KIA

PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE A LOVED ONE IN AFGHANISTAN OR HAVE LOST A LOVED ONE.

You turn on the TV news and there, somewhere after a report on the credit crunch and before the footie, you get the other stuff, events in brief, the stories they haven’t got pictures for or don’t think are important enough to warrant two minutes all to themselves.  Amongst these fillers you hear the presenter say, ‘A British soldier has been killed in action in Afghanistan after being hit by a roadside bomb’.  Killed in action.  KIA.  It all sounds so unsentimental, so impersonal, so clinical.  But its’ not.  It is usually brutal and bloody and painful.  So here it comes, the wretched truth about KIA, a truth you’ll never hear, let alone see, on News at Ten.  This is what KIA is all about.

11:46hrs

This was the time a British soldier stood on an IED, an improvised explosive device, a roadside bomb.  It wasn’t clear whether it was the heal of his boot that made contact first, or the sole, or perhaps he was already springing off his toes and well into his next stride when the weapon that he trod on killed him.  It doesn’t matter, for any of these scenarios would have set off the same catastrophic chain of events.

As the weight – several stone of the soldier, and a few more of his equipment – came to bear on the track, it also fell on the part of the bomb that would trigger the explosion.  Just below the surface, encased in a motorcycle inner tube to keep them free of dirt and moisture, were a pair of old saw blades: one connected by wire to an electrical power source, a pack of six domestic batteries; the other attached by a different wire to a Russian mortar shell. The blades were wedged apart at each end by a piece of wood.  In this configuration the blocks acted like a circuit breaker, preventing the flow of electricity, keeping the system inert.  With the soldier’s full weight now coming down inexorably on the top blade, it buckled and bowed in the middle, then made contact with its twin beneath.  And that was that.  The circuit was complete and a current started to flow, at the speed of light, from battery, via the saw blades to a detonator.  In turn the detonator was connected to a booster charge, which in itself was hooked up to the mortar shell.

The weapon could have lain there for days, a week, a month.  It might have been there for a year or more.  Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered to the bomb how long it had gone undiscovered.  It had no feelings, no sense of time, no memory, only and endless patience it wasn’t aware of.  But now its moment had come.  It was about to do the one and only thing it had been created for.  Wreak death on the enemy of those who had first dug the hole for the weapon to sit in and then carefully buried it, hiding all signs of the earth having ever been disturbed.

In that most routine and instinctive of movements, walking, the British soldier had sealed his fate, self-selected himself as a victim.  And the life for his family was about to be irrevocably altered.  Shattered beyond recognition.  Not that they knew it yet.  Though, it seems, he probably did.

Because even as he was completing his step, as events were about to unfold beneath him out of sight, he suddenly stopped as if he suspected something.  Had he already seen something, felt something not quite right through the rubber sole of his boot?  It was as if he already had an inkling of what he’d just done.

But by now it was way to late to alter the course of history.

The chemical reaction going on inside the mortar shell was rapidly generating an extreme amount of pressure and heat – as much as several hundred tones per square inch of the former and anything between 1,500 and 2,500 degrees Celsius of the latter.  It was all happening so fast – unimaginably fast – and it had become impossible to turn the clock back; things had already gone far beyond the point of no return.  Yet for a few more milliseconds there was still no outward sign of the impending disaster.  Because at that precise moment the destructive power was still, just about, being contained within the shell.  The original makers of the shell had been ruthlessly exact in their calculations.  They hadn’t wanted all the heat and pressure to burst out too son.  No, they’d designed the casing to be strong enough to resist its own demise for as long as possible – long enough for the force of the imminent explosion to have reached its absolute zenith.  And only then did it break free.

The mortar disintegrated into a million pieces of metal that hurtled away from the seat of the blast.  There would be no dodging them.  Not at the immense speed they were travelling – as much as several thousand meters per second.  The fragments were followed by the blast wave.  It radiated from the epicenter of the explosion even faster than the splinters of the bomb casing, at a velocity many times the speed of sound.  For good measure there was a heat wave too.  And a hell of a lot of noise.

Because the mortar had been buried only just below the surface of the track the soldier had been walking on, most of the energy was funneled skywards, following the path of least resistance, up through the thin veneer of the Afghan desert.  It took with it bucket loads of dirt and grit.

In the moment the explosion mushroomed clear of the ground, both the soldiers’ legs were shredded.  It was as if someone had furiously rubbed them up an down a giant cheese grater, not stopping until the white of the bone was clearly visible through the bloody, ragged remains of human tissue.  If the soldier had had the chance to take in what was happening to him, then he might have been tempted to count his blessings, pleased at least that both his lower limbs remained anchored to the rest of his body.  But he would have been wrong to do so.  Already they were useless to him; indeed they were hardly recognisable as legs.  There was little or no skin left to speak of, and much of the mass and most of the definition of the muscle had gone too, hacked off by supersonic, super-sharp pieces of twisted metal.  That which remained had become blackened in places – charred, seared by the extreme temperature that accompanied the blast.  The torn remnants of skin and uniform had been similarly singed.

As the cuts of human meat, some minuscule, others the size of a hand, were hacked off the bone, other fragments of the bomb now buried themselves deep inside the ragged flesh that remained.  They also tunneled into the man’s thighs and groin, peppering the muscle.  For good measure the billowing cloud of dust then further contaminated the wounds.

The blast wave continued running up the length of the victims torso, forcing its way under the body armour, eventually tearing it off.  The two removable, protective ceramic plates worn to protect the front and back of the armour had already been blown from their pouches, and now, as projectiles, they had become part of the problem rather than the cure.

By this stage the soldiers weapons had been ripped from his right hand, then the hand and the arm were flayed as the legs had been.

As the blast reached his head, it got beneath the rim of his helmet and forced it off, the chinstrap offering only limited resistance before giving way.  There was also massive damage inflicted on the mans throat and jaw.  A large piece of shrapnel – or maybe it was the plate off the body armour – had torn out his voice box and smashed his chin.  A fold in the skin now hung limply from his cheek.  Even if he had wanted to call out for help, to scream in pain, he wouldn’t have been able to do so.

There was also the damage done that you’d struggle to see.  The force of the explosion had caused serious internal injuries.  The soldier’s eardrums burst.  So too did the blood vessels in his eyes.  His lungs probably collapsed as the blast wave rippled through his body.  By now he was no longer in contact with the ground.  Instead, he and his barely attached limbs were sailing through the air, tumbling, turning, before crashing back to earth.  He was flung a good ten meters from the point of detonation.

The very worst thing of all was that – despite everything – he was still alive.

Eyes rolling; trickles of blood seeping from his ears, nose and mouth; torrents of thick red blood pumping from at least three severed arteries; he was still alive.

And conscious.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the medic did a heroic job trying to treat the soldier, applying tourniquets, inserting a drip, giving morphine.  And then it was a case of clock watching, waiting for the MERT helicopter to arrive.  Knelt down alongside the casualty, the medic held on to the soldiers remaining good hand, offering what comfort he could, reassuring him everything would be alright.  Except it wouldn’t.

Because twenty minutes after he had detonated the bomb, the soldier succumbed to his horrendous injuries, the lifeblood finally drained out of him into the dust.

The brutally dispassionate message went out over the radio ‘UK Bravo now KIA’

That’s is the reality of Killed in Action.  For some, death comes mercifully quickly. But for others dying is an agonizing, lingering, terrifying experience.  Their last on earth.

Now, where were we? Ah yes.  How did Chelsea get on against Man Utd.

‘TASK FORCE HELMAND’ by Doug Beattie MC

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KILLING AND COMPASSION ON THE BATTLEFIELD

Breathing hard, my back against the dusty wall of a mud compound, its metal doors forced open to reveal a small shop, the coolness of its shade washing over me, I stared hard at the Taliban fighter at my feet.

All smiles after the patrol when all my men are safe

He stared back.

Just moments earlier he had been intent on killing me and my men. What his motivation was – ideology, money, excitement – I didn’t know and would never find out. For the man’s deep, dark eyes were unseeing.

They were those of a man who had breathed his last, another casualty of war.

Where he lay, a small pool of blood had formed behind his head, his loose fitting robes twisted around him, the feet bare, the long hair matted with dirt, his beard matted with blood.

Around him was strewn the detritus of a medical emergency; tubes, bandages, a syringe, signs that immediately after he had been shot the soldiers then proceeded to try and save his life. It was not to be.

Death had triumphed over life. When we could, we would take a DNA sample and a photo, and then leave his body to be buried by the local population whose hospitality he had forced himself upon, taking advantage of the Pashtun-Wali code, the ancient custom of kindness to strangers adhered to as much today by the local population as it was during the time of Alexander the Great.

Afghan Market Stall.

But procedure would have to wait a bit longer, for the sounds of combat had not died with the young insurgent.

Even as my soldiers had tried to staunch his flow of blood and that of one of his wounded colleague, their comrades renewed the attack, trying to force us from the ground we had so recently taken, hoping we would abandon not just the territory but also the wounded fighter and the weapons and radios we had captured.

There was nothing particularly unusual about the situation. Using military mission verbs, we had been in the area to Find, Feel and Understand, in other words learn about the area.

Our patrol had been working on a road between Kalang, our main Patrol Base in Saidabad, Nad-e-Ali, Helmand Province and the rather smaller and more isolated checkpoint Tanoor. The result was predictable.

The insurgents had been first to engage, the 7.62mm short rounds from their AK47s, and 7.62mm long rounds from the PKMs, splitting the air above our heads, ripping up the earth at our feet and slamming into the compound walls the young rangers were using for cover.

But this wasn’t a day to absorb the enemy fire and merely trade a few rounds of our own. Today was a day to take the fight to them. Fast, aggressive movement, charging in depth, clearing insurgent positions and cutting off withdrawal routes.

The dead insurgent had tried to use children to mask his retreat, the same terrified youngsters he had hidden behind when he first opened up at us.

Not that his tactics were any match for the skill of my ranger sniper. He fired without hesitation, but not without thought. Because the highly trained Royal Irish soldier had many things going through his head as he focused on the insurgent.

He had been trained to ask himself three simple questions, Can I? Could I? And finally should I? The first two questions relating to his rules of engagement the last question relating to the impact of firing, what effect would it have not just on the insurgent but on the local population. In the end he had no choice, his skill matching his training.

It was then that the insurgent’s comrade moved from the shadows, rifle in hand as he fired wildly down the track. It was the next .338 calibre bullet from the sniper’s weapon that

A Force Multiplier in Combat

smashed through his groin exiting his buttock and sent him spinning to the ground.

This was not the movies. There was no spray of blood, no arms thrown theatrically into the air, just the sickly sound of the impact; lead boring through flesh and bone.

For the enemy the relief of being alive would quickly have been tempered by knowledge that his body had been seriously if not fatally damaged, physically unable to respond to the commands sent from the brain.

I am no stranger to violent death. Bosnia, Kosovo, the war in Iraq and now three tours of Afghanistan, have ensured that. But that does not mean I am immune to it, whether the loss of life has been suffered by friend or foe. I feel both keenly. The immediate euphoria of overcoming an enemy tarnished by the sense of waste.

Death on the battlefield is at least followed by a full stop. It is the fate of the wounded that raises the questions and introduces the thorny matter of compassion.

After the sniper struck there were quick decisions to be made. Do I send my men 400 metres forward to recover the wounded, give them medical treatment, arrest them and send them back to Camp Bastion?

Or do I leave them writhing in pain and misery, hopelessly willing their shattered limbs to carry them beyond our reach? It’s is a question of risk versus gain, but it is also a question of compassion on the battlefield.

I decided to exercise the compassion only available to the victor. The surviving insurgent is treated as if he is one of us. With a dressing on the wound, and morphine for the pain, a MIST report is sent back to HQ classifying him as a CAT A casualty.

Soon a helicopter will arrive to whisk him away to the same facility that would have treated a British casualty if the roles had been reversed, no medical distinction being made, it is the Law of Armed Conflict and it governs all our actions on the battlefield.

Meanwhile his dead colleague is shown the dignity in death I suppose we all deserve. His clothes are rearranged, his arms straightened by his sides.

Nowhere in the rules and regulations does it say this needs to be done. For what the young soldiers of 1 R IRISH do is a human thing, not a military action, there is a gentleness in the mayhem that makes me proud to command these young soldiers.

THE THREAT – Every minute of every day for combat troops.

SMALL ARMS ATTACK

The rifle sat easily in the firers hand as he lay in the rushes beside the irrigation ditch – his body hidden from view. Only the tip of the weapon protruding, the only part visible.

The rifle sight settled on the enemy fighter as the firer began to settle his breathing, ready to begin the firing cycle and take the shot.

He was confident that a combination of the sun setting behind him, the reeds from the ditch concealing his position would offer protection from the retaliation that would inevitably follow.

Returning Fire

To his left lay his number two, also comfortable amongst the vegetation, scanning the open ground, watching not just for the enemy but also civilians who might stray into the line of fire. Next to him was his own automatic rifle. There was nothing said between the pair.

Gently the firer squeezed the trigger and the bullet was gone.

The 7.62mm round flew through the air at around 750 metres a second. With nothing to deviate it, the only thing that would prevent it from hitting the target was the accuracy of the firer.

Today the Taliban marksman was off his game for the bullet landed short, at the feet of the young soldier it was meant to strike, meant to kill.

Immediately he hit the ground, his patrol colleagues joining him in the Afghan dirt.

In unison they peered through their x6 ACOG sights, as Corporal ‘Lofty’ McDowell called in the action:

“Contact, single round, graded red from the west. Firing point not identified, wait-out”, he screams into the mouthpiece of his Bowman 354 radio.

Doug Beattie: reutrn to Afghanistan

On his third tour of Afghanistan, Lofty is newly promoted but vastly experienced for someone so young. He is already used to the Taliban’s ongoing tactic; the single round engagement.

As his men continue their hunt for the firing point, from 700 metres away another round is fired, narrowly missing a second soldier.

In official military circles the enemy firer would be known as a marksman, trained shot or sharpshooter, to call him anything else would imply the enemy had a capability they do not. It would lead to a perception of a highly sophisticated, highly skilled, operator able to engage us from extreme long distances.

But the reality is that it makes no difference what you call the firer. When you are pinned down by accurate fire and you cannot identify the firing point terminology becomes unimportant, a talking point for those not there.

What is important is how you deal with this threat.

For soldiers fighting in Helmand this is just one of many enemy tactics they have to deal with. They are well trained and know how to counter whatever the enemy throws at them, today it is small arms fire, tomorrow it will be an IED, they get on with the job while others talk about it.

As I lift my head from the dirt I see Lofty going about his work, supremely confident with his own ability and that of his men.

IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICE

“A giant of a man.”

These are the words used by Colonel Bob Seddon, the former commanding officer of Staff Sgt Olaf Schmid, to describe the bomb disposal expert killed in Sangin whose inquest was held in 2010.

It is a fitting tribute to a fiercely brave man.

But for every one or two Improvised Explosive Devices – so called roadside bombs – found by specialist high risk teams several more are unearthed by the skill and concentration of the ordinary soldier.

Simple Soldiers, Complex Skills

Such was the case when Ranger Gavin Edgar found one of the deadly devices and a haul of other IED making equipment while on patrol in Nad-e-Ali.

“I slowly pulled the top of the hay away, saw the pressure plate and couldn’t believe my eyes! I’m delighted but I was just doing my job at the end of the day”, said the 19-year-old from Ballymoney, Northern Ireland modestly.

Modest or not the skill with which he does his job accounted for a device capable of killing him, his colleagues and innocent civilians. With the device was the component parts to make a further 10 devices.

It is statements like that from Ranger Edgar which underlies the real courage of these men, many only teenagers, as they go about their work trying to make Nad-e-Ali a better place for the people of Helmand.

These young soldiers, brothers, sons, husbands and friends step forward day in, day out knowing each step could be their last.

Amongst their number will be those armed with metal detectors, scanning the ground ahead of them. But often the detector will offer only psychological comfort because – as with the device which accounted for Olaf Schmid – the bombs the enemy plant are increasingly sophisticated and decreasingly reliant on metal components to make them work.

The lonely hunt for IEDs by none specialists

We do have another weapon in our armory though, the mark one eyeball.

Inching forward soldiers will scrutinise the ground at their feet looking for the tell-tale signs of enemy activity: disturbed earth, patches of raised ground, soil a slightly different colour to that which surrounds it.

But the task is exacting. It allows for no breaks, no distraction. A moment’s lack of focus can result in broken bodies and shattered lives.

There is also the peril of tunnel-vision. With so much attention centred on the hazard below there is always the risk that another Taliban threat – an ambush, suicide bomber – goes unnoticed until it is too late.

So far the combined brains of those working in the arms industry have failed to develop what would perhaps be the most useful battlefield weapon of all – eyes in the back of your head.

Until that happens, the imprecise act of warfare goes on, with British troops – hour by hour, minute by minute – making judgement calls on where the biggest and most immediate dangers actually lie.

A ‘Find’ a life saved

Most of the time we get it right and complete another patrol unscathed. But not always.

And that is when another miserable train of events is set in motion: the loss of a man, the repatriation of a body, the inquest into a violent death.

As my Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir DSO MBE said of Ranger Edgar:

“The IED threat in this area has been significant. We have lost life and limb to IEDs. Ranger Edgar’s professionalism has without doubt saved lives. A good morning’s work!”

It is continuous, relentless, it saps the soldiers energy little by little. It is both physically and mentally demanding and it drives your actions every minute of every day, every step, every turn of the wheel. “But it is just about doing my job at the end of the day”.

WHAT CAN THE TERRITORIAL ARMY REALLY DO

The four heavy machine guns rained fire down into the valley, the 7.62mm rounds ripping up the soft earth or spinning off at unpredictable angles; tracer rounds lighting up as they arced into the sky. Low down in the crook of the defile – below the sheet of metal flying overhead – the small heavily armed rifle company snuck through the undergrowth, following the course of the river, heavy white acrid smoke masking their movements. Every so often their progress would be stalled by an encounter with the enemy dug into their positions.

The response from the attackers was murderous. A cascade of ordnance unleashed from their arsenal of rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers, followed by high explosive grenades at close quarters to clear the enemy and allow momentum to be regained. And so it went on.

Variously crawling, running, jumping and yelling their way across the landscape the soldiers all wore masks of grim determination. More than once the cry of ‘casualty, casualty’ reverberated down the line as each man passed back the message that a comrade had been hit. Next would come the wounded man himself, dragged towards the company axis and safety, ready for the company sergeant major to retrieve him and deliver him to the aid post.

Yet the scene is not one from the heat of the arid Afghan desert, nor the suffocating green zone that straddles the Helmand river. This is the lush, moist, mist covered Brecon Beacons and the men under fire and returning fire are training. They all wear the distinctive flash of the UK’s premier 16 Air Assault Brigade but these are not regular soldiers. They are members of A Company 2 Royal Irish, a Territorial Army Unit recently grouped with 16 Brigade.

The work-out in the Welsh countryside is the culmination of a two-week exercise which has already seen the soldiers spend many days being tested to their limits in Cyprus.

The territorial infantry are clearly part-timers, but anyone who wants to use the term dismissively to belittle the professionalism and commitment of the soldiers need only see how they have performed over the past fortnight to realise their judgement is flawed.

In recent months and years there has been much to say on the purpose and positioning of the TA in the overall UK defence and security plan, but it is worth remembering that many of the 38,000 TA troops have played a major part in military activity over the past decade with many of them fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, and often both.

I have been fortunate enough to serve alongside the TA as a regular soldier, and also – on my last tour of Afghanistan – mobilise as a TA officer, and I can vouch that the training and preparation for operations is identical whether you are a full-timer or territorial.

Yet still perceptions of a two-tier system remain and it is undeniable that there are those in the TA – and indeed those who run the TA – who suffer from a crisis of confidence, their perceived second-class citizenship not just fostered by those outside the armed forces but also amongst some regulars propping up the mess bars.
 
But looking at our reserve forces as something to enhance our overall defence plan could elevate the TA’s status to that which it deserves to be. As an increasingly integral and numerically significant part of the larger UK defence strategy they will soon find themselves resourced to a far higher level than ever before.  They will be expected to do more as a cohesive unit instead of supplying individual reinforcements who are cast far and wide to make up the numbers amongst regular units.

The TA should be encouraged to have ambition; a drive to do more and achieve more than traditionalists might believe possible or warrant as desirable. To see them in the model of the US National Guard in the future may not be far off the mark

Earlier this year six esteemed military men and commentators on soldiering matters wrote to the Daily Telegraph, Colonel Richard Kemp and my old boss Colonel Tim Collins amongst them. Decrying the cutbacks in the numbers of regular troops they said:

“We urge the Ministry of Defence to halt further cuts in regular Army manpower and to review its current redundancy programme. The Government should re-examine this aspect of the Strategic Defence and Security Review and recognise that the primary role of the TA and other reserve forces is as a vital support to the full-time professionals, not as an alternative to them.”

They have a point. But only up to a point. I regard things slightly differently, taking a view based more on what challenges the future holds for the armed forces than on what has gone before. Off course we must be realistic in what the TA can achieve and I think this is the question we should be asking, not dwelling on their perceived failings.
 
It is not difficult to see the TA taking on the role of the Falklands reinforcement company for example, or conducting operation TOSCA, the UN policing role in Cyprus. It is also easy to see short-term training teams from the TA taking up roles in places like Uganda, Botswana, Kenya or the Baltic states. In fact 2 Royal Irish have already conducted three of these training missions in Uganda readying the Ugandan People’s Defence Force for their mission in Somalia. Watching those young men of 2 R IRISH fight, not fumble, their way up the Welsh valley as a disciplined force, it was impossible to tell they all had ‘real jobs’ to get back to. There was no doubt in my mind that they are ready to meet the challenges thrown up by the SDSR. All they need is the nod of approval from on high and an ongoing commitment to appropriate equipment and instruction, for if there is one thing the TA cannot do is train themselves, for that they need regular support. It would be foolish to deny them either the resources they need or the respect they deserve, because in the short to medium-term it might well be the TA who hold the line while the regular army re-cocks, adjusting from the full-on campaigning role in Afghanistan, to a go anywhere, do anything contingency function. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9m5YB8GGa0

DONT BLAME THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE

My first experience of the SA80 rifle came a quarter of a century ago when I was young and it was new. Since then we have grown old together, though both of us have changed in many ways over the years.

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SA80 1985

Our initial encounter took place when, as a Junior Non Commissioned Officer. I attended the very first Section Commanders’ Battle Course along with 79 other men. The weapon was the replacement to the much heavier SLR. Because the magazine was behind the pistol grip, the SA80 was a much shorter rifle than its predecessor but its barrel length remained roughly the same ensuring accuracy. Its fully automatic capability was a direct result of experience from the Falklands war where the Argentinians use of the FN version of the SLR – complete with auto fire function – often left the British floundering in engagements.

On paper the SA80 seemed to mark a major advancement for the ‘poor bloody infantry’, but as I and my colleagues soon discovered the reality was rather less impressive. The fielding of the new weapon was done without adequate equipment checks, field trials and thought as to how it might integrate with other technological developments in fighting systems. In the jargon of this age it was a weapon not fit for purpose.

The SA80’s flaws were extensive. The magazine wouldn’t stay on the weapon – as you patrolled, should your body brush against the magazine release catch the magazine would fall off and rounds would be sent spinning all over the floor. The low-tech solution was to tie the magazine in place with a bit of string and a small locally purchased clip. If you wore mosquito repellent the rubber cheek-piece on the weapon would melt. The bayonet didn’t attached correctly. The bolt and recoil spring assembly were under-engineered and not strong enough to do the robust job they needed to. This led to major stoppages and soon it became known as an unreliable weapon in the heat of battle.

It was common for the strength of the spring to be insufficient to force the bolt carrier rearwards and so a new round was not picked up and fed into the breach after the previous one had been fired. This was assuming the spent cartridge case had been ejected at all, as it was also common for the extractor to rip off the base of the round so preventing its successful disposal.

Add in the fact that the weapon could only be fired by a right-handed soldier – if a ‘southpaw’ pulled the trigger he could expect a face-full of brass or at least the man beside him could – and it was unsurprising that the answer to all the British Army’s problems soon gained a questionable reputation, one that has proved hard to shake off. Even with the subsequent arrival of the new improved model, the SA80A2 that came without the faults which bedevilled its earlier namesake.

What the SA80A2 does retain is the accuracy of the original version, something that has only been enhanced by the ACOG sight.  Add to this the development of an under slung Grenade Launcher allowing it to fire 40mm HE grenades. A picatinny rail so the weapon can now except a down grip for close quarter battle, laser light module for night engagements and various other gadgets and gismos that would embarrass the US military, then you can see that the weapon has been developed into a seriously versatile fighting system.

Yet despite the changes the stigma remains. Performance might have improved but the new version looks like the old and essentially has the same name. It is all about confidence and that is something that is still missing after all these years. Many of my colleagues look longingly at the American M4 as an alternative to what they believe they are burdened with. In fact UK Special Forces already use the M4 or the C8 rather than the SA80A2 but then they always tend to have something other than standard issue kit regardless if it is better or not. It sets them apart from the average ‘green troops’ and underlines their elevated status by being different.

But to pine after the M4 ignores the facts. In side-by-side trials the UK weapon comes out on top almost every time. It has better accuracy; better penetration; better resilience to the harsh conditions found in both the desert and the jungle. Stoppages are low and it now does what it should always have done – combine a reliable, fast-rate of fire with the characteristics to make it a formidable weapon in the closest proximity to the enemy.

During the six months I spent in Afghanistan in 2010-11 I fired over 900 rounds without any stoppages. In 2008 I fired thousands of rounds, again without a single stoppage, not one. It was the same back in 2006 on my first tour of Helmand.

I am happy to fight with whatever I am given, as are most soldiers because that is what we do – dare I say it the Irish more than most. We like to fight – we find excuses allowing us to engage the enemy, rather than excuses not to. But still we are soldiers and as such we will always moan about something or other. And if there is one thing that has been moaned about more than others over the past 25 years it is the SA80. My fighting life if probably over. Perhaps it is time now for the SA80 to also leave the battlefield quietly after 27 years.

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SA80A2 with ACOG sight, picatinny rail and down grip.