The U.S. Marine Corps has equipped a battalion's worth of infantrymen with suppressors. The result are combat units better able to hear one other on the battlefield, meaning they can spread out farther and cover more ground.
Guns are loud. The sound of a gunshot can range from discomforting to downright painful, depending on the caliber and the distance from gun to listener. From a range of four to six feet, a M4 carbine, M249 squad automatic weapon, or M240 medium machine gun is between 159 to 164 decibels in loudness. Such loud noises cause immediate temporary hearing loss and contribute to permanent hearing loss over the long term.
Combat is a cacophony of gunshots and people with reduced hearing, made worse by a top-down command structure where one individual might issue orders to up to a dozen people. As a result, small infantry units tend to stay clustered close to one another on the battlefield. While units would be more effective spread out, a corporal, sergeant, or lieutenant can only make himself heard so far.
You can see why the Marines would be keen on quieting their guns. According to Military.com, the Marines have issued "silencers" to three rifle companies spread across the 2nd Marine Division. That's about 800 Marines, and includes everything from M4 carbines to M2 .50 caliber machine guns. (The term "silencer," although it's fallen into general use, is a misnomer and generally disliked by firearm enthusiasts. It's impossible to make a firearm silent, after all. A more accurate term is "suppressor," because the device suppresses-but doesn't totally eliminate-the sound of a gunshot.)
A suppressor is a tubular device that attaches to the barrel of a gun, with ringlike baffles or some other kind of proprietary mechanism inside. Normally, when a gun is discharged the bullet leaves the barrel followed by a rush of hot propellant gases known as the muzzle blast. A suppressor slows down those gasses, reducing the sound of the gunshot.
Advanced Armament Company, a military contractor and maker of suppressors, says their suppressor reduces the noise of a gunshot from an M4-type rifle by 32-34 decibels. That drops the noise of an M4 down to about 130 decibels, or about that of a jackhammer. Civilian AR-15 owners with suppressors, weapons similar to M4s but without the ability to fire quick bursts of full auto fire, report they can fire their weapons comfortably without ear protection.
That may not be silence, but it's a big improvement for troops on the battlefield who need to communicate with one another. The article says that although Marine squads are often spread out over 100 yards, it's hard for the squad leader to control the fire of individual riflemen-particularly those farthest away. With suppressors, it's easier for everyone to hear one another on the battlefield, trade information, and give and receive orders.
Suppressors do have some drawbacks. They have a tendency to gradually wear out, which is accelerated when firing fully automatic. They also add length to the firearm, a less desirable trait when fighting in cities and their enclosed spaces. Then again, enclosed spaces can magnify gunshot noises, so carrying a suppressor in such circumstances is a tradeoff that is probably worth it.
Even with those drawbacks in mind, the benefits of equipping America's riflemen with suppressors are pretty impressive. Expect to hear more in the future about equipping the troops with suppressors.
Just don't call them silencers.
Read more at Military.com.
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