Choosing the right weapon system for a particular situation plays an important role in the outcome of a military operation.
As with most things in life, the choice of a weapon system is highly subjective. More so in a U.S. Army Special Forces team, in which the special operators have more flexibility to choose what weapon system they carry and how to personalize it.
Prescribing to the popular adage “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” Special Forces operators have to choose their weapon systems carefully to ensure a positive outcome.
Indeed, Special Forces operators have all the more of a reason to pick their weapon systems carefully because, more often than not, they are at a numerical disadvantage compared to the enemy, and ensuring firepower superiority could spell the difference between life and death.
What follows is a brief list of five weapon systems. The list attempts to identify five individual and crew-served weapon systems that are popular with Special Forces detachments.
M4A1 SOPMOD II
The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM)—under which the Army Special Forces Regiment falls—has developed a standard-issued package for the M4A1 rifle. The SOPMOD II package contains several different accessories for the military’s standard-issued rifle, including rails, magnifying scopes, grips, flashlights, flash suppressors, lasers, and grips. It falls under the Special Forces operator to pick what he wants for his rifle and customize it to his desire.
The Mk 18 is a short version of the M4A1 specifically designed for special operations forces. With a barrel of 10.3 inches, the Mk 18 is more than 4 inches shorter than the standard M4, which has a barrel length of 14.5 inches.
The Mk 18 is geared for close quarters battle and combines the hitting power of the M4 with a compactness of a submachine gun. Although it was first adopted by the Navy SEALs to be used in the confined spaces of warships, the Mk 18 has proliferated throughout the special operations community, and Special Forces operators often use it if the situation demands it.
The HK416 was made for special operations units.
Delta Force, the U.S. Army’s tier 1 special mission unit, worked with Heckler and Kock, a German arms manufacturer, to produce the HK416, which is developed around the M4.
However, the HK416 has a short-stroke gas piston system to recycle rounds and is thus less prone to malfunctions. Special Forces operators are known to have used the weapon, which is extremely popular within Delta Force and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), formerly known as SEAL Team 6. Interesting tidbit: the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden carried HK416s.
The HK416 fires the 5.56mm round.
The MK48 is gas-operated, air-cooled, belt-fed machine gun that fires the 7.62mm round. The weapon system was, once again, developed for specific use by special operations forces (the Navy SEALs in this case).
The MK48 is an important addition to this list because it gives Special Forces detachments some real punch downrange.
With an effective range of 800 meters and a rate of fire of 730 rounds per minute, the MK48 is a formidable addition to a small Special Forces team. If the team packs a couple of MK48s, it can give the impression to an enemy that they are facing a much larger force. Indeed, that firepower superiority can give a Special Forces detachment the necessary temporary advantage that would translate into victory on the battlefield.
The MK48 has proven to be a highly reliable and effective weapon system and is now being used by conventional units too.
The usual ammo loadout for the MK48 is between 800 to 1,000 rounds, with members of the Special Forces team carrying additional belts of ammunition that they can pass to the MK48 gunner depending on the situation.
First introduced during the Vietnam War, the M79 is a single-shot grenade launcher that fires 40mm munitions. In contrast to conventional troops that carry the M203 grenade launcher under M-16 or M-4 rifles, Special Forces operators often opt for the standalone M79 because of the improved range and accuracy it brings with its longer barrel.
The M79 can fire a variety of rounds, including high explosive, tear gas, smoke, and buckshot. Similar to the MK48, the grenade launcher offers the Special Forces team an edge in a fight and the opportunity to gain the crucial firepower superiority that can spell the difference between life or death.
Special Forces vs Special Operations
Here it should be noted that the term Special Forces in the U.S. refers to the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Regiment, also known as the Green Berets because of their distinctive headwear. And the term “Special Operations” applies to all commando units.
For example, a Navy SEAL platoon and a Green Beret detachment are both referred to as Special Operations, but if one said Special Forces, one would be referring to specifically the Green Berets.
This distinction is important because in the international military nomenclature, the term Special Forces has the same connotation as Special Operations, and if this approach is used in the U.S., one risks the mortal danger of being invertedly inaccurate.
Expert Biography: 1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.