America Keeps Sending Exploding Guns Into Battle

Friendly firearms

Marines Fire M2 During Training

Marines Fire M2 During Training

Chance Haworth, U.S. Marine Corps, via Wikimedia Commons

A gun for the army has to do two very basic things: shoot, and not endanger the soldier firing it. Design on the Army's M2 .50-caliber machine gun began in 1918, and the weapon was decades old by the time it earned distinction in World War II, and American troops have carried it into virtually every conflict they've fought since. It's a simple weapon, and powerful enough to destroy light vehicles like jeeps, gun-toting Toyotas, and "slow, low-flying aircraft." So why, after nearly a century of service with the Army and Marine Corps, did M2 machine guns start exploding early last decade, and why do they keep doing so?

Reviewing newly obtained Department of Defense records, Damien Spleeters at Motherboard dives into the recent spree of malfunctioning machine guns. He writes:

But machine guns parts are cheap, and the “low cost” of the material did not always warrant a full investigation from the government. In 2010, a case of bad M2 machine gun breech locks was closed and would only be re-opened were there “any other quality issues” for the contractor. The contractor, Commercial Machine, was waived for preliminary quality tests. In 2006, the US Army issued a general message advising all troops to check for deficient M2 machine gun bolts. The message starts with a warning: “death, serious injury, or damage to army equipment will occur if actions specified in this message are not implemented.” Troops had to inspect their machine guns and immediately remove the deficient part. The contractor, United Standard Industries, had not properly heat treated the machine gun part, which could cause a “case rupture” when an operator fires the gun.

The investigation, supported by Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and with reporting from Brian Anderson, reveals an impressively long list of dangers. These include poorly made parts, bad supply chains, limited manufacturer accountability, and flaws in parts for other weapons, like the M249 light machine gun. Read the rest of the report, and be sure to read all the way down for the service announcements where cartoon guns scream about the parts they need replaced.