By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
July 9, 2010
For quite some time, now, DefenseReview (DR) has been publishing information on just how reliable the direct-gas-impingement (DGI) select-fire Colt M4/M4A1 Carbine/SBR (Short Barreled Rifle) and semi-auto AR-15 carbine/SBR can be if they’re properly set up/sprung and lubricated (and even if they’re not properly lubricated). We have retired U.S. Army Special Forces (SF) assaulter/operator and DR contributor Mike Pannone to thank for that. Pannone’s articles, linked-to below in the “Related Articles” section, are fantastic and required reading for anyone even thinking about owning or using an AR carbine, SBR, or rifle for any serious purpose (i.e combat, competition, or training).
Well, right on the heels of the FN MK16 SCAR’s cancellation by SOCOM (USSOCOM), the New York Times (NY Times) published a very interesting and informative article by C.J. Chivers two days ago titled Examining the Complaints About American Rifle Reliability in At War, in which both DefenseReview and Military.com are mentioned with links, citing our collective reportage on the recent MK16 SCAR cancellation. The article discusses Colt SOPMOD M4 Carbine and FN M16 rifle combat reliability. Basically, Chivers and his associate, photographer Tyler Hicks, spent roughly three months with U.S. troops in Afghanistan to find out how complaints heard in the States jibe with what’s actually happening in the field. In other words, how are the weapons actually performing? If there are indeed problems, what’s the nature of them. And, how satisfied are the troops with their M4s and M16s, respectively?
The answer(s) surprised them. As it turns out neither weapon (M4, M16) was seen by Chivers or Hicks to be suffering from any reliability problems, whatsoever, “at least not among people whose paths have crossed ours.”
“Simply put, in observations in many firefights in harsh conditions, and in the experiences of Army and Marine grunts queried this year, the issue of rifle reliability seems much less pressing than it has appeared in accounts of widespread worries about or dislike of the M-4 and M-16,” Chivers wrote.
There is a caveat, however. Chivers and Hicks interviewed slightly less than 100 infantrymen and witnessed “intensive small arms engagements” on about a dozen different days, so the survey sample was somewhat limited when dealing with a total ground troop contingent of 90,000 in a multi-terrain combat environment like Afghanistan. However, the adverse combat conditions/environments in which Chivers and Hicks witnessed U.S. infantrymen carrying and fighting with their M4s and M16s were, according to them, some of the worst that the Afghanistan theater of operations/area of operations (AO) has to offer. But I’ll let Chivers tell it:
The ground covered included some of Afghanistan’s worst for firearms: the agricultural areas of Helmand Province, where weapons are often coated in a fine powdered sand (the troops call it “moon dust”), and where many firefights result in Marines jumping into irrigation canals. This means that rifles are dusty, then often wet and covered in mud. Moreover, some of the firefights lasted a few hours, resulting in several expended magazines for each grunt. I found only one report of a jammed rifle — a mud-coated M-16 that failed to fire one time after a sergeant climbed out of a canal midfight. The sergeant cleared the weapon and chambered a fresh round, and the rifle resumed firing without further hitch.
Given these conditions, while we can’t draw definitive conclusions about the current performance of the M-4 and M-16 lines, it is nonetheless a jolt to find no accounts of significant weapons failures and then to read blog posts that declare that the weapons are either a disaster or at least widely loathed.
This is more so given the account of Chief Warrant Officer Joshua S. Smith, the Marine responsible for weapons training and performance in the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, which is engaged in daily fighting in Marja. “We’ve had nil in the way of problems; we’ve had no issues,” he said of the M-4s and M-16s. The battalion has about 350 M-16s and 700 M-4s, he said.
Chivers finishes with:
At War, for now, will draw no larger conclusions than this: Whatever the merits of the concerns about the M-4 and the M-16, on the matter of latter-day reliability, the complaints that have boomed on the Web feel out of proportion to what can be documented in the field, and may well be overstated, even hyped.
Defense Review highly recommends that our readers check out the At War piece. It’s well written, and a good read.
Examining the Complaints About American Rifle Reliability (New York Times: At War)
U.S. Army Issues Sources Sought Notice Requesting Information for “Individual Carbine” Small Arms Technology: The Quest for the “Next Carbine” to Upgrade/Improve and/or Replace the Colt M4/M4A1 Carbine Continues…