Probing The Inaccuracies: Modern Infantry Combat, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This is a somewhat-updated version of one of the sections of Probing The Inaccuracies: Modern Infantry Combat. I intend to rewrite certain sections of this over the coming months.

The Desert Eagle: Oversized, Overpowered, Overweight, Inexplicably Popular: The Desert Eagle, a weapon designed by Magnum Research in the United States and produced by Israel Weapon Industries (formerly Israel Military Industries), is a large-calibre pistol using a gas-operated mechanism, more commonly found in rifles. This mechanism allows the pistol to fire Magnum rounds, more powerful than the normal calibres found in police or military pistols, and gives the pistol a great potential stopping power. The power of this pistol has made it very popular in the media, but the popularity is mostly undeserved – the ability to fire the large-calibre rounds has led to a significant number of flaws with the gun, ones which would render it worthless in the hands of the military.

The first thing you’ll notice about the gun is its size, a result of its gas-operated mechanism. By using a mechanism more at home in a rifle, the Desert Eagle is rendered much larger than is logical for a military pistol, and with this size comes weight. At almost two kilograms, the Desert Eagle compares very badly with other military pistols, weighing twice the weight of most currently-issued military firearms, and about 600 grams heavier than the Colt M1911.

This weight starts to look somewhat more reasonable when compared to other firearms firing .50 calibre rounds, such as the Smith & Wesson Model 500, firing the .500 S&W Magnum round. However, there are still several caveats when comparing these guns – the .500 S&W Magnum round hasn’t been adopted by the military either, and is considered useful only for a backup weapon when hunting, used for taking down bears, rather than humans. One must also consider that the weight of the Desert Eagle doesn’t decrease significantly when firing more reasonably-sized cartridges, such as the .357 Magnum, or the .44 Magnum, and the weight does not compare at all favourably with other pistols firing these rounds.

Even if the weight issue isn’t supposed to be important, one must consider the heavy recoil of the .50 Action Express, and to a lesser extent, the .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum rounds. Heavy training is required to fire a pistol effectively even with smaller 9mm rounds, and the heavier recoil of the Magnum rounds only increases that difficulty. Considering that all of that time spent trying to compensate for the heavy recoil of a pistol firing Magnum rounds could be used training on a weapon more useful on the battlefield, it seems unreasonable to give a soldier a sidearm with a calibre much larger than .45 ACP, which has moderately high recoil by itself.

Recoil apparently creates other problems in the Desert Eagle design. The Desert Eagle is reportedly not particularly tolerant of limp-wristing, a tendency to hold the gun limply in anticipation of the recoil of the gun. Without a proper, firm grip, the action fails to cycle correctly, jamming the gun and causing it to be even more of an overweight lump of metal than it already is even when it’s firing properly. All in all, not a particularly great trait to have in a sidearm that’s supposed to be dependable.

Even getting past the disadvantages of weight and recoil, the Desert Eagle still has a significant disadvantage which renders it a sub-par choice for military use. The magazine capacity of the gun, despite its size, is woefully small, with magazines of only nine rounds for the .357 Magnum, and seven rounds for the .44 Magnum and .50 Action Express variants. Compared to the 13-round magazine capacity of the 9mm Browning High Power, and the 17-round capacity of the more modern 9mm Glock 17, it seems ridiculously small, and even though it compares favourably with the Colt M1911, one must remember that the M1911 was developed about seventy years before the Desert Eagle, and is a more reasonable military pistol to boot.

The Desert Eagle doesn’t just look unreasonable compared to proper military pistols, but also a poor choice when compared to a sub-machine gun. While the Desert Eagle is lighter than almost all current military sub-machine guns and fires larger rounds than all of them, one must take in mind that a sub-machine gun requires less training to be effective with it, is more accurate with that lesser amount of training, and, with automatic fire, can get more lead to the target more quickly than the pistol.

Despite all of these disadvantages, some computer games and movies put these ineffective weapons into the hands of people meant to represent trained military personnel, who would probably be the last ones to want that paperweight hanging at their side. I point to Counter-Strike, where the Desert Eagle is a popular choice among the people who don’t realise what foolishness it would actually be to use such a weapon in a proper hostage situation.

Representing the single-wielded Desert Eagle in that way in a computer game or movie is bad enough, but somehow, there are people who just have to make it worse. Enter the dual-wielded Desert Eagle. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 made the illogical decision to allow people to do this. Again, you’re playing badass military types in the game, and yet it still doesn’t make a lick of sense for them to be using a gun usually chambered in an expensive proprietary round of ammunition, or to be dual-wielding pistols when they have far more effective rifles and sub-machine guns at their disposal. Of course, this isn’t the most irritating feature of the game, which would be the dual-wielded shotguns (N.B. When Arnold Schwarzenegger single-handedly wielded a Winchester Model 1901 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he was firing blanks), but it still blunts the credibility of a game at least purporting to have some elements of gritty realism.