By Stan Emelander
Program Executive Office Soldier’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons (PM SW) has fielded the new M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun Systems (MASS) to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team “Strike”, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, KY. Tests have determined the M26 to be the most reliable, durable, rugged shotgun in the Army inventory. The receiving unit initiated a week of fielding, training, and range activities in early February, with a small ceremony to mark the milestone achievement.
The newest small arm in the Army’s inventory has a notable history of deployment, test, and evaluation. About 200 shotguns of an early predecessor of the M26, the Lightweight Shotgun System (LSS), were fielded to the 10th Mountain Division in 2003. This fielding answered an Operational Needs Statement that specified the need for a modular shotgun compatible with the M4 Carbine. The modularity concept specified that the shotgun could be configured as either a compact stand-alone shotgun or an under-barrel modular accessory to the M4, and that it be transformed into either mode quickly by Soldiers in the field without special tools or equipment.
Units that received the LSS returned them upon redeploying from Afghanistan in 2005, about the same time as the XM26 MASS program got underway. The Army formalized the need for a MASS with an Operational Requirements Document, and a subsequent competition identified C-MORE Competition’s MASS as the shotgun best able to meet the Army’s needs. The XM26 was considered to be a non-developmental item because of its design maturity and demonstrated performance.
Subsequent testing during the engineering and manufacturing development phase identified areas for improvement. Program managers put the XM26 through three stages of improvement and user testing, demonstrating steadily increasing performance and higher levels of user satisfaction. The weapon that emerged from the test and evaluation process is unique in the Army inventory.
New Lightweight Capability
The M26 MASS is a major departure from currently fielded shotguns. The Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 shotguns currently in Soldiers’ hands are military versions of familiar, widespread commercial arms. They are stand-alone weapons with tube magazines, weighing between 7 and 8 pounds. The M26 differs in that it can be used as an attached module to the M4 or as a stand-alone weapon; uses a box magazine; and weighs just 5.5 pounds in stand-alone configuration and 3.5 pounds as an attached module.
The lighter weight of the M26 is an advantage in all environments, although reducing the shotgun’s weight presented a design challenge. Less weight means more acute recoil forces.
The answer to this challenge was the introduction of an innovative hydraulic recoil buffer in the M26 buttstock. While the overall recoil force remains the same, the buffer effectively reduces the “felt recoil.” Users have compared the buffer’s effect to the difference between a slap and a push.
The box magazine is another innovative feature of the M26. Shotguns are flexible weapons because of the different types of ammunition they can fire, including buckshot, breaching, and less-than-lethal loads. Currently fielded shotguns must be unloaded one round at a time when the operator needs to change ammunition types. The M26 shortens switching ammunition to the amount of time it takes to change or reload a magazine.
The modular aspect of the M26 offers distinct advantages in some environments. Mounting a shotgun to an M4 can result in a weapon system with instant lethal and less-than-lethal capabilities. The M26 brings this much-needed capability to situations in which force escalation is a concern, such as at checkpoints and during detainee handling operations. User testing showed that Soldiers transition from less-than-lethal engagements with the M26 to lethal engagements with an M4 faster than when using a stand-alone conventional shotgun.
Urban operations that include door-breaching scenarios can also favor the M26 MASS. Shotguns are a primary tool for ballistic door breaching. The M26’s magazines allow a fast change from conventional buckshot ammunition to specialized door-breaching rounds. When there is a high likelihood of breaching operations, using the M26 MASS attached to the M4 lowers the Soldiers’ load by more than 4 pounds.
Fielding Through 2015
PM SW will be fielding two M26s per squad, 18 per unit, to Military Police and Engineer organizations through 2015. Fielding will begin with predeployers in CONUS. The Army has already taken delivery of 1,900 weapons to support the initial fieldings and has approval and funding to procure 8,000 M26s in all.
- STAN EMELANDER is Product Director for the M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System at PEO Soldier’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. A retired Army officer, Emelander holds a B.S. in physics from the United States Military Academy, an M.B.A. and an M.S. in systems management from the Florida Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in organization and management from Capella University, He is Level I certified in systems management, Level II certified in program management, and is a certified Project Management Professional. Emelander is a member of the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps.