The U.S. Army has finally eliminated bayonet drills from basic training. While the bayonet, and the bayonet charge, have a firm place in military history, the reality is rather different. Bayonets are still carried, but rarely attached to the front of a rifle. Most modern bayonets are simply knives, which are handy for all sorts of things on the battlefield. Sticking them in the enemy is rarely one of them. So training new recruits in the battlefield use of the bayonet is misleading and a waste of time.
Why do infantry continue to carry a bayonet? To a certain extent, carrying a bayonet is tradition, but there are practical reasons as well. A lot of time is spent out in the field, and a knife is useful for cutting stuff. But perhaps the most effective military use is intimidation. This is nothing new, the fearsome effect of a bunch of guys advancing with bayonets on the end of their rifles has been known for centuries. It's also a morale boost for the lads using the bayonets. When you hear the order "fix bayonets" (put them on the end of your rifle) you know it's do or die time. Unfortunately, that very rarely happens anymore.
The most common "combat" use of bayonets is for crowd control. In fact, this is about the only "bayonet training" most troops get anymore. The bayonet is used somewhat differently in these situations. For one thing, the troops don't just rush at the crowd carrying their bayonet tipped rifles. They march forward, neatly lined up, with the rifles held so that the crowd sees a line of bayonets coming at them. The troops do this while marching in step, and are trained to bring their right feet down as heavily as possible. The sight of the advancing troops, the bayonets and the rhythmic thud of boots striking the ground usually causes the crowd to scatter.
Meanwhile, the army has done some work in developing a more effective replacement for the bayonet. Sort of. Three years ago, after several years of research and field testing, the U.S. Army bought 38,000 M26 12 Gauge Modular Accessory Shotgun Systems (MASS).
The M26 weighs less than three pounds (2 pounds, 11 ounces) and has a five round magazine. This mini shotgun is mounted beneath barrel of your assault rifle. The M26 is a 16.5 inch long, 12 gauge shotgun and can be operated right or left handed. It fires solid shot for blasting open closed doors, or lower velocity, non-lethal (most of the time) rubber slugs for dealing with hostile crowds without killing people. A stand-alone version weighs 4 pounds, 3 ounces, and is 24 inches long (with the attached stock collapsed).
The first versions of this weapon weighed nine pounds and carried only three rounds. The design rapidly evolved into the current M26. Troops have been testing it in combat for about a year. There were complaints about the cocking mechanism, which uses a bolt instead of a pump action (which many troops expressed a preference for.) The final design improved the cocking mechanism, and the reliability of the magazines. Before the M26 came along, troops used a conventional (Mossberg) 12 gauge shotgun for getting locked doors open in a hurry. Many still do. The M26 proved very reliable during testing, with over 15,000 rounds being fired. Large quantities of the M26 reached troops two years ago, after the demand for them in Iraq had largely abated. There was not as much demand for such a weapon in Afghanistan. Makes for a hell of an assault rifle accessory, though.