[ Guest post written by Charles222 ]
As most of this blog knows, I’m an 11-B/light infantryman in the United States Army. I’ve carried a number of M4s in the eight years I’ve been in the Army, and I guess this is my non-sarcastic attempt to share some of the things I’ve learned about them with the populace at large …
The first thing: the whole myth about “clean your M16/M4 twice a day or else” is just that, a myth. I think that came out of the massive issues the original M16s had due to the wrong propellant going into the M193 round; I’ve certainly never abided by that rule and can’t think of anyone else who does. On average I clean mine (when we’re overseas, anyway, and have them with us all the time) about once or twice a month. And that cleaning process is honestly pretty short and simple: First, I run a barrel snake down the barrel a few times until the bore is bright and shiny-this is the only part I ensure is shiny, because dirt in your barrel affects accuracy of any rifled weapon. Second, I scrub out the star chamber-this is easily the most time-consuming part of cleaning the M4 due to how small an area it is. But it’s very important not to let gunk cake up in there; I’ve never seen it happen, but I can imagine it getting nasty enough for the bolt to be unable to seat properly with a chambered round, and then, well, KABOOM. Third, I wipe off the interior receiver walls and run a q-tip around the trigger mechanism, and run a CLP rag over the bolt-lightly; it doesn’t need to be swimming in oil. Fourth, I clean off my optic’s lenses with some optic cleaners-I use the ones people use on their glasses; they make my ACOG just incredibly bright and clear, even more so than usual.
And that’s really about it, besides barber-brushing the exterior, which I only do because 1) it keeps people who outrank me off my back and 2) I like how it looks anyway. It’s not a necessary step to ensure proper function. The entire process takes between five and ten minutes, or out to twenty if I feel like I need to spend more time on it. And this process will make your M4 more than clean enough to function reliably.
And speaking of reliability-there’s been a lot made of the Battle Of Wanat and various M4s ceasing to function after firing thousands of rounds. While I was not a participant in that action, I can tell you that I’ve seen M4s fire thousands of rounds without breaks for cleaning and continue to function-mostly from younger soldiers who couldn’t shoot to save their lives out at the qualification range on Stewart. Granted, there were breaks between qualification rounds that allowed the weapon to cool down, but these weapons were not cleaned in any way and continued to function. Personally, I’ve only had one M4 that had significant issues; the guy who had it after me also experienced serious problems. We eventually figured out what had happened; the soldier who had had it before me had removed the trigger mechanism and messed around with it somehow, which led to the near-constant double and triple feeds myself and my buddy experienced with it. Don’t mess with the trigger unless you seriously know what you’re doing.
The only other time I’ve seen M4s have problems with functioning on a widespread basis was a trip to the range in Kuwait to adjust zeroes from US weather to Middle East weather-remember this if any of you ever go hunting or whatever overseas; the humidity level and so on will be different and this can affect your zero. Anyway, we were given ammunition of British manufacture that our M4s just did not like at all, due to the ammunition we were given not being made to NATO standard, if I remember correctly (this was about 5 years ago). The cases were thicker and this led to lots of failures to extract. I find this kind of hilarious because, well, what’s the point of ammunition standardization if a NATO member country is making ammunition that doesn’t match the specifications?
As for the M4’s lack of long-range effectiveness and hypothetical killing power vs. 7.62mm NATO-I’ve only got a few things to say about that. Afghanistan is a distinctly novel tactical situation; over half of the world’s population lives in urban settings where average ranges would be measured in feet, not yards, and that number is just going to keep going up. The battlefield that any US or anyone else’s service weapon is going to be employed in is going to be an urban one, not long-range duels in the desert. I think the longest shot I’ve ever seen taken in Iraq was about a hundred meters with a SAW. As for killing power-frankly, 7.62mm NATO is overrated. The 147-grain FMJ is a highly accurate and long-ranged round, but on my last deployment, I saw an Iraqi civilian take a round through the neck. The round missed major arteries and his spinal column, and simply entered & exited the neck without any sort of tissue damage whatsoever. In other words, 7.62mm NATO’s killing power is very highly overrated these days, and it functions by the same rules as 5.56mm does-unless you get it solidly in the center of mass or head, the odds of it killing whomever it hits is unlikely. Also, the range of this engagement was maybe 50 meters, so it’s not like the round was out of kinetic energy. I think the crux of the problem is the FMJ bullets that both 7.62 and 5.56 are saddled with, plus an over-obsession with accuracy vis-à-vis killing power. As an example-the early M-16s had incredibly loose rifling; Stoner suggested a 1 in 14 twist, and Colt ultimately went with between 1 in 16 and 1 in 18 twists. The combat reports with these early rifles have to be seen to be believed; one Marine Lieutenant in Vietnam went so far as to say ‘ Taking prisoners is highly difficult due to even minor wounds becoming fatal.’ This can be read about in the book ‘American Rifle’, an overview of the evolution of American rifles (surprise, right?) from the Revolutionary War to today. However, obviously, with such loose twists the M16 did not have much of any long-range accuracy, and ultimately the Army and Marines overreacted and went with the super-stabilizing 1 in 7 inch twist. While this makes for an extremely stable and accurate round that is quite good at penetrating armor, it robs the M16 of a lot of it’s killing power, which was derived from the round being unstable in flight. Rounds like the Mk 262 and M855A1 can help overcome this issue-at least, I know M 262 can; haven’t heard any combat reports with M855A1.
One big thing the M4 has going for it is ease of use. With more and more soldiers and marines lacking prior firearms experience due to the changing makeup of the military, this is a big deal. The M4 is very simple and easy to be effective with; when the most complicated aspect is remembering which direction your optic’s windage & elevation knobs should be turned in, this is decidedly beneficial when instructing new soldiers in it’s use, especially in wartime -on two of my four deployments, we received a large influx of brand-new private literally weeks before we were supposed to deploy, and the M4’s simplicity saved a LOT of time in getting them halfway skilled before deployment. We could spend an hour or two showing them around their rifles before concentrating on the really important things like battle drills and individual movement. The M4 is beautifully uncomplicated and user-friendly; it’s simple to strip and there’s no guesswork at putting it back together-unlike, say, my M1 Garand; the first time I stripped that it took me a good hour to put it back together even with the manual’s help.
Another key attribute is the M4’s compactness and light weight; in my four deployments, I’ve searched way more buildings and people than practically anything else, and having a weapon that I could just sling across my back while I was doing this made the task of tearing somebody’s house apart while looking for contraband somewhat easier-at least, as easy at it can be when you’re roaming around in 40-odd pounds of armor. You can have your weapon out of the way while still being fairly quickly accessible; to contrast that with the other Infantry team-level weapon, the SAW, which I typically wound up setting down on the floor to help search because it simply got in the way too much.
Something else important that people either seem to forget or deliberately ignore-the M4 does not function alone. It, along with every other weapon in the military, functions within a system. It fills the primary weapon slot which should cover the vast majority of engagement possibilities; given that things have not changed since the German studies in World War 2 which showed that the huge majority of engagements are at under 400 meters-and there’s a study that shows that the average combat range in Iraq today was under a hundred meters, and frequently at 20-30 meters-the M4’s perceived lack of range is not as much of a handicap as frequently believed, particularly when you consider the nature of warfare that Iraq (and most urban battlefields) presented. The vast majority of combat in Iraq featured vehicle-based patrolling; while this presents a level of vulnerability to IEDs and the like, the amount of supporting arms it makes available is quite nuts. On my first deployment to Iraq, we typically moved with three uparmored Humvees-two with M240s and one with a .50-cal. On my second trip here, before our mission shifted to long-range air assaults with no vehicles, we typically rolled with either four or five (and occasionally as many as six) uparmored Humvees, with usually 3 M240s and 2 .50 cals, and occasionally a truck with a long-barreled SAW on it. When considering the M4 in relation to the other weapons available to the patrol, it becomes pretty clear that engagement with M4s is going to be the least likely option, and that M4s are going to be getting used at extremely close ranges where their size and maneuverability are distinct assets. This is also becoming the case in Afghanistan, with the mass fielding of the Mk. 14 EBR to units there (the goal is six for every infantry platoon) along with the platoon’s integral M240Bs and eventually XM25s, and of course, the organic mortars every infantry company has. The M4 is supposed to be your close-in, majority-of-engagements weapon; the M-14s and M240s are your long-range firepower for the (rest-of-world, anyway) rarer occasions when long-range fighting occurs. The M4 is not a do-everything rifle, nor was it ever meant to be; that’s not how the Army works.
You may get the impression that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the M4. That’s not quite correct; I do think there’s some ergonomic improvements to be made-in particular, the buttstock could be a whole lot less fragile. The buttstock is basically the same pattern that was introduced in the late 1960s with the XM-177E2, and there’s been seriously better collapsing stocks introduced since then. The rail system could also be improved; it was obviously designed as a drop-in piece to replace the old plastic handguards, and a one-piece along the lines of Daniel Defense’s RIS II would be an improvement. And honestly, that’s really about it, besides an ambidextrous magazine release.
I hope this piece has been informative for y’all.