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Weapons: The XM8 Lives, Sort Of
   Next Article → SPACE: Robotic Repair Birds in Orbit
March 14, 2007: Back in 2005, the U.S. Armys design for a new assault rifle, the XM8, was cancelled. But now the manufacturer has incorporated one of the key components of the XM8 into M4 rifles, and calls the hybrid the H&K 416. Heckler & Koch (H&K) designed the XM8, which was based on an earlier H&K rifle, the G36. SOCOM is using the 416, but no one else is (except for a few police departments).

 

The XM8 had one major advantage over the M16. The XM8 (like the G36 and 416) uses a short-stroke piston system. The M16s uses gas-tube system, which results in carbon being blown back into the chamber. That leads to carbon build up, which results in jams (rounds getting stuck in the chamber, and the weapon unable to fire.). The short-stroke system also does not expose parts of the rifle to extremely hot gases (which wears out components more quickly). As a result, rifles using the short-stroke system, rather than the gas-tube, are more reliable, easier to maintain and last longer.

H&K developed the 416, for SOCOM, at the same time the XM8 was being evaluated by the army. SOCOM got the first 416s in 2004, a year before the army cancelled the XM8. The 416 looks like the M4, for the only thing that has changed is the gas system that automatically extracts the cartridge after the bullet has been fired, and loads the next round.

In dusty places like Iraq and Afghanistan, you have to clean your M16 and M4 rifles constantly, otherwise the combination of carbon and dust in the chamber will cause jams. The army and marines both decided to stick with their current weapons, rather than adopt an easier to maintain weapon, like the XM8 or 416, because of the billion or so dollars it would cost to switch rifles.  If the issue were put to a vote, the troops would vote for a rifle using a short-stroke system. But the military is not a democracy, so the troops spend a lot of time cleaning their weapons, and hoping for the best.

 

 

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Mike From Brielle       3/14/2007 10:15:01 AM
I seem to remember there were back yard conversion kits in the mid to late seventies that had a bunch of leather and lead beads that you would stuff into the gas key on the bolt carrier that would absorb the impact of a op rod (sort of) that would be used to replace the gas tube and was fed off the gas block under the front sight post. Just an observation. Does any one else remember these things; was always curious how they worked?
 
Otherwise unless they go to something that can perform something like the Grendal with a op-rod (POF P416 or HK 416) M-16 based system that doesn't cost to much (the chamber doesn't change drasticaly from what they have now) I can't see anyone spending (unfortunately) a lot of time or money on this.
 
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KlubMarcus       3/14/2007 9:23:58 PM

I seem to remember there were back yard conversion kits in the mid to late seventies



Several manufacturers sell conversion kits for M16's and derivates that convert them into short stroke action. It's usually a barrel swap that includes the mechanisms in place of the gas tube.
 
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Horsesoldier       3/14/2007 11:43:56 PM
Wow.  So the writers of Strategy Page scam stories from the Army Times and act like it's news?  Weak.
 
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Rasputin    M16 kaput   3/15/2007 9:36:20 AM
So Sysop also agrees, and research on the Army grunts also agrees, that the alternative bastard design that Eugene Stoner treated like a  bastard, the short stroke piston system is better and way more desired then his pet gas tube direct blow back system.

I think Colt need not feel so threatened even if the M16 is no longer the frontline universal weapon for the US army, after all there is still a strong following of civilian M16 fans in the US, even up to today, Para Ordanace still produces a Thomson carbine, and they can still keep the AR 15 alive.


 
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Horsesoldier       3/15/2007 9:46:53 AM

So Sysop also agrees, and research on the Army grunts also agrees, that the alternative bastard design that Eugene Stoner treated like a  bastard, the short stroke piston system is better and way more desired then his pet gas tube direct blow back system.

I think Colt need not feel so threatened even if the M16 is no longer the frontline universal weapon for the US army, after all there is still a strong following of civilian M16 fans in the US, even up to today, Para Ordanace still produces a Thomson carbine, and they can still keep the AR 15 alive.



Well, no.  Some hack writer at Strategy Page plagiarized a recent Army Times article, and then bothered to tack the "the troops really want this" claim onto the end.  I am one of the troops, and can think of a whole lot of better things to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on besides a "new" rifle (which, as you say, has basically been around in one form or another for 50 years) that does nothing new.
The gas piston operating system was evaluated by the US military as far back as 1969 or so . . . and found to offer no actual improvement in performance over the AR-15 design.  This topic has been discussed in greater depth (and by much more knowledgable posters than whoever writes for Strategypage) over at and ar15.com.  I'd recommend those interested check those two venues for better information than has been presented in this write up.
 
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Rasputin       3/15/2007 11:30:11 AM
Yes, no improvement over accuracy, but definately over reliability, possibly savings in the extra longevity of the rifle. Robustness and hand to hand bashing??? Not likely if you are making them out of plastics and aircraft alluminium.

The reason why I said that Eugene Stoner treated the short stroke gas piston system like a bastard, was because he did not even bother to complete or perfect the design.

Mr Stoner simply did it and threw it aside and went on to create his Stoner Machine gun system that could also be modded to be rifles. All using the M16 like gas tube and straight line recoil spring on stock systems. They were all extremely lightweight as compared to the existing systems, and the most remarkable thing about them was the modular configurable design. However the catch was his "pet" system the gas tube was not reliable, and kept on fouling up and jamming.

If the gas tube worked, America would happily buy domestic and not be using the FN Minimi right now. The Stoner would be lighter thats for sure. Belt and Stanag magazine ready as well.

Even after so many years, Colt has not tried to make the gas tube system more foul proof, (the same parts for the bolt and gas tube, most changes for the M16 are on the heavier barrel, handguards and stock) instead Colt went on to develop the short stoke gas piston alternative, incase the US army makes a bold move that goes south on the gas tube.


 
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Horsesoldier       3/15/2007 12:37:15 PM



The reason why I said that Eugene Stoner treated the short stroke gas piston system like a bastard, was because he did not even bother to complete or perfect the design.

Mr Stoner simply did it and threw it aside and went on to create his Stoner Machine gun system that could also be modded to be rifles. All using the M16 like gas tube and straight line recoil spring on stock systems. They were all extremely lightweight as compared to the existing systems, and the most remarkable thing about them was the modular configurable design. However the catch was his "pet" system the gas tube was not reliable, and kept on fouling up and jamming.

If the gas tube worked, America would happily buy domestic and not be using the FN Minimi right now. The Stoner would be lighter thats for sure. Belt and Stanag magazine ready as well.

Even after so many years, Colt has not tried to make the gas tube system more foul proof, (the same parts for the bolt and gas tube, most changes for the M16 are on the heavier barrel, handguards and stock) instead Colt went on to develop the short stoke gas piston alternative, incase the US army makes a bold move that goes south on the gas tube.


Yes, no improvement over accuracy, but definately over reliability, possibly savings in the extra longevity of the rifle. Robustness and hand to hand bashing??? Not likely if you are making them out of plastics and aircraft alluminium.

First, the reliability issue is a utter silliness.  The M16/M4 can go 5000+ rounds without cleaning, the HK 416 claims to go 15,000 rounds without cleaning.  The first numbers is almost 24 basic loads of ammunition.  What soldier, marine, etc., goes through 24 basic loads without cleaning his weapon?  Ever?
 
As for robustness . . . the HK 416 is no more sturdy than a stock M4.  As for using either in combatives, I'm taking your statement to mean you've never been on the receiving end of a muzzle strike.  I've seen guys use M4s as part of a mechanical breach drill (muzzle striking cinder block walls, with a sledge hammer backing them up) and they work just fine afterwards.

Mr Stoner simply did it and threw it aside and went on to create his Stoner Machine gun system that could also be modded to be rifles. All using the M16 like gas tube and straight line recoil spring on stock systems. They were all extremely lightweight as compared to the existing systems, and the most remarkable thing about them was the modular configurable design. However the catch was his "pet" system the gas tube was not reliable, and kept on fouling up and jamming.
 
The Stoner 63 uses a gas piston design.  Stoner did prefer direct gas impingement, but sale of patents to Colt precluded his reusing that format on the Stoner 63.
 
As for the AR-18, most of the design work at Armalite was done on it after Stoner went to work for Colt.  He did not "throw the AR-18" aside, he took a job with a seperate company and did not take his intellectual property with him.  His work on the Stoner 63 occurred even later, after he left Colt.
 
Even after so many years, Colt has not tried to make the gas tube system more foul proof, (the same parts for the bolt and gas tube, most changes for the M16 are on the heavier barrel, handguards and stock) instead Colt went on to develop the short stoke gas piston alternative, incase the US army makes a bold move that goes south on the gas tube.
Well, no.  Colt has made various modifications to the basic AR-15 design through the years, including modifications aimed at increasing reliability, when feedback from the US military or other users has indicated some issue needed fixing.  The US military has repeatedly looked at gas piston designs, and not found them to bring much to the table that the AR did not already provide.
 
The fact that Colt, HK, Leitner-Wise and POF all currently make gas piston AR uppers, and none have enjoyed anything remotely approaching sames success, probably says something rather telling about their alleged "superiority" to the AR-15.  Likewise, the failure of the AR-18 and Stoner's gas piston modular Stoner 63/Mk 23 Mod 0/M96 etc., rifles.  A lot of people seem to hyperinflate all sorts of information in the echo chamber of the internet, but the fact that the M16 has served in a front line capacity longer than any other US military rifle in the last 100
 
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Nichevo    Look at the bright side   3/15/2007 1:52:46 PM
We're looking at a few $hundred for the part of dubious marginal utility, vs. $thousands for new rifles of dubious marginal utility (esp. as they would still be 5.56mm). 

ISTM a piston adds a fail point - aside from breaking, why wouldn't dirt and grit foul this mechanism and provide a new jam mode?

Perhaps the best thing would be to stop worrying about the rifle and figure out a new strategy for the ammo.  Would a flat nose bullet, or a hollow nose without expansion (with or without an aerodynamic tip), provide better shock/lethality?  Call me ignorant - I am not a soldier - but I don't find it quite satisfactory, even if brave faces accepting the situation appear to, that you just have to accept the need to shoot your man two, three, a dozen times with a high-velocity icepick in order to stop him. 

At the risk of appearing to play with men's lives, why not experiment with squads equipped with the M-14 or a modernized M-14?  Or an AR-10 or AR-25 type if you feel wedded to the Stoner pattern. 

You would have to somehow mitigate any risk of running out of ammo in a heavy firefight - supplements to the 7.62mm basic load - and would have to retrain some people perhaps - but I don't remember very many complaints (feel free to refresh my memory) of numerous Nazis, Japs, Koreans or Chinese seeming to laugh off multiple 7.62mm hits.  (Equally, I suppose, the 6.8mm or other like medium rounds could be used in such field trials.)  If you have isolated incidents, then probably there are isolated incidents of the .50 BMG failing to provide instant death or stopping. 

If it has to be the 5.56mm, and if short rifles/carbines must be used, perhaps some experimentation with, Heaven forbid, bullpups is in order?  A 10.5" barrel is not a rifle barrel, it is a glorified pistol barrel.  Who could be surprised at the drop in effectiveness?

Even if we feel obliged to say - even if we truly believe - that the 5.56mm is good enough, why not strive for better?  I cannot help but suspect that fiscal and maybe broader logistical concerns are at issue, rather than the ultimate needs of the man at the tip of the spear.  As it is, ammo production is strained - new buildout of ammo plants should at least offer the possibility of change.

 
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Rasputin       3/16/2007 12:18:04 AM





The reason why I said that Eugene Stoner treated the short stroke gas piston system like a bastard, was because he did not even bother to complete or perfect the design.

Mr Stoner simply did it and threw it aside and went on to create his Stoner Machine gun system that could also be modded to be rifles. All using the M16 like gas tube and straight line recoil spring on stock systems. They were all extremely lightweight as compared to the existing systems, and the most remarkable thing about them was the modular configurable design. However the catch was his "pet" system the gas tube was not reliable, and kept on fouling up and jamming.

If the gas tube worked, America would happily buy domestic and not be using the FN Minimi right now. The Stoner would be lighter thats for sure. Belt and Stanag magazine ready as well.

Even after so many years, Colt has not tried to make the gas tube system more foul proof, (the same parts for the bolt and gas tube, most changes for the M16 are on the heavier barrel, handguards and stock) instead Colt went on to develop the short stoke gas piston alternative, incase the US army makes a bold move that goes south on the gas tube.



Yes, no improvement over accuracy, but definately over reliability, possibly savings in the extra longevity of the rifle. Robustness and hand to hand bashing??? Not likely if you are making them out of plastics and aircraft alluminium.

First, the reliability issue is a utter silliness.  The M16/M4 can go 5000+ rounds without cleaning, the HK 416 claims to go 15,000 rounds without cleaning.  The first numbers is almost 24 basic loads of ammunition.  What soldier, marine, etc., goes through 24 basic loads without cleaning his weapon?  Ever?

Strongly dispute the 5000 + rounds on the M16 without cleaning, it jams jams away. It jams way more than most other rifles.  So yes US soldiers are very disciplined to clean their rifles. But isn't it strange that the M16s were supplied to the US allies the South Vietnamese army in the Vietnam war, but in Iraq?????? The Iraqi army gets the AK 47???!!!!!!

 
As for robustness . . . the HK 416 is no more sturdy than a stock M4.  As for using either in combatives, I'm taking your statement to mean you've never been on the receiving end of a muzzle strike.  I've seen guys use M4s as part of a mechanical breach drill (muzzle striking cinder block walls, with a sledge hammer backing them up) and they work just fine afterwards.

Well I mean't the stock, not the barrel, none the less, since I could break it with my foot, and that most of these new rifles out there in particular the bullpups are not entirely ideal for bashing around. Can the M16 take the tortue test of being driven over by a truck, buried in sand and still come out firing???? After all other short stroke or even long stroke piston assault rifles can!!!!!

Mr Stoner simply did it and threw it aside and went on to create his Stoner Machine gun system that could also be modded to be rifles. All using the M16 like gas tube and straight line recoil spring on stock systems. They were all extremely lightweight as compared to the existing systems, and the most remarkable thing about them was the modular configurable design. However the catch was his "pet" system the gas tube was not reliable, and kept on fouling up and jamming.

 

The Stoner 63 uses a gas piston design.  Stoner did prefer direct gas impingement, but sale of patents to Colt precluded his reusing that format on the Stoner 63.

 

As for the AR-18, most of the design work at Armalite was done on it after Stoner went to work for Colt.  He did not "throw the AR-18" aside, he took a job with a seperate company and did not take his intellectual property with him.  His work on the Stoner 63 occurred even later, after he left Colt.

I think that is more or less agreeable, but the fact was that he prefered the gas tube dirty system for accuracy.

 

Even after so many years, Colt has not tried to make the gas tube system more foul proof, (the same parts for the bolt and gas tube, most changes for the M16 are on the heavier barrel, handguards and stock) instead Colt went on to develop the short stoke gas piston alternative, incase the US army makes a bold move that goes south on the gas tube.

 
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Horsesoldier       3/16/2007 9:08:09 PM

 

Strongly dispute the 5000 + rounds on the M16 without cleaning, it jams jams away. It jams way more than most other rifles.  So yes US soldiers are very disciplined to clean their rifles. But isn't it strange that the M16s were supplied to the US allies the South Vietnamese army in the Vietnam war, but in Iraq?????? The Iraqi army gets the AK 47???!!!!!!
 
I've had an M16 or M4A1 as my issue weapon for most of my almost-14 year military career (the only exceptions being when I had an M9 issued as a member of an AFV crew).  I've never, in all those years, found the AR design to be jam prone, nor have I found it to require anything more than a bare minimum of maintenance to keep it running.  From personal experience, I have no problem accepting the 5000+ round figure (which comes from DoD studies of the issue) as an accurate assessment of the M16/M4 in sound mechanical condition.
 
As for the Iraqi Army -- they're issued the weapon that they had available in huge numbers free or dirt cheap (likewise ammunition) and that anyone who did any conscription time in the Hussein regime's military is passably familiar with.  Issuing them M16s in that scenario is financially ludicrous.
 
 
Well I mean't the stock, not the barrel, none the less, since I could break it with my foot, and that most of these new rifles out there in particular the bullpups are not entirely ideal for bashing around. Can the M16 take the tortue test of being driven over by a truck, buried in sand and still come out firing???? After all other short stroke or even long stroke piston assault rifles can!!!!!
 
One could certainly make an AR that could be run over by a truck, if one wanted to make an excessively heavy weapon for what it was (like the AK . . .).  In my experience, rifles rarely get run over by trucks, but get carried constantly.  I'm comfortable with a weapon that fails the "truck collision test" but frees up a couple pounds for me to wear body armor, carry more ammo, put modern optical sights on the weapon, etc.
 
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