Yet again, the US Army in their utmost wisdom, kills a program that could have potentially replaced the M16/M4. Most of us know what the M-16 is. Originally designed by Eugene Stoner as the AR-15, (ArmaLite Rifle). The AR-15 rights were later sold to Colt Firearms in 1959 and the US Military adopted the M-16 in 1963.
Now, we have a model of rifle that dates back 55 years. Think about that for just a minute. A model of rifle that dates back 55 years and has been in US military service for 51 years. In that time frame, the semi-automatic version has become the most popular rifle in America. But, considering the problems with the M-16, its only been in the last 10 or so years that those issues have been addressed, its mind boggling why the US military would not have accepted a viable replacement.
Heckler and Koch, a German maker of quality firearms, introduced the HK 416 which corrected a lot of the mechanical issues that the M-16/M-4 has been plagued with and installed a gas piston for smoother operation. No, I’m not going to go into detail about the other mechanical issues, but suffice it to say, there were and are still issues with the M-16 family of rifles. Those of us who own a semi-automatic version know what the problems are and have either experienced those issues or seen them happen to someone who also owns one. When HK introduced their version of a new and greatly improved M-16/M-4, Colt tried to ban the use of it by the US military. When that failed, they tried legal means to get H&K to rename their rifle which ended up with the designation of 416.
To recap, we have a rifle model that is over 50 years old, plagued with, and known to have mechanical issues, and one that the US Army states is simply ‘adequate’ for a battle rifle. After all these years, not one single, better than adequate replacement for this aging rifle has been found.
The M-16, originally adopted to replace the larger caliber M-14, itself a very reliable and durable rifle, was supposed to be the answer for “today’s infantryman”. A lighter rifle and lighter ammunition meant that US soldiers could carry more ammo and move faster and further. That was the initial idea anyway. What sounds good on paper does not always work in the real world. Lets look at some of the potential replacements that were passed up for whatever reason: the H&K G-11, the Advanced Infantry Combat Weapon (AICW), the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW), and the most recent, the H&K XM8.
All these weapons had one thing in common. Aside from not being adopted, all of them with exception of the G-11, were chambered to accept the NATO standard ammunition, 5.56X45.
So what happened?
Why weren’t any of these rifles adopted to replace the M-16 and later, the M-4?
Did they all suck so bad that they failed during the testing?
No. In fact, several out performed the M-16 and the M-4.
Was it cost to implement the new rifle?
No. Several of the rifles tested were actually less expensive, more durable, more reliable and more versatile (HK XM8).
Most of the rifles tested fell into the ‘Not made in the USA’ category so they were dismissed automatically no matter how well they performed or outperformed the M-16/M-4.
Besides that, why weren’t any of them ever accepted?
Money and politics.
Here’s a good example. To get the US Army to replace the M-60 Light Weight Machine Gun (LWMG), a weapon system that was flat worn out, the candidate for replacement, the FN M-249 and later the FN M-240. FN, Fabrique Nationale de Herstala, a Belgian company, had to pretty much guarantee that their US operation, FN-USA, would make the weapon and it wouldn’t be imported. The companies that were making the weapon and its parts and accessories, would be spread over several legislative districts so the politicians could tout about how they boosted their state’s economy and the weapon systems are Made in the USA.
Money and politics at its finest.
If we go back and look at one of the early candidates that might have replaced the M-16, the HK G-11, one gets a better idea of why it might not have been accepted.
Heckler and Koch had already made a name for themselves by the late 1960s as a quality manufacturer of firearms. Granted, the G-11 looked futuristic but it also had an integrated optical sight within its carry handle meaning the scope was protected in such a way that the basic grunt would be hard pressed to break it. Keep in mind, when this rifle was offered as a replacement for the M-16, it was in a time where the US Military was still looking back at Vietnam as a guide to choose a new rifle. The G-11 also offered something new, caseless ammunition. The round was encased inside a block of propellant and everything went out the barrel. There was an ejection port for cleaning but, for the most part, there was no need to disassemble the weapon down to the frame to clean it. Another added benefit was the 50 round magazines. The rate of fire (ROF) was impressive, on full auto, the shooter felt the recoil from the first round as the third one left the barrel, and the ammunition could literally be dropped in a puddle of water or exposed to moisture for extended periods of time with no degradation in performance. The US Army insisted that it was ‘too futuristic’ and ‘not user friendly’. Love the last part, ‘Not user friendly’. This was a rifle that didn’t need to be cleaned. It allowed the soldier to carry up to 150 rounds on rails that the magazines slid into that were mounted on the foregrip of the rifle before he had to tap into what he had on his person. Did I mention that it didn’t require complete disassembly to clean? Not user friendly, my ass. Cleaning your weapon takes a lot of time. Don’t do it right and you get to do it all over again. Having a rifle that might need the ejection port swabbed out once in a while and didn’t need to be stripped down to its base components made sense. Not to mention it could be fired underwater and in a vacuum in case we ever had a war with Atlantis or in space. But, as we all know, in the world of the military, if it makes sense, you can’t do it.
Now, the only place to see a G-11 is in H&K’s museum in Germany or in Stallone’s Demolition Man, welded by Wesley Snipes and referred to as some kind of plasma cannon.
Then we have the HK XM8. This rifle was lightweight, in the same caliber as the M-16/M-4, had a better balance point, and the ‘furniture’ could easily be removed to match the operational environment. No more painting, wrapping camouflage tape, or tying on strips of a Ghillie suit to make your rifle blend in. It was more of a snap off the furniture snap on the new furniture. Try that with the handguards on the M-16 family of rifles and do it while not pinching a piece of your anatomy.
(If you’re interested in the AIW or the OICW, feel free to google them or any of the rifles/weapon systems mentioned.)
For those of us who have used the M-16/M-4, we know that it can be a real temperamental bitch at times. It can also perform like the finely tuned weapon that it is.
Is there a replacement out there for this 55 year old weapon design? Of course there is.
Will it be replaced anytime in the near future?
Pretty unlikely as every NATO country has billions of rounds in 5.56X45 and spare parts up the ass.
The question remains, is the M-16/M-4 a good rifle?
It had better be. It has over 50 years of upgrades and modifications.