Was flipping through a recent issue of Defense News when I noticed this letter:

Dangerous Weapon Jams

My unit — B Company, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment — was deployed to Afghanistan from April 2005 to March 2006. While there, we were attached to Special Forces at Camp Tillman on the Afghan border.

I can’t believe what I’m seeing in your paper, –Out of Reach: Why the U.S. Army’s Best Carbine Won’t Be in Soldiers’ Hands Soon,” March 5 issue. There is a better weapon that could be put in the hands of soldiers, and they’re [complaining] about money now?

I saw first-hand what happens when your weapon jams up because of the harsh environments we have to call home there. An 18B weapons sergeant was shot in the face due directly to his weapon jamming. I just can’t believe that after things like this happen, the Army is still buying more M4s.

Why not rotate them like we used to before the war? All rapid-deploying units used to get the new M4, the support units would get the excess M16s and so on. I’m not saying they need to outfit the whole Army with a new weapon, but why not start phasing it in?

If they’re so confident about the reliability of the M4, why not go to Afghanistan, pick up an M4 and go out on a few patrols themselves? They should see how they feel after their weapons jam in combat. Some of the scariest moments in my life were when my weapon went down.

Soldiers’ lives are on the line. Why is it a hassle to make an improvement that could save lives?

The M4 isn’t a bad weapon; it just needs improvements.

It’s about time people stop fighting to keep things the same and start moving toward a better weapon system.

Sgt. Charles Perales
Fort Bragg, N.C.

The two major issues with the M16/M4 system seem to be the jamming problem and the question about the effectiveness of the 5.56 NATO round.

The Army seems dead set on staying with the 5.56, even with the shorter barrels on the M4, but the jamming issue, primarily due to the direct gas system heating things up and dumping fouling into the action, seems to be a no-brainer and reluctance to address it seems negligent.

The story Sgt. Perales refers to was Defense News’ coverage of the HK416 article by Matthew Cox, noted on MO in February.

It’s not that the M4s aren’t getting the job done. They are. But I don’t think “good enough” is good enough for our troops.

Now that Special Forces are going to start getting the SCAR and some HK416s, I suspect that pressure to adopt a piston-driven M4-type carbine will be picking up steam very soon. Whether that means the regular Army will do anything about it or not remains to be seen.


  1. If the SCAR is such an improvment over the M15/M4, and deemed good enough for SOCOM, why don’t they lean more towards adapting that rifle system? It still shoot 5.56, AND 7.62 of both types, and pretty much anything else you make the parts for. Is it expensive? Well, I may have not have Ace’d economics, but doesn’t the amount wanted directly affect the amount supplied, and the price? So if they army said, ‘hey Air force guys, buy one less plane and let us re-ame our entire service’, then went to Fn and said ‘stop making us M16’s, and we told Colt to stop making M4. Now make us a whole **** ton of SCARs. Now.’ I think they could pull it off. Thye could start shipping them next month. But that will never happen. It took 40 years for a carbine version of the M16 to make it into standar front line use, despite having been issued to SF troops from the begining. It will probably take another 40 for the SCAR or whatever replaces it, to trikle down to the infantry.

  2. This is the military industrial complex at its worst. These weapons makers are just looking to milk the government for more development dollars. They don’t want to make weapons, they just want to suck the taxpayer dry via development funds. It is free money. There is no down side. They don’t have to make anything that works, and they get paid, and the more they screw up and drag things out the more money they make. Never mind the fact that gun makers all over the world fund their own weapons research and development, ours need the socialist tit to suck on. We have got to put a stop to this. Back when we provided our guys with excellent weapons, we held a competition and bought the best weapon at the best price. Why oh why can we not go back to those days? Capitalism works – really well. It is working now. The only problem is the capitalist incentive we provide now is in the wrong direction. We incentivize companies to be incompetent and drag things out. What could possibly be the down side to providing the same kind of incentives for them to build better weapons for less money?

  3. You are right, Murdoc. This is simply inexcusable. This problem has been known for decades, the solution is easy, there is no reason not to fix it. It’s incompetence, pure and simple.

  4. See, the thing is that I completely understand the foot-dragging and the controversy over the 5.56 round. And I don’t have the first bit of personal experience or technical expertise to really add anything other than to point out the soldiers who think the 5.56 isn’t good enough. But there are a lot of ways of looking at that issue. I don’t see too many ways to look at a system that is prone to jamming and, even when it works right, is tough to keep clean. I’m not suggesting we go to AK47s. But let’s learn a bit from the success our enemies have had with that sort of system. The fact that drop-in upper receivers are available just underscores how stupid this is. It’s not like we’re waiting for some sort of technological break-through or depending on new composites to make it work. It’s the OLD WAY that’s been PROVEN. Maybe DEFENS is right. If there was a gazillion-dollar contract available to DEVELOP a new piston system, maybe there’d be interest. But since it already exists they’d actually have to BUILD SOMETHING to earn the cash…

  5. Sort of like ‘We don’t need an updated F-14 Tomcat…but we do need to spend a bazillion dollars to DEVELOP a plane that’s not as good…’

  6. I never understood why the US doesn’t come up with the best designs in the small arms market world. According to economic theory we should enjoy a comparative advantage in the design and use of firearms. Of all the major countries, I can’t think of any whose individual citizens own and use weapons more than us. Yet Germany consistently comes up with better designs including the HK416 kit and the XM8 rifle. You would think with all the ‘tinkering’ Americans do we would lead the world in design. I think the Barrett 50 cal rifle is an exception to this. Here an American came up with a new idea and the rest of the world followed. On a side note, this is similar to automobiles. You would think the US would be the major innovator in design given the importance of the car to American culture. Yet countries like Korea and Japan, known for their public transportation system not massive ‘interstates’, seem to be on the cutting edge.

  7. Follow up: In addition to what I said above that US should enjoy an advantage in weapon design because of their widespread use in our country, we probably spend more money on weapons systems development than any other country. Which would also lead you to believe that we would come up with the major designs. It seems this holds for aviation, but not other areas such as service rifles and combat vehicles.

  8. Spacey, I think it’s a cultural thing. Both German and Japan share similar principles: striving for perfection is a worthy goal, and people and companies take pride in their work and earn prestige by being the best. There’s also an aspect of loyalty in it. Do BMW make cars to make money? Sure. But they don’t just make any cars. They make the best cars! Do Honda make cars to make money? Sure. But they don’t just make any cars. They make the best cars! Of course, what’s best is subjective, hence how Honda and BMW can both feel that they’re doing it right. But the important thing is that the workers feel this way too, everybody wants to do the job right. It’s not that Americans don’t feel like this or can’t excel; they do; the thing is in the German and Japanese companies everybody from the guy who welds the frame up to the CEO all feel pride and want to do the best job. In American companies I think the average worker feels pride in his company and his work but the mid-level executives don’t. They play politics instead – see who can stake out the biggest claim, make the most money, etc. I think it’s the same in the pentagon. You can have good workers and a good leader, but if the management lets you down, everybody fails. I think also the Japanese and Germans do a better job of breaking their companies up into smaller entities that are easier to manage. Honda has groups working solely on new engines, other groups working on new chassis, etc. Each group is free to individually innovate and excel in their field. Do American companies work like that? (Somehow I doubt it – my Ford has a Yamaha-designed engine in it.) Anyway, I think that’s the crux of why American industrial products aren’t as good as the intelligence of the designers and industrial capacity of the country would make you think can be achieved.

  9. I actually saw a thread about this over at Thehighroad.org. see here I can’t attest to the veracity of the letters posted or their authenticity, though they do ring true to me. A lot of good points are brought up, though. Regarding the one anecdotal incident in Afghanistan where the troops were carying cleaning rods with their weapons to deal with failur-to-extract incidents, it was pointed out that weapon servicing scheduals were not being maintained at that early point in the war (Clinton defense cuts anyone?), and that despite the weapon’s age, parts were not replaced until they reached failure, and even then, other parts with similar lifespans that could be expected to fail soon were not. If that was indeed the case, any weapon in the world, including anything made by the vaunted HK, would be subject to failures as well. Another point that has been made that perhaps I just lack the expertise to be able to refute, is that even if the direct gas system is replaced by a piston system, the rest of the reciever is still more or less the same. Mostly the same bolt and carrier, 90-95% same buffer and spring, same upper receiver tolerances between all the parts, even the same type of flip down dust cover on the ejection port. How is this design any less prone to failures due to fine sand and dirt from desert fighting? If a soldier has a well maintained, well cleaned and lubed, tested rifle, and it jams due to grit in the reciever, how does a piston system ameliorate this problem? Greater inertia? Stronger buffer spring? Short of switching back to the M14 or adopting a whole new rifle (XM8?), you are going to have many of the same issues with that basic weapon no mater which operating system you adopt. And finaly, I really don’t think this is an issue of military industrial complex so much as just plain military consevatism. Colt can and would provide any damn weapon the army wanted, but is restricted to providing only the one they ask for, no less, and no more. Not even procurement system lethargy can account for the foot draging. I personally think it comes down to the basic reluctance for an organization that relies on a single weapon system for 80% of its main purpose of existence (that is, boots on the ground to effect policy though military force)to risk change. We saw the exact same thing with the M14 and the M16 in the sixties. The Army testing process was allaged to have been rigged against the Armalite test rifles to favor the golden child M14, probably because the M14 was an outgrowth of the very tried, very proven M1 garand, and conformed to the military’s idea of a powerful, long-range, every-soldier-a-marksman philosophy of infantry combat. It took Mcnamara’s edict to finaly force the military to move into the future of combat rifles by procuring the lighter, more compact, more user friendly M16. There then followed the well known combat failures in Vietnam, which are attributed to unauthorized changes in the type of ammunition supplied and the lack of cleaning kits provided to the end users. Such a fiasco makes it seem more understandible why the military of today would be highly reluctant to change their main assault rifle without being damn sure of every possible potential benefit and drawback.

  10. nadnerbus, I don’t buy the excuse your last paragraph (not your excuse as such, but theirs). Yes, if you were going to take away everyone’s rifle and replace it with a new one, like they did in Vietnam, you’d have to be sure it worked first, like they didn’t. But it’s a false dichotomy. There’s a third option: replace some of the rifles, perhaps in a unit who understands that they are somewhat experimental, and let them keep their old rifles as back-up. Leave them a while, see how it goes. If they report them functioning well, expand it to more units, and so on until everyone has switched over. That strikes me as a much more sensible way of going about it. Rather than procuring more M4s, surely it would be possible to start procuring a new rifle, transition some units to it, and use their old M4s to replace M4s in other units that are wearing out? It strikes me as an ideal time to do a field test such as this. Surely, if it’s good enough for SOCOM, it’s good enough for at least a trial involving regular soldiers? Oh, and test the rifles WITH THE AMMUNITION THAT IS BEING ISSUED, IN ACTUAL PRODUCTION RIFLES first….

  11. Here’s my take. SF is getting a high quality new weapon because – their leadership actually listens to the front line operators. The welfare and success of individual Green Berets is important. The opinion of every SF soldier carries a lot of weight. They also have a lot of budget money not committed to high-tech gizmos so they can just buy the weapons they want. SF Leaders were once snake-eaters themselves so they understand the need for a quality weapon. The average Infantryman, on the other hand, is considered stupid cannon fodder. Give him the cheapest weapon available. Does the commanding General of an Army Division or Corps solicit the opinions of Privates, Specialists, and Sergeants on their weapons? Not likely. Sometime in the next decade, I believe the Marine Corps will get fed up and select their own replacement rifle. They may stick with 5.56 or go for a more powerful cartridge. The Corps will buy a full-length rifle (20ish inch barrel). At that point the Army will finally be shamed into buying the new rifle or a carbine version.

  12. I take issue with the above comment that the US doesn’t seem to develop any new, innovative weapons. The US MILITARY seems loath to adopt them, but if you look at the innovation that sprung up after the AWB sunset, you will see some that rival, if not totally beat out the latest submissions by HK and FN. Case in point, look at the Masada. Sure, its still only a prototype, but its a functional prototype, and it builds off lessons learned. Its as, if not more ergonomic than the G36, XM8, M16/HK416/M4, etc, and it uses the same ammo and mags. Not only that but it can be updated to fire new cartridges, and use THE ENEMY’S AMMO AND MAGS. I like the suggestion of fielding different weapons updates, untill we get something that the troops like, then make it general issue. As with the Masada, you could even run it off the same ammo and mags. Then, start switching over to something like 6.5 Grendel by swapping out bolts and barrels on the SAME GUN. Hell, I’d even settle for a 6 to 6.5 mm on a modified 5.56 case…anything woule be better than the 5.56

  13. The 5.56 is so unreliable not just because it doesn’t have a piston, it doesn’t produce much energy. The less powder in the cartridge, the less energy is available for whatever is supposed to happen. You want the thing to work in sand and grit, put some powder in the cartridge. That’s what gets the bullet out the barrel. That’s what works the action. Ultimately, that’s what kills the enemy too. It’s basic physics. The reason special forces gets better stuff than the Army is because they buy smaller quanitities. The current procurement system only rewards incompetence if you’re a big program. Small programs suffer mightily under the repressive level of procurement regulations, but typically also don’t have the clout to drag things out and get more funding for doing just that. They’ve got to work with what they’ve got, and often do an excellent job with that. As for those of you who think some nationality other than Americans are more patriotic or smarter or whatever, (self edited)…

  14. I don’t think it’s the military industrial complex either. The M240B is probably the most reliable weapon system imaginable and all branches of the military use it in many different forms.

  15. Maybe you don’t have a good enough imagination. If you think you’re going to get better weapons by paying contractors more to screw up than you to for them to do the right thing, well, I bet you miss the old Soviet Union, eh comrads!

  16. As to why there aren’t more American designs available, it’s been pointed out that one of the effects of the ban on any new select-fire/automatics being available to the civilian market was a drop in development. So if you develop one there’s only the military market to try to sell to, and add to that the idiotic regulations/rules/enforcement by BATF of anyone working on such firearms… damn few are willing to even consider putting up with that crap, AND the legal costs involved, to put an idea on the market.

  17. There is no shortage of designs out there – American and foriegn. Getting the Army to honestly test and select one is the problem. The suffer from a severe case of ‘not-invented-here’ syndrom.

  18. Hell yeah. None of the bureaucrats want to lose their jobs. That’s why they crapped on the C-130J when it came out. They couldn’t believe the audacity of Lockheed spending their own money to make a better airplane. If that approach were ever to catch on, all the bureaucrats would lose their worthless jobs. Ironically, now the same people are doing the same job in the same plant to the C-5M and it’s costing you, the taxpayer, twice as much and taking twice as long. The only difference is who is paying the bills. When it is the Lockheed stockholder it takes half the time and half the money. Gee, I wonder what we should do?

  19. Not to bash America too much, but when I saw someone mention the M240, it reminded me that this too is a foreign designed weapon. In a current US Army infantry squad you have the SAW (M249), medium machine gun (M240), pistol (M9) and light rocket launcher (AT4) that are all foreign designs. Even the Stryker vehicle is based on a Swiss design. And all the new IED-fighting vehicles are based on SA technology It just surprises me that for whatever reason, our contractors aren’t leading the way, at least with the small land-based systems. We do lead the way in higher value assets like helicopters and jets. However, this too might be under threat. And it is not because we are lacking in those areas, it is because so-called free trade rules might force us to buy foreign designs to avoid wto penalties against government subsidies of domestic industry. I personally don’t equate buying Boeing tankers for the USAF with European launch money for the A350. But, when you sign agreements like the WTO, you lose some sovereignty, especially when the EU out votes you 20 to 1. We have already bought into the EH101 for the presidential helicopter and I am afraid guys like McCain will push congress to make the USAF purchase Airbus tankers.

  20. Unfortunately, Spacey, I can’t argue with anything you’ve just said, and I’ll tell you what, I’m getting damned tired of trying to design weapons with the deck stacked against me. I think we all are. It’s not making anyone but the CEOs richer, and making the job of the average engineer working for these defense corporate welfare leaches miserable.

  21. Hi Murdoc Just wanted to let you know what the Canucks think on this issue. As far as we’re concerned, our C7-C8’s do the job just fine over there. We’ve had no problems on the jamming. Our theory, as well as that of many other peops around, is that you guys just use shitty, dirty ammo. Something to think about (US soldiers use different ammo than the NATO stuff that we or the brits use)

  22. Bfalcon, I doubt it, but it is possible. The lake city ball ammo with the ss109 bullet the U.S. uses is pretty good stuff. I have not put much of it though my AR yet since I want to hold on to it, but the two or three hundred I shot though my mini 14 was very accurate and clean, with zero jams or misfeeds, which I can’t say the same for for cheap steel cased Russian ammo. It might not be made to the exact same spects as true NATO 5.56, but it is high quality ammo. I still say a lot of the griping is misplaced. I’ve taken my AR out and put five or six hundred rounds though it in a couple of hours and never had a single stoppage, shooting stardard cheap Federal ammo. accuracy remained good, cycling stayed smooth, and cleaning it afterwards did not reveal a dangerous ammount of fouling. Does the addition of a piston have an effect on accuracy? One of the very reasons the AR was originally designed with a direct gas system was to reduce overall weight, felt recoil, and increase accuracy by getting rid of some of that weight flying around with each shot.

  23. nadnerbus – My Personal experience – The M16 works flawlessly in clean conditions such as a concrete range or the manicured lawns of the Paris Island qual range. Drag it through some sand or dust and all bets are off – and please don’t tell me how to clean my weapon.

  24. Naturally our defense contractors don’t want to make anything. To make something, you’ve got to have machinery and equipment that costs a lot of money. Then when you cut metal, sometimes things go wrong. It’s a lot easier to do development. Hire a bunch of people to fill a cube farm. The more money they spend (or waste), the more money you make. Hell, if we were even a little bit smart we’d do like France, Russia, and China and nationalize our 3 remaining defense contractors. That way we could get their CEO’s off the public dole. That leach from Boeing made $77,600/day last year. Guess who pays that salary? If we were as smart as Americans should be and used to be, we’d buy weapons like we used to. We wouldn’t pay a dime for development. Hell, why should we pay for development of a rifle? There are people all over this country who build rifles in their garages, but our government contractor leaches will go out of business if they have to make a handful for a contract competition? I don’t think so. Write a 5 page specification for what you want, tell everyone when and where to show up for the competition, test the rifles in sandy gritty conditions, and buy the best one. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out. You just have to be honest – doh, it’s hopeless.