The Colt .45, ‘Ma Deuce,’ and Other Old-as-Shit Weapon Systems and Aircraft the Military Still Loves

January 29, 2021Carl Forsling
Ma Deuce old weapon systems

Army Reserve drill sergeants, Staff Sgt. Blake Howell of Belton, S.C., and Sgt. Larry Davis, of Greer, S.C., who are both in 1st Bn., 518th Inf. Reg., 2nd Bde., 98th Training Div. (IET), teach a group of Clemson University Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets how to pull apart a Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun as part of a leadership training exercise, Oct. 24, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar)

Sometimes the military seems to be practically living in the future, like some kind of death metal version of The Jetsons: flying into battle in your tilt-rotor, pulling real-time video from a drone thousands of feet overhead, which then uses a laser to designate a target for a bomb dropped by a fifth-generation stealthy fighter jet.

Other times, the military almost makes The Flintstones seem advanced. Alongside all those “high speed, low drag” accoutrements are a lot of weapons that the grandfathers or even the great-grandfathers of those serving today would feel right at home with.

M113 Armored Personnel Carrier

At a National Guard base a few years ago, I saw an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier at a command post and thought I’d accidentally made a wrong turn into the post museum. The M113 is the Betty White of armored vehicles. Every so often, it pops up somewhere, and you go, “Jesus! She’s still around? Looks like she’s still doing pretty well, too!” 

The M113 entered service in 1960 and saw action throughout the Vietnam War with both the US Army and South Vietnamese forces. Even though it’s basically just an aluminum box with tracks on it, it did an amazing job at what boxes do — carrying stuff where it’s needed. And it was in front-line service all the way through Desert Storm.

M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, old weapon systems
US Army medics with the 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, maneuver an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier toward a Role 1 medical tent area in Amman, Jordan, Aug. 27, 2019, during Exercise Eager Lion 2019. US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Devon Bistarkey, courtesy of DVIDS.

The M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle came along in the 1980s, boasting a turret with TOW missiles and a Bushmaster cannon instead of the M113’s lonely Ma Deuce with a terrified gunner behind it. Still, the M113 is like the utility infielder who never gets traded because it’s just so useful as a command post, armored ambulance, or whatever else needs just a little armor. Its replacement is only barely starting to be delivered, 60 years after the M113 debuted.

Browning M2 machine gun

Developed way back in 1933, the venerable Ma Deuce .50 cal has been mounted on just about every vehicle or helicopter the US military has. Its design is so good that it is still in production today with only minor changes.

Ma Deuce is so versatile it has even been used as a sniper rifle on multiple occasions, most famously making a 2,500-meter shot in the hands of Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock. The weapon is as at home with grunts mounting it on a tripod in a defensive perimeter as it is slinging lead out of a UH-1Y helicopter.

Lance Cpl. Bryan Riverarojas and Lance Cpl. John Heaney, both rifle Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command, fire an Browning M2 .50-cal. machine gun during training in southwest Asia, Dec. 22, 2018. US Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Tori S. Simenec, courtesy of DVIDS.

The old ones have been reworked to the M2A1 standard, and new ones keep coming off the assembly line, so who knows what the oldest M2 still in service is? The only thing we can know for sure is that it’s killed more people than cancer. The design itself is certainly going to hit the century mark in continuous service. By the time it’s replaced, troops will be shooting laser rifles.

Colt M1911 pistol

The favorite pistol of the most annoying gun people you know, the M1911 started its service way back in — duh — 1911. While it was replaced as the standard service pistol by the Beretta M9 back in the 1980s, it just won’t die — much like someone hit by 9 mm ball.

Colt M1911, old weapon systems
Cpl. Jeremy Chow, a Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Special Reactions Team member, fires the M1911 Service Pistol during training at MCAS Miramar, California, May 15. The Marines conducted this training to hone their skills in close-quarters combat and further familiarize themselves with the M1911. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jake McClung, courtesy of DVIDS.

Marine Special Operations Command is still using the venerable .45, albeit tricked out a bit. The wild part is that the ones still employed in the special operations community aren’t entirely new. Those M45A1s are built on the frames of stock M1911s, so there’s a chance that a bad guy in the Middle East is getting taken out by the very same pistol that took out his granddad back in Desert Storm.

USS Constitution

The Constitution hasn’t seen much action lately. In fact, Old Ironsides has mostly been hosting visitors in Boston Harbor for many years now. Nevertheless, she’s still a commissioned naval vessel. In fact, she’s the only US Navy vessel still in active service to have sunk an enemy vessel in combat … the HMS Guerriere in 1812.

The USS Constitution is tugged out to Fort Independence on Castle Island during “Old Ironsides” Chief Petty Officer Heritage Week in Boston, Aug. 30, 2019. During the selects’ week spent aboard Constitution, sailors teach them a variety of time-honored maritime evolutions. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey Scoular, courtesy of DVIDS.

B-52 Stratofortress

The BUFF, the Big Ugly Fat Fucker, entered service in 1955 designed for nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Rooskies, as Slim Pickens immortally described in Doctor Strangelove. Mercifully for most of us, it was never employed in the role it was originally designed for. Unfortunately for some, though, the B-52 was used in devastating conventional bombing missions in Vietnam and went on to see further conventional combat in Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism.

B-52H Stratofortress old weapon systems
A B-52H Stratofortress takes off from a flight line on Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, Nov. 21, 2019. The B-52 was utilized as part of a communication test between the 5th Bomb Wing and the 2nd Bomb Wing. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jesse Jenny, courtesy of DVIDS.

The B-52Hs that make up today’s force are the newest ones, and they were last delivered in 1962. They are likely older than all of their pilots and most of their pilots’ fathers. The Air Force plans on keeping them until at least 2050, far outlasting the B-1Bs that were supposed to succeed them in the 1980s. By that time, there may literally be fourth-generation BUFF pilots.

KC-135 Stratotanker

The B-52 has some company in its role as the grand old man of the Air Force inventory. It often gets refueled by the equally old KC-135. The last KC-135 was delivered in 1965. 

KC-135 Stratotanker
A KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 434th Air Refueling Wing, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, finishes a refueling over the continental United States, Aug. 21, 2018, during the Northern Lightning 18-2 exercise. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mary E. Greenwood/Air National Guard.

Much like the B-52, there is no end in sight for the KC-135, especially considering the troubled saga of its replacement, the KC-46. She may not be sexy, but at least she’s older than dirt.

Someday an F-35 will be refueled by a KC-135 on its way to the boneyard. While undoubtedly an occasion for countless sarcastic remarks in a tanker squadron ready room, it will also be a reminder that sometimes you need the newest and the best — and sometimes you just need good enough. 

Carl Forsling
Carl Forsling
Carl Forsling is a retired Marine Corps aviator who has also served as a police helicopter pilot and currently works in the aerospace industry. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
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