Urban combat is anything but predictable and soldiers often contend with carrying additional tools to defeat obstacles. Urban environments often present two types of obstacles: doors and civilians. Equipped with just an M4, the G.I. finds that the 5.56 NATO round isn’t appropriate for either. To overcome non-lethal and door breaching obstacles, soldiers often carry two separate weapons, their individual combat weapon and a second specialty tool. The U.S. Army’s new M26 MASS (Modular Accessory Shotgun System) effectively addresses each problem.
Soldiers equipped with an M26 won’t have to sling their primary weapon in an urban environment because it works in tandem with their rifle or as a stand-alone tool. Much more accessible and easier than switching weapons, the M26 includes a 5-round magazine that can be loaded with various 12-gauge munitions, including a non-lethal alternative. When faced with a crowd of combatants and noncombatants, both can be neutralized in an appropriate manner.
“Right now, if a soldier wants to use a shotgun, he uses a shotgun and slings his rifle and when he uses his rifle, he has to sling the shotgun and then get out the rifle,” says Maj. Lawrence Dring, assistant program manager for individual weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ. “With the M26, it’s an all-in-one piece. It has a door-breaching attachment which goes flush against a door lock and allows the 12-gauge shell to blow the lock off a door and the soldier to room-clear without changing weapons.”
A Versatile Shotgun
These days, shotguns are proving more and more useful. Law enforcement officers have disabled criminals with rubber balls and troops have used breaching loads to penetrate enemy fortifications. The M26 allows the operator doing the breaching to smoothly transition from his breaching tool (the shotgun) to his primary weapon, the M4 carbine. Sgt. 1st Class William Kone was part of the U.S. Army’s test and evaluation team at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He noted, “The M26 has an extendable choke-tube that allows the shooter to place breaching rounds against a door frame from a safe distance with the shotgun attached to his rifle.” The M26 may have been designed as a breaching tool adapted to the M4, but less-lethal shotgun rounds and the stand-alone capability makes this accessory unique and effective.
The M26 design permits troops to modify tactics to take advantage of its design. Certainly, many troops will carry the M26 in Condition 1: weapon on safe, magazine loaded with 5 shells and a 6th shell in the chamber. Experienced troops can stagger ammunition types or designate magazines loaded with different types of shells. Marking magazines with different loads provide soldiers with additional capabilities. Door breachers can use special rounds and switch to 00-buck shot for increased lethality. Less-lethal situations may require a soldier to load teargas shells, rubber slugs or rubber pellets.
As a stand-alone shotgun, the M26 is truly ambidextrous. The Picatinny rail on top, which allows it to attach under an M4 handguard, also accepts the usual accessories. A red dot like those already in service with the U.S. Army would be very practical for use with this short-barrel shotgun. The top Picatinny rail extends to the stock system by means of a small segment that is integral with the stock assembly. This detail allows for a shooter to determine optimal eye relief when firing the M26 in the stand-alone configuration.
The detachable stock includes a familiar M4-style ambidextrous, collapsible-type stock that will adjust to many body types or levels of armor. The universal pistol grip is part of the assembly and is like that of the standard M4. Supply systems will have an easier time with replacement parts than if the M26 were completely proprietary.
When attached to an M4, the grip is obtained by grasping the rifle’s primary magazine. It isn’t the ideal grip but it’s good enough for government work. The trigger is similar to the M4 family but more difficult to pull, to prevent an inadvertent discharge while firing the M4 under stress. The magazine is secured and removed by means of a paddle catch. Pushing the spring-loaded paddle forward releases the magazine.
With the exception of a right-hand oriented cross-bolt safety just behind the magazine well, the bolt assembly completes an ambidextrous theme with a charging handle that can be switched to either side. A small handguard dresses the barrel for weak hand protection and support when operating the M26 in the stand-alone configuration. By removing a pin from behind the trigger guard, the pistol grip and stock assembly can be removed, allowing the M26 to be mounted to an M4 without the use of tools.
Proving Ground Reports
The M26 was developed by C-More Systems and manufactured by Vertu Corporation in response to an urgent need from soldiers heading to Afghanistan. These soldiers wanted a lightweight system that could eliminate the need to carry an additional weapon when serving in door-breaching missions, and delivering less-lethal alternatives. An early pump action prototype was tested in combat by U.S. soldiers and a squad of U.S. Navy Seabees. Troops complained about the long reach on the early pump model and, as a result, engineers switched to the current straight-pull bolt action.
A year ago, soldiers and a small number of media were invited to Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD for a demonstration of the M26 MASS developed by C-More Systems. This was a unique opportunity to experience the performance of the M26 where some of the military’s most secret testing and evaluations are conducted.
Once fired, the operator must grasp the charging handle with the non-firing hand to pull it back. This straight-pull action performs extraction and ejection. Push the charging handle forward and the bolt assembly strips another shell from the 5-round magazine and drives it into the barrel’s chamber.
The first noticeable aspect when shooting the M26 is the little-to-no muzzle rise. The recoil travels through many points and assemblies held together by pins. Due to the construction of the entire M4/M26, recoil is dispersed in many directions before making its way to the stock and into the operator’s shoulder. Another recoil-reducer is the physical placement of the M26 under the barrel of the M4. Sitting lower than a pivot point in the shoulder, the felt recoil is reduced as the weight of the M4 coupled with the M26 pulls the muzzle-heavy rifle towards the ground.
The 5-round detachable magazine is robust and holds enough cartridges to make this system practical. The M26 magazine is easily swapped out for speed reloads or a more rapid change in ammunition type. A semi-auto or pump action MASS would have added weight in parts and extended and lengthened the overall weapon with a magazine tube. Chrisian Lowe, Military.com contributor and a witness to the Aberdeen demonstration noted, “The guys out at Aberdeen told me that making the [M26] semi-auto would increase size, weight and complexity.”
The M26 is engineered to zero with the host M4 and due to the short firing range and fact that you must zero sights or an optic system means that this is not a detracting factor when operating the M26 in its stand-alone configuration. With a barrel length under 8 inches however, effective range will be limited.
Army’s Elite Take It To Battle
In October 2003, the current version of the M26 underwent operational inspection and test firing before being deployed again in 2004. This time, 200 M26 shotguns were fielded with the U.S. Army’s elite 10th Mountain Division for use in Afghanistan. These shotguns underwent a successful tour, firing an estimated 15,000 rounds.
The U.S. Army told TW, “The configuration selected resulted in the best value for the Army in terms of cost and performance as compared to the requirements in the ORD (Operational Requirement Document).” The training and maintenance needs are not expected to be much different than most other small arms in the Army’s inventory. According to Sgt. 1st Class Kone, “It’s going to have a very high acceptance rate, particularly for the guy who has to carry it around.”
With a recent contract to purchase 35,000 M26 shotguns, soldiers will start to add these weapons to their kit in upcoming deployments. Although its function may be the cause for debate, the M26 will allow the soldier to transition to a shotgun quickly and reduce the combat load of the individual soldier. The U.S. Army’s commitment to improving operational capability while decreasing equipment weight has resulted in the first new tactical shotgun concept for the 21st century. For more information visit www.cmore.com or call 888-265-8266.