Weapons: Optimized for person or group?

So Forgotten Weapons Ian gave the opinion that bolt action rifles are obsolete for modern warfare (correct) and someone on the same channel gave the opinion that a bullpup has no advantage over a traditional layout. He’s completely correct that a bullpup doesn’t really do much for an individual, as the advantage in bullet velocity is meaningless at anything under 300 meters, and the slightly more cumbersome reloads are going to be slower for an individual as well.

But…how that opinion was stated is an indication that the person delivering said opinion has a lot of knowledge about individuals handling individual weapons, and limited to no experience fighting as a group. To make this point, lets go back to antiquity and look at various ways that sword and spear fights play out individual on individual and group on group:

The advantage of a sword is that they are much easier to carry around with you (with some exceptions of very large swords). But swords don’t translate well to fighting tight with other people. Bullpup rifles with a 20″ barrel have the advantage of better velocity and extend the usable range of a 5.56×45 about 150 to 200 meters beyond an M4 with a 14.5″ barrel. In a group fight, that’s planning factor advantage of about a 25 to 30% advantage, if your personnel are trained to use the rifle out to max point target range. If they aren’t, then no matter what you put in their hands they will be stuck as max point blank range fighters (something the AK-47 with the 7.62×39 dang near requires).

Ironically, a lot of people understand the advantages of a crew served medium machine gun over a single person operated light machine gun. And this understanding is despite many people not having real experience humping an M60 or MAG58/M240, mainly because there is a lot of really great historical accounts of how medium machine guns are properly integrated into an infantry fight.

Another illustration of this is where you put hand grenades on your kit. If you are optimizing for yourself, you put them on the front of your gear, but if you are optimizing for the squad, you put them on the upper back of your gear so that your mate behind you can grab a frag and throw it while you engage whatever is in front of you with your rifle. Less effective as an individual, but more effective as a fighting team.

One of the reasons why elite forces train all the time is that they are working on their collective proficiency, not their individual proficiency. If you take any random assortment of Rangers, SEALs, Green Berets, and Marine MARSOC or RECON and throw them together and give them a mission, they will have the performance level somewhere around what you would expect from a bunch of people who have never worked before together but are professionals in their field. They would do fine, but give them four hours to train, and they’ll do great. Give them four days to train and it will be perfect. Give them four weeks to train and they will show you efficiencies that they’ve developed as a group that cannot be replicated without that level of unit cohesion, as they’ll take risks by trusting someone else’s mag reload speed, or exactly how the 5 to 7 round burst from the machine gun is going to play across a target.

And this is why bullpups are on the battlefield. The UK, France, Israel, Australians all use them because once you get a group of people formed, stormed, normed, and are at the performing stage the individual weaknesses of the bullpup design are outweighed by the increase in group performance. In short, bullpups are much like the pike, a completely sub-optimal choice for an individual but great for disciplined groups that fight as a cohesive unit. One could make the same argument for longbow and crossbow, the longbow is clearly the better weapon in terms of rate of fire, but the crossbow integrates well with engineered defenses where you pop up over a crenelation and fire at a fleeting target. The ability for the crossbow to maintain a constant state of readiness (always drawn) without fatiguing the user is a huge boon to military forces, despite not having the same rate of fire as a longbow.

What to take away from this? Really nothing, you should choose your firearms and other tools based on your own needs, and not worry about fighting with others as a cohesive group. It takes a lot of time to build those cohesive groups, and if that isn’t your main form of employment, there’s no point in going for the bullpup over the M4gery.

Comments are open for differing opinions of course.

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