May 31, 2012: Just before Memorial Day (May 28) and without any warning, the U.S. Army ordered its troops to only use the army designed aluminum rifle magazines. This came as a surprise to combat troops, who for years have preferred polymer magazines designed and manufactured outside the army supply system. So popular have these polymer magazines been that the army allows them to be bought through the army supply system, using government funds, if a unit commanders wants them. Most infantry commanders, and their troops, prefer the polymer magazines. This includes SOCOM (Special Operations Command) troops, including the Ranger Regiment.
One of the major polymer magazine producers, the American firm Magpul, also produces larger magazines as well. Two years ago, for example, they came out with a 40 round magazine for M-16 compatible 5.56mm assault rifles. The standard army issue magazine holds 30 rounds. The $23 polymer magazine has a larger transparent window strip to show how many rounds you have left.
After years of being shown up by superior M-16 magazines from commercial firms, the U.S. Army began issuing an improved magazine of their own two years ago. By the end of 2010, over half a million of the new magazines had been issued, mostly to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and those headed there. The older army issue magazines were turned and discarded and replaced by the new model. The new magazine is mainly designed to prevent jams when the round comes up from the magazine and into the firing chamber. This is accomplished with a new follower (a tab at the top of the magazine) design, as well as a new, corrosion resistant, spring. The army was apparently upset that their new and improved design was ignored by most troops, who preferred the civilian (usually Magpul) polymer magazines. The army tried to buy the Magpul patents, but Magpul wasn't selling. The army won't explain itself and the troops accuse the army procurement bureaucrats of playing games with the lives of soldiers in combat.
The new army magazine design was still inferior to most commercial designs, which are built mainly to keep the crud out. A big problem with the M-16 type rifle is that the fine sand and dust found in Iraq and Afghanistan can slip past the magazine and into the magazine and lead to a malfunction. Commercial firms have come out with several generations of magazines that try to seal the magazine well to keep the talcum powder like dust out of the rifle. For example, there is the Advanced Reliability Combat magazine, that includes a soft gasket that creates a dust proof seal when the magazine is inserted in an M-4, or similar weapon (like the SOCOM SCAR). These magazines cost $30 each (about 70 percent more than a standard magazine). These high end magazines also, like the new army magazine, have better springs and a follower that minimizes jams. Troops will still buy commercial magazines, with their own money, just to be on the safe side. The army has now ordered that sort of thing to cease.
Combat troops and their commanders are now contacting Congress about the polymer magazine, which the army has, so far, refused to answer questions about. If Congress demands answers the procurement bureaucrats will have to answer, under oath. These guys can blow off the troops but Congress is another matter.