The Army Is Changing, But There Is A Reason Why The M4 Carbine Is Staying

The Army Is Changing, But There Is A Reason Why The M4 Carbine Is Staying

Kyle Mizokami

Security,

It’s just that good.

Key point: All things considered, the M4 is a very good compromise weapon.

The U.S. Army is an armed force with a truly global reach. At any given time, America’s premier land power operates on several different continents simultaneously, from hot, dry deserts to humid jungles and sprawling cities. Its infantrymen carry a weapon whose lineage dates back to Vietnam but which has been constantly improved to become the weapon it is today. Rugged, simple and accurate, the M4 carbine is the standard infantry weapon of not just the Army but all of America’s ground forces.

The story of the M4 goes back to the mid-sixties and the early days of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon, mulling sending hundreds of thousands of troops to South Vietnam, wanted a small, lightweight service rifle to replace the larger standard-issue M14. The new AR15, or Armalite Rifle-15, was smaller, lighter and fired a smaller 5.56-millimeter bullet. A soldier carrying the AR15, later designed the M16, could carry twice as much ammunition as a soldier carrying the M14. Demographic trends also meant that more and more soldiers were coming from cities and unfamiliar with firearms, and the M16 with less recoil was easier to train soldiers to proficiency.

Despite earlier battlefield success, once fielded in large numbers the M16 quickly started racking up complaints. A last-minute change in propellant powder, as well as the erroneous belief that the rifle never needed cleaning, caused many jams on the battlefield. Although the problems were eventually sorted out and an improved version, the M16A1, was fielded in 1967, the weapon developed a reputation as being an unreliable weapon. In the mid 1980s the A1 was replaced with the M16A2, which featured a thicker barrel and three round burst capability.

In the early 1990s, the Army purchased a limited number of M4 carbines. The M4 had a collapsible stock and a shorter, 14.5-inch barrel, as opposed to the longer twenty-inch barrel of the M16A2. That made the weapon easier to carry in tight spaces, particularly armored vehicles and helicopters, while also easier to operate on close-quarter battlefields such as cities or jungle. The price for shortening the barrel was slightly decreased muzzle velocity and range, but these were considered acceptable tradeoffs.

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