Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
This Is The Mortar System That's Been Dropping Rounds On The Taliban For The Last 16 Years
As Marines and soldiers redeploy to Afghanistan to provide support to coalition allies and Afghan National Security Forces, there’s one weapon system that’s remained a stalwart workhorse in the ongoing fight against the Taliban: The M252 mortar system.
The 81mm mortar is a crew-served medium-weight artillery system, capable of delivering accurate rounds — once the gun crew walks them in on target — at considerable distances and without line of sight.
In Marjah, Afghanistan, 81mm Mortarmen with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment drop rounds during Operation Moshtarak, on Feb. 13, 2010.U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James Clark
Simple in design and devastatingly efficient, the M252 is comprised of a mortar tube, a mount, baseplate, and sight. Under ideal circumstances, the muzzle-loaded M252 is crewed by a five man team: a squad leader, a gunner, an assistant gunner, and two ammunition bearers, but intrepid mortarmen can, and have made due with less. A mainstay of Army and Marine infantry units, the M252 is capable of lobbing high explosive, white phosphorous, or illumination rounds at targets up to three miles away.
Mortar teams, often operating out of a forward position, coordinate fire with ground troops and observers, but they’re not particularly accurate weapon systems — that’s not really why they exist. Think of the 81mm mortar and its siblings, the 60mm and 120mm mortars, as modern-day catapults capable of slinging a high volume of “screw you and die” at an enemy position, and inching closer to their target with each subsequent round.
Unlike artillery, such as the M777 howitzer, the M252 is controlled at the battalion or company level, which during the surge years, meant it was available and ready to go when it was needed — rather than when the brass back at Leatherneck, Bagram or Kandahar deemed it appropriate. Typically, a section of two or more guns and their crews work in concert, firing adjustment rounds at an enemy position, until zeroing in on the target and then firing for effect. Once that order is given, the gun crews can lob up to 15 rounds in a minute, per gun, or 30 rounds in two minutes. As Popular Mechanics reports, the plunging angle of fire makes the weapon’s HE rounds, which boast a 40-meter blast diameter, ideal for hitting targets in cover, or trenches — like the many wadis and irrigation canals that crisscross Afghanistan’s farmland.
Though not really lightweight, the 120-pound 81mm mortar system can be transported when it’s broken down. The individual pieces — which weigh between 27 and 35-pounds — aren’t what you’d consider easy to tote; you also still need to lug your ammunition downrange, and that includes enough 10-pound high-explosive rounds to get the job done. But getting an indirect fire weapon far enough forward to assist ground troops heading into a hot area is probably worth the back pain.
U.S. Marines with Task Force Southwest fire a non-explosive illumination round from an 81mm mortar to deter enemy activity at Camp Shorserack, Afghanistan, July 15, 2017.U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins
Compared to its World War II 81mm forebears, the M252 remains relatively unchanged in terms of design, though the old standby is in for some new upgrades. The Advanced Capability Extended Range Mortar, a new round developed by the Office of Naval Research, takes aim at a shortcoming facing not just the M252, but all mortars: accuracy.
According to a June 2016 report by Popular Mechanics, the ACERM is an advanced round that outfits a mortar with wings, control fins, GPS navigation, an enhanced payload, and lasers, yes, lasers. Essentially, this transforms a dumb (but devastating round) into a smart bomb. The wings add increased range — making it capable of hitting targets up to six miles out — thanks to aerodynamics (see “wings”). Additionally, the combination of control fins, GPS navigation, and laser guidance means the first round fired has a much higher probability of hitting its target — which is good, because those under mortar fire have a tendency to take cover after the first round hits.
The M252 and the infantrymen behind them seem to be doing a pretty good job of laying down the hurt without all the fancy new tech.
Senior defense officials offered a wide range of excuses to reporters on Wednesday about why they may not comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for documents related to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
On Oct. 7, lawmakers subpoenaed information about military aid to Ukraine. Eight days later, a Pentagon official told them to pound sand in part because many of the documents requested are communications with the White House that are protected by executive privilege.
Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce legislation Wednesday aiming to "fix" a new Trump administration citizenship policy that affects some children of U.S. service members stationed abroad.
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.