The U.S. Congress is shifting $34 million at the Army’s request to supplement $15 million originally sought in this year’s defense budget for modifications to correct a “safety issue” with the aging M2, or “Ma Deuce.” The purchase will buy about 6,400 kits that let soldiers change barrels without manually resetting the weapon, a sometimes time-consuming process that can result in hand or face wounds when done improperly, Army officials said. The Army plans to seek more funding and hold a competition later this year to buy 28,000 more kits, part of an effort to upgrade its entire M2 inventory of 45,000 guns to newer M2E2 models.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Ryan, product manager for crew-served weapons at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, said, “We’re able to make it a little better and hoping to continue adding to its legend.” Congress shifted the added funding for upgrades from a program to buy all new M2A1s. A quick-change barrel kit costs about $5,700, compared with about $11,200 for a new machine gun, according to Pentagon budget documents from February 2011.
“It’s a much more cost-effective way to convert the fleet,” Fred Coppola, deputy project manager for soldier weapons, said in an interview. The kits also include enhancements such as a muzzle-flash suppressor, he said.
Reports have linked the M2 to weapons malfunctions and injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since December 2007, at least 143 malfunctions occurred, including 124 in Iraq and 19 in Afghanistan, and at least 39 soldiers suffered injuries from 2009 to 2011, Army Major Christopher Kasker said in an e-mail. “This is not a contractor flaw,” said Kasker, an Army spokesperson at the Pentagon. “This is caused by soldiers not following the procedures in the technical manual.” Soldiers need to change the barrel on an M2 when it overheats. They wear heat-resistant gloves when handling the barrel, which glows neon orange during heavy fire. They can be hurt if they don’t properly reset the weapon by hand, as is required on the older weapons before firing.
“Weapon may explode if not properly headspaced!” an online M2 instructional poster warns.
“”Headspace is the distance between the face of the bolt and the bottom of the cartridge case in the chamber, and timing is the adjustment of the gun so that firing takes place when recoiling parts are in the correct position,” Kasker said.
The new upgrades will come as a relief to soldiers who have struggled with them in the past. While many soldiers and marines tout the “Ma Deuce” as an excellent weapons system, the upgrades will surely come as a welcome sight to those serving outside the wire.