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 ...
“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.
I wonder if part of the problem is due to the way the weapon is used. I know my AR-14 is a fine, well functioning rifle, but, OTOH, my rate of fire is no where NEAR the rate of fire the battefield version is subjected to.
I shoot one round, maybe two, in 30 seconds. It sounds as if problems develop when soldiers are shooting/returning fire in an automatic mode, high rates of fire, several hundreds of rounds at a time.
Each M-14 magazine contains what? 30 rounds? In a firefight, I would imagine a soldier could go through several magazines in a very short time.
I wonder what the venerable M1A's rate of fire was?
Did the soldiers of WWII fire such high rates of fire with the M1A Garand? Wasn't the M1 the "standard military issue" battle rifle of the WWII GI? How did we win the war (on both fronts, BTW) with such a heavy, cumbersome, slow-rate-of-fire weapon? Could it POSSIBLY be the operator or technique, and how the weapon was used, and NOT the weapon itself?
I have seen many old WWII teaching films, and they spent lots and lots of time on some basics of shooting stances, aiming, trigger control, etc. How much is taught now-a-days? It seems, from a civilian point of view, that these automatic weapons are used to throw a lot of lead down range in a major hurry, and I don't know of many weapons who could stand up to such high rates of fire, consistently, in ANY AO, much less over in the conditions they are in now.
I guess, in summary, what I am wondering is it the weapons' fault, or is there other areas we should be looking at before we blame the weapon.
Whether you admire it or not doesn’t matter. That’s the plain reality of arms manufacturing.
In addition to the aforementioned AT-4, Marines are also using the LAV (a derivative of the European MOWAG Piranha), the Bandvagn 206 all-terrain vehicle and the Bofors gun (both also from Sweden).
It's all about fitting and tolerances. The M-16 is a precision tool, the AK is a hammer and anvil.
Both will reliably do what they are designed to do if the shooter understands the weapons basic maintenance requirements.
The AK-47 can do it because of the loose tolerances. They aren't the most accurate weapon, but they're reliable. There aren't a lot of times when you can take deliberate aim before firing in a gun fight without exposing your cranium to enemy fire. In addition, the bad guys just refuse to stand out in the open and not move. They're usually hiding behind something or moving, so you end up shooting in the direction where you think they're firing from. As long as you keep firing, they can't maneuver or take careful aim either. That means the guy with the reliable rifle is usually going to prevail.
However, after that the M-16 and the numerous variations became a damn good weapon but it should never be considered the only one.
It lacks the ability to really reach out and touch the hell out of someone at 500 plus yards like the old Garand or M-14 can. It requires a cleaner touch than the AR-47 and the standard M-16 round does not have the punch of the AK's 7.62 at close range.
Having fooled around and fired just about all the issue small arms from World War One up to Iraq, I'd rate the M-16 family of rifles as an excellent choice within its designed envelope of use.
However, as Bob Heinlein taught me at a very early age, "There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men."
I keep that in mind even while holding... my old, out of date Thompson.
But I still keep my K-Bar on the nightstand.
Even today, one is STILL well armed with ANY properly functioning Thompson variant. The M1928A1 with the Lyman sight makes the most of the admittedly limited range of the .45ACP round. I know because I (ahem) “liberated” one in Vietnam and was VERY impressed with it’s capabilities and that 50 round drum.
Couldn’t agree more with your comments on the AR/M16 familiy of rifles. It IS an excellent rifle as long as it’s design/ammunition parameters are kept in mind
Have you read the excellent “Tommy Gun” by Bill Yenne? It is a most enjoyable military and social history of the Thompson Gun. I highly recommend it to any one interested in firearms history.
Just ordered one from Amazon for $14.25... a real savings from the $26.99 retail!
Soldiers in WWII actually had to be RETRAINED from the standard “basic rifle marksmanship” they received in the pre-war Army.
Upon arriving at the battlefield, they found that maneuver was critical and that large volumes of suppressive fire were required. New soldiers were practicing what they were taught in the states, taking their time to aim and place single shots.
While the M-1 garand (M1A is the civvy M-14 nomenclature) only had an eight-round en bloc clip, it was much better than the German bolt-action mausers. Once the American soldiers learned the art of maneuver and the accompanying suppressive fire, the Germans were at an even worse disadvantage.
And, really, it wasn’t a rifle that won the European war.
It was the artillery.
What a great site...I’m LMAO!!
Gadzooks! You mean... Obama didn't win World War Duce and awarded the Nobel peace Prize for doing it????
BTW When the Texas National Guard was federalized in 1940 as the 36th Infantry Divison, my dear old Pappy was in the 132nd Field Artillery Battalion out of Kerens, Texas.
Yet he disagreed with Eisenhower who once said the two pieces of equipment that were most influential in winning the war were the jeep and the C-47. Dad said Ike forgot the "Duce and a half" truck, the LST, the M-1 Garand and M114 155 mm howitzer.
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