Connect with us

General

The M4 Carbine: The gun the U.S. Army can’t do without

Published

on

US Special Operations Forces operator

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. It’s 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.

AKS-74U and M4 Commando

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.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accelerated adoption of the M4, to the point where it is carried by the majority of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The weapon weighs 7.3 pounds loaded with a thirty-round magazine. Infantry and other combat arms typically carry an M4 with a series of authorized add-ons, including Aimpoint red dot sights, Trijicon ACOG fixed-power rifle scopes, foregrips, laser designators and the M320 under barrel grenade launcher. This can easily push the weight of the weapon up to nine pounds and beyond. While heavier, this is still short of the World War II–era M1 Garand rifle, which weighed 11.2 pounds.

The M4 still has its critics, including a retired major general, who have derided this descendant of the M16 as inadequate for modern ground forces. They point to the direct impingement gas operating system, which siphons off hot gases from burning gunpowder to chamber the next round, as guilty of fouling the inside of the rifle, increasing the likelihood of jams. They also deride the 5.56-millimeter round as having insufficient stopping power and believe the M4’s barrel is not thick enough to avoid overheating in sustained fire.

All that being said, the troops believe the M4 works. A 2006 CNA Corporation report surveyed U.S. Army combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan for their opinions on modern infantry weapons. 89 percent felt their M4 carbine was reliable in combat, and only 19 percent had experienced a stoppage in battle. 80 percent expressed confidence in their weapon. While these numbers might be good for a garrison army, keep in mind this is from troops that used their weapons in combat in some of the roughest, unforgiving environments on Earth.

In the meantime, the Army is working to correct the M4’s deficiencies. Earlier bullets were designed to penetrate Soviet body armor and sacrificed lethality for armor penetration. The new M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round, aside from being lead-free and “green,” yaws more quickly when passing through the human body, creating an internal cavity and causing massive damage. The M855A1 is also more adept at penetrating steel plate.

The Army is also upgrading its existing M4s to a new M4A1 standard. The upgrade consists of new fire control group that replaces three round burst fire mode to full automatic, along with an improved trigger and a heavier barrel for longer, more sustained fire before overheating. The A1 also has ambidextrous controls, for lefties. New rifles are being delivered to the M4A1 standard, and older rifles are being converted at a rate of approximately three hundred a day.

M4 Carbine

No rifle is an ideal fit for the U.S. Armed Forces, which must expect to fight in all environments and climates. A heavier round, harder-hitting round would reduce the amount of ammunition soldiers could carry and place additional burdens on the logistical system. A longer rifle barrel imparts greater range and velocity but makes a weapon unwieldy indoors. Design tradeoffs and compromises are inevitable and must be made with existing and future battlefields in mind. All things considered, the M4 is a very good compromise weapon.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the DiplomatForeign PolicyWar is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

Advertisement    

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

General

Russia’s Top 5 Little-Known Assault Rifles

Published

on

Russia’s latest Kalashnikov AK-12 and AK-15 assault rifles have successfully passed muster at live-fire trials and are slated to enter service with the Russian Armed Forces. They will replace the current versions of the tried-and-true AK-47 submachine gun, which has become the world’s most popular of its kind since it was introduced in 1949.

That said, Soviet and Russian arms makers have come up with a flurry of other assault rifles which, though not so mass-produced as the Kalashnikovs, have still proved their efficiency thanks to their unconventional design.

A-91

Even though Soviet arms manufacturers have experimented with the bullpup design where action is located behind the trigger group, bullpup assault rifles have seen limited production and are in service with a few select internal Russian units.

A bullpup configuration permits a shorter overall weapon for a given barrel length. It also ensures better accuracy of fire, which is vital in urban combat situations.

5,56 mm A-91 assault rifle

The A-91 assault rifle, developed by the Shipunov Design Bureau, was introduced in 1990. It comes in two variants: a “domestic” one, chambered for Russian-made 5.45×39 mm cartridges, and an “export” one handling NATO’s standard 5.56×45 mm cartridge.  The A-91 is compact, user-friendly, reliable and comes with an integrated 40mm grenade launcher.

However, despite all these upsides, the A-91 weighs a hefty 4.4 kilograms, one kilogram more than the workhorse AK-74, and has seen limited acceptance with the Russian Army and some select police forces.

AN-94

Developed by the Nikonov Design Bureau in 1994, the AN-94 has been in service with the Russian Armed Forces since 1997. The AN-94 was designed as a potential replacement for the AK-74 series of assault rifles.

The stated great advantage of the AN-94 system is its ability to delay the recoil force until fired rounds have left the barrel. This enables more ‘hits’ on a target under the most adverse combat conditions.

Prototype of AN-94 assault rifle, also known as LI-291

The AN-94 offers a unique two-shot burst function at a 1,800 rounds per minute rate of fire.

The Nikonov mechanism fires a second shot in burst mode quickly enough to allow it to escape before the recoil of the first shot is felt, thus potentially allowing the two shots to hit extremely close together thus ensuring excellent accuracy.

However, due to its complex design and high production cost, its adoption has been very slow and its use is currently rather limited in service with the Russian Armed Forces.

AEK-971

Developed by the Degtyarev Design Bureau in 1978, the AEK-971 looks much like the AK-74, but at closer inspection, even a layman will find it hard to miss the difference between these two weapons.

Even though the AEK-971 is based on previous AK rifles in internal design and layout, it features a balanced automatic recoil system that reduces the negative effects of recoil resulting in more controllable automatic fire.

Soviet selective fire assault rifle AEK-971

For the AEK-971 automatic firing accuracy is improved by 15-20 percent in comparison with the AK-74M.

The A-545 successor to the AEK-971, that was introduced in December 2014, featured numerous internal and external improvements of the AK-971.

Along with the AK-12, it has passed state Ratnik trials and will be accepted into service with operational unions for evaluation.

ADS

The ADS assault was developed by the Shipunov Design Bureau in 2009 as a dual-medium weapon, capable for firing under and above water.

It is scheduled to enter service with the Russian Navy’s Special Ops units next year to replace the current APS underwater assault rifle, introduced back in 1975.

The ADS also features an integral 40 mm grenade launcher with an effective above —water range of 400 meters.

SR-3 “Vikhr”

The SR-3 Vikhr is a one-of-a-kind assault rifle, developed by TsNIITTochMash (the Central Institute for Precision Machine Building) in 1994. Compact and lightweight (2.4 kg) the SR-2 has an effective range of up to 200 meters.

Vikhr compact assault rifle

Its powerful SP-6 9×39 mm cartridges are capable of cutting though maximum-security flak jackets 50 meters away, which is something cartridges used by longer-range assault rifles can’t boast of.

Continue Reading

General

Official and unofficial longest confirmed sniper kill

Published

on

Through the years, especially with the development of new technologies, the weapons industry have gone a step further. Sniper rifles and sharpshooters increased their performances at the higher level and following that the line of the longest confirmed sniper kill shot has been moved few times in recent years.

Official longest sniper kill shot

Officially, the longest confirmed sniper kill is achieved in Afghanistan when Craig Harrison, a member of the UK’s Household Cavalry killed two Taliban insurgents from a distance of 2,474 m (2.47 km) – 8,120 ft (1.45 miles) in November 2009. The shot distance was confirmed by GPS. The rifle used was Accuracy International AWM – L115A3.

It is interesting that the 8.59 mm rounds needed almost three seconds to hit their targets which were 914 m (3,000 ft) beyond the L115A3 sniper rifle’s recommended range. A third shot took out the insurgent’s machine gun.

Unofficial world record for longest sniper kill

But, the tight Special Operations Forces community claimed that the new world record was set in Afghanistan in 2012 when U.S. Army Commando sniper team assigned to ISAF in Helmand province, Afghanistan made a shot from 2815 meters (3,078.52 yds). The sniper rifle was Barrett M82A1 .50 Cal with Hornady A-MAX .50 bullet. The shot was confirmed by GPS.

Two marksmen using Barrett M82A1 .50 caliber rifles simultaneously fired. The bullets were six seconds in the air. One killed the Taliban commander. It is not known for certain which sniper fired the fatal shot. While there have been no triumphant press releases, in the tight global Special Forces sniper community the shot is much discussed because it seems certain to be a world record, but still, the official world record remains with Craig Harrison name.

Continue Reading

Most Popular (30 days)

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER

Subscribe now for free

Sign up today for free and be the first to get the latest news & intel from our former military journalists. Support our Veteran writers and get the latest news and exclusive intel.

We won't disclose your personal information to third parties without your permission.