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Weapons: Finally Fixing The M4 Carbine
   Next Article → AIR WEAPONS: Rogue Marines Adopt Cheap And Precise Solution
September 17, 2010: The U.S. Army has begun delivering upgrade kits for its M4 carbines. The kits replace the barrel, receiver and auto-loading system with one  that is easier to keep clean. There is also a heavier barrel and the ability to fire full automatic. There are also stronger rails on top of the barrel, for mounting scopes and such. The army is distributing at least 10,000 of these kits this year. The marines are not upgrading their M4s (which are mainly used by support troops.) Most elements (except for the piston loading system) were already incorporated by SOCOM (Special Operations Command) for their own M4s, which were then redesignated M4A1.

This conversion kit addressed years of complaints about the M-4 and M-16 assault rifles. The M-4 is a short barrel M-16, and has become very popular with the troops. The army had asked the Department of Defense for permission to spend a few hundred million dollars on these upgrades for its 400,000 M-4 assault rifles. The main  change was replacing the main portion of the rifle with a new component that contains a short stroke piston gas system (to reduce buildup of carbon inside the rifle) and a heavier (by 142 gr/five ounces) barrel (which reduces barrel failure from too much heat, which happens when several hundred rounds are fired within a few minutes.)

Much of this goes back to the decades old argument about replacing the recoil system in the M-16 assault rifles, to make them more reliable and easier to clean. This came to a head (again) three years ago, when the army ran more tests on its M-4 rifle, involving dust and reliability. Four weapons were tested. The M4, the XM8, SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) and the H&K 416 (similar to the new M4 with the upgrade kit).

The testing consisted of exposing the weapons to 25 hours of heavy dust conditions over two months. During that testing period, 6,000 rounds were fired from each of ten weapons of each type. The weapons with the fewest failures (usually jams) were rated highest. Thus the XM8 finished first, SCAR second, 416 third and M4 last. In response, the army said it was satisfied with the M4's performance, but was considering equipping it with a heavier barrel (to lessen overheating) and more effective magazines (27 percent of the M4s 882 jams were magazine related.) The army noted that the M4 fired over 98 percent of its rounds without problems. That missed the point that the other rifles had far fewer jams. In combat, each jam is a life threatening situation for the soldier in question. The army had been forced by Congress to conduct the tests. Congress was responding to complaints by the troops.

The XM8 had 127 jams, the SCAR 226 and the 416 had 233. Thus the M-4 had nearly eight times as many jams as the XM8, the rifle designed to replace it. The M4 had nearly four times the jams of the SCAR and 416, which were basically M4 type rifles with a different gas handling system. Any stoppage is potentially fatal for the soldier holding the rifle. Thus the disagreement between the army brass, and the troops who use the weapons in combat.

In dusty places like Iraq and Afghanistan, you have to clean your M16 and M4 rifles constantly, otherwise the combination of carbon (from the recoil system) 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 H&K 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 (like the XM8, SCAR or H&K 416). But the military is not a democracy, so the troops spend a lot of time cleaning their weapons, and hoping for the best. The debate involves two intertwined attitudes among senior army commanders. First, they don't want the hassle, and possible embarrassment, of switching to a new rifle. Second, they are anticipating a breakthrough in weapons technology that will make a possible a much improved infantry weapon. This is likely to happen later, rather than sooner, but the generals kept obsessing over it.

Earlier efforts to just get the troops a more reliable rifle have failed. Back in 2005, the U.S. Army's 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 (like the G36 and 416) uses a short-stroke piston system. The M16 uses the 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. SOCOM can buy pretty much whatever they want, the U.S. Army cannot. SOCOM listens to what its troops want, the army often doesn't.

The army made some other changes, as part of the M-4 component replacement. These included improved trigger pull characteristics, ambidextrous controls (to make life easier for lefties) and a round counter (in the pistol grip) to track the number of bullets fired over the lifetime of the rifle (makes for better data on how rifles perform over time, and for scheduling the replacement of components.)

 

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mabie       9/17/2010 6:50:10 AM
The army expects to complete the conversion in 40 years...
 
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Shawnc    Ermmm...   9/17/2010 7:07:47 AM
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.
 
Apart from the gas piston system, the HK416 has a free-floating cold forged barrel,  redesigned multi-position butt stock, redesigned pistol grip, proprietary fore handguard with four sided rail mounts and flip-up front sight.
 
So basically, from the information in this article, the US Army is product improving the M4 to HK416 standard without buying a single HK416. Colt must be laughing to the bank...
 
Oh, and the USMC says they're sticking to their M16A4s as they prefer the longer barrel, while buying HK416 derived IARs...
 
Seriously? I can't phantom the US Army's obsession with carbines. If you're so worried about compactability for urban warfare, go for a bullpup, as you'll still have a rifle that can accurately reach out and touch a bad guy at 300m. 
 
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Ispose    Hmmm...math   9/17/2010 10:14:25 AM
Lets see...6000 rounds fired...approx 500 stoppages for the M-4...thats one out of 12 rounds fired produced a stoppage...that sucks and is almost criminal that the troops have that abysmal of a weapon. It's bad enough that that the 5.56 is already iffy in stopping power and now you can't even reliably shoot the enemy the multiple times needed to put them down?. Might be time to reissue M-1's...I know I would have more trust in one.
 
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YelliChink       9/17/2010 10:21:47 AM
http://right-thoughts.us/images/uploads/not_this_shit_again.jpg" width="300" height="391" />
 
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buzzard       9/17/2010 11:22:04 AM
Lets see...6000 rounds fired...approx 500 stoppages for the M-4...thats one out of 12 rounds fired produced a stoppage...that sucks and is almost criminal that the troops have that abysmal of a weapon. It's bad enough that that the 5.56 is already iffy in stopping power and now you can't even reliably shoot the enemy the multiple times needed to put them down?. Might be time to reissue M-1's...I know I would have more trust in one.
 
 You better read the article again. It was 882 jams (no idea where you got 500). Then, if you read it more carefully, you note that it was 6000 rounds fired through ten rifles of each type, so 60000 rounds. This gives a failure rate of around 1.5% for the M4, which as noted by the article was a lot worse than the competition.
 
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YelliChink       9/17/2010 1:00:47 PM
Gas system is just one design flaw among many in AR system. The Cam Pin is another major issue. Although there are fixes, such as POF roller cam pin, I doubt DOD will ever adopt this more expensive solution. Piston is just a fix to fouling bolt carrier, but brings other problems such as receiver wear (less significant to military, but more of a problem to civilian collectors who go out and shoot a lot). It is also a bit heavier.
 
Even with its many faults and flaws, ARs do have three merits: accuracy, adaptability and weight. The balance of AR is also very good and comfortable to carry around. Some other rifles, such as SG-550, is front-heavy.
 
The real question is, if the Army really wants a new rifle that is extremely reliable, why not just contract to produce AK in 5.56NATO with STANAG mag compatibility in the US? After all, how expensive would that be?
 
Once again, instead of cheaposimpletic solution, DOD went through all the way to chase a unicorn just to piss money away.
 
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buzzard       9/17/2010 1:03:37 PM
The AK has lousy ergonomics and isn't accurate at all.
 
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YelliChink       9/17/2010 1:35:42 PM

The AK has lousy ergonomics and isn't accurate at all.

Buy yourself an Arsenal SLR-106F with rail mount and decent scope, then use Winchester or Federal match ammunition. Then you will find that the AK inaccuracy is actually a myth.
 
As far as the ergo goes, AK can be made just as decent as AR. There are already STANAG mag adapter or enlarged mag release out there. OP handle on the left is rather a training issue. Pols have right-handed thumb fliping safty, and there are also kits out there allow you to access safty/selector without changing grip from both left and right hand. The only problem left unresolved is bolt stop. I personally don't think that is necessary, but if you're gonna redesign an AK with STANAG mag instead of standard Bulgarian 5.56 mag, then you can put a bolt stop there, in theory.
 
 
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buzzard       9/17/2010 1:58:33 PM
Given the fact that the M-16 (or M-4) has the line of recoil more direct into the shoulder as a basis of the design, the AK cannot match the ergonomics.
 
I also have to wonder about the accuracy question. It would take some actual numbers for me to believe it. 
 
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WarNerd       9/17/2010 2:26:26 PM

Buy yourself an Arsenal SLR-106F with rail mount and decent scope, then use Winchester or Federal match ammunition. Then you will find that the AK inaccuracy is actually a myth.

Too bad they are out of production and out of stock.  Besides, it is only similar to an AK-47, not the same as.
 
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