M-4, M-16 and other rifles Part II.

The Army tired to replace the M-4/M-16 with the XM-8, the result was less than expected:

The XM8 was poised to become the Army’s next rifle family. Viewed as the successor to the M16 line of weapons, the XM8 was close to being officially adopted in 2005. Gunmaker Heckler & Koch stood to earn hundreds of millions of dollars on a weapon that would be the premier rifle for all American soldiers for a generation or more.

But the XM8 ignited conflict within the Army weapons community — a rift that acquisition experts say ultimately cost the service millions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Acquisition heads at the Army and Defense Department levels also clashed over the XM8, which became the focus of an October 2005 DoD Inspector General audit.

When the smoke cleared, the XM8 was dead, the general in charge of the program would retire and soldiers would continue to have to rely on the same weapons to fight a shooting war with no end in sight.

This story happened before with the
Advanced Combat Rifle
. Only the technology failed. The failed because it was too advanced. The technology was not there. Fueled by a requirement to best the M-16 by 50%, the gun makers tried. Epic fail.

So why all the fuss over the M-16 and M-4?

After WW II, the U.S. Army began research into body armor and better rifles. Ever since guns were invented, armies stood still to fire. However WW II was the first war where soldiers could fire on the move. New automatic weapons were being developed to bridge the gap between heavy air and water cooled machine guns and the rifle. Before the war machine guns required a crew, rifle were bolt action or “clip fed” shooting only a few times a minute. During the war the assault rifle was developed (in Nazi Germany and the USSR). The U.S. Armie’s brain trust took a look around the post-war world and found:

that most combat takes place at short range. In a highly mobile war, combat teams ran into each other largely by surprise; and the team with the higher firepower tended to win. They also found that the chance of being hit in combat was essentially random — that is, accurate “aiming” made little difference because the targets no longer sat still. The number one predictor of casualties was the total number of bullets fired.[6] Other studies of behavior in battle revealed that many U.S. infantrymen (as many as 2/3) never actually fired their rifles in combat. By contrast, soldiers armed with rapid fire weapons (such as submachine guns) were much more likely to have fired their weapons in battle.[7] These conclusions suggested that infantry should be equipped with a fully-automatic rifle of some sort in order to increase the actual firepower of regular soldiers. It was also clear, however, that such weapons dramatically increased ammunition use and in order for a rifleman to be able to carry enough ammunition for a firefight they would have to carry something much lighter.–Project SALVO, wikipedia

The U.S. tried the M-14, basicaly an M-1 Garand modified for full-auto fire. The 7.62 round had the power, but the load was to heavy to carry enough rounds (see above) and the recoil hurt. Enter Eugene Stoner. While the army resisted other rifles, settling on the M-14, Stoner designed a new rifle. His design used aluminum and fiberglass in addition to steel. But no wood. The AR-10 had another difference,The design,

Meanwhile the layout of the weapon itself was also somewhat different. Previous designs generally placed the sights directly on the barrel, using a bend in the stock to align the sights at eye level while transferring the recoil down to the shoulder. This meant that the weapon tended to rise when fired making it very difficult to control during fully-automatic fire. The ArmaLite team used a solution previously used on weapons such as the German FG42 and Johnson light machine gun; they located the barrel in line with the stock, well below eye level, and raised the sights to eye level. The rear sight was built into a carrying handle over the receiver.

The AR-10 was a very advanced design for its time. Despite being over 2 lb (0.9 kg) lighter than the competition, it offered significantly greater accuracy and recoil control.

General Willard G. Wyman, commander of the U.S. Continental Army Command (CONARC) received a report about the new 5.56mm round. CONARC had the AR-10 re-designed to the 5.56 (or .233) AR-15. When Kennedy was elected to the Oval office, Robert McNamara (former Ford Motor Company exec) became secretary of defense. During a series of tests with some rifles (altered over Stoners objections), the M-16 had some catastrophic failures. After some engineering tests, the Army pressed for a larger round.
However, mock combat exercises convinced some that the rifle had merit.
Again from Wikipedia:

Not all the reports were negative. In a series of mock-combat situations testing the AR-15, M14 and AK-47, the Army found that the AR-15’s small size and light weight allowed it to be brought to bear much more quickly, just as CONARC had suggested. Their final conclusion was that an 8-man team equipped with the AR-15 would have the same firepower as a current 11-man team armed with the M14. They also found that the AR-15, as tested, was more reliable than the M14, suffering fewer stoppages and jams in tests where thousands of rounds were fired.

So McNamara had two conflicting reports, one where the Army wanted more M-14’s and another where it wanted the 5.56 AR-15. In truth, most in the pentagon wanted more M-14’s, even when the AR-15 passed, army officials rejected it in favor of the M-14.

Yet Stoner persisted. His first boss Fairchild Aircraft sold their Armalite division to Colt. Colt and Gen. Curtis LeMay closed a deal for M-16s to the air force. Their security forces would use the rifle. Colt inked a deal with the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), who bought 1,000 rifles for South Vietnamese forces.

Utilmately, McNamara would ram the M-16 down the Army’s throat. However Colt introduced a number of cost cutting measures. The bore and chamber were not chrome lined (causing corrosion). A forward assisted was not added (despite reports that the weapon had trouble operating when dirty) and the power was changed. See, Colt somehow convinced the Army that the rifle was “self cleaning”. This would be a bone of contention and the source of many urban legends about the M-16.

To make this short, the rifle has redesigned. Newer models had chromed bores and chambers. A forward assist was added. Numerous other improvements were made. In many Vietnam war movies, the rifles have this distinctive burrrp. Newer models redesigned the end of the barrel (the flash suppressor) from the 3-prong to the bird cage. Most modern M-16s sound just like any other rifle. The full auto mode was discontinued. Soldiers just waste ammo. instead the rifles have a three round bust (in addition to fire and safe). Thus the M-16 became the M-16A1, then M-16A2. The full auto variant is the M-16A3. The M-16A4 has rails and is modular taking many aftermarket scopes and accessories.

The rifle has seen countless versions. Many of our allies use it. However like the M-14, the M-16 was too long for special forces and urban ops. Colt responded with a shorter rifle, the Colt CAR-15. The buttstock collapsed, the barrel was shorter and then came the rails. Like the M-16, it latter had upgrades, becoming the M-4. Here we see just a sample of what a soldier can add to his or her M-4:

M-4 with M-203 grenade launcher and other stuff

M-4 with M-203 grenade launcher and other stuff

So once again why all the fuss?

As my mother would say mira:

  • 34% of soldiers reported that their M4’s handguards rattle and become excessively hot when firing.
  • 15% reported that they had trouble zeroing the M68 reflex sight.
  • 35% added barber brushes and 24% added dental picks to their cleaning kits.

Soldiers reported the following malfunctions:

  • 20% reported double-feeding.
  • 15% reported feeding jams.
  • 13% reported that feeding problems were due to magazines.
  • 89% of soldiers reported confidence in the weapon.
  • 20% were dissatisfied with its ease of maintenance.

And those soldiers wanted the following :

  1. 55% requested the firearm be made lighter
  2. 20% requested a larger magazine

Then the dust test came: (source wikipedia):

In the fall of 2007, the Army tested the M4 against three other carbines in “sandstorm conditions” at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland: the Heckler & Koch XM8 rifle, FNH USA’s SOF Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) and the Heckler & Koch HK416. Ten of each type of rifle were used to fire 6,000 rounds each, for a total of 60,000 rounds per rifle type.[7] The M4 suffered far more stoppages than its competitors: 882 stoppages, 19 requiring an armorer to fix. The XM8 had the fewest stoppages, 116 minor stoppages and 11 major ones, followed by the FN SCAR with 226 stoppages and the HK416 with 233.[8][9] The Army now has plans to improve the M4 with a new cold-hammer-forged barrel to give longer life and more reliable magazines to reduce the stoppages. Magazine failures caused 239 of the M4’s 882 failures. Army officials said the new magazines could be combat-ready by spring if testing goes well.[10]

So the Army is at a quandary… replace the black rifle with another one, possibly re-training the entire army, use a modified M-16/M-4 type rifle and stick it to Colt or keep on keeping on.

What do you think?

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2 Responses to “M-4, M-16 and other rifles Part II.”

  1. […] the M-16: the FN SCAR makes it’s debut One of the most popular posts here is my take on the M-16 debate. The FN SCAR (SOF Combat Assault Rifle) has been issued to the 1st Battalion, […]

  2. I am a retired soldier with over 20 years of service and the distinguished pistol badge with years of rifle marksmanship instructon as an advanced marksmanship instructor. My son has his 20 year letter and my uncle retired from the US Army in 1900.
    We are in need of a service rifle and pistol that armed forces will use in future battles.
    1. we have to have a service rifle and pistol to meet the needs of war in situations where we do not have the elaborate support of todays army. That is at Fort Benning I was trained by soldiers that fought WW2 with Chinise and Phillipine irregular forces.
    1. The M1 Gerand as first submitted by Gerand in Bullpup configuragion with a 40 round magazine should be investigated. improvements on the M1 like the M14 with rollers on the bolt and improvements in the gas operating system is a good place to start.
    2. The handgun should fire a 230 grain bullet at 1000 feet per second
    The important consideration has to be for weapons and equiptment that will work under conditions found behind enemy lines or national occapution by an enemy. The current issue battle rifle and pistol should be used to court marshal those responsible for their issue.

    Finally the primary issue of number of sitizens in the force is more important than the quality of the equiptment.
    We are doomed to failure when less than 1% of the population serve in the armed forces

    Comments of an old soldier trained in organizational development

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