7, 2008: The U.S. Army is now distributing the M4 Carbine to
support troops and commanders in units not operating in the combat
zone. The M16 is still the standard infantry weapon, but the shorter
M4 is replacing it in situations where weight and size is a factor,
and long range shooting isn't. In some cases troops who were
previously armed with a pistol, now have a more powerful M4 to tote
M-4 has been around since the early 1990s, when a special version of
the M4 was adopted for use by SOCOM (Special Operations Command).
SOCOM often takes the lead in developing new weapons, or versions of
existing ones (like the M4, a modified M16 design). Once SOCOM has
demonstrated that a new item works in combat, the army and marines
are inclined to consider adopting it as well.
M4 is much more compact than the M16, not just because of the shorter
barrel, but because of the telescoping stock. This makes the M4 much
easier to use by people in vehicles, or for combat support people who
must carry around, but rarely use, a rifle. The M4 is 33 inches long
and weighs 6.9 pounds (with a 30 round magazine.) In contrast, the
M16 weighs 8.5 pounds and is 39.5 inches long. The M4 has a 14.5 inch
barrel, while the M16's is 20 inches.
other main difference between the two weapons is that the M16 is more
effective at longer ranges (over 300 meters), because of its longer
barrel. But combat experience in the 20th century demonstrated time
and again that most (over 90 percent) of the time, your average
infantry soldier did not need a personal weapon that was optimized
for long range shooting. Almost all combat took place at shorter
ranges. It was more effective to have specialized weapons (light
machine-guns and larger caliber sniper rifles) for the long range
stuff, and a lighter and handier weapon for close in work.
years, there have been controversies over the wounding power of the
5.56mm bullet used in both the M4 and M16, as well as the reliability
of the firing mechanism for both rifles (which have 80 percent
compatibility of components). The army has surveyed the troops
several times, and conducted many tests, to try and settle these
disputes. The basic finding is that 89 percent of the troops had
confidence in the M4, but did have complaints about jamming and the
hitting power of the 5.56mm round. Changing to a new weapon would
cost several billion dollars, and none of the proposed candidates, as
far as the generals were concerned, had a dramatic advantage over the
M4 (and could end up introducing new problems.) So, for the moment,
the M4, a smaller version of the 1950s M16 design, remains. The U.S.
Marine Corps is sticking with the M16 for most of its troops, but has
junior grade officers carrying the M4 instead of a pistol.