The process of standardizing a toolset, regardless of the tools, is a process that does more than simply make everyone use the same thing. It's a process that allows tool users to be able to understand and duplicate the work of their peers, to be able to have minimum levels of quality, to learn from other tool user peers and to leverage a similar toolset for different levels of expertise. For example tool making and tool maintenance go well beyond just tool use. And group tool use is another thing all together.
In the matter of tactical tools, such as firearms and other weapons, the process of standardization must bring value to the unit using those standards that goes far beyond simply having a military similarity to all the units' weapons. It's arguable that if all the weapons in a unit are the same, then that unit will have only the flexibility and the limitations of that one tool. In other words, relatively limited and inflexible and to what ends? If a unit deploys with several types of weapons, it does not mean that they are non-standard. It could be that the standardization process that they have utilized has allowed for a diversity of tools, a system of interoperability.
A small civilian unit must consider several factors when arriving at standards; the anticipated use of the weapon(s), the operational environment, the longevity, the maintenance and the feeding of the weapon(s). For example, if a unit within a metropolitan area was interested in remaining discrete and wanted to retain high levels of defensive capability both at home and at large, the tools required would need to support that operational mode. If they need to reach out further in a barricaded defensive posture, that's another operational mode. One weapon that satisfies one of these modes will probably not satisfy the other. But two weapons may not be the answer either. A system of weapons is more capable.
Operational modes will illustrate the diversity of the toolset of the unit. Stealth vs. overt operations, rural versus MOUT, even the size of the unit will play into the standardization process.
I will argue against simply adopting military standards for a number of reasons. The military standardization process is not infallible, and the operational mode of an entire army is bound to be extremely different from a much smaller and private unit. However there are many military weapons that are excellent tools and well suited for their purpose, they are not to be ignored, but rather they need to be justifiable to the unit itself.
Let's explore the process of developing a system of standards, starting with an individual, their assorted operating modes and working our way up to a small unit.
The individual is the smallest unit and can benefit from a program of standardization. One operational mode may suggest concealed carry for defense away from home or other support, so a handgun of some type becomes a good choice. So the primary weapon is chosen. Then to extend the survivability of the individual a back up weapon is chosen. When a weapon is chosen, a maintenance program is chosen, a spare parts list is chosen, a caliber and it's ballistic performance is chosen, it's magazine and reloading characteristics are chosen. The requirements of the weapon should be relatively straight forward, it needs to fit the person and the operational mode. Beyond those requirements the system of standardization is not immediately obvious. If a pistol caliber is chosen are there rifle or carbine options with the caliber so that it may be used in a greater role than just as the hand gun round? Can the backup handgun be used with the same ammunition as the primary weapon? Better yet, can the same magazine be used for both the primary and the secondary weapons? Or even still can the same magazine be used with a carbine as well? A secondary weapon that operates with the same controls as the primary makes the individual unit only short a person on being a fire team unit with twice the firepower and a huge range of tactical capabilities that the individual doesn't have.
Primary handgun, backup handgun, pistol caliber rifle, suddenly we see a system at work. A person could opt for the M1911 handgun as the primary, a Commander sized smaller version as the backup and perhaps a Marlin Camp Carbine as a pistol caliber rifle. All of a sudden, the magazines are all the same, the same ammo serves three purposes, and there are only two types of spare parts to manage. Bulk ammo purchases start making sense, reloading is simplified. Holsters may be interchangeable. Tools and spare parts apply to two or more guns now, and gun smithing technique is more applicable. Add up to two additional people and suddenly there is a fire team with a range of tactical options and capabilities. Add a suppressor in that caliber and now there are potentially three suppressed weapons. The skill of shooting is immediately transferable between the weapons, transitioning is a non-issue.
It's not so much the decisions that are made, it's how they are made in relationship to the big picture. There are several ways that a system can be built, for different purposes, but a system is thought out through this process. There are five main tenants to this thought process:
With an additional mode of survival hunting or inexpensive practicing, a 22 LR caliber handgun or rifle might be in order. Using our examples above of the system of standards in place, the individual could add any 22 LR caliber weapon. Or perhaps a 22/45 which shares no common parts with the M1911's but has the same operation with the slide stop, safeties and other user features placed to mimic the M1911, so there's no transition issues going from it back to the big gun. Or better yet, a 22 LR conversion for the M1911 allows the individual to use the lower half of an M1911 with a slide, magazine and barrel converted to 22 LR. Now to keep the 22 running, the individual already has spare parts and knowhow for half the weapon already on hand. Plus the training that would be done on another gun now uses all the touch features of the bigger gun for even better training.
So then the unit is expanded to a fire team with the addition of another individual. If that individual arrives to the unit outfitted in a similar fashion as the first individual, a synergy of parts started with the individual continues. Technical skills are immediately transferable, the more experienced mentoring the less so. This included operational capability, maintenance, and such. In an operational mode, ammunition could be shared between the individuals if it's of the same caliber. Faster sharing is had if the same magazines are used. A failed weapon is quickly and easily replaced through sharing, and if it's the same type of weapon there is no loss of skill in the transition. the system synergies that were to be had with the three weapons of the individual is now expanded to a larger unit. One person may reload, the other may gunsmith, they both benefit from the skill set of the other. If they overlap in terms of skills and tooling, they are rewarded with twice the capacity.
The fire team will want to expand the modes of operations that they are capable of through the addition of weapons to the system. A standard length rifle, or perhaps a shorter range carbine are added. If only standard length rifles were chosen for both, then they are limited to a hard to manage weapon in close quarters, and a limited effective range. A better systemic approach would be for one individual to take up a carbine for close quarters, the other to take up a standard rifle for greater range and accuracy. If these weapons are of the same type for example, an M4 and an M16 (or the civilian equivalents) then most spare parts are interchangeable, magazines are interchangeable, ammunition is interchangeable, and so are the skills of operation and maintenance.
As the fire team grows into a full strength unit, the specialties of the users and flexibility for multi mode operation will dictate an increasingly diverse weapons list. However with thought to the principles outlined above, this can be a workable system of standardization in lieu of a mishmash of unrelated weapons. When expanding the standards to include additional operational modes, keep the above tenants in mind, and a system of standards will evolve that fits the needs of the users as well as eases the burden of staying operational.
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