Friday, February 21, 2014

Is The M4 Rifle Getting Our Troops Killed?

The story below is truly an FYI, "for your information," piece in the hopes that readers will contact their representative in Congress to do something about this. It regards the M4 rifle, which our troops are depending on to save their lives in combat.

The M4 carbine was developed from various outgrowths of the M16 design, including several 14.5-inch barreled A1-style carbines. Officially adopted as a replacement weapon for the M16A2 for select special ops troops in 1994, it was used with questionable success in the Balkans and, in more recent conflicts, has seen many problems in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The M4 carbine has a three-round burst firing mode, while the M4A1 carbine has a fully automatic firing mode. Of course, none of that helps if the rifle fails to function properly. In fact, the problems are reportedly so severe in nature that I'm not jumping to conclusions when I say that the M4 rifle is getting our troops killed. Reports of this are out there. Because of that fact, we should be alarmed and doing something to remedy the situation. 

After reading the story below from The Washington Times, it dawned on me that not since the days of the early 1960s when the M16 rifle was first issued to American troops in Vietnam have we seen this sort of problem occur. Back then, the M16 demonstrated that it was a piece of crap and simply couldn't hold up to the rigors of combat. And yes, since I was trained with both the M14 and the M16 while in the Marine Corps during Vietnam, I'm entitled to call the M16 a piece of crap!

The M16s in the early 1960s had a 30% failure rate. That's huge! While the vast majority of the early failures were due to inadequate or even no care/cleaning of the rifles, that's because many of the troops were issued the M16 without cleaning kits. Most of our troops who went into service with the M16 when it first came out were not given adequate training on caring for the weapon. The troops were also misled into believing that the M16 needed the same amount of cleaning as the M-14 and M1 Garand, but that wasn't the case at all. Because of its designs, cleaning was absolutely essential to it keeping them alive. Furthermore, even after cleaning kits were handed out and troops were trained to frequently clean the weapon, though failure rates on the M16 drastically went down, they were still high for a battle rifle.

Also, in those days, the M16 jammed regularly even after extensive cleaning. And yes, it also had feeding problems which meant that a grunt like myself would have to use the "forward assist" more than I wanted to so that I can keep firing. And no, no one should be saddled with a rifle that one had to hit a Forward Assist because it has loading problems. Friends, that was more than 40 years ago. They still make weapons with the M16 design with the "forward assist." You can find them incorporated in the design of the M4. And yes, you would think that after 40 to 50 years of using that design that someone would have fixed that problem to where the "forward assist" is no longer needed. But that's not the case.

The original controversy over the M16 started because the gun suffered from a jamming flaw known as "failure to extract," which meant that a spent cartridge case remained lodged in the chamber after a bullet was fired. According to a Congressional report at the time, the jamming was caused primarily by a change in gunpowder that was done without adequate testing and reflected a decision for which "the safety of soldiers was a secondary consideration."

Yes, that's right, the Congressional report said that the malfunction of the M16 was considered not a problem because someone said that "the safety of our soldiers was a secondary consideration." Imagine that! 

Besides the powder issue, there were design issues, and away from what the designer specified, as well as telling troops the rifle was "self-cleaning" and at times failing to issue cleaning kits, the rifle was redesign to add a "forward assist," which is really a sore spot with me because of a failure to fully feed a round. Yes, the rounds would not always chamber or seat. The designers decided to include a handle for troops to "pound" if their rifle did not fire because the bolt would not fully seat. Imagine that for a moment.

Why is it a sore spot with me? While returning fire -- you have to stop for a second, pound on the "forward assist" -- and hope that that got it operating again. Sound reliable to you? Would you like to be in the position? Can you imagine being issued a rifle that you can't fully rely on to operate at maximum efficiency when you need it to save your life or the life of another?

Due to the jamming issue and the need for a "forward assist" or "forward bolt assist," troops in Vietnam were being reported wounded because of the failures of the M16 rifles they were issued. Many Marines, like myself, felt the M16 was unreliable and completely undependable compared to its precursor, the M14, which was an overall better battle-rifle.

No telling how many jammed during combat. So now there is no telling just how many men in Vietnam died because they were issued the inferior M16 as their weapon. There is no telling how many men were senselessly wounded and literally could not fight back because their M16 malfunctioned.

Today, more than 50 years later, the curse of the M16 design is at it again. And yes, though in the form of the M4, which is designed around the M16 platform, an offshoot of the M16, there is no telling of the problems now taking place in Afghanistan.

The problems with the M4 rifle are something that we are now learning has been taking place for a long time and certainly took place throughout the Iraq War.

As for the M4, it has had its critics as well. Including USMC officials who said the M4 malfunctioned three times more often than the M16A4 during an assessment conducted in late summer 2002 for Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico, Virginia. Malfunctions were broken down into several categories, including magazine failures, failure to chamber, failure to fire, failure to extract, and worn or broken parts.

During the comparison tests between the M4 and the M16A4, the M4 failed 186 times across those categories compared to the M16A4, which failed 61 times during the testing over the course of 69,000 rounds fired. Sounds reliable to you? Not me. And this should not be what we give to our troops!

In 2013, it was reported that the M4 finished dead last in a sandstorm reliability test against 3 competitors that include a convertible M4 variant. But even worse is that the M4 had over 3.5 times more jams than the weapon that finished in 3rd place. It is something that our military should not allow to take place, yet they are!

Friends, knowing how many BILLIONS of dollars we Americans pour into our military each year, I believe there is absolutely NO EXCUSE that the Department of Defense can come up with, which would be even close to justifying any of this. After reading this, I really believe you may want to contact your Congressman or woman and tell them that this cannot stand - that this has to change, that our troops need rifles that we keep them alive.

Printed below is the entire The Washington Times report:

Troops left to fend for themselves after Army was warned of flaws in rifle

February 19th, 2014
The Washington Times

U.S. Army Senior Warrant Officer Russton B. Kramer, a 20-year Green Beret, has learned that if you want to improve your chances to survive, it’s best to personally make modifications to the Army’s primary rifle — the M4 carbine.

Warrant Officer Kramer has been dropped into some of the most ferocious battles in the war on terrorism, from hunting Islamists in the mountains of northern Iraq to disrupting Taliban opium dealers in dusty southern Afghanistan.

He was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in Operation Viking Hammer to crush the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam in Iraq.

The warrant officer said he and fellow Special Forces soldiers have a trick to maintain the M4A1 — the commando version: They break the rules and buy off-the-shelf triggers and other components and overhaul the weapon themselves.

“The reliability is not there,” Warrant Officer Kramer said of the standard-issue model. “I would prefer to use something else. If I could grab something else, I would.”

Documents obtained by The Washington Times show the Pentagon was warned before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that the iterations of the M4 carbine were flawed and might jam or fail, especially in the harsh desert conditions that both wars inflicted.

U.S. Special Operations Command in 2001 issued a damning private report that said the M4A1 was fundamentally flawed because the gun failed when called on to unleash rapid firing.

In 2002, an internal report from the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey said the M4A1 was prone to overheating and “catastrophic barrel failure,” according to a copy obtained by The Times.

The test findings also carried ramifications for the regular Army. By 2002, soldiers were carrying thousands of the conventional, light-barrel M4, of which the service ultimately would buy nearly 500,000 and send them into long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The M4, at times, has been called upon to perform the same kind of rapid-fire as the M4A1.

Colt Defense LLC of Hartford, Conn., which lost exclusive M4 design rights in 2009, has steadfastly defended the rifle through years of controversy. The Army contract went to another manufacturer last year.

Colt did not respond to requests for comment. The gun manufacturer’s website states that “throughout the world today, the Colt’s M4 reliability, performance and accuracy provide joint coalition forces with the confidence required to accomplish any mission. Designed specifically for lightweight mobility, speed of target acquisition, and potent firepower capability, the M4 delivers. Proven in military combat operations all over the world, it is in a class by itself as a first-rate combat weapon system.”

Colt’s monopoly on the Army’s weapon ended in February 2013, when the service awarded the M4 contract to FN Herstal, a global firearms manufacturer owned by Belgium’s regional Walloon government and the operator of a plant in South Carolina.

Colt had a good run. Since the mid-1990s, the Army has spent $600 million to buy more than a half-million carbines.

Critics say "the SoCom and Army reports should have prompted the Army to pursue a better design in the early 2000s."

The Army periodically improved the rifle but did not conduct a comprehensive upgrade until a senator pressured the top brass years later. In 2011, a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Army announced that it was converting M4s to the commando version with a heavier barrel and automatic trigger firing.

Some of the problems uncovered in 2001 and 2002, such as stoppages or jamming, became evident in the conventional firearm, most infamously in the 2008 Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, in which nine U.S. troops lost their lives.

“Realistically speaking, there’s been loss of life that is unneeded because there was a dumbing-down of the weapon system,” said Scott Traudt, who advised the Army on how to improve the M4 a decade ago.

Today, he is a special adviser at Green Mountain Defense Industries of Strafford, Vt., a Colt competitor that is manufacturing a new rifle that it hopes to sell to special operations.

Replaced by SCAR -- but was that a solution?

In an independent overall survey of soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan, 20 percent reported that the M4 jammed during battle, and one-fifth of those said the stoppages made a “large impact.”

Faced with inaction by the Pentagon, soldiers such as Warrant Officer Kramer have taken matters into their own hands, even at the risk of discipline.

“There are enhancements you can do to your weapon to bring that reliability level up. While we’re not authorized to change our weapon or modify them in any manner, obviously there are some guys out there, including myself, we’ll add some things to our guns to bring that reliability level up,” he told The Times. “I’d rather face six of my peers in a court-martial versus being 6 feet down.”

The M4 has brought consistent complaints about at least three shortfalls:
  • At a 250-yard effective-kill distance, it lacks range;
  • its 5.56 mm round lacks killing power;
  • and the gun requires constant maintenance — cleaning and lubricating — in sandy conditions or is prone to jamming.
  • Soldiers also complain that the magazine dents easily and the springs break.
The short-barreled weapon was suited for house-to-house fighting in Iraq. But in Afghanistan, its lack of range meant that the Taliban could operate at a safe distance.

Mr. Traudt said there are M4 failures in battle that do not get publicized. The fact that M4s broke down at Wanat was not known publicly until Army historians chronicled the battle and released their narrative in 2010. Even the general in charge of buying the gun said he had not heard of the problems until the press reported on the Army history.

There does not appear to be a comprehensive assessment of the M4 by any oversight agency — even though the weapon is the ground warrior’s most critical asset.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress‘ auditor, has not assessed the M4 since it entered service in the mid-1990s. Likewise, the Pentagon’s top operational tester has not conducted live-fire tests of the M4 or the commando M4A1.

Alarmed after the 2001 test, SoCom developed its own gun, the Special Operations Forces Assault Rifle (SCAR), and handed it out to Army Rangers, Green Berets, and Navy SEALs. Delta Force, the Army’s elite counter-terrorism unit, bought a German-designed rifle. Sources say SoCom is not entirely happy with either gun and still relies on the M4A1.

“The 5.56 [caliber] SCAR was a failure from the viewpoint of the men,” said Ryan Zinke, a former member of SEAL Team 6, the elite terrorist-hunting unit.

A Questionable Standard

The M4 carbine’s Iraq-Afghanistan history is replete with spotty tests and performance but also with praise from a devoted cadre who took it to war.

The M4, a lighter, shorter-range version of the M16 rifle, is generally popular among the majority of combat-savvy soldiers who completed questionnaires, Army surveys show.

The Washington Times interviewed two active-duty special operations troops who noted flaws but expressed love for the Colt-developed gun.

“The reality for all armies is that governments cannot afford to purchase a perfect assault rifle. It is simply cost-prohibitive,” said an Army Green Beret who is not authorized to speak on the record.

“For its cost, I consider the M4 to be an amazing assault rifle. Between the M16 and M4, I’ve carried weapons from that family for nearly 30 years and would not trade them for any other fielded families of assault rifles.”

A Marine commando who served in Afghanistan praised the firearm but noted that it requires constant cleaning or becomes vulnerable to jamming.

“The first thing you do back at camp is clean the gun,” he said.

Mr. Zinke, the former SEAL, said the M4A1 improved as its flaws were worked out.

“The M4 has become the standard special forces weapon system,” said Mr. Zinke.

“The rail system has greatly improved over time and can easily accommodate advances in optics, illumination, and targeting. The 5.56 mm M4 provides an appropriate trade-off between range and firepower. Improvements and diversity in ammunition types has also improved its versatility.”

Mr. Traudt, of Green Mountain Defense said the military paid his company a decade ago for ideas for fixing the M4.

He produced his company’s product, a 2001 technical report titled “Carbine extended life barrel and selected reliability improvement components identification.”

“The M4s were substandard,” he said. “The Army paid us to find a way to improve them, improve them cheaply with a little bit of extra engineering and metallurgical changes to make a gun that was markedly more reliable than the Colt weapon. The Army took our advice and did nothing with it.”

‘It’s virtually useless’

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, an artillery officer who earned the Silver Star in Vietnam, is a prominent M4 critic. He said its 5.56-caliber bullet is too small, and the gas-piston firing system is prone to stoppage. He said better weapons — the German Heckler-Koch G36 and Russian AK-74 (a version of the venerable AK-47) — use superior firing systems.

“Frankly, this whole thing is scandalous,” Gen. Scales said. “We send soldiers into close combat with lousy weapons, and we’ve done it since World War II, and nobody complains. It’s a national outrage.”

“It has no penetrating power,” he said of the M4. “It’s ineffective against vehicles, against bunkers. It’s ineffective against virtually anything except a man in the open. Put a flak jacket on the enemy, and it’s virtually useless.”

The Army believes it is answering critics such as Gen. Scales with a 5.56 mm round — the “green” lead-free M885A1 introduced in 2010. The ammunition, the Army contends, has more penetration power and longer effective range to kill the enemy.

Gen. Scales also asks why the Army issues only one model of a conventional carbine. “More soldiers are killed because of small-arms engagement than air-sea battle, air-to-air combat,” he said.

“There is a difference between breaking down doors in Baghdad and fighting in the open, flat terrain of Afghanistan. One deserves a heavy bullet with longer range. One deserves to be light and nimble and maneuverable inside of buildings.”

In 2009, eight years into the war, an Army officer wrote a study making that point.

“Open source reports from Afghanistan since 2001 reveal that soldiers are engaging the enemy at ranges from contact distance to beyond the maximum effective range of the M4 carbine,” wrote Maj. Thomas P. Ehrhart, who at that time was attending the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “Many comments focus on the ability of the soldier to hit his intended target or a failure of the bullet to achieve the desired effect.”

He summed up his findings by concluding that the M4 is not the best weapon for America’s longest war:

“Operations in Afghanistan frequently require United States ground forces to engage and destroy the enemy at ranges beyond 300 meters. While the infantryman is ideally suited for combat in Afghanistan, his current weapons, doctrine, and marksmanship training do not provide a precise, lethal fire capability to 500 meters and are therefore inappropriate.”

Troublesome test reports

The first second-guessing on the M4 occurred inside the military in 2000, when U.S. Special Operations Command, in conjunction with gun specialists at Naval Sea Systems Command, conducted an exhaustive evaluation of its version — the heavier-barrel M4A1. At the time, SoCom had no idea it was testing a critical weapon on the eve of two major land wars that would thrust commandos into constant combat.

With SEALs and Green Berets in mind, testers subjected the carbine to the kind of constant barrel-burning fire in harsh conditions that would erupt in Iraq and Afghanistan. SoCom’s private study called the M4A1 carbine “fundamentally flawed.”

Upon firing, the bolt opened and attempted to extract a cartridge case that was stuck to the chamber because of pressure from the fired round. The gun can be kept at “reasonable levels of reliability” if subjected to “intense maintenance,” the report said.

The study also mentioned “alarming failures of the M4A1 in operations under harsh conditions and heavy firing.”

It blamed six factors, including spare parts shortages and a “decline in quality control along with mass production.” The report said that at a conference of joint special operations forces — SEALs, Rangers, and Delta Force — the warriors “identified multiple operational deficiencies inherent to the M4A1” including reliability, safety, and accuracy.”

Barrels can become loose and “become inaccurate.”

Still, the SoCom report said, the M4A1 “essentially meets the needs of conventional Army users.”

Months later, the Army’s Armament Technology Facility, part of the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, conducted its own study of the M4A1.

The 2002 report sent by the facility’s chief to Special Operations Command told of “reliability problems related to the failure to extract and eject casings, broken bolts, failure to function in arctic and over-the-beach (surf zone, surface, and subsurface swimmer) environments,” according to a copy obtained by The Times.

“The M4A1 has also experienced cook-off [premature ammunition explosion] after a relatively few numbers of rounds have been fired at a high rate of fire,” it said. “Catastrophic barrel failure has also been experienced after a relatively low number of rounds have been fired.”

Preventing jamming - while trying to stay alive!

The Washington Times asked Special Operations Command why it continued to distribute the M4A1?

“The M4A1 and M4 Carbines have served our forces well during more than a decade of sustained combat,” said Navy Capt. Kevin Aandahl. “The Army has improved the M4A1/M4 significantly over the past 12 years. The Army developed a heavy barrel and placed it in production in 2002. In addition, the M4 and M4A1 have received improvements to the trigger assembly, extractor spring, recoil buffer, barrel chamber, magazine, and bolt. These upgrades addressed the issues raised in the 2002 report.”

Capt. Aandahl said the command on its own has fielded new gun parts to “improve the M4A1 capability to meet USSOCOM requirements for close-in, urban operations and room-clearing types of engagements that require this type of weapon.”

The same year Picatinny weighed in, the Marine Corps conducted its own testing of the conventional M4. The Corps infantryman’s main rifle was then and is today the longer-range, heavier-barrel M16.

The Army Times, an independent Gannett newspaper, later reported that the -

“M4 malfunctioned three times more often than the M16A4.”

To Mr. Traudt and other M4 critics, the testing should have prompted the Army to rethink the design as thousands of the carbines were about to be shipped overseas.

Mr. Traudt said he thinks the jamming problems encountered by a significant segment of troops over the past decade could have been avoided if special operations continued developing Green Mountain’s Reliability Product Improvement Kit.

The kit was tested at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., in 2001 and at Picatinny in 2002. It included replacing the extractor spring, ejector spring, gas tube, and gas plug with more heat-resistant ones and moving to a one-piece, four-coil system engineered from more thermally durable materials to make the gun function better.

“An M4A1, when equipped with those parts, will fire continuously on full-automatic, magazine after magazine until its barrel disintegrates,” Mr. Traudt said. “In our tests, M4A1 barrel failure occurred at 1,375 rounds. A normal Army M4A1 is out of action at 840 shots fired when equipped with its standard, metallurgical, and technologically antiquated parts — and this isn’t even barrel-failure. It’s gas system or bolt failure.”

At the time of the tests, internal reports by SoCom and Picatinny said the M4A1 was terribly flawed and not suited for commando missions.

One person on Capitol Hill eventually took notice. By 2007, enough anecdotal evidence had poured in from the wars to prompt Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to launch a campaign for the Army to find a new rifle.

“Considering the longstanding reliability and lethality problems with the M16 design, of which the M4 is based, I am afraid that our troops in combat might not have the best weapon,” Senator Tom Coburn wrote to the Army in April 2007. “A number of manufacturers have researched, tested, and fielded weapons which, by all accounts, appear to provide significantly improved reliability.”
The senator fought a lonely battle the next five years.

-- end of The Washington Times, February 19th, 2014, news article.

While the report from The Washington Times says, no other lawmaker joined Sen. Coburn's campaign for a better basic rifle, in the end, he forced the Army to change. But it is questionable if the Army or the other branches are doing just that.

The M4 is still in the hands of our troops, and they are experiencing problems that our military could remedy very quickly by recalling these weapons and issuing a better alternative. Even if the new issue, the alternative, is a "foreign-made" rifle, I believe that the lives and safety of our troops justify getting them the absolute best rifle we can!

It is criminal to allow our troops to use an inferior rifle just because some sort of stupid pride or government contract says we have to leave them essentially unarmed. Yes, unarmed! That's what they are when going into combat with weapons that they cannot rely on!

That's how I see it.

Tom Correa


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