05
Oct
08

Army considering replacing M-4 carbine

Colt’s M-4 carbine contract with the US Army is near expiration. Since 1994 Colt has been contracted with the Army, supplying our troops in Iraq with the M-4, a cut-down version of the M-16. The M-4 also provides modular capabilities.

Recently though, as a result of some troops experiences in the dusty conditions of Iraq, the weapon’s performance has come under fire in its own right. The Army has conducted testing at its laboratory in Maryland, pitting the M-4 against newer weapons systems. All of the weapons were sprinkled with talcum powder in an attempt to simulate conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Things didn’t work out well for Colt.

The M-4 finished last in weapons jams. Its competitors were the FN Herstal SCAR, H+K 416 and the H+K XM8. The M-4 experienced more jams than all of the other weapons combined. The other weapons are comparable–or even slightly cheaper–than the M-4: About $1,500 a piece.

Brig. General Mark Brown defended Colt’s system by stating that the testing was not an exact replica of the conditions in Iraq and that soldiers need to clean their weapons regardless of the system; muzzle-loader or assault rifle.

At the risk of destroying my new career in the army, I think General Brown is ignoring an obvious problem. While 89% of polled troops in Iraq stated that the M-4 performed adequately, 19% percent of 2600 troops that were veterans of firefights said that their M-4 jammed during the shooting. This is a horrible ratio of good performance to weapon’s failure. Nearly 1 in 5 of troops involved in shooting their weapon at enemy forces can expect their weapon to fail them, if only until they can conduct clearing measures.

Anecdotally, I can say that the M-16’s performance is far below what I would expect from my weapon in combat. Even in training, I’ve experienced numerous stoppages, as has every soldier I work with. Some can only fire one or two rounds at a time before clearing a jam and continuing, only to have to repeat the process a few rounds later. This is from weapons right out of the armory–not new–but nonetheless very clean.

One of the problems that I see is the weapon’s breach. It’s called a “star chamber.” It is shaped like a star and is designed to funnel a 5.56 round up and into the barrel. The star chamber has grooves that, when slightly dirty, can grab rounds before they are seated in the barrel. Not good. More reliable assault rifles, such as the AK-47, merely have a polished chrome ramp that rides the bullet to its home.

The M-4 does have some excellent qualities. It’s super light, compact and accurate. It’s modular rail system allow soldiers and operators to modify the weapon to their immediate preferences and needs. The Army wants a rifle with an effective range of about 600 meters. The M-4 is about 500.

With all of the good qualities noted, it’s a shame that none of them matter if the weapon doesn’t work when it’s most needed. The Army has already been through this in Vietnam, when the first generation M-16 cost American lives by repeatedly failing in the muddy, wet conditions of Indo-China.

The Army has changed a lot in the years since the Iraq War began. New body armor, up-armored HMVVs, new tactics and technology for defeating IEDs and insurgents. It would be a shame if we deny our warriors their most important asset: a reliable personal weapon.

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