By Colonel (Ret.) Don McFetridge
Between sequestration, presidential campaigns and the reduction of American participation in two wars, the defense budget is under severe pressure. As has historically been the case, the Army has the most expensive element of the defense package, over time, and that is manpower. The Air Force and Navy have consistently been the more successful of the services in taking the high ground on Capitol Hill. This discussion is not about lobbying for more money from Congress, it is about wisely using what the Army does receive.
With the pressure on, the Army must make every dollar count. Not only is this sound management, but it demonstrates that the treasure the country provides will be well spent on things that count, on the battlefield. Congress is always looking for “waste, fraud and abuse.” Also stupidity. When the Air Force tried to cut the A-10 (again and for at least the THIRD time), Congress wisely refused. Our colleagues in blue were shameless in trying to ditch a system that works for a very expensive promise to provide F-35s to do the job. That was very clearly never going to happen until and unless the F-35 had no other higher priority, read air superiority, mission and the lads in blue were really bored.
When Congress and the American people look at Army programs, those few that remain, they must surely be shaking their heads. Here are two Army issues that should be immediately cancelled. The money saved should be re-programed to maintain save brigades, battalions and companies.
A SHOT IN THE FOOT
As the DOD proponent for small arms the Army has decided to replace the 9 mm Beretta similar to a 1911 which you’d have in a 1911 holster, typically, and is going ahead with testing to select a new side arm.
First a little history. The Army’s issue side arm in the Spanish-American War and the Philippines Insurgency that followed was the .38 caliber revolver. It proved to be inadequate for the close battle where an attacker could sustain even mortal wounds but still close with and deliver a fatal attack on the firer. The .38 lacked stopping power. John Browning came to the rescue with the M-1911, .45 caliber automatic. The .45 delivered the stopping power, carried more rounds in the magazine that a revolver, was quicker and easier to reload, especially at night, when under the stress of battle, or in bad weather. The ’45 carried the Army through two world wars and numerous other conflicts quite adequately. It was a simple weapon, easily maintained and exceptionally rugged – virtually solider-proof. It wasn’t the lightest pistol ever made and had an effective range for an average shooter of 50 to 75 meters.
In the 1980’s the Army decided to replace M-1911 with a newer, lighter automatic. The M-9 was indeed lighter and it was easier to shoot. For smaller persons, it was an easier weapon to handle and while its 9 mm rounds delivered less kinetic energy, there were more rounds available in the magazine if needed. So, out with the M-1911 and in with the M-9. The M-9 has some nice features, but these do not offset its limitations.
The 9 mm round is about the same size and has essentially the same hitting power as the .38 caliber, that is to say not enough! To be reasonably assured of “target effect” the shooter had to double tap the target. That may sound easy enough but if there are five attackers coming at the shooter and even one is not killed or disabled, the pistol has failed in its purpose.
At the end of the any competition, the realities of combat and laws of physics are no different in 2015 than they were in 1905. A pistol is by definition a short range weapon. It is for the close battle, the last ditch, clearing the trench or the building, finishing the final 50 meter fight. A pistol is a “side arm”, issued to those who man crew served weapons – tanks, artillery and mortars, machine guns and the like. It is for officers, military police, combat service supporters and those not expected to use it except in extremis. When it is needed, however, it must do the job the first time, every time. The 9 mm cartridge simply does not deliver the same knock-down, stay-down hitting power needed in those scenarios.
So, having spent billions on the M-9, the Army is now proposing to spend additional billions to replace it with something that will look a lot like an M-1911. For those who may not want or need the features of the larger caliber pistol, let them retain the M-9. There are certainly enough in the system. Cancel the testing that will only show the obvious, and reissue the .45 caliber. If it was good enough to tackle the Hindenburg Line, stop the banzai charge and oh, by the way, is the caliber of choice for most of our special operators, then it is good enough until there is a truly revolutionary technological breakthrough in hand guns.
Lest you think I have exaggerated the stopping power issue, I refer you former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Ms. Giffords was shot in the forehead with a 9 mm that penetrated her brain but thankfully was not mortal. No one who sustained a similar wound with a .45 caliber EVER survived.
CAMOUFLAGING A MISTAKE
After World War II, the Army resisted issuing a camouflage pattern uniform for decades. In part at least this was a reaction by that WW2 generation to the ubiquitous issue of camouflage to German soldiers, most notably the SS. Eventually, common sense and a transition of generations saw the introduction of the woodlands green uniform, a functional and well-designed improvement over the green fatigue uniform that it replaced. It fitted the European climate and landscape where the next war was expected. Since that time we have seen the additional issue of the desert pattern, aka chocolate drop, tan version and the present (hideous) computer pixilated ACU. Meanwhile the other services introduced their own camouflage patterns, primarily to be different from the Army’s, though they were justified as “improvements”. The ultimate absurdity is the Navy version which serves only to make a sailor overboard more difficult to see in the water. Try, if you will, to justify an Air Force blue pattern “camouflage” uniform on any basis besides cosmetic.
Each time a new pattern has been introduced the associated field equipment – rucksack, web gear, protective vests, etc. have been instantly outdated. The resulting mix and match not only defeats the idea of blending with the surroundings, but encourages early (and expensive) replacement of serviceable items in the name of uniformity.
Now we will have a new round of field testing and commentary for yet another camouflage pattern. What must inevitably result is a compromise that fits some areas, some of the time. Congress has narrowly defeated efforts by the other services to have their own “camouflage” patterns but this will probably not be the last word on that issue.
What we find, what is inescapable until the advent of invisibility-cloaks, is that no one pattern or color combination fits all areas and climates. Even the hard-pressed German war machine turned out dozens of camouflage patterns, colors and styles of uniforms to meet local terrain and weather conditions.
The woodlands pattern was a good, functional and well-designed uniform. It looked appropriately smart on parade unlike the present ACU which most resembles a large puddle of cat vomit. No new color combination, pattern or styling will produce a cost-effective improvement. What it will produce is another glut of superseded, used and new clothing in military surplus stores.
Col (Ret.) C. D. (Don) McFetridge was born and raised in Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin (BA ’68) and the University of Hawaii (MA ’70). He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Armor, in 1970 and assigned to the 14th Armored Cavalry on the East-West German border. During the first 20 years of his 30-year career Colonel McFetridge served in squadrons of the 3rd, 7th, 11th, 12th and 14th Cavalry Regiments and in tank battalions of the 33rd and 64th Armored Regiments in both Germany and in the United States.The high point of Colonel McFetridge’s career was command of the 3rd Squadron, 12th Cavalry, 4th Brigade, 3rd Armored Division in Buedingen, Germany. The squadron was re-designated as the 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry in February 1989. Colonel McFetridge was the US Army Senior Service College Fellow for 1990-91 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston. Following a tour on the Army Staff, Colonel McFetridge became the Defense and Army Attaché to the Republic of Indonesia (1994-98). Since retirement, Colonel McFetridge has worked as a consultant on all continents.