Key point: The Mossberg 500 served well, but was larger and bulkier. This new shotgun is supposed to help holdiers move around and reduce fatigue.
A young combat engineer with a shotgun blew out the “popsicle stick” support holding up one of the few targets sitting in an old trench. “Good job, you destroyed the target,” Sgt. First Class Keith Novembre teased.
The soldiers were members of the 570th Sapper Company’s 2nd Platoon, part of the 555th Engineer Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. On Aug. 4 they did their first stateside familiarization with the M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System, a.k.a the MASS.
The new shotgun is replacing the Army’s long-serving Mossberg 500. Unlike the Mossberg, the MASS is a hybrid weapon that can attach underneath the Army’s standard issue M4 rifle, or can be fitted with a stock and pistol grip to be a weapon of its own.
The Army officially adopted the M26 in 2012 and slowly began issuing the weapon to select units. The first was the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Since then, the ground combat branch has issued the weapon mostly to specialized units such as combat engineers and military police.
Capt. Bryan Perrenod, a public affairs officer with the 555th, explained that military police units like shotguns because they’re good for guard duty and can fire non-lethal rounds during riot control operations. The M26 has become a common sight at guard posts and checkpoints at Army bases as more MP units get their hands on them.
1st Lt. Anthony Frisone, 2nd Platoon’s leader, said he first saw the weapons last year in Afghanistan. The Pentagon ordered 9,000 of the attachable shotguns as of 2013. That number is likely to grow.
Soldiers can use the M26’s bolt action handle right or left handed. And its ability to connect to an assault rifle or be a standalone weapon is a feature soldiers particularly like.
The choice is important, because there are pros and cons to both configurations. As an add-on to a rifle–its original intent–a soldier wouldn’t have to switch between weapons during a fight. But Frisone explained that the combination makes the rifle incredibly heavy.
To be sure, carrying a rifle and shotgun separately is still heavy, but a soldier can manage the weight by slinging whatever he or she isn’t using to the side. The switch is fast and carrying both allows a soldier to focus their attention. It’s all a matter of preference for each unit. In any case, the M26 is lighter than the Mossberg 500.
Shotguns have a mystique because they’re really cool. Everyone from U.S. Navy SEALs in Vietnam to Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara has put them to enthusiastic use. Soviet Cosmonauts even brought them into space. They’re a staple of action movies and video games. For three decades, the Pentagon even tried to develop a fully automatic “super shotgun.” But military leaders ultimately killed the impractical project.
Yet despite all the glamour, shotguns are secondary weapons. They have limited range and accuracy, so their primary use is close quarters combat and breaching–shooting locks off doors and entering buildings.
The M26 is a smaller, lighter and more agile alternative to the Mossbergs soldiers have been lugging around in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it’s supposed to be practical like that, as it’s in many ways more of a tool than a weapon.