View Full Version : Your rifle: the M-16A4

09-26-02, 07:34 PM

30 September 2002

Your rifle: the M-16A4
In tests, it beat out the popular but unreliable M-4, Corps says

By C. Mark Brinkley and Gordon Lubold
Times staff writers

Fielding the new M-16A4

Who will get it?

Infantry Marines around the Corps.

When is it coming?

Possibly by year‚??s end, depending on when contracts are awarded.

What‚??s new?

The M-16A4 differs only slightly from the A2 model Marines now use. The A4 adds a rail system that allows Marines to use different sights and other equipment. The hand guards also are different.

So who gets the M-4?

A popular weapon, the M-4 still could go to some ground-combat units. Reconnaissance units already use it and Marine officials are still determining which Marines should field the M-4.

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. ‚?? After nearly two years of testing, evaluating, re-testing and re-evaluating infantry rifles, the Corps quietly decided to stick with what works.

In head-to-head tests, the M-16A4 simply was more reliable than the lighter, shorter M-4 carbine, a popular weapon many considered a sure bet to win the contract as the Corps‚?? next infantry rifle.

When briefed Aug. 30 on the results of the final testing round, Marine Commandant Gen. James Jones chose the M-16A4.

So as early as the end of the year, depending on how long it takes to get the contracts awarded and the weapons shipped, infantrymen could begin seeing M-16A4s in their own units. The Corps likely will field more than 30,000 of the weapons to grunts around the world.

A classic, updated

There are relatively few changes between the A4 variant and the M-16A2 rifle used by Marines for decades. The only substantial change is the military rail system added to the upper receiver, which allows grunts to attach scopes and night-vision equipment to the weapon.

‚??There were more concerns about the reliability of the M-4 than the M-16A4,‚?? said Col. Terry Lockard, head of the Ground Combat Element section of the plans, policies and operations branch at Marine Corps headquarters.

The details of those concerns still are under wraps. Marine officials declined Sept. 19 to release the results from the final round of testing, which was conducted this summer by members of the 25th Marines, an activated Reserve infantry regiment serving at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The Marines who conducted the study were on leave and unavailable for interviews, Marine officials said Sept. 18.

The decision came as a surprise to officials with Colt Manufacturing Co. Nearly three weeks after the Corps‚?? decision, Colt representatives still were unaware that their M-4 carbine had been labeled as unreliable.

Word of the results first came Sept. 18, when they were asked to comment on the decision.

Representatives of Colt, based in Hartford, Conn., said the company, which has sold more than 7 million M-16 rifles over the last 40 years and produced more than 150,000 M-4 carbine rifles, believes the carbine is the best choice for Marines and soldiers in combat.

They faulted the Marine Corps for not including the company in its testing.

‚??Colt has worked closely with the Marine Corps when asked regarding the introduction of the M-4 into the Marine Corps ground forces,‚?? said Mike Reissig, director of sales and marketing at Colt, in a written statement faxed Sept. 19 to Marine Corps Times. ‚??We were aware that some units in the Marine Corps were conducting field experiments with the M-16 and the M-4. However, Colt cannot comment on the issues regarding functioning of the M-4 during these recent Marine Corps evaluations as neither we nor the government were included in this process.‚??

Reissig added that the decision to leave Colt and the government out of the testing is a break from the usual process.

‚??Normal procedures for conclusive testing of government small arms includes the participation of contracting representatives from the U.S. government and Colt engineers, along with the service participants,‚?? Reissig wrote. ‚??These tests, when performed, are conducted using strict quality assurance procedures. Additionally, Colt does not manufacture any after-market [modification] kits for these weapons and we feel these should not be included in any evaluation of the basic rifle.‚??

The M-4 has emerged as a popular weapon across the services, and it currently is fielded by all four services and the U.S. Special Operations Command. Colt officials said the Air Force recently awarded the company a contract for more than 25,000 of the carbines.

‚??Those of us at Colt consider our responsibilities to the servicemen and women of this country to be of utmost importance,‚?? Reissig wrote.

‚??We believe the M-4 would clearly be the most suitable weapon for the Marine Corps in close combat and in fighting the counter-terrorism campaigns of the future.‚??

Despite the popularity of the M-4 ‚?? some would say an emotional enthusiasm for the weapon ‚?? the Corps‚?? assessments of the M-4 showed the carbine malfunctioned far beyond the number of allowable incidents, said one Marine officer with marksmanship training experience and who is familiar with the selection process.

‚??It was overwhelming in that case,‚?? the officer said.

Assessments take into account firing, chambering of rounds, extracting, feeding and other endurance tests.

Testers are allowed only a certain number of failure incidents before the weapon fails the entire test, he said.

‚??The M-4 had quite a few incidents during the assessment,‚?? the officer said. ‚??The A4 came out on top for the assessment.‚??

Both Colt and FN Manufacturing of Columbia, S.C., make the M-16A4. It is unclear which company would get the Corps‚?? contract for the A4.

M-4s for some

Still, some infantrymen could receive the carbine in the coming years.

‚??It wasn‚??t a complete decision against the M-4,‚?? Lockard said. ‚??The division commanders are going to come back and make a recommendation on who in the ground-combat element should receive M-4s.‚??

That could include Marines who work in close quarters, such as Light Armored Vehicle crewmen. Recon Marines already use the carbine, which is about 1.5 pounds lighter and six inches shorter than the M-16A4, or 9 inches shorter when the tubular stock is fully collapsed.

Other than the reliability issues, the M-4 was a solid performer, Lockard said. When it came to marksmanship and field firing, there was little variance between the two weapons.

‚??Not an appreciable difference,‚?? Lockard said. ‚??There was a bit of an edge that goes to the M-16A4. It does better at longer ranges, certainly.‚??

Army tests of the M-4 conducted in 1992 prepared the Corps for such results. In those tests, the shorter-barreled carbine was able to penetrate helmets out to 505 yards.

The M-16A4 was able to do the same out to 567 yards.

But the Marine Corps seemed willing, initially, to trade standoff distance for mobility, of which the M-4 offers plenty. Shorter and lighter, the weapon seemed ideal for urban settings, where quarters are tight and engagements are close.

‚??Generally speak- ing, the Marines sort of liked the M-4 overall,‚?? Lockard said. ‚??The portability issue, the ease of maneuverability and so on.‚??

Stopping-power debate

Some reports out of Afghanistan claimed that the M-4 lacked the stopping power of the M-16A2, a problem that could be attributed to its shorter barrel. Lockard said those reports were not a factor in determining which weapon to select.

‚??That was absolutely not an issue,‚?? he said.

General failures were a concern, however. Many Marines know of the M-16‚??s rampant failures when it was introduced during the Vietnam War. No one wants to see the M-4 fail Marines in combat.

‚??I‚??m happy they did the honest thing,‚?? said the officer familiar with the study.

‚??The worst thing is a weapon that doesn‚??t work properly. It may not be what they originally wanted, but if they go this route, at least they know it‚??s going to work.‚??

Ultimately, both weapons offer rail systems that give Marines the ability to use scopes and other specialized attachments. This way, the basic infantryman can depend on his weapon to work when he needs it most.

One Marine infantry weapons officer said that‚??s the most important factor of all.

‚??There are some arguments that have the M-4 is better for the urban fight, or for ease of transportation in the AAAV or Osprey, but I am not convinced it is the weapon of choice for all environments.‚??

C. Mark Brinkley is the Jacksonville, N.C., bureau chief for Marine Corps Times and can be reached at (910) 455-8354 or at cmark@marinecorpstimes.com. Gordon Lubold reported from Washington, D.C.

09-26-02, 08:01 PM
Good post Gunny! I like the part where The Government and Colt were not invited!! Let the Marines test the thing the way they want to, without anyone sticking their $.02 in! Each weapon system has its place in the sceme of things and that should be up to the Marines to decide...not the beauracrats!!

09-27-02, 11:54 AM
Here's one variant of the A4


09-27-02, 11:55 AM
All the bells and whistles


09-27-02, 03:37 PM
has been a heated one--on the Internet anyway.

I got that MCT article in my e-mail from the Milinet List--they have been crusading in favor of a larger calibre round w/more knockdown power. Apparently that is not to be.

09-27-02, 04:01 PM