The M4 replacement competition that isn’t


Army.mil reports (emphasis added) …

Another lawmaker questioned Fuller about the Army’s individual carbine competition, to find a follow-on to the M4 Carbine weapon Soldiers are using now in Afghanistan. Fuller told the lawmaker the competition was not about meeting a specific need but about seeing if there was something better for Soldiers.

“We want to continue to improve the M4 — not necessarily associated with a complaint or challenge the field might be having — but we want to refresh that technology,” Fuller said. He told legislators there’s been 63 improvements to the M4 since it was first fielded in 1991

“This (competition) is another iteration of improvements,” he said. “We want to see through a full and open competition is there something better? That’s what this competition will be doing for our individual carbine.”

After competition, he said, the Army would evaluate what comes out of that and measure it against the current M4 to build a business case for making the investment to replace it.

Rather than the M4 Carbine competing against the challengers, the challengers will first have to fight it out1 before the powers that be will even consider if the M4 needs a replacement. This is weak sauce.

[ Many thanks to Lance for emailing me the link. ]


  1. Not unlike the America’s Cup where challengers have to battle it out before facing the cup holder. 


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.


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  • Matt Groom

    I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

  • Nadnerbus

    The only way anything will change is if Gates pulls a McNamara and just picks a replacement and forces it on the branches. And since he is in full on budget cutting mode, that will not happen.

    Get used to your M4s/M16s. They’re gonna be around for a while.

  • http://chockblock.wordpress.com Chockblock

    The problem here is that the Army has invested in the AR platform. Like the M-1, the Army chained itself to the tech of the last wars.

    The thing a new rifle will have to beat is cost (forget the ACR) and reliability. Even then, the plan to keep the M-4/M-16 for “non-combat” troops seems to be a poison pill if the M-4 loses. Either replace the M-4 outright or just admit that you’re under the spell of Colt Defense.

  • Matt in AZ

    I have been following this issue passively and I am not surprised that it boils down to “prove that X system is markedly better than current system and we might look into it”. The venue is open and there is room for improvement. I hope that something of value comes from this. Like many readers of this blog I think that 5.56 is a little small and a 6.8 or 6.5 is better(although I believe caliber is not part of this comp). We know the benefits of a short operating gas piston design over direct gas impingement one. And we know that clearing a double feed malf on an M16 type takes alot of time due to control layout. Then there is the M4 barrel length/profile issues. On the other hand, D.O.D. has many constraints, and not much motivation to fix stuff that works. Defense spending is being cut and the ground pounders seem to always be last in line for new gear. IMO, this issue will be looked at from the usual top down cost/benefit analysis, with some improvement made to the currrent M16/M4 (read gas piston/heavier barrel profile) and/or a more serious look at the alternatives. Just one more step in the never ending cycle of technological advancement mixed with bureaucratic intrigue.

  • Zander

    I would like to see a chronological list of all the improvements the M16/M4 platform has gone through since day one. I think it’d be a nice little thing to have on hand.

  • http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/ Tony Williams

    Yep, that was obvious from the start.

    So was the calibre issue, which might be expressed as: “you can use any calibre you want, but if you want to be taken seriously it will be the 5.56mm M855A1″.

  • http://www.dooms-day-device.com Puke

    The Pentagon Wars
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0144550/

    Nothing is accomplished when a committee is deciding something. Everyone wants their hand in the pie and you end up with a clusterfuck.

  • Gerald

    Didn’t H&K already go virtually bankrupt in the 80s building the G11 for an Army competition?

    What about FN, anyone care to guess how many millions that they lost designing the SCAR, which, as of writing this, has been used by absolutely no police or military forces in existence? Short of civilian sales, they have not sold it to anyone.

    Personally, I am amazed that firearm manufacturers actually bother showing up at US Army rifle procurement events anymore. Supplying the worlds richest army, and all 2.3 million of their personnel with a new rifle is the holy grail of the the firearms world, but it seems to be little more than a pipe-dream for the foreseeable future.

  • Tom

    Nothing is really being improved until you improve the caliber the rifle is chambered for.. These other rifles are just another .223/5.56.. nothing really changes..

  • MarkM

    They said months ago any competitor would have to been a significant improvement. Well, even SOCOM said the SCAR didn’t really do anything the M4 didn’t already do.

    The Army isn’t looking for incremental baby steps with ambidextrous doodads, or where somebody decides to put the piston this week. It’s about hit probability, what delivers a higher percent of rounds IN the target. Full auto does that, red dots help do that, what’s next?

    Ammo at half the weight can do that, you carry and shoot twice as much. That’s a huge increase in hit probability. What was last weeks sudden revelation, the feature not previously discussed but put on the table? Hyperburst, the ability to put to rounds in the same hole. With small high speed bullets, another one offers more incapacitation. It’s difficult to get that from current designs, it doesn’t mean more hits, just more effective ones.

    That’s a picture window into the mindset of the Command chain and what they are thinking, and it’s not operator based baby steps in mounting offset sights, another optic on top of the existing one, or the other almost useless stuff marketed to the shooting public.

    Weapons designs are evolving toward lighter guns, less recoil, faster bullets, more of them fired, and better sighting methods. The most improvement we can do in this technical environment is eliminate the brass case.

  • Caseless

    If only the pentagon had bought one less F-22 Raptor. Instead get 233,333 new carbines (if priced at $1500 like the M4).
    My reasoning…when’s the last time we actually shot down an enemy aircraft with the invincible F-22?

  • Lance

    Word up Nadnerbus

    Thing is most competitors are M-4 upgrades anyway so if the army is updating the M-4 whats the point?

    There is nothing wrong with the AR based weapons they work.

  • jdun1911

    Gerald,

    Yes HK went bankrupted because of the G11. As far as I know FN did not paid a dime for the development of the SCAR. US taxpayer did.

    SCAR is a modified Stoner Piston action, ie AR18. It bought nothing new to the table that the AR15 already have. That’s why it got rejected.

    Caseless,

    It’s not easy to change small arms for a large institution like the US military. You have to take into account the logistical nightmare that comes with it.

  • Lance

    I agree that 5.56mm has short commings, BUT the Military is NOT going to change calibers it already riged the competition with the use of M-855A1 ammo. so theres no change. Even the ZFN and ACR are found not a major leap ahead of the M-4.

    @caseless

    On a one on one basis a F-22 will cost more than a new carbine. But a transition to all new guns would cost billions in ammo mags and parts not just guns. With Budget cuts comming there no logic in going with anoter 5.56mm ea shooter.

    Let the M-4 get improved and see what you think.

  • Lance

    @Chock block

    Thats the reason there probably wont be a M-4 replacement untill we switch calibers. No point in going to another 5.56mm peashooter the M-4 is one of the best guns in that caliber.

    You should argue about caliber before platform.

  • Some Guy

    We’ve had this weapon for like 42 years!

    So 1905-1936 was the Springfield, or 31 years, and 1936-1959 is 23 years of M1 garand, then it was 10 years of M14…

    And then the M16 until now.

    It was actually designed back in the 1950’s, where is was marginally successful when using the much larger, much cleaner, much better suited .30-06 and .308 rounds.

    But, any weight savings associated with the 5.56mm is lost, because it’s too small to be reliable when using the 5.56mm, where as the 7.62mm x 51mm NATO was much smaller than the other competing rifles.

    The only way to get the 5.56mm reliable enough in the M16 was to increase the chamber size, which is still smaller than the 7.62mm x 51mm NATO, meaning that you either need a really big gun, comparatively, or a different firing system.

  • http://www.weaponsgradecode.com strong_epoxy

    I think MarkM is on to something. The next step won’t be a side rail mounted carbon fiber beverage holder but a new method of delivering lead without brass or some other revolutionary step.

    Caseless, we build F22’s so we don’t have to shoot down airplanes. The same reason we build nukes, so we don’t have to use them.

  • Doug

    Well put MarkM.

    I fully agree with the others too by asking: who would bother to show up at these trials anymore?

    I’m not really a big fan of the AR platform, but when you compare it to the SCAR or ACR or…or…etc. how much money are you willing to shell out for it if you’re not really gaining that much ground?

  • http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/ Tony Williams

    Rumours are flying around concerning the US “trade study” of different small-arms calibres mentioned by General Brogan in my hearing at the NDIA in Dallas last May. The US Army’s ARDEC has completed this, comparing the 5.56mm and 7.62mm rounds with 6.5mm and 7mm over a wide range of criteria, assuming the use of similar lead-free bullets. The conclusion is that both the 6.5mm and 7mm were much better overall than either the 5.56mm or the 7.62mm. The report has yet to be released, but the rumours seem pretty definite.

    This should come as no surprise; the abstract of Ehrhart’s 2009 study (Increasing small arms lethality in Afghanistan: Taking back the infantry half-kilometer) contains this:
    “The 2006 study by the Joint Service Wound Ballistics – Integrated Product Team discovered that the ideal caliber seems to be between 6.5 and 7-mm. This was also the general conclusion of all military ballistics studies since the end of World War I.”

    Needless to say there is now an intense debate behind closed doors about why the current US Army carbine competition and the LSAT programme do not reflect this (apparently all of the carbine competitors are in 5.56mm).

    • http://twitter.com/mzmadmike Michael Z Williamson

      The Brits figured this out in 1946.

      You’ll notice upstream people are still wanking about .30 cal, though.

      I’m going to LMFAO when they start replacing M240Bs with something in a 6.8mm range. Which they will.

  • coyote

    The military kept the 30-06 after WW1 because they had a 100 million rounds left over. They could have adopted the 25 Remington in a semi-auto in the 1920’s, but they didn’t. In the 50’s, they dropped the 30-06 to go to 308 Win., then to 223 Rem. So now we are stuck with the 223, probably forever.

  • Spiff

    Too bad the world renown Austrian AUG was not in consideration, but then maybe the Austrians didn’t want to have to deal with the US Government bureaucracy…
    Spiff

  • charles222

    lol @ the concept of “not buying the F-22=more money for the Army.” You do realize that the Air Force and the Army are funded separately, right?

    Anyway. The posters who’ve said that the Army is looking for a huge advancement in rifle technology are correct. They’re not going to commit to a contract for 547,000 rifles at a couple grand a piece because !omg a piston and ambidextrous controls!. The M25 is getting adopted because it allows for precision targeting of opponents behind cover; it’s an advancement over previous handheld weapons in this way. (or, at least, is *potentially* an advancement; let’s not turn this into an M25 debate)

    None of the current generation of rifles offers a serious advantage over the M4. That’s why we won’t be getting a replacement for it anytime soon.

  • Logan

    @charles222

    How many more years do you think the
    Army will use the M4 primarily
    Marines will use the M16A4 primarily
    Air force will use the M4 primarily

    All in all how many more years will we use the M16 family primarily

  • Lance

    @Logan

    I told you it can be decades no one knows what will happen over 5 years from now. I can say is the rifles can have over 10 years of life to them

  • Logan

    @ lance

    Why 10 years for the M4

    How many more years will the marines use the M16A4

  • Lance

    COuld be more than 10 its just there nothing out there much better than the M-4 so theres no need to replace it.

  • Logan

    @ lance by ThE LOOkS of things how many more years will the army use the M4 approximately

    By the look of things how many more years will the marines be using the M16A4 approximately

    Which is better all around for combat troops seek today the M4 or M16A4

  • Lance

    Id say A4 is better since its longer tub allows longer firing of the weapon and less debre making it into the action.

  • Logan

    @lance

    How many more years will the marines use the M16A4

    How many more years will the army use the M4

    What is better for combat in Afghanistan

    Which is better for any type of combat the M4 or M16A4

  • Logan

    @ lance

    What is more effective in any combat situation the M4 or M16A4

    What will last longer in the US military the M4 or M16A4

  • Lance

    both id say for 10 to 25 years but thats a guess I dont know. The A4 is better in afghanistain and the M-4 was better in Iraq itall due to barrel lengh and accuarcy at distence.

    As per whats longest, I might say its the M-16A2 since ZCoast Guard and USAF and navy use alot of them and none have any intentions so far or replaceing them even with newer ARs.

    • MattInTheCouv

      M16A2 is not win. It’s way too long for urban use, and not ideal for use anywhere if you’re wearing body armor, with its non-collapsible stock and all. Also, its carrying handle is not removable, so the lack of optics options make it not great for precision shooting at afghanistan ranges. plus, no rails make mounting all the things that help modern warfighters effective impossible…. and i have to qualify on the thing every 3 years. plus, the AF just changed their rifle qual course. It is VASTLY improved over the joke that was the older one. However, trying to ‘cover’ behind a barrel while reloading a 40 inch long rifle does not make one feel very cool.

  • Logan

    What is more effective in any combat situation the M4 or M16A4

    What will last longer in the US military the M4 or M16A4

  • Logan

    @lance

    How many more years will the army use the M4
    How many more years will the marines use the M16A4
    Which is better all around

  • Buck Adams

    I’m gonna guess that the guys sitting behind impressive-looking desks are waiting for a “flechette” launcher. The guys who have been around for a while may remember that concept. Just launch millions of needle-like projectiles at super high velocity. I’m not so sure that’s the way to go. I think a m.d./dr. named Fackler ( or something like that ) found that “temporary wound cavitation” is not as debilitating as previously thought. Maybe the army ought to think a bit different, instead of making a quantum leap into something that is kind of abstract like flechettes, simply go for something that is more powerful and more reliable. Just my opinion, but I would have opted for changing the m-14 or m-2 carbine to a caliber comparable to .243 win instead of going to the AR system.

  • Chris B

    When the US finally returns to building a rifle in rifle calibre – not a carbine in .223. – then some advances could be made. Ditch the accountants from procurement trying to save money and build a RIFLE fss.

    • http://twitter.com/mzmadmike Michael Z Williamson

      When will the .30 cal wankers accept that it’s DEAD?

      Name a relevant military using a .30 cal standard issue rifle. The US, Russia, China are all in the 5-6mm range, as are all their allies.

      Bolivia seems to still be using .308.

      It’s been fifty years, dude. It’s dead. Accept it. Move on. She ain’t comin.

      • Sam Suggs

        .30 cal whatever you mean bye that is not dead it simply isnt what the united states should put in the hands of all American servicemen