Colt’s exclusive M4 production right ends

As of this month the M4 technical data has been transfered to the Army. The Army can now purchase M4 carbines from companies other than Colt, which up to know was the exclusive producers of the M4. Army Times reports:

As of July 1, the Army has taken control of the design rights to the M4 carbine from its sole maker, Colt Defense LLC. Translation: With an uncertain budget looming, the service is free to give other gun companies a crack at a carbine contract.

The transition of ownership of the M4 technical data package marks the end of an era and Colt’s exclusive status as the only manufacturer of the M4 for the U.S. military for the past 15 years.

What does this mean for Colt as a company? Not a lot. They will continue to be a supplier and will probably be able to manufacture the M4 cheaper than competitors when / if any more M4 carbines are purchased.

Over at Snowflakes in Hell Daniel E. Watters, an expert, said that the Army will still have to pay in royalties to Colt for every non-Colt M4 purchased. The technical specs are owned by Colt. Anyone wanting to supply M4s to overseas customers will need to get a license from Colt.

Colt has a few different next-gen carbines ready for the carbine competition later this year which could result in a selection of an M4 replacement.

There is also a discussion about this at Gun Pundit

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Colt didn’t “really” make the lowers though, IIRC they were made by FnH.

  • The companies receiving second source M4 contracts will only be able to use the Colt M4 TDP to supply the US government. Whether or not the US government can then turn around and export these carbines is a matter of the 1967 license agreement and subsequent amendments. Certainly, FN-made M16 are being contracted by the US Army on behalf of the Iraqi military.

    The non-disclosure/non-use agreements for accessing the TDP will forbid the other companies from using Colt’s proprietary data for commercial sales. Once their military contract ends, the company will be required to be destroy all of the TDP information provided to them.

    Obviously, this doesn’t effect other manufacturers’ ability to make direct sales of M16/M4 clones wherever they want. Bushmaster has routinely filled export orders via the Foreign Military Sales program. But these clones are not made to US military specifications using Colt’s TDP.

    The following link provides the US Army’s standard non-disclosure/non-use agreement for contractors accessing the M16 TDP:

    • Daniel, thanks for the comment. Always very interesting and informed!

  • kvalseth

    Daniel, do you know if Georgia was one of the countries that Bushmaster exported to? I remember seeing some Bushy ARs in that photo of a pile of burnt weapons released soon after the Georgian war.

  • In an annual survey conducted by the UN, the Georgian government had admitted importing 4,000 Bushmaster M4A3 carbines in 2007. The 2008 survey has not been released yet.

    I have not been able to determine whether the sale was handled through US Army TACOM as a Foreign Military Sale or if the State Department simply allowed Bushmaster to make a direct commercial sale.

  • kvalseth

    Thank you Daniel.