The controlled tests of the Colt, H&K, and FN showed the M4 coming out on the bottom in reliability in sand, with one stoppage in every 600 rounds. The other two were a bit better, but all three clustered around the 98% reliability rate. Most stoppages were quickly cleared, as troops are trained to do. "Catastrophic" stoppages were rare on all three.
All of these weapons are just about as close to perfect reliability as is possible to get. Tinkering at the margin to get another .1% costs lots of money, with no detectable difference to the troop.
Frequency of maintenance is a factor, but no professional soldier wants to abuse his rifle just for the hell of it. In the cavalry, you take care of your horse before yourself. For infantry, it's your rifle. Both are your only personal means of salvation.
The FN and H&K can both be considered evolutionary improvements of the M16/M4. All use the M16 magazine, although I'll admit the H&K version is the Rolls Royce of M16 mags, and the most expensive. Both are attempts to move away from the gas-tube system of the M16, which was revolutionary in that it cut down on moving parts, and therefore costs. It also brought hot chamber gas deep into the bolt carrier.
All three are fine weapons, and if I had the money, I'd buy one of each (in semi-auto only, of course). When I have to consider millions of weapons and parts already in the field, I'd have to be much more cautious, since I don't want to cause an upheaval over weapons systems that come within a few percentage points of each other.
Another thing to consider is that all three are priced about the same. Anybody who knows anything about manufacturing will tell you that there are only so many ways of milling aluminum, forging steel, and molding plastic. I can't speak to anybody's profit margins (or R&D costs), but none of them are the "magic bullet" that brings the cost down to the $17 it costs Chinese slave labor to make a AK47. Also, the price on all of them seems to include some sort of fancy optics, where the real weapons progress has been made in this war. These sights, with proper training, allow our troops to drop the bad guy further and faster than the sh!thead can even conceive.
I’ve always wondered if a heavier caliber, perhaps in the .30 range, might not be a better investment.
Is the M4 what was called an CAR-15 “Shorty” back decades ago?