Suppressors: A Benefit on the Battlefield

Both the U.S. Army and Marines are experimenting with issuing suppressors for rifles and machine guns at the squad level, which is leading to new tactics.

Both the U.S. Army and Marines are experimenting with issuing suppressors for rifles and machine guns at the squad level.
Both the U.S. Army and Marines are experimenting with issuing suppressors for rifles and machine guns at the squad level. photo from militarytimes.comweb photo

As U.S. civilians focus on suppressor-related legislation such as the Hearing Protection Act, which would allow gun owners to much more easily purchase and own suppressors, the military is testing suppressors on the squad level and leaning that they can allow for innovative new tactics.

According to this story from militarytimes.com, experimentation with squad-level tactics using suppressors on everything from semi-auto rifles to heavy machine guns has been going on in both the Army and the Marines, with both branches seeing the undeniable benefits.

“Experts from both services say suppressors offer numerous advantages in a firefight. They suppress muzzle flash and make troops harder to see at night. They can help troops avoid hearing loss and the lifelong effects of hearing damage.”

As with any piece of gear, there’s a trade-off for equipping large units of soldiers or Marines with suppressors. There's more weight to carry, they require more maintenance at the user’s end, and would add more purchase and repair costs to a combat firearm—plus, there are still questions about extended service life that need answering, [the story says[(http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/stealth-infantry-suppressors-will-change-battlefield-tactics).

Among the benefits are better communication in training scenarios and actual combat. For instance, when a gunner is on a .50-caliber gun, an instructor must get right in the gunner's ear and shout instructions as loudly as possible. A suppressor on the muzzle changes all that, the story says.

While they haven’t been widely issued before, suppressors have certainly seen use on the battlefield.

The first suppressor was invented by Hiram Percy Maxim in 1902, the son of the man who also invented the first true machine gun, Hiram Stevens Maxim. He also invented the car muffler, which works on a similar principal.

The story says the CIA, Navy SEALs, snipers, and other special operations troops have used suppressors on pistols and rifles for covert operations for decades. In Vietnam, U.S. troops used suppressors with some success.

The story says Marines on recent rotations in Norway have been outfitted with suppressors and say the increase in enhanced communication during live fire events is exceptional, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the 2nd Marine Division gunner.

“Wade began testing suppressors in Marine rifle squads in October 2016 with fully suppressed M4 carbines and the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. Currently, Marines with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines; Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines; and Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines are working with fully suppressed versions of both rifles within their squads.”

The story also says Wade is outfitting a squad within Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines with suppressors, advanced hearing protection, and body armor, as well as next-generation night vision, updated individual communication systems, and M320 grenade launchers.

“There are virtually no instances where an ambushed unit actually sees the enemy,” said retired Army Maj. Gen.Robert Scales in the story. “Both sides shoot at flashes and sounds.”

Additionally, most of these types of firefights occur in darkness, so if a soldier's weapon is quieter than the enemy's, and the enemy can't see the muzzle flash, the soldier has the advantage, Scales said in the story.