M4 Carbine upgrades?

m4 carbine shooting leftyM4 may get tougher barrel, better mags

Matthew Cox in Army Times:

Army weapons officials say there is no movement toward replacing the M4 but say they will continue to improve upon the design.

–We want to increase reliability,” said Col. Robert Radcliffe, the head of the Directorate of Combat Developments for the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga.

One of the upgrades that may be coming in the future is a more reliable magazine. The test revealed that 239 of the 882 stoppages M4 suffered were magazine-related.

The hope is that upgrades, such as stronger springs, will increase the magazine’s ability to feed rounds more effectively, Radcliffe said. If all goes well in testing, the improved magazines could be ready by next spring.

It shocks no one to learn that the magazine is a significant part of the problem with the M4. Considering that it appears no problem on earth will convince the army decision makers that any other weapon should be given a serious look, I guess we should be thankful that they’re perhaps going to revisit the magazine issue once again.

The green plastic follower was supposed to solve most of the problems, but, while it’s helped, aftermarket replacements such as those offered by Magpul remain popular items with the troops.

27% of the M4’s stoppages in the recent tests were magazine-related, and this announcement by the Army is certainly intended to cut down on the level of disgust many are feeling after learning just how badly the M4 lost against three piston-driven challengers.

The 239 magazine-related stoppages are more than any of the other three weapons suffered total, magazine-related or otherwise. And even if 100% of the M4’s magazine-related stoppages were eliminated, that would still leave 649 non-magazine failures, or more than 2.5 times the next-worse result in the test.

That next-worst weapon, the HK416, is often mentioned as a great candidate because of the ease of dropping an HK416 upper receiver onto an existing M4 lower receiver. Interestingly, this would mean that existing magazines could and would be used with piston-ized M4s. I wonder what sort of magazines were used with the HK416 in the tests and, if standard mags were used, how much they contributed to the weapon’s 233 stoppages.

The mention of upgrading the M4’s barrel refers to switching to a hammer-forged barrel in order to lengthen its service life.

For what it’s worth, if the Mk16 SCAR-L and the HK416 work out for the Special Forces and Delta operators that are making the switch, I suspect that we’ll begin hearing a lot more about the rifle issue from the troops.

Caption to the photo:

SGT Timothy Frie from the 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and 101st Airborne Division, FT Campbell Ky., armed with M4 Carbine w/grenade launchers takes cover behind a M1043 Humvee during a gun battle. The nine-day Operation Starlit mission was conducted to rid the area of Anti Iraqi Forces. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika) (Released) Location: COB SPEICHER, SALAH AL DIN IRAQ (IRQ)
Camera Operator: SSGT RUSSELL LEE KLIKA, USA Date Shot: 6 Jul 2006

Bzzzt on the “grenade launchers,” Mr. Caption Writer.

Also, he’s shooting left-handed. Is he even allowed to do that?


  1. What I don’t get is… they make those closed-piston doodads so that you can replace the internal parts of an M4, M16, etc., and improve reliability immensely. We don’t need new guns, just new parts, and changing the whole piston thing seems simple and cheap… I think companies like L&W build components like that. Put the new thing in place of the old thing, and BAM! Th Army and Marines leadership are pretty stupid anyways. Guys go through West Point and Annapolis, and can’t even grasp the concept of ‘common sense’ that a cashier at Rite Aide has.

  2. Sadly most of them are pretty smart. I think it is just the economic and political pressures put on them that results in the stupid behavior. I mean, they act consistenly, the problem is they act consistenly in the best interests of the government contractors rather than in the best interest of the troops and taxpayers. It is very frustrating to say the least.

  3. Actually, HK already makes improved mags that will work with existing M4s and they are *much* higher quality and more reliable than existing mags or even the mags upgraded with Magpul followers. The downside is they are quite a bit heavier than the aluminum mags as they are made from maritime coated steel with heavy duty springs and followers. The deal is however, that the HK mags alone are much cheaper than going with a piston upper and are backwards and forwards compatible with all existing AR platform designs.

  4. Oh, yeah and the HK has a hammer forged barrel. So, why not just go with the whole piston design of the HK or go with the HK if you are going to replace mags and the barrel?

  5. Wasn’t spring strength a problem in vietnam too?! I’m sure I recall a book saying this, that the mags only really worked when 1 round was removed. Not sure whether this was for the 20 round or 30 round though. But it strikes me as a surprise, that Colt wouldn’t a bit more wary of such problems. But I guess there might be a generational gap in designers/stress engineers.

  6. I seem to remember seeing a piston-driven version of the M4 that Colt made (I think Colt was calling it the M5) at the 2006 AUSA show in DC (If I’m wrong on that please don’t torch me–it’s been well over a year since I was at the show). I guess it’d make too much sense to work those parts into the system. Has anyone heard any more information about the M4 and the 416 being the only production representative models tested? The article that I saw it in at Defense Review didn’t really identify an official source and I’d be interested to know if that were really the case. Having seen some other test results of the XM8 before the OICW program went away, I’m rather skeptical of this test, especially when the M4’s performance from an identical test last summer was much more in line with the results of the rest of the weapons in this test.

  7. How many F22 parts would we have to forego to reequip everyone with a decent M4 replacement? God! I can’t believe after that last round of tests they aren’t falling all over themselves to replace the M4 (and/or the 5.56 with a more effrective/improved round)!

  8. That’s not much of a choice to make, the F-22 or a decent rifle for our troops. The F-15 is grounded. It’s falling apart. Even if it wasn’t, it is no match for the Su-30. What good does it do our troops to have the best rifle in the world and no air cover? Let’s face it, we’ve come to a cross roads. We either need to reform our military procurement system, or we need to substantially increase our military spending. Personally, I’m not for increasing military spending because it is doing nothing but rewarding incompetence. I’d rather see us reform the system. Besides, how can we afford to spend more money on the military when we can’t afford the government – the entitlement programs – we’ve got now? What else can we do, though? Our Air Force is literally falling apart. The airplanes are all older than their pilots. Our satellites are vulnerable. Our technology is becoming outdated as the private sector continues to outpace it. We need better rifles. We need more soldiers. We need better and more ships. We need better and more airplanes. What we can afford is either better or more of any of those, and the defense establishment is lobbying for better. That was what Rumsfeld was all about, remember. So then what do we do about more? Something’s got to give or we are going to become a very, very vulnerable country.

  9. Defense industry Daily has some interesting backround on the M4 testing. It seems that this is the Army’s third test, and yes, on this test the Army did try to rig the outcome. ‘Late December 2007: DID obtains some exact results from the Army’s testing. The Army has now done three dust tests. In the late 2006/Jan 2007 report ‘Baseline Reliability and Dust Assessment for the M4, M16, and M249,’ the M4 jammed 9,836 times – 1 jam every 6 rounds. In a May 2007 ‘Extreme Dust Test II’, with no competitors, the M4 had 1 jam every 88 rounds, using heavy lubrication. In the November 2007 ‘Extreme Dust Test III’, as DID has discussed, the competing rifles were subject to significantly more maintenance and lubrication than elite American forces like Delta used in their weapon selection process, or indeed in HK’s own field testing of its HK416s prior to shipment.’ http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/the-usas-m4-carbine-controversy-03289/#more

  10. Flanker, Haven’t you heard? The F-22 now transforms into an infantry weapon. Like effing Megatron.

  11. Thanks for the link, James. You know what strikes me after reading that article is how unreliable all the weapons in that test were under those conditions. When the best gun fails once in 500 rounds, that’s not something to be proud of. So it fails in every second, third, or fourth major fire fight? How does that stack up against the M1 or M14? My friend who used the M1 in Vietnam talks about submerging himself, his rifle and ammo in a rice paddy and breathing through a straw while waiting for a patrol to pass. He came out of the water with his gun blazing and killed all those commie bastards. I’d like to see how the XM-8 performs under those conditions.

  12. The Pentagon has put off a decision on whether to start closing Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-22 assembly line in fiscal 2009. Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas in an unpublished Dec. 17 memo told the Air Force to spend $497 million earmarked for ‘shutdown costs’ instead on repairing Boeing Co. F-15s. Two-thirds of this fleet of almost 700 fighters is now grounded. Lockheed is under contract to deliver in 2011 the last of the 183 F-22s ordered. The Air Force wants 381, more than twice as many. It asked the Pentagon to let it use the $497 million to buy components for 20 more, an order that would keep the assembly line open. The F-22 is the most expensive fighter ever. Adjusted for inflation, each costs $195 million to build, according to Pentagon figures. When research and development costs are included, the inflation-adjusted price is $354 million apiece. – Bloomburg yesterday

  13. At least it’s not just the military that needs procurement reform:

    The Internal Revenue Service paid a contractor $188,000 to provide one person to do clerical work over 11 months. The contract was included as one example of financial waste in a government report Thursday on the IRS’ involvement in a program ordered by President Bush in 2004 to develop more secure ID cards for federal workers. The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration said the IRS also needlessly spent almost $2 million on a computer security system that the tax agency does not plan using at this time. The IRS was responsible for developing and putting in place the program for providing more secure identification cards to some 150,000 Treasury employees. The program’s projected cost was put at $421 million over 14 years. To provide one person for a clerical support job updating contact lists, assigning and tracking equipment and processing trip reports, the contractor was paid $128 an hour. Auditors for the inspector general’s office were told by IRS program managers that the work could have been done by an employee with a ranking of GS-7, eligible for a starting salary of around $38,000 plus benefits. The contractor and the temporary worker it provided were not identified. Of the $30 million the IRS has committed so far for the project, about $3.5 million was spent on acquisitions that should have been avoided, the report said. – AP

  14. tougher barrel, better mags’ for the M4. That’s like putting new wheels and tires on a Ford Pinto. Now it’s a piece of shit with some new parts.

  15. Three of the tricks Evelyn Owen used to reduce jamming on the Owen submachine gun were:- – the magazine was straight, not curved; – the magazine was mounted above and fed downward (the sights were offset to the left to see past the magazine); – the ejector was integral with the magazine to make it easier to clean and (more importantly) replace. You’d need to upgrade the simple blowback for an assault rifle variant, of course.