22 Dec 2007

M4 Carbine Fares Poorly in Dust Test

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The primary weapon carried by most soldiers into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan performed the worst in a recent series of tests designed to see how it stacked up against three other top carbines in sandy environments.

After firing 6,000 rounds through ten M4s in a dust chamber at the Army’s Aberdeen test center in Maryland this fall, the weapons experienced a total of 863 minor stoppages and 19 that would have required the armorer to fix the problem. Stacked up against the M4 during the side-by-side tests were two other weapons popular with special operations forces, including the Heckler and Koch 416 and the FN USA Special Operations Combat Assault Rifle, or Mk16.

Another carbine involved in the tests that had been rejected by the Army two years ago, the H&K XM8, came out the winner, with a total of 116 minor stoppages and 11 major ones. The Mk16 experienced a total of 226 stoppages, the 416 had 233.

The Army was quick to point out that even with 863 minor stoppages — termed “class one” stoppages which require 10 seconds or less to clear and “class two” stoppages which require more than ten seconds to clear — the M4 functioned well, with over 98 percent of the 60,000 total rounds firing without a problem.

“The M4 carbine is a world-class weapon,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, the Army’s top equipment buyer, in a Dec. 17 briefing at the Pentagon. Soldiers “have high confidence in that weapon, and that high confidence level is justified, in our view, as a result of all test data and all investigations we have made.”

Though Army testers and engineers are still evaluating the data, officials with the Army’s Infantry Center based in Fort Benning, Ga., said they planned to issue new requirements for the standard-issue carbine in about 18 months that could include a wholesale replacement of the M4. But the Army has been resistant to replace the M4, which has been in the Army inventory for over 18 years, until there’s enough of a performance leap to justify buying a new carbine.

“We know there are some pretty exciting things on the horizon with technology … so maybe what we do is stick with the M4 for now and let technologies mature enough that we can spin them into a new carbine,” said Col. Robert Radcliffe, director of combat development at the Army’s Infantry Center. “It’s just not ready yet. But it can be ready relatively rapidly.”

That’s not good enough for some on Capitol Hill who’ve pushed hard for the so-called “extreme dust test” since last spring. Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn placed a hold on the nomination of Army Secretary Pete Geren earlier this year to force the Army to take another look at the M4 and its reliability.

In an April 12 letter to the still unconfirmed Geren, Coburn wrote that “considering the long standing reliability and lethality problems with the M16 design, of which the M4 is based, I am afraid that our troops in combat might not have the best weapon.” He insisted the Army conduct a side-by-side test to verify his contention that more reliable designs existed and could be fielded soon.

Despite the 98 percent reliability argument now being pushed by the Army, one congressional staffer familiar with the extreme dust tests is skeptical of the service’s conclusions.

“This isn’t brain surgery — a rifle needs to do three things: shoot when you pull the trigger, put bullets where you aim them and deliver enough energy to stop what’s attacking you,” the staffer told Military.com in an email. “If the M4 can’t be depended on to shoot then everything else is irrelevant.”

The staffer offered a different perspective of how to view the Army’s result. If you look at the numbers, he reasoned, the M4’s 882 total stoppages averages out to a jam every 68 rounds. There are about 30 rounds per magazine in the M4.

By comparison, the XM8 jammed once every 472 rounds, the Mk16 every 265 rounds and the 416 every 257 rounds. Army officials contend soldiers rarely fire more than 140 rounds in an engagement.

“These results are stunning, and frankly they are significantly more dramatic than most weapons experts expected,” the staffer said.

Army officials say the staffer’s comparison is “misleading” since the extreme dust test did not represent a typical combat environment and did not include the regular weapons cleaning soldiers typically perform in the field.

So the Army is sticking by the M4 and has recently signed another contract with manufacturer Colt Defense to outfit several more brigade combat teams with the compact weapon. Service officials say feedback from the field on the M4 has been universally positive — except for some grumbling about the stopping power of its 5.56mm round. And as long as soldiers take the time to clean their weapons properly, even the “extreme” dust testing showed the weapon performed as advertised.

“The force will tell you the weapon system is reliable, they’re confident in it, they understand that the key to making that weapon system effective on the battlefield and killing the enemy is a solid maintenance program and, just as important, is a marksmanship program,” said Sgt. Maj. Tom Coleman, sergeant major for PEO Soldier and the Natick Soldier Systems Center. “So, you can’t start talking about a weapon system without bringing in all the other pieces that come into play.”

That’s not enough for some who say the technology is out there to field a better, more reliable rifle to troops in contact now.

“It’s time to stop making excuses and just conduct a competition for a new weapon,” the congressional staffer said.

That staffer is right. And we should go back to the .308 cartridge, too.

7 Feedbacks on "M4 Carbine Fares Poorly in Dust Test"

Dominique R. Poirier

These problems are not novelties, so far, and those in the unknown who shall have the patience to read this lengthy comment will learn why the U.S. soldier use a M4 and what is the cause of these troubles with this rifle.

First of all, the motives that initially led to the invention of the M16 rifle and its successors up to the M4, its grand-children, were the following.

Small arms manufactured during WWII and in the immediate aftermath were inspired by experience through previous wars and more especially WWI.

In those earlier times militaries observed that combat distances could be either long, or very short, as the experience of the trench-warfare of Eastern France showed it. That’s why most war rifles were commonly equipped with sights graded for dumbfounding distances as long as 1200, and even 2000 meters. The power and size of the rifle ammunitions of those earlier times did fit these expectations inasmuch as the purpose of shooting at such ranges didn’t aim at more than overwhelming a remote target in the hope that one shooter among a dozen would be lucky enough to hit it. As surprissing as one may think this way of seeing things still prevailed in many armies as WWII broke out.

Thus, the .30-06 cartridge of the Springfield and Garand rifles were very similar in size and performances to the German 8mm Mauser, French 8mm Lebel, 303 British, Japanese 6.5mm Arizaka, Italian 6.5mm Carcano, Swiss 7.5mm Schmidt-Rubin, Russian 7.62mm Mosin-Nagan…

All those ammunitions were also used in automatic rifles and light machine guns since their performance suited the power and practical range militaries expected for this heavier category of weapons.

However, the main drawbacks of all the above mentioned powerful calibers were weight and manufacturing cost. As a result, the average soldier used to carry on the battlefield a payload of 60 to 90 cartridges packed in 3 to 8 round metal clips, and never more.

Those who were expected to lead assaults were equipped with submachine guns firing much less powerful pistol cartridges such as 7.63 Mauser (aka 7.62 Tokarev), 9mm Parabellum (aka 9mm Lüger), .45 ACP and similar suitable for short practical ranges. The average such soldier used to carry 120 to 180 pistol cartridges stuffed in 20 to 32 detachable box magazines.

Those last facts confirm that no ammunitions were ever designed for intermediary ranges until the Germans began to mass produce the first ever assault rifle, the Sturmgewehr MP43 (aka Maschinenpistole 43). This “intermediary weapon,” which was well ahead of its time when it entered into mass production, introduced itself as a good compromise between rifle and submachine gun; and a new kind of cartridge was specifically designed for it. It was the 7.92mm “Kurz” (7.92 x 33mm) that had to inspire the introduction of the Russian 7.62 Kalashnikov (7.62 x 39mm) in 1947; and which was no less than a shortened version of the old 8mm Mauser (7.92 x 57mm).

The soldier of the German assault and elite units used to carry 180 7.92mm “Kurz” cartridges stuffed in curve-shaped 30 rounds detachable box magazines.

Like the militaries of many other countries Americans came to realize that the presence on a rifle of a sight graded for distances in excess of 800 meters no longer fit the realities of the contemporary battlefield, nor the ability of the average soldier to hit the target at such ranges. As a matter of fact, those long distances became, during WWII, a realm reserved to highly trained specialists whose rifles were equipped with newly invented portable precision scopes.

The Americans understood all this too and in 1942 they introduced the M1 carbine, an unusually light and reliable gun firing a new cartridge especially designed for it – the .30 M1 (7.62mm x 33) — and using a 15 rounds removable magazine.
But this carbine missed a full-auto selector and a 30 rounds magazine to fill the gap between submachine gun and rifle; and its ammunition was not powerful enough for want of a big case similar to this of the 7.92mm “Kurz.” The, almost, right stuff came too late, in 1945, with the introduction of the M2 carbine, a M1 carbine with a full-auto selector and a 30 rounds removable magazine.

So, after WWII the U.S. Army held the relatively satisfying concept of the M1 carbine as a good basis of reflection which ultimately adapted to the more powerful Garand M1 rifle in 1957.

Thus was born the good — but much heavier than the M1 carbine — M14 semi-auto rifle chambered for the .30-06 cartridge.

But the .30-06 was too powerful to be fired in full-auto mode with a rifle and so the United States began to lag behind the Soviets who introduced their AK-47 ten years earlier, already.

That’s in those circumstances, and for the aforesaid reasons not to be forgotten, that the first U.S. assault-rifle was designed. It was created in 1956, by Eugene Stoner, as many among us know, but it was chambered at that time for the then recently designed .030 NATO (7.62 X 51mm) and was christened AR 10.

Five years later an evolution of the AR 10, the AR 15, chambered for the smaller and new 223 Remington, a cartridge whose design was inspired by the 222 Remington, got the full approval of the U.S. Department of Defense. Thus the saga of the M16 began.

The originality of the M16 lied in the professional path of Eugene Stoner who was not an arms engineer, but an aeronautic engineer highly familiar with light materials for aeronautic purposes. No one ever dared imagine a gun made of plastic and aluminum before Eugene Stoner did.

The main advantage of the M16 was that its cartridge was small, light, and had a high velocity. So, the soldier equipped with a M16 could carry much more rounds than it did with a M14. Moreover, the M16 in .223 could be fired in full-auto mode without shaking as hell.

But certain unprecedented problems had to be resolved with both the gun and its ammunition.

The 223 was very fast and its diameter was very small, so much so that a single drop of water stuck in the barrel could become an obstacle as hard as steel when meeting a bullet traveling in excess of 2,400 feet per second, thus causing serious damage to a barrel. The solution to this problem was to tie a condom at the end of the barrel…

Another problem was that the steel-made sliding bolt of the M16 was almost entirely in full contact with its aluminum-made bolt-box with small tolerance margin. This particularity favored jamming caused by dust and thin sand particles.

U.S. soldiers quickly complained about this problem and engineers empirically solved it in adding a pusher of a sort on the right side of the gun. Thus, if ever a cartridge couldn’t be fully loaded for one reason or another, then the solution consisted of hitting the pusher lever with the palm of one’s hand—and that’s it!

That’s how was born the M16-A1.

In other words, this last problem inherent to the very design of the M16 was never really solved, and that’s why it is still present on the M4. This problem is less recurrent on “classic” assault rifles whose mechanism still borrows to the old solution of steel-made parts moving in a pressed steel frame, and whose comfortable tolerance margin leaves much room for the dust not to bother the busy soldier.

Now, the insufficient stopping power of the .223 NATO is another problem whose causes are totally independent of the rifle’s design, as you know it now since you have had the patience to read me up to this last phrase.

Will recent spectacular improvements and discoveries in gun recoil encourage the U.S. Department of Defense to reintroduce in the future the use of a larger and new caliber such as a .30 or bigger, but mounted on a short case?

This I don’t know.

But I believe too that the M16 in .223 did its time.


This is the stupidest article ive ever read on the M16, it is completely clear the author knows absolutely nothing about guns or the M16, this “history” is not how it happened and is incorrect, sounds like all his knowledge was based off of Hear-say, or read in a cheap magazine. The forweard assist was added because the air force and army requested it and would not make a purchase with out it, The problems and jams in vietnam were due to lack of a chromed chamber, no cleaning kits, and use a ball powder, NOT because dust and sand jammed it, They chromed the chambers and that made the M16A1, The M14 was NOT chambered for the 30-06, and did not come about from the M1 Carbine The Garand did not come about in 1957, much earlier, this idiot says the garand came about because the army like the M1 Carbine. When the AR-15 first came around it was chambered for the 222 Rem, or the 222 Special(later became the 223) Not the 223 which didnt even exist at that time, the department of defense did not aprove of the rifle when it came out and tried repeatedly to kill it, He says Mr Stoner was not an arms engineer, BS, he worked as an arms engineer for armalite, when he picked up his pencil to draw the plans for his new rifle he bacame an arms engineer, Then he says a small drop of water in the barrel damages it, BS a barrel full of water will explode when fired, but a single drop, when the bullets first starts down the barrel air in front of it is pushed out, along with that Drop of water and does no damge, soldiers tied condoms on the barrel to prevent corrosion and debris from entering the barrel in the jungle enviroments of vietnam, Then he talks about the “stell made bolt, and the Aluminum made Bolt-Box” Jesus christ has this guy ever even seen a gun? Bolt Box? He says they have small tollerances that are favorable for jams caused by dust and small sand grains, Tolerances deal with acceptable sizes of parts ( must be 2″ wide +/-0.002, that 0.002 is the tolerance) He means there is little room between parts or they are tight fitting, and theres not enough dust to jam the gun w/ reg. cleaning, sand? Ask the guys in iraq, a small sand particle wont cause a jam. Then he calls the forward assist a “Pusher-Lever” That didnt fix jams because it wasnt the cause, jams came from un chromed bores and no cleaning kits, the forward assist was there the whole time. And if you have to bang on that FA to get it to function your making it worse on yourself, it function fine without it, if it dont then clean it, the M16 has proved to be the only semiauto weapon ever to be feilded with that stupid forward assist. 223 NATO does not exist, its 5.56mm NATO, its not the round its self, its the bullet and the barrel length, we went with the M855, with a steel penetrator tip, at 2800fps, it doesnt break up and makes needle wounds, The M4 has a 14.5″ barrel which cannot propel the round any faster than 2800fps, pretty sad, if we went back up to the 16 we’d reach the 3000fps mark, and if we went back to the 55gr fmj, which does fragment on impact wed have a manstopper, also the twist rate, a 1/7 which is current issue, “overstabilizes the bullet” its too stable in flesh and goes straight through making the needle wound, if we went back to the 1/12 its stable in air, but barely so when it hits flesh it overturns and fragments very easily, very quikly, its not the round thats the problem, its what we keep doing to our guns and what bullet we put on the case, the right bullet, through the right barrel lenghth and twist rate, which we had with the M16A1 makes a hell of a man stopper. At the end this guy talks about “spectacular improvements AND discoveries in gun recoil” encourage the DOD to up it to a bigger cartrige, OK what a MORON Improvement and discoveries in gun recoil, ok how much better do you get than a good spring? this author is smoking Crack, there have been no improvement in gun recoil, we want a bigger cartrige because were currently using a squirell cartrige, we need a MAN cartrige, yea you can carry more rounds, but what good is that when it takes 4-5 rounds of 5.56 to do what one round of 7.62 does? Id rather have 100 rounds of 7.62 and have 100 kills, than 300 5.56 where it takes 4 rounds a kill, thats only 75 kills, 7.62 wins, im not a wimp i carry plenty of ammo, this is America lets atleast use a big cartrige, we use the smallest cartrige out of any army. If you cry about recoil then you shouldnt be in the services, because in the heat of battle, you dont feel recoil and its the last thing you could think about.


I have a Garand m1 and just as the men in WWII loved it so do I. The Garand was used in the Korean war ,as well as the first part of Nam. If you ran out of ammo the bayonet and that ole hunk of walnut stock would knock the piss out of anyone if it came to hand to hand.Also I carried an m16 and you could put it against your nuts and hit the rock and roll button and not hurt a bit. The rain and mud wasn’t hard to shake out either.
I wish that I had a m16 now.I loved shooting both of these weapons.If ever you get a chance to own either one of these weapons you’ll love them.


If I were to be in combat, I wouldn’t want either the m16 or 4. not enough power, jams too often. give me an h&k or ak47 and i’d be happy to fight in iraq cos my gun wouldn’t be jammed up when i needed it most.


The M4, due to it’s compactness, is better suited to urban conflict than the M16A2 (my old favorite). Using the M4 in Crapghanistan is a bad idea though and it looks like another concession to corporate/political interests to me. Short barrel and hard ammo = p.p.p (piss poor performance) in open country. “John” is absolutely right in what he says up there. Better than going back to an M16 configuration in 5.56, though, would probably be a move to 6.8spc. A more pronounced trajectory but still superior to the AK-47 and harder hitting than the 5.56 NATO. I would be opposed to carrying anything in .308 like others suggest since you could get better performance out of a 6mm (a .243 shoots plenty flat, reaches further, weighs less per round, hits plenty hard and does not require a significantly heavier weapon) so some cartridge in that category would suit my taste a little better. Power – sustainability; good balance. The trouble and expense of retooling the whole program which has been built on the .223 will make sure nothing like that ever happens for a long long time though I’m sure. “God save the status-quo!” ~ unattributed bureaucrat.
Anyway, from my experience in the military it seems you must expect, to some degree, that you will be screwed as a matter of course. The pentagon saying “Here! It’s an outmoded rifle with an under performing load which, we feel, will probably go bang!” falls into that general category.

Georgann Claybon

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The current m4 is a great weapon: great ergonomics, controllable recoil even with larger rounds, lightweight, and versatile. It wouldn’t hurt to move up to a 18″ barrel instead of the current 16″. It would keep it short and maneuverable and give a little more boost in power.
What we really need is a better round. 5.56 is a joke. It’s tiny. Even if it yaws or fragments, which it does not do in our current set up, it has a relatively poor knockdown power compared to other cartridges, including the 7.62 fired at us!
The 6.8spc has very good ballistics and is ready to go. It would be a relatively inexpensive and simple upgrade. Just swap out upper receivers and magazines. The bullet itself is much more substantial, but is still a compact and light enough round that troops can carry the same or almost the same number of rounds as with the wimpy 5.56 NATO.
I don’t understand why we wouldn’t change to this, or some other effective alternative. Our troops are the best and deserve to have the best tools. It’s a shame politics gets in the way.


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