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The War Nerd / December 20, 2010
By Gary Brecher


This article was first published by AlterNet.

If you didn’t know better, you’d get all excited reading about the Army’s new shoulder-fired cannon, the XM-25. It’s being hyped as a “game-changing” weapon that will literally blow the Taliban out of their hiding places and turn the tide in Afghanistan.

The XM25 is the kind of weapon a kid likes to dream about. It’s basically a “smart,” user-friendly shoulder-fired grenade launcher. It shoots 25mm fragmentation grenades that explode at a pre-set distance. And you don’t need to be a math prof to calculate the distance; the weapon talks to itself, the laser sight basically telling the round when it has to explode.

So suppose I’m a soldier trying to deal with a sniper firing from behind a window in an Iraqi city, or popping up from behind some adobe wall, irrigation ditch or boulder in  Afghanistan. In that situation you could blast away all day with a pure line-of-sight weapon like a typical automatic rifle, and you’d just make a lot of dust without hitting anybody.

What you need in a situation like that—and it’s a very common situation in war, especially urban or mountain war, and we’re fighting both at the moment—is a weapon that can kill an enemy who’s behind cover. If we were fighting in a wood-frame battlefield, like say an American suburb, you wouldn’t need to worry about this so much, because American walls and doors are very thin and most modern rifle rounds will go right through them. But Iraqi and Afghan houses are built of thick mud or concrete. They make pretty good cover for a sniper.

So instead of trying to shoot through the wall, you want to get an air burst of some kind through the window, or over the boulder or whatever it is the enemy’s behind.  There are all kinds of ways to do that, and most of them involve lobbing an explosive round over the wall. Armies have been doing this for centuries. A catapult is designed to handle an enemy behind a wall, by lobbing its load over the wall into the enemy town. A siege mortar is designed to lob a shell over a fort’s walls into the enemy’s ranks. A hand grenade can be lobbed the same way at short range, and for longer range you could use the U.S. Army’s standard grenade launcher, the M203.

You’ll notice all these are small arms, very “light” weapons in military terms. When a first-world army wants to wipe out an enemy city without taking casualties themselves, they just call in the artillery, like the Russians did in Grozny in Chechnya, or air strikes like we did in Fallujah. If these first-world armies really wanted to use their full firepower, they could just nuke whole Afghan mountains or Iraqi cities.

But they don’t. That’s not what this generation of warfare is usually like. These are colonial wars, like the ones the British fought on the same territories, Iraq and Southern Afghanistan, and like the Brits we’re fighting them at a low level, basically small arms. So what you want is a small arm (a weapon that can be carried and fired by one or two soldiers) with the firepower of artillery. That’s what the XM25 is supposed to provide. It looks like a stubby shotgun, which it is, basically. What separates it from your home-defense 12-gauge is the rounds it fires and the aiming system. The standard round is an explosive 25mm shell. When it explodes, it sprays deadly metal strips in a room-sized sphere pattern. If you’re in a room where one detonates, you’re dead.

Of course that wouldn’t mean much if those shells just hit the adobe wall or boulder where the sniper’s hiding, it wouldn’t have much effect. That’s where the laser sight and computer ranging come into play. The XM25’s laser sight measures the distance to the target and lets the soldier set his rounds to explode before, on, or (most likely) behind the target. So, if you’re trying to kill a sniper in an Iraqi house, you set the shells to explode one meter inside the window. The sniper (and anybody else in the room) gets riddled with white-hot metal fragments. If you’re dealing with a half-dozen Taliban firing from behind an irrigation ditch at a patrol that’s just left their village, you set the 25 mm rounds to burst above and behind them. Even if they’re well-shielded from direct fire, they’re dead.

That’s the hype, anyway, the story being peddled by media whores like Rick Sanchez, who did a gee-whiz story on the XM25 a while back.

My basic rule is that if Rick Sanchez said that water is wet, I’d start to doubt it, so I’ve got a couple of doubts about this story. First, it’s very hard to tell if the XM25 works as well as we’re hearing, because U.S. armed forces procurement is a big, sleazy business and involves more lies and propaganda than Stalin’s show trials ever generated. There are proven cases of Army officers working with contractors from the big weapons companies to rig tests to make new weapons systems look good. If you take a look at this recent video of the XM25 putting on a show for the tame media, you’ll see what I mean.

Most people have no idea how to read a video like this, so here are a few pointers to make you a smarter shopper next time you need to buy a weapons system. First, you’ll notice that the reporters are told what’s going to happen by Col. Tamilio, the Army’s public-relations honcho for the new weapon. And he tells them, “You’re not going to see anything” because the XM25 is firing dummy rounds, training rounds, non-explosive. After the soldier handling the weapon fires two rounds, Tamilio tells them the test went “two-for-two,” but they’re taking his word for it. All they actually saw was a guy shooting the thing twice.

Next, notice that after the first round is fired, a civilian in a baseball cap comes up, tinkers with the XM25, and whispers something in the shooter’s ear. I’d bet my lunch that’s a consultant from the companies that produced the XM25, telling the shooter how to baby the weapon to make it look good. You have to realize that in a lot of American high-tech businesses, everything from hip-replacement surgery to weapons testing, a lot of the the hands-on work is done not by doctors or soldiers but by industry guys who never get mentioned in the official reports. So this is not a combat-style firing by an ordinary GI; not only does the shooter have industry help right over his shoulder, but the shooter is identified as a major, and you can bet he was hand-picked for this demonstration.

It’s a matter of money—big money. Defense contracts are the sweetest you can imagine, which is why defense contractors bribe the hell out of everybody from congressmen to foreign dictator’s nephews to get them to buy. If you want a classic example of what defense procurement sleaze looks like, take a look at the career of former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, now better known as “Federal Inmate Cunningham.” There are thousands of lobbyists and “consultants” who spend their whole lives greasing the Federal procurement process. Naturally the weapons nuts who follow news like the XM25 don’t have a clue about this stuff, but the real grownups in DC pay very close attention to it.

The XM25 has a typical history for a big-money American weapons system. By the time suckers like Rick Sanchez get brought to the proving range to see it shown off, this weapons system has been through a career as sleazy as Duke Cunningham’s. It all starts when one or more of the Armed Services comes up with a “need” for a new weapon. In this case, Plan A was a fantasy weapon called OICW, “Objective Individual Combat Weapon,” that would combine the power of an automatic rifle and a grenade launcher. That program failed, and was split into two parts: one for a new rifle to replace the M4, and another for a rapid-firing grenade launcher, Program XM29, which ended up with the XM25. Along the way, the program ran into more corporate and political interference than you can imagine, especially because some of the competitors were foreign companies. Colt Industries, the company that makes the current M203 grenade launcher, actually called in a rule that the Defense Department had to use American corporations in certain cases, so they could get a piece of the procurement pie.

That’s pretty standard  Defense contractor behavior: if you’re losing out to a foreign competitor, and you can’t just bribe some tool like Rep. Cunningham to step in on your side, then play the “Buy American!” card.

Sometimes good weapons come out of all this sleaze, sometimes not. And even when the results are good, you can count on the fact that some contractor who loves to wave the flag made some obscene profits by gold-plating the winning weapons system, loading it up with expensive options. It’s not hard when the armed-services officers in charge of signing off on the money know they can go right to work for the contractor as soon as they retire.

So maybe, just maybe, the XM25 will do what it’s supposed to do. But even if it does, it won’t be a “game-changer” in either of our wars, because irregular wars like Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t decided by superior weaponry. If they were, we’d already have won both those wars about a million times over. The Taliban use old Soviet AK rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and get to battle on foot or bouncing along in the back of Toyota pickups. But in spite of this humongous gap between our tech and theirs, the senior British commander in Afghanistan went on record in 2008 saying the Taliban will not be defeated militarily–and he should know, because the Brits have been fighting the Pashtun irregulars for two centuries now.

Let’s take the best-case scenario and say that this new weapon, the XM25, makes every American infantry squad so lethal that the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgents lose a huge number of men and can’t afford stand-up fights any more. What that would do is force an accelerated evolution in the same direction guerrilla war’s been evolving for more than 100 years: away from trying to fight the invading army on its own terms and toward assassination, bombs, betrayal—all the ways insurgents love to fight and conventional armies hate. In practical terms, that means more Taliban enlist in the Afghan Army and wait for the chance to mow down the Western soldiers who are supposedly their buddies. Or more Taliban go home and wait until we lose interest and go home, then dig up their buried guns and go stomp their less-militant neighbors. Or, worst and most likely of all these scenarios, more Taliban forget about chancing a firefight and stick to IEDs.

According to the U.S. Army’s own newspaper, the Army Times, IEDs now account for 75 percent of American casualties in Afghanistan.

Most of our GIs are not dying or being wounded in the kind of firefight the XM25 is designed to win. They’re dying in a much nastier way: getting blown up by remote control while they patrol rural Afghan dirt roads.

And unfortunately, the only effect a gee-whiz weapon like the XM25 is likely to have is raising that figure closer to 100 percent.


Add your own

  • 1. Dennis Redmond  |  December 20th, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Let me get this straight.

    Back in 2003, the running dogs of this dying, diseased, palpably disintegrating Empire were yelping about how the game-changer was “shock and awe”.

    By 2005, the game-changer was “total battlefield control”.

    By 2008, the game-changer was “the surge”.

    In 2010, the game-changer is… a laser-pointer which goes boom.

    I’d be laughing, if I wasn’t so busy converting every last greenback I have into rubles, real and renminbi.

  • 2. this  |  December 20th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Hmmm, this is gonna sound bone-ignorant, but it sounds like it has a computer in it, and that’s not a bad thing unless they’ll be needing it to work in ungodly-hot conditions. I was briefly in the military and we fiddled with this idiotic army embassy evacuation system that was developed in an air conditioned gym, hated heat, hated moisture, had to be kept still and had to maintain a line-of-sight connection between its components, which is to say it would be useless in a real embassy evacuation. Couldn’t we have a low-tech miniature artillery system which would allow mechanical, heat-tolerant timing adjustment? I was under the impression that this was how “dumb bombs” worked already.
    And whatever happened to suppressive fire coupled with a sneaky approach to lob a grenade more directly, as happened all the time in Vietnam?

  • 3. Eddie  |  December 20th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    A hundred years has passed since technology has played any decisive role in a any conflict, and even then it did so only with the application of superior numbers. By the look of it it will take another hundred before armies realize that the willingness of the enemy to fight and die for their cause is the number one decisive factor in a war. Compared to that the choice of organization, doctrine, training and most especially equipment pale into insignificance. The Americans along with us Swedes have already lost the war in Afghanistan. It is mearly maintained at a slower and more managable rate for political reasons until an acceptable reason to withdraw is found. My guess would be that that reason will be found in the area of finance(or lack thereof).

    By the way Gary, check out the documentary Restrepo for a textbook study of the stupidity of the military operations in Afghanistan. It is of the hook funny.

    At one point a plutoon of marines call in an airstrike on this village and kill a bunch of generic civilians, they then offer to give the villagers jobs with a higher marginal sallary then the Taleban. When turned down the withdraw into the forrest(for some reason) and get shocked when the local fighters in the area mount an attack on their forrest hideout and kill and seriously fuck up some of their troops.

  • 4. ChuckO  |  December 20th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Well, given the rampant corruption over there, I wonder how long it will be before the Taliban get their hands on these things.

  • 5. toumasho  |  December 20th, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Ahh, thank you War Nerd for this Xmas present!

    I’d like to make a comparison: In 2009 US traffic casualties were 33 808. That means you lose 92 persons per day, in Afghanistan your complete death toll is 1357 persons. As long as you can afford to keep Afghanistan occupied nobody gives a shit about your super-minimal casualties. Sure you can make big headlines about IEDs how they kill soldiers but the cold fact is that the whole war in Afghanistan is non-significant when it comes to your casualties. You lose more people in one day traffic than in three months in Afghanistan. If you can tolerate your ~250 times more lethal road traffic I am sure as hell you can have these wars for ever.

  • 6. Frosty  |  December 20th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Dear Mr. Brecher,

    You have the nerve to show up here, what, every 2-3 years it feels? This will not do. We, the readers and I think I speak for all of them, we want more. We NEED more. Much more, and pronto, there are strategies and tactics to be read. A little column here or there is nothing, you hear? Nothing! What excuse do you have? Terminal illness? As long as your brains and fingers are connected, write, damn it!

  • 7. 3jy6tgfe  |  December 20th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Hey war nerd, any thoughts on why the Taliban have such backward weapons systems. I mean with universities filled with South Asian grad students why do the Talibs fight with such crap.

  • 8. Shitter Island  |  December 20th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    the war is not a traffic accident or a collection of traffic accidents. It is willful slaughter. Much different than any accident statistic.

  • 9. senorpogo  |  December 20th, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    My favorite part in Restrepo is when we kill one of the local’s cows and then refuse to pay them for it. Think the guy wanted $300.

    Way to win over the hearts and minds. I’m sure they won’t take that the wrong way. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to come back and try to kill us. Where can the army find that kind of money anyway?

  • 10. Brendo  |  December 20th, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Looks like a fun toy, but at $35,000 a unit its a bit exxy.

  • 11. ANZAC  |  December 20th, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    The XM25 is supposed to cost $25000-30000 per device. How many RPG-7 launchers and thermobaric warheads could be purchased instead?

  • 12. trisha  |  December 20th, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    It will change nothing! The only way America can win this war is to nuke the place. Unfortunately, the oil pipeline they are so desperate to build will then glow in the dark and be far easier to attack at night.

  • 13. DaShui  |  December 20th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    An old WW2 German soldier told me he was told everyday by his superiors to hold on for a little while longer because some miracle weapon is coming to turn the tie of war.

  • 14. DarthFurious  |  December 20th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Anyone remember Paul Verhoeven’s FUCKING AMAZING film adaption of that dumbshit Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers?” He had all those stupid military ads in it and at the end of the film the last ad ran, with the pitch for new improved weapons and they show a soldier kill a bug with a one-shot super-rifle.

    This entire thing smacks blatantly of that ad. How ironic. Man Verhoeven gets it. But I obviously dont

  • 15. Victorvalley Villain  |  December 20th, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    The round has some circuitry that tills it when to detonate?

    I figure the oppositions killer app will be some kind of device that can send a signal to the round to make it donate a few meters earlier, like say, the very instant the weapon is fired?

    I am sure there are some smart kids in places like Iran who could work that out and export it to wherever.

  • 16. andrew  |  December 20th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    toumasho, there’s about 200x as many US civilians as there are US armed forces personnel. that means that, man for man, afghanistan war casualties are about 10x worse than US traffic casualties.

    but still, 1000+ a year isn’t as bad as it could be.

  • 17. john  |  December 20th, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Difference between? Afghan Taliban War is a Way of Life and Death. Our Guys it’s just a profession. So who do you think will win in the long run?

  • 18. Derp  |  December 20th, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Derp derp derp! We gotta blow up them sand people or they’ll blow us up, derp derp derp!

    You commie homos would pull us all out then have them murder us over here, derp derp derp!

  • 19. moist  |  December 21st, 2010 at 5:41 am

    This reminds me a lot of the “movie plot” approach to airport security. The problem with an arms race in an asymmetric war is that they get to see our guns before they design their tactics. 😛

    A couple of dudes above mentioned the important thing is to destroy the enemy’s will to fight. Absolutely. The most important component in the will to fight is the expectation of victory.

    But I honestly don’t know how we can expect them to give up and go home if they can let their cows wander into a firefight and then have us pay them $300. I mean what the fuck kind of pussy issues an order like that? Have we turned the most badass killing machine on God’s green earth into the Bullingdon Club ? “Oh, I’m terribly sorry about the mess old chap, here, take this blank cheque.”

  • 20. 3jy6tgfe  |  December 21st, 2010 at 8:27 am

    @15. Victorvalley Villain

    “The round has some circuitry that tills it when to detonate?”

    The experts at Wikipedia say the grenade tracks the distance it has traveled by the number of spiral rotations after it is fired.

  • 21. Ilona  |  December 21st, 2010 at 8:27 am

    And a matching, hi-tech, game-changing vehicle too, yes? Good money, good price, yes?

    A rabid combatant’ll become a pussified pacifist in a split second when one’s synapses ex/implode of sheer ecstatic, electrifying joy and will be incapacitated to detonate an IED after seeing this ultimate, combined weapon system with an awesome chipset attached into it.

    Talebans or whatever-the-fucking-wedding-party-they-might-be’ll be fucked!

    Order now! Plump Dead Pimp Doggy Customs.

    “…if Rick Sanchez said that water is wet, I’d start to doubt it,…” Ha! A good one.

  • 22. emil  |  December 21st, 2010 at 8:53 am

    This candy-gun is such a loser. Please write something on those IEDs you mention, Gary. They are such a successful tool for the common good, and dead US soldiers really do give such a warm feeling.

  • 23. rend  |  December 21st, 2010 at 10:00 am

    “An old WW2 German soldier told me he was told everyday by his superiors to hold on for a little while longer because some miracle weapon is coming to turn the tie of war.”

    Yeah, I think this is basically the best pronouncement when it comes to “game changing” weapons. The Germans even used to have a slang term for “wunderwaffe” because they were so used to hearing the claims.

  • 24. Mac  |  December 21st, 2010 at 10:17 am

    It won’t change a thing, but I’d still like to play with it.

  • 25. Derp  |  December 21st, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Derp derp derp! Yeah, only if you worship a false moon good Emil, derp derp derp!

  • 26. DERDER  |  December 21st, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Great reading Gary. Nice to see more regular posts.

  • 27. darthfader  |  December 21st, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Wow, you and the hippies at AlterNet. That’s an interesting marriage.

  • 28. ANZAC  |  December 21st, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    And how many batteries does it need to work? The odds are they will be flat when they are needed the most! (Murphy’s laws of military operations)

  • 29. Yousif  |  December 21st, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    good article

  • 30. Victorvalley Villain  |  December 21st, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    @20. 3jy6tgfe

    Fuck me, did I really type till, instead of tell?

    “The experts at Wikipedia say the grenade tracks the distance it has traveled by the number of spiral rotations after it is fired.”

    Back to the drawing board I guess. Besides I got to thinking if no one has been able to do that to the big old “smart” bombs, there is no point in trying to do it to the little new ones.

  • 31. jack  |  December 21st, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    I had a picture book when I was a kid. It was military stuff and it had a pic of the “modern US fighting soldier” or some shit. The soldier had a gas mask and was clad in all kinds of military fetish gear. I showed it to my dad all proud and he then says something like “Yeah and some gooks wearing Michelin tire sandals off an old Renault is kicking his ass”
    Boy was I ever deflated. (this at the tail end of the Vietnam war)

  • 32. jack  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 3:25 am

    “is” = “are”

  • 33. Ivan  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 5:10 am

    The most shocking bit in Restrepo was the officer saying he “doesn’t give a fuck” about some Afghan who was taken prisoner by US troops. This to the malek’s face. A youngish US infidel foreigner telling a respected Muslim Afghan village elder that he doesn’t give a fuck. Hearts and minds my fluffy arse.

    And what are we Europeans doing in Afghanistan trying to liberate Muslim women when they’re taking us to court back in Europe, demanding the RIGHT to wear a burqa?

    Brecher, when did it all go to ratshit? I can’t put my finger on it.

  • 34. Waco  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 6:37 am

    Tom Clancy loves the XM25. Rule of thumb: if Tom Clancy loves something then it is utter rubbish.
    I think we should hand out RPG tubes with newly American manufactured AP munitions to each squad. I’m constantly seeing soldiers carrying AT-4s, which is a wonderful idea if they were serving in the Fulda Gap 1980.

  • 35. C  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Lets assume that the “best case” scenario occurs and this small arms weapon becomes a “game changer”. Its self deceptive to think that the enemy won’t eventually be armed with these also, whether in small numbers through capture, or in larger numbers through supply by one of our more high tech enemies who have reverse engineered it. When “game changing” firepower is limited to larger munitions, this assures that our low tech enemies won’t be able to procure or to use it in significant enough numbers. Also, we can eliminate most easy to spot large weapons readily. For instance, if the Taliban had a few helicopters, they wouldn’t last long. But with a small arms weapon that is so much more lethal, it becomes much easier for the enemy to even the odds. Would you join the USA military knowing that there would be “know where to hide” in your first firefight?

  • 36. MQ  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I actually think military tech has made a difference in both Afghanistan and Iraq in allowing us to prolong losing wars — our casualties seem to be way lower than they would once have been in these kind of colonial wars. That plus the AVF means we’re getting to the point where we can have a perpetual low-intensity colonial war going all the time, like the Brits did.

    Anyone remember Paul Verhoeven’s FUCKING AMAZING film adaption of that dumbshit Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers?”

    yes, one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever. Occasionally run across SF freaks who talk about this movie being awful. They can’t get their mind around how much smarter Verhoeven is than annoying proto-facist RA Heinlein. Heinlein has exactly the mentality of the gun freak conservative bloggers who popped up around the time of the Iraq war.

  • 37. abc123  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    C: The Taliban pick their weapons after different criteria. For example; they picked the RPG-7 even though it is a fatally flawed designed for any “real” military application *. The RPG-7 is however good at what they use it for (which is “hit and run” or ambushing).

    I seriously doubt they would find a use for a small calibre grenade launcher like this, since you need larger warheads to do these hit and attacks.

    *It is a flawed design by modern standards, but it used to be a good weapon. There are very good reasons most armies have changed to disposable launchers. First of it’s incredible important to fire many rounds at the same time, 4 AT-4’s can be fired simultaneous, 1 RPG-7 + 4 rounds cannot, secondly there is a limit to the WEIGHT of the projectile in the RPG-7 (it already used two stage rockets from the beginning so there is no more room for growth, unlike the Carl Gustav which got two stage rockets afterwards).

    Anyhow, if it becomes a “game changer”, then I will back the theory that the Taliban will simple stop fighting up front. Though I have no doubt Iran will try to make something similar, but I doubt any Muslim fighters will use it since it appears not be their ways.

  • 38. ANZAC  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    What is helping the NATO/UN forces is the simple fact that the Taliban just can’t shoot! The following link has the case in more detail but I will note the major points.

    The don’t know how to shoot! Marksmanship is a skill and an art. Sight picture, alignment, and follow through are my mantras when shooting on the range. But the Taliban can’t even score hits at 150 metres, which is within point-blank range for a western soldier.

    Over reliance on automatic fire. The AK pulls noticeably high in sustained automatic fire.

    Poor Condition of the rifles. Rifles have been found missing their stocks or without the screws to hold the stocks in place, which makes the weapon wobble in firing.

    Ammunition. Ammunition has been found, when examining magazines, to be old, corroded, and is often mismatched with up to a dozen different makes in one magazine. Although the same caliber, they can have widely different powders and projectiles which can significantly alter the impact. Also, poor storage can accelerate the breakdown of the primers and propellants and result in sub-par performance.

    Poor and uncorrected vision. Poor childhood nutrition and almost nonexistent medical care contribute to the poor eyesight of the insurgents. Add the high altitude and increased UV radiation, which increase the risk of cataracts, the ability to align the sights of the rifle properly is greatly diminished.

    But then, they don’t use the sights much anyway:

    Training. In the Soviet era, proper training camps could be set up to provide decent training for the recruits. Now with western troops and drones in the sky, the old camps have disappeared. Training takes time and ammunition. Without this, the recruits will not be able to gain any moderate efficiency.

    The only viable tactic the Taliban have to create an ambush where they herd the western troops to where they’ve planted an IED. So the best thing our troops can do is to sit tight and return fire.

  • 39. Jason  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Andrew sez:

    toumasho, there’s about 200x as many US civilians as there are US armed forces personnel. that means that, man for man, afghanistan war casualties are about 10x worse than US traffic casualties.

    but still, 1000+ a year isn’t as bad as it could be.

    Andrew, you’re forgetting this isn’t draft. People sign up for the military knowing full well the dangers, so trying to redraw your stats that simply is just stupid.
    If you redrew the stats to people who liked to go over 100 mph on the freeway on a Kawasaki 750, and there are a number of people who LIKE to do that regularly, you might find the numbers correspond much more.
    Always try to keep in your limited brain that there are quite a number of people who ENJOY going to war, ENJOY playing the odds, ENJOY the comraderie forged under those circumstances that cannot be forged in any other way, and ENJOY killing Taliban. Just like there’s people in the Taliban who LOVE killing US.
    For the people who ENJOY deep sea scuba-diving, sky-diving thru mountain crevices in a wing suit, or hauling ass down a freeway on a pocket-rocket, or even joining the Crips, the rush of the experience, to THEM, is worth the risk.
    So, as long as we have “thrillseekers,” and as long we have a volunteer military, people are going to win and lose in that scenario, so quit talking your stupid shit, and whatsmore, stay out of their business.

  • 40. Cool M  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    So let’s see this. America will win where the big bad ass evil Soviets failed.


    If Soviets failed there is no way on earth America can win. I met an ex-spetnaz guy once. He looked like a damn gladiator from the Roman Arena. After a few bottles of Vodka even he admitted they couldn’t break the Afghans.

    So Nintendo playing, Walmart going, McDonald’s eating Pussy lower white trash Americans are going to win where Yuri lost. haha

  • 41. my talkative ringpiece  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Traffic casualties are actually down, because in this Depression people are driving less. The “normal” figure is about 50k. It’s about the amount of people we lost in the Viet Nam war.

    We lose people to bee stings and inhalant abuse and jaywalking and rabid bats (a couple-few a year) and keeling over after eating Mom’s meatloaf and bare-knuckle fights to the death in alleys and dog attacks and abuse and every other thing you can imagine or can’t. We can keep dribbling people away in this idiotic war indefinitely. Which is the horrible thing about it because some pretty damn nice kids are going over there because it’s their one chance at a decent life if they come back OK. A good number of them are even aware of this, these days. (I literally went to Basic with people who’d joined on a dare.)

    Now, how is this cheesy POS supposed to be any kind of an improvement over the LAW (Light Antitank Weapon) which has been in the inventory since the 70s, does fine on tanks so should work on mud huts, and it accurate and danged fun to shoot? Or just having a lil’ mortar that could drop rounds in on ’em? In fact just going back to the M1 Garand would be an improvement, that .30-’06 has a way of boring on through, and you can even do some neat bank shots with it that the .223 isn’t up to.

    This war is just a huge cash-cow for the elite.


  • 42. CensusLouie  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    The easiest insurgent counter to this would be to stick a family of kids in the room with every sniper. Have a PR field day showing how “trigger happy” American troops splatter children in their home.

  • 43. required  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    That’s a great point about Heinlein, he actually said without irony in the introduction to ST, “you’d be surprised what a detachment of US Marines can do to keep a third-world election honest.”

  • 44. A-Lex  |  December 23rd, 2010 at 1:31 am

    That XM25 thing actually looks like one of those bulky guns from Starship Troopers.

    Imagine how the Pashtuns will introduce anti-aircraft Plasma Bugs as THEIR wunderwaffe 🙂

  • 45. liverspot  |  December 23rd, 2010 at 10:52 am

    alternet? ’bout as bad as huff or daily(both)

  • 46. Aenn  |  December 23rd, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    This is exactly what happened in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: “werewolves”, entire platoons of the regular Afghan army defeating to the “rebels”, roads being mined so badly MBTs got blown up to pieces, and so on. What’s worse, in the end the whole population was upset against the communist regime and its Soviet protectors, so by the time the Soviet army withdrew, the entire country was against them. Even if Western soldiers “behave better” than the Red Army (which is a bit dubious, soldiers are always soldiers), very soon they’ll feel the scorn of the mulla-controlled people. Face it, anyone white is an infidel to an Afghani, with the exception of some individuals who have lived there and know their customs they just see Westerners as aliens.

    The only real solution to any war in Afghanistan would be prosperity, complete with a middle class and all. But that’s exactly the kind of thing that doesn’t appeal much – why bother with all this fanciful “material riches and TV” new stuff when one can live the classic way, with a dozen wives? And fire an AK since childhood?

    And that’s how things always go in Afghanistan – any attempt to have a centralised government in a country of different, often feuding tribes and medieval customs will fail. It’s pointless to chase one faction or another, sooner or later the whole country will be trying to eject the invaders. And it’s perfectly natural, as Afghanistan isn’t a country for Europeans or for anyone to intrude. It will defend itself in ways straight-thinking Westerners can’t imagine. And it is great that there’s a country that resists to any violence and imposition of ways that aren’t their own.

  • 47. Mistah Fnord  |  December 23rd, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Where is the new article?

  • 48. Bob  |  December 24th, 2010 at 6:56 am

    From the combat footage I’ve seen the Taliban like to engage at long range and frequently change firing positions, thus the shooters aren’t seen for certain 90% of the time and the best that can be done is to return fire at the structure(s) they are *probably* in. In this situation, the XM25 is likely to increase civilian casualties whether it works or not.

    But yeah, like Aenn says the fundamental problem is that the mission is retarded and unachievable. Perhaps we could simply have got the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden and friends in exchange for a big enough bribe and not invading.

  • 49. Bronzilocks  |  December 24th, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Well, good WN, to answer your question: because if we were ‘winning’ then we might have a reason to leave.

  • 50. GhostUnit  |  December 24th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Go watch the movie Osama

  • 51. korman643  |  December 25th, 2010 at 10:13 am

    @Cool M: I’m afraid that’s precisely the point

  • 52. zeepkist  |  December 25th, 2010 at 10:29 am

    gary, i know you never reply in the comments.


    well done, glad to see you got your strength back, or money in your pocket.

    IED’s it is, (Improvised explosive device) 75% of the deaths.
    hmmmmmmmm, bring on the XM25 indeed.

  • 53. Zhu Bajie  |  December 26th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    “And what are we Europeans doing in Afghanistan trying to liberate Muslim women when they’re taking us to court back in Europe, demanding the RIGHT to wear a burqa?”

    Raping them before you kill them? That’s the classic soldier thing to do.

    By the way, I suspect a burqa is lots more comfortable than the fashion uniform for western women. Spy cameras can’t spy on you either.

  • 54. Zhu Bajie  |  December 26th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    “But yeah, like Aenn says the fundamental problem is that the mission is retarded and unachievable.”

    So what was the Mission? For Bush, I suspect it was find the gate supposedly built by Alexander in the Caucasus to keep Gog and Magog out. GWB wasn’t too good at geography and confused the Indian Caucasus with the other one.

    The Iraq Mission was 1) convert the survivors of the Shock&Awe campaign with “come to Jesus” tracts; 2) speed up the Rapture and the Second Coming.

  • 55. foo2  |  December 26th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Face it, anyone white is an infidel to an Afghani, with the exception of some individuals who have lived there and know their customs they just see Westerners as aliens.

    You just outed yourself as a cheeto eating basement dwellor.

    Afghans are white, many with red hair and green eyes.

  • 56. Carney  |  December 27th, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Eddie at 3 said, “By the look of it it will take another hundred before armies realize that the willingness of the enemy to fight and die for their cause is the number one decisive factor in a war”

    Yeah, ask the French from World War I how “élan” turned out. Bled them white until they refused further offensive operations, and they’d have lost in 1918 without us.

    Ask the Japanese from World War II how a greater willingness to die won them that war, too.

  • 57. Carney  |  December 27th, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Aenn, our average soldiers (the combat, tip of the spear guys, even regular infantry) have and have it all over the drunk, conscript Soviet peasant grunts, in every way. Morale, physical fitness, IQ, combat prowess, common decency.

    Spetnaz were the uber elite, but our top of the line guys, Green Berets, SEALs, Delta Force, Special Forces, and even regular USMC could have taken them.

  • 58. MaMu1977  |  December 27th, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I rest my case.

  • 59. Eddie  |  December 29th, 2010 at 6:28 am

    That’s because war is not a one dimensional exercize. Optimizing on one variable no matter how important will not result in garanteed victory. There will always be sitations where precisely because you are strong you will loose. That is not to say that all variables are equally important or even that they remain the same from war to war or time to time.

    If this war war was fought anno 1200 there would have been no problem. The Afghan population would simply have been rounded up and summarily executed. If deemed necessary their fertile soil would have been destroyed in order to ensure that the problem would not come back and have to be dealt with a second time.

    If this war was fought between the Afghan navy and the US navy, again there would have been no problem because in that form of warefare technology and intelligence are the most important factors. That does not mean that a million dollar missile is less decisive then a billion dollar carrier, but generally the one with the superior usage of the latest technology will win.

    Unfortunatly this war is not fought in any of these times or areas. It is fought in what can best be described as a mountainous desert. And on the enemies home turf, with the background population highly suspicious about the motives and will power of NATO. Not without reason as they are a large part of the reason why Afghanistan is the backward shithole it is today. Including why it is infested with religious zelots. In this form of combat the decisive factor will be will-power, endurance and willingness to fight and die.

    The two examples you give are perfect to illustrate my point. In the case of the French they fought with immense bravery throwing hundreds of thousands of lives into the couldron that was WWI. Unfortunatly for them their opponent did likewise. What saved them was the relations they managed to capitalize on.

    In the case of the Japanese in WW2 they came acrosss a weapon that does not care much about bravery or willingness to die. Being a smart people they folded.

  • 60. Eddie  |  December 29th, 2010 at 7:46 am

    Regarding the comparison between the Soviet and US soldier there need not be any dabate. They did fight against the same foe. One that was both their matches namely the German Army. The Soviets managed to grind them down completely, first with numbers then towards the end of the conflict even tachtically. The US on the other hand never managed to make any large implact on the German army. In fact during the whole short ground conflict that they both fought in the Germans always outnumbered and with inferior logistics managed to incur 1.5 casualties for every one they themselves suffered. This was regardless of whether they where on the offensive or defensive. If you need a complete rundown of the horrible embarrassing performance of the US army in Europe during WW2 I recommend you read the book Fighting Power by the Israelie military historian Martin Van Creveld.

    If I was forced to choose the makeup of an infantery force and my choices where

    #1 peasant grunt
    #2 collage educated gym going intellectal grunt.

    I would most likely select #1 every time.

  • 61.  |  December 29th, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I would the Pasthuns are clearly distinct from the Northern European Americans, Latino’s and Blacks they are facing in Afghanistan. Indeed some Pasthuns around 10% are what would be called European White, however do to their radically different dress sense, and lack of proper food would be clearly distinct from a White American soldier born in USA. The Pasthuns north of Kabul are White, With Brown hair and Blue. Green eyes but are in the minority.

  • 62. Massel Tov  |  December 30th, 2010 at 6:48 am

    hey war nerd!

    stop waxing about that paltry grenade launcher.
    what’s about the carrier-killing dongfeng 21????

  • 63. Wandering Cynic  |  January 24th, 2011 at 5:39 am

    I’m a bit late to the party, but the Daily mail has just run another story on the so called “wunderwaffe.”

    Such gems include:

    “The rifle also has a range of 2,300 feet making it possible to hit targets which are well out of the reach of conventional rifles.”

    800 meters is “out of reach?” Wait till they go up against someone armed with an SVD or a World war vintage bolt action rifle.

    Not to mention its huge blockly black shape just screams to snipers “Shoot me! I’m carrying something important!”

    “We’re taking that cover from them and there’s only two outcomes: We’re going to get you behind that cover or force you to flee.”

    No, third outcome. Fights simply have to dig in a little more and add a roof to their fox holes and city fighters will make “safe spots” out of a few looted heavy wooden doors and sand bags in the room they are firing from.

    Of course the biggest problem is this. 90% of combat footage from the current wars looks like this:

    “Where’s that fire coming from!? Anyone see who is shooting at us!?”

    Not sure how you “deny cover” to an enemy when you don’t even know which piece of cover he is hiding behind.

  • 64. mathias  |  February 10th, 2011 at 11:49 am

    this would greatly increase Infantry Firepower, in a Firefight with Insurgents.
    However for it to be a Game-changer, lack of Firepower would have to be one of the Major Problems that US Forces are facing in the first place.

  • 65. Chimichanga  |  February 15th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    This whole thing reminds me of the scene in Iron Man where they show off this shiny new weapon system, “Jericho”, which is basically just a MOAB cluster bomb, and the military buyers just eat it up like that kind of firepower has anything to do with unconventional warfare.

  • 66. tim  |  March 9th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    one of the funny things in clip….when the reporter sarts talking about what if the enemy gets it…….this is the same logic that kept the BAR out of world war I and gave us the Chauchat……………………..also why would are enemies reverse engineer a space age weapon when the cost of an ied is so low, the cost of a human even lower, and the death toll only aids there cost.

    in US a smart grendade laucher might be the xm25

    in Afg a smart grenade laucher is a guy who befriends troops, gets job in kitchen, and throws grenade in mess hall

  • 67. Studenteternal  |  March 29th, 2011 at 5:51 am

    I have wondered if we were not going in exactly the wrong direction. If we patrolled in squad strength with WW2 semi-auto rifles… well that is a firefight an insurgent with a fully auto AK could win, and in trying to do so, we might be able to draw them into the sort of conventional battle that western military planners so love. Yes it is higher risk for the soldier, but if you make it impossible for the enemy to win fighting the way you want to, it shouldn’t be surprising that he doesn’t fight the way you want.

    Just a thought experiment, good article as always.

  • 68. someone  |  April 11th, 2011 at 3:20 am

    ^ Automatic fire is worthless when you’re hundreds of meters away. It doesn’t even work in video games.

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