“God made man, Colt made him equal” famous quote about Colt firearms.
However much ink has been spilled, many electrons have been murdered to make the case against the M-4 and M-16 (plus the 5.56).
but before we pick apart America’s rifle, let’s take a look at what the other guys are shooting:
China: QBZ series (5.8x42mm DBP87 )
Russia/rest of the non-western world:Automatic rifle Kalashnikov model of 1947, AK-477.62 Soviet
NATO, US Allies: 5.56 too many rifles to mention
Yes there are other calibers out there
But let’s stop there for now.
Penetration: the 5.56 gets kicked around a lot because of it’s supposed “pipsqueak” diameter. Yes its small but it has a high velocity.
The 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge with the standard military ball bullet (NATO: SS109; U.S.: M855) will penetrate approximately 15 to 20 inches (38 to 50 cm) into soft tissue in ideal circumstances. As with all spitzer shaped projectiles it is prone to yaw in soft tissue. However, at impact velocities above roughly 2,700 ft/s (820 m/s), it may yaw and then fragment at the cannelure (the groove around the cylinder of the bullet). These fragments can disperse through flesh and bone, inflicting additional internal injuries. Fragmentation, if and when it occurs, seems to impart much greater damage to tissue than bullet dimensions and velocities would suggest. This fragmentation effect is highly dependent on velocity, and therefore barrel length: short-barreled rifles generate less muzzle velocity and therefore rounds lose effectiveness at much shorter ranges than longer-barreled rifles.
Hague Conventions of 1899 banned “bullets that easily expand or flatten in the body”. So the 5.56mm was created as a workaround. It ricochets when it hits anything solid. Like trees, rocks, or bone. My Drill Sgt at For Jackson related the following: During a life fire exercise a soldier had his weapon pointed at the ground. He was at the low-ready position (weapon in hand, buttstock on chest weapon pointed down) but his weapon was not on safe. His finger was not supposed to be on the trigger but it was. He accidentally shot at the ground. The bullet ricocheted off the ground, a tree and a log to wizz past the Drill Sgt’s head. He told us this so that we would respect the weapon and the bullets it fired.
Small caliber, low recoil, good penetration. That is the 5.56mm. However due to the M-4 (14 inches) having a shorter barrel than the M-16 (20 inches) muzzle velocity is lost. When that goes down penetration goes with it.
Let’s look at the operational performance:
The Little Black Carbine By David Fortier, www.rifleshootermag.com :
Regarding terminal performance, there is no doubt the M855 ball round is quite lethal out of the M4 carbine. However, many of the 3-7th Cav’s veteran NCOs with heavy combat experience in Iraq wished it packed more punch. Fighting room to room, engagement distances are up close. In such an environment, where the insurgents they face may be doped up on narcotics, they wanted a threat to drop instantly–not stay on his feet for a couple seconds still capable of triggering off another burst.
“I shot an insurgent in the stomach with a 7.62mm M14, and it buckled him over,” Sgt. John Gibson commented. “Another one I shot with the 5.56 M4 took three rounds to put him down. Sure, he died, but I wished he’d gone down faster.”
In the Special interest mag “Book Of the AR-15” (out now), Mr. Fortier raises a good argument against replacing the M-4. We are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Replacing rifles and ammo during a confilct would be a mistake. Sure there is the 6.8mm SPC or the 6.5 Grendel. But you have to mass produce the rifles and bullets. During the Cold War, having the 7.62 M-60 machine gun and 5.56 M-16’s was a nightmare, logistically. With National Guard and Reserve units, bringing in a new caliber would be a worse nightmare.
However, arguments can be made about replacing the rifle itself.
The HK 416.
and again in German:
It looks like the Army just might be serious about replacing the M-4. And this time all eyes are on the Army to see what they pick.