M-16 Still Hot Enough for US Marines

#1
M-16 Still Hot Enough for Marines
by W. Thomas Smith Jr.
08/25/2009


Two years ago when I was in Iraq, I noticed there were essentially two different primary infantry weapons (the M16 automatic rifle and the also-automatic M4 carbine) carried by America’s two primary ground forces -- the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army.

Marines for the most part were carrying the M16. The Army on the other hand was primarily carrying the M4: a shorter, lighter version of the M16 with a collapsible-stock.

Not that there weren’t leathernecks carrying M4s; there were. And soldiers also were wielding 16s.


But slightly different approaches to infantry tactics had led one force to favor one version of the weapon over the other. And experts today at Headquarters Marine Corps and the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal suggest that trend is increasingly reflecting the differing operational philosophies between the two services.

What’s more, there seems to be no new replacement system on the horizon for the M-16 family of weapons, including the current M16A4 and its shorter sister, the M4. Defense contractors like Colt and Fabrique Nationale are always looking beyond current design to come up with a system that outperforms all others. But unlike ships, planes, and tanks, which take years -- sometimes decades -- from conception to production, a rifle is still a very basic tool of armed combat, and some of the features of almost any rifle are largely unchanged since the Civil War.

This is not to suggest that modern rifles are not incredibly sophisticated; they are. But experts contend rifle technology may have hit a plateau.

Moreover, “we don’t operate in an unconstrained fiscal environment,” Charles Clark, the infantry weapons capability integration officer at Headquarters Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “We have to focus on where we can make improvements and how we can do that within fiscal constraints, simultaneously supporting our operating forces.”

Clark, who juggles his civilian job at Quantico with his work as a Marine Reserve infantry officer (having had combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan) says the current M16A4 is actually “a great primary service weapon” and there are no plans to replace it for at least another decade. But, he adds, a future Marine commandant could easily come in and say, “Let’s replace the M16,” though it’s not likely, given the M16A4’s solid performance in various post-9/11 operational environments.

“We are always looking to upgrade things like maybe the ammunition and the ancillary equipment we use on the weapon, the rifle-combat optic for instance, and the night vision capabilities with image intensifiers, laser pointers, etc.,” he says.

Though it may be considered a “great primary” infantry rifle today, the M16 -- lighter and at a much smaller caliber (5.56 mm) than its heavier forebears -- struggled to earn the respect it now holds.

The weapon is far removed from the old World War I-era bolt-action M1903 Springfield that Marines used to knock down German infantrymen at distances beyond 800 yards during the 1918 battle of Belleau Wood. Nevertheless, the M16 has been the primary Marine (and Army) infantry weapon for more than 40 years. And Marine recruits -- like their great, great grandfathers during World War I -- continue to hone their marksmanship skills at distances up to 500 yards. After all, it was the marriage between a Marine and his Springfield that inspired U.S. Army Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to proclaim, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”

That fact has not changed, though rifles have.

During World War II, the semi-automatic M1 Garand began replacing the M1903 Springfield. The M1 began to be replaced by the also-semi-automatic M14 (said to be the last of the large caliber American battle rifles) during the 1950s. And the M14 began to be replaced by the M16 in the 1960s.

The current fourth-generation M16A4 rifle is an exponentially superior weapon to the somewhat problematic first-generation M16 during the Vietnam War (I actually cut my teeth on M16A1s and M16A2s in the 1980s). And the near submachinegun-size M4 is widely considered an excellent weapon for conventional infantry (though modern infantry is trained in both conventional and unconventional tactics), paratroopers, and special operations forces, keeping in mind that 21st-century American ground forces have a far larger variety of standard weapons to choose from than previous generations.

One Marine officer told me, “I understand the Army has in fact considered an M-4 pure fleet, getting rid of all their M16s, and they’ve already done that within their brigade combat teams.”

Indeed, during my time in 2007 embedded with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the Army's famed 1st Cavalry Division operating out of Baghdad, nearly all of the soldiers were armed with M4s -- whereas during my time spent with Marine rifle squads of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Al Taqaddum and Regimental Combat Team 2 near the Syrian border, I observed a far greater number of Marines carrying M16s.

The reasons were simple: Army patrols were frequently mounted (in Humvees and other vehicles) at least for a portion of any given patrol. And it is simply easier to get in-and-out of vehicles with a shorter M4.

Marine patrols however were almost always on foot (and for hours at a time).

“We see ourselves as foot-mobile infantry,” says Clark, who adds, “From the Marine Corps perspective, we issue the carbine to folks -- vehicle drivers, crews, and infantry officers [tasked more with leading men than physically engaging enemy targets] -- who might be impeded by a longer, heavier weapon.”

Like their Belleau Wood ancestors, Marines still pride themselves on being able to kill the enemy at great distances. And rifles are frankly better suited for distance-shooting than carbines. Though Clark adds the capabilities between the two “are very close,” and the M4 is very effective.

U.S. Army Col. Doug Tamilio, project manager soldier weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, tells HUMAN EVENTS, “The M4 is [now] the primary infantry weapon in the U.S. Army.”

Asked what the primary infantry weapon might look like in 10, 15, or 20 years, Tamilio says, “Traditional rifle/carbine technology appears to have plateaued and there are no known or anticipated leap-ahead performance breakthroughs. Carbine designs may have different features, however overall performance is similar with no operationally significant differences. As new technology -- beyond kinetic energy -- develops, the looks and most importantly the capabilities may be wide open.”

What do the troops say? According to Tamilio, “Post-combat surveys indicate 90 percent satisfaction with M4, and the Center for Naval Analyses survey indicates 89 percent overall satisfaction with M4 and 75 percent overall satisfaction with M16.”

What about the unsatisfied 25 percent? Most agree it stems from the occasional jam or misfire. And all, it takes is one jam or misfire at a critical point on the battlefield, and the 99 percent superior performance of any weapon is forgotten.


http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=33255
 
#2
To some extent, the type of terrain and likely ranges of engagements will play a part when making a choice between the two. Just as in the UK the old stalwarts constantly remind us, of a younger generation, of the merits of the SLR - I, for one, wouldn't fancy conducting CQB with such a cumbersome rifle. The same goes for the M16, great in the open but difficult in tight spots and complex terrain.

Surely the next developmental step will be a review of ammunition types?
 
#3
While doing FISH, with an SLR was no easy matter, there are scenarios where certain rifles would offer tactical advantages.
In the SLR's case, if you want to reach out and touch someone, the SLR was without equal. Sometimes called the "Elephant Gun", its power was proverbial. With SLR, if you tw@t someone at 600m, they stayed tw@tted. Trust me!

On the M-16 front, I do not think either the M-4, or the M-16 are as good as the L85, for reasons that have been covered many times elsewhere.
 
#4
I thought the US were seriously considering replacing the M4 with the much more reliable H&K 416/17 rifles. Also there has been constant rumours that our L85A2 will be replaced by the 416 in about 5-10 years time, any truth in this please?
 
#5
RichieRichard said:
I thought the US were seriously considering replacing the M4 with the much more reliable H&K 416/17 rifles. Also there has been constant rumours that our L85A2 will be replaced by the 416 in about 5-10 years time, any truth in this please?
Replacing SA80 with something not british? I doubt it. Plus with all the good cash that's been put in chasing the bad cash I really really don't see it.
The gubbment just isn't that sensible!

Wouldn't mind a 416 or an FN SCAR though :wink:
 
#7
RichieRichard said:
I thought the US were seriously considering replacing the M4 with the much more reliable H&K 416/17 rifles. Also there has been constant rumours that our L85A2 will be replaced by the 416 in about 5-10 years time, any truth in this please?
I did a mock up of the final proposed design for SA80 rebuild. It's on here somewhere but I can't find it.... ;)
 
#8
RichieRIchard - USSOCOM used their seperate procurement process to get themselves a load of HK416 upper receivers to replace the Colt versions they had - the US Army hasn't taken a single step in that direction however. Also, recently SOCOM as told off, and made to give the HK back with a slap on the wrist even though the M4 consistantly underperformed compared to HK416, the FN SCAR 16 and the M8 they threw in to make things interesting.
 
#11
IndianaDel said:
While doing FISH, with an SLR was no easy matter, there are scenarios where certain rifles would offer tactical advantages.
In the SLR's case, if you want to reach out and touch someone, the SLR was without equal. Sometimes called the "Elephant Gun", its power was proverbial. With SLR, if you tw@t someone at 600m, they stayed tw@tted. Trust me!

On the M-16 front, I do not think either the M-4, or the M-16 are as good as the L85, for reasons that have been covered many times elsewhere.
Perhaps but as a left hand shooter I would disagree. Of course I am not a fan of any of the 3 as they are presently fielded.
 
#12
RichieRichard said:
I thought the US were seriously considering replacing the M4 with the much more reliable H&K 416/17 rifles. Also there has been constant rumours that our L85A2 will be replaced by the 416 in about 5-10 years time, any truth in this please?
The US has bought some of the HKs for their "very" special forces (those units have their own separate purchasing authority that would normally be allowed only at the unified command level) and they are well liked in specific roles. As far as I am concerned, anything the US adopts in future needs to have a short stroke piston operating system--the current M-16/M-4 is a filthy weapon.

Issues of ammunition lethality etc. aside, I found the 416 to be an excellent weapon but in truth I have never used an HK weapon of any type that I didn't like. :D
 
#13
Yeoman_dai said:
RichieRIchard - USSOCOM used their seperate procurement process to get themselves a load of HK416 upper receivers to replace the Colt versions they had - the US Army hasn't taken a single step in that direction however. Also, recently SOCOM as told off, and made to give the HK back with a slap on the wrist even though the M4 consistantly underperformed compared to HK416, the FN SCAR 16 and the M8 they threw in to make things interesting.
Sorry, I didn't see this before I posted my reply. You are spot on, except the 416 is still in use in certain quarters.
 
#14
I find it funny how US marines go on about their marksmanship spiel and yet whenever you see videos on youtube they are blasting away, rifles over the top of walls, not looking etc..
 
#15
RichieRichard said:
I thought the US were seriously considering replacing the M4 with the much more reliable H&K 416/17 rifles. Also there has been constant rumours that our L85A2 will be replaced by the 416 in about 5-10 years time, any truth in this please?
Sort of. The US are considering running a replacement carbine competition at the moment and all sorts of options are being considered, from M4 upgrades through to new weapons. H&K 416 might be an option, but H&K have a bit of a frosty relationship with the US Army, quite unlike their close relationship with SOCOM.

As for the UK, the next IW is due around 2020 and you can be pretty sure that this will be a fiercely fought competition. No doubt H&K will put in their latest toy.

H&K 416 is a pretty good system, but it doesn't really offer any increase in capability over an SA80. In fact, it would probably be a step down due to longer length and a shorter barrel. There's also a strong suspicion that the 416 may eventually suffer from the same issue as many of the other piston conversion AR15s. The bolt carrier, not being designed to work with a gas piston can suffer from 'carrier rock' leading to premature wear and parts breakage.

Asked what the primary infantry weapon might look like in 10, 15, or 20 years, Tamilio says, “Traditional rifle/carbine technology appears to have plateaued and there are no known or anticipated leap-ahead performance breakthroughs. Carbine designs may have different features, however overall performance is similar with no operationally significant differences. As new technology -- beyond kinetic energy -- develops, the looks and most importantly the capabilities may be wide open.”
Apart from the quite promising US work on plastic cased telescoped ammunition under their LSAT programme. Although the performance is no better than current small arms, the ammo is about 40% lighter than brass cases. The UK is already busy buying a 40mm cased telescoped cannon for FRES and Warrior, so it isn't a huge stretch to see us eventually going down the same route for small arms.
 
#17
BigRed99 said:
I find it funny how US marines go on about their marksmanship spiel and yet whenever you see videos on youtube they are blasting away, rifles over the top of walls, not looking etc..
I am not sure I would rely on YouTube for an accurate depiction of USMC marksmanship. Such "snap shot" vignettes often do not depict the larger battle or context. There is also the phenomenon of "playing to the camera" in some situations where troops revert to their best rambo style if they think they are being filmed by their mates for consumption by girlfriends and their mates in the "hood."

I would agree, however, that there is a tendency with any select fire weapon in the hands of every "rifleman" to "spray and pray" if the small unit leaders are either not around or not doing their job. This is not new and indeed was a problem from the outset when the US (as well as in the UK) began issuing select fire weapons to all trigger pullers instead of only to the automatic rifleman (shades of the venerable Browning BAR) in each fire team.

This is one reason why the military tried the burst fire variants. Many of us have argued whatever advantage was gained by switching to the 5.56 in terms of the ability to carry more ammo etc. was offset by this tendency to fire more rounds.

As to your point, I can say that at least in comparison to regular infantry units of other services, the USMC is the only service that still regards marksmanship as one of the bedrock skills necessary for all of its members, whether infantry or not. Indeed, one's proficiency with his or her T/O weapon (in current combat operations this is largely the M16 or M4 since the M9 pistol is simply inadequate for personal protection in environments like Afghanistan)is a key component in being qualified for promotion.

In addition, all Marines (all ranks and occupational fields) are required to qualify with their T/O weapon annually. This involves usually an entire week at the range with the rifle course for example, involving firing from prone, sitting, kneeling and prone positions in slow and rapid fire modes at ranges from 200 to 500 yards using iron sights.

Additional training for infantry involves various tactical firing courses to develop instinctive muscle memory as well as confidence in the time-honored principle that the well-aimed (or pointed in the context of immediate action firing) is more effective than random automatic fire. This in in keeping with the USMC ethos that every Marine is a basic rifleman (and every officer is a basic rifle platoon commander).

After a number of unfortunate incidents in Iraq where "rear area" support troops in the Army were badly cut up due to their inadequate familiarity with their personal weapons, the Army is now putting all deploying troops through at least rudimentary infantry-type training to better prepare them for the type of current operations where even "rear" areas can come under attack.
 
#18
Big Red 99.

I can support jumpinjarhead, I have done some work with the USMC at Quantico and also the US Army Infantry at Fort Benning. It was looking at lesson learnt stuff on Marksmanship training. The US Marine Corp are by far a very competent shooting organisation right across the board, more than the US Army is.

Sadly we where once a major world force in this field, but sadly not as good as we thought we where. The US Marine Corps is funny enough similiarly set up like we where some years ago. The Weapon Training Battalion and especially the Scout Sniper School are without doubt Centres of Excellence.


Although if you want to see probably in my opinion the best marksmanship look at our Canadians brothers
 
#19
Mr_Deputy said:
jumpinjarhead said:
BigRed99 said:
I find it funny how US marines go on about their marksmanship spiel and yet whenever you see videos on youtube they are blasting away, rifles over the top of walls, not looking etc..
In addition, all Marines (all ranks and occupational fields) are required to qualify with their T/O weapon annually. This involves usually an entire week at the range with the rifle course for example, involving firing from prone, sitting, kneeling and prone positions in slow and rapid fire modes at ranges from 200 to 500 yards using iron sights.

.
Hi Maureen

You'd have thought most of you'd hit something after a day or two. A full week!
Just kiddin'. I have alot of respect for USMC not sure I'd want to get in your way though!

Mr_D
Good point. Of course the week is needed to get all those muscles stretched out for the firing positions (range coaches have been known to stand on a Marine who can't seem to get into the proper stable position!). Remember most of those in a firing detail do other things in their "day jobs" (clerk, cook, candlestick maker) and their bodies (though fit--another quirk of the USMC--all personnel, officer and enlisted and regardless of specialty-take the same fitness tests that are also integral to promotion) are not accustomed to all the gyrations the typical grunt goes through on any given day.

The interesting (and always inspiring) thing I found though when I was a range officer was that the Marines seem to really perk up when they got their weapons in hand and began firing. It convinced me that even with the constant changes to our system (many we old timers snicker at), we are still producing some pretty good warriors even if they spend most of their day stirring huge potfuls of unrecognizable things to be served as chow.
 
#20
blacky said:
Big Red 99.

Although if you want to see probably in my opinion the best marksmanship look at our Canadians brothers
cough *the swiss* cough


It helps that the SIG550 is so accurate

Also, Jarhead, i'm finding it increasingly annoying that you always make sense. You're completely ruining my stereotypes of Americans. How dare, you sah! ;)
 

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