I am 80% of the way through "18 hours", a book about a pretty fierce battle in Afghanistan that resulted in the author getting a gong. One thing that he mentions is the uselessness of their M-4 rifles, which sound like a modern, cut down version of the M-16. Whatever they are, they fire 5.56mm ammo. As the author points out, 5.56 ammo has a maximum effective range of 360 metres, and the Taleban where sitting up nice and high on their rocks just out of effective range dropping all manner of crap on them. He pined for a good old SLR, which fires 7.62mm ammo and has a range out to 600 metres. Things might have gone differently if they had actually been able to shoot the bastards up on the rocks instead of blatting away with pop guns.
I was reading the other day that the Israelis ditched the SLR after the Six Day War as they were too long for urban combat and jammed up too much in the fine dust of the Sinai. We ditched the SLR some years after fighting in Vietnam, where it was probably too long for creeping around the jungle getting snagged on things. Besides, who needs a rifle that will shoot for half a mile when you are getting into combat at ranges of 50 metres or so in a jungle?
Anyway, then we deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, where the range open outs again quite considerably and we find that once again, we have the wrong rifles for the battles that have to be fought. We go to jungles with long rifles and deserts with short ones. Interesting how we prepare to fight the last war!
I lugged around an SLR on and off for 4 or 5 years as a Chocko, and I always had a love/hate relationship with the thing. It was a big lump of a thing next to the M-16, the ammo weighed a tonne and it got stinking hot after firing off 60 rounds or so. It also kicked like a mule, and I hated the fact that the Army would only ever give you three magazines, where any sensible person would want to carry six. A day of firing it always produced a bruised and battered shoulder.
However, it was wonderfully accurate, tremendously reliable and had a marvelous heft to it. When you carried it, you really had the feeling that you were lugging around a proper gat. If all else failed, it came with a nasty little bayonet and the size and weight of the rifle made it a marvelous pig sticker.
The M-16 on the other hand always felt like it would be better suited to a game of cowboys and indians in the backyard - not a serious weapon at all.
I was a reasonable shot with the SLR - I qualified high enough up on one range day to end up being sent on some extra shoots, where we got to fire at 500 metres. Most range work for regular infantry was done out to 300 metres only. I amazed myself at 500 metres, managing to actually hit the targets without a bloody big telescopic sight.
Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me if we were told that some of the SAS are now running around Afghanistan with something that can reliably shoot a long, long way - the good old Lee Enfield.