Skip to comments.How Reliable Is the M-16 Rifle? Part I
Posted on 11/03/2009 4:58:22 AM PST by Saije
Few issues are more personal to soldiers than the question of whether they can trust their rifles. And few rifles in history have generated more controversy over their reliability than the American M-16 assault rifle and its carbine version, the M-4.
In recent weeks, a fresh round of complaints about weapon malfunctions in Afghanistan, mentioned in an Army historians report that documented small-arms jamming during the fierce battle in Wanat last year, has rekindled the discussion. Are the M-16 and M-4 the best rifles available for American troops? Or are they fussy and punchless and less than ideal for war?
Dont expect a clear answer any time soon. Expect several clear answers at once many of them contradictory. This is because when talk turns to the M-16 and the M-4, it enters emotionally charged territory. The conversation is burdened by history, cluttered with conflicting anecdotes, and argued over by passionate camps.
This much is indisputable: Since the mid-1960s, when at Gen. William C. Westmorelands request an earlier version of the M-16 became the primary American rifle in Vietnam, the reputation of the M-16 family has been checkered.
This is in part because the rifle had a painfully flawed roll-out. Beginning intensely in 1966, soldiers and Marines complained of the weapons terrifying tendency to jam mid-fight. Whats more, the jamming was often one of the worst sorts: a phenomenon known as failure to extract, which meant that a spent cartridge case remained lodged in the chamber after a bullet flew out the muzzle.
(Excerpt) Read more at atwar.blogs.nytimes.com ...
Been through this one about a “hunderd” times, but personally I like them and their variations. Been running them for over 30 years.
I’m not blaming you, but this same topic has been written ad nauseum this year by numerous authors and numerous titles. What is behind all this knocking of the M16?
“I don’t know but someone who would told me a long time ago that the M16 jammed a lot. And that the M-14 was better.”
The original M16 did. The M14 fails too (extractors popping out, for instance). All machines fail. Even the vaunted AK.
The M-14 was better for the 1960s/post Nuclear battlefield. The 7.62mm ( is too powerfull for CQB.
This is more blame Bush and trying to excuse 0bama for a lack of policy in Afghanistan.
There is nothing wrong with the M-16. What is the main battle weapon of the israeli Army? Nuff said.
“Im not blaming you, but this same topic has been written ad nauseum this year by numerous authors and numerous titles. What is behind all this knocking of the M16?”
The article caught my eye for that very reason, that it seems like the debate never ends. And as someone who’s never fired any kind of weapon I find it interesting that there is this controversy (and I’m probably in the minority on that!), mostly because the person who first told me about it was a Marine who was in Vietnam in 1966-67 when they were switched from the M-14 to the M-16. And didn’t like it.
A while back, I had the Springfield Armory M-1A, which is the civilian version of the M-14. It’s a great gun and I’ll probably buy another with a match barrel and composite stock someday. My military friends all liked it but it’s not light and the ammo can get pretty heavy, too.
My young Marine friends haven’t had problems with jamming but they keep their firearms (they also have AR sporter rifles) pristine. However, the M-16/AR-15 platform is getting long in the tooth. Barrett and Heckler & Koch have some new alternatives, similar to the existing platform, the US military is testing. I think both are chambered in 6.8MM (something in between the current 5.56MM and the M-14’s 7.62MM).
M-16 = rounds have less punch, but one can carry more ammo.
M-14 = more powerfull rounds, but can't carry as many.
The personal weapon of most IDF soldiers is the M16, particularly, the M16A2, shortened CAR-15, M4, and M4A1 assault rifles. The majority of regular-service Infantry Corps soldiers are equipped with the shortened M16, but the longer model is still in use among recruits and reserve forces. In 2005, the IMI Tavor assault rifle was brought to operational use, and is intended to become the corps’ principal assault rifle in the future.
about the Tavor : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMI_Tavor_TAR-21
The M-16 is a fine piece of machinery, as such it needs care to keep it going. The Garrand was also a fine piece, if it could have lost some weight through modification (new alloys, fiber stock)it would still be a fine piece. All weapons have initial flaws that have to be worked out after fielding. The M-16 is probably as reliable as the most reliable weapon out there. It also has better accuracy than most.
Heckler & Koch?
Do we have to always go overseas to purchase weapons for the military?
“My M-4gery (Rock River AR-14) is great but it did jam once due to me not cleaning it. The tolerances are tight as they should be and any carbon buildup in the chamber could cause a jam. Overall I love the AR-15.
I’ve got the National Match A2 from Rock River. Never a jam. Unfortunately, my M14 can’t say the same. Not really the design’s fault, though.
ALWAYS clean the chamber of any self-loading rifle at least every few hundred rounds. Especially something with a slightly tighter chamber than an M16. (RRA uses Bill Wylde’s chamber specs).
Even the earliest M16 worked better than our politicians.
“I think both are chambered in 6.8MM (something in between the current 5.56MM and the M-14s 7.62MM).”
It’s very unlikely they’ll add an additional caliber to the supply chain.
Anything mechanical is prone to failure at some given point.
I have had the opportunity of firing most of the older and newer versions of the M16/M4 family, as well as some of the newer technologies available. There are some good ones out there, SCAR, SiG, even the new Ruger. But none of these are battlefield tested. Piston systems, similar to the AK also have problems aside from the 'cleaner' advantage.
The main issue with any of these is caliber.
The 5.56x45 is an excellent round but lacks a lot downrange. The 6.8 SPC is exceptional for longer range accuracy and energy, as is being needed in Afghanistan, where the heavier M14 in 7.62x51 is making another comeback as a battlefield weapon.
But what it all really comes down to, in it's simplest form, is the M4 is light, handy, maneuverable, accurate within it's limits. And when you are carrying around, body armor, pack(40 lbs), ammo, scope, radio, etc, it makes a difference.
I agree. I was in Vietnam in 1967-68 and know that it had to be clean. The powder they used back then was very dirty. I think that caused a lot of the problems.
We had problems with fte any time the weapon got hot and had a lot of problems during Desert Shield when we first arrived in the middle east. The weapons had been stored with a light coating of oil and the fine sand combined with the oil and made the rifle a single shot. Guys who weren't on the front lines didn't find out that their rifle was a paperweight until they got into a firefight.
The 5.56 uses a slow rate of rifling to keep the bullet barely stable during flight. The slow rotation allows the bullet to tumble when it strikes soft tissue and cause more damage. The slow rotation and ultra velocity combine to cause the bullets to fragment or tumble if they hit anything during travel.
The light bullet doesn't always do the job, especially at long ranges. The only real firefight that I was in during Desert Storm took place at around a quarter of a mile. We found blood after the battle indicating that we had scored hits, but all of the bad guys were able to continue fighting and leave under their own power. I think that a larger projectile would have improved our odds. During that battle, two of the seven weapons jammed and one couldn't be cleared until after the fighting was over. You really don't want to resort to a 9mm pistol when the enemy is a quarter mile away.
I had one AR-15 that jammed sometimes, and broke TWICE. And two AK-47’s that never broke OR jammed!
Right, however, the Tavor was neither needed nor requested by the IDF.
I heard the same thing. One Marine I knew always managed to keep an M-14 around even when the brass threw temper tantrums and tried to force him to carry the M-16.
I don’t know how he got away with it.
“The 5.56 uses a slow rate of rifling to keep the bullet barely stable during flight. The slow rotation allows the bullet to tumble when it strikes soft tissue and cause more damage. The slow rotation and ultra velocity combine to cause the bullets to fragment or tumble if they hit anything during travel.”
Current standards are 1x9 for the A2 and 1x7 for the M4. The slow twist/light bullet/tumble thing dates back to the early models. 77 grain Mk262 ammunition is supposed to be available for longer ranges.
I am gun-tarded, but I built an AR-15 from scratch and it rocks.
The M16 is a fine rifle when maintained. However, the design is almost 50 years old. Other nations around the world are creating new designs and better designs while we redress the same platform over and over and over again.
Sadly, we won’t see any real new effective systems here in the US for a long long time. Thanks to all the short sighted elected officials that killed the innovative firearms industry in this nation.
A weapon isn't reliable unless it is clean. ;)
FN is the front-runner with their new SCAR series and is currently deployed with “select” units overseas.
Almost all small arms we procure are made in the USA.
If you take care of it, it will take care of you.
Fussy and punchless and less than ideal for war?
Got my vote.
“The first M16 suffered from jams due to some genius deciding that the chamber didn’t really need to be chrome plated like Stoner had specified.That and using ball power with too much calcium carbonate as a stabilizer caused a lot of problems.”
Pretty much (chamber and barrel were to be chrome lined). The ball powder was already in stock, so they wanted to “save money”..... Then, they told soldiers the rifle didn’t need cleaning and didn’t even provide cleaning kits.
Stuff you know if you have an AK-47:
It works though you have never cleaned it. Ever.
Stuff you know if you have an AR:
You have $9 per ounce special non-detergent synthetic teflon infused oil for cleaning.
Stuff you know if you have a Mosin Nagant:
It was last cleaned in Berlin in 1945.
Stuff you know if you have an AK-47:
You can put a .30" hole through 12" of oak, if you can hit it.
Stuff you know if you have an AR:
You can put one hole in a paper target at 100m with 30 rounds.
Stuff you know if you have a Mosin Nagant:
You can knock down everyone else's target just from the shock wave of your bullet going downrange.
FN and H&K both are not US companies.
“Almost all small arms we procure are made in the USA.”
Contracts require CONUS production facilities, but the companies and designs are foreign.
As for the comment that our rifles should have been cleaned - we didn't have the chance. Our weapons weren't issued to us until the last minute and we weren't given the opportunity to fire it until we were attacked. Having a light coating of oil doesn't mean the weapon is dirty. That's the way they were kept to prevent rust.
When I entered the military in '74 most of the older guys were badmouthing the M-16. I had several negative experiences with them that have undoubtedly tainted my opinion.
On the other hand, there have been numerous test and evaluations and enough anecdotal accounts to come to a reliable decision that the M-16 is not the best weapon for the money. Units that are allowed to select their own weapons, like special operations, almost always select a more reliable weapon. Many of them pulled M-14s out of storage and used them and some are using HKs.
One of McNamara’s “Whiz Kids”, I assume!
With good smokeless ammunition the M16 works great but if the ammo is cheap and the powder is not smokeless the weapon becomes damn near useless.You pretty much have to fieldstrip that weapon and get rid of the soot and carbon deposits.Because if you just add oil to it that soot and carbon become stickey as hell and the weapon will refuse to function.
FN in South Carolina is just an American subsidiary of FN Belgium. FN makes a good chunk of our weaponry (M-16A2, M249 SAW, M240, etc.).
Still, they’re made in the USA.
Good enough for me, unless you want to go for lesser, American-designed options.
“I had one AR-15 that jammed sometimes, and broke TWICE. And two AK-47s that never broke OR jammed!”
Try reading ANY objective comparison between the Russian factory built AK, and the AR-15. No comparison.
I carried both in combat. I admittedly had few malfunctions with the M-16 but had absolutely zero with the M-14. 40 years later my opinion has not changed: the m-16 was a very effective battlefield weapon. But I would still shoulder an m-14 or even an M-1 were I called back to duty (this is assuming they could find a uniform that would fit).
I now own an M-1, AR-15, and an M1A. I shoot them extensively. If there is an extraction failure it is always with the AR-15. Usually with cheap steel-cased Russian crap, but I’ve had it happen with Lake City ammo also. (Don’t anyone start to lecture me about the need to keep the little bastard clean...I spend hours seemingly after every range session doing just that!). It just seems that the Garand and M1A don’t need to be babied with any ammo I want to feed them.
The culprit is federal law 922(o): prohibition of civilians owning/building any machineguns made after 1986.
Worldwide, the leading edge of firearms development is "lots of tiny holes" a la the FN P90, HK MP7, and several other ground-up redesigns. The application is compact arms which can penetrate soft armor, solved by tiny projectiles in cartridges between the .22LR and 5.56x45, stored in 50-round magazines; the small size penetrates well, and low recoil + full auto + large magazines = lots of holes = sufficient damage via a compact package.
BUT ... we're not allowed to make any. Domestic manufacture of any arms is dwindling, with the only real advancements coming in high-priced long-range single-shot systems like the .408 CheyTac, and is driven/funded by civilian markets. There being no legal market for new full-auto products, and research requiring hard-to-get licenses, we're stuck tinkering with 50-year-old platforms and optimizing ultra-long-range rounds.
Overturn 922(o) - c'mon, Heller practically gave us the template - and you'll see new effective systems appear almost overnight.
Some topics are just fun to complain about. Nothing gives natural cynics a rush like tearing down the wildly successful.
Kinda like Glock “kaboom” stories: so common you’d think there’s a real problem, but it’s just that Glocks are robust enough that problems are newsworthy, and popular enough that the total number of problems reported adds up.
Unfortunately, many US companies don’t have much native private investment so are purchased or invested in by foreign companies.
Belgian FN (formerly Fabrique Nationale) manufactures the squad automatic weapon (SAW) and M-16 in the US presently. FN has a long history with Browning since they were connected through the manufacture of the Superposed over/under shotguns as well as other Browning designs.
The AT-4 antitank rocket that Marine friends use was initially designed in Sweden. A newer model has reduced backblast.
Yeah dude, we really admire the manufacturing expertise of the state owned European industries.
Me too! I once ran 14 mags at full squirt b4 she jammed.
wouldn’t extract round from chamber.
After a good cleaning no more trouble.
My Bushmaster is great!!
Israel is changing to Tavor assault rifles. The Pentagon is still evaluating a replacement to the M-16/M-4 family, and it is possible that the Tavor may be a candidate depending on how it performs with the IDF.
I have no problem with the AR-15/M-16 family of rifles. I carried one in the USMC infantry during Desert Storm, Somalia, and as a contractor in Iraq back in 2004/2005. Was it the best caliber? No. The rifle itself was functional and reliable with a bit of care taken to maintain it. With that said, I would like to see a move to a newer platform for front line troops such as the FN SCAR, in the 6.5 Grendel, or 6.8 SPC calibers (I prefer the 6.5 Grendel).
With a barrel and bolt change, and follower changes for the magazines, the M-16/M-4’s currently in service can be upgraded for the new cartridge and supplied to rear echelon troops until the SCAR can be fielded. All of the M-16/M-4 rifles can then be broken down into parts (removing the full auto & 3 round burst parts and receivers)and sold to law abiding civilians through the CMP program.
With that said, I am going to take my AR out for some exercise later today after I vote.
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