The design rights to the M4 carbine now belong to the U.S. Army as of July 1, 2009. Colt, the sole contractor of the M4 for the past 15 years, will finish supplying the last of 473,000 rifles sometime in 2010. With the rights out of the manufacturers hands, other companies may compete to produce the M4. Yet, this may mark a turning point in domestic small arms production, since the release of the Armys updated carbine requirement. It lays out what the service wants in the future and plenty of companies are anxious to participate in the new carbine trials scheduled for November.
If Army leadership allows the testing to go forward and if theres enough money available, a new carbine may be fielded by 2012 or, they may allow the M4 to soldier on until a revolutionary leap in infantry weapons occurs.
Critics of changing weapons point out that at the present time, no weapon is available that is a significant improvement over the M4. They argue that rivals for the carbine, weapons such as Remington ACR( formerly Magpul Masada), Robinson XCR, Colt Piston M4, etc., are essentially decades old gas piston designs dressed up in new hardware. Gas pistons run cleaner than the M16/M4 series direct gas method, and are already available in the civilian sector for upgrading the M4.
Still, loud complaints hark back to the M4 performance in last years reliability test, which suggests that while there may not be significantly superior weapons, there are better weapons available.
The M4 is essentially a short barreled (14.5 inches) version of the M16 that grew out of a foreign customers requirement two decades ago. Since then, it has incorporated a Rail Interface System that allows attachments of mission specific devices. The M4 is particularly popular among troops who spend a lot of time in vehicles, because the shorter weapon can be more quickly brought to bear in tight quarters.--Mike Perry