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Engineers have a blast with new shotguns

October 24, 2012

By Sgt. Mark Miranda

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Private First Class Jesus Hafen was fumbling a little with the magazine, until he figured out he was trying to put it into the weapon backwards. It was a weapon that would take some getting used to, but that was exactly the point of the day's training -- weapons familiarization.

"Hey, there's no need to be nervous, it's just a shotgun range," said Staff Sgt. Chad Cuccaro, one of the range safeties. "Just keep it pointed in the right direction and you'll do fine."

More than 30 combat engineers from 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, took part in New Equipment Training Oct. 17 to familiarize themselves with a new weapons system they received.

The M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System (MASS) is a 12-gauge shotgun with ambidextrous firing capabilities. According to M26 developer, C-More Systems, it can either mount onto an M4 carbine or with the attachable stock, can be used as a stand-alone weapon capable of lethal and nonlethal uses.

"Most of us came back from our year in Afghanistan in July and we're getting back to full speed as far as training goes," said Spc. Kalief Scott, combat engineer. "Trying out a new weapon is always something to look forward to."

Development of the M26 began at the Maneuver Battle Lab (Fort Benning, Ga.) in the late 1990s, with the goal of providing Soldiers with breaching capabilities as well as use of specialized non-lethal rounds such as tear gas shells, rubber slugs and pellets.

A similar design by Knight's Armament Company called a Masterkey used a shortened Remington shotgun, mounted under an M16 rifle or M4 carbine. It was not a weapon officially adopted by the U.S. Army.

Design improvements over the Masterkey include a detachable five-round magazine and more comfortable handling, due to a bolt-operated system. With a switch of a magazine, the weapon can switch to a riot control device that fires non-lethal bean bags.

"We used to use a Mossberg 500 model shotgun, and these are the first under-sling shotguns we've seen. It is more versatile than the Mossberg," said Spc. David Hahn, 14th Engineer Battalion. "Since it can be mounted onto an assault rifle, we can use it for protection immediately after breaching a door."

Final designs were developed by C-More Systems, and the initial fielding of the M-26 shotguns began in 2011.

"Currently, engineers and military police are receiving them as the M26 can serve specific purposes such as (door) breaching and riot control," said 2nd Lt. Robert Gonzalez, platoon leader, 22nd Route Clearance Company.

The engineers began their training in the classroom to familiarize themselves on the basics of the weapon. They learned how to assemble and disassemble it, clean it, clearing procedures, and practical exercises on its uses.

"Whether it's a stand-alone unit or mounted, it will save time on reloading and switching weapons," Hahn said. "It's safer to use; it has a stand off device that lets Soldiers breach a door without having to guess the proper distance. That ensures we're safer from shrapnel and fragments."

Once on the firing line at the live-fire range, Soldiers shot targets at distances of 25 meters. Each Soldier fired rounds with their off hand in standing and kneeling positions. Another position was crouched, firing with an underarm assault method where most placed the weapon butt stock at their hips.

Final firing positions were barricade supported, one simulating a doorway for a strong-side standing firing method, the other a crouched or kneeling method for firing into a window or above a short barricade.

"These could come in handy if you needed to do some breaching, but more than likely we would have these for dismounted ops. If nothing else, it definitely gives off a loud boom that will scare the enemy out of hiding," Scott said.

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