Press Room

Mr. Coburn: You know, this is pretty unusual for me to come to the floor to say I want to spend money.


But I have had a long-standing problem as I sign the letters of condolences to hundreds of families in Oklahoma who have lost their loved one by serving this country.


I come today to the floor to offer a critique on one of the most important things to the people who truly put their lives on the line for this country. It's a national security issue, but it's really our men and women in uniform, and the very most important deployed weapons system over the last ten years of war -- and that's the army service rifle, and their other small arms.


There's nothing more important to a soldier than his or her rifle. There is simply no excuse for not providing our soldiers with the best weapon, not just a weapon that is good enough.


And as I go through this, I'm going to give you a history of what the military has done or rather, basically what they've not done in terms of having available for our soldiers a weapon that is capable of giving them the best possible chance when they serve our country. Over the last few years we've spent $8,000 per soldier on new radios. But we still are using a weapon that's 25 years old when it comes to their m-4.


I first got involved in this when I got emails -- I gave many in the Oklahoma national guard who served multiple tours with lots of life lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I gave those soldiers my personal email and I said if you're having a problem over there, email me.


So when I started hearing about the malfunction, the lack of effectiveness of the m-4 for the Oklahomans who were over there, the same weapon the career army has, it's the same weapon that everybody that's issued a standard rifle is given, except for our special forces. And everybody else in the world that has a better rifle than the soldier on the ground fighting on our behalf.


I've noted before in the congressional record that I have Heidi Shyu to be assistant secretary of the army for acquisitions. It's an important position. She's in charge of $28 billion worth of expenditures. My objection was due to the Army's continued lack of urgency in modernizing and fielding new rifles, carbines, pistols and ammunition for our rooms. Shyu has been responsive and provided future plans for small arms and ammunition.


So when I started getting the questions from our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, I started looking into what was happening. Most of our soldiers know exactly what to do and how to care for their rifle.


They know how to take care of it. We looked into the issue, and what we found, that there were several studies that raised questions about the reliability of the m-4 rifle and whether there was a better weapon out there for our troops. For example, our special forces in February, 2001, said when the m-4 short barrel and gas tube increased risks that the round might not eject from the rifle properly after they fired.


In other words, they fire it and the round doesn't come out. That's called a jam. And when you're having bullets coming at you and your rifle's jamming, what we did, we set up a test and the army wouldn't do it so I held the secretary of Army Guerin's position and we talked and he assured me that we would have a new competition for a new rifle for our troops. That was 2007. Here we are, six years later, and the army is now telling us we're going to have a new competition in 2014. But in the meantime we had a test done against our soldiers' rifle and everybody else's in the world. In terms of the dust test. We came in last.


So we're sending our troops to defend us and fight for a cause that we have put blood, sweat, tears, and a trillion dollars into, and we're sending them with one that doesn't work the best. My question to the army today is why?


I can tell you why. Because the guys that are responsible for making the decision on purchasing the rifles are not the guys that are out there on the line. Because if they were, we would have already had this competition and our service men and women would be getting new rifles. And it's not that we can't do it. Because what we learned as we went back into Afghanistan, we determined that the M-rap was not suitable for the rocky terrain as compared to what we used it for in Iraq.


In less than 16 months after rapid testing and fielding, a new all-terrain vehicle designed specifically for Afghanistan, a complicated piece of vital equipment costing half a million dollars each started arriving in Afghanistan. So it's not that we can't supply our soldiers with the new rifle.


It's not that it can't be done. It's that we refuse to do it. For $1,500 we can give every person on line something equivalent to what our special forces have today.


Let me just show you, some history.


The age -- the average age of our troops' rifle is 26 years. The average age of the German military's rifle, small arms, is 12. Special Operations forces, theirs is eight. They got new technology.


Our regular front-line guys, they don't get it. They can't have it. It costs the same. But they can't have it because it's not a priority for the leadership in the army to give the most deployed piece of equipment our troops need that defends them, protects them, and gives them the ability to come home alive, we won't give it to them.


It's shameful. Let me give you a history of what happened. On July 13, 2008, in the battle of Winot in Afghanistan, 200 Taliban troops attacked the U.S. troops at a remote outpost in Eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban were able to break through our lines, entered the main base before eventually being repelled by are artillery and aircraft. What is notable about the battle was the perceived performance of the soldiers of their small arms weapons in the initial part of the battle.


Here are some quotes.


“My m-4 quit firing and would no longer charge when I tried to correct the malfunction. Wouldn't work.”


“I couldn't change my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot. I got so mad I threw my weapon down. It would be bad enough if this was the first time this happened. It isn't the first time it's happened.


“It's happened multiple times to our troops in our present conflicts. So all you have to do is go back to what happened with the m-16, and when they were first used in Vietnam. There were instant reports of jamming and malfunctions. One tragic but indicative marine after action read we left with 72 men in our platoon and came with 19.”


Believe it or not, do you know what killed most of us? Our own rifles. Practically every one of our dead was found with his m-16 torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it. That's occurring now. Except it's not getting any press.


Again, I'd ask my colleagues in the Senate, why would we not give our soldiers the capability that almost every soldier has, except ours? There's another aspect of this that I think needs to be shared, and that's the fact that it's all about acquisitions and culture rather than about doing the right thing.


I don't like giving this talk. You know I have been critical of the leadership of the Army. But when it's going to take seven years to build new rifle and in 18 months we can build and design a completely new $500 billion dollar piece of equipment.


Or give them a new radio which is going to be replaced in two years with another 8,000 bucks and we can't give them a $1,500 equivalent, there's something wrong with our system. Our priorities are out of whack. If the department of defense had spent just 15% less on radios, they could give every soldier in the military a new, capable, modern weapon. And it doesn't just apply to their rifle. One of the biggest complaint after the m-4 is the fact that the regular Army gets a nine millimeter pistol that weighs over two pounds but our special 45 caliber pistol that weighs less than one and a half.


This makes a big difference when you're out there all day. But the most important thing 45 caliber round is twice the size of a nine millimeter round. When you're shooting it and you hit somebody, it's going to take them down. A 5.9-millimeter doesn't. We're giving them an inferior pistol.


Finally here's an m-4 carbine compared to an hk-416. One other point I'd make. This piece of equipment fires on automatic. This piece of equipment because the military wants to save some bullets will not fire on automatic. So our soldiers are facing people who have automatic fire and they can fire in bursts of three and at half the rate of what they're facing. Why would we do that?


So we're asking people to defend this doesn't, old style 26-year-old m-4, we can buy a brand-new one that gives them everything they need and gives them the best weapon. Don't they deserve that? You know, a lot of people do a lot of things for our country, but nobody does for our country what the soldier on the frontline does -- nobody.


Mr. secretary of the Army. This is a moral question. Get the rifle competition going. Members of congress, members of the senate who are on the armed services committee don't allow this to continue to happen.


Do not allow this to continue to happen. There is no excuse for it. We should be embarrassed. We should be ashamed because what we're really doing is sending our troops into harm's with less than the best that we can provide for them.


I yield the floor. Mr. president, I ask that my entire speech be made -- as written, occur in the record following my comments.