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American Military Procurement Mysteries

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Yes, it's not just us that gets it badly wrong.

After all, this is the US military that chose the crappy M-14 over the SLR; and the crappy M60 over the GPMG. Although they have now replaced the M60 with the GPMG (aka the FN MAG58, or in US mong designations, the M240), but only forty years late. And they do seem to buy some good foreign kit (Harriers, our 81mm mortar, our 105mm Light Gun, a British 155mm towed gun, etc, etc)

Anyway, some examples of this include:

  • The M551 Sheridan - sort of like a Scorpion, but with a 152mm gun that was supposed to fire the Shillelagh missile. Unfortunately, the gun had too much oomph for the chassis, and use to shake the vehicle, the crew, and its own electronics to bits. In Vietnam the electrical firing system for the gun used to fail because of the moisture and rounds were fired off using a battery and a wire. Try writing a H&S assessment for that then.
  • The M1 Abrams (not the later M1A1, or current M1A2). Yes, buy a shiny new tank in the 1980s, and stick a (British designed) 105mm main gun on it. After all, it's not as if by then the UK hadn't been using 120mm for twenty years, and the Soviets 125mm for ten years.
  • The M247 Sgt York - an attempt to build a gun-based SHORAD system. Take the chassis from the M-48, the radar from an F-16, bolt it to a couple of 40mm, and discover that you keep locking on to the extractor fan in the nearby lavvy rather than "the target to your front". Not to mention that it the gun system couldn't match the range of the Russian helicopter ATGM of the time, always assuming it detected the helicopter......
  • Never adopting a proper LMG, preferring to rely on the BAR - a heavy rifle. On realising that they had a "firepower gap" at squad/platoon level, they just stuck a butt & bipod on an MMG (the Browning M1919A4), called it the Browning M1919A6, and found it was too heavy...
  • The B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber was looking a bit elderly in the 70's so a new strategic bomber was conceived in the B-1. Sort of Concorde with an unpleasant payload, the B-1 Lancer was faster than a very fast thing, designed to hurtle into Soviet air space drop a small atomic calling card or 10 and then flee for the border faster than a Giro armed chav on his way to the Post Office. The inevitable design flaw? - with payload it could only carry enough fuel to get TO the nasty commie target. The Spams had in fact invented a hideously expensive atomic kamikazi. Later modifications/upgrades did allow payload bearing B-1s to fly further than the Post Office down the road.
  • The Davy Crockett . The smallest nuclear weapon system yet conceived. Just 16 feet long this was basically a recoilless rifle that could lob an 0.1 kiloton atomic projectile with lethal radiation radius of 400m and a range of only 2.5 miles. In theory those numbers mean that the person who launches it won't die horribly but if it were me I'd try to place a hill of some sort between myself and the target and fire over it. It was deployed from 1961 to 1971, probably cancelled for the simple and terrifying reason that it put nuclear weapons under the command of Young Officers.
  • The camouflage pattern used on the U.S. Army's new uniforms (ACU), known as the Universal Camouflage Pattern. Having kitted out the entire army in it, they now find out that while it was supposed to work everywhere, it actually doesn't work anywhere. Rather than blending the wearer into the background, like proper camouflage, it just blurs out their outline a tad, which many soldiers have said isn't good enough. In the trials to select the new pattern for the U.S. Army, UCP, (then known as Urban Track) consistently performed worse than the other patterns offered (e.g. Multicam, of which I, am a huge fan of), yet it (by using bizzare American logic) was declared the winner and subsequently modified a bit, then adopted.

Oh dear!