No, Virginia, “M4A1+” Upgrades Don’t Prove The M4 Is Flawed

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The 2007 Dust Tests have come and gone. The IC Competition has completed. The M4 has remained the standard infantry rifle, and been upgraded to the heavy-barreled M4A1 standard. More upgrades are on the horizon, as part of the US Army’s effort to improve current infantry small arms. These “M4A1+” upgrades should indicate a certain level of satisfaction with the weapon – if the Army were unsatisfied, after all, surely they would divest themselves of the rifle entirely, rather than trying to improve it further.

That is not, however, how the news media, egged on by one Maj. General Robert Scales, Jr. (Ret), perceives it. The Washington Times has released an article slamming the M4A1+ upgrades as being a tacit admission that the M4 is flawed and should be replaced, citing Scales as an expert:

The Army is asking the gun industry to build new components for its soldiers’ primary weapon — the M4 carbine — a move that experts say is a tacit admission that the service has been supplying a flawed rifle that lacks the precision of commercially available guns.

At a recent Capitol Hill hearing, an Army general acknowledged that the M4’s magazine has been responsible for the gun jamming during firefights.

On the federal government’s FedBizOpps.gov website, the Army announced a “market survey” for gunmakers to produce a set of enhancements to essentially create a new model — the “M4A1+.” It would include a modular trigger, a new type of rail fitted around a “free floating” barrel and other parts. The upgrade is supposed to improve the rifle’s accuracy and reliability.

Gen. Scales said the Army’s new solicitation is further proof of the carbine’s shortfalls.

“It’s another attempt by the Army to make the M4 look good,” he said. “If the Army wants to improve the M4, fine. But it’s not a weapon suitable for high-intensity, close combat in extremes against an enemy who is basically matching us in weapons performance in a close fight. Everybody knows the weapon has flaws.”

Mr. Scales said the M4’s basic shortfall is that it uses gas, or direct, impingement to extract and expel its shells as opposed to a piston system. A piston firing mechanism is in the prolific AK-47, which runs cleaner and cooler but is considered slightly less accurate.

One consistent complaint about the M4, even from users who love the gun, is that it requires frequent cleaning. Another frequent gripe is that the 30-round magazine is prone to jamming.

“It’s what everyone has known for 50 years,” Mr. Scales said. “There is no mystery here. Every report, every study, every anecdotal piece of evidence has long ago proven that the gas-impingement system of that rifle is imperfect because there’s not a firm connection for the operating system to move in one piece. The technology cannot be improved unless you remove gas impingement. And the Army knows that.”

Scales is incorrigible; at every turn the evidence has worked against his position, but he doesn’t allow this to change his mind. Despite the fact that the M4 performed best overall in the IC Competition, despite the fact that the myth about the M4 requiring frequent cleaning was disproven long ago (indeed, this blogger’s mechanically stock Colt 6920 hasn’t been cleaned or lubed in over two thousand rounds, and still works just fine – although its action spring will need to be replaced soon), despite the fact that numerous anecdotes support the combat effectiveness and reliability of the M4, Scales will not change his mind.

Certainly, I don’t expect this article to do what all the evidence has not, but I do feel it is necessary from time to time to address this sort of sensationalism. The Washington Times article essentially rides on the back of the above quotes from Scales, so it is his arguments, past and present, that I will comment on.

Scales asserts the common belief that the direct impingement gas system of the AR-15 (and by extension, the M4 Carbine) is its fatal flaw; that a truly reliable rifle must have an operating rod to prevent gas fouling from entering the action of the weapon.

While it’s true that the AR-15-type direct impingement system does introduce propellant gases into the action, it is not true that these gases impede the rifle’s function or cause the rifle to fail when hot. Andrew Tuohy of VuurwapenBlog covers the reasons for this in one of the videos on the VuurwapenBlog YouTube channel:

The truth of Andrew’s words is borne out by the M4 Carbine’s excellent performance in the Individual Carbine competition, where it achieved the highest reliability rate in the two most serious categories of malfunctions, and the second-highest reliability rate in the least serious category. The Carbine’s high reliability contributed in large part to the cancellation of the IC competition, and the continuation of the M4 Carbine upgrade program that Scales is lambasting.

In combat, the M4 Carbine has proven very reliable when properly maintained. “Maintenance” here does not mean “cleaning”, but the timely replacement of components before they wear out, of the kind that should be performed on all rifles. Simply, it is not possible to make a spring that does not wear out, or a stressed component that does not break. Further, it may be that the fouling myth has an actual detrimental affect on rifle reliability: If soldiers are attributing malfunctions of their weapon to carbon fouling, they may not be considering the wear their parts are experiencing, and they may ignore the most likely explanation: That their rifle needs maintenance.

This explains why nowhere in the M4A1+ solicitation is there a request for operating rod upgrades. The M4 doesn’t need that, and the Army knows it. Why, then, does Maj. Gen. Scales think this is an “admission of guilt” by the Army?

In truth, the M4A1+ upgrades seek to address some of the aging components of the system. The Knight’s accessory rail that was once so transformative for the M4 Carbine is now heavy and antiquated compared to newer rail systems. The M4A1’s trigger is famously “GI heavy” and the Army is seeking to incorporate an improved trigger that would facilitate more precision from the shooter while reducing fatigue. Other improvements, such as low profile gas blocks, higher quality barrels, better flash hiders, back up iron sights, etc. all would bring the military M4 in line with civilian developments, while not requiring replacement of existing rifles.

None of these improvements involve the addition of the superfluous operating rod that Scales loves so well. All involve applying innovations that have been made in the last decade or so, and none yet mentioned are bug fixes. None “prove” the M4 is a fatally flawed weapon.

What do soldiers think about the M4? A third-party study conducted by the CNA Corporation showed that among soldiers who had used the M4 Carbine in combat the weapon had a 90% approval rating, the highest of any of the basic infantry small arms (including also the M9, M249, and M16). The M4 and the M16 also had the lowest stoppage rate of all four weapons, both experiencing stoppages at less than two-thirds the rate of the operating-rod-driven M249. Further, users of the M4 told CNA that when the M4 had a malfunction it negatively affected their ability to fight the least, out of the four weapons. Overall, the M4 was the weapon in which combat infantrymen had the most confidence that it would go “bang” every time.

So why does the M4’s reputation not reflect its performance? Part of the reason, and something I cannot speak to, is the issue of unit-level maintenance. Anecdotes reflect that some units have problems maintaining their weapons, even in dramatic ways; this is not something I can go into further, beyond a simple mention. However, another part of the reason is surely the incentive that some companies have to discredit the M4, or to portray it as a rifle that needs intensive maintenance. Obviously, a company selling an operating-rod rifle has an incentive to portray their product as superior, but also lubrication and cleaning products manufacturers have their own incentives to tell their customers to use their products more often.

Beyond this, the M4 is a very reliable, very inexpensive, very adaptable weapon, and as such it is a very poor vehicle for government pork projects. There is therefore another incentive for tarnishing the rifle’s reputation: One of lobbyists and politicians to portray the rifle as needing replacement (see editorials claiming the M4 is too antiquated, despite the rifle’s development being completed in 1994, and it being in continuous production since then).

All of these forces have battered the M4’s reputation, so it’s therefore very telling that the rifle is the foundation for the Army’s next generation of infantry weapons (what will come of the Carbine improvement program), and that it enjoys such a high approval rating.

This context allows us to see Maj. Gen. Scales for what he is: A lobbyist. The “fatal flaw” of the M4 Carbine is not his only hobbyhorse; he has also written about the Army’s need to adopt such technologies as “cell phones”, “networked helmet cams”, and “people sniffers”. On this last, WeaponsMan writes:

[H]e’s also showing a remarkable ignorance of the technical history of the People Sniffer (.pdf), Projects Muscle Shoals (.pdf, in-progress whitewash), Igloo White, and all those Macnamara Line developments. Those things were all costly failures. [emphasis mine]

It is conceivable that Scales is not ignorant of this history, and is in fact counting on these sorts of costly projects to make money for his clients. I have already hyperlinked to the guest post written by Terence Nelan for Tamara Keel’s blog, a relevant excerpt of which is reproduced below:

Back in 2008, he was the president of a consulting company named Colgen, which described itself somewhat immodestly as “America’s Premier Landpower Advocate.”   The Colgen.net site is no longer available, unless you go dig for it at web.archive.org (Link:https://web.archive.org/web/20120622230733/http://www.colgen.net/products.html).

On the site back in 2008, Colgen’s business was to assist “landpower Services in creating future warfighting doctrine and operational concepts” and it “translates these concepts into useful strategies and actions for industry, the media, and the congressional and executive branches of government.”
Colgen’s “products targeted to these marketing elements including: media commentary, congressional testimony, advice to the executive branch, published works, seminars and conferences.”  [emphasis mine] Colgen’s “growing list of satisfied clients” includes defense contractors such as General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.

Note that Colgen clearly states that published works are a marketing product.

One product that Scales pushed as late as 2010 is Heckler and Koch’s XM8 rifle, an ironic suggestion given the recent controversy surrounding the rifle upon which the XM8’s design was based, the G36 used by the German Bundeswehr. If Maj. Gen. Scales had had his way, the United States Army could well have been caught up in the storm currently surrounding the Bundeswehr and Heckler and Koch.

The Washington Times is happy to accept Scales’ opinion as fact, and the video embedded in their article presents their correspondence with the Maj. Gen. as them “uncovering” the secret flawed nature of the M4. I am no more of a journalist than any other blogger, but simply parroting the words of a defense lobbyist does not strike me as the most honest or diligent journalistic practice.

No rifle is perfect, and the M4 isn’t an exception. However, it is not the failure it has been portrayed to be by some. Rifles designed to replace it virtually without exception offer no significant improvements, and generally speaking are heavier and more expensive. The M4 offers a substantial improvement in adaptability versus older generations of rifles, and competes successfully with newer, purpose-designed modular weapons. While the M4 does not incorporate every inherent enhancement for reliability, it offers a major advantage in being one of the most well-understood systems available, which pays dividends in practical reliability. Until the paradigm shifts and the M4 is made truly obsolete, it will continue to hold its own.



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 can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • BrandonAKsALot

    The myths perpetuated about both the AR and AK are exactly that. Overblown BS used many times as marketing. Obviously I love my AK’s, but I would venture to say that piston based gas systems have become so prolific because they are a lot more tolerant of machining and production variables as opposed to the direct gas system in an AR. We have almost always been at the forefront of metallurgy and machining in the US and the AR reflects a thoughtful and precise design that wasn’t possible in a lot of areas of the world at the time. It’s still technically a piston system anyway. It’s all about where you’d rather the carbon deposited. Every general do-it-all rifle will have areas where it’s not quite as good as others, but that’s the nature of the beast.

    • Joshua

      That was actually the design behind the AR-16. Make a weapon for countries that are not capable to make or afford the AR-10.

      • Frank

        and then we and the russians dumped our guns all over everyone else.

      • Brian M

        That’s called the AR-18. It sucked and nobody bought it apart from some Catholic terrorists who couldn’t sucker either superpower into giving them guns.

        • ostiariusalpha

          AR-12 – Stoner internal piston, stamped sheet metal, .308 chamber.
          |
          V
          AR-16 – short-stroke piston, stamped sheet metal, .308 chamber.
          |
          V
          AR-18 – short-stroke piston, stamped sheet metal, 5.56 chamber.

          The gun could have used some more refinement to work the design bugs out; the folding stock’s hinge was weak, changing out the barrel was much more of a hassle, etc., but the Howa manufactured AR-18 proved they could be a reliable, inexpensive weapon. Politics killed the Japanese AR-18, not any fundamental design flaws.

          • Joshua

            you are correct. The AR-12, the only one in existence was originally a Stoner driven system like the AR-10. Then the patents for the system got sold to Colt and they welded the gas key shut and removed the gas tube and added an op-rod.

            The only AR-12 left still has the exhaust vents in the carrier.

            The selling of the patents is why Stoner stopped working on his system at Armalite.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Actually what? Did you even read what I wrote? I can spell it out again, if you like:
            AR-12: S-t-o-n-e-r i-n-t-e-r-n-a-l p-i-s-t-o-n
            So, what exactly are you fixing? The AR-10, AR-12, and AR-15 all used the internal piston designed by Eugene Stoner. I don’t mean to be pissy, but all you did was repeat what I posted with some slight rephrasing as if you were correcting my misinformation. The only reason the AR-12, AR-16, and AR-18 were developed was because ArmaLite hoped to make money selling parts and equipment to 3rd World countries as a less expensive weapon; an alternative to buying cheap ComBloc AKs.

          • Joshua

            Excuse me for agreeing with you. All I did was add a few more things about why they moved to the Op-rod.

          • ostiariusalpha

            LOL! You are indeed excused, my good sir! Just don’t do it again, it makes it difficult for me to argue with you when your trying to be agreeable. Have a great weekend!

          • Joshua

            Well I do have to change it up occasionally. I can’t be contrary and disagreeable all the time, much as I would like to be.

            Enjoy your weekend as well.

    • Esh325

      Maybe other parts of the M16 design like the receiver would have been more difficult, but there were other rifles before the M16 that used a similar design like the AG-42,Hakim, and Rasheed

      • Joshua

        While slightly similar they are also vastly different.

      • ostiariusalpha

        The AR-15 is an internal piston system, quite a bit different from the rather unsophisticated DI systems of the MAS-49 or AG-42. It wouldn’t hurt for anyone to take a closer look at the innovations of the Stoner gas system, it really is a bit of ingenuity that does what it is designed to do very well.

        • Vitor Roma

          The “internal piston” talk sounds kinda…kinda.

          • Joshua

            It’s true. Direct Impingement before the AR-10 was wrongly named that was a form of cycling a weapon that would send gas down a tube and deposit it into a small shallow cup in the front of the carrier. The pressure would push the carrier rearward.

            The AR-10 being called direct impingement caught on because it has a gas tube, even if it is not a true direct impingement operating system as was known prior. The definition was changed to fit the rifle.

          • ostiariusalpha

            What? You think there’s something weird about shooting your load using hot, dirty internal piston action? I think it’s great, even my wife hasn’t had any complaints about reliability and she can be pretty demanding. You just need to remember to get the receiver nice & lubed before hard use.

  • Darkpr0

    Right now I think the biggest obstacle to replacing the AR platform is that everyone wants an AR. This gun has fundamentally geared everyone’s mind as to where they want the ergonomics of the rifle to be, and the gun that best fits what the AR feels like is… The AR. You’ve got alternatives like the ACR, the XCR, and AK variants, but they’re all variations of the same thing. They’re not going to do anything sufficiently better or feel sufficiently better than the AR currently does, and if they do then the existing AR platform can be adapted with whatever feature is causing the difference. The biggest potential for changing the AR right now is to add a gas piston, but not even that produces sufficient improvement for anyone to consider it worthwhile for a whole army.

    I don’t think you’re going to find anything even possibly threatening the AR until there is some fundamental change in the rifle. Bullpup rifles had the potential, but they were stymied by the logistics of production and ergonomics. Nobody seems to like bullpup ergonomics. I find pretty funny how many Bullpup review videos contain words like “I would have liked it if (insert feature here) was more like an AR” though. You can see how much support the gun has now that “It’s like an AR” is a real, concrete selling point. The next real step is probably the LSAT program in either of its ammo variants. I don’t expect to see any substantial change in equipment inventory until that program wraps up.

    • nova3930

      What you said plus the cost/benefit ratio of total replacement is way low. The rifles that are even marginally better in some areas cost far more than an existing M4.
      Probably the ideal replacement would be 90% AR in it’s configuration. Modifying the lowers magwell to allow for an increased cartridge length to give better performance from the ammunition (.280 british like? or maybe just longer heavier 5.56 bullets) along with say a mid-length gas system to reduce system stress would improve the overall system considerably. But even that is a huge cost proposition when you’re talking about not only complete replacement of the weapon, but he ammunition and magazines, not to mention NATO interoperability issues.

      • Darkpr0

        90% AR results in exactly what you see above: M4A1+

        I honestly don’t think you’ll find sufficient support for anything with a brass case to replace the current M16 and M4 inventory. The biggest upgrades are the changes to the 5.56 bullet design, but those can go through the same barrels. If a large force is going to make the jump away from 5.56 and the AR, it’s going to be for a big increase in capability. Cased telescoped ammo and caseless both represent substantial milestones. Right now I expect the organizations are buying time until these projects bear fruit. While that’s the case, you can expect pretty much only black-box upgrades to the basic platforms already in use.

        • nova3930

          I won’t disagree other than calling the above 100% AR since the fundamentals of the design haven’t changed in a forearm/trigger swap, no different than when I swap them on my AR.
          I’ve thought for a while now that you might see semi-combustible case ammunition fielded, similar to whats used in the Abrams. Having at least the cartridge base be metallic mitigates a lot of the issues with caseless ammunition.
          The M4/M16 is just too good a platform and too cost effective to drive much effort at replacement with anything that is less than revolutionary. It’s biggest weakness is engagement at extended range, something much more easily and cheaply covered by other material solutions, like having one man per platoon carry a rifle in 7.62, employment of heavier weapons, artillery or air support.

          • Darkpr0

            Remember that it’s not just about the M16/M4 as a platform. You have these firearms in 5.56, which is the other half of the equation. You could make the AR-15 action work with many different cartridges and calibres, but the one you have working right now is in 5.56. As such, you’re leashed not only to the advantages and disadvantages of the firearm itself, but to the ammunition it fires. Many decisions for army supply have been heavily influenced by what rounds were stockpiled in warehouses rather than what rounds would be most effective. M1 Garand, I’m looking at you.

          • 19K Mark

            The 120mm munitions must be handled very carefully; nothing like what a ground pounder rifleman must endure – brass cased rifle ammunition just plain works for fiefd conditions….

    • GettoPhilosopher

      That reminds me of an article I read interviewing a World War II first person shooter video game designer who complained much the same about “Call Of Duty”; it wasn’t that COD was more popular than his company’s game(s), but the fact that COD had become so popular that they had in essence designed the genre. Beta testing of his games would routinely elicit vague critiques that essentially boiled down to “but your game doesn’t do X like COD. I think you should change it so it does X like COD” / “It doesn’t feel right….y’know, like COD.”

      So either you make an AR variant (that’s just more expensive/heavy than an AR) or you make a totally new system, and everyone dislikes it because it isn’t an AR.

      • I think there is a degree of that, yes. It’s a good thing the AR is an effective, reliable rifle, then.

        We can rely on people like Ian and Alex to break us out of that mold a bit, though. 🙂

      • Uniform223

        as a self proclaimed gamer… that is an very very unfortunate truth.

  • nova3930

    If a product improvement program (PIP) is evidence of a flawed system, then basically ever piece of gear in inventory if flawed because nearly all of them get PIPs at some point in the life cycle. Continuous product improvement is a big part of how total lifecycle management processes work.
    Point in fact, one of the primary jobs of a program manager is to continually identify capability gaps in fielded systems and find ways to eliminate them in the shortest time at the lowest cost possible. Wow! New triggers and rail systems for an existing proven weapon system totally doesn’t sound like that at all does it?

    • Joshua

      Let’s see, the M249, M240, M1 Abrahms, M14, M110, Mk-12, oh I give up.

      Everything the US has ever used is apparently a a horrible system true to PiPs.

      • DAN V.

        Abrams*

        • Joshua

          Abrams is not a LG G2 approved auto correct word…THANK YOU VERY MUCH!.

      • nova3930

        Exactly. Generally Pips are undertaken on previously procured systems that meet their threshold requirements in order to try and meet objective requirements. Objective requirements are basically the list of “nice to have”. With stated issues like the weight of the rail system, I’d guarantee that’s what’s going on here.

        • Joshua

          Price to, you can acquire a. DDRIS II for a few dollars less than a KAC RIS.

          Why wouldn’t you.

    • RealitiCzech

      They are all flawed systems – as by the time they are perfect, they would be obsolete.
      The A-10, for example – the finest single-seat aircraft of WW2. Only it was made years after.

      • McThag

        The A-10A must have been DEEPLY flawed since they upgraded all of them to A-10C standards not that long ago…

        • RealitiCzech

          I’m too young to be whining about ‘damn kids’, but I think the digital age is part of the problem. Old electronics tech goes obsolete at an astonishing rate these days, so people assume that weapons tech is experiencing the same problems, but DoD’s too cheap to address them.

          • Grindstone50k

            When fighting an enemy as sophisticated as we have been in the last decade, many of our “obsolete” weapons are still more than capable. A JSF isn’t really necessary for CAS on an enemy with air defense capability of a couple of Stingers. But, we do love our Shiny New Toys.

          • nadnerbus

            But world war 12 with the Chinese! We need to get the most gold plated, perfect weapons systems possible or we’re all going to be speaking Mandarin!

            I forget, what kinds of wars have we been fighting since Korea again?

      • Bill

        Actually, you speak the truth: look at how many variations and PIPs aircraft went through during WW2, its relatively easy by model number. I think the P51 went from A to G or H before it left service. The same applies to everything. The Bell UH-1 that was doing dust-offs in Nam in the mid 60s is still flying after near total redesign and improvement as the tech allows.

        • RealitiCzech

          Exactly. When you come out with better tech, you hand it out as soon as it’s reasonably capable (because “the perfect is the enemy of the good enough”). Over time you will perfect and improve it – often times with things that would’ve never been considered feasible when the item was first adopted. How many people in the 50s and 60s would be able to predict the Aimpoint Micro? The ACOG? Those two are orders of magnitude more rugged and capable than anything at the time.

  • bob_dole_is_my_waifu

    Another M4 hit piece article refutation.

    • Vitsaus

      Basically everytime some print media so much as sneezes in the M4’s direction Nathaniel F hands in another term paper.

      • Joshua

        Eh, Washington Times has a habit of reporting stupid things that take a inch of truth and change it to a mile of false reports.

        • KestrelBike

          Washington Times is a train wreck of a website with advertisements so intrusive you can’t even read any articles. And it sucks because they’re one of the only conservative gangs in town (besides wsj which typically stays out of the fray)

      • MANG

        I also found this TFB refutation unnecessary. Can this site not be a pro-AR soapbox please?

        • You may prefer the cheesy love letter I wrote to the AK a couple of weeks ago.

          • Vitsaus

            A list of backhanded compliments is hardly a love letter. I’m far from an AK fanboy, but the article bordered on satire.

          • Backhanded compliments? You’re reading into it too much (and putting me into a box, besides). I really like the AK better.

          • Brian M

            It sure doesn’t look like that. Perhaps it’s because you keep on bringing up the AR is better +/ the AK is inferior in the same breath? Let’s put it this way, your date wouldn’t like it if every assessment of her beauty, dress, and personality always included clauses which always meant that you don’t like it or you really wish it was some other way or you vastly favor another. “You’re beautiful, although you could stand to lose several kilograms. You’re really nice to be around even though you won’t stop harping about all the people you hate. Your outfit is perfect, other than for how the colors and patterns horribly clash and your clothing choices are better suited for someone half your age. You’re the best, except for all the others who are visibly and indisputably better than you.” That’s what your praises of the AK look like.

          • nadnerbus

            Guns are not women. If you get that offended by criticisms of their flaws, you should probably reassess your priorities.

            He doesn’t say the AR is “better.” He says for the specific purposes of military contracts, nothing that is in the running is superior enough to replace it. AKs are not in the running (unfortunately, that would be an incredibly interesting test program).

            There is a lot of dirt flung at the AR platform. and he does a lot to debunk it. Don’t conflate that with him saying it is the best ever.

          • Brian M

            Do you even understand what I wrote? Essentially, his “praises” looked a lot more like insults.

          • nadnerbus

            I just re-read it, and you and I read two different articles.

            If you take issue with some of the statements he made, point them out. If what he wrote was factually correct, but sounded mean to you, that is in your own head, in my opinion.

            Honestly not trying to start a fight, I don’t do that. I just don’t understand why people get their panties in a twist over this stuff. I love both weapons. Almost everything I have seen Nathaniel write about them is factually correct, and rings true. Hell, I love my M1A, jams and all, but everything he wrote about the Garand action is true too.

          • Brian, I think you are confused. I have never dated a Kalashnikov rifle.

            More seriously, there is a difference between what I know to be true in a technical sense and my personal preferences.

        • For what its worth, I hate the damn things.

          There you go.

        • nadnerbus

          A lobbyist just enticed a reporter in a national newspaper to put up a hit piece to encourage more of our tax money to go to an unnecessary replacement weapon program (or more of our future money in the form of deficit spending). Defense spending is already a big enough joke in this country as it is. A knowledgeable refutation is a worthwhile thing to put out there. It might actually find its way to the gun laymen and do some good.

          This isn’t about fellating ARs or their fanboys. It’s about calling bullsh*t when it needs to be called. I agree with Nathaniel 1000%

        • Brian M

          THANK YOU! I love this site, I even admire and really appreciate Nathaniel’s work, even though I bicker endlessly with him. I, however, believe that this place is for firearms writing and has other things that could be written about instead of using up prime real estate every somebody doesn’t swoon over Nate’s favorate platform. Nate, there are other thing to write about. What about real ammunition weights? What about the history of recoil operation? What about the history of iron sigh development? What about the fleet yaw problem? What about the evolution of accesory mounting? What about a series about bullet design? What about a series on influential but obscure firearms from the turn of the century? Nate, these are far better uses of your time, the site’s resources, and your readers’ time than throwing a tantrum because somebody doesn’t worship a golden statue of an M4a1.

          • I posted a database of real ammunition weights on my personal blog back in 2012, which I still maintain. I am contractually prevented from simply reposting that here (and it doesn’t meet TFB’s standards, anyway), and I feel it would be pretty self-serving to reblog something off my personal blog, so I don’t do that.

            I’m sorry you didn’t like this article, but if you’re looking for extra content, there are some other articles I wrote that sound like they might be up your alley:

            How much do rifles actually weigh?

            How does the P90 compare to other submachine guns?

            Where do I get my ballistic coefficient figure?

            Case Taper In Military Cartridges

            These are all from my personal blog, so I understand if you have not seen them yet.

            Since you mentioned it, I also covered the fleet yaw problem here on TFB back in July.

            It’s disappointing to hear that you felt the article had the tone of a tantrum; I took pains to avoid that, and it looks like at least in your case it did not work. It might seem like I saw an article and got enraged and felt I had to respond, but on my end I am always looking for content to post and this topic felt appropriate to me.

            By the way, I know many of you are waiting for the second Light Rifle article. For invoice reasons it had to be postponed until May, but April is rapidly coming to an end here, so we should see that article sooner rather than later.

          • Brian M

            I’ve been picking through your blog every now and then since your excellent M1 Garand piece back in December. Pretty informative stuff.

          • Unfortunately, I can’t write stuff like that Garand article as often as I’d like for a myriad of reasons, but it’s always my aim to keep the original content/repost ratio as high as I can

            Though, I concede: Even I am getting a little tired of yammering on about the AR. Someone needs to invent something good enough to replace it so I can start talking about that, instead. 😉

        • janklow

          it’s an article responding to a recent article; many of us are familiar with the refutation’s basis, many are not.
          i mean, i get finding the topic old, but why do people click on an article about the M4A1 upgrades and then complain about reading yet another article on the M4?

          • MANG

            We agree that the horse Nathaniel F is beating here is pretty thoroughly dead. And honestly, Nathaniel’s a smart guy – I’m sure he intended to do a bit of gentle trolling of M4 apostates with this article, which may explain why not every commenter here (or even every staff writer) thinks it’s fabulous. Why am I commenting? Because I know the excellent staff at TFB listens to their readership! ;D

          • Whether I want to do so or not, some people will be trolled when they read my stuff. There’s not much difference between me writing something deliberately to get a reaction, and me knowing it will happen regardless and doing it anyway.

          • janklow

            that’s fair. i think i’m just used to that break between regular readers who HAVE seen a topic run through multiple times, and new readers who might be getting their exposure to the topic.

            i can think of people who saw the Times piece and found it new to them and could benefit from this latest refutation. but that’s admittedly anecdotal.

  • JoshZ

    Here is the deal as i see it. The M4 is too difficult for your average man on the ground to keep running. Its as simple as that. Is it a good gun? Hell yes. But your average infantryman has a lot of other crap to worry about let alone if his gun is, lubricated, are the springs good, is my magazine good. is the extractor in good shape, when was the last time i lubed my gun(clp runs off after a while). And then to have to do this every day, maybe every 12 hours. Its just too much BS for a rifle that goes to war in my opinion.

    • KestrelBike

      What other rifle that delivers the same performance will not have this problem? AK’s have springs, too.

    • Phil Hsueh

      Thing is, this is not the soldier’s or Marine’s responsibility, everything that you mentioned is supposed to be done at the armorer level, not at the individual level. Maybe it’s different now and/or different for grunts but when I was in as an air winger we were never responsible for more than basic cleaning and in boot camp we were never taught to do more the field strip it for cleaning. I’m betting that it’s the same for every other infantry rifle ever made, including the vaunted AK.

    • In what way is the M4 too difficult to keep running?

      What currently available alternative does not use springs, need lubrication, or use magazines that can wear out?

      It sounds like you are conflating maintenance with cleaning – something I explicitly warn against in the article. Here’s an appropriate maintenance schedule for the AR-15: Shoot it for 2,000 rounds, then inspect it and possibly clean it. Lube it. Repeat. Repeat again. When you hit 6,000-8,000 rounds, the rifle begins to run sluggishly because the action spring is wearing out. Replace the action spring, extractor, extractor spring, and ejector spring. Continue the cleaning schedule until your rifle loses accuracy. Replace the barrel. Repeat this whole cycle until the upper wears out (depends on the upper, maybe 10-15,000 rounds). Replace the upper.

      The lower will go until its springs wear out, then they need to be replaced and it will keep on going.

      Note that at no point does the rifle require maintenance any more frequently than between firing 10 full combat loads’ worth of ammunition.

      • Joshua

        Uppers have a 150,000 round life span.

        Bolt and barrel should be replaced every 10,000, same with the action spring and trigger springs.

        • Depends on the upper, I guess, and what you consider “worn out”.

          150,000 is a lot. 🙂

          • Joshua

            The actual receiver sans barrel, barrel nut, etc.

        • billyoblivion

          I’ve shot an (Air Force) M16 with over 100,000 rounds through it.

          It need to be recycled and made into a new rifle. Double fires on semi, shotgun like patterns etc.

    • mosinman

      how is it too hard? the AR-15 isn’t rocket science

  • mosinman

    i’m surprised people still take scales seriously

    • Cymond

      The average person just sees “Major General (ret.)” and assume that he knows what he’s talking about.

      • Joshua

        He’s the artillery guy right? I really can’t remember, but if so he’s spot on with that stuff.

        Small arms however are not his forte

        • nadnerbus

          Yeah same guy that Nathaniel took down in the last bazillion post article about the M4 a few months back. Same argument on Scales part too, except that he dug out the example of his firebase getting overrun because his troops had the original screwed up M-16 in that one.

          So that one was more of a time honored tradition of refuting a fifty year old problems with a many-times-over upgraded rifle.

  • KestrelBike

    Awesome article. So they’re getting 2-stage triggers? Are these new triggers as robust and durable as the standard 1-stage trigger?

    • We don’t know what triggers they will be getting yet, but I’m betting Geissele’s SOPMOD SSF is in the running.

      Thank you for the kind words. 🙂

    • Joshua

      Depends on the trigger. If it is a Geissele it is actually more durable than the standard trigger.

  • Vhyrus

    The AR is considerably harder to clean and takes longer to clean than a comparable piston rifle. This fact can easily cause incomplete cleaning in a combat environment which leads to carbon build up over time. Does that make it a horrible rifle? No, but it is something to consider.

    • Joshua

      No it’s not.

      SOCOM tested this and found the M4A1 will routinely go 5,200 rofunds with no lubrication in ideal climates, and that carbon fouling in no way hinders performance of the rifle.

      There is a difference between what is needed to keep your rifle running, and was is need when you white glove your rifle.

      In the field a ssimple wipe down of the upper and BCG will suffice.

      White glove cleaning is simply used to keep soldiers busy and eat up free time. It is not needed to keep your rifle running.

      • Amazingly enough, “knock the chunky bits off and lube” works even in ridiculously adverse conditions.

        An AK, fired with ComBloc ammo, actually takes more user PMCS. An M14 takes a HECK of a lot more user PMCS.

        Biggest failure point in an AR is crappy aluminum magazines that should have been DX’ed ten years earlier…

        • Joshua

          That’s why you stomp them and say oops.

      • Uniform223

        “White glove cleaning is simply used to keep soldiers busy and eat up free time. It is not needed to keep your rifle running”.

        A busy pvt – spc is a soldier staying out of trouble. A SSG I deployed with was a huge science enthusiast. He said Pvts are like sub-atomic particles in the quantum world of the uncertainty principle. The more you know about one, the less you know about the other. Like when 1st Sgt comes out looking for his Pvts, he doesn’t know where they are but “Top” knows they’re goofing off.

  • Dracon1201

    I’m pretty sure if we could get the M4 out of the Middle East and away from the dust that destroys everything it will be fine. The improvements should help for sure. I still feel a good short stroke piston system would fix a lot of the general issues.

    • Herr Wolf

      as soon as the Middle East runs out of oil we’ll be outta there

    • Joshua

      Actually other guns such as the ak5c alsI experience reduced parts life in Afghanistan.

      I wasn’t given a specific percentage of anything, but was told they have been having to perform maintenance more often on their rifles.

    • The AR-15 is one of the most dust-resistant rifles I’ve ever tested. So far as I can tell, the idea that it is dust-sensitive is a total fabrication of the commercial industry (I guess the 2007 dust tests also share some of the blame).

      • Dracon1201

        Not entirely blaming the rifle. I’m sure it’s great, but we all know service life of anything mechanical in the dust and sand has a far lower service life than normal. Every machine has experienced this. We only get to see how our weapons perform, so perceptions can be different than reality.

  • Your assertion that the M4 performed as the best in the ICC is flawed. It is widely reported that the M4 was NOT the best performing rifle. That is well before we start speaking on ergonomics.

    I’ve spoken with people involved directly in the ICC. Two of the offerings were generally more reliable than the M4 in almost all cases. One substantially so.

    • Joshua

      Washington Times got the results and posted them. Where they got the results was a legitimate source that had the full documentation of the competition.

      Granted they stuck to weapon A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, which is how they were listed during the testing to avoid bias. Only one rifle actually performed better in Class I and II stoppages and none performed better in Class III.

      Edit: the CNA was given the report to verify the Army was judging the competition results fairly.

    • Nathan,

      “US Army Rifle Is Fine, Performs Best Overall” is not a good headline. “Mystery Rifle Smokes US Army Rifle In Competition” is a much more attention-getting headline.

      Fundamentally, there is not much difference between all of the weapons on the market, and the M4 is the most well-understood platform. It is not a surprise to me at all that the results were generally favorable.

      Those I have spoken to that were involved in the competition said the M4 performed best in Class II and III stoppages. I’ve alternately heard that it came in second or third in Class I (least severe) stoppages, behind Gun C. The Washintgon Times said it only came in first for Class III stoppages, with Gun C leading in Class I and II stoppages.

      • Joshua

        Let’s also not forget that not one company was willing to challenge the Army in its ruling of the competition.

        Generally when something as big as that contract was gets a bad ruling companies go to the U.S. GAO to challenge the ruling.

        The XM9 competition got challenged.

        • They did not challenge it as the Army did not issue an award. No company can challenge the army shutting down a program unless it has a contract.

          Further, they are all bound by strict NDA requirements.

          • Joshua

            According to a few of the entrants they had to option to challenge and chose not to.

            Now that could just be PR BS, but that is what was said.

            Either way one certain H&K rep had no problem claiming to be rifle C was their rifle.

            And it still broke more often.

          • They could challenge specific testing (if they had cause), but they never saw it, only a report. As such, its VERY difficult to challenge.

            The writing was on the wall. Behind the scenes, the PM and Program Office made it clear that they hated the ICC and were only doing it to satisfy congress. See my earlier comment on creating it for failure.

          • An overgassed, stiff springed M4 suffered fewer Class I malfs, but broke more often?

            I am shocked, SHOCKED I tell you.

      • The M4 did not perform best overall, only the best at a “Class 3” which will never be addressed in the field. Overall, it performed 3rd, with one clear winner and a second marginally better.

        The problem is that the Army knows there is improvements to be made to the rifle, ignoring DI operation. The ICC was pure shenanigans.

        Outside this, the bad blood is NOT from the ammo, its from the whole affair contractually. The ICC was SET UP FROM THE BEGINNING TO FAIL. The Army has shown, repeatedly, that it does not want to switch from the M4. The ICC bar was set so high, no weapon could get over the second phase.The ammo change was just salt in the wound.

        Further on that line of thought, the Army only gave each manufacturer 10,000 rounds and ONE DAY to test the ammo at an Army depot. Considering a weapon should be designed around the ammo, this was flat out wrong. No manufacturer can get sufficient data from that sample set to optimize. Further, they would not even release data on the ammo (pressures, round composition, powder load, etc to industry so they could try and test on their own).

        The problem is not that the M4 is a bad weapon, its just not the BEST weapon. The ICC showed there is room for improvement on a reliability standpoint well before ergonomics (which were never a factor, as the Army knew that if it was, the M4 would be smoked).

        Ergonomically, the M4 is OK, but there is much room for improvement. The ACR, SCAR, XCR, ARAK, etc. all are significantly better by the charging handle alone. That is before we talk about formal manipulation, bolt catch/release, etc.

        I, for one, firmly believe that the M4 is a good weapon, but those who serve deserve the best, especially considering changing weapons would cost less than a platoon of tanks, which we keep building, and don’t need.

        • 199K Mark

          The Abrams series stopped production long ago; Lima reconditions and upgrades existing units to newer variants.

        • Breakages that require armorer-level repair don’t happen in combat? Says who? I know you’ve served and I haven’t, but surely we can agree that combat is the most likely time for a Class III parts breakage to occur.

          “Improvements to be made” does not mean scrapping the weapon and going to something new. You know what needs replacing? The KAC rail system. It’s heavy and antiquated. This doesn’t mean the rifle itself needs replacing.

          I didn’t say the bad blood was from the ammo, did I? Read what I wrote:

          “It’s further worth noting that there is a lot of bad blood over IC in the industry, because a lot of companies feel “led on” by the Army. I can’t really blame them; putting your best into your product only to have the Army tell you all to go home before the competition is done can’t feel good.”

          The ammunition issue is just a complaint voiced by at least one of the companies that I’ve spoken directly with.

          The bar was set too high? Please. They wanted a doubling of MRBF. What threshold would you rather they have set? Is a 10% increase worth scrapping the whole fleet? A 20% increase? A 50% increase? Double is a reasonable figure, if a bit arbitrary. I can only imagine the wailing if they’d demanded an order of magnitude improvement.

          Who told you they only had one day with the 10,000 rounds? I’ve seen the orders for the test ammunition, and so far as I can tell they had much more time than that. 10,000 rounds/1 day doesn’t even make sense – how are you supposed to shoot that many rounds in a day.

          I guess that’s just “proof” that it was rigged all along! C’mon, that’s like saying the fact that you can’t prove contrails are full of mind-control drugs is proof that the government doesn’t want you to know.

          The M4 is not the best weapon, no. The best weapon costs $15,000 a unit and isn’t mass producible. We’re not talking air superiority fighters here, we’re talking rifles, and the M4 is so far as I know the best bang for the buck out there.

          The M4 is ergonomically terrible? Please. The charging handle isn’t optimized for IPSC, but it sure does shine when you don’t want something poking into your back, such as during a parachute drop. What else is “terrible” about it? I’ve taught lefties to shoot on the gun, and while the manual of arms is different for them they find the mag release, bolt catch, and safety all very easy to use. Oh, and they’re cheap configurations, unlike the ambidextrous contrivances competing against them. Bang for the buck, again.

          • I can appreciate the fervor by which you hold to your beliefs relating to the ICC, they are wrong.

            As someone who served, I believe that we should only have the best equipment.

            Considering how much it costs for just basic training on a recruit, even tripling the cost of the basic service rifle is a drop in the bucket of the cost of a soldier. Compared to the cost of the F-35, replacing rifles is a mere percent of the cost.

            Considering the value of a life, especially one of my brothers in arms, it’s a valuable effort to look for a new rifle, especially when it was proven by their own testing that there are significant improvements to be had.

            I will say it flat out and without reservation, the continued fielding of the M4 is negligence.

          • nova3930

            The problem is that equipment has to be provided within the cost constraints of the appropriated Dod budget. We can’t provide the absolute top of the line equipment to every soldier in any other category, from boots to jet fighters, so why people think we can do any different with small arms I don’t know.

            Every piece of equipment has requirements, defined in part by the user, and it’s the job of procurement weenies like me to find a material solution that meets those requirements at minimal cost. In some cases we can justify paying more for higher performance but there’s a lot of substantiation that goes into that decision.

            In that framework, even if the M4 was dead last in the testing, a no procurement decision could be made if added cost of the other solutions exceeded the performance increment because the M4 still meets the defined requirements.

            The fact that the what the soldier requires of the rifle isn’t changing is a big strike against getting a new rifle. Without changed requirements, unless you see an extreme reduction in cost or and increase in performance the M4 will soldier on.

          • I am always open to being proven wrong. If you have some information or documentation that I don’t and which could change my mind, I would love to see it.

            Neither am I opposed to the search for a newer, more effective rifle. What I see instead is a lot of companies trying to pass off as “revolutionary” weapons that are at best no better and that in some cases are decidedly inferior to what is currently being issued.

            I am not advocating cheapening our servicemen’s lives by buying “from the lowest bidder”. I will point to the numerous disastrous contracts given to Harrington and Richardson in the WWII and immediate post-war era as examples of how this can have dire consequences on our fighting men and women.

            However, when the benefits of new designs are so nebulous as to be immaterial, and the cost is greater, I cannot throw my weight behind procuring them.

            To those in the industry: Come up with something actually better. Make the next great leap. You will need to innovate in manufacturing and materials science; it has always been thus that small arms led the way in mass manufacture.

            Stop trying to pass off the same mechanism as a revolution.

          • Joshua

            As someone who served I can say there is no reason to replace the M4A1.

            In every test ever done the GI magazines are always 80-90% of the stoppages for the M4A1, this is why Pmags are so common.

            We ran our rifles hard and I can count on 2 hands the number of stoppages my M4A1 or CQBR had in actual combat.

            According to the ICC results the HK416 which costs anywhere from $1,500-$3,000(what the Marines paid for the M27 rifle without accessories) breaks more often than the M4A1 which costs $600.

            So why would I want to be issued a rifle that I know will need to see an armorer every 4,000 rounds and also costs 5 times what the M4A1 does that also lasts nearly twice as long. I can buy my own $12 Pmags to eliminate 80% of the stoppages the M4A1 experienced, you can’t buy parts to eliminate the breakage issue of the HK416.

          • CommonSense23

            As someone who also served, I will say flat out and without reservation your statement that fielding the M4 is negligence is asinine. What do you want to replace it with the SCAR? Guessing you never been issued one cause they are not that great and have tons of problems and do nothing better than a AR. HK416s. They do nothing better than a MK18MOD1 and a couple things worse? XM8? ACX?

        • It, uh, looks like you liked your own comment there, man. :

        • jay

          Bingo. ICC was setup by general Cassey….he retired from the military as executive at Colt. That should tell you everything you need to know. They thought they’ll get to keep the M4 contract. But Karma doesn’t sleep. They lost the bid for their own m4 as well….Now they are on a straight line to bancrupcy……again….for the same reasons. Lazy greedy again nd court to the bone. They would rather hire corrupt generals than scientists, or engineers. Hope they go under for good this time. I’m pretty sure even the m4 would have been a much better rifle by now, if it wasn’t for them.

        • Bal256

          I can’t find the old image I had that had a detailed report of the ICC, but one of the HUGE problems with the test, if that was the one I’m thinking of was that it was the M4, and not the M4A1, pitted against the other rifles, and the testers had no understanding of how the burst fire mechanism worked.

          Because the burst fire mechanism worked on a cog mechanism, if the last round fired only one shot out of a burst, then inserting a magazine and firing a new burst only fires 2 rounds, because the cog needs to reset. EVERY single one of the “less than 3” round was counted as a stoppage, and made the M4 reliability artificially low. Add to the fact that ALL carbines were considered unsafe to fire (headspace, timing, erosion, etc) for various reasons by the end of the sand test, so the SCAR and HK416 were in just as bad shape at the end of the test as well. All of the manufacturers provided brand new rifles, and their own magazines, except for the M4, which was taken off the rack at random, as well as the magazines (which were the cause of most failures). As someone who has personally experienced a stoppage at a really bad time (FTF), I found my own problem was crappy magazines. One of them kept tilting the rounds down, and in another one the spring somehow snapped, so it couldn’t even feed rounds. I’d like to see the HK/SCAR work with broken mag springs. The armory offered to replace them, but as soon as I was able to call home, I asked my family to send me a box of PMAGs, which never gave me a problem since.

          Also speaking as an armored vehicle mechanic and someone who has had to pull bodies out of IED’d vehicles, I would say that most, if any of the problems we have had in the current combat environment would not be fixed by a slightly better rifle. However, considering that nearly 3 times the amount of troops have died from IED as compared to gunfights, I’d say the problem lies in providing IED resistant vehicles we keep building platoons of, and not new rifles.

          Just my $.02. I don’t speak for anyone, and I realize that there’s probably some vets out there that might have been served better with a new rifle, or units that have experience more gunshot than IED casualties. I’ve used an M4 in combat on some occasions, and a 240 on others, but there are probably guys out there with a WAY higher round on their rifle that have a more weighted opinion on whether the AR needs to really be replaced. I’m just saying in MY case, a new rifle wouldn’t have helped me. New mags, yes, but I probably wouldn’t complain if I carried a SCAR around.

        • Dolphy

          Fitch, you’re getting told by other TFB writers. It’s time to rein in your fanboy.

          • Nathan and I have polite disagreements. I don’t see how that’s a problem. I welcome his input and respect his opinions, but that doesn’t mean all discussion must cease.

  • Lance

    Again to SCAR lovers your plastic crap failed to replace the M-4, GET OVER IT!!!!!!! As for M-4A1+ This may not happen either or just some of possible upgrades are added. We may get a new rail system but hopefully no crappy low pro scope only gas block. Or we get a new flash hider but no new stock who knows. Budgets are down we need BIGGER ticket items now and sooner than this. Heck the GOP is finally forcing money to upgrade our subs after 20 years of neglect.

    • Joshua

      Ahh Lance. I love your insightful rants.

    • Herr Wolf

      SF love the SCAR-.308 packs a punch compared to glorified .22LR

      • Joshua

        MARSOC seem to prefer their M110ECC/M110K1 they got.

        • CommonSense23

          Marsoc is actually been transferring a lot of there SCARs over to NSW

          • Joshua

            I have a feeling most will be moving on from the SCAR once the Army gets the CSASS competition finished, which IMO will end in the K1 mod being adopted for the M110.

          • CommonSense23

            One could hope, but the new MOD for the MK17 is coming out pretty soon, that might delay the effort some.

          • Joshua

            True, but the M110 is an Army bought weapon system. The Army is doing the CSASS competition and Maneuver Battle Lab has tested the ECC extensively and has been pushing for the adoption of it.

            Their tests indicated the ECC(M110K1) outperformed the HK417, standard M110, M14 EBR, and the Mk-17 by a significant amount.

            Trust me if the Army starts buying K1 kits to upgrade the M110, the SCAR will be done SoF wide.

          • CommonSense23

            I wish I could have the faith you do in the SCAR being done SOF wide. I would love to turn in my MK17 and get a DI AR10 of any kind really.

          • Joshua

            Actually between MARSOCs use of the K1 and Maneuver Battle Lab having tested it very heavily, there is a huge chance that the Army will go M110K1 and you will see the end of the Mk-17 once units start getting the K1 from the Army.

            I also know Battle Lab tested the M4A1+ back in 2013 and more than likely the DD Mk18 RIS II will be the adopted rail.

            Everyone can practically thank Maneuver Battle Lab for the M4A1+ RFI coming out.

      • John

        Excerpt from Wiki: Special Operations units and advisers working with the South Vietnamese troops filed battlefield reports lavishly praising the AR-15 and the stopping effectiveness of the 5.56 mm cartridge, and pressed for its adoption. However, what no one knew, except the men directly using the AR-15s in Vietnam, were the devastating kills made by the new rifle, photographs of which, showing enemy casualties made by the .223 (5.56 mm) bullet remained classified into the 1980s

        • Yellow Devil

          It’s probable because upon impact from the original 5.56 bullet, the enemy instantly vaporized, leaving nothing to photograph in the first place.

    • Agitator

      Wait… did Lance just write something that did NOT reference the almighty supremacy of t3h M14??1!? Granted it was written in his usual semi-coherent and charmingly ignorant style, but the lack of an M14 reference has me concerned. Is he feeling ok?

  • Sarig

    If only there was an AR with gas-piston…

  • petru sova

    Is it not amazing that since Viet-Nam there have been so many attempted improvements that you have to have a rail road car of paperwork just to document it all. And still the gun only works when its clean and drowning in oil.

    • It would be amazing, if that were true.

      • Herr Wolf

        then why do they keep “improving” it?

        • Joshua

          Because Times change And double heat shield handguards are a thing of the past.

        • RealitiCzech

          Because fifty years of use and a plentiful budget for research means you’ll have some significant improvement possibilities crop up. Rails came in, then rugged red dots and scopes and lasers and lights and bottle openers with night vision for those rails. The B52 is a very different animal than it was when Jimmy Stewart was making movies about them.
          Plus, it’s been Pentagon policy for a long time to spend money improving the current product instead of spending lots more money adopting a totally new one.

        • Why did you put the word “improving” in quotation marks?

          They improve it because it works and they can make it better.

        • Grindstone50k

          Why do they keep “improving” the AK?

          • They don’t keep improving the MP-44. It must be perfect. ;D

    • nadnerbus

      The F-16 is one of the most successful jet fighters in history, still serving with more nations than just about any other I am aware of. It has gone through many different upgrade blocks over the years; different engines, different avionics, adapted to shoot newer missiles, specialized versions for different countries (F-16 i). It must be a terrible aircraft since they have changed it so much.

      Generally speaking, people don’t spend a lot of time and money improving machines that are terrible from the beginning. The fact that that they are so well designed that they are modular, adaptable, and scalable is the very reason they are upgraded so often and for so long.

    • Bal256

      AK47 must be a terrible gun then because the Russians had to ditch it for the AKM, then the AK74, and now the AK12.

      • petru sova

        None of the changes were made because any of these guns did not work as in the case of the M16.

        • Joshua

          What gun did we ditch because the M16 doesn’t work?

          • If you think about it, there have only been a handful of reliability upgrades to the full-size M16 since 1967 when the Sturtevant buffers and chrome plated chambers were first fielded. You have a series of extractor spring and extractor spring insert upgrades (distinguishable by the color of the spring and its insert) and the various magazine follower upgrades. All of the other rifle upgrades were primarily for ergonomics, accuracy/targeting, and general durability (soldier-proofing).

          • Joshua

            Exactly.

            The M4 has also had very small changes that made huge impact on reliability. RO921HB, Gold extractor and black insert, and the H2 buffer all very minor yet made such a large difference in the performance of the actual rifle.

  • whskee

    What are the prime changes expected of the M4A1+ anyway? If I was building on the current M4A1, I’d like the Vltor A5 Buffer System, a Geissele SSF trigger, and an Aero Precision M4E1 Upper & Rail.

    • Joshua

      Pretty much identical to what SOCOM is using.

  • ColaBox

    The m4a1 is nearly perfect, don’t screw with it. New handguard, new barrel, after market parts sure, minor alterations with noticeable positive effects. But for the love of god just don’t go gas-piston.

  • TDog

    The M4 is a little like the democracy of guns – it’s the worst one out there except for all the others. It suits our purposes, doesn’t blow up on a regular basis, and pretty much goes bang every time you pull the trigger unless the safety’s on.

    All in all, we could have worse. The INSAS comes to mind…

    • Joshua

      Why you no like insas.

      • TDog

        By all accounts it is a worthless rifle.

      • DW

        Sure, what’s not to like about INSAS: Very expensive, heavy, SUPER-unreliable and very, very easy to break.

  • Jefferson Tesla Freedom

    Let’s just go ahead and armed the entire Department of Defense with the AK-47. They’ll be headshotting and 360-no scoping for days and days and days. The world will tremble at our exponential military might. Israel and Palestine will sign peace accords. Japan and China will form the Alliance of Awesome People. Every Muslim country will turn into a Jeffersonian democracy, complete with checks and balances. Whales will multiply and jump through the waves like salmon. Cancer will be cured. We’ll travel through space and colonize our entire solar system, ensuring humanity will thrive for billions of millennia. God, every God that everyone believes in, will shed a tear at the perfect image of American soldiers cradling Russian guns, for we will have finally become as God intended.

  • Patriot Gunner

    Nathaniel,

    Great job on mentioning the intangibles in your article (namely the politics behind the govt procurement process and the general’s MO). I do agree with you in that the AR pattern rifles are a good choice for our men and women in combat, but I would like to add that a large portion of that can be contributed to the massive logistical military machine. I know a lot of naysayers won’t agree, but given the size of our military I would say that they do a superb job of maintaining their wares and that goes well behind the infantryman rifle. If the context of this story were different and we were discussing what is the best SHTF rifle I wouldn’t put the AR at the top of that list. Lastly, although 2K rounds is nothing to sneeze at, we both know of a certain rifle where 2K rounds is just the starting point =^P

    • Patriot,

      Thank you for the kind words. I like getting feedback, and I like positive feedback more. It’s good to know that I’m going in the right direction.

      I assume you mean the AK. The reliability of the AK isn’t a total fabrication – there are some concrete reasons to believe it has an advantage there. However, in my experience (which is hamstrung by being mostly with civilian semi-automatic rifles) the AK performs about as well as the AR-15. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to reliability.

      • Patriot Gunner

        Nathaniel,

        Your writing has always been heading in the right direction, I was (still am) a fan of your blog and am glad to see more of your work here on TFB. Kudos to TFB as well. Regarding civilian AKs, you hit the nail on the head, a lot of the good Russian stuff is sadly reserved for themselves and other govt. agencies around the world. I do agree that an AR can be as reliable as an AK, but doing so takes more effort, not that its hard, but just takes more effort. Keep up the good work brother!

  • Grindstone50k

    ITT: Gun luddites.

  • Frank Martin

    I generally agree with all your comments.. but one of them is not provable. the XM8 carbine program..

    Just because a weapon is BASED on the G-36, does not mean that the weapon would have identical issues that have fallen on the Bundeswehr and the present G-36. It would be different if the G-36 was the direct in the competiion. I am not defending the XM-8 per say.. but I can remember the time when the DOD was Seriously considering adopting the system..

    But now you have given me the name of one of the individuals who helped the government waste those tax dollars on the evaluation of the XM-8.. I wonder if he had anything to do with the follow-up H&K 416 system

  • jay

    Getting but hurt over every article that hits the ar15?
    Get over it. It came a long way since Vietnam, but you can’t say the mag and the operating system are great parts of the rifle.

    • Naw, I only get butthurt over articles that trash the Lee-Enfield.

    • Joshua

      The operating system is a great part of the rifle. GI mags on the other hand are not, which is why Pmags and Lancers are so common.

  • John Daniels

    “No, Virginia, “M4A1+” Upgrades Don’t Prove The M4 Is Flawed”

    What it proves is that the AR family of firearms has evolved and will continue to evolve for as long as it’s basic form is still relevant. I doubt that’ll change radically any time soon.

    • John Daniels

      Just as the Russians are evolving and modernizing their AK family of rifles with the AK-12, and related recent developments.

      • Max Glazer

        Except AK-12 is a clean-sheet design and despite superficially looking like original-design AK/AKM/AK-74, it is a totally different weapon.

  • Ike

    “. . . but simply parroting the words of a defense lobbyist does not strike me as the most honest or diligent journalistic practice.”

    Dude . . . it’s the Washington Times.

  • Bal256

    Pictured: a bunch of “losers” using a “terrible gun”.

    • anonymouse

      You’re right that they use AR-15 derived platforms, but I don’t think any of them use M4A1s these days, although they may have done in the past. The SAS use C8s, while the Dane’s, Canadians and Dutch marines use C7s, the French/Italian/Polish SF use HK416s, Norwegian SF use C8s/HK416s.

    • petru sova

      Lets remember how many European countries adopted the great disaster of a pistol the German Luger. Their line of thinking was that if the Germans used it then it must be the very best. Now the same line of thinking was followed in modern times i.e. if the U.S. uses it therefore it must be the very best and coupled with the fact that nations like Israel that had a good weapon like the Galil abandoned it because they got a ton of M16’s for free from the U.S.

    • iksnilol

      Uh, hate to break it to you but Norwegians use the HK416. The Poles replaced their M4s with HK416s. The French tested the M4 and went with the HK416. The Italians have less than a thousand M4s, they also went with the HL416.

      • Joshua

        The HK416 is an AR pattern rifle.

        • iksnilol

          Yes, but it isn’t an M4. It uses a gas piston system. So you can’t claim the M4 and its gas impingment system is good then show us pictures of special ops guys with 416s as proof.

          • Yellow Devil

            That’s why the caption said “AR series rifles”. I don’t know if the change to the piston system automatically makes the 416 a non AR series rifle, but I guess at that point it’s semantics.

          • iksnilol

            I don’t know, though the piston does remove the DI disadvantage/advantage of the AR series. Which is kinda its trademark.

  • MPWS

    And…. where is the argument here? It’s all bull, on both sides. Or, am I missing something?

  • petru sova

    I would like to comment from experience. In the past I competed in NRA across the course matches with both the M1A (M14) and AR-15. Neither 0f the AR-15’s I owned or my colleagues owned was a reliable rifle and this was under pristine conditions most of the time and in other times in the rain which mixed with the burnt powder and jammed up the gun despite the fact that we used LSA fluid and or Break Free CLP to try and keep the gun operating just a bit longer. The Military spent several million developing LSA fluid but as you can see it was not a panacea in regards to enabling the defectively designed M16 from becoming even a semi-reliable weapon.
    It does not take an engineering degree from MIT to pull back the bolt on an M16 after just one magazine is fired through it and see a ton of burnt powder clogging up the action. Its a miracle the gun even works at all. The development of the newer piston driven AR-s did not come about because engineers did not have anything better to do with their time but rather because of the sorry history of reliability of this disaster of a weapon.
    And lets not forget that even with the mired of so called improvements to this defective weapon that only just a few years ago the Jessica Lynch squad serving in the war in the desert was practically wiped out because 100 per cent of the M16 rifles jammed up. And although super patriots made a million excuses for this disaster of a weapon the AK47 rifles of the opposing forces worked just fine and remember those guys are noted for not ever taking car of their weapons especially by even cleaning them.

    • If it’s a design flaw, then why is it that when folks take quality factory guns and abuse them, they cannot replicate anecdotes like this one?

    • LSA (MIL-L-46000) wasn’t developed for the M16 family. It had been designed years earlier for the M61A1 Vulcan cannon. They needed a lubricant that wouldn’t be thrown off of the rotary mechanism as it spun up. Luckily, someone decided to include in the testing for alternative lubricants for the M16 when PL Special (VV-L-800) wasn’t doing the job.

    • CommonSense23

      Curios what your actual background to be making these statements is?

      • Joshua

        He read the internet about the 507th, thus making him a SME on military small arms.

        • Fegelein

          Just like guys who ignore user feedback and real world user data when they write endless praise pieces about a platform which a lot of people have grievances with? Geez, sounds very different than a certain other TFB staff writer who allegedly does a lot of research, much of which he won’t share, but it all seems to ultimately support his preconceived conclusion that a certain controversial platform with a long history of persistent issues is somehow the best.

          • CommonSense23

            Lets see, SOF forces since Vietnam have been using the AR platform to great success. AR platform issues have been shown time and time again to be the result of poor unit level maintenance and operator not understanding how to use and maintain his weapon. I have got to do a lot of FID unfortunately. Been in charge of over a 500 brand new AKs that we issued out. Within weeks we were having large scale reliability problems. If you replaced the AR with the AK in the US military, within two years, the AKs would begin seeing the same issues the M4 currently has.

          • Dolphy

            Who are you and which army is issuing out 500 AK’s in the past few weeks which are having widespread problems already? Still, how American of you to blame the user and absolve anyone important of any guilt.

          • Joshua

            We have, to Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers. We being the US have purchased plenty of AK’s for them.

          • Fegelein

            Hello, CommonSense23, thanks for blowing your cover as a sockpuppet!

          • Joshua

            Uhhh, yeah that’s not me. You can check my post history, we are two totally different people.

            You can even ask Nathaniel, he can verify.

          • Fegelein

            If you insist. You sure seemed to be answering a question which A: was not directed at you and B: isn’t the sort of thing one simply blabs about.

          • Joshua

            Well I’m bored so why not. And it’s not like it is some great secret we purchased weapons for them, which includes AK’s and M16’s.

          • CommonSense23

            Wasn’t even Iraq or Afghanistan. It was a place far worse. At least most of those guys had experience with AKs one way or the other. The US military does a lot of training of foreign militaries, and often supplies all the logistics.

          • Max Glazer

            Was it IzhMash-made AKs you guys issued out or were they Romanian/Bulgarian/Chinese/US-made copies?

          • CommonSense23

            IzhMash made AKMSs.

          • n0truscotsman

            Its funny because “real world user data” has vindicated the M4 carbine and M16 from accusations often parroted in gun store rumor-ville basing its “facts” off of problems encountered in the 1960s.
            That is exactly what Scales is doing. Comparing modern M4s with Vietnam-era M16s.

  • Bob

    I think people forget that this officer has good points with some that are flaky. The legitimate concerns have always been the magazine issue and the general maintenance requirements of the platform. All guns do require maintenance however this platform needs a lot of it rather quickly in a heavily sustained fight. There in lies the problem, current conflicts we have had plenty of time to replace worn out parts in most situations. The point of any large fielded weapon system is worst case scenario though.
    What would happen if we fought against a force that could negate some of the air power or that counter attacked immediately after in large numbers that the Germans would do in WWII. Sure there is still time to wipe down and lube up a gun but preventative maintenance is going to go down the pooper. Now manufacturing costs have gone down hill so much on this that theoretically they could just re issue constantly new ones in a worst case scenario although I’m sure that would only last for so long. I think the new servicing does show that there are shortcomings particularly ones that should have been addressed sooner if they did not want to switch.
    However there really are some innovative materials and products out there that can get this platform maintenance requirements down while keeping all the awesome perks of the gun. Just because he may have some bad points doesn’t mean that some of his thoughts cant be true. To me they need to figure out if they want to just keep adding parts here and there to get it to a certain level or completely modernize it and maybe change some things. KAC has improved on DI real well, the Sig MCX has some good ideas with steel inserts that you can replace and there are tons of new treated materials . I think the platform should stay but we all need to admit there are problems so we can get the best fix.

    • CommonSense23

      Preventive maintenance is suppose to be done before you deploy. But it is not. That is the biggest issue currently with the M16/M4 family. The M4A1 doesn’t need to be cleaned often, it doesn’t even need that much lube. What it needs is a shot counter, cause the only time the military wants to replace parts is after they fail currently, not before. I have got to see the both sides of militaries treatment of the M4, the Armorer side and the user side. And they are both overall pretty horrible. It doesn’t matter if we switch to another platform. The problems will still occur until the US military begins taking small arms maintenance and training seriously.

    • Phil Hsueh

      While I don’t have any personal experience on PMing an AR I’m pretty confident that no unit is going to see so much combat for such an extended period of time that they won’t eventually be pulled to the rear at which time they can get their weapons serviced by their armorers. No one is going to ever get in such a large and sustained firefight that it’s going to break down their M4s by the end of it, it never happened in WW II and it’s not going to ever happen in the future. And if by some chance a unit’s M4s are so worn down that their reliability goes completely out the window before they can get to an armorer you can bet that some enterprising individual is going to be writing back to have their friends and family send them a bunch of AR parts in their next care package and replace them themselves.

      • Wayne

        We have had the luxury of choosing our battles post 1945. We won’t always have that luxury, so I would be careful saying we won’t ever in a particular situation.

        • Phil Hsueh

          While that’s true, when have we ever engaged in a situation where the troops in contact will have been in action for so long that they won’t have the chance to have had their weapons serviced by the unit armorers? The most dire situation that I can think of that we’ve been in has been the Battle of the Bulge, but even then I don’t think that it lasted long enough with enough rounds fired for the troops to have seriously worn down their weapons, even an M4 would probably have survived The Bulge.

  • Spencer

    Nathaniel is not wrong, but I don’t think he is giving the valid M4
    criticisms the right kind of light.

    Virtually all remaining reliability complaints about the M4 could be
    solved with just three changes.

    Better magazines
    Shot counter built in to the pistol grip.
    An aggressive maintenance schedule to replace warn out parts based on
    rounds fired and rifle age.

    • I think that’s valid feedback. For people like Scales, I drive the points home pretty hard, which can alienate some people who might read it to mean that I think the M4 is perfect and that it’s impossible to have problems.

      That’s why I take engaging my commenters seriously, as it gives me a chance to come back to the subject without having to round out an article like I’m using a splitting maul.

    • Brian M

      Remember that the military banned the use of P-mags and aftermarket magazines, thus actively perpetuating problems.
      Why would you want a shot counter on the grip of all places? Why not have it mounted on the receiver side or the buffer tube where the user can see if. It’s like saying that you want a car to have a fuel gauge located on the handbrake.

      I would like to add a fourth suggestion: Use only dry lubricants.

  • Core

    Generals are great leaders but are most often out of touch with the intricate realities the end user faces. His assessment of the M4 is crap as noted by Nathan, and it’s important to explain to those who might buy into the propaganda. With that said: every weapon platform needs to be upgraded over time to meet the demands of the mission. And we have to remember that any weapon reliability report that doesn’t present data tables tested by a third party, is probably rooted in propaganda.

  • TheSmellofNapalm

    Someone on youtube ran a KAC SR-15 MOD 2 for over 20,000 rounds without any cleaning. Zero malfunctions. And then it shot 1 MOA. Keep telling me a piston gun is superior.

  • Brian M

    Just one great question: If the AR platform is so perfect, then why is there a constant call to upgrade it and user feedback that it needs upgrades? Either it’s perfect and needs no upgrades or it’s imperfect and needs no upgrades. Which one it is?

    • CommonSense23

      Do you really believe any machine or system doesn’t need upgrades?

      • Brian M

        Well, my wood and iron claw hammer seems to suffice for about everything I can think of using it for. lol

    • n0truscotsman

      nobody is arguing that the AR platform is perfect. All weapons, inside and outside the realm of small arms, undergo incremental upgrades based on requirements of their respective era of usage. Oftentimes, because of new technologies and tested concepts.
      The AK has also undergone significant upgrades since its original conception in the 1940s. So has the F16 and Stinger missile.

  • Geoff a well known Skeptic

    Truly it is written, the Company with the best Lobbyists with the best and largest bribes the US of A Congress will reward. Geoff Who is getting older, grayer and more cynical daily.