Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's time to say goodbye.

Marine with his M16
We, as Americans, tend to cling to things.  We are a nostalgic bunch.  We love our 1911's, our M1 Garands and our 1960's hotrods.  There's nothing wrong with that really, it defines us.  But we also tend to cling to things for the wrong reasons.  We get comfortable with something and we are reluctant to let go.  Take the M1 Garand and the M14 as an example.  We loved the M1 Garand so much that we refused to let it go.  When the rest of the world was moving towards more modern rifles, we revamped the M1 Garand and came up with the M14, one of the shortest serving rifles in U.S. military history.
The M16 has been with us since the 1960's.  When the M16 came on the scene, it was one of the most revolutionary rifle designs, ever.  Why?  Because it made use of aluminum forgings for major parts, plastics/polymers for the stocks, was super light weight and fired the newly developed 5.56mm cartridge.  The M16, and all of its subsequent variants, became the catalyst for change in small arms thinking around the world, including being the primary impetus behind the Russians dropping the 7.62x39 in favor of the 5.45x39.

I served with the M16A2 in the Marine Corps in the late 80's and early 90's.  My first center fire rifle was a Colt AR15 A2 Sporter II, which I still have in my safe.  I love the AR15/M16.  It's as American as baseball and apple pie.  It's served as our nations primary combat rifle for 46 years, the longest serving rifle in U.S. military history.

Adcor Defense B.E.A.R.
The Army has started trials to find a replacement for the M4 Carbine.  These trials will include rifles ranging from the FN SCAR, Remington ACR, Robarms XCR to updated versions of the M4 Carbine.  Companies such as Remington are fielding revised versions of the M4 Carbine for these new trials as well as new comers such as Adcor Defense and their highly modified M4 style Carbine called the B.E.A.R.

Companies have been modifying the AR15/M16 for many years now trying to resolve "issues" with the direct impingement (DI) gas system.  It seems the most popular modification is to replace the DI gas system with a gas piston arrangement similar to that found on the AR18/180.  The only problem I have with these modifications is that it assumes there is something wrong with the DI system of operation.  I don't believe there is, nor do many who have studied the performance of the M16 in combat.

As a matter of fact, many of these "fixes" to the DI system actually cause more problems than they resolve.  The introduction of gas piston systems into the AR family of rifles has caused things like "carrier tilt", a problem that causes malfunctions and accelerated wear in many modified AR's.  That's where companies like Adcor and the new B.E.A.R. rifle come in, they claim to correct all the problems introduced by other changes made to the AR's original system of operation.  It's a vicious circle, we're now fixing the fixes on a rifle that had no real problems to begin with. 

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because I firmly believe that if we're going to test and adopt a new rifle the AR/M16 needs to be retired and replaced with a more modern rifle system.  I say "system" because the modern warrior needs more than a rifle with iron sights on the modern battlefield.  The M16 has adapted nicely to these ever evolving high-tech roles with various modifications, but it's time we adopt a rifle built from the ground up, using modern materials and engineering, for America's warriors.  If we're going to replace the M16/M4 in service, let's do it right and not adopt a warmed over, "fixed up" AR15/M16.  We owe it to ourselves and to our war fighters to give them the best we can make.  I propose we stop with the endless modifications to the AR/M16 and build a new rifle that capitalizes on the lessons we've learned over the last 46 years with the M16 and come up with the next revolutionary rifle design.

We can do it.


  1. I think Israel is on the right track with the Tavor system. Time will tell, but I think the bullpup design lends itself quite well to the modern battlefield where a warrior is expected to clear houses one day and patrol sandy plains the next.

  2. The marines would hate the bullpup because it would take away their bayonet training, But I see your point there...a bullpup if adopted would have to be able to be ported so it ejects left or right side with minor adjustment so lefties would be able to use it...personally, If we do get rid of the AR (sniff) I think the SCAR is probably got the inside track to adoption,

  3. @Huey
    There's nothing inherent in bullpup designs that precludes the use of a bayonet.

    Of all the entrants, the only one I'd be remotely impressed with is the SCAR. The XCR and ACR have a slew of problems all on their own. Most of the other entrants are just suped up M4s.

    I think one of the main reasons that we haven't seen replacements for the M16/M4 family (and conversely, the Kalashnikov family) is that there have not been any truly revolutionary steps in small arms development since the '80s when truly modern polymers began working their way into the industry. There's no wonder cartridge, there's no new operating system or anything else that's so outstanding that it really warrants the change.

    Most people will chime in with the modularity argument about changing calibers and such. Honestly, I just cannot see this as a feature that's going to be used in the field, which means the M4/M16 is already modular enough with the ability to change upper receivers back inside the wire for when a longer or shorter barrel is called for.

  4. Shouldn't we resolve the fact that our military doesn't face a situation that is overarchingly uniform, and instead identify the mission-variable roles that need to be served?

    For example: In CQB and fairly close quarters one finds themselves faced with on the Urban battlefield, the 5.56 and its ilk are effective rounds and present no reason to be replaced. However, move into a combat zone like the mountains of Afghanistan where ranges of 400-600m+ are common for engagements, the 5.56 and other similar calibers show their weaknesses as they lose a lot of their energy and benefit at these longer ranges, necessitating a round with more oomph, which prompted us to return to the M14 platform in some cases, or adopt new variants on the AR platform in a bigger caliber.

    Then you have the type of combat where a rifle profile weapon is too unwieldy for effective advancement, necessitating a smaller weapon such as the PDWs and SMGs such as the MP5, FNP90, etc.

    The problem isn't the age of the M4 platform. It does the best job it can, and I don't see that there's much that we can change about it, fundamentally, to reform it into a new generation of weapon, short of adopting some mechanism that radically alters how recoil is handled, or a completely new type of action, which really would be difficult to create without using the same existing mechanism types as we already have.

    Before we spend the money, too, to keep trying to reinvent the wheel, wouldn't it be better to address issues with mission variability in general, and determine a complete set of requirements for the rifle and other subsequent weapons systems in order to fill various niches?

  5. Gage,

    You've pretty much described the capabilities of the Remington ACR. It is multi-caliber. It can be configured as a SAW, rifle, carbine and I'm sure a SMG conversion is likely in the works. You can change the stocks as well. All this can be done in minutes without any tools.

    The AR is dated and trying to jerry-rig it into this capability is a wasted effort IMHO, we're better starting off with a system designed from the ground up to fill this role.

    As for the requirements the Army has set forth, I've not seen any official document as to what they've outlined in detail, just the high level stuff that's been released to the media. As such I can't really comment.

    Thanks for reading.

  6. The Remington ACR would be a good choice, however it doesn't seem like the military is on board with it.

  7. A few days ago I saw were the military is letting a new contract for 100,000 new M4 carbines.

  8. Until we stop slinging the 5.56, we need to stick with the rifle that makes an improvement in reliability and also makes the most use of existing tooling and parts supplies. There are piston ARs on the market that are every bit as reliable as any of these next gen rifles out, some are more reliable than the next gen rifles.

    Its not an assumption that there is something wrong with DI, there is something wrong with it. It needs copious amounts of cleaning and lubrication to stay running no matter what the environment. Imagine how far you would go in a car that puts its exhaust in the the passenger compartment, DI is the same principle, its just worse. I could go into how my rifle failed at the worse possible time even though I kept it clean, but this isn't my blog.

  9. @ aero

    no thank you, I like my thumbs right where they are.