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November 25, 2009: The U.S. Army has finally addressed years of complaints about the M-4 and M-16 assault rifles. The M-4 is a short barrel M-16, and has become very popular with the troops. The army has asked the Department of Defense for permission to spend a few hundred million dollars on upgrades for its 400,000 M-4 assault rifles. The big change is replacing the main portion of the rifle with a new component that contains a short stroke piston gas system (to reduce buildup of carbon inside the rifle) and a heavier (by five ounces) barrel (which reduces barrel failure from too much heat, which happens when several hundred rounds are fired within a few minutes.)

Much of this goes back to the decades old argument about replacing the recoil system in the M-16 assault rifles. This came to a head (again) two years ago, when the army ran more tests on its M-4 rifle, involving dust and reliability. Four weapons were tested. The M4, the XM8, SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) and the H&K 416 (an M4 with the more dust resistant components of the XM8 installed).

The testing consisted of exposing the weapons to 25 hours of heavy dust conditions over two months. During that testing period, 6,000 rounds were fired from each of ten weapons of each type. The weapons with the fewest failures (usually jams) were rated highest. Thus the XM8 finished first, SCAR second, 416 third and M4 last. In response, the army said it was satisfied with the M4s performance, but was considering equipping it with a heavier barrel (to lessen overheating) and more effective magazines (27 percent of the M4s 882 jams were magazine related.) The army noted that the M4 fired over 98 percent of its rounds without problems. That missed the point that the other rifles had far fewer jams. In combat, each jam is a life threatening situation for the soldier in question. The army had been forced by Congress to conduct the tests. Congress was responding to complaints by the troops.

The XM8 had 127 jams, the SCAR 226 and the 416 had 233. Thus the M-4 had nearly eight times as many jams as the XM8, the rifle designed to replace it. The M4 had nearly four times the jams of the SCAR and 416, which were basically M4 type rifles with a different gas handling system. Any stoppage is potentially fatal for the soldier holding the rifle. Thus the disagreement between the army brass, and the troops who use the weapons in combat.

In dusty places like Iraq and Afghanistan, you have to clean your M16 and M4 rifles constantly, otherwise the combination of carbon (from the recoil system) and dust in the chamber will cause jams. The army and marines both decided to stick with their current weapons, rather than adopt an easier to maintain weapon, like the XM8 or H&K 416, because of the billion or so dollars it would cost to switch rifles.

If the issue were put to a vote, the troops would vote for a rifle using a short-stroke system (like the XM8, SCAR or H&K 416). But the military is not a democracy, so the troops spend a lot of time cleaning their weapons, and hoping for the best. The debate involves two intertwined attitudes among senior army commanders. First, they don't want the hassle, and possible embarrassment, of switching to a new rifle. Second, they are anticipating a breakthrough in weapons technology that will make a possible a much improved infantry weapon. This is likely to happen later, rather than sooner, but the generals kept obsessing over it.

Earlier efforts to just get the troops a more reliable rifle have failed. Back in 2005, the U.S. Army's design for a new assault rifle, the XM8, was cancelled. But now the manufacturer has incorporated one of the key components of the XM8, into M4 rifles, and calls the hybrid the H&K 416. Heckler & Koch (H&K) designed the XM8, which was based on an earlier H&K rifle, the G36. SOCOM is using the 416, but no one else is (except for a few police departments).

The XM8 (like the G36 and 416) uses a short-stroke piston system. The M16s uses the gas-tube system, which results in carbon being blown back into the chamber. That leads to carbon build up, which results in jams (rounds getting stuck in the chamber, and the weapon unable to fire.). The short-stroke system also does not expose parts of the rifle to extremely hot gases (which wears out components more quickly). As a result, rifles using the short-stroke system, rather than the gas-tube, are more reliable, easier to maintain and last longer.

H&K developed the 416, for SOCOM, at the same time the XM8 was being evaluated by the army. SOCOM got the first 416s in 2004, a year before the army cancelled the XM8. The 416 looks like the M4, for the only thing that has changed is the gas system that automatically extracts the cartridge after the bullet has been fired, and loads the next round. SOCOM can buy pretty much whatever they want, the U.S. Army cannot. SOCOM listens to what its troops want, the army often doesn't.

The army is also making three other changes, as part of the M-4 component replacement. There will be improved trigger pull characteristics, a stronger (less likely to fail) rail on the top of the rifle (for fitting scopes and other accessories), ambidextrous controls (to make life easier for lefties) and a round counter (in the pistol grip) to track the number of bullets fired over the lifetime of the rifle (makes for better data on how rifles perform over time, and for scheduling the replacement of components.)
 

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I don't know what they're smoking but my M4 has not jammed since I bought it. Maybe its not good in the sand. That would be my immediate reaction.
 

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I don't know what they're smoking but my M4 has not jammed since I bought it. Maybe its not good in the sand. That would be my immediate reaction.
How many rounds have you put through it??

And in how many different environments?
 

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I've shot both systems, gas tube and piston.

The gas piston is a major improvement over the gas tube for the reason that the gas tube vents all of its carbon and unburned powder right into the action whereas the piston dumps it all underneath the hand guard, which makes for a much cleaner system, which makes its more reliable when extended firing takes place.

As for the sand...
It doesn't really matter what kind of system you have if that fine dust gets into the action, it will jam it up. The tolerances are tight enough on the bolt/receiver clearance that just a little bit of dust will impeded the action.

Even so, the piston system is a cleaner system. A couple of dozen mags fired quickly through the standard AR or M-16 will usually gunk it up enough that it starts having problems. The piston rifle doesn't have that disadvantage.

In combat when things are fast and furious, I'd take the piston over the gas any day of the week. If you start out with a clean rifle, it ought to run a lot longer.

Of course, if you havent cleaned it for a week, and that fine dust invades the whole system and that bolt locks up, it wont matter what kind of system your rifle has.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
It's not luck, but it's not war, either....

At least 1000 rounds. I shoot in southern PA. Maybe it's just luck :gah:

Don't jinx me.
LOL No jinxes! A thousand rounds total? An infantryman in heavy contact can go through that right quick! The basic load of a grunt on a patrol is about 210 rounds, or it was when I was an active duty officer during the Cold War. But from my friends in the sand box right now, most of them are mounted in some fashion, either Humvee or Stryker and they'll have a lot more available in the vehicle.

That was for Iraq. Afghanistan is much more mountainous so they'll be humping a ruck more in the mountains and I feel sorry for them. That is the fate of the infantry: Travel Light, Freeze at Night! By light I mean mostly water (to stay hydrated) and ammo. Light infantry carries the world on their backs. I still walk slightly hunched from carrying 120 pounds of rucksack. When I was in the Individual Ready Reserve, that was the primary reason I did a branch transfer into Armor. Tankers live well. But that's off topic.

I also agree about the advantages of the piston over the gas tube. The two most critical advantages though are a fairly sealed system to keep out the grit and a cooler system. Try and fire 100 rounds thru your M4 rapid fire then pick it up by the barrel. You will leave a strip of skin on that smoking piece of steel. A hot weapon is harder to manage well.
 

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The government/ military reaction of NOT wanting to change rifles is not surprising NOR is it unusual.

Every time newer versions or even new weapons are introduced the government & military resists that change. Look back at the history of military weapons in the US.

The government tinkered with the M16 when it came out & it took literally years to get it fixed.

The government/ military resisted the Garand, because it was a semi-auto...they thought that soldiers/marines would burn thru to many rounds, instead of concentrating on hits. This was the same theme with changing to metallic cartridges/ repeaters in the late 1800s......
 

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I was never a TRUE fan of the M-4/M-16. Mainly I never agreed with how close the tolerances were on the inner mechanisims (Im an AK man for that reason). Though a VERY accurate rifle in the properly trained hands, it is still followed by Stoners Short comings of Vietnam. The close tolerances are prone to jams if grains of sand (or anything else) builds up in it (desert environment wont take long), the gas system of the M-4 Vs. the others listed above is more prone to jamming as said above, but also the main problem Ive always had with the M-4/M-16 was the fact that O-rings would go bad causing problems that you would not otherwise have with a system like the AK-47. The AK has NO rings or seals and has a very spacious reciever which are 2 reasons that make it so reliable in adverse environments Vs. the M-4/M-16 with its O-rings and very close mechanisims. Also the inner workings of an AK is much simplified compared to the M-4/M-16, less things to get FUBAR in combat. Though I do agree with phasing out the older gas style in favor of a short piston, but as goawayfarm pointed out, getting the military to accept NEW combat firearms is a battle in itself.
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT by any means fighting the eternal AR versus AK battle here, just pointing out what I think and what I know.
 

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Misinformation abounds... What can we do to erase the memory of the XM8 already? :tired:


-B
 

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May have to settle for kicking the H&K reps out of Washington; given how much has been wasted on the XM8 project, I certainly wouldn't mind some limited time travel to get some actual SMEs in on the design/development process (effectively the same as erasing the XM8's existence).

Frankly, I'm not even sure which is worse: noisy company men or exceedingly uninformed congress critters and media personnel who seem to think they can do justice to an 'issue' without needing to understand said issue. Yes, I know there are some that genuinely want to help, and genuinely believe they're doing the right thing, but you know what they say about the road to Hell.


-B
 

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Yep, paved with good intentions. A little knowledge goes a LONG way, unfortunately some people never acquire said knowledge.
~Steve
 

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So what weapon WITH LUBE ( I use MILTEC) will not jam with sand and dust?

OIF 1 we went with what we had and I was constantly cleaning my weapon. 2nd and 3rd tours with M4 and accessories guess what I was cleaning my weapon and inspecting my Soldiers weapons. Our entire unit (all 3 tours) was very anal about our weapons and they worked!

The biggest gripe is "knockdown power" We started out firing one round into a target that went down when hit, that sticks in your mind. I have always known better. The current thought process is to keep firing untill the target changes form.

We can only use the ball type ammo so regardless any shoulder fired weapon will not stop with 1 shot not in the heart even a 7.62 won't. Remember this does not happen at a range but in combat. Heck I am happy to hit a $%^^ when the SHTF.
No use to switch weapons just rounds IMHO but then we have to ignore various laws of warfare
 

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Here is an easy cost effective fix for the AR-15 M-16 M-4 problem, it's called the M-14.....my oldest brother was a Marine Vietnam Combat Vet, he says the M-16 is the biggest POS on earth.
I have seen 16's lock up so tight they had to be kicked open, I have also seen the same gun perform exceptionally well, it seems to be an inconsistent system.
LER scope on an M-14 would be an awesome trick IMHO.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Actually...

Here is an easy cost effective fix for the AR-15 M-16 M-4 problem, it's called the M-14.....LER scope on an M-14 would be an awesome trick IMHO.
I used to hold that view myself, but the M14 is extremely difficult to hold in full auto fire and the bulkier cartridge means the infantryman can carry fewer rounds in a basic load but heavier, too, which could constrict mission & soldier effectiveness. Heavier recoil is an issue with CQB, too. Also the length of the M14 does not lend itself to urban combat. Even if you could go with an M4 style telescoping stock, the balance would be all wrong.

I think guys over at SOCOM came up with a happy medium in the 6.8mm round. But you know how those bureaucrats at the puzzle palace known affectionately as the "Pentagon" just HATE soldiers thinking for themselves when it comes to solving equipment problems. SOCOM had already separately ordered a ton of H&K 416's in a 6.8mm caliber when the BOZOS ummm errr I mean the BRASS decided to lower the boom on their initiative. At least that what I was told by my buddies recently retired from SPEC-OPS.
 

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Yup!

Yep, paved with good intentions. A little knowledge goes a LONG way, unfortunately some people never acquire said knowledge.
~Steve
Heinlein said it best in the Notebooks of Lazarus Long: Live & Learn Or you won't live long....
 

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I have said for years that there is a serious need for the US military to re-evaluate the current rifle caliber issued to our men & women in uniform. We supply them with some of the best technology in the world to do the job asked of them, so why the heck give them the 5.56????

It eludes me why we can't design a weapon with today's technology, that can outshine the simplicity/reliability/accuracy/ballistics of the AK from 1947??
 

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Coming from one of the most educated men I know on weapon systems:
I was also at COP Keating from 27 August to 03 Sep this past year and saw the 3-61 lads doing the right thing. In addition, there is one account of a Soldier (DOCUMENTED) who fired 40 magazines and had ZERO malfunctions. Further,there was not a single M4 malfunction in the fight--the only weapon malfunction they had at Keating was one M2 .50 Cal which had been hit with an RPG. I personally spoke to both COL George (BDE CDR) and CSM Sasser(BDE CSM) on 17 Oct in JBAD and they shared that info.
There seems to be a consistent trend of what happens when proper maintenance and weapon care TTPs are in place, and what happens when they aren't. The AR family of weapons isn't nearly as 'troubled' as many, both well-intentioned and not, would have everyone believe.


The 'best list of fixes' has been described to me as the following (paraphrased for brevity):

  • Create a culture of weapon's maintenance. The greatest rifle ever gifted upon Man by God isn't when it's so far past its service life as to make the word 'maintenance' laughable. Decommission worn out weapons, buy new ones, and teach everyone who touches the gun how to take the hell care of it. Keeping a gun lube-free because it looks better for inspections is retarded.

  • Fix training issues. Like hengst hinted at, combat is not a square range and it can take several rounds to drop someone for good (independent of caliber). Start getting more of these instructors charged with teaching studs how to fight to some civilian carbine and pistol courses so they can learn to start training warriors instead of target shooters.

  • Get and use proper ammo. Stop pretending like we follow the Hague convention that says grenades, mines, mortars, rockets, thermobarics, and other weapons are okay but a bullet more likely to kill quicker isn't.

  • Get rid of the USGI mags and replace them with Magpul and TangoDown mags across the board, for everyone.

  • Get rid of all remaining stocks of CLP and Militech and switch to TW25 and SLIP EWL only.


There are all kinds of other suggested upgrades to the M4 that are worthwhile to consider: cold hammer forged barrels, upgraded bolts, ambidextrous controls, better rails, scrapping the 3-round-burst trigger [and burning at the stake the folks who insisted upon it] and going back to the A1 type of trigger. All of this stuff already exists commercially, so there's no reason at all we can't throttle the guys in charge of writing the TDPs for the M4 and M16 and demanding these easy upgrades become standardized.


-B
 

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Always good to improve.

I don't have the experience or knowledge to provide much but an opinion. The one thing not mentioned about the M4 / M16 is that is the firearm used in so many different places in so many roles (and overall, it has been desided, that is the major factor). It is easy to pick it apart, and find some application where it does not perform well. It may get only a B+ in the sand, but that it not the only test. We just happen to be fighting in the sand a lot. Maybe someone can do a better job of stating what I'm trying to express.

On the side issue of the AK-47, in reminds me, to a far lesser degree, of the U.S. and Soviet answer for how to write in space. The U.S. spent funding to make the space pen. The Soviet's used a pencil.

With the AK-47, cost, ease of use, and maintenance are important, but those factors alone don't discount a different firearm being used by a well trained military.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
It's all about family values...

I have said for years that there is a serious need for the US military to re-evaluate the current rifle caliber issued to our men & women in uniform. We supply them with some of the best technology in the world to do the job asked of them, so why the heck give them the 5.56????

It eludes me why we can't design a weapon with today's technology, that can outshine the simplicity/reliability/accuracy/ballistics of the AK from 1947??
One of the original theories for the 5.56mm was that wounding the enemy was better than killing him forcing more enemy assets to be committed to their care. That's the problem with assigning OUR values to the enemy.
 
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