National Security & Defense

The Army’s Substandard Ammo Magazine Needs to Go

An Army 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade soldier fires an M4 carbine at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo: Sergeant Steven Galimore)
The Marines have officially switched over to a more reliable polymer magazine. Why won’t the Army do the same?

At alarming rates, U.S. Army personnel are purchasing their own ammunition magazines prior to deployment. That’s because the Army’s official magazine, the Enhanced Performance Magazine (EPM), is far from reliable on the battlefield, and the soldiers know it. The Marine Corps and other branches of the U.S. military have made the switch to more-reliable polymer magazines. Why hasn’t the Army?

In January, just two weeks after the Marines officially switched to the polymer Magpul PMAG GEN 3 magazine, Republican senators Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton, Jim Inhofe, David Perdue, and Johnny Isakson wrote a letter to Army chief of staff Mark Milley demanding to know why the Army hadn’t yet made a similar change. The PMAG had “zero magazine-related stoppages through all of the tests,” the senators noted, and it “reduce[s] damage to the chamber face and feed ramps when using M855A1 ammunition.” In addition, it is not affected by extreme temperatures — a vital advantage for military personnel in both the Army and the Marines.

In his response to the letter, General Milley agreed to move forward with more testing of polymer magazines and release the results in the next six to twelve months. But to many, another year of testing seems rather pointless. “I’m just concerned that the Army is going through a lot of testing all over again for a magazine that is already in use in the same rifle in the Marine Corps,” Ernst tells National Review. “We are duplicating what has already been done.”

Ernst says that if the Army refuses to authorize the polymer magazine in the next year, she “will take a serious look at the testing process.” “I want to know what testing process they did,” she explains, “and whether it is the same testing as the Marine Corps.” Certainly, if the Army discovers that a piece of equipment does not meet its rigorous standards, it would be beneficial for the Marines to know why that’s the case, too.

For now, however, it remains unclear why the Army is vehemently opposed to authorizing the PMAG — or any well-tested magazine, for that matter. In April 2012, the Army announced that “units are only authorized to use the Army-authorized magazines listed in the technical manuals.” But within two months, officials backpedaled: The ban was poorly worded, they explained, and commanders in the field would have the final say as to whether the troops in their units could use their own, unauthorized magazines.

The reasoning for the reversal? Significant backlash from military personnel. One infantryman in Southwest Afghanistan explained the absurdity of the ban, telling that the Army-issued EPM magazines “still get bent at the opening and are still prone to getting crushed in the middle.”

That anecdotal conclusion is backed up by the EPM’s poor test scores this past year. For example, in one test by the Marine Corps Systems Command and Marine Corps Capabilities Development, the EPM consistently scored in the red, failing to meet minimum standards. Meanwhile, the Magpul PMAG continued to outperform its government-issued counterpart.

The EPM is clearly not the best magazine available for our soldiers. As Ernst emphasizes, “We need to ensure that our service men and women are being fielded with the best possible equipment.” Why is the Army dragging its feet in approving the PMAG at a time when soldiers are increasingly purchasing their own magazines to replace the substandard ones they’re issued? The Army ought to follow the Marines’ lead in supplying the most powerful military in the world with the finest equipment available. Our troops deserve nothing less.


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Austin Yack — Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.

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