So says the Atlantic in a fine piece by Robert Scales, a retired major general and former commandant of the Army War College:
In combat, an infantryman lives an animal’s life. The primal laws of tooth and fang determine whether he will live or die. Killing is quick. Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq reinforces the lesson that there is no such thing in small-arms combat as a fair fight. Infantrymen advance into the killing zone grimy, tired, confused, hungry, and scared. Their equipment is dirty, dented, or worn. They die on patrol from ambushes, from sniper attacks, from booby traps and improvised explosive devices. They may have only a split second to lift, aim, and pull the trigger before the enemy fires. Survival depends on the ability to deliver more killing power at longer ranges and with greater precision than the enemy.
Any lost edge, however small, means death. A jammed weapon, an enemy too swift and elusive to be engaged with aimed fire, an enemy out of range yet capable of delivering a larger volume of return fire—any of these cancel out all the wonderfully superior and expensive American air- and sea-based weapons that may be fired in support of ground troops. A soldier in basic training is told that his rifle is his best friend and his ticket home. If the lives of so many depend on just the development of a $1,000, six-pound composite of steel and plastic, why can’t the richest country in the world give it to them?
What follows is a fascinating dissertation on the Army’s resistance (dating back to Lincoln’s time) to adopt new weapons; a discussion of the origins of the AR-15 and its adoption for military use as the M16, and the often fatal problems with the rifle that then ensued, including failure to feed, and why the Soviet WWII-era AK-47 is still the best damn combat gun ever designed and mass-manufactured.
Fearing the deadly consequences of a “failure to feed” in a fight, some top-tier Special Operations units like Delta Force and SEAL Team Six use a more modern and effective rifle with a more reliable operating-rod mechanism. But front-line Army and Marine riflemen still fire weapons much more likely to jam than the AK‑47. Failure to feed affects every aspect of a fight. A Russian infantryman can fire about 140 rounds a minute without stopping. The M4 [the newer version of the M16] fires at roughly half that rate…
From the time of General James Ripley to today, the Army has found reasons to deny its soldiers in the line of fire the safest and most efficient firearms. It doesn’t have to be this way. A few dollars invested now will save the lives of legions of brave infantrymen and -women for generations to come.
Even if you don’t particularly care about guns, read the whole thing.