The M4 rifle is a shortened M16 carbine and is by far the most common weapon found in the hands of US forces today. Rangers carry the M4 and utilize the new SOPMOD 2 package, which includes the EO Tech 553 holographic reflex site, LA-5 infrared laser, foregrip, the M3X visible bright light (tactical light) and associated accessories. Also included is the Elcan Spector telescopic sight, which is adjustable from 1 power to 5 power via a throw lever on the side of the optic. While this is an interesting idea, nearly all Special Forces troops leave these sights in the card board boxes to collect dust and simply use the EO Tech 553. We felt that the Elcan was a little bit too much and perhaps over engineered. Now, if we had been facing long range engagements in Afghanistan, rather than precision raids in Iraq, maybe we would have felt differently. Along with the EO Tech, the LA-5 is much smaller than the PEQ-2 and together these are the most valued items in the SOPMOD kit.
The Ranger Load Carrying System, or RLCS, is manufactured by Eagle Industries and issued to each Ranger upon assignment to one of the three Ranger battalions. Coming in a massive, oversized dufflebag, the RLCS kit contains everything you need and then some. Body Armor carrier, magazine pouches, grenade pouches, hydration pouches, assault pack type kit, a sub-belt for survival gear, and much more all crammed into this thing. This kit is similar but not identical to the SFLCS kit bag issued to Special Forces troops. The most noticeable difference between the two is that the RLCS is green, while the SFLCS is tan.
Latest update on webgear: Rangers have apparently ditched the RLCS and embraced Multi-Cam kit. My information is that they are still rocking the “Ranger” green plate carrier but with Multi-Cam pouches. Also, DCU/ACU uniforms have been discarded in favor of Crye Precision Multi-Cam uniforms.
The SCAR rifle has been in field testing for I don’t know how many years now. I was told by someone who works in the military’s weapons acquisition program that if the SCAR had a SEAL trident on it, we would have had the rifle ten years ago. That’s the Army for you, I guess. The SCAR uses what FN calls a gas piston system of operation. To my mind, I can’t tell how this is any different than the gas tappet system that has been around for over a hundred years. Setting these complaints aside, the SCAR is a step up from the M4. It is not the revolution that I think some expect it to be, but it is the next step in the evolution of infantry small arms.
I found the rifle to be insanely accurate. I was able to zero the SCAR in the unsupported position (without a rest or sandbags) which I never would have been able to do with an M4. The included suppressor functioned extremely well, much better than the suppressors we have had for our M4′s in the past. On automatic I was able to hold my sights on target while burning through an entire magazine with ease. Impressive, to say the least. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the SCAR is that it is a modular platform that allows the user to switch bolts and barrels to fire different calibers and have various barrel lengths. This benefits the soldiers, and in my opinion, was a very shrewd decision on the part of Fabrique Nationale. They managed to end the 5.56 vs 7.62 debate as the user can now have it his way.
The latest and greatest from the Regiment is that Rangers are rolling with the 7.62 variant of the SCAR operationally and continue to rely on the M4 when 5.56 is preferred.
The M9 Beretta pistol is essentially the military version of the civilian 92F. I never cared for the pistol due to the double action trigger and poor placement of the decocking lever. Another failing of this weapon is that it is chambered for the 9mm round. Most of us would have preferred a .45 caliber hand gun. The manner in which this pistol is carried may be unfamiliar to some, so I will explain here. To load the pistol, the slide is locked to the rear, a loaded magazine is inserted, and the slide is released to chamber the first round. The decocking lever is then depressed to safely drop the hammer. Next, the decocking lever is switched back up into the fire position. Special Forces do no consider the decocking lever to be a safety and do not use it as such. The weapon is considered to be safe while on fire with a round in the chamber due to the fact that it has a double action trigger. At this point, the pistol is safely holstered.
In the Ranger Regiment, a Ranger’s first concern is the rifle in his hands and the terrain to his immediate front. There were not enough pistols to go around in my Battalion, so the priority went to Carl Gustaf gunners and Officers who didn’t want to carry their M4 to the chow hall while deployed.
The M240B machine gun continues to be a mainstay with Rangers and other infantry units. The Mk48 is great as a mobile, immediate support by fire weapon in urban areas, but cannot be mounted on a tripod. For traditional support by fire lines, multiple machine guns need to be locked down in tripods for accurate and controlled fire. The reason for this is gunners will literally be walking their fire just meters away from their fellow Rangers as they assault an objective, thus laying down effective suppressive fire for the assault element. This is a task that the M240B excels at.
The Mk46 is the intended replacement for the SAW. It is more reliable and does not include a magazine well for firing M16 style magazines in an emergency. The only other mechanical difference immediately noticeable is two small metal paws on the feed ramp which hold the belt of ammunition in place during the loading procedure. No more canting your weapon to one side, holding the belt in place, and then slamming the feed tray cover down.
Latest update: I’ve been told that Rangers have since abandoned the Mk46 as the Army has upgraded, or is upgrading the M249 SAW. In this manner, Rangers are able to revert back to the SAW with the US Army footing the bill rather than have it come out of the SOCOM budget.
The Mk47 grenade launcher is in the inventory of most Special Operations units at the moment and replaces the MK19. Internally, the Mk47 also functions much like a giant revolver, as it has a rotating cylinder inside that ferries the 40mm rounds into position. One interesting feature that soldiers quickly notice is the rip cord. Instead of a charging handle, the gunner pulls a plastic grip attached to a nylon string that charges the weapon. It’s almost like starting a lawnmower.
The Mk47 includes an elaborate thermal imaging system. It is easy to zero, and easy to fire as the on-board computer quickly and accurately computes trajectories for you and tells you exactly where to fire in order to hit your target. In fact, the system is too elaborate to use on mounted operations with the cables running everywhere. The grenade launcher can be stripped down when mounted in the turret of a vehicle, otherwise, the full set-up can be used in static defensive positions.
The most memorable remark about the Mk48 that I ever heard was, “That is the lightest heavy machine gun I’ve ever seen!” As a Corporal, I was a Gun Team Leader in Ranger Battalion where my team made great use of the Mk48 in training as well as combat. The Mk48 is the size of a SAW but packs the 7.62 punch of a M240B. It’s small size makes it perfect for immediate support by fire in dismounted, urban environments.
Admittedly, the M3 Carl Gustaf isn’t the sexiest of weapons among the 75th Ranger Regiment’s rather extensive arsenal. This is especially true when you have to pack this giant metal tube into an AT4 jump pack with cardboard honeycomb and exit a C-17 during a Mass-Tactical airborne jump at night. Getting hung up in a MH-60 with the Goose slung over your back while fast roping and dangling 50ft in the air ain’t sexy either. Don’t ask me how I know that… I’ve written about being Tank Sniper and elaborated on the training and tactical issues surrounding the Gustaf in the past, so take a look!
The M203 grenade launcher is mounted beneath the barrel of an M4 and will serve as the grenadier’s primary weapon during enemy contact. Once the grenadier has exhausted his supply of 40mm grenades, he will then transition to his rifle. The M203 adds to the effectiveness of a squad or platoon sized assault element by giving Rangers the ability to put additional fire into covered and concealed positions. A barrage of High Explosive grenades also acts as a force multiplier during a firefight.
Ballistic breaching. One thing I would like to clarify so there is no confusion, is that at no time did we use the shotgun to clear rooms or otherwise use it as a primary weapon. The shotgun is carried for ballistic breaches only. The shot gun is loaded and carried in a particular manner to ensure safety and ease of use once on the objective.
The weapon is always left on fire, never on safe as the safety is difficult to manipulate, especially while wearing gloves and under pressure. The user shucks the shotgun and then pulls the trigger on the empty chamber. Now the shotgun is loaded, usually with Hatton rounds made specifically for door breaches. Once the shot gun is fully loaded, it is snapped onto the operator’s kit, usually by an elastic bungee cord and stowed into an aluminum holder on the soldier’s belt or body armor to hold it in place.
On the objective, the shotgunner moves forward to the breach site, slings his rifle, and releases his shotgun. Shucking the weapon, he loads the first round into the chamber. The muzzle of the shotgun is placed above the locking mechanism of the door and canted at an angle. When fired, the shot blasts through the wooden door jamb. SOP is to fire two shots into the door jamb, then kick the door and step aside for the assaulters to flow through the entrance.
Breaching Kit: Rangers use number advanced demolitions charges and techniques to gain entry into enemy compounds. Ballistic breaching is discussed above, mechanical breaches require tools such as the battering ram, hooligan tool, pry bar, or axe. Explosive breaches are used in a number of instances although the actual types of charges and operational techniques used will have to be left to the imagination due to OPSEC considerations.