Desert Warfare Manstoppers

Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are having serious reliability…

Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are having serious reliability and lethality issues with the M16 rifle and M4 carbine. The M4 /M4A1 carbine has turned out to be a poor “people stopper” when used with standard M855 ball ammunition. The M4A1 has a flattop upper receiver, while the M4 does not. Most Special Forces have the M4A1 with a MIL-STD-1913 rail upper receiver and handguard adapter, while the M4 has an M16A2 type upper receiver. Most “Big Army” troops are equipped with the basic M4. All of these weapons have issues. Let’s examine the causes of each problem and how they can be resolved.

desert1There have been repeated calls for an entirely new small arms line to replace the M16/M4 family. Most notably, the abortive XM8 program died a deserved death at the hands of Congress. According to the words of an Infantry Colonel acquaintance from Fort Benning, Georgia, the XM8 did nothing significantly better than the small arms it was intended to replace.The Mark 16 SCAR has also been proposed as a replacement but like the XM8, the Mark 16 doesn’t perform much better than the M16 rifle or M4 carbine. The Mark 16 was developed specifically for special operations use because the M4’s reliability and lethality issues seemed beyond the capability of the contractor to rectify. The issues can be addressed without acquiring an entirely new firearm by executing what the military calls a PIP (product improvement program).

Reliability Issues
Our first encounter with the M16 came nearly 40 years ago in Vietnam. We had been in the Army for five years and heard of the horror stories regarding the M16’s reliability or lack thereof. It was no surprise when we signed for our M16A1 at Headquarters, MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) that the arms room sergeant told us not to bet the farm on it.

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  • That Guy

    One can complain all they want about the direct impingement operating system of the M16/M4, but we’ve come to the point where none of the HK416s, SCARs, XM8s, or ACRs that pop up in its shadow will be any more effective than it already is. Those designs may run cleaner than the M16/M4, but a cleaner OS doesn’t translate to superior combat effectiveness. Unless we’re talking about a caliber change, all of those “new” designs are just more 5.56mm carbines that we’d all be hearing the same complaints about in a few years’ time.

  • D. Serochi

    First off I want to relate how much I enjoy reading your magazine. That being said I noticed a couple of errors in this article. Firstly, both the M4 and M4A1 share identical “flattop” upper receivers. Their differences lay in their fire control components. The M4 shares the M16A2’s components (safe-semi-burst) while the M4A1 uses the M16A1’s components (safe-semi-full auto). This is a rookie mistake and shows, to me, a lack of the most basic research since this info can be readily found in military manuals and manufacturers’ websites, just to name a couple sources.
    Secondly, I would like to address Mr. Cutshaw’s discussion on lethality effects. Mr. Cutshaw states that if a projectile (in this context the 5.56’s FMJ spitzer) loses enough rotational velocity it becomes unstable and and begins traveling base first. In the most general sense this is a true statement of EXTERNAL ballistics. However, Mr. Cutshaw is discussing TERMINAL ballistics. In this context the 5.56 bullet’s precession and fragmentation (aka “tumbling”) has nothing at all to do with loss of rotational velocity as Mr. Cutshaw infers, and everything to do with the fact that FMJ spitzers will always, eventually, turn base first if they fly deep enough into a medium significantly denser than air. (This assumes that there is projectile/rifling rate of twist compatibility to begin with) To the best of my knowledge, bullets from modern small arms lose rotational velocity so slowly that they will reach their maximum range and hit earth well before enough time has elapsed for them to become unstable due to rotational velocity loss.