The U.S. Army isn’t getting outgunned by Taliban and Haqqani fighters in Afghanistan, but the limited range of U.S. infantrymen’s weapons has led the enemy to employ some smart tactical shifts.
According to a September budget reprogramming document signed by Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale, Afghan (and Pakistani?) insurgents have figured out that most American infantry weapons “have effective ranges of 500m or less,” making them “ineffective against enemy soldiers equipped with RPGs and medium machine guns at ranges from 920m to 1,000m.”
Guess how far away enemy fighters try to get before engaging U.S. troops?
To try and get things moving in the opposite direction, the Army recently sent over one hundred Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifles to Afghanistan in response to an urgent operational needs statement sent earlier this year calling for weapons with greater range. The Carl Gustav’s operating range is about 1,300 meters, with a 1,250 meter airburst capability, which should really help American infantrymen reach out and touch someone.
In addition to the 126 guns, funding will provide for 3,024 rounds of ammunition (1,512 each of High Explosive (HE) and High Explosive Dual Purpose rounds). The Army hopes that the Carl Gustav will be a solution to the almost unfathomable reality that American forces are losing the standoff battle with the enemy. The weapon is already a known commodity—to put it mildly—since it has been in use by about forty different militaries around the globe for the past half century, including U.S. Army Rangers, Navy Seals and other American Special Forces groups since the 1980s.
Wes Walters, executive VP of Saab North America—maker of the weapon—says that the Gustav weighs in at 21 lbs, and each round weighs in at about 6 lbs, but adds that the company is developing a new gun that will weigh closer to 15 or 16 lbs. which it hopes to field in two to three years. Of the two different rounds sent to Afghanistan, the one expected to be used most often is the HE round, whose maximum range is 1,300 meters “puts them well within the range of engaging gunners with RPGs,” Walters says. “It’s an area weapon,” he adds, “so you don’t have to be so accurate, but you need to have the proper distance … so they have range finders for that."
Part of the reason for the order is that when U.S. forces are unable to engage the enemy, they often have to rely on calling in airstrikes or artillery fire, all of which sucks up time in what is often a fluid, quick fight. There’s also the money issue. The Pentagon’s reprogramming document is pretty frank about all this: The Carl Gustav is “more effective than relying on mortars and less expensive then artillery or Javelin Anti-tank missile.”
The gun itself costs less than $30,000 apiece, Walters says, while the rounds of HE are about $1,000 apiece. The Army’s Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) is currently in theater evaluating the Gustav in combat and is preparing an operational evaluation report that is due in the January time frame, so we’ll soon know if American infantry units can match the standoff ranges of their opponents. (I can hardly believe I just wrote that.) The gun is currently being used by the 3/10 Brigade Combat Team, which will soon hand them off to elements of the 82nd Airborne Division then they take over.
We’re looking forward to seeing what ATEC has to say, though you figure they could have probably just asked members of the U.S. Special Forces, or our allies, what they think.