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US Army Refuses to Give Soldiers Rifles that Won't Jam in Combat

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HK416
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Advance warning: This is a long entry, but necessary reading. If you have a child, a relative, or a friend in the US Army, sit down and take a deep breath before reading this. You're going to need it...

It seemed like a routine request. Order more M4 carbines for US forces in the pending FY 2007 supplemental, FY 2008 budget, and FY 2008 supplemental funding bills. It has turned into anything but a routine exercise, however - with serving soldiers, journalists, and Senators casting a very critical eye on the effort and the rifle, and demanding open competition.

With requests amounting to $375 million for weapons and $150 million in accessories, they say, the Army's proposal amounts to an effort to replace the M16 as the USA's primary battle rifle - using specifications that are around 15 years old, without a competition, and without considering whether better 5.56 mm alternatives might be available off the shelf. Meanwhile, the M4/M16 family is both praised and criticized for its current performance in the field. DID explains the effort, the issues, and the options.

The latest developments? The M4 and 3 competitors, including one M4 variant that can be converted from existing rifles, come out of a sandstorm reliability test - and the M4 finishes dead last, with 1 jam per 68 shots, 3.77x more jams than the 3rd place finisher. Meanwhile, US Special Forces have declared that the M4 carbine "does not meet the requirements of SOF," and currently use 2 of the test's competitors. But the US Army publicly says that it doesn't care, and orders more M4 carbines....

This latest update is the angriest I have ever been when writing an article at Defense Industry Daily. Words like "unconscionable" come to mind as the among the few printable things I can say, and the kindest. But the topper came from Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, commander of the US Army's Program Executive Office Soldier and the Natick Soldier Systems Center. He's responsible for equipping Army soldiers. The quote?

"However, the three other candidates did perform better at about a 99 percent rate or better, which is a mathematically statistically significant difference, but not an operationally statistical difference.".... The Army has put an option on an existing contract for 64,450 M4s, according to the general."

"A mathematically statistically significant difference, but not an operationally statistical difference." Perhaps the US Army could put that on their recruiting posters, next to a picture of a jammed rifle. But read on...

80 Comments

My first thought was that this story reeks of pork. Who makes the M4, and how much money do they give each year to the Congresscritters who control the Army's purse strings?

"A mathematically statistically significant difference, but not an operationally statistical difference." Perhaps the US Army could put that on their recruiting posters, next to a picture of a jammed rifle.

As I envision the poster, the M4 will be barrel-down in the dirt with its action half-open. The foreground figure will be a serviceman bleeding out from multiple wounds because he couldn't return fire. Maybe a nondescript adversary silhouette in the distance joyfully brandishing a nearly-jamproof Kalashnikov.

Yeah, that sounds about right. I'll get right on it.

This is a fairly old topic in the shooting community. There's a definite lack of consensus on what to make of the situation; this thread at The High Road is a pretty good summation - it's something I'm watching with concern but haven't yet formed an opinion on.

A.L.

"While the M-4 finished fourth out of four, 98 percent of all the rounds fired from it went off down range as they were supposed to do," Brig. Gen. [Mark] Brown [commander of Program Executive Office Soldier and the Natick Soldier Systems Center] said. "However, the three other candidates did perform better at about a 99 percent rate or better, which is a mathematically statistically significant difference, but not an operationally statistical difference."

This bozo is running a Program Executive Office? The key numbers are the 2% jam rate for the M-4, and the <1% rates for its competitors. Any first-year business student knows that the difference between rates of 1% and 2% isn't 1%, it's 100%!

The distinction between "statistically significant" and "operationally significant" is telling: statistical tests can only be "spun" by fiddling the confidence levels or cheating on the test conditions, while operational significance is whatever the client specifies. Ethically, statistical AND operational significance should be stated in writing BEFORE the tests are conducted, so no one moves the goalposts. Where's General Brown's test specs and testing protocol? I suspect that even those radical risk-takers at the FDA would laugh his test protocols and results right out of town.

... and the <1% rates for its competitors. Any first-year business student knows that the difference between rates of 1% and 2% isn't 1%, it's 100%!

The distinction between "statistically significant" and "operationally significant" is telling: statistical tests can only be "spun" by fiddling the confidence levels or cheating on the test conditions, while operational significance is whatever the client specifies. Ethically, statistical AND operational significance should be stated in writing BEFORE the tests are conducted, so no one moves the goalposts. Where's General Brown's test specs and testing protocol? I suspect that even those radical risk-takers at the FDA would laugh his test protocols and results right out of town.

... fooey! my post is here

Katzman, anyone deployed to a desert environment like Iraq knows better than to leave lubrication on the bolt/bolt carrier or in the chamber. That is just asking for a jam because sandy dust and grit adheres to it. Yet, in the test, the rifles were lubricated repeatedly. The test has little relationship to real world situations. The sand/dust is far more heavy in the test environment and its effects are compounded by the silly use of lubricant.

Test the weapons in a real desert and with the type of maintenance that troops actually implement in the real world. Then compare jam rates.

I don't know much about the M4 (the car 15 was the equivalent in my day and I think it might be different in some aspects), but the M16 is a fine rifle and is unfairly maligned by those with alterior motives, like people in the arms biz trying to shift contracts to the pet contractors. Are you - and/or your buddies - in the arms biz, Katzman?

Avedis,

You might try reading the linked post.

OK I've explored the link thoroughly...what is it that I am supposed to have missed? In some tests the M4 did comparatively poorely and in others it did quite well. I still hold to my assertions above. But I am open to being corrected.

What I didn't see that I would would like to have had included in the articles: 1. Comparison of accuracy between M4 and competitors - you can have loose tolerances and free floating parts like the very crappy AK series which, although famous for not jamming, is equally infamous for being inaccurate as a result of these design features. The Galil? I've fired one. It is a piece of inaccurate crap too (note that Israel uses the M16 series instead of their own design) and its weight is ridiculous. Point being that there are other trade offs that must be considered. Occasional jams are not the only concern when evaluating a battle rifle. 2. Reports of competitors' performance in the field under real battle conditions after extensive use (i.e. other problems sets may emerge eventually concerning these weapons). 3. Just for kicks run the AKs and M14s through the same tests. Point being that all rifles jam - even the AK. Since the AK and - in some people's minds - the M14 represent some high standard of infallability I think the results would be interesting at least.

What concerns me about the M4 is that while it is short, light and handy in close quarters combat it is not ideal for longer range combat, such as that in Afghanistan where one may find oneself engaging the enemy across greater distances, like mountain passes, etc. For this type of engagement I would prefer the full length M16A2,3,4 (whatever series we are at now). This due to higher velocity of the projectile from the longer barrel and longer sight radius for improved accuracey. BTW, the front sight post of the M16A2 series sucks and should be refined. Even the M16A1 front sight would be better, IMHO. At any rate, I think there is still a need for the full version and I'd hate to see it phased out just because we are currently doing a lot of MP work and urban combat or because FN has that contract.

And now, Katzman, I have followed the link supplied by AL................"Out of the 60,000 rounds fired in the tests earlier in the summer, the 10 M4s tested had 307 stoppages, test results show, far fewer than the 882 in the most recent test."

882 or 307 stoppages out 60,000 rounds fired......pretty damn good which ever given the conditions.

However, 882 or 307....hmmmm...you know variances like these get my attention seeing as I do statistical analysis and study design for living. You, on the other, may be going along with the subtle insinuation in the link that the variance is due to the Army monkeying with the parameters.

There may be information not presented to us in the articles - reporting being typically challenged in this area as AL has pointed out numerous times - that the Army observed when making its decision to continue the M4 - or the studies may have had design flaws (not the ones you are thinking) because here is what should be considered; 1. Outliers. Was there a particular M4 that performed considerably worse than the others and thus skewed the jam rate? This wouldn't surprise me. 2. Was there a fluctuation in the jam rate at different points in the test. In other words did most or all of the jams occur after several thousand rounds were fired (again not surprising) because, if so, these jams would be irrelevant to real life situations where, at most, a few hundred rounds would be fired. The number or rate of jams should be tiered by the number of rounds fired. Hypothetical Example: 1 - 100 rounds jams = 0. 101 - 200 rounds jams = 0. 201 - 300 rounds jams = 1.....etc,etc, etc. and these data should be reported per individual weapon fired (again to control for outlier weapons.

THere are other study design issues that are interest to me and that would impact my perspective on all of this.

"A December 2006 survey, conducted on behalf of the Army by CNA Corp., conducted over 2,600 interviews with Soldiers returning from combat duty. The M4 received a number of strong requests from M-16 users, who liked its smaller profile. Among M4 users, however, 19% of said they experienced stoppages in combat – and almost 20% of those said they were "unable to engage the target with that weapon during a significant portion of or the entire firefight after performing immediate or remedial action to clear the stoppage." "

Too bad avedis wasnt there to instruct them on maintaining their weapons.

Ah...the ever obtuse Mark B weighs in.........context Mark, context.......the desert environment is tough on weapons and machinery. Even tanks that perform well in other settings are prone to failures and require much enhanced maintenance in the sands of Iraq; helos too.......

So the question, Mark, isn't answered by whether or not 20% of troops reported jams and 3.8% reported being unable to engage the enemy because of the jams. It would be answered by reporting what a statistically appropriate sample of the competing rifle designs experienced under EXACTLY the same conditions and then comparing this percent to the M4 percent.

All rifles will jam, Mark, I assure you, especially without proper and constant maintenance.

Even the vaunted M1 Garand was reported to have problems with jamming during the muddy part of the Okinawa campaign in WW2.

Just curious, have you ever broken down and reassembled a weapon? A military issue weapon?

BTW, Why the sarcasm, Mark?

Pulling out the ol chicken hawk bull#^&t again?

Why the sarcasm?

Gee, i dont know- some jackass starts accusing a (Canadian I might add) blogger of having a stake in defense contracts because he points out the M16s LONG trackrecord of questionable reliability... lets just say if you had the slightest clue of the M16s development history you would see the irony.

As far as the apples and oranges argument- you have NO insight into what went on in the head to head tests, only assumptions. I suspect the people performing the tests knew a little something about rifles. More than Avedis? Who the hell knows? And more importantly, who cares.

I found this story interesting. I'm glad Katzman brought it to my attention, as I hadn't heard it elsewhere.

Though his phrasing is clearly impolite, I'm also glad that Avedis raised the issues he did.

Myself - no freakin' clue whether this is an obvious stupidity of the general in charge, as Katzman avers. May well be, in which case, my hat off to Katzman for bringing up this issue. Our soldiers deserver the best.

Or, considering the source (Katzman), oftentimes, the "outraged hawk" take is a pose, that is overblown, as Katzman makes a partisan case.

I don't know here. Is it authentic and justifiable outrage over government stupidity, or the faux outrage so common among the wingnut commenters?

I'd love to be able to simply take Joe at his word. Unfortunately, there is a history there, of him as a writer - a biased history - that needs to be taken into account, when judging his work.

Joe, if my suspicion is completely off-base, apologies. It won't help, of course, to get your assurances, because again, there is a history there. Just a deep, impartial look at the data and the arguments on both sides, without that false "both sides are equally right", or "one side is 100% right", but more of an objective "this side is about 80% right".

It may be pure pork, and if it is, then thanks. If it isn't, and the outrage is serving a secondary purpose, then, shame on you.

"Gee, i dont know- some jackass starts accusing a (Canadian I might add) blogger of having a stake in defense contracts because he points out the M16s LONG trackrecord of questionable reliability.."

No. I did not. I simply asked if he or his company or friends were defense contractors just to make any conflict of interest that may exist explicit.

"As far as the apples and oranges argument- you have NO insight into what went on in the head to head tests, only assumptions."

Right. Exactly Mark. Research is supposed to be explicit about assumptions and caveats, etc The fact is that I raised a few of the possible issues that might exist with the research and we can't ascertain whether or not these issues were addressed adequately in the experimental design is a problem. We don't know, which means we have either bad journalism, bad research or both. At any rate, what we have is not enough to allow Katzman (who incidently no longer resides in Canada if memory serves me) to draw the conclusions he does.

"lets just say if you had the slightest clue of the M16s development history you would see the irony."

I know all about it, Mark. Do you? I was not chicken hawking you. I was inquiring as to your background in attempt to establish your personal knowledge of these matters.

FYI, I have personally fired thousands of rounds through both the M16A1 and the M16A2; a few of those in combat Though Panama and Desert Storm were admittedly not the same level of intensity/duration as Iraq today and thus less opportunity to understand reliability issues in the rifle in combat situations.

OK? I know the rifle pretty well and I like it (the A1 better though).

I knew some salty senior NCOs who had been in VN at the time the M14 was replaced by the M16. Yes, they reported, there were problems with the rifle at first - serious problems -more likely with the ammunition not being to original spec and causing jams. Once the bugs were worked out in the late 1960s the rifle worked just fine as was generally accepted and liked by the troops.

Hypo; "It may be pure pork, and if it is, then thanks."

I appreciate your comments above @ Katzman.

Anyhow, an interesting factoid related to the quote (from you) is that it was FN (based in Belgium) that won the contract to manufacture the M16A2 rifle. Sort of anti-Pork and in favor of efficiency in government and contra Katzman.

Of course that was then and someone may be looking to rectify a good thing. Still interesting that it happened at all.

Also, here's another factoid...this one for the intrepid Mark B. A company owned by the "rev" Sun Yung Moon (yes leader of the Moonies) was awarded, by NIxon I think it was, a contract to manufacture the M16A1. Those were said to be the lousy ones that you wanted to avoid...some mumbo jumbo about serial numbers being tell tail.....

"No. I did not. I simply asked if he or his company or friends were defense contractors just to make any conflict of interest that may exist explicit."

Ok. Do you know or have friendship with any foriegn states or organizations unfriendly to the United States that might benefit from our military not having the most effective weapons available? Im just asking.

Funny, of all the vets I know, none of the others are impolite blowhards. Learn something new every day i guess.

"Ok. Do you know or have friendship with any foriegn states or organizations unfriendly to the United States that might benefit from our military not having the most effective weapons available? Im just asking."

Fair question (though a bit off the wall).

Answer: NO

There. Wasn't that easy?

"Funny, of all the vets I know, none of the others are impolite blowhards. Learn something new every day i guess."

I'm mild compared to some I know. But what exactly makes me a blow hard as opposed to, say, Katzman or anyone else blogging from this side or that or commenting out their ass on the blogs? Just curious. Is it because I disagree with about 99% of what you and kindered souls say?

"Is it because I disagree with about 99% of what you and kindered souls say?"

No, its because of the way you present yourself. Which is loathsome.

I would just like to add this to the fray,I was in 'Nam when the The new M-16's were passed out and the M-14's were taken......many a dead Marine most likely would have had a better chance in a firefight if he still had his M-14.....and not the jammed up M-16 toy weapon

Forget about reliability for a moment. The M4 carbine has a 14 and a half inch barrel, which is a big step down from the M16. Barrel length makes a big difference with the 5.56mm, and indeed the M4 has significantly less muzzle velocity. Which means less gun even when it does work. What's the official explanation for that?

Bill, that is as I heard it too. Tragic beaurocratic blunder. I hope heads rolled, but am doubtful.

However, it was investigated (up to the congressional level I think) and rectified in a couple of years time.

Semper Fi.

Glen, you probably noted that I mentioned that as well. The rational is that the carbine version is all one needs in close quarters. This is no doubt true.

The thinking may be that the upper receiver (to which the barrel is attached) can be replaced quickly and easily so that a longer barrel can be added in 30 seconds if combat conditions require it. It is possible that the carbine has a re-configured buffer spring that would also need to be changed out. Again, I don't know, but not a big deal. The M16 keeps its zero very well so if uppers were pre-zeroed this switch would be totally feasible. I don't know if the longer barrel option is actually available to troops who made request both the carbine and rifle models to meet their environment.

"Anyhow, an interesting factoid related to the quote (from you) is that it was FN (based in Belgium) that won the contract to manufacture the M16A2 rifle. "

I believe that they are manufactured in the US however. Columbia, South Carolina if memory serves.

As for swapping uppers, that is a puzzling solution to me. The lower receiver really is not much of the total rifle, just a magazine well, a trigger group and a stock. Does not seem worth the time versus having a second complete weapon.

Well, I'm not the chief of Army procurement so what the hell do I know, but barrel-swapping (given time, foresight, and logistics) is a useless concept for a general purpose weapon. With a Steyr AUG you would have the long barrel and short overall length all of the time, and with less jamming, too.

Okay, I have a short question to be answered that feeds into the previous thread from AL.

Is avedis a blowhard?

Yes?/No?

Thanks

Seems like 30 seconds during combat could be a long, long time to me. But the closest to combat is (was) rush hour at the Fulton Street station, so hey..

Maybe this guy, Highroad moderator and Army lifer is a "blowhard" too.

The boys (including myself) who use them [M16/M4] for real, have few complaints. However, we do have quite a bit of mistrust in any new, unproven system, which is exactly what the XM8 is, new and unproven.

Why don't you look at the actual conditions the weapons are used in? The dust test is not a replication of actual combat because no solder (who had any kind of NCO above him) would allow a weapon to get into the state it did before it started failing. In real life, which is often quite different from any test conditions, the XM8 or any of the other test candidates have either no advantage or a minuscule one.

In 28 years 11 months service in the US Army, 21 of those years in the Infantry, I used the M16 series in every environment you can find on this planet, from the arctic to the desert. I think I've seen everything you can possibly break on one. During my time on active duty I've ran enough ranges, trained enough soldiers, US and foreign that I've seen literally thousands of different M16s used in training and in combat. As I sit here at my desk typing this post, I can look up and see a group photograph of some young soldiers from 5th Bn, 100th Brigade of the Honduran Army who I helped train in 1990. Those guys had the most beaten up, broken down M16A1s I've ever seen in service. I'm talking about things like the finish gone, dust covers missing or flapping in the breeze because the springs were broken, furniture held together with 100 mph tape.....But you know what, those young men took those rifles into combat, and they worked, every time. They certainly weren't pretty. But they worked. No desert there, but they sure got their share of being dragged through the mud, immersion in water and other typical things soldiers who actually use their rifles do to them. But they still worked.

Did I see examples of junk M16s during my time? Yep, you bet. But not nearly enough to make me thing there were any systematic problems with the system. Any production line can produce a lemon, even HK, all you have to do is look at the QC in some of the batches of the enhanced reliability magazines and the problems with the flip up front sights and the accuracy in the HK416s to understand that. Another problem with the 416 is that (like almost everything else HK makes) it has proprietary accessories. You can only use the HK rear sight with the HK front sight base. If you want a different BUIS you have to change out the front sight (which is loose on current weapons anyway).

I know you'll dismiss my experience and the experience of every other Soldier and Marine on this board as anecdotal, but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway.

Jeff [replying to a Katzman type M16 detractor]

You'll have to write Jeff and let him know that he is sort of teetering on the brink of the off-limits chickenhawk meme.

Here's the Link

Blowhard? Hard? Relative to what? Your mother?

So what was your MOS in the military, avedis? Mother Assault Specialist?

Well, I've got some training for you. The preparatory command is "bugger", and the command of execution is "off".

0203 if you must know.

But that was my primary MOS. I did have a secondary MOS of 0069 (Mother Assault Officer).....how perceptive of you to intuite this.......this was tough training and it was in the days before vi@gra...private woody was under my command but was barely able to maintain parade rest, let alone stand at attention by the third week of mother assault school...........jeez...lighten up Glen...Robo said something stupid, rude and unwarranted and I responded accordingly - tongue in cheek.

Now about the topic and the points raised??????

I am popping my head out of the field emplacement long enough to ask everyone to play nicer. Please? No yo'mamas, OK?

OK.

Agreed. Sorry.

Okay, avedis, to points raised, then.

Here is my problem with what you're saying. You could collect many pro-M16 testimonials like the one above, and someone else could collect just as many anti-M16 opinions. For example, Bill Dare's comment (#20) is not the first time I've heard a Vietnam-era Marine express his preference for the M14.

[Incidentally, the last time we heard from General Brown he was defending the Army's insistence on Interceptor body armor, which many people consider inferior to readily available alternatives.]

So the stories are told both ways, and neither way justifies putting the kibosh on the discussion. There is nothing wrong with the Army hearing from soldiers and from the public on this issue.

I'm not convinced by your argument that "The test has little relationship to real world situations." Regardless of the test conditions, the other weapons performed better.

Personally I think the M16 is a better rifle than a lot of the 7.62mm weapons, including the AK47. But we're not talking about the M16, we're talking about its problem child. Our people are not getting a 21st century weapon with the M4, they are getting a weaker version of an old gun. If this is a good idea, General Brown is doing one hell of a poor job of explaining why.

THere is no question, Glen, that the M16 as first issued to the USMC had series problems. However, I said, those problems were remedied in a couple year's - at most - time.

The British Army had, and still has to a lesser extent, a similar problem with the SA80 (which is the standard issue rifle for British soldiers). In this case, the first version of the rifle was so awful that even the Government felt to do something about it. What they did about it was to start an extremely expensive modification programme to fix the problems. So expensive, in fact, that it actually cost more to do this than it would have done to scrap the lot and start over with a new weapon - there were several available.

So why was this done? Simple. Good old CYA. To chuck out all the useless guns and buy some decent ones would have meant that someone would have to admit to screwing up. I think that the current problems in the US Army are more of the same.

"I think that the current problems in the US Army are more of the same."

No. The current situation is not analogous and it is not a problem except in the minds of real or wannabe arms dealers like Katzman.

In fact the current situation is probably as it is to avoid a fiasco like when the 16 was originally introduced. In other words, we have a weapon that works very well, is accurate and gets the job done as proven in combat countless times over 40 years. Why replace it with a weapon that is unproven in combat? A new weapon that might develop problems that we don't have an immediate remedy for and that might surpass in seriousness any issues with the M16/M4?

Mr. White in the quote I copied up stream echos this same sentiment.

But hey, you can listem to those who know and whose lives depended on the weapon or you can listen to some businessman's propaganda.

I must say the level of discourse here is very civil. No ad homs, just facts, opinions and reason.

Keep up the good work guys. I'll be back soon.

However, the three other candidates did perform better at about a 99 percent rate or better, which is a mathematically statistically significant difference, but not an operationally statistical difference.

It's difficult for me to imagine a <1% difference that's statistically significant unless they had a huge number of trials. Moreover, there's no such term as "operationally statistical" so I don't know what he means. But I'd tend to be more impressed with the SF assessment, since it's based on a number of performance measures more directly related to field conditions. My first impulse was that the statement should be reversed. The competitive tests weren't statistically significant, but there's an operationally significant difference in performance (of which SF is aware). The competitive test should probably be based on the kinds of metrics that SF considers important, not just the jamming rate.

Oops. Apparently I can't use the "less than" character without messing up the display. Sorry.

However, the three other candidates did perform better at about a 99 percent rate or better, which is a mathematically statistically significant difference, but not an operationally statistical difference.

It's difficult for me to imagine a less than 1% difference that's statistically significant unless they had a huge number of trials. Moreover, there's no such term as "operationally statistical" so I don't know what he means. But I'd tend to be more impressed with the SF assessment, since it's based on a number of performance measures more directly related to field conditions. My first impulse was that the statement should be reversed. The competitive tests weren't statistically significant, but there's an operationally significant difference in performance (of which SF is aware). The competitive test should probably be based on the kinds of metrics that SF considers important, not just the jamming rate.

avedis:
However, I said, those problems were remedied in a couple year's - at most - time.

But as I said, we're not talking about M16s, we're talking about procuring more M4s, to be carried in place of M16s.

I think Demosophist's point about the SF assessment is hard to argue with, especially since the SF has extensive field experience with the M4.

What virtue does the M4 possess except for being short? If that's it, and all else is being traded off, then this is a pretty sorry solution.

"...kinds of metrics that SF considers important, not just the jamming rate...."

Yes, but Glen and Demo. SF is SF and 11Bs or 0311s are something different....different missions, etc. If all was the same they wouldn't be called SF would they?

SF may not care about the comparitively poor accuracey of their choice (fact, it is much less less accurate as I have learned from a little bird) as they are not engaging targets at longer range.

Additionally, SF has a need for silencers and suppressors which don't work so well with the M16 family.

Finally, let's be clear, SF still has M16s and M4s in their arsenal. They still use these weapons. As do the SFs of several other nations.

So, I have pointed out a few reasons why SF procurement should not necessarily be taken as a signal for regular infantry.

Glen. as I have said on this thread, I personally don't know anything about the M4. However, I defer to my praise - as well as that of other combat vets like Mr. White - of the M16 because much of the criticism of the M4 seems to be based on operating system and other aspect that are identical to the M16.

Interesting conversation and plenty of food for thought. I am a civilian who likes guns and hunts so I know guns fairly well. I have watched the M16 debate for years. Like any weapon you have pros and cons. Having listened to many Marines who have fought in Iraq, most of them say the caliber of the bullet is more of an issue than the weapon itself. For house to house fighting against drugged up Insurgents they would prefer a heavier bullet or at least an expanding one. Yes, I know about the Geneva Convention and expanding bullets. Somebody needs to remind Haji about the Geneva Convention though. Surely it can be found in Arabic.

Thanks, Joe, for bringing this M4 issue up. Merry Christmas to all here at WOC.

avedis:
... much of the criticism of the M4 seems to be based on operating system and other aspect that are identical to the M16.

Okay, the upper receiver and the bolt carrier group are pretty much the same thing on both weapons. Why the poor test results? This is stretching the limits of my gunmanship, but it seems to me that the length of the blowback tube is playing a part here. The shorter the tube, the more carbon gets blown back into the gun.

Which brings me back to the M4's main problem, once again: The barrel is too short. You can put a 20-inch barrel on a 30-inch weapon, it's been done.

I suspect there is something more here than the basics of the weapon. Like a heavy investment in "accessory packs" that make soldiers look like Japanese tourists, and allow you to detect invisible monsters from the 4th dimension. The M4 has no shortage of those, and apparently that compensates for its failings as a thing to shoot at people with.

"....but it seems to me that the length of the blowback tube is playing a part here."

There could be something to this. It was something of a problem with the CAR15 and other pre-M4 shorter barrel versions of the M16.

I could have carried a CAR15, but opted for the rifle because I prefered it, partly, for reliability reasons.

This does not negate other comments I have made concerning the experiment design or its relationship to the real world.

I've no fondness for the direct gas system of the AR 15/M16 family of weapons and believe that it should be replaced by a new system - probably based on a short recoil piston like the HK416.

However, I don't know if this is the time to completely respecify, test and field a new small arms system. I suspect that US Army ordnance is trying to avoid throwing everything, including small arms caliber, into the hopper. It would take a half decade minimum to do that kind of specification, bidding, testing and fielding if not a full decade, in today's litigious Defense procurement world.

I'd like to see it done, but the M4 buy probably needs to occur in a shorter timeframe. I would like to see a fix to the reliability of the M4 in the meantime but am suspicious that one does not really exist within the basic design.

The argument for the M-16 is that the lighter bullet allows more ammo to be carried, also less recoil, more auto fire.

It is my understanding however that current M-16/M-4 weapons fire in a three shot burst only.

Yon and others report that particularly in non-combat units, AK-47s were picked up in Iraq and Afghanistan due to superior reliability by non-combat troops. Who did not trust M-16/M-4 weapons to work without constant cleaning, something as say mechanics and such they did not have time for.

Survivors of Mogadishu and Afghan vets say they wish for a longer range, heavier bullet that can defeat light cover, which routinely deflected .223 rounds. Iraq vets complain it takes 2-4 hits on an enemy to stop him.

IMHO the Army is rejecting conflicting evidence that the current weapons system of light-fast bullets are getting the job done. Historically the US Army in confronting insurgents, tribal adversaries, and militias has found success in heavy-slow bullets and failure in light-fast.

Having shot and broken down civilian versions of the M-16, AK-47, Garand, and the Springfield M-14 clone in semi-auto, I can summarize my own personal experience as follows:

The AR-15 at the range (M-16 civilian semi-auto clone) jams frequently, requires nasty cleaning (disassembling the firing pin) and is not a weapon I'd bet my life on. It is very accurate at punching paper but that's about it. The firing pin can get clogged up with gunk very fast. I suppose that would be embarrassing in combat "Please Mr. Enemy, I need to break down and clean my rifle."

The AK-47 just works, is not very accurate, but very reliable. Easy to clean and re-assemble. I'd bet my life on it, but would like a longer-range weapon.

The Garand shoots well, is very accurate, and is fairly easy to clean. It would be my second choice.

The Springfield M-14 clone is very accurate also, has the same essential breakdown as the Garand, and would be the gun I'd bet my life on. It's a joy to shoot though heavy.

It is worthy of note that the AK was designed by a combat tank NCO, and the M-16 by a paper target shooter. Both seem to do the jobs they were designed for.

I found the key in an old M1 Garand manual. In sandy conditions, the rifleman is instructed to run the gun unlubricated. Several guns pass that bar; Kalishnikov's AK-47, HK's G3, FN's FAL and our own M1 & M14 rifles. The five guns previously mentioned will do this. The M16 won't.
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We've known the M16/M4 have these problems. We've known for decades and for whatever reasons have failed to address the issue. We've paid for this inaction with the blood of our sons & daughters.
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That said, I'm not an operator. I'm a rifleman. My measure is, "What rifle would I select if I suddenly had to visit the more 'interesting' parts of the world?" The M16/M4 would be last on the list and only chosen if the alternative was no rifle at all.
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What would I take? Probably my favorite is the HK-91 I carried for my police department. It always worked and was amazing accurate.

Jim Rockford,
Good post. Several good post here. I talked to my Marine son last night and he says it takes several rounds from a 16 to take out an Insurgent especially full of drugs. The 16 shoots a small fast bullet that can cause too little trauma to stop Insurgents dead in their tracks.

Don't confuse the argument re: 5.56mm with the M4 argument. All guns in the test were 5.56mm, the NATO standard round.

In order to increase stopping power you have to either change calibers, create a round (vid. hollow point) or round/barrel combination that tumbles more upon impact, or some combination of the above. And then you have to test to see if the change matters, and is superior. The M-16/M4s bullets tumble less these days because they changed the... call it the "rifling twist ratio" for the nontechnical... in the barrels. This improves cold weather performance to acceptable levels, but lessens the damage done by the bullets.

But even if the Army gave its soldiers more reliable guns, the whole "stopping power" debate would still be a live one.

I'm agnostic on the stopping power debate thus far, but have extremely clear opinions re: the reliability debate. It's a combat weapon. It must work, reliably, even when abused. Period. And I'm very, very tired of the Army's 40+ year history of blaming the soldiers for their own procurement ineptitude.

The legendary 1911 Colt Automatic was adopted because Army officers complained that their .38 revolvers were not doing a good job of dropping berserk Filipino guerrillas.

However, I think asking for a different caliber in a rifle or carbine is asking too much. 5.56 mm is integrated into the entire Western defense establishment, not just the US Army. For the nonce, it's sort of hard-coded into the system. The only alternative would be NATO 7.62 mm, and since the demand is for lighter and more compact weapons suitable for house-to-house and room-to-room fighting, that seems unlikely.

So I think it is unrealistic to ask for something other than a 5.56 mm weapon. The question is, is this the best small 5.56 mm weapon we can get? And the correct answer is no.

Again I point to the excellent Steyr AUG, in use by several NATO countries, which has the size of a carbine and the punch of a rifle. What the hell does it take to get a weapon like this for our people? Do we have to wait until we can buy them from China?

Joe, the twist rate of the M16 was increased in order to stabilize the longer and heavier NATO bullet adopted to give longer range performance and greater penetration. Longer bullets require faster rates of spin to stabilize.

Venting exhaust gas into the chamber is just a plain bad idea. The direct gas system of the M-16 is its basic design flaw. Couple this with what may be increased stress incorporating a shorter gas tube on the M-4, and I think the above posters are onto something. Also, the 5.56 has a very minimal case taper. Chrome the chamber & Barrel? Good grief, go to stainless steel. The gas piston has its problems and gets gunked with carbon. I have had my M1-A apart many a time tinkering with and cleaning it.

Who knows what testing protocols were used in the cited tests?s I Would not trust the Dept of Ordinance, Colt, or anyone else with a horse in the race. The reported number of magazine malfunctions is puzzling. The following have experince with the weapons and been in combat with them.

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

ALL automatic or semi-automatic weapons are prone to jamming malfunctions, particularly when not maintained. This includes AKs and Mr. Browning's .50 BMG. Don't expect a 5.56 to put an enemy down like a 7.62×51. The M4 is only losing a hundred or so FPS with its 14.5" barrel. Issuing these weapons to all makes no sense at all. An M-16 at long range is a joke. There are plenty of non-full auto M-14s sitting in arsenals. Issue them. Who needs a short rifle at 500 yds plus?

[Mark: Please don't post bare URLs. See the note "To add a live URL" under "Post a Comment" for instructions on how to post links that don't mess up formatting. Thanks. --NM (three links here reformatted)]

Concerning stopping power of the 5.56mm, I recognize this isn't the topic of the debate, but I can't resist repeating what I have said on this blog before on this same issue. That is that the 5.56mm kills people dead - as in pretty much instantly - most of the time given a solid center of mass hit (goes without saying that a head shot is fatal).

The round is very lethal in either the original or new M855 variety at normal combat range. Additionally, the M855 ball has superior penetration characteristics to any of the 7.62mm rounds. This is an important consideration in these modern times when body armor and kevlar type helments are ubiquitous in modern militaries.

The higher rate of twist (1 in 7) does not effect the instability of the M855 round in human tussue. The round tumbles and fragments in tissue at normal combat range. At longer range it tumbles though may not fragment; still very lethal.

Yes, certainly, sometimes the 5.56mm round doesn't completely "blow away" the bad guy as in an Arnold Schawrtzeneger or Clint Eastwood movie. You know what, niether does any other round out there that is chamber in a hand held shoulder fired weapon.

If you don't want to believe me on this, then take a look at the stories behind USMC Medal of Honor and Navy Cross awards. Often the award comes as a result of a Marine being hit - sometimes repeatedly - by rifle or machinegun fire (7.62mm or larger) and yet continuing to carry out an assault, save his fellow Marines, etc before succumbing to his wounds.

I am not inclined to read war memoirs, stories, or other such non-fiction. However, I will wager that if one does so thoroughly and properly focussed one will find accounts of the M1, M14, M60, etc failing to stop on the first shot and requiring follow up shots before dropping the enemy.

Again, it is my feeling that those critizing the round and/or operating system of the M16 series 1. don't know what they are they talking about and are relying on rumor and/or opinion second hand 2. Have alterior motives 3. Aren't putting things into a scientific and relative perspective.

Mark:
The M4 is only losing a hundred or so FPS with its 14.5" barrel.

It loses exactly 150 fps from the M16A2. The M16A2 itself lost 150 fps with the adoption of the heavier 5.56×45 bullet, so we have gone from 3200 fps to 2900 fps.

This is not chump change. The entire virtue of the 5.56 mm is its killing power at very high velocities, where it tends to fragment. Some say that just reducing it to 3050 fps has significantly sapped its effectiveness. Now we're slowing it down again.

5.56 mm is high-velocity ammunition, and muzzle velocity is not something that you can just trade off with this round. If the bullet must be slowed, it needs to be a heavier caliber.

But Glen, the heavier round maintains its velocity better so somewhere down range - I think at around 200 meters or so - the new round is traveling faster than the old round (and it weighs more and penetrates better. This edge of the new round over the old increases as down range distance increases.

The velocity of the M855 ball is about 3,100 feet per second out of the M16A2. You are probably correct about the velocity out of an M4.

I should add that the higher velocity of the 5.56mm rounds compared to the 7.62mm rounds (especially the soviet AK round) is not trivial as the higher velocity rounds shoot "flatter".

An M16 zeroed at 250 yard has a point blank range of 300 yards. Meaning that by holding on the center of mass you can hit the center of mass from 0 to 300 yards without sight adjustment. An M16A2 zeroed at 300 yards has a point blank range of around 350 yards. If you tried this with an AK you'd be either shooting over the target's head at close range or at their feet at long range because the low velocity makes for a far more curved trajectory.

The flat trajectory of the 5.56mm round is another positive in its favor.

True, some of this advantage would be sacrified by opting for a shorter barrel in the M4, but then the M4 is for Close quarters, no?

Personally I prefer the rifle in a desert envoronment. This is what concerns me about the M4. Then again, beyond 300 meters, call a fire mission or scout snipers.

Avedis, I confess I'm curious. What ulterior motives and lack of knowledge did the SOCOM / 5th Special Forces personnel who developed the 6.8 Rem SPC chambering for AR varient rifles have? I believe that they also were part of the early work on SOCOM's rifle work that led to the SCAR project.

I have no idea, Robin, do you? If yes, are you guessing? Repeating some else's guess? There are a broad range of possibilities I could guess at other than what you are probably thinking, including heavier/larger round for improved subsonic (when the weapon is silenced) ballistics.

Are you saying that these units no longer ever use the 5.56mm round/weapons?

avedis:
Again, it is my feeling that those critizing the round and/or operating system of the M16 series 1. don't know what they are they talking about and are relying on rumor and/or opinion second hand 2. Have alterior motives 3. Aren't putting things into a scientific and relative perspective.

The crux of this debate is not the quality of the M16, but the fact that soldiers who would otherwise be carrying M16s will be carrying M4s instead.

Joe's criticism focused on the jam rate of the M4, which you have chosen to discount and which I and others have somewhat strayed from. I don't discount it, but this is a blog, not the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, so we can't resolve that issue to everyone's satisfaction here.

So from a scientific perspective, science tells us that a weapon is a device for transferring destructive energy to the bodies of enemy persons, and that energy derives from mass and velocity. The energy of a bullet is modified by its ballistic characteristics - in this case, the tendency of a 5.56 mm jacketed bullet to explode like a copper bubble filled with molten lead at very high velocities, producing horrific wounds that neither drugs nor devotion to Allah will allow the enemy to ignore. On that we agree, I think.

When you reduce the velocity of a bullet, you reduce its energy and its ability to kill or stop an enemy, period. It does not matter how many people testify on either side of such a debate. If 100,000 Medal of Honor winners were to claim that the 5.56mm bullet is just as effective when fired from the M4 as it is when fired from the M16, against one hippie weirdo from the San Francisco City Council who claimed the opposite, science would demand that I side with the latter. Science is often the antithesis of anecdotal experience, and ulterior motives can't change the laws of physics.

That the M4 is less effective, there can be no reasonable doubt. The question is how much effectiveness is being given up, and whether it is enough to matter. My belief (which is perfectly debatable) is that there is a definite breakpoint velocity for the 5.56 mm, below which it rapidly loses significant power.

Therefore, this matters, and matters a great deal. Even if you dispose of the high jam rate.

Glen, I am in complete agreence with what you just wrote ( an historic first I think).

I keep bringing up the design of the M16 because people keep blaming it.

I think that overall we are only differing now on the meaning of the tests. Do they accurately point to some real differences between designs that would be significantly experienced in the real world or not? I say not - or at least potentially not. You seem to be saying Yes - or at least potentially yes.

This seems to be a reasonable level of disgreement given that neither of us has sufficient information to draw a totally defensible conclusion. It has been enjoyable having this discussion with you.

Finally, as I have said elswhere on this thread, I think infantry should be armed with full length M16 rifles. You seem, also, to share this perspective.

I am thinking that a more salient topic for the thread would be issues involved with arming our infantry units with carbines of any design/caliber versus rifles.

avedis:
But Glen, the heavier round maintains its velocity better so somewhere down range - I think at around 200 meters or so - the new round is traveling faster than the old round (and it weighs more and penetrates better.

I'm sure you're right. But in that case, the higher velocity was traded for something tangible, not simply lost.

It's clear that the M4 substitution is intended to meet the higher instance of close combat in Iraq, in which the ability of the bullet to maintain its energy over long ranges is irrelevant.

If there were no other carbine-sized weapon in the world than the M4, and if we take the jam rate out of the picture, then there would be no argument from me. The weaker force of the M4 would be compensated for by the fact that it can be pointed more quickly in close combat, with less likelihood of the barrel hitting the edge of a doorway, etc.

I am arguing that there are better weapons to fit the bill, or at least there ought to be. You are arguing that anybody who criticizes the M4 doesn't know what they're talking about.

Yes, a poorly placed shot is not likely to put an enemy down quickly. I've read horror stories of soldiers being shot to rags and keep coming. What is the Army using as a standard round now, the M855 ball 62 gr.? Here are some interesting facts

One version uses a tungsten penetrator like its counterpart in 7.62×51. AP. They penetrate about the same. Look toward the bottom regarding penetration characteristics.

I shot long range rifle competition for years at 600-1000 yds. I shot against a guy with a .223 bolt gun using the then 80 gr Sierra Matchking once.

I started using the 6 BR Remington at 600 yards and kicked ass. Now everyone is using it in bolt guns.

So, Glen, if a target is 100 yards off the 5.56 is no good because it's lost 150 FPS? If a shooter is dealing with bad guys in a room, the velocity difference won't make a bit of difference. Velocity of impact on body armor does make a difference, but probably more than 150 fps, depending on what and where.

Oh, Avedis, to put it in perspective, I have seen more large animals (livestock) killed with a .22 LR than any other round - that doesn't mean I would take it to war. I don't own any interest in companies disputing the M4 food fight. I've fired and played around with the civillian AR-15 and it was a Mattel Toy; I remember a spring going "twaaang!" every shot.I suppose I could drive over to Nevada and burn some full auto stuff, just to say I have.

The gas system sucks. All the malfunctions I have had in long guns regarded powder fouling getting where it shouldn't - why compound it with a direct gas system? Is it really such a kick in the tits to put a gas piston on the M16 and it's variants?

I was hunting geese in northern Alberta out of a camp that was selling dozens of blackbear hunts. The bears were 100-300 lbs and the more successful hunters were using 7 mags. 30-06 and .300 win mags. Hunters with lighter "deer" calibers were losing more cripples that died in the brush unfound, or hobbled off. I shot a 6 point elk this fall in British Columbia with a .30/338 Win Mag and 200 gr Nosler Ballistic Tip. It was 420 yards and I shot him through both lungs; I took one shot, he took ten steps downhill and folded. No shooting something isn't Hollywood.

[Mark, thanks for the contributions to the thread but please stop posting bare URLs. Instructions for posting links that do not mess up the blog's formatting may be found under "Post a Comment" and start with the text "To add a live URL". Thanks --NM]

No, Avedis, the 6.8 SPC is not subsonic. It was loaded at approx 2500 fps with a 115 gr bullet if memory serves. The SOCOM and AMU people who worked on it were responding to requests from experience in Afghanistan for a heavier bullet round. SpecOps personnnel in the field perceived a need for a round with better stopping power from a rifle the size of the M4. That was not rumor nor second hand opinion. Meanwhile, as has been noted, the SOCOM community is testing successors to the M4 to also address its reliability issues.

"You are arguing that anybody who criticizes the M4 doesn't know what they're talking about."

Well not exactly.

First, I acknowledged that I have no personal experience with the M4. So, by my own standards, I don't knbow what I'm talking about either concerning the M4.

Mostly, I am reactionary to what is heard as a primary citicism of the M4 - the operating system - which would envelop the M16 as well. I know that criticism is BS because I share the sentiments of Mr. White (somewhere above) concerning the M16.

However, I will note that most here talking this or that trash against the M4 have never been in the service let alone gained extensive military experience with an M4 or any other weapon. Again, they are spouting a bunch of second hand rumor they picked up on the internet or, over a couple of beers, they heard a war story that repeated something someone heard one day in the mess hall from a guy who heard it from a guy was actually there......I suspect that this is what one finds in other similar discussions. When I followed AL's link (and where I got Mr. White's quote) I read some of the discussion. Like Mr White, there were a number of vets saying that the M4 is good, they like it. Then there were a number of non-vets just repeating negative staments about the M4 that they had picked up somewhere. Then ther is the obligatory VN vet who states that the whole system is junk because baack in 1967 he personally Marines dead with cleaning rods in their jammed rifles.....this gets a little tiresome.

Then there are the guys like Katzman who are into selling something new.....like I said, who are you going to listen to; someone whose life depends on the weapon or some expat Canuck businessman with a newer bigger faster cooler weapons fetish?

Then there is all of the unscientific thinking...eg.....X% said their weapon jammed, ergo, the weapon is bad. Again, compare X% to competing designs in the same real world environment for the same duration in the hands of the same troops, etc then come back and talk to me about X% being a good or bad failure/jam rate. And then, as you note is necessary, talk about what other trade offs may be mitigating the jam rate differences (if any exist).

avedis -

Okay, our last posts crossed, so let me briefly re-state our difference as I see it, and be done.

We both believe that the M16, with its small, fast, flat-trajectory bullet, is far from being a harmless toy.

If you disagree with me on the M4, it can only be because you don't agree that the choice of this weapon over the M16 deserves greater scrutiny, and if there is a good reason for it I need to be convinced by someone more convincing than General Brown. But from your last post, we don't seem to disagree on that, either.

I would be glad to hear the case for the M4, I'm just not hearing it from anybody. I don't consider myself a gun expert; I have experience with a limited range of firearms, the M16A2 (though not the M4) being one. Apart from that, any clown with a Guns and Ammo subscription has more general knowledge than I do. But I fully understand the concept of the M16, and its general superiority to the AK47. That general superiority is greatly reduced when the barrel gets sawed off.

Obviously, the Army wants a smaller weapon than the M16. There can be no other reason for this decision. Their answer is the M4, and I'm just questioning that answer.

Avedis, you seem to want to ignore the experiences of the SOCOM community in your rants.

Sheesh......sometimes I really don't know why I bother.....Robin, obviously the primary round is not subsonic. I will bet you anything that there is a subsonic round because those guys like/need to go silenced/suppressed and in that mode a heavier larger round is preferable. I will also bet you that the silenced'subsonic requirements were a major factor in caliber consideration.

As for the rest of your presented reasons, are you a member of the special ops community or are you parroting what some "author" in some gun mag said about the topic?

some expat Canuck businessman with a newer bigger faster cooler weapons fetish?

I don't see anyone here that fits that description. If you really give a hoot about the level of discourse around here, you might set a better example.

{Edit:}

Sheesh......sometimes I really don't know why I bother.....

Well, maybe closing the thread for a while will give you time to reflect, along with those who term your posts "rants".

If I had a bucket of cold water... no, scratch that, I'd need a swimming pool full.

Thread is now re-opened. The swimming pool of cold water is still lacking. Robohobo, Avedis, and everyone else: Please, pretty please with sugar on it: let's stick to the topic and not call names or accuse people of profiteering or Cylon subversion. OK?

Thanks.

Since I've delurked in utter abrogation of my announced hiatus 'til mid-January, I might as well say what I think:

I think Joe might be blurring use cases here some (WRT SOCOM vs other operating environments), but I also think that an op-rod gas system with a lighter bolt assembly and no zoingy recoil spring (a setup like the Korean K2) has advantages, other things being equal: has decent MOA accuracy and holds zero just fine, but the gas system is a lot less finicky.

V-squared matters for delivered energy on target. So a little can make a big difference.

Don't personally care for bullpups all that much, because I don't like the chamber being that close to my cheekbone and ear.

Don't know what the cost-benefit ratio would be, given procurement and budget realities. Also can't estimate the ego-involvement and NIH factors.

I think any of the whizzy proposed 5.56 XM rifles, all flavors, might just be "a rifle too far".

Carry on.

Nort, retiring to a previously prepared revetment

Thanks, Nort. I just wanted to say that there is not subsonic version of the 6.8 SPC and that the criticisms of the stopping power of the cartridge and the reliability of the M4 come direct from the SOCOM community in places like their own program documentation like RFQ's. For example, with respect to M4 reliability, there is a rather famous incident wherein a SF Group attempted to procure HK 416 uppers directly, their RFQ referenced reliability of the M4 weapon as a result of its gas system.

That said, I'm less of a critic of the ordnance bureau's inherent conservatism than is Joe K. Historically people are always criticizing ordnance decisions. And usually with some valid substance, but the nature of the business is always one of compromise. As I mentioned earlier in the thread, I suspect that the M4 procurement must go forward as the full procurement cycle would take too long.

As for bullpups, I think I haven't heard of anyone solving the problem of a decent trigger group. The British one is rumored to be quite a failure, being worse in a sandy environment than the M16/M4 family. I've not seen any reports of problems with the French FAMAS but almost no one else has adopted it.

I think the merits of the bullpup configuration (i.e., a true rifle that is as short as carbine and equally useful indoors and out) outweigh the criticisms. As a left-hander who has had an M16 eject hot brass in his face, I say people who object to this sort of treatment must learn to shoot from the hip.

But if the bullpup is unacceptable, then for cramped quarters we are stuck with short-barreled popguns, and we have to look to improvements in ammunition to recoup some of that lost power. Not improvements in bureaucratic vocabulary like "no operationally statistical difference", which leads me to think that some people who make important decisions are showing an insufficient degree of interest.

Robin:
I suspect that the M4 procurement must go forward as the full procurement cycle would take too long.

I know that dismal things like this are true, but I note with sadness that there was a time in this country (1940) when the Army ordered a first-class fighter aircraft and got delivery of a P-51 prototype in less than four months. Since then there have obviously been incredible advances in the science of not getting things done.

#50 from Glen Wishard at 9:50 pm on Dec 25, 2007 - Change of calibers.

The Brits and Commonwealth countries adopted the NATO7.62 to be in comformance then the US and NATO changed to 5.56.

I do not think a caliber change will be a problem providing the benefits are apparent to everyone.

I was going to skip this thread, but since no one else is addressing it I'll raise a bigger issue that's ignored here.

In its current procurement efforts the Army is balancing 3 difficult objectives which are, to some degree, in tension with one another.

The first objective is short term operational supply of rifles for current deployments, which in many cases require balancing soldier safety with a minimization of collateral casualties among civilians.

The second objective is choosing rifles to support expected missions over the next 5 or so years - many of which may not be in places like Iraq and Afghanistan at all.

And the third, not mentioned here at all, is the longer term development of advanced weaponry which will leave both the M-4 and the M-16 in the dust.

So to speak.

Joe, with all respect that is due: I think your rhetoric is way overblown. I am near offended by the suggestion that the PEO is callously ignoring the operational implications of this procurement request. I've worked with PEOs on a number of programs and had disagreements with many of them. I've NEVER met one who was unconcerned about soldier well being. Never.

I am disappointed in the breathless, muckraking tone of this post, here and at DID. You are usually much better than this at seeing the broader context -- including the fact that the Army has to plan for expected operations where sandstorms are simply not the issue which can or should determine a procurement decision of this sort.

Robin Burk:

What do any of those three objectives have to do with procuring M4s?

1. "... short term operational supply of rifles for current deployments." If it's a choice between an M4 and no rifle at all, then no doubt. But that's not the case, is it?

2. "... balancing soldier safety with a minimization of collateral casualties among civilians." How do you test weapons to determine which one is least likely to shoot a civilian by mistake? This has nothing to do with infantry rifles.

3. "... choosing rifles to support expected missions over the next 5 or so years - many of which may not be in places like Iraq and Afghanistan at all." The only rationale for using the M4 is that its short length makes it easier to wield in the house-to-house situations that are part of the current mission. For future missions in other places, unless those missions are identical to the current one, the M4 is even less suitable.

4. "... the longer term development of advanced weaponry which will leave both the M-4 and the M-16 in the dust." And we all look forward to that, but it has nothing to do with expanding the use of the M4 right now.

If the Army has no choice but to resort to the M4, let's hear someone explain why. Running competitive tests has kind of given us the impression that the Army has a choice.

I understand that this is a balancing act. On one end of the balance is the soldier who has to face the enemy with a usable weapon. Everything on the other end of the balance has to be strictly relevant.

The only rationale for using the M4 is that its short length makes it easier to wield in the house-to-house situations that are part of the current mission. For future missions in other places, unless those missions are identical to the current one, the M4 is even less suitable.

House to house is likely to be a key mission for a long time.

What MAY not be key are the sandstorms, performance during which was a key issue Joe cited.

And we all look forward to that, but it has nothing to do with expanding the use of the M4 right now.

Unless, of course, the Army a) wants a shorter barrelled rifle for use in the next few years without b) doing a new design/procurement in lieu of advanced weapons which are not quite ready, but will be soon.

hear someone explain why

The real answer lies in the pre-acquisition package which lays out, privately, the mission and rationales behind the selection critera. No one here will get to read that, unless we have a PEO official lurking here.

But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been serious consideration of the mission, the tradeoffs and the intent behind this selection. Joe implied otherwise. I think Joe's wrong - and I base that judgement on experience with the procurement process.

The HK416 is an M4 with a different mechanism that fouls less - and can be converted from an existing M4 by replacing that mechanism.

Trying to claim there's some significant difference here that justifies the M4 -other than its propensity to jam, and the fact that a number of acquisition officials will look very stupid if they have to choose another weapon now - is just ludicrous.

This situation is as clear cut as it gets.

"The real answer lies in the pre-acquisition package which lays out, privately, the mission and rationales behind the selection critera. No one here will get to read that, unless we have a PEO official lurking here.

That's an evasion and non-answer, expressly and solely designed to end debate.

The key takeaway here is dead simple: reliability in the kind of sandy, dusty conditions found throughout the current theater of operations (and also the theater of operations for the forseeable future), or indeed any other environment with hostile environmental conditions (of which there are many), was NOT a factor for the Army. They just blame the soldiers - just as they did after the M-16 fiasco in Vietnam, which was wholly their fault. And when confronted with clear test results showing that better options are available, they opt for a non-competitive acquisition (M4 buys, unlike M16 buys, are sole-source to Colt) of an inferior product.

All of this is 100% clear. Perhaps Robin could venture some hypothetical pre-acquisition package rationale that calls for a jam-prone carbine instead for the Army of a near-twin version, in use by SOCOM, that's almost 4x less prone to jam.

I'd love to read that.

I'll add that non-public rationales are a tailor made recipe for total lack of informed scrutiny, and a refuge for bureaucrats for whom protecting their egos is far more important than protecting the troops - or, in different contexts, more important than any other mission the given agency may have entrusted to it.

If there's a rationale, it had better be out there when it comes time for public debate. Instead, we get unbelievable responses that jamming once every 70 shots instead of once every 250 or so is "statistically, but not operationally, significant."

If there was a better rationale than that, we would have heard it instead.

"But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been serious consideration of the mission, the tradeoffs and the intent behind this selection. Joe implied otherwise."

Because he has absolutely no - and I mean zero - belief that this is true. The Army is using criteria that are over 15 years old, without any updates, despite combat experience, and now it openly disregards test results that show the availability of far better weapons on the open market. One of which is almost identical to their current system.

This situation is a near-perfect example of a bureaucracy that is NOT thinking, but practicing CYA with very little regard for the people on the front lines. It would hardly be the first time that has happened in the US Army - and if it costs lives, it won't be the first time for that, either.

Joe writes: "The HK416 is an M4 with a different mechanism that fouls less - and can be converted from an existing M4 by replacing that mechanism."

Joe, I think that calling this a "conversion" is a bit incorrect. The "conversion" is really replacing the entire upper. This leaves only the lower half of the receiver, the trigger group and the stock. In terms of price, the resulting rifle "reuses" about 1/5th of the original M4.

In government procurement, just changing specifications does introduce a lot of delay, and cost. Additionally, introducing a new weapon system in large numbers brings with it a large cost in new armorer training, new investments in tools, parts sets, development of new manuals and processes etc. As much as I am a fan of getting away from the M16/M4 family, those are legitimate issues that I think you ignore here.

Robin,

I think a big part of this is Army Ordnance's insistance on treating the M-16/M-4 as an unchangeable package, just like the many variants of the Humvee, every single one of which has to have its own unique type number.

What I mean is that the upper and lower assemblies of a single rifle are treated as an inviolable pair. There'd be hell to pay if someone switched upper assemblies in a company arms room. You are not allowed to plop the M203 upper onto an M-16 lower, unless it is an extreme emergency. And of course the thought of putting M-4 uppers on M-16 lowers has never entered the minds of our Ordnance people.

One fast procurement work around to this reliability issue would be to procure and issue "piston-operated" upper assemblies to the line while retaining the current stock of M-4s. The commanders in the field can install piston uppers on their M-4s, or keep using M-4s, per METT-T. Of course that would require us to break the current Ordnance paradigm first.

Robin and Glen,

wrt to the SA-80, the piston action itself is very reliable, as it should be for an AR-18 descendent. The problem was with the flimsy receiver wall, which the Brits shaved paper thin to save on weight. The receiver walls thus easily dent and interfere with the bolt carrier's travel. Other than that problem and the magazines, it's fine.

And in fine dust situations, the Brits also learned to over-lubricate the actions to move the grit.

Worst jam I ever had was with an M-14. Firing pin popped out the back, bounced off the back receiver, and penetrated the trigger assembly.

M-4 is about twice as accurate as the XM-8, one of the alternatives in the test.

The test protocol had fixed intervals (number of rounds) before lubrication or cleaning. After lubrication of cleaning all rifles were very very reliable. The M-4 would jam after 600 rounds. Try toting around 600 rounds some time.

The M-14 is a battle rifle. You wait until you have identified your enemy, either by his movement, or by his muzzle flashes. Then you fire one round, and try to kill him.

The M-16 is an assault rifle. You shoot at known OR SUSPECTED enemy locations, and shoot at them. Keep shooting to keep his head down, unable for him to fire, unable for him to maneuver. When you have fire supremacy, you can shoot, or move to a position of advantage.

The M-4 is a carbine, with a superficial resemblance to the M-16. It doesn't have the long range performance of the M-16. The M855 round needs to hit flesh at greater than 2500 feet per second for best lethality. This is only about 75 meters out for the M-4, over 250 meters out for the M-16.

The Army needs a bullpup: The longer barrel gives higher muzzle velocity for better lethality, yet with a shorter total length.

My patent is on a folded delay blowback that permits a 24 inch barrel in a 28 inch total length. Dual magazines, for 60 rounds between reloads, downward ejection so it can be fired either left or right handed. Quick change barrel, to permit adapting to 7.62X51 for longer range, or 18mmX76 (12 gauge) for less lethal or close range engagement.

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