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CF small arms in A-Stan

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    The State of CF Infantry Weapons in Afghanistan: PPCLI
    Experiences in Op Athena Roto 2 (July 2004/Feb 2005)

    Captain Dale MacPherson (an officer in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) was 2IC B Coy deployed on Op Athena Roto 2 to Afghanistan.

    Part 1: Introduction – Task Force Kabul and ISAF – B Coy in Afghanistan

    On 9 February 2005, Bravo Company (B Coy), First Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (1 PPCLI) completed a six-month tour with Operation Athena, Rotation Two in Afghanistan.

    A mechanized infantry company based in Edmonton, B Coy represented the largest infantry component of Task Force Kabul (TFK), the 700-strong Canadian task force working with ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) in Kabul. Employed as the force protection company for Camp Julien [1], B Coy was responsible for camp security, supervision of Observation Posts, maintaining a mechanized quick– reaction force, regular patrols (both dismounted and mounted), and myriad other infantry duties.

    Although the tour was relatively peaceful, it gave a unique opportunity for B Coy to finally employ some of the finest infantry weapons and equipment available in the world today. Bemoaning the poor state of the Canadian military is a common theme with political pundits at home. In reality, the quality of weapons used by
    B Coy in Afghanistan was exceptional.

    The intent of this article is to outline the current state of weapons employed by Canadian infantrymen in Afghanistan – from their small arms to the heavy 25mm cannons mounted in the LAV III’s turret. While not a completely rosy picture, in no other operation in history have Canadian infantrymen been so well-equipped for combat or peace support operations.

    We will cover small arms, fragmentation weapons, anti-armour weapons, and the various accessories that increase their lethality (especially at night). Although the general consensus will be positive, each area will also highlight areas of concern and focus on weapons and components that need to be replaced or upgraded. The goal is to give the reader (especially the lay audience) an accurate and in-depth look into the state of weapons currently operated by Canadian infantrymen on operations. As will become apparent, Canadian infantrymen are second to none when compared to other NATO armies and possess weapons that give them the technological advantage to defeat any conceivable enemy in today’s volatile world.

    Part 2 Small Arms – Rifles – the 5.56mm C7A2 and C8A1

    For the last three hundred years, the centrepiece for any infantryman was his rifle. B Coy employed three types of assault rifles during Op Athena. The 5.56mm C7A2 (left) was the rifle carried by most infantrymen in the company. Recently refurbished by Diemaco in London, Ontario, the C7A2 incorporates some new features – green ‘furniture’
    (butt stock, pistol grip, and handguards), telescopic butt,
    a new cocking handle, an ambidextrous magazine release, refurbished C79A2 optical sight, and a Triad mount (used for aiming aids). Overall, soldiers remained confident with the proven design of the C7 series of rifle – their accuracy and solid dependability – but four main gripes remain.

    The Elcan C79 sight has always been controversial in the infantry. Although an excellent optic, many soldiers lack confidence in the flimsy mount and most have experienced the sight failing during prolonged firing both on static ranges and on challenging live-fire ranges. The refurbished C72A2 sight seems more robust, but only time will tell if the ’A2 will retain its ‘zero’ during rugged infantry operations.

    The second universal complaint is with the inferior Triad mount. More items are being attached to the modern rifle (see below) and most armies have adopted rail interface systems which replace the traditional handguard along the rifle’s barrel. Items, such as flashlights, laser aiming systems, and forward pistol grips, can be added at different points on the rifle at the discretion of individual soldiers. The Triad mount reduces these options to two, and forces the soldier to mount these devices only at the end of the barrel. This makes the rifle front heavy while also reducing the freedom of each soldier to configure his weapon as he sees fit.

    The third complaint is with the extended cocking handle. This makes readying the weapon much more difficult – by inadvertently pulling the level to the right. The extended handle also catches on all manner of equipment and clothing.

    The final complaint is the continued use of the 20inch (50cm) long barrel. From B Coy’s experience in Afghanistan, long barrels make operations in confined areas (whether inside armoured vehicles or during urban operations) difficult. Although the long barrel offers excellent ballistic performance for the 5.56mm SS109 round, the high performance of today’s ammunition allows for comparable performance from shorter barrels which allow the soldier to manoeuvre more easily.

    Addressing the issue of the long barrel, B Coy became the first infantry company in Canada to be issued a new 16inch (40cm) heavy barrel. Arriving simply as an upper receiver, it was married-up with the standard C7A2 lower receiver. The now shorter weapon was well received by soldiers, proving to be a great asset when negotiating the tight corridors of Kabul’s streets. The ballistic performance of the shorter barrel equalled the original barrel on the range. Although 4inches (10cm) difference may seem minor to a laymen, it was greatly appreciated by the lucky infantrymen who carried them. The general consensus of the company was that all infantrymen should carry the 16inch barrel (as in the US Army with M16s).

    Another rifle type used by B Coy was the older C8A1 mounting an even shorter 14.5inch (36cm) barrel. The C8A1 was predominantly carried by LAV III drivers, who required a short self-defence rifle when mounting and dismounting vehicles in emergencies. The C8A1s (along with the new 16inch upper receiver) mounted the Weaver flattop rail on the upper receiver (same as the C7A2). This allowed for the same sighting systems to be mounted on all rifle types (see the next page).

    Part 3: Small Arms Sighting Systems – Optics, ‘Iron Sights’ & Night Vision

    Sighting systems for the C7 family of rifles have been greatly improved. Although the majority of B Coy’s rifles mounted the Elcan C79A2 optical sight, B Coy was also issued the excellent EOTech close-quarter battle sight. Utilizing a holographic red dot projected on a glass screen, the EOTech allowed for close targets to be engaged much quicker than traditional iron sights or C79A2s. Keeping both eyes open, the shooter could identify, discriminate, aim, and engage targets within a few seconds (and allow for complete peripheral vision).

    Although issued in small numbers for Operation Athena, the EOTech sights were in such great demand that each infantryman should be issued the system. Using the analogy of the toolbox, soldiers could choose the best sight for the mission (long range fire with the C79A2, close quarter fighting with the EOTech). Modern optics aside, the army still has yet to produce a dependable back-up iron sight.

    As with most optics – especially those that depend on batteries – the possibility of malfunction exists. Early plastic back-up sights were cheap, breaking with the least abuse. A more robust metal sight is needed immediately and could be easily purchased from the civilian market – many B Coy soldiers chose to do this on their own. When an optical sight fails in the heat of battle, the soldier could quickly attach this iron sight to the Weaver mount and continue the fight.

    The greatest leap forward is the new ability to fire small arms accurately at night. In the past, soldiers were forced to fire randomly in the general area of the enemy because their traditional sights were useless at night (although the C79A2 offers some aiming at twilight hours). This is no longer the case. With new night-vision and aiming systems, Canadian soldiers not only own the night – since the enemy lacks these capabilities – they can also fire accurately while remaining completely undetected (other than muzzle flash).

    Each soldier in B Coy was issued the AN/PVS-14 monocular night vision goggle and the PAQ-4C laser-aiming device (or PEQ-2A for commanders). Mounted on the rifle – via the rail interface system or Triad – the PAQ-4C designator projects an infrared laser beam (invisible to the naked eye), which is ‘zeroed’ to the trajectory of the round. Seen through the AN/PVS-14 goggles, the PAQ-4C’s infrared laser beam allows the soldier to engage targets accurately (up to a hundred metres out) while in complete darkness.

    While the PAC-4C offered a single ‘eye-safe’ IR laser beam, the PEQ-2A system (below, right) gave commanders the ability to designate targets with a stronger laser beam which could project different laser symbols onto a target area at a greater distance. An excellent system, the PEQ-2A allowed commanders to designate targets at the objective, while the enemy was completely oblivious to what was going on. But, even still, there is still room for improvements to these new laser systems.

    To fully exploit the potential of PAQ-4C and PEQ-2A systems, these designators should be able to generate a visible laser beam during daylight operations. This capability would give the shooter another aiming option. It would also provide a powerful deterrent – other units’ experience showed that belligerents capitulate much more quickly when a red laser dot is placed on their chest. This is a simple and effective way to resolve a dispute without having to rely on lethal force.

    More sophisticated than the AN/PVS-14 and PAQ-2A/PEQ-4C system was the AN/PAS-13B thermal sight. The advantage of thermal over infrared at night was the fact that you needed no ambient light for thermal sighting to be effective. Measuring the slightest temperature differences, thermal sights are nearly impossible to defeat through camouflage (although some strategies do exist).

    The AN/PAS-13B mounted on the standard Weaver rail and ‘zeroed’ like any traditional sight offering accurate fire to 300m in complete darkness. Shooting aside, the sight also served as an excellent night observation device. Unlike the AN/PVS-14 which has a limited range, the AN/PAS-13B thermal sight could be used in observation posts to cover large distances – through magnification – mimicking the equally sophisticated Sophie thermal binocular or older NODLR thermal system.

    Given its enormous cost and fairly recent arrival on the market, B Coy possessed very few AN/PVS-13Bs in Afghanistan. However, with this new system’s ability to engage targets as well as act as an observation aid at night, B Coy advocates a distribution of at least one system per infantry section.

    Although B Coy preferred to operate completely in the infrared spectrum when patrolling at night (relying on no visible light), every soldier was still issued the SureFire tactical flashlight. Simply a robust flashlight that could be mounted on the Triad mount, the SureFire emitted a powerful visual light with the press of a switch on the rifle’s handguards. Although using white light would compromise both the AN/PVS-14 (blinding the system) and ruin the soldier’s night vision, the SureFires offered the option of a bright source of visible light when required to identify targets in confined spaces – such as houses or caves – or during peace support activities (such as operating a vehicle check point at night).

    However, an infrared (IR) filter was also available for the SureFire, which would only illuminate an area with IR light – thus assisting the AN/PVS-14 in detecting targets. With the fear of ‘fratricide’ or collateral damage, soldiers need the ability to illuminate a target quickly with both visible spectrum and IR light. There exists no better system for performing these tasks than the SureFire tactical light.
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway

  • #2
    Part 4: Machine Guns – the 5.56mm C9A2 and the 7.62mm C6 GPMG

    Like the C7A2 rifle, B Coy C9A2 section support weapons were also refurbished – now sporting a shorter barrel, rail interface system, and telescopic butt. This machinegun’s enormous firepower is now matched with a more wielding overall weapon system. Although the telescopic butt and shorter barrel allow for better manoeuvrability in complex terrain, gunners could also revert back to their original 20 inch (50cm) long barrel in seconds when longer range fire was required (B Coy gunners always carried both barrels). The rail interface system allowed for the mounting of both the PAQ-4C laser and SureFire tactical light, giving the gunners equal capability to their equivalent riflemen.

    When more firepower was required, B Coy used the venerable 7.62mm C6 GPMG General Purpose Machine Gun. With its sturdy design that has lasted fifty years, the C6 continues to be the anchor for any defensive position, vehicle checkpoint, or main access point. When required, sustained fire of 7.62mm ammunition was more than sufficient in stopping any dismounted attack or light skinned vehicle, with rates of fire exceeding 1000 rounds a minute (through rapid barrel change).

    Nevertheless, the GPMG still requires a rail interface system to mount PAQ-4C lasers and SureFire light. This would give the C6 machine gunners the same nightfighting capability as C9A2 gunners. [The US M240, right, can also mount the AN/PAS-13B - Ed] With a rail system, the C6 will remain the small arms firepower cornerstone for the CF infantry platoon.

    Small Arms – Suppression – Silencing the Sturm und Drang

    Canadian small arms have seen tremendous advances in the last few years, but one last hurdle remains. Firing both rifles and machineguns produce an enormous amount of blast and sound. Such firing will often deafen the shooter (especially in complex terrain). It also clearly gives away the position of both the shooter and his weapon. ‘Suppressing’ muzzle flash and firing noise from all small arms (from 5.56mm to 7.62mm) should be the next major priority for infantry weapon systems improvements.

    While an infantryman can remain nearly invisible at night (fighting in the thermal or IR spectrum), as soon as he starts firing, his muzzle blast will quickly draw the attention of the enemy (and undoubtedly counter-fire). But suppression systems exist today that can be quickly attached to various barrels, making weapons both harder to locate during engagements and preserving the hearing of the shooter.

    The utility of suppressed systems was proven in Afghanistan with the C7CT silenced rifle (right). Although adding six inches (1.5cm) to the overall length of the rifle (there are shorter models of suppressor available), B Coy was still very impressed by the numerous advantages supressed weapons offer. Easy to mount, modern suppressors can remain in a soldier’s pack, to be added or removed depending upon mission type. Such an inexpensive system would greatly increase the capabilities of the Canadian infantry. Supressors should be purchased en masse at once.

    Part 5: Small Arms – Shotguns – Slugs, Beanbags, and Rubber Darts

    Automatic rifles and machineguns aside, B Coy also employed the trusty pump- action Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun. This specialized weapon offers a useful combination of capabilities – superior close-quarter combat (under 50m range) along with a highly effective means for breaching doors. Using ‘slugs’, B Coy had the option of destroying door hinges when conducting dynamic entries – excellent for dislodging determined enemy defenders in complex terrain. B Coy also kept shotguns handy for dealing with wild animals, common in Kabul.

    Although not authorized for Op Athena Roto 2, non-lethal munitions also existed in theatre, including beanbag rounds and rubber flechettes (which also existed for the M203 grenade launcher). Excellent for dealing with a hostile crowd, non-lethal munitions offered infantry commanders the choice of ‘neutralizing’ instigators without having to use lethal force. However, the Canadian Forces are still in the throes of resolving various issues surrounding rules of engagements with respect to non-lethal munitions.

    Fragmentation Weapons – the Grenades, Grenade Launchers, and Mortars

    When a situation demanded more firepower than small arms could deliver, B Coy possessed a number of fragmentation weapons. At the section level, the M203A1 grenade launcher (above) mounted on the C7A2, remains the most accessible and potent. Firing a 40mm fragmentation round out to 300m, an M203A1 could quickly suppress any enemy advance with accurate grenade fire.

    For longer-range fire, each platoon still possessed the venerable 60mm M19CAN mortar. Old, heavy and rudimentary, no other weapon system at the platoon level could saturate an enemy position with fragmentation bombs at 2000m better than a dependable old 60mm. Although the bipod mount (permitting sustained and accurate fire) is old and growing more unstable with wear, the 60mm mortar is still a critical weapon system in the platoon’s arsenal – especially given that these mortars can also fire smoke and illumination rounds.

    For the close fight, each soldier carried effective fragmentation grenades – the C13 (formally known as the M67). Excellent for clearing bunkers or reinforced buildings, soldiers remain cautious of the deadly effects of the C13 grenades, especially if used improperly in open terrain. Nevertheless, no other weapon system is guaranteed to neutralize a determined enemy, held-up in a confined space, like the simple lob of a C13 fragmentation grenade.

    For defensive positions, B Coy employed the extremely effective C19 Command- Detonated Defensive Weapon (the “Claymore”). When siting along dangerous approaches, the C19 system provided sections and platoons with the additional firepower required to defeat a ground assault. Although carried by the company, the employment of the C19 was still restricted by the task force commander.

    Anti-Armour Weapons – the LAW, Carl G, Eryx, and the Chain Gun

    B Coy maintained a three-layer approach to anti- armour weapons – light, medium, and heavy.

    Short range continued to be covered by the M72 rocket. Readily available in the LAV III carriers or patrol packs, the disposable M72 was perfect for neutralizing most armour threats in theatre. Since each section carried two M72s, the rocket could also be employed against bunkers or enemy soldiers in the open.

    If a heavier threat materialized, the 84mm Carl Gustav rocket was the main system for medium engagements (and regularly carried in the Pl HQ LAV III). Firing both standard and rocket-assisted munitions, the Carl Gustavs were more than capable of destroying all known potential armour threats that existed in Afghanistan.

    Although normally stored with the Company Quartermasters Stores, B Coy also kept available the Eryx short-range guided missile system. With a range of only 600m (insufficient by most opinions), the Eryx warhead was overkill with respect to any potential armour threat in theatre.

    Rockets and missiles aside, the main anti-armour system employed by B Coy was the 25mm M242 Chain Gun mounted in the turret of the LAV III carrier. Firing armour– piercing and frangible ammunition, the 25mm cannon could destroy any hostile armoured vehicle out to 2200 metres.

    B Coy operated the LAV III on most operations, so the sections, platoons, and company always had the dependable, accurate, and deadly M242 heavy cannon available. The M242 is fully stabilized, so an experienced gunner could engage targets during either high-speed pursuits or withdrawals. No other military in theatre – including other ISAF members – possessed such an effective weapon system and it was the cornerstone of B Coy’s overall firepower in Afghanistan.

    Part 6: A Case for the Pistol – “Ancient Pistol” has Worn Out His Welcome

    Over the years, Browning’s 9mm Hi-Power pistol has become worn-out and obsolete. Designed in the 1930s and produced in the 1950s, many of these pistols suffer repeated stoppages (especially when used with decrepit magazines). In addition, these aged pistols lack night sights (such as tritium sights). It is urgent that the army replace them with modern pistols.

    Although some argue that the utility of the pistol is over, B Coy issued as many as possible to its soldiers during Op Athena (more would have been issued had stocks been available). The pistol serves many important functions. It is readily available should a soldier’s rifle or machinegun fail in combat. When face-to-face with the enemy, every soldier’s fear is that his main weapon will fail, due to either a stoppage or all rounds expended. A dependable pistol, mounted in a quick-draw holster, provides the immediate back up that every infantrymen needs.

    The pistol also offers a compact weapon, useful when moving through confined spaces – such as in attics or sewers – or when fighting from vehicles. The Hi-Power Browning pistol was the most disappointing weapon in theatre. While the Military Police have been issued new pistols – the 9mm SIG-Sauer P225 (right) – the rest of the Canadian army continues to be plagued by obsolete, worn-out 9mm Brownings.

    B Coy advocates the immediate issue of a modern 9mm pistol, preferably double- action, fitted with night sights, and mounted in a specifically designed retention/ quick-draw holster. To offer any less to combat soldiers is simply unacceptable.

    Conclusion – Second to None but There is Still Room for Improvement

    B Coy’s deployment to Afghanistan gave its soldiers access to some of the most sophisticated weapons and equipment available in the Canadian army today. The combination of refurbished weapons, night-vision equipment, and sophisticated sights offered unparalleled capability – especially in relation to the enemy. The fact remains, however, that most of this equipment does not exist back in Canada. Some of these systems will be slowly introduced throughout the entire Canadian army, but more resources must be invested now to ensure that all CF infantrymen possess the same capabilities as B Coy did in Afghanistan during Op Athena.

    As for the deficiencies highlighted in this article, all complaints are within reason and should be addressed as soon as possible – most critically, the C7A2 rifles’ Triad mount and the Browning pistol. In the author’s opinion, the equipment of today’s Canadian infantrymen are second to none. But, that does not diminish the fact that we still have a ways to go. Making certain that all Canadian soldiers possess the very best possible weapons will ensure both mission success and the safe return of all of our soldiers when the operation is over
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


    • #3

      That's the link..

      M-19CAN = M-19 60mm mortar (of WW-2 "fame")
      C-9 = FN-Minimi
      C-6 = FN-MAG
      C-7 ~ M-16A2
      C-8 ~ M-4

      And here are some pictures of Canada forces in action in Afghanistan...
      Attached Files
      To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


      • #4
        i'm totally unsurprised, they use a bland combination of british and american weapons with not a single original innovation. and it's just sad that they have to switch names from M67 grenade to M13 and whatnot, just sad.

        of course when you have to describe yourself as "an officer in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry" you've given up your dignity already.


        • #5
          They live in the real world often there is not point to totally remake the wheel just suit the wheel to them. And they do change around their weapons to better suit them such as the C-7 being capable of full automatic fire, different sights on their rifles and machine guns and the C-7A2 mix of the M-16 and M-4.

          The name changes are to suit their own military as in the M-8 and the fact it is actually the G-36 or the M-249 being the FN-Minimi or the M-240 being the FN-MAG, I could go on...

          Anf FYI the C-6 (MAG), HP-35 and C-9 (Minimi) are Belgian and not British...
          Attached Files
          Last edited by troung; 26 Apr 05,, 20:12.
          To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


          • #6
            Question: why do the troops in one picture have thier eyes crossed out? The guys seem to have those knee pads that JTF 2 use for CT operations, and they are all looking down and away from the camera... ;)


            • #7
              Originally posted by AutopilotOFF
              Question: why do the troops in one picture have thier eyes crossed out? The guys seem to have those knee pads that JTF 2 use for CT operations, and they are all looking down and away from the camera... ;)
              People will sue anyone for anything these days...


              • #8
                Here is the upgraded C-9A2 (FN-Minimi)...
                Attached Files
                To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                • #9
                  Looks kinda the same. Yet another "innovation."
                  That word is WAY over-used.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by sniperdude411
                    Looks kinda the same. Yet another "innovation."
                    That word is WAY over-used.

                    The versions pictured are only semi upgraded, as the process is gradual. However, even the untrained eye should be able to note several differences already.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by AutopilotOFF
                      Question: why do the troops in one picture have thier eyes crossed out? The guys seem to have those knee pads that JTF 2 use for CT operations, and they are all looking down and away from the camera... ;)
                      I don't know why they decided to cross the eyes out, but as an infantryman, you tend to look down more often when you are 1) tired and 2) walking on uneven terrain, both of which apply in the picture. You'll alternate scanning your sector and checking out the ground so you don't trip. As far as being tired, walking in full kit over mountainous terrain at altitude will break a man down. I've only had the misfortune of having to tackle two of those characteristics at once (full kit and mountainous terrain).
                      "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3


                      • #12
                        Keyword: "kinda"; I don't mean to be rude, though.


                        • #13
                          And it really is tough walking with backpacks and at high altitude. It's fun and painful late in the day when skiing at Colorado; man, do those legs burn!