Sunday, October 28, 2007

Steyr goes off wounding two

Yet another report of a NZDF soldiers Steyr rifle going off accidentally in Afghanistan. This time while in a Humvee ( curious that we never hear of Pinzgauers over there).

Last time this happened the soldiers involved were charged. However it is well known that the Austeyr rifle is not the safest combat rifle in the world. I very well remember a presentation by Lt Colonel Haynes of the Logistic Support Regiment back in the 90s describing how a Steyr went automatic on a soldier on a rifle range and he simply couldn't stop it discharging the entire magazine. This was due to a manufacturing fault. Since then there have been numerous reports of "unexpected discharges" from the rifles, notably in Afghanistan.

The AusSteyr was selected purely because the Australians were buying/making it and New Zealand tried once again to piggy back on the the Australian military instead of thinking for itself. There is no reason why New Zealand had to buy Australian, or, for that matter even make its own, as Singapore has done most effectively with the SAR-21.

Another reason for choosing the Steyr is that the army believes it needs to equip six battalions of territorials with combat rifles! As we will never field six battalions of territorials (the most we have ever had on active duty is about 1,500) it seems very odd that we have selected a relatively cheap personal weapon when, for a not much more, we could equip our troops with the very best.

Only when the size and mission of defence force is properly balanced against economic risk will we end up with an organisation that is scaled appropriately. Once it is recognised that our forces come in effectively three levels:
1. special forces - of which we need many more
2. territorials - of whom we need a good many less
3. auxiliaries ( i.e drivers, medics, engineers etc)
then we can think about equipping them appropriately. My pick is the US Special Operations Command FN 5.56mm rifle for the special forces, the Singapore SAR-21 5.56mm for the territorials, and the Mini-Uzi 9mm for those who need a weapon but will normally keep it holstered. That way the special forces guys get the level of specialist kit they need, the territorials get a weapon that is very tolerant to user error (its a Kalashnikov mechanism with factory zeroed sights) and the auxiliaries get a weapon that is easy to keep near-by even when busily driving or building things.

Of course its always possible for people to forget basic weapons safety but accidents like this are much less likely when the weapons are well made and much more closely match the needs of their users.