Weekly DTIC: The AR-15 In Vietnam, 1962

This week’s DTIC document is one well worth reading in the interest of understanding the AR-15’s early deployment and subsequent “fall from grace” later in the 1960s. It bears more detailed examination than I usually put into the Weekly DTIC, so this will be a longer post than usual. The document is DARPA’s Field Test Report, AR-15 Armalite Rifle, a controversial document extolling the virtues of the early AR-15 in Vietnam. The basic thesis of the document is best summed up in this quote:

Analysis: Based on the numerical ratings and the comments of US Advisors and VN Unit Commanders, the AR-15 is the most desirable weapon for use in Vietnam for the following reasons: 1. Ease of training. 2. Suitable physical characteristics. 3. It is easy to maintain. 4. It is more rugged and durable than present weapons. 5. It imposes the least logistical burden. 6. It is the best weapon for al-around tactical employment. 7. Its semi-automatic firing accuracy is comparable to that of the M1 Rifle, while its automatic firing accuracy is considered superior to that of the Browning Automatic Rifle. 8. Vietnamese troops, Commanders and US Advisors prefer it to any other weapon presently being used in Vietnam.

The document also contains several statements that have become controversial, or which go against common wisdom of the subject. Discussion of some of these statements will be handled below:

(d) (C) Test 04, Marksmanship ability, unknown distance. (i) (C) The ARVN soldier’s ability to deliver accurate semi-automatic fire on targets of unknown range using the AR-15 and the M2 Carbine is comparable.

This is something I did not expect before reading this document. It’s unclear exactly what ranges the firearms were used, and whether those ranges were unknown to everyone (as in, perhaps the ranges were unknown because they were in combat), or just the shooters (as in a test). I would hazard a guess that the unknown ranges did not extend very far; I’ve found my ability to make hits with an M1 Carbine even at known distances beyond 200m to be very limited. In contrast, I have had no problems firing AR-15s out to 800+ meters.

(i) (C) The trajectory of the AR-15 bullet is not significantly affected when fired through dense underbrush at ranges up to 50 meters. (ii) (C) The AR-15 round will penetrate jungle undergrowth equally as well as the M2 Carbine round at ranges up to 50 meters.

Later in the document, a full brush penetration test is given:

Test No. 8. Brush Penetration.

Purpose: To determine whether dense brush and undergrowth affects the trajectory of the AR- 15 bullet and to compare its ability to penetrate heavy foliage with that of the MZ Carbine.


a. Silhouette targets were positioned behind dense underbrush which generally consisted of bamboo saplings, bush, grass and vines. From a distance of 15 meters, both the AR-15 Rifle and the M2 Carbine were fired at the targets.

b. The distance was then increased to 50 meters and the targets were fired upon again. (Beyond 50 meters it was impossible to distinguish a target, so this was considered an acceptable maximum distance for the test).

c. Procedures a and b above were repeated several times with foliage of varying density.



a. The trajectory of the AR- 15 bullet is not significantly affected when fired through dense underbrush at ranges up to 50 meters.

b. The AR- 15 round will penetrate jungle undergrowth equally as well as the M2 Carbine round at ranges up to 50 meters.

An unequivocal summary of the opinions of the early users of the AR-15 rifle is also given in the first part of the document

e. (C) The Combat Evaluation (Annex “A”) shows that all US Advisors and Vietnamese Commanders who participated in the evaluation prefer the AR-15 to any other weapon with which the RVNAF are now armed. The lethality of the AR-15 and its reliability record were particularly impressive. All confirmed casualties inflicted by the AR-15. including extremity hits, were fatal (see photographs 7 and 8, Annex “D”). The high degree of reliability and trouble-free performance of the weapon reflected in previous test reports (Ref 1. c., 1. d. , and 1. f. ) was also noteworthy during the testing and evaluation here. No parts breakage was encountered while firing approximately 80,000 rounds during the Comparison Test. Only two parts have been issued to date to replace breakage for the entire 1.000 weapons. Stoppages on the AR-15 are easily cleared by the individual soldier through the application of “immediate action”.

The mentioned high lethality of the AR-15 rifle is still a subject of much contention. However, in this early report, the terminal effects of the rifle are described with considerable reverence by RVNAF commanders and their US advisors in the ARPA report:

(1) (C) “On 160900 June 62, one platoon from the 340 Ranger Company was on an operation vic. YT260750 and contacted 3 armed VC in heavily forested jungle. Two VC had carbines, grenades, mines, and one had a 4 ANNEX “A” CONFIDENTIALCONFIDENTIAL SMG. At a distance of approximately 15 meters, one Ranger fired an AR-15 full automatic hitting one VC with 3 rounds with the first burst. One round in the head-took it completely off. Another in the right arm, took it completely off, too. One round hit him in the right side, causing a hole about five inches in diameter. It cannot be determined which round killed the VC but it can be assumed that any one of the three would have caused death.

(2.) (C) “On 9 June a Ranger Platoon from the 40th nf Regt was given the mission of ambushing an estimated VC Company. The details are as follows: a. Number of VC killed: 5 b. Number of AR-15’s employed: 5 c. Range of engagement: 30-100 meters d. Type wounds: 1. Back wound, which caused the thoracic cavity to explode. 2. Stomach wound, which caused the abdominal cavity to explode. 3. Buttock wound, which destroyed all tissue of both buttocks. 4. Chest wound from right to left, destroyed the thoracic cavity. 5. Heel wound, the projectile entered the bottom of the right foot causing the leg to split from the foot to the hip. These deaths were inflicted by the AR-15 and all were instantaneous except the buttock wound. He lived approximately five minutes.

Five VC were hit, all five with body wounds, and all five killed. Four were probably killing wounds with any weapon listed, but the fifth was essentially a flesh wound. The AR-15 made it a fatal wound.

(9.) (C) “On 13 April, 62, a Special Forces team made a raid on a small village. In the raid, seven VC were killed. Two were killed by AR-15 fire. Range was 50 meters. One man was hit in the head; it looked like it exploded. A second man was hit in the chest,; his back was one big hole. ” (VN Special Forces)

It’s tempting to dismiss reports this dramatic as simply exaggerated hearsay, but I do not. Naturally, these anecdotes do not make a solid and rigorous case for the .223 round having magical killing ability – only laboratory tests could do that – but I do believe they actually happened. I find it difficult to believe that the Rangers and Green Berets quoted were mistaken, and terminal effects such as they describe are possible with hits from the .223 caliber, and have been documented in other cases. When viewing pictures of some very grievous wounds caused by the 5.56mm caliber, “exploded” is definitely a word that comes to mind.

Nor is the idea that the .223 caliber was exceptional in this regard so far-fetched. The Pig Board tests of the 1920s showed the greatest terminal effects at ranges under 300m with the .256 caliber round (which was a little more powerful than the .250 Savage) – the smallest caliber tested:

At 300 yards the caliber .256, 125-grain flat-base bullet gave by far the most severe wounds in all parts of the animal. All calibers caused very severe trauma, but the .256 flat-base bullet seemed to be in a class by itself.

– Hatcher’s Book of The Garand, Julian S. Hatcher

Why a smaller caliber would perform so dramatically better is a good question – but a theory describing this has existed since the 1930s, and was the subject of our very first DTIC post. In short, physics dictates that the smaller a homologous projectile gets, the proportionally shorter the distance until upset in dense media will be; restated: Smaller caliber bullets yaw sooner.

As the subject of another DTIC post proved, however, this effect is no guarantee of terminal performance. The orientation of a bullet as it leaves the muzzle of a firearm is chaotic; the projectile can yaw dramatically in air before settling down due to the gyroscopic forces imparted by the rifling. Collectively, this is called the “fleet yaw problem”.

So not only are the anecdotes in the ARPA report valid, but they do represent some level of exceptional performance by the 5.56mm caliber versus other calibers then in service.

This tempers the current view of 5.56mm effectiveness, broadly speaking. The ammunition used when the ARPA report was being written were pre-M193 specification, but were broadly similar to that round, except for having a somewhat better ballistic coefficient. The terminal effects of Belgian-designed M855 ammunition are comparable to this ammunition, too, meaning there is little reason to expect anything to have changed in this regard.

It makes sense, then, that M855 has not been characterized in official reports as a “poor” terminal performer, but an “inconsistent” one; this is precisely the result we’d expect to see for a round with generally good yaw characteristics but still totally subject to the fleet yaw problem. Still, the conclusion that results like those in the ARPA report are possible – or even likely – does not seem like a misguided one to me.

The ARPA report really does have a lot of interesting information and anecdotes – so much that I’ve found myself having covered less than half of what I wanted, while still sitting on an article of over sixteen hundred words. I highly recommend readers click through and read the report in its entirety.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • Thanks for writing the article Mr.Fitch, I do enjoy your blog posts.

    What is your opinion of the M193 vs. M855 round in terms of performance. It seems to me that the M193 does more damage than the M855 consistently.

    • M855 and M193 share the same bullet jacket thickness. M855 is a little slower, maybe 5%, but it has a considerably higher ballistic coefficient, and by 200 yards it is going faster than M193.

      I don’t see any reason to go back to M193, but I think the concept still has merit. Indeed, one can think of Mk. 318 as basically being the front half of an M193 glued to the back half of a copper solid, as that’s how it performs.

      • Would your opinion change if we compare the M193 vs. M855A1?

        • M855A1 is totally different. It’s yaw independent and has much better penetration. I reckon it’s a better round in general.

          • Have you seen the new EPR in 7.62x51mm yet?

          • Yes, M80A1. 130gr at 3,050 ft/s. Very impressive looking.

  • Ted

    As I remember, the horrific damage described in these reports was caused by the bullet being unstable, that the original 1:14 twist rate was too slow causing the bullet to hit its target broadside. This sort of damage ceased after the twist rate was changed.

    • Hmm… This gave me an idea. Anybody sell a 1:12 or 1:14 twist rate barrel? Donate it to me for for fun! I mean for science!

      • Vitsaus

        Somewhat off topic, but I believe that HK33 and Galil barrels are 1:12.

    • This is not entirely correct. The fleet yaw problem, as it’s now understood, shows that the turbulence caused by the bullet leaving the barrel and the propellant gases expanding all around it is the dominant determiner of the orientation of the bullet along its flight path within the first 50m. Therefore, the twist rate likely had nothing to do with the effectiveness.

  • DIR911911 .

    velocity is the key , these ar15 kills would have been done with 20 inch barrels getting maximum velocity from the 5.56. not to mention the average height and weight of vietnamese soldiers would contribute to the amount of damage sustained by any round.

    • I agree, the tests were done with some 20’s. The thing is that after the velocity drops from the 5.56, wont the .308 beat it in damage since the 5.56 won’t yaw anymore? Assuming ceteris paribus

      • 5.56mm yaws in tissue regardless of the striking velocity. M193 and M855 begin to fragment at above 2,100 ft/s, but confetti-like fragmentation doesn’t begin in earnest until 2,700 ft/s.

    • Vitsaus

      Also, from my readings I was under the impression that the change in twist rate was the result of poor accuracy at distances past 300 yards.

    • Velocity certainly is important, but consider – the Pig Board’s .256 caliber was “in a class all its own” and it only had a muzzle velocity of 2,650 ft/s.

      Worth thinking about.

  • CommonSense23

    One of the most interesting things I have ever read was a report of the early terminal ballistics of the M16 and why they were exceeding all expectation. It pretty much came down to the fact due to the high muzzle velocity that the rounds were fragmenting not tumbling and that this was resulting in the effects seen in the field. What was probably the most interesting was that the report was classified and the finding were kept secrets for decades, and that even when it lost its classification it never became widely distributed.

    • Nominal velocity for pre-M193 ammunition was 3,200 ft/s. In part because of the production issues experienced later in trying to make to-spec M193, I strongly suspect the ammunition produced before M193 was standardized had a lower muzzle velocity than that, as “massaging” numbers was common for manufacturers at the time. Most likely, in practice the rounds produced around 3,100-3,150 ft/s in general, based on my estimates.

      Further, gel tests of M193 even at the higher velocities that were eventually attained show the round does not immediately begin to fragment; it must first yaw.

      Further consider again the Pig Board tests. The .256 caliber had a muzzle velocity of 2,650 ft/s, and still “seemed to be in a class all its own”.

      I believe the initial reports are explained by the theory describing the yaw of projectiles as a function of their diameter.

      • CommonSense23

        You got a private email

        • I don’t see it. If you send it to my staff email, in my author’s description, I will get it.

      • I strongly suspect that the original velocity specifications for the commercial .223 Remington were based on the then industry standard 26″ barrel.

        • Right; typical of a manufacturer then (or now) to use longer barrel lengths to make the performance look better.

          Regardless, I doubt the ammunition being used at the time was significantly higher in terms of muzzle velocity than M855. So that’s not a compelling explanation for the perceived difference in effectiveness.

          • I suspect when it came time to draw up the Mil-Spec for M193 using Remington’s own specifications, someone glossed over the fact that the higher velocity specifications had been from a long test barrel, and not the 20″ barrel of the AR-15. This ultimately led to the loss of IMR 4475 as a qualified propellant.

    • Georgiaboy61

      Re: “One of the most interesting things I have ever read was a report of the early terminal ballistics of the M16 and why they were exceeding all expectation. It pretty much came down to the fact due to the high muzzle velocity that the rounds were fragmenting not tumbling and that this was resulting in the effects seen in the field.”

      Because of the Geneva and Hague Conventions and the prohibition of hollow-point or expanding bullets in land warfare, the designers of the AR15 and its ammunition had to come up with a work-around to enhance the terminal effectiveness of the .224-caliber projectile – which could not depend on mass for its target effects in the way its .30-caliber predecessors could. The solution was to rely on very high muzzle velocities mated to a bullet designed to fragment/shatter into two or more parts upon hitting its target.

      The original 55-grain projectile was intended to fragment at the cannelure (crimping groove encircling the bullet), but given sufficient m.v., could fragment/shatter elsewhere as well. Optimal terminal effects and “hyper-effectiveness” – i.e., fragmentation with multiple permanent wound channels and a large temporary cavity caused by the shock wave – were obtained above 2,800 fps or so. Depending on the exact loading used, for 20-inch barrel rifles, that gives a range for optimal (hyper-effective) terminal ballistics of no more than 150-200 meters, and for shorter barreled carbines, somewhat less depending on obtained muzzle velocities.

      Gordon Rottman, a retired Green Beret NCO and weapons specialist with extensive combat experience (including Vietnam) and the author of the Osprey Military book title on the M16, states that he witnessed inconsistent target effects from the 5.56 NATO round on personnel he saw hit with shots fired from the rifle; some sustained horrific and immediately fatal wounds, while others sustained simple “through-and-throughs” which required minimal medical care and treatment and were not incapacitating. He theorizes that the differing terminal effects were in part due to whether or not the projectile fragmented properly in its target.

      Rottman’s work, which is the source cited above, also mentions that the original 55-grain ammo. and 1:14 were so lethal in some instances that rumors began circulating in some quarters that the U.S. was using illegal ammunition and thus committing a war crime. I don’t know the source of those rumors, and Rottman does not elaborate other to mention their occurrence.

      Anyway, thought I’d throw that in… the Osprey Military book is very well-done and worth getting for those interested in the development and history of the black rifle.

  • iksnilol

    IIRC the twist was much slower than nowadays, causing the round to destabilize faster. Don’t quote me for truth there, I am no 5.56 shooter.

    • I used to believe this was a factor, and I had some compelling reasoning to think so. However, studies of the fleet yaw problem prove that, at close ranges, this is totally irrelevant.

      • iksnilol

        Then what happened to 5.56 ammo between the ancient days and nowadays? Why don’t we have ammo that blows people apart anymore? Seriously, what’s going on here?

        Luckily M67 7.62×39 has never given me confusion and headaches like that.

        • I think expectations are a big part of it. No round is 100% consistent; and the fleet yaw problem was not understood at the time. However, compared to inefficient and late-yaw .30 caliber rounds, the .223 caliber at its introduction probably did seem magical. Today, the expectations are much higher. If one enemy gets hit with M855 and it causes an extreme wounds, there will be the expectation that it does it every time, and it simply won’t. What’s important to note is that these serious injuries haven’t disappeared since Vietnam – they still happen often with 5.56mm, but the effects are inconsistent.

          Based on my understanding of the subject, I feel comfortable saying the larger caliber rounds, including 7.62×39, were consistently much less effective. 5.56mm is inconsistently more effective.

          For what it’s worth, the Soviets believed the dramatic terminal effectiveness of 5.56mm was a deliberate move on the American’s part, and this led directly to them switching from 7.62×39 to 5.45×39 to match its abilities.

          • iksnilol

            So, you have good albeit inconsistent performance on one side while reliable but mediocre performance on the other side?

            I will admit, M43 was pretty bad (not in the good way). I am a big fan of M67 with the hollow bullets. I can get brand new brass cased, non-corrosive version of it in Bosnia. So I like it, it supports my nationalism, works well, and has a decent price.

            To each their own, me and most of the people I know are sticking with 7.62×39 (why mess with something that isn’t broken?). Though the Norskies seem to be somewhat fond of .223 for grouse and fox. Might pick up a thing or two from them (like the love for 6.5×55 and Krags).

          • Don Ward

            Doesn’t body armor come into part of the equation? The US and NATO needed to field a round capable of defeating the first (and second?) generation body armor being fielded by the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact. Which they did. The issue is that now that the round (and rifle) are geared towards penetrating body armor, it does not have as effective yawing characteristics and tends to “over-penetrate” when facing “Haji” wearing nothing but a robe and sandals.
            As an anecdote, my brother who was “over there” in 2003 had the standard M4 experience of seeing insurgents who required multiple rounds to drop effectively. However, when they faced some more “professional” foreign fighters wearing Soviet body armor, the standard 5.56 rounds dropped the baddies like they were hit with an axe.

          • In what way does M855 not have effective yawing characteristics? It has an even-more-rearward center of gravity than M193, the same jacket thickness, and velocity is within 5%.

            It basically is M193 with a secant ogive and little cone of steel in the tip.

          • Don Ward

            I’m not casting judgment. I’m just repeating the very common story that is pretty much universally told about the M4 and its ammo used by our troops in Iraq in the early stages of the war. We’ve both heard it. It has been reported and spoken about at length. It just seems to make sense that a cartridge and weapon designed more for defeating body armor will be less effective (if only slightly) than the original rounds you were describing in the report which weren’t designed to defeat body armor.

          • Right; the mistake is in thinking M855 was designed solely to defeat armor. It was designed in fact to retain the favorable characteristics of M193 while meeting a specific penetration requirement (Soviet helmet, 800m).

            A round designed solely to defeat armor looks like M2 .30-06 AP (the round we won WWII with) or 7N22 5.45mm.

          • Don Ward

            Sure. There’s designed solely for. And designed to optimize for. I think we’re discussing a nuanced difference here.

          • You’ll note that FN once offered a purpose-designed 5.56mm AP round, the P112, as a companion to the SS109 Ball.

  • Don Ward

    Great post Nathaniel. Or should I say… *removes mask*… Robert McNamara!

    *Collective gasp*


    • Vitsaus

      Curtis LeMay, but I like what you did there.

      • Don Ward

        LeMay got it for the Air Force, sure, but I was under the impression that it was McNamara who pulled the plug on the M14 which left the Army and the Marines by default (and correctly) relying on the M16.

        • Don Ward is correct; I – I mean McNamara – forced the Army to stop producing the highly troubled M14, at which point the Army could adopt one of two two weapons:

          The AR-15, or the M1 Garand.

          McNamara forced the Army to pick the AR-15.

          • Intependent

            The M-14 was not “highly troubled” – It worked fine. It was heavy and long but you got used to that. It’s full auto mode was way too fast and you could dump a magazine with a single trigger pull but with some practice, it could be controlled. Whatever the perceived flaws of the M-14, we didn’t have a jamming problem with them. We got all the jamming with our M-16s – with its brilliantly inaccessible from the outside chamber.
            The real story is that a bunch of folks a long way from the war decided to field the thing before it and its ammunition were even close to being ready. The other real story was that it was a real moneymaker, since it was made of the finest aluminum and plastic. Ever hear of exfoliation? That was another wonderful gift of the M-16 – the steel of the barrel is mated with the aluminum receiver, making a nice unexpected battery in the heat and moisture of Vietnam. That caused the aluminum to corrode more rapidly and to “exfoliate” its surface coating. Not very debilitating but it added to the list of flaws of the damn thing.

          • I recommend you read the book href=”http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2015/02/10/small-caliber-book-reviews-u-s-rifle-m14-john-garand-m21/U.S. Rifle M14, from John Garand to the M21 for a sense of what I mean.

            The ARPA report doesn’t really support that, does it? The military advisors and troops who first tested the things in combat thought they were exceptional. That opinion had to factor into the decision to issue them.

          • Intependent

            Again, the testers had good ammo (I would assume) and certainly didn’t spend weeks in the field and in sustained firefights/rain/dust storms.
            We ended up doing that testing instead.
            I have read some of the books about the Garand/M-14 and from my perspective, I owe my life several times over to keeping mine.
            Now, this is embarrassing, since I retired at a far higher rank than Lance Corporal but this is how I kept my rifle: my Company commander would call me and tell me to get an M-16. I told him that “I’m artillery and we don’t have them yet”. When I went back to my parent battery to get my mail, they’d tell me that they had an M-16 in the armory for me – and I’d tell them “don’t need it – the grunts want me to keep the ’14”.
            When I went up in rank and responsibilities, I kept an eye out for operators like me!

          • The ARPA report doesn’t document testers. It documents the issuance of the AR-15 to the RVNAF in combat against the Viet Cong, exactly the same conditions you experienced.

          • Intependent

            They weren’t the “exactly same conditions”. SF operators picked their times to engage or not, depending on the situation. They were smaller units and their focus was not on direct combat but hit and run – like our Recon folks.
            We grunts had daily, sometimes hourly engagements and were in the field continuously for up to a month. The Mousegun wasn’t ready for the real thing.

          • The RVNAF are not SF.

          • Intependent

            Umm – that’s “ARVN” as in Army of the Republic of Vietnam..
            And no, they weren’t “exactly the same conditions as we experienced” it was a short-term experiment

          • In the ARPA report they are referred to as the “Republic of VietNam Armed Forces”. Might just be the term of the period.

            I mean the environment and climate are the same, and the targets were the same.

          • RVNAF served as a blanket designation for all of the South Vietnamese military branches and paramilitary units. This included the Army (ARVN), Air Force (VNAF), Navy (VNN), and Marine Corps (VNMC), as well as the Regional and Popular Forces (RF/PF).

  • john

    So while they were trying to sell the AR15 to the armed forces a bunch of glowing reports were written about it….hmmm.

    What about the one were the VC was standing on the moon and the bullet hit him so hard it killed his whole family, don’t forget that one….

    • CommonSense23

      What about the fact that US special operations forces were using their own discretionary funds to buy the AR-15 and gave up on the M14 as fast as possible.

      • Intependent

        Never heard that one. I kept my M-14 and got rid of that stupid M-16. When I finally did get hit, I was swamped with my fellow Marines asking for my M-14.

        It worked reliably, it hit what you aimed at, it killed what you hit.

        • CommonSense23

          Really. Were you SOF?

          • kyphe

            probably was not even born yet

          • Intependent

            17 months in combat, Jan 66 to May 67. I was with the infantry half the time. SOF wouldn’t have survived long where we were.

          • CommonSense23

            Why wouldn’t SOF be able to survive in the area you were in. Considering that they operated from in the entire country both north and south

          • Intependent

            SOF’s job was advising and training the locals. They operated in onesies and twosies or in some isolated outposts. We fought NVA and VC companies and battalions. No place for lightly armed specialists.

          • CommonSense23

            So you have no clue what SOF did in Vietnam apparently. Good to know.

          • Intependent

            That’s funny! When and where you in Vietnam? What did SOF do, in your expert opinion? Ever heard of A Shau Valley or Lang Vei?
            Or were you just a kid reading comic books?

          • CommonSense23

            Well considering that lets see, SOF was doing SR, DA, HR, UW, FID, direct support of conventional operations which often resolted in using platoon size levels or greater, not ones or twos.

          • Intependent

            Great acronyms. Spell them out, please.
            The operations cited were where SF outposts were overrun by major NVA units. Fighting the big stuff wasn’t what the SF was designed for. I was a new Lance Corporal in Phu Bai in early ’66 when they brought out the survivors from the A Shau. Not a great memory.

          • CommonSense23

            Lets see, Strategic Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Hostage Rescue, Unconventional Warfare, Foreign internal defense. You listed two examples, out of the tens of thousands of missions SOF performed.

          • Intependent

            “Tens of thousands of missions” really? Those Green Beanies must be extra large to fit those heads! Sorry: wars are fought and won with well-trained infantry. The rest support infantry – even the Air Force.

          • CommonSense23

            You realize Green Berets are only one form of SOF right, each branch fielded SOF of one kind or another including the Marines.

          • Intependent

            Yup – but SF was the only set of special operators we had back then – SEALs and SOCOM was still a gleam in somebody’s eye. I know that the army had CORDS and some other spook types but the real industrial-scale killing was done at out hands.

          • CommonSense23

            Are you really saying that SF was the only form of SOF back then in Vietnam? Seals deployed in 1962 to Vietnam. Marine Recon was there in 1965, and yes Socom didn’t exist, but MACV-SOG was running as early as 1964. You might want to brush up on your history.

          • Intependent

            I suppose the rebranded Navy UDT became SEALs around that time, but honestly whatever impact they had on our war is unknown to me. I’m sure they did great stuff and thanks – but my arena was the big stuff.

          • n0truscotsman

            Yeah, I mean, WTF would MAC-V know about fending off entire battalions worth of NVA on occasions. Just delusional craziness /rolls eyes/


          • CommonSense23

            I mean units that had 25-50 percent of their guys running M60s as a one man weapons platform only used the M16 cause of its lightness, not for its firepower or anything. They were all about being light and barely armed.

        • I think early on, the M14 had the significant advantage of a chrome-lined chamber. Given what you’ve said about the malfunctions your unit experienced with the M16, I’d say that paid off for you.

          • Intependent

            The M14 was very, very reliable – even though the climate would produce scale rust overnight on the barrel and receiver. It also could hit accurately out 500m and better if the enemy was dumb enough to expose himself that far out.

            Conversely, there thousands of rounds per kill fired by M16s. Between the weird sights (wind it down using a bullet tip to go up) and indifferent accuracy and the full-auto selector, the VC were usually a lot safer when we converted to the M16.

          • Don Ward

            Your point? Lots of shots get fired in war.
            There were thousands of rounds fired by the M1 Garand per kill in World War 2 and Korea. It’s called suppressing fire. The team that does it the most usually wins in modern war.

            Hell, even for single-shot rifles like the 1873 Springfield, 25,000 rounds were fired by Gen. Crooke’s soldiers at the Battle of Rosebud for about 100 Sioux/Cheyenne casualties. That’s 250 rounds a piece working a trapdoor loading mechanism.
            The “Every man a rifleman” cult probably has gotten more men killed than the handful of M-16 malfunctions in Vietnam given studies following WW2 showing that men wouldn’t shoot at enemy locations where they didn’t actually see a target due to the training they got on the rifle range.

          • Intependent

            Wow. It’s great to meet an actual expert in combat. So how much did you see?
            You don’t mind if I disagree, do you? A friend of mind classified men into three categories in combat: Killers, Fillers, and Fodder. “Killers” were the guys who could overcome the fear and aim their weapons in a firefight. They add up to about 10-20% if you’re lucky. Fillers make noise. They don’t aim, they hose and if you’re really, really lucky, they don’t hit any of us while they do it. Fodder is going to die no matter what you do for them – no talent.
            I combat, you only rarely see the enemy clearly; most of the time you look for movement or the odd color or the dust from his weapon firing.
            The really successful Marines or soldiers know their weapons and know how to aim in the conditions and at the range needed and nail the enemy.
            Aiming well – a talent only developed through extensive training and practice – makes a huge difference because you can effectively engage and cause the enemy casualties at ranges further than they can successfully engage you.
            I had 17 months in combat – what’s your experience?

          • Don Ward

            Wow. You’re really playing the “You don’t know, man, you weren’t there, man” card?
            Have I ever been in combat? Nope. I’ve been shot at twice and had to throw down on someone once. But if we’re comparing Internet woodpecker size, I’m an Alaska commercial salmon fisherman in what is the most deadliest occupation in the country. And I’ve been through numerous harrowing experiences that are just part of the job including spending two hours in Bristol Bay after our skiff sank after getting entangled in someone’s gear during a storm. And while I’ve never done your job, I have seen several ex-military guys try to do mine and fail.
            But none of that means anything since I have spoken to vets who have had first-hand experience and read numerous accounts of military actions. All of which state that combat is a confusing place and guys who make broad, all-encompassing statements are often wrong.
            As for the M-16, I think the record is clear that there were tragic teething problems and mistakes made from the Administration down to the greenest private fresh off the plane.
            I think the point Nathan has been trying to make is that despite this, the M-16 has been the best of compromises that you have to make in fielding an army composed of “Joe is a helluva Guy” types who are given weapons and expected to kill people.
            I like the M-14 for what it is. But it is nowhere comparable to an AR-15/M-16 in terms of modern combat.

          • Intependent

            I have to admit that your reply gave me a good laugh – yeah, you’re right; it is like that “you wouldn’t know…” thing isn’t it? Yes, your job is dangerous and there’s no taking away anything from that – it’s just that my experience is my experience and we were at the wrong end of somebody else’s experiment. I was just 20 back then and it was hard seeing some really great young 18-19-20 year olds dead because they had a defective rifle/ammo. Worse, the clowns at the time insisted that it was because we “weren’t cleaning them enough”. It took a congressional investigation and then much later a very belated “oh, we used the wrong powder” to finally set the record straighter. It was too late then.
            It was just part of a miserable, long ago war where we did the best we could with what we had. I am very, very proud of our guys that fought back then and I always will be.

          • Don Ward

            That’s fine man. Unlike some of the other lovable jackals here, I’m 99 percent certain your Internet bonafides hold up and you are the big stereotypical M14 loving Marine that you say you are. *grin* And you got handed a particularly odorous sandwich to eat of questionable certainty what part of the cow it came from while you were over there. Glad you did a good job over there.

            It was a fun having gun debate with you. Until next time.

          • I don’t see how that would be any different with an M14 – it’s difficult to hit targets in combat.

          • Intependent

            That’s why we train as hard as we do to hit what we shoot at.

      • Vitsaus

        Probably because of weight more than any other factor. Remember these guys were also using SMGs while the rest of the military wasn’t.

        • CommonSense23

          So you don’t think the fact that they reported the AR15/M16 was more reliable, had better terminal ballistics, and a overall superior rifle to the M14 was a deciding factor also.

        • Georgiaboy61

          Weight would definitely be a factor for LRRPs and other specialist forces expected to operate on long patrols and without the prospects of frequent/regular resupply – not only the weight of the rifle itself, but of its basic combat ammunition load. There’s no arguing that 5.56 is lighter to hump than 7.62…

    • Are you saying these reports from Rangers and Green Berets were fabricated? Could you provide evidence of this?

      • Intependent

        I can’t answer for John, but SF was armed lightly, usually with close-range weapons, like the M2 carbine, M1 Thompsons, and even the occasional odd one like an MP40. An M16 up close is fine, as long as it works.

        The problem for those of us with the infantry was that the weapon we carried had to be more effective over a span of ranges and against large well-trained units in good defensive positions.

        The M16 was not effective and as noted before, not at all reliable.

        • Clearly it was highly reliable when maintained, and it has the capability to produce lethal hits out to great range.

          • Intependent

            I’m sorry but no, it was not effective when correctly maintained. We maintained them beautifully. many of them failed anyway. They were also miserably inaccurate and the VC owe our defense department a medal for the numbers of enemy missed thanks to that weapon.

          • What was your maintenance regimen like?

  • Intependent

    Fascinating. So while these wonderful folks were busily comparing the completely worthless M-2 carbine to their wonder rifle, those of us whose lives depended on having a rifle that functioned reliably, died around our broken-down Mattel toys.

    The damn things would rip to backs of the cartridge cases off during extraction and then jam a new cartridge into that mess. We had to carry assembled cleaning rods to try to knock that mess out of the chamber. Failing that, we had to strip the stupid things while in a firefight. I saw many dead kids by their partially disassembled M-16s.
    The safeties had an improperly-designed detent that caused the rifle to stay locked on safe until you hit it with the butt of a bayonet.

    The round was worthless in heavy vegetation, the sights miserably-designed for setting your zero and rifle broke into pieces if it was ever used to hit someone.

    I will never forget how it felt to get something so completely unproven and unready for combat and I knew that it was just one more proof that we just expendable to our leaders – like Kleenex.

    • That is what happens when rifles without chrome-lined chambers are left out in tropical conditions without cleaning or oiling. A rusty chamber will cause these malfunctions almost without fail.

      It was a gross miscarriage of the duty owed to our soldiers that marketing lingo was able to usurp experience. The AR-15 did prove to be self-cleaning (in some ways) and low maintenance, this ARPA report shows that, but it was not maintenance free as the marketing material made it seem. The lack of issuance of ancillaries such as cleaning supplies aggravated this.

      In the hands of those who knew better, the AR-15 performed very well, generally. In the hands of those who did not maintain their weapons, for whatever reason, even the Garand suffered similar problems:

      “Materials to clean and oil the small arms were much in demand. Cleaning and preserving (C&P) materials had been in short supply to begin with. Many of the M1 rifles had been issued without oil and thong cases. Often when the men had the cases they simply threw them away to lighten the load they were carrying. By 3 December the shortage of gun oil, small individual containers for oil, brushes, cleaning rods, and other C&P items was serious enough to effect operations. One combat officer, observing that the first thing the men stripped from the Japanese dead or wounded was the neat bakelite oil case they carried, reported that gun oil was ‘very precious and always short.’ Urgent messages characterized the condition of small arms at the front as ‘deplorable’ and ‘terrible.'”

      – “The Ordnance Department: On Beachhead and Battlefront”

      “The M1’s were going to ruin for lack of cleaning in the holes up front-the poor guys did not have anything to take care of them with, and often were not in a position to shoot them often enough to keep the barrels clear of corrosion (grass won’t grow on a busy street-regardless of the corroding primer compound, if a .30-06 barrel gets a bullet through it every six or eight hours it will stay in pretty good shape). As a result of the fouling of gas cylinders and pistons, a large percentage of our semi-automatics were becoming singleshots.”

      – “Ordnance Went Up Front”

      I don’t think this was a soldier problem, I think it was an Army problem. If you tell the guys the rifle doesn’t need any maintenance, they won’t maintain it.

      • Intependent

        Not true. We had adequate cleaning supplies and cleaned our M16s at least once a day. We were Marines and we have thing about our rifles.

        They failed anyway and when they failed, it often cost the life of the Marine carrying it.

        We haven’t passed on yet – so I’m going to continue to fight against the false stories about our experiences in Vietnam.

        The M16 had lousy sights and a safety that stuck on Safe too.

        • The Garand had the exact same problem in World War II, so what’s the difference between it and the M14 you were issued?

          A chrome-lined barrel.

          Are you alleging that the ARPA report is false?

        • n0truscotsman

          Then why were SF and airborne forces’ reports about the original “AR15” (before the changed M16 series was adopted en masse) much more supportive?

          • I agree, scots; I find it difficult to just dismiss the reports of Ranger and Green Beret advisors as made-up without any proof.

            The malfunctions that get the most attention are stuck cases. Those are caused by three things:

            1. Rusty or corroded chambers

            2. Improperly specced ammunition

            3. Rough/out of spec chambers

            All three things have evidence to support them; the M16 was originally issued without a chrome-lined bore or chamber and was advertised as “self-cleaning”, advice that itself caused a lot of problems. Add a tropical climate to that, and no wonder there were stuck cases. The Green Berets, Rangers, and the RVNAF troops they were advising would not have had this problem; they would have been experienced at maintained non-chromed weapons in that climate, having been using the Garand there since at least 1955.

            The commencement of large-scale .223 ammunition production was a huge fiasco worthy of its own book. Rounds that produced too much pressure or didn’t have properly hardened cases could easily produce stuck case malfunctions. Again, the military advisors would not have had this problem; their ammunition all came from pre-production lots that had higher quality control.

            Rough/out-of-spec chambers were also evident. The first 1,000 guns procured for Vietnam, the subjects of the ARPA report, would have had properly specced chambers; as production ramped up for Vietnam (and ramped up fast – remember there were no other alternative rifles; the same thing happened with the Garand in WWII), some improperly specced chambers were released. I think this is the least evident problem, but it’s at least conceivable.

            The M14 would have had a much easier time on the ammunition and corrosion fronts: It had a chrome-lined chamber, and 7.62mm ammunition had been in full-rate production for much longer.

            So that’s how the ARPA report can be so favorable, but by general troop deployment to Vietnam there can have been so many problems.

          • n0truscotsman

            I dont mean to use an “appeal to authority” card either. 😉

            Its just that im not very trustworthy of anecdotes. Especially ones that try to make generalizations about an entire family of rifles because of a flawed iteration or two of specific models.

          • Scots, that’s something I’d like to address: The idea that the AR-15 was critically flawed at its introduction.

            Really, the Army has a bad problem with dismissing soldiers after a war and losing the ability to fight effectively in that environment. The AR-15 had a non-chrome-lined barrel, which wouldn’t have been such a big issue had it received proper maintenance; but the Army forgot about that exact same set of problems it had with the Garand in WWII, and history repeated itself.

            Chrome-lining is obviously better, but the failures of the AR-15 in combat in early Vietnam could have been prevented if the Army hadn’t lost its ability to fight in the tropics.

          • n0truscotsman

            Well you are getting into a long time problem with the US Military (not only US either).
            You are exactly right, from my experience, and it is puzzling. considering the US, especially the Marine Corps, spent the decades before both world wars embroiled in jungle conflicts in various brushfire wars in the Americas and East Asia.
            We tend to forget lessons and re-learn them with blood.

          • Intependent

            Nathaniel, I know that you are a weapons expert of some sort, but you’re going to have to concede my expertise in combat. I joined in June 1965 and was trained and ready to go to Vietnam in January 1966. We were well-trained for Vietnam – which was only rarely “Jungle” combat. The enemy and we avoided the triple-canopy jungle because it was too hard to move through much less fight effectively. Most of the combat involved rice paddies and treelines. The treelines were where the villages were and the rivers and if the enemy was in them, we had to cross that lousy deep mud to approach them. Despite the difficulties of dealing with an enemy (actually two enemies: the VC and the NVA) we were extremely effective and the enemy only engaged if they though they had an advantage or if we were successful in pinning them in place.
            Unlike all the war movies, we were very good at finding them, putting the anvil in place and then applying the hammer. Most of our casualties were not from bullets but from booby traps and mortars.
            The sights on the M-16 were designed by a civilian who thought that changing the zero with a bullet tip was a good idea and adequate. It isn’t. 1. Reaching the front of your rifle in a firefight to change your vertical point of impact is insane. 2. The detent on the front sight was strong and resisted easy movement and counting clicks didn’t work because the bullet tip often slipped – and as I said earlier, cranking the front sight up to make the weapons shoot lower is counterintuitive and therefore lousy engineering. 3. Making fast and easy changes in windage and elevation from the rear of the weapon allows the shooter to account for changes in range and wind and downslope/upslope targets.
            The business of weapons is to work – always – to be effective on their targets at all effective ranges, and to accommodate the firer’s needs to rapidly adjust it as required. The M-16 did not fulfill any of these as we received it.
            Blaming all of this on “training” is stupid and ignores the reality of what we encountered.

          • Independent, I am not a weapons expert, I have never said you did not have experience in combat, and I have already said the A1 sights are not good. I have also never referenced any Hollywood film in this conversation.

            However, if I am understanding you correctly, many if the Marines in your unit also did not know how to sight in using the A1’s sights, so they couldn’t get a good zero in the first place, much less adjust it in combat. THAT is a training issue.

          • Intependent

            I think that SF had a different situation than we had. They were involved more with small unit/close-in/hit and run actions and therefore sustained fights were probably rarer. The infantry was in it every dang day, day in, day out. We had everything from blundering into each other at point blank to 600m exchanges with snipers and everything in between. We needed weapons that were robust, accurate, lethal. what we got was the “Plastic Fantastic”.
            I wrote my Congressman from Vietnam, complaining about what was happening – I never got an answer but I remember telling him that “I don’t care if the rifle has to have gold plating and sapphire bearings to run well, we have to have a weapon that works”.
            Yeah, right – like they’d do that for us!

          • n0truscotsman

            Here’s my take.
            Special Forces units, in their multiple mission types and types of units themselves, were in different situations than you in that they are even more dependent on their small arms than the average infantryman. For operations often far from friendly forces.
            By far.
            Im not going to get into lengthy debates, but to me, it was telling that not only did they extensively use M16s (and the progenitor, AR15, before the massive uptick in US involvement), but foreign forces there did too, to include members of the Australian SASR. Again, not to rely on the “but SF uses them!” card, but to me, those facts are very telling.

          • Intependent

            Again, those other forces weren’t up to their necks in day-to-day combat like we were. I cited Operation Hastings in an earlier post. The 1st Marine Division lost over 400 dead in a week going against the 324B NVA Division near the DMZ. We were in direct combat, while SF and others were more hit and run. Now in Hastings, we still had M-14s but a couple of months later, we had M-16s. Thank Heaven we hadn’t gotten the Jam-O-Matic yet in that fight!

          • n0truscotsman

            “Again, those other forces weren’t up to their necks in day-to-day combat like we were”


            And this discussion is over with. Adieu.

          • Intependent

            I’m just curious: were you in any way associated with SF, or did you serve in Vietnam in any capacity? You have me puzzled about you reaction to my statements.

            Some figures for perspective: of the 58,000 killed in Vietnam, 14,000 were Marines. Of those 14,000, 10,000 were killed in the provinces between the A Shau and Danang where the units I was in served.

            How many SF died, just to give perspective?

        • Independent, you say that you cleaned your rifles every day. What sort of instruction did you receive on this? Do you feel the instruction was adequate or inadequate? Did you have to come up with cleaning regimens yourselves, or were tropical conditions cleaning exercises provided to you?

          Further, what training did you receive on how to sight-in your weapons? Did you receive training on the Garand/M14 only, or also the M16? Is there a possibility that some of the lack of stopping power you saw was due to weapons not being sighted correctly?

          • Intependent

            We had cleaning kits issued – along with that “clothespin” bipod in its carrier. We were quite experienced with cleaning weapons and we were issued a lubricant that supposedly was designed for the weapon. The M-16s jammed so commonly and persistently that morale was an issue. It’s one thing to ask young guys to go outside the wire every day and risk death or mutilation, but’s another whole level downward to stick them with a substandard weapon to risk their lives with. Worse yet, the enemy stuff worked well: SKSs and AKs and RPDs work even when filthy. We were the only ones stuck with the latest shiny penny that jammed solid when you needed it the most.
            I have no bad experience with the M-1 Garand and I wasn’t in any wars where we used them. As far as I have heard, it was dependable, powerful and accurate.
            If you want to talk about more garbage we were stuck with, let’s talk about our “least bidder” M-60 machine gun, the idiot M-79 that required its gunner to stick his whole head and shoulders out of cover to aim and fire it, etc., etc.
            Think I’m complaining too much? You try imagining being where we were and having to experience a situation like that!

          • I didn’t say anything about you complaining, Independent.

            What was your cleaning regimen like? How did you clean the rifles? I can’t help but notice that all the guns you name as working well – the SKS, AK, and RPD – have chrome-lined barrels.

          • Intependent

            We stopped and cleaned our weapons at least once a day and as I said earlier, we were in the field continuously for as much as a month at a time. The VC/NVA weapons worked because they had been adequately tested before they were issued.
            Despite the report you have cited, we did not test the M-16 adequately before issuing them. NONE of the flaws in that weapon were our fault.
            We have hundreds of families here who have little shrines in their homes with the last pictures of their young sons/husbands, thanks to a defective design and an indifferent leadership.

          • At no point did I say the weapon’s flaws were you or your men’s fault.

          • Intependent

            What is implying that they were “improperly trained” mean? If you had ever been a Marine you’d understand better how well we are trained with our weapons. We are extensively trained in weapon cleaning and adjustments and we qualify out to 500m each year with several live-fire sessions in between. There isn’t any other organization on Earth better trained with their weapons than Marines, period.

          • Intependent, I mean that you didn’t receive the training you should have received, with regards to the specific operation of the M16 versus the M14. The sighting issues you mention are a great example of this.

            I do not mean you were untrained rabble – far from that. As you well know, it’s the duty of the government to provide its troops with the correct training – not just training in fine marksmanship or drill, but training with the exact weapons you will be using in the field, as well as training for the climate and environment you will be sent to. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it does sound like that training wasn’t provided to you. That – and I can’t stress this enough – was not you or your men’s fault. It was the government’s fault.

            I’ve said many times here the M16 did not get a proper development program. McNamara and his new DoD thought the AR-15 was ready for service, and had backed themselves into a corner where they had no choice but to issue it. In reality, the AR-15, while highly promising, should have been put through a proper development cycle before issuance. In particular, the issues with the ammunition literally not having a proper military specification are highly damning to the administration.

  • Several of my comments below answering folks’ questions about the terminal effect of the rounds in question and 5.56mm in general are related, so I’ll be cross-linking them so others can read them easily.

  • Intependent

    Right. I was there, Echo 2/1. Look up Operations Hastings and Prairie and get back to me.

    • Ben Warren

      I could tell you to look up 6 RAR in Operations Bribie and Smithfield. Doesn’t mean either of us was there.

      • Intependent

        Fine, Slick. Come out and meet me in person. Would be happy to show you my DD214.

        I love you “patriots” who get all misty-eyed on Veteran’s Day but the second someone says something different than you want to believe, you get all nasty.


    • Vitsaus

      Don’t argue with the kid, he knows about Viet Nam because it was a level in call of duty. Plus airsoft. You can’t win this.

      • Intependent

        True enough. Thanks for the backup.

      • That was totally unnecessary.

  • Intependent

    The alleged horrific damage caused by “tumbling bullets” rarely panned out in reality. I do remember seeing more than few VC hit that kept running and I also saw tracers ricocheting off wet grass and other weird occurrences.
    The really big advantage with the M-14 was its ability to penetrate anything and keep its lethality. Hiding behind gravestones didn’t work for the enemy.

    • Don Ward

      You see all sorts of guys who “kept running” after being hit in combat. As an extreme example, you can look at the Medal of Honor citations and see guys who “kept running” after being hit by all manner of projectiles, artillery, machine guns, full-powered rifle cartridges, arrows and pistol bullets. So when our guys do that against German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese weapons, it means that they’re rugged, square-jawed heroes. But when the sneaky enemy doesn’t drop in one shot, it stands to reason that it’s the weapon’s fault.
      I suspect the enemy would have “kept running” were they hit with 5.56, 7.62, 30-06, 30-40 Krag or 45-70. The trick is which weapon would have a better chance of hitting them.

      • Intependent

        Let’s see if I can be clearer. Most of the time, when people are shot they drop straight down, like sack of rocks. It’s the way the nervous system works. When you hit somebody, you usually see a puff of dust from the shock of the bullet hitting them, hence the terms “dusting” and “I knocked the dust off him”. With the M16 and ammunition we had, lots of dust, fewer drops. (Another weapon that was a failure were the little flechette shotgun round – looked good on paper, useless in action). With my M14, they dropped – I hit one guy on the edge do his hand and he was down for the count and easily captured.

        I was hit by an AK and dropped straight down. Shattered my femur and went on through the guy behind me. Damn AK worked every time and even its below-par round worked better than the M16.

        • Don Ward

          Except when you have guys that keep running. Or get up and keep running. As has been documented hundreds and thousands of times in combat. There were American GIs who when hit by a far more robust 8mm Mauser round who “kept running”. Conversely there are guys who gave up after a scratch. Or who broke down completely without being shot at all. I suspect the guy you hit in the hand would have “dropped” if he’d been hit by a 5.56, 7.62, 30-06 or a slingshot. No doubt the suppressing fire from your unit and whatever support you got from crew served weapons, artillery assets, air power and perhaps the guy’s unwillingness to die or a letter from home from his mother all contributed to the equation.

          • Intependent

            Umm, no. We had a dozen or so other Marines blazing away at the guy with M-16s to no effect. I fired one shot when everybody else had given up and dropped him.

          • What sort of conclusion can you draw from a statement like that? The enemy took many rounds to put down? The M16s weren’t sighted in properly? Only you could shoot straight? I can’t be convinced by an anecdote like that.

            For one thing, the idea that an anecdote like this is indicative of 5.56mm’s ineffectiveness asks me to believe that the target couldn’t be stopped by perforating it with any number of holes two-hundred-and-twenty thousandths of an inch wide, but one hole three-hundred-thousandths-of-an-inch wide would stop him cold.

          • Intependent

            The conclusion should be that they weren’t able to hit a running man with their M-16s. He started out about 100m off and ran like the devil with hundreds of rounds all around him. They missed – I got into the prone and aimed for his head but hit him in the hand.
            I’m the only one that hit him. Funny part of the story was that I bandaged him up with my own bandage and kept him with us. We ended up fighting his parent company (he showed us where they were) and about a half hour into it, I was hit. My prisoner helped me with my tourniquet and when a the helicopter got in, helped me to the plane. I still remember him waving at me with his bandaged hand when we lifted off.
            I tried to find him when I went back over to Vietnam on a tour in 2000 but nobody could tell me what happened to him.

          • Independent, thanks for the clarification and the extra detail.

            Would you say this inaccuracy could have been due to the different sight in procedure the AR-15 has versus the Garand or M14?

          • Intependent

            You are correct: the weird “wind up to shoot lower” front sight was a beast and of course, the rear sight was adjustable for windage only with a lot of effort – so most everyone “unlearned” the lessons learned at the rifle range and used Kentucky windage. Hence, I kept my M-14 and seemed like a sniper in comparison to my M-16 gunners.

          • That’s a very serious problem; worse, it would have been easily fixed with proper training.

          • Intependent

            No, we were very well-trained marksmen. The weapon needed proper engineering. The sights on the M16A2 solved the sight adjustment problems. Using bullet tips to push in detents to screw and unscrew sights is lousy design.

            The other issues were that the optimization in favor of muzzle velocity/ higher muzzle energy was the wrong direction to take. If all your engagements are at 50m, you’re golden. If you’re trying to kill somebody at 300m, that 55 grain slug just annoyed them. Unfortunately for us, we were the testing subjects for the “little bullet spray and pray” school and that experiment failed.

            More recently, at the height of the Iraq War, we had a battalion request M14s because they were having trouble killing the enemy at long engagement ranges and through mud walls, etc.
            I located 2,000 condition code A M14s and after some , magazines, gauges, tools

          • CommonSense23

            What Marine battalion received 2000 M14s.

          • He made another comment, says his effort was vetoed from on high.

          • Intependent

            Unfortunately, that battalion – 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines serving as an MP battalion at the time never got them because some twit at HQMC blocked the whole thing.
            The pushing of the M-16/M-4 family is and was political. Our leaders never admit to a mistake.

          • I’m not arguing that the A1 sights didn’t leave a lot to be desired, I meant that sighting the rifles in should have been something your men were taught to do, and it sounds like they were only trained on the Garand/M14, which made a quirk of the gun into a serious problem. I agree that A2 sights are better, definitely.

            300m is probably where M193 starts having problems – it has dipped below its happiest velocity at that point. However, it’s worth noting that even at that range it still has energy comparable to a .357 Magnum round.

          • Intependent

            My IPad locked up – as I was trying to say, I got the M14s and M80 Ball ammo but some obnoxious Major at Headquarters Marine Corps stopped everything. There political forces that still block all other avenues but the M16 and it’s variants.

        • The_Champ

          “Most of the time, when people are shot they drop straight down, like sack of rocks.”

          If this is true then I guess wildlife are somehow wired different than people. My personal experience with hunting involves using a .300 Win Mag with nasty, carefully engineered, deep penetrating yet widely expanding bullet that dump tons of energy into the target.

          My first hand experience, and research into the matter suggests that that oh so magical and controversial “hydrostatic shock” is real, and occurs when a fast enough and heavy enough bullet strikes near important parts of the nervous system AND sheds a lot of energy there. The critter is knocked unconscious, “like a sack of rocks”, and subsequently bleeds to death.

          To say that this is routinely achievable with FMJ 7.62 ammo on people seems to contradict my hunting experiences because I’ve seen everything from coyotes to moose shrug off a “center of mass” hit with .300 Win Mag and run away.

          Also, please reference youtube where you will find dozens of videos of people getting shot and shrugging it off, running away, continuing to fight, etc.

          • Intependent

            Interesting. Never thought to compare us humans with antelopes but my experience was that when somebody’s hit with a military caliber weapon, they fell. And if you’re any good, you put a couple more rounds to make sure he stays down.

            I fell straight down when I was hit but suppose it never occur to me to run – couldn’t have anyway: my leg was shattered.

  • The_Champ

    Well I wouldn’t make the claim that 5.56 was some kind of magic bullet that always blows off limbs, but it is pretty amazing to see the vastly larger than caliber exit wounds that round can produce in the right circumstances(again see the article above and the type of exit wound the author managed to produce on game with Norinco 55 grain FMJ ammo, which is apparently the only ammo he could get to tumble consistently). It seems as though the original designers of the round and weapon knew how to maximize the chances of these horrific wounds.

    Which of course brings us to the modern trend of shorter barrels, tighter twist rates, and heavier bullets for AR rifles. All of these things seem to be working towards negating any chance of getting bullet tumbling or fragmentation with a 5.56.

    I should also mention that there is obviously much more to consider when choosing a certain bullet than what it does when it finds its target. Penetration(as Intependent points out) can be very important in combat. Also how much ammo you can carry, what type of weapon the ammo is used in, etc etc etc.

  • Bill the Cat

    The AR-15/M-16 was very prone to jamming, and many who had the opportunity frequently exercised it to pick up something else. As with many things related to war, this was probably more about $ for the Military-Industrial complex than it was about supporting boys who were dumped into a 5hithole in SE Asia to die pointlessly for their country.

    One can only hope that the people responsible for the M16 decision and the resulting casualties burn in their own private hell for a very, VERY long time.

    • Without any sort of citation, there’s not much for discussion here. I can only disagree.

      • Bill the Cat

        I worked for the ASA in the early 70s, and have first-hand experience with the topic. Your disagreement doesn’t really change any of that.

        • Signals intelligence?

          • Bill the Cat

            Keep reading.

    • Don Ward

      I am a harsh critic of LBJ and his administration. But your statement regarding the American government’s willingness to trade American lives to feed the “military industrial complex” is rather fanciful and smacks of conspiracy theory.
      Truthfully, LBJ and America went into the war for the altruistic concern of stopping the spread of Communism with the naive hope of fostering Jeffersonian democracy in South Vietnam. Truthfully, I’d say the Johnson Administration was risk averse in terms of accepting casualties and broadening a war (no matter how popular this was with the Pentagon and American public) at the risk of involving China and the USSR

      • Bill the Cat

        At some level what you say might be true. But I don’t know anyone who would realistically call LBJ “altruistic,” and I can’t say I ever met anyone who truly believed carpet-bombing Vietnam was doing much more than generating a demand for more munitions.

        The nonsense about Jeffersonian Democracy in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia is the same sort of schlock that has Americans dying in Afghanistan etc. It’s simply not going to happen. Then or now.

        The rest is, being polite, is historically inaccurate. LBJ was President from November 1963 to January 1969. During that time, Americans in Vietnam increased from approximately 16,000 “advisors” to 550,000 soldiers. How anyone can call that “risk averse in terms of accepting casualties and broadening a war” simply isn’t reasonable.

        Also, for anyone to say Vietnam was “popular” with the American public demonstrates a level of ignorance that is astonishing. It wasn’t. The opposite was actually the case.

        Feel free to google “Vietnam protests” or ask anyone old enough to have been there or lived through it.

        That said, I really don’t care to discuss this, so you shouldn’t expect any further posts from me on the topic.

        • Don Ward

          The anti-war movement and Hippies were a marginal percentage of the population (your Occupy Wall Street types if you will) and opinion poll after opinion poll taken during Vietnam always showed it over 50 percent. In fact, the only negatives about the war was that the American public in general felt that more wasn’t being done to win the war. Invading North Vietnam, sinking Soviet ships, “dropping the Bomb” and so forth. The reason why the Democrats in 1968 and 1972 lost was because Nixon portrayed himself as the candidate who would “win” Vietnam. And for all intents and purposes he did “win” Vietnam until Watergate and all the unpleasant politics that occurred in the 1970s happened and since that is Politics, not firearms, I’ll digress.
          The carpet bombing as you mentioned is a risk adverse strategy. It was felt that it was “cheaper” to pummel and defoliate thousands of square miles of jungle than send American troops in to occupy it.
          And while there were troop escalations, it was LBJ who ultimately denied General Westmoreland reinforcements after American victory in the Tet Offensives.
          As for LBJ, yes, the guy was a sneaky, underhanded Southern politician with a thirst for power. On the other hand, there used to be a day when Republicans AND Democrats debated with each other on the best way to halt and defeat the spread of Communism. And like JFK and my senior Senator from the State of Washington, LBJ was the classic Cold Warrior. He just wasn’t a very good one.

          • Intependent

            Hi Don – since I’ve weighed in on all the other discussions, I might as well sound off in this one too. The antiwar Left – actually the pro-enemy Left – was made up of two main factions: the Communist-run People’s coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ) and what was eventually called the New Mobe which was run by the Socialist Worker’s Party. These umbrella organizations sponsored and direct most national activities and were in contact with Hanoi and the rest of the communist bloc in their efforts. They weren’t dewy-eyed liberals, they weren’t for “peace”. They wanted the enemy to win and us to lose. When we first got into Vietnam, the Left had the feeble and ineffective Ban the Bomb Movement but because of fear of the draft and uneasiness of people to be involved in a war in Southeast Asia, they were able to morph the small starting cells into a vary large national movement.
            You’ll note that when Nixon ended the draft, the wind was knocked out of the “movement” and it went back to being small and almost insignificant overnight.

          • Bill the Cat

            LOL… the problem you have is that most people over 60 KNOW you’re a blithering idiot 🙂

            For the rest, thanks to the internet, your words are pretty easy to disprove. Your claims about LBM being “risk averse” are risible and read like some sort of claptrap you picked up in a college poli-sci class 🙂

            Have a nice day! 🙂

          • Don Ward

            Ack! Thbbt!

          • lbeacham

            “As for LBJ, yes, the guy was a sneaky, underhanded Southern politician with a thirst for power.” Sir, I demand an apology for the use of “Southern” intermingled with the derogatory description of LBJ. The others I’m OK with. We disowned him long ago.

          • Don Ward

            No Givesies-Backsies!

  • The effect of yaw? Yes, you have a bigger temporary cavity, since you are dumping more energy, and I have a strong but unconfirmed suspicion that beyond a certain point (probably between 1,400 and 2,000 ft/s) projectiles begin to induce remote wounding effects.

    Limiting yourself with barrel length – you’d be surprised how much it evens out with range. You need to generate a lot of ballistic charts to see how this relationship works, but basically the difference in velocity between two projectiles of the same BC but with two different muzzle velocities shrinks as the bullet heads downrange. Weird but true.

    Now, as you get really short barrels, like below 12″, you are looking at what I’d characterize as “PDW-like” levels of terminal effect – but for a given role that may not be so bad. You still have the smaller caliber pulling its weight and yawing quickly. Though, keep in mind, the fleet yaw problem is still in play.

    Regarding the SADJ article on muzzle velocity, I have serious criticisms of it, which I address in this comment on another article.

    You’re neglecting to account for the effects of yaw. Even if the projectile doesn’t fragment, the temporary cavity produced by the yawing projectile may cause serious damage at velocities over 2,000 ft/s.

    Thanks for the compliment!

  • Intependent

    Nathaniel –
    I have made a pest of myself on this thread of yours for a reason: the fielding of the M-16 rifle in Vietnam was largely a disaster and it was a disaster that may have in large part, cost us the war. It wasn’t the individual soldier/Marine’s fault that it was a failure, it was the fault of a dysfunctional and self-interested acquisition system and people fascinated with a shiny new toy. It was NOT ready for people to risk their lives over. I deeply resented the system that gave us that thing and considered it yet another proof that nobody really cared what happened to us.
    There have been a number of improvements to the M-16 family that have made it better than back then but it is still flawed – look at the after-action reports that came out of the Iraq War, particularly the results of the combat around An Nasiriyah with that army transportation unit. Many or most of those M-16s failed to function because of the find sand/dust that got in them.
    As a major industrial and engineering power we can do better than this. We have know-how and more than enough combat experience to design a really effective combat rifle. The M-16 will never be the best weapon for this mission.

    • CommonSense23

      If you believed that fine dust and sand was the sole cause of those weapons failing you have no clue.

      • Intependent

        “No clue” – really? 27 years in the Marine Corps and 13 years in R&D for the Marine Corps and access to those after-action reports.
        Your qualifications, Sir?

        • CommonSense23

          Well lets see NSWC Crane Armorers course. Reading the AARs of that particular screw up. Let’s see pretty much all of the official and unofficial reports state the unit didn’t know how to properly maintain their weapons. The weapons were not in good shape to start with, they were poorly trained, to the point many of the members didn’t even know how to conduct a Tap Rack Bang.
          And curious what your qualifications were for R and D was.

          • Intependent

            It’s been my experience that investigators invariably blame the operators. We have had several investigations of weapons failures over time – my favorite was the investigation by Aberdeen of the 40mm HEDP in-bore detonations that injured several, including amputating one Marine’s legs. They concluded that the operator had “improperly setup and maintained the Mark 19 Grenade Launcher”. I didn’t buy that, so I pressed them harder and eventually they determined that the in-bores were caused by rounds that were loaded improperly at Milan Army Ammunition Depot. They concluded that “there was no significant danger”, since they estimated that only one round in 10,000 was loaded without propellant. I told them that maybe with themselves or their kids shooting, those might be acceptable risks but not for my Marines. The army decided to X-ray all of those rounds to find the faulty ones and we were back in business.
            I have a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering and while I was in Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico, I was the Program Manager for Infantry Weapons.

          • lbeacham


          • Georgiaboy61

            Re: “It’s been my experience that investigators invariably blame the operators.”

            Sadly, the senior brass (the “perfumed princes”) in our armed services and DOD bureaucrats have a long-and-sordid record of commissioning “studies” and after-action reports whose conclusions were determined beforehand by political considerations – and not by the facts on the ground. It should be a national travesty that the lives of our soldiers are subject to such political football, but it isn’t – except for the occasional scandal that breaks out, but fades from the headlines after a week or two when the news cycle moves on.

            It’s been that way for many years – certainly since the Second World War.

          • Intependent

            I’m afraid that attitude has been around for much longer than that – look at the stupidity that brought us the Trapdoor Springfield as most other armed forces were arming with repeaters/magazine weapons and that idiot general running the army ordnance that blocked the US adoption of the Lewis Gun in favor of that useless Benét-Mercié just because he didn’t like Major Lewis.
            The real problem is that we have careerists – civilian and military – running acquisition programs who have never learned about combat and in some cases, never even worn a uniform. Picatinny and Aberdeen are loaded with these types and the Joint Service Small Arms Program is filled with these divots.
            It’s a real shame: we have a whole generation of newly minted veterans, some of who are very technically proficient who could really make a difference. Our system is designed to keep them as far from the process as possible.


          • Georgiaboy61

            I had to look up the Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié machine gun, so thanks for educating me on that – but from the history books, I remember the equally-bad Chauchat LMG (Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 CSRG) that our dough-boys were handed when they got to the western front in 1917.

            Glad you made it back from S.E. Asia more-or-less in one piece – and thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • You know, I can only disagree with you. I recognize that your personal experiences have colored your opinion of the AR-15, and that your experiences in general color your view of military procurement. And I don’t disgree with that. I talk about a lot of the very same things you say; the initial fielding was botched (as they so often are – in this I can’t really argue against you feeling like they did not really care about you), the AR-15 was deprived of a real development program before fielding, etc.

      Nor am a I laying blame at the feet of the soldiers who used the rifles. If they did not maintain the rifle properly, was it because they were slovenly or lazy? I doubt that very much; I think hardware and training make a whole package, and the M16 was fielded without al the accessories it needed – including training.

      …But since, the AR-15 has matured. Gone are the sights you loathed, the chambers are now chromed against the elements, the moving mass has been greatly augmented to power through debris, the magazines are much improved, and most importantly, the system is the most well-understood available. We know when problems will occur and how to fix them.

      • Intependent

        Yet the M-16 series still has that inaccessible chamber, and we are stuck with a cheaply-made and fragile weapon with an inadequate round. Every improved (read lethal at longer distance) caliber is rejected by Picatinny and Benning and completely bogus computer analyses are proffered to “prove” that 5.56mm is the deadliest round ever made.
        This from the same people who gave us the 9mm Parabellum as the latest and greatest to replace the .45 and are trying to push the execrable XM-25 beast as an infantry weapon.
        Our problem is that we have devolved into a defense research and engineering establishment made up of career civilians who have never worn the uniform, have absolutely no idea what combat requires and are easily steered by vendors and contractors.
        We can design a better weapon and we need to. This country is the best collection of weaponeers in history and we can do better. Our troops depend on us.

        • The recessed chamber is a two-edged sword. In tropical climates, it’s a hindrance, countered by having specialized brushes, but those – I suspect – weren’t available to you. Another black mark on the administration of the weapons. However, in muddy or sandy climates, it’s a godsend, as it helps keep debris out of the chamber. Some sort of compromise must be struck. The M14 has an open, easily accessible chamber with an easily accessed receiver – and as a tradeoff it’s highly sensitive to sand. The AR-15 has a closed receiver with a recessed chamber – not ideal for tropical operations, but fixable with chrome-lining and proper brushes. The MAS 49, as another example, has semi-open receiver that is covered by the action when the bolt is closed, but open during cycling and loading. This has a little bit of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

          It’s worth noting that the recessed chamber of the AR-15 is not a mistake – it’s a tradeoff, and one that has been done that way many times previously. The Mauser, Springfield, and many other rifles have the same feature.

          I’ve never claimed that 5.56mm is the deadliest round ever made. For one thing, “5.56mm” is a set of chamber dimensions, not accounting for important things like bullet design that make a huge difference. 5.56mm is clearly lethal – after all, people have been killed by it – and clearly it can kill at very long ranges. How effective it is is a matter of debate, but regarding improved intermediate calibers such as 6.8 SPC, there is a long way to go before their claimed greater effectiveness is proven – and from where I stand a great deal of doubt about whether it will ever be proven.

        • Georgiaboy61

          Re: “Our problem is that we have devolved into a defense research and engineering establishment made up of career civilians who have never worn the uniform, have absolutely no idea what combat requires and are easily steered by vendors and contractors.”

          Perhaps I am just growing cynical with age, but it seems that the “real” function of the Pentagon isn’t obtaining the best training and equipment for our soldiers, but to assure the continued flow of defense appropriations dollars. Once you grasp that, the behavior of the guys at the five-sided puzzle palace begins to fall into place and make more sense….

          • Intependent

            Yes. And it’s for General Officers to retire without making waves to secure his/her plush after retirement seven figure job with a defense industry.

            I fought to develop an advanced artillery system using in-house government assets and was obliterated by self interests and defense industry subterfuge. Not the first time and certainly not the last.

            How long will we survive as a free people with leaders like this?

    • Georgiaboy61

      Re: “There have been a number of improvements to the M-16 family that have made it better than back then but it is still flawed – look at the after-action reports that came out of the Iraq War, particularly the results of the combat around An Nasiriyah with that army transportation unit.”

      Don’t forget the Battle of Mogadishu – as documented in the award-winning account, “Blackhawk Down” by Mark Bowden. There are a number of elite Delta Force operators from that now-infamous engagement who reported multiple center-mass hits on enemy fighters without incapacitation. They were using 62-grain M855, if memory serves.

  • Intependent

    Did you actually read that report? Read Test 7, Annex B – they left and M2 Carbine and an AR15 out in the open for two weeks and neither weapon was operable after that period without extensive cleaning..

    Even an early series weapon with great ammo was useless in Vietnam’s climate and crud after a short period. Did not bode well without extensive further development and testing.

    The report itself really only said that that some basic tests were performed and compared with WW II- era weapons for the Vietnamese. The minor combat tests were small unit actions and the lethality cited was at 15 meters! 15 meters – for gosh sakes! How would you fail to hit at that range?

    This wasn’t close to a valid test report for issuing those things to our troops in contact. We have much better and more exhaustive testing requirements these days.

    • Intependent, nothing I have said here contradicts that. Needless to say, yes, I read the report twice while creating this article, and have read it before that, as well.

  • Uniform223

    this will be a good read for my weekend.

  • Patrick K Martin

    I love AR Fanboys who never pulled a trigger on one before the mid ’90’s, I first used an AR in 1978 and it was crap, as were all the M-16A1’s I was issued in the ’80’s. My father tested the XM-15 in Panama in the early ’60’s and they loved them, until they took them in the field. In actual field use they jammed constantly and the rounds turned concealment into cover as the round disintegrated on hitting any kind of foliage. They were happy to turn them in and get their M1 rifles back.

    The ball powder in the original batches of XM193 ammo used in testing revved the .223 up past 3200fps which increased wounding potential but also over-revved the gun and caused malfunctions as well as gumming up the action with increased levels of carbon fouling. I believe the Panama and early Vietnam test guns guns still had 1in14 twist which also made the bullets more unstable and prone to explosive disintegration. The un-chromed chambers in early guns caused the rounds to literately corrode into the chambers in a matter of hours and the old “Put it on the ground and stomp on the charging handle” method of opening the action bent or broke the handle.

    In the ’80’s our weapons and ammo were better but I still never had an M16A1 issued to me that did not malfunction and both in basic training and at my unit I grew accustomed to tap-rack-bank drills whenever we went to the range. I went in the Army under Delayed Enlistment with a Reserve Training Division and I spent 6 months as a slick-sleeved private in a Division full of Drill Sergeants over 80% of which were Vietnam and Vietnam-Era vets (one of which was my father). You know what you do when you have no place in the TOE? You clean a lot of weapons. I stripped and cleaned HUNDREDS of M16A1’s, mostly to check the parts as we did not get much range time (2 times in my 6 months) so other than dust there was not much to clean. I was shown proper extractor tension my first day and we checked every weapon for that and bent springs and missing or aligned gas rings (and YES, back then the gas rings were CRITICAL to proper functioning, not so much today I understand) damaged pins, cracked bolt carrier keys, bulged gas tubes and bent barrels, etc. By the time I went to basic I loathed that POS! most of the people in the unit that had served in the field with them hated them just as much as I did.

    I am aware that the weapons today are head and shoulders above the ones we had back in the day. I know that modern manufacturing and materials science have turned AR’s into “A triumph of engineering over design”. Heck, I might even buy one if the price was right, but I will never trust my life to one, I will grab my CETME or my AK if I need to defend my life.

  • Champ, I took the time to read that article – as I thought I had already read it before. It’s full of unsupported claims and outright falsehoods (for example, they say the bore of the M16 was chrome lined before the problems it had in Vietnam were understood and then FINALLY the powder issue was discovered later… The bore and chamber of the M16 was chrome-lined in 1968, the same year the Ichord report came out discussing the powder issue. These things happened simultaneously and were directly related to one another – chrome-lining was not a ‘shot in the dark’ as they made it seem).

    The article also greatly overemphasizes the twist rate/bullet stabilization issue. While this is a real effect, my understanding is that it virtually doesn’t matter in practice, as the fleet yaw problem overwhelmingly dictates the orientation of the bullet upon striking out to 50m. The article then goes on to make unverified statements like “from 1/14 twist barrels, M193 would tumble and cause horrible wounds, but from 1/12 twist barrels it was overstabilized causing icepick wounds” (paraphrasing here). This is totally unsupported and factually highly misleading. I think he is in fact doing a great disservice to folks by spreading information like that.

    BallisticStudies.com is a website I’ve been looking at for a while, and I’ve gotta say, I’m highly disappointed. It seems to be the wrong way to run a knowledge-base-type website, as it’s full of supposition and hearsay, and there’s nary a primary source or scientific test on the site. The best thing they have to offer are some of their field tests of different bullets, but those are more curiosities than anything else.

  • buzzman1

    What he doesnt mention is that the 1960’s M-16 had a 20″ barrel and the older ammunition tended to fragment better especially at close range and most engagements were at close range. Compare that to current operations where engagement max ranges and the barrels are almost 6 inches shorter. Its comparing apples to oranges.

  • buzzman1

    I should have pointed out that the SS109 bullet has performed poorly against people with similar body types as the Vietnamese because it doesnt appear to begin yawing until it has passed through the enemys body.