifles 1st few months in the country. I’m still researching the combat history of this rifle; it’s a history that I’m sure is extensive with lots of great stories. More to follow!~
11/21/2014: Took the XM-3 to the range today to ensure she’s zeroed. With Remington factory 175 grain match she consistently printed 1/2 MOA at 102yds. At 302yds I ran some Lapua 185 grain through her, the groups were all 1/2 MOA or less. Two groups were 1/3 MOA. It’s nice to have part of the family so to speak back in the house, and in perfect working order.
More often than not folks that don’t directly know me assume that I have some high-speedo Ninja type SOF background based on what I have done since retiring from the Marine Corps. While I find this humbling, I’d like to clarify that I have never been in Delta Force nor a book writing/movie producing SEAL unit. I’m not some high-speedo Marine sniper or pipe-hitter with MARSOC. I was never in the Air Force and am not a PJ/CCT sky-god. Never did any time as a member of the Marine Corps reconnaissance community (BN or Force). I have been fortunate to have been exposed to great people over the years both in the military and out. People that I have learned a tremendous amount from. This has enabled me to be successful in business and build companies whose primary clientele consist of thousands of our nation’s finest SOF forces.