The Reality of Dakka (Crew Served Weapons)
Dakka And You
Within the internet firearms community there are numerous small subcultures and social memes. One of the most beloved and prevalent of these is the concept of “Dakka”. It stems from a science fiction table-top game called Warhammer 40,000. In this game, players pit armies of humans, demons, and aliens against one another in carefully measured and planned battles. The term “Dakka” is a colloquialism for the amount of firepower a particular army, group, weapons system, or individual unit can bring to bear against a target.
However, of all the races and available units, one race of beings value the amount of available “Dakka” more highly than all the others; the Orcs. These green-skinned tribal warmongers love their rifles, machine guns, tanks, and explosives more than any rational person should. They are so driven to acquire weapons that they will go as far as making a gun out of any and all available material, common sense be damned. It’s actually canonical fact within the Warhammer universe that if an Orc picks up a gun shaped object or assembly and thinks of it as a gun, and convinces his fellows of the same thing, what was previously trash or scrap will begin to function as though it were a gun simply because the Orcs want it to be one badly enough. It’s this motivation to manufacture or acquire firearms and weapons of all types and grades (and employ them liberally) that has endeared the internet gun community to the Orcs and the idea of “Dakka” which they’ve made famous.
Perceptions of Dakka, Addressed
The use of crew served weapons of all kinds in all scenarios is something that almost every meme-loving member of the the internet gun community will advocate for whenever possible, even if it’s not technically appropriate for the situation at hand. In my personal experience with the M240B in a duty and training capacity as a boat crew member, I find there are even fewer applications for Dakka on the water than there are on land. Finding a clear field of fire, ensuring the intent of the target, and simply maintaining a good sight picture on my target is enough of a task that employing my weapon is more of a hassle than I’d generally like it to be.
It’s certainly possible to lay very effective fire, and can be especially devastating if a competent coxswain is keeping me in a sweet spot relative to our target, but if the conditions on the water are less than ideal (headset communications fail, gun becomes badly jammed, waves are substantial, civilian craft are about, etc.) then the challenge of using my weapon increases an order of magnitude in difficulty. If I need to get some dakka in an expedient manner, then several hundred rounds of 7.62 are always on tap. And believe me, I’d love nothing more than to see a target worthy of receiving the bulk of them sunk to the bottom of the ocean. It’s just not that simple, sadly.
Limiting factors like the weight of the systems, their necessary mounting solutions (as discussed above), and the availability of support for the dead zones in their fields of fire make crew served weapons (be they a linked ammunition fed system, shoulder fired launcher, or mortar/field gun) far from being a self sufficient unit without additional support. The wear these systems have on their operators is also not to be dismissed. Heavier man portable weapon systems like the M60 and M240 family of LMG’s are notorious for the wear and tear they inflict on their operators. Common practice among smaller sized units carrying such arms include the distribution of spare barrels and ammunition among other members of the unit in order to keep the gunner they belong to from exhausting themselves prematurely. The USMC at one point had as many as three men dedicated to a machine gun team in order to distribute the ammunition and tripod that accompany the M240/MAG-58 MMG.
In each military manual I could find, entire chapters are dedicated to movement of the system, controlling whichever system is employed, and mounting solutions for the weapons system used. Different applications of a given CSW system will often require their own mounting solutions, such as the Navy M240B model using its integral bi-pod, ‘flower pot’ swivel mount, aircraft pintle mount, the shipboard Mk.99 Mod 1 dual M240 mount, and the Marine M240G variant being used with an assortment of vehicles, and most infamously heavy tripod that requires a gun crew member to be allocated exclusively to its transport and deployment. In addition to the logistical burden on the end users (which I’ll delve very briefly into) of man portable CSW systems and their supply chain, these mounting systems are their own headache, as whether the M240 system is mounted to a boat, aircraft, or wheeled/tracked vehicle, each platform’s unique needs will often result in a different mounting solution being necessary.
So far, I haven’t touched on the assorted types of ammunition available for both the M240 and M2HB platforms simply because there are so dang many. The cost per so many units of each kind of ammunition is beyond my ability to gather and collate into a useful format. I’m also not any kind of expert in ballistic performance, so speaking to efficacy of any ammunition supplied for these systems is beyond me. For the sake of supporting my statement as to the potential logistical burden these systems may have on a command based on their needs and specialized applications, I will say that there are enough that it can be substantial. A quick Wikipedia will serve to support this. To date, some forty-odd variants of the 7.62 x 51 NATO cartridge have been developed and declassified, alongside the almost twenty variants of the .50 caliber (12.7×99) cartridge for explicit use with the M2HB.
My personal experience with CSW is, as of now, limited to the M240B. This lack of breadth in my experience doesn’t support much of what I’ve discussed to the extent that you and any reasonable person would require to build an informed opinion. To that end, and to give more than my own opinion on Dakka and explore the reality of the concept as well as lend a bit of legitimacy to it, I’ve conducted brief interviews with some people who have varying levels of experience with/exposure to Dakka. Their experience ranges from a training environment to fairly hazardous real-world applications. The question posed to all of the interviewed parties were:
Q1) “What is your experience with Dakka, and how much do you have?”,
Q2) “How much is too much?”, and
Q3) “When do you need more?”
Do bear in mind that all the personnel I interviewed are former or active military members who generally don’t want to spend much time talking about their jobs unless they absolutely have to…with the exception of the one and only officer I was able to get a hold of and get permission from to use their interview. One other officer, a Marine Captain, was interviewed but later asked that his interview be stricken for professional reasons.
Swede, Logistics Marine (single enlistment, not specified for privacy)
A1) I trained on/fired the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and M240B MMG in a training capacity.
A2) There’s never enough [Dakka], otherwise we would’ve stopped using/making it.
A3) If you’d need more to defeat cover and penetrate concealment, or if you’re unable to retreat under fire.
MA1 (EXW) V. (03-19)
A1) Fifteen years experience. Trained on/fired M240B MMG, and M2 HB in a training/duty capacity.
A2) You can never have enough. Almost never. You wouldn’t shoot at a 40 foot fast boat with an M2 if you’ve got an M240 and your goal is just disabling fire, ya know?
A3) It depends upon the mission. Executive protection, setting up FOB defenses, base security, expeditionary missions where most of your threats will be enemies embarked on vehicles near to your own operational capabilities, etc.
NSW member on Teams 3 & 5 (late 80’s – early 90’s)
A1) I’ve operated the following crew served weapons: M60 LMG, M60E3 LMG, M240G MMG, M2HB HMG, Mk19 Grenade Launcher, M224 Lightweight 60mm mortar, Mk 2 Mod 0 81mm Direct Fire Mortar with co-witnessed M2HB
I’ve also directed fire from: M134 Minigun, TOW Missile, 2.75 inch FFAR [folding fin aerial rocket]
Of all these, I’ve never directly laid these in combat, but have directed LMG and MMG in action.
A2)“There is no overkill, there is only OPEN FIRE! and RELOAD!” The principle issue is the propensity of operators of these systems to burn through ammunition too rapidly. If the operating unit is on foot, there isn’t going to be rapid resupply, so either you use automatic fire to break contact or you use it to hammer the kill zone of an ambush. In neither case do you want your gunners to just squeeze and hose the weapon about. This is especially true for heavier weapons, when you carry even less ammo.
Every 100 rds of x51 link weighs 7 lbs. A typical gunner carries a 100 rd belt in the gun and another 6×100 belts. Ammo + gun = 67lbs. Now add water, blowout kit, tools for the 60 including a spare bolt, lube and a sidearm.
Sucks to be you.
You still have to aim. I’ll say it again. YOU. HAVE. TO. AIM.
Any weapon that cannot be controlled adequately enough to get hits is too much weapon for that operator. Even mounted weapons recoil and you are better off modulating the trigger.
With regards to mortars; know your casualty radius. Once Mr. Mortar leaves the tube he has no friends.
A3) Obviously, you need more guns for disabling or destroying vehicles. This is particularly true for armored vehicles. Shooting at heavy armor, such as tanks, is generally stupid, unless you are in persistent concealment, you have an exit, you are mobile and your goal is to get mission kills on their optics.
But, yeah. Basically stupid. Use radios to kill tanks.
Shooting at aircraft benefits from higher rates of fire.
The Reality of Dakka
It would seem that more firepower is desirable in all situations where it can be supported and deemed appropriate. This does come with some caveats, though. Not only did most of our interview subjects find that the application of crew served weapons fire is most appropriate in specific scenarios, but that when it is employed, it’s typically best en masse. Even the U.S.M.C. is also of the opinion that ” the preferred method for employing [dakka] is by section from a base(s) of fire from which the guns can mass their fires in a continuous, accurate, heavy volume” (MCWP 3-15.1, pg.6-6).
Some of the Dakka, Some of the Time
It’s far from a perfect solution, though. If for example, sufficiently effective plunging or grazing fire is not employed against a target by a machine gun position, as well as left unsupported by other intermediate arms ad fire, then a dead space may be inadvertently created. This dead space “that is not covered by other weapons systems would provide the enemy the opportunity to penetrate friendly lines”(MCWP 3-15.1, pg.6-12) and may endanger the CSW system altogether, ultimately failing in its role of suppression and cover for other units.
With this in mind, it’s clear that the tactical fragility of CSW platforms necessitates their careful application and deployment in order to ease as much of the burden on supporting/supported forces as possible. This Includes the logistical planning needed to keep a gun section mission effective, as well as accounting for what kind of battle rhythm is to be expected and how it will affect the CSW system operators and their support in the near and long term. The need for this careful employment makes the use of Dakka into less of a universal solution, and more of a specialized tool to be employed where possible.
My goal is not to disparage the awesome capabilities of correctly deployed crew served weapons, but through this brief exploration and analysis of CSW employment, I believe the unfortunate truth of Dakka has been brought to light. It is a beloved and cherished facet of the /k/ and internet firearms community, and an effective solution to many specific problems one could face in offensive combat as well as in a defensive or vehicle born capacity. Truly, Dakka is a magical thing, but sometimes it’s just not enough.
U.S. Marine Corps. (1996). MCWP 3-15.1 Machine Guns and Machine Gunnery.
U.S. Army (2017) TC 3-22.240 Medium Machine Gun
U.S. Army (2017) TC 3-22.50 Heavy Machine Gun, M2 Series