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A member of Ukraine's National Guard fires the UKROP UAR-15, a copy of the M4 carbine.
As the war in Ukraine enters its 9th month the news(SOFREP among them) has covered the weapons systems going to Ukraine in considerable detail. In the process we’ve learned a few things.
The Ukrainians are not like the Afghans or the Iraqis. Put US weaponry in their hands and they will make good use of it. They are proving to be very capable students of new weapons and tactics. We are not wasting the good stuff on them. They are also pretty smart about improvising weapons they need and can’t get. For example, the lack of fighter planes and attack aircraft, and precision-guided munitions saw Ukraine improving a drone fleet that could function as a tactical air force and precision-guided artillery at the same time. Their ability to drop a hand grenade on a single soldier in a foxhole saves hundreds of rounds of ammunition that the Russians expend in rocket and cannon barrages.
Some of the weapons we are replacing as obsolete are actually pretty current given that the Russians can no longer be reasonably called a “Peer Adversary” any longer. The Russians seemed to have pulled the wool over the eyes of most of the world’s military “experts” who believed that the Russians had the weapons they claimed to have, that they worked the way they claimed and that their troops were trained to razor edge proficiency. None of that was true. For the first several months, the Russian army was fighting a Ukrainian army trying to get its pants on and Russia was stopped cold. Not by the latest US and NATO weaponry but by old Russian equipment that the Ukrainians were using.
Troop quality counts as much as weapons. When this war is over and the analysts start picking this thing apart, an inescapable fact will be staring them right in the face: The Ukrainian soldier is just of better quality, education, and motivation than the Russian soldier. Russia began the war with a vastly superior force(Not enough to take Ukraine in our considered opinion) in tanks, guns, planes, and resources and saw it all melt right before their eyes because the quality, training, and motivation of their troops was just plain awful. Desertion in Russin ranks seemed to have begun in the first days of the war and just keeping their men from quitting or just surrendering in mass to Ukraine is one of the biggest challenges faced by Moscow.
After nine months of war, the average Russian combat soldier has gotten pretty good at soldiering. He has by now been in numerous firefights, had rounds whizzing by his head, and taken some measure of the fighting abilities of his enemy. The Ukrainian is fighting for the survival of his country, its culture, its history, its language, and its future. He fighting to preserve something for himself and his family.
By contrast, the average Russian soldier is a hastily called-up trainee, lacking experience, equipment, as well as career NCOs and officers to lead him into battle. He is fed 3 times a week, his weapon is often worn out or a relic from WWII. He is being told to fight to destroy the supposed “Nazis” in Ukraine which threaten Russia’s existence simply by existing themselves. He comes from a town without paved roads, reliable electricity, running water or indoor plumbing and arrives in Ukraine as see asphalt roads leading to homes with plumbing, electricity, and most of the trappings of first-world countries. He wonders how bad the Nazis can really be if they are living this well and wonders what the Nazis would want to “take” from Russia when they seem to have everything they need already. He doesn’t really want to be there.
The point here is to say that the value of the Ukrainian soldier at this point in the war is actually very high. They are veteran fighters now and can train new recruits that come into their units to help them stay alive as well. Every loss is not just personal but also the loss of training and experience as well. Since green Russian troops tend not to survive their first or second battle with Ukrainian troops, they can’t get better. This is reflected in the inability of the Russian army to do anything but lose ground to Ukraine since they launched their counter-offensive in August. Russia keeps throwing green recruits into the fight and they keep losing ground.
Now comes winter and some restrictions on the fighting both in scope and in scale. It’s very cold, snow is beginning to fall and everything will be much harder to do. Even simple tasks like cooking and keeping clean are both much harder to do in winter.
With all the weapons currently being shipped to Ukraine, what is being somewhat overlooked is the most basic weapon of an army in the field.
The infantry rifle.
For the most part, both Ukraine and Russia are using the AK-47, AK-74 and AK-103. For Russia, this is a matter of long tradition and standardization in their armed force, though the AK-74 uses a smaller round closer to the .556×45 NATO standard round. Ukraine was on the way to standardizing their standard infantry rifle to this NATO round by 2020 but Russian separatists in Luhansk captured Ukraine’s only small arms ammunition plant in 2014. Since then, Ukraine has been using stockpiles of old Soviet ammunition in the 7.63x39mm caliber.
The plan for NATO standardization was built around Ukraine’s own version of the M-16/M4 battle rifle of the US military called the WAC-47. SOFREP wrote about this in 2018, you can read that here. This was a joint venture between US arms maker Aeroscraft and Ukrainian national defense company, Ukroboronprom. It looks very much like an M4 carbine until you see the curved AK-47 magazine stuck in it holding Russian ammunition. The plan was to eventually swap out the barrel and upper receiver and bolt to take NATO .556×45. Other than that, the WAC-47 has the same basic mechanism and features as the M-16/M4 including better sights, accuracy and M-LOC and Picatinny rails to attach optics, lights, and even grenade launchers.
There is nothing wrong with the WAC-47, it’s better made and more accurate than an AK-37 or AK-103 but it’s still hampered by the weight and lower velocity that limits its accuracy at range. This is the central point. The Russians and Ukrainians are fighting at nominally equal ranges to each other, trading bullet for bullet. That range is 350-450 yards, after which it takes some skill as a marksman to get 7.62x39mm round on target. In the US military, we train marksmen. This is not so in Russia’s army and perhaps even Ukraine’s as well. Even if you are a good shot, the 762.x39mm round really doesn’t reward you for the skill and effort the way the NATO 5.56x45mm does. With the M-16A1 the effective range is 450 meters and reaches out to a full 800 meters for the M-16A2. Even the M4 carbine can zap you at 500 yards for single targets and 600 for grouped targets like a mass of Russian infantry charging across a field.
Ukraine does make its own version of the AR-15 made under a licence with Daniel Defence which makes weapons for SOCOM, and called the UKROP UAR-15 that fires the NATO round, but the numbers appear to be relatively small in number so far. They have been issued to select units of their Special Forces, Border Guards and National Guard. We suspect they are being “salted” in these units as designated marksmen rifles because of their increased effective range.
You see what I am getting at? Getting Ukraine switched over to the NATO 5.56x45mm round will save the lives of their infantry by allowing them to engage Russian soldiers at a standoff range between 100 and 400 yards. Russian troops would be forced to close that range on foot by advancing in the open.
It would also allow Ukrainian forces to suppress the fire of Russian troops in preparation for their own assault on their positions.
Among all the billions of dollars in arms the US has sent to Ukraine so far, the M-16/M4 is missing from the list of weapons we are sending them. And that needs to change.
Earlier this year the Army announced that the Next Generation Squad Weapon(NGSW), the XM5 rifle and XM250 light machine gun will be replacing the M4/M16 rifle and the venerable M249 light machine gun, The first troops will begin receiving them in the fourth quarter of 2023.
The Marine Corps will get them sometime in 2099.(Kidding)
We got a look at the NGSW at Shot Show 2022 in Las Vegas last January.
The new rifle is a SIG SAUR design that will be made under license here in the US and uses the 6,8mm family of ammunition which tends to outperform the 5.56mm round in every respect.
This means the US is going to have hundreds of thousands of M-16A1s, M-16A2s, M4s, and Springfield M1As along with millions of rounds of ammunition too in surplus.
The government should put foot to pedal and accelerate the distribution of the new XM5 to the US military in order to ship the retired rifles to Ukraine along with as much ammunition as we can.
It could save the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and bring this war to an end sooner.
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