As militants surrounded the remote Afghanistan base of Wanat on July 13, 2008, Staff Sgt. Erich Phillips' M-4 carbine quit firing. The machine gun he grabbed in desperation didn't work, either. When the battle ended, nine US soldiers lay dead and 27 more were wounded. A detailed study of the attack by a military historian finds that weapons failed repeatedly at a "critical moment," putting the outnumbered Americans at risk of being overrun by nearly 200 insurgents.
So eight years into the Afghanistan war, do US armed forces have the best guns money can buy? Even though guns such as the standard-issue M-4 are built for extreme conditions, the report finds that even meticulously maintained guns turn white-hot in heavy fire and jam—when troops need them most. Though battlefield surveys show 90% of troops are satisfied with their M-4s, US special ops are replacing it with a new rifle and Sen. Tom Coburn, a leading critic, is pushing for a replacement. (Read more Afghanistan war stories.)