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M4 Monopoly

Brits Getting into the 7.62 vs 5.56 debate

Friday, January 8th, 2010


Military​.com sister site HM Forces has an interesting story today on the debate raging across the pond over effective calibers for long range engagements in Afghanistan.

It looks as if the UK MOD has issued what the US calls a “designated marksman” rifle for its forces there.

The Ministry of Defence has spent £1.6million on 440 semi-automatic rifles, which use 7.62mm ammunition.

The order from U.S based company Law Enforcement International followed concern that UK forces’ 5.56mm rounds were unsuitable for battle in Afghanistan.

Because the 5.56mm bullets – used in the standard-issue SA80A2 assault rifle – are smaller and lighter, they are less effective from 300 yards or further away. 

It means insurgents – who use 7.62mm ammunition for their AK47s – back off and shoot at British troops from greater distances. Half of all battles in Helmand are fought between 300 and 900 yards.

Now the MoD has splashed out on the gas-operated LM7 semi– automatic rifles – renamed the L129A1 – which can hit targets up to a mile away.

Of course, caliber doesn’t necessarily equate to range, but we get the point.

I did a little research and found some info on the LM7 from a random UK-based gamer forum. The LM7 looks a lot like a DM rifle in 7.62 with an adjustable stock. The tone of the AP report posted on HM Forces indicates the Brit military is wavering between the 5.56 SA80A2 and a higher-caliber rifle, but I seriously doubt that.

It is interesting to see the same debate cropping up in the UK over whether going back to 7.62 makes more sense:

But the purchase has raised concerns over whether the UK was wrong to give soldiers the SA80 assault rifle in 1986 rather than retaining 7.62mm firearms.

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, a member of the Commons defence select committee, said: ‘This goes to the heart of the Nato decision back in the 1980s to go for a 5.56mm standard Army rifle. It made the SA80 rifle all the more controversial.

‘The realisation that the SA80A2 does not throw a heavy enough round for combat operations opens up the whole question of what is the right standard rifle for the British Armed Forces.’

I’ve never fired one, but it seems the SA80 is a pretty good rifle and I just don’t think it’s realistic to assume that NATO militaries are going to go back to the 7.62 as the standard issue. Anyone with more gouge from across the pond on this, please dive into the comments and tip lines to let us know more about what’s going on with this.

(Gouge: Thanks to hobsonross for the tip off)

– Christian

French SCARs?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009


Got a news item from our tip line today that I’m confirming but I thought I would bring it to your attention.

Seems that the French are potentially jumping on the SCAR bandwagon with a limited deployment of 10 SCARs to its contingent in Afghanistan and Sudan. Our tipster pointed us to a French blog called The Mammoth that said the French National Police officers stationed in Kabul and Khartum, Sudan, will get the 7.62mm Mk-17s.  It seems that the forward deployed paramilitary police troops are also tinkering with the H&K 417 “for additional firepower.”

The blog also said that the national police is looking for a replacement for the G36 (seems there’s something lost in my translation — may be looking to replace the MiniMi or both MiniMi and G36 with one gun) and that both the above weapons are contenders.

A word of caution: I threw the blog URL into Google Translator to get the English version. I speak a little French and was able to somewhat cross check the translation, but any of our foreign readers out there with better French skills than mine can dive into the comments and set my interpretation straight.

– Christian

Major M4 Mods in the Works

Monday, November 23rd, 2009


My good friend Matt Cox over at Army Times has done it again.

In what might be the best military weapons story of the year so far, Matt got his hands on a brief that shows the Army is seriously looking at major improvements to the current M4, including a heavier barrel, a new round counter and potentially moving to a gas-piston operating system.

The improvements, if implemented, would address most of the major criticisms of the current M4 configuration and would also answer the mail on a study of the 2008 Wanat battle that seemed to indicate that some weapons had a high incidence of stoppages when fired at high cyclic rates.

Army weapons officials say they want to give soldiers something better, sooner. While there is no set timeline, the hope is “to have this nailed by [early] January,” said Col. Doug Tamilio, the head of Project Manager Soldier Weapons.

“As we move down this carbine competition path, let’s continue to make substantial improvements to the M4,” Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller said Oct. 27. Fuller commands Program Executive Office Soldier, the command responsible for soldier weapons development.

The Army has made 62 changes to the M4 since it began fielding the weapon in the mid 1990s, weapons officials maintain. The changes have ranged from improved extractor springs to high-tech optics to a more reliable magazine.

But soldiers’ criticisms of the M4’s performance have continued.

The fixes were outlined in a briefing from PEO Gen. Pete Fuller to lawmakers who’ve been pushing the Army to modernize the M4 in substantial ways. Matt’s story jibes with what the Army has been saying all along that it would continue to improve the M4 even as it searches for a so-called “improved carbine” which might night land in Joes’ hands until 2013.

Be sure to read the entire story, but by the looks of it, the work that Matt’s done (and we’ve done here) might be moving the geologic entity that is the institutional Army on one of its most fundamental programs.

– Christian

No Issues with M4 at Wanat

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009


Now back to the M-4 COP Kahler/OP Topside debate.

I spoke with Col. Doug Tamilio, Program Manager for Soldier Weapons and Rich Audette, the Soldier Weapons deputy PM on Oct. 15 about the findings in a draft report on the so called “Battle of Wanat” that called out the M4 and the M-249 for multiple failures at “high cyclic rates” during the battle.

We’ve had a bit of a back and forth on this issue here at DT: was it a fundamental flaw with the M4 or was it a problem of leadership? Both sides are well represented here, but I thought I’d give the Army its say in this debate.

Tamilio said he was surprised with the findings and that he did not agree with the author’s call for a systematic look at the M4’s ability to keep up at high rates of fire.

“To date, I have never had a Soldier or a commander or an NCO come up to me and say ‘these weapons are terrible’…Now I’m just talking about the M4. we don’t get anything, no feedback, and you know if there was a serious issue out there somewhere in eight years of fighting with all the battles that we’ve had we would have some serious data.”

Obviously Tamilio is defending his service’s rifle, but he has a point. We all know that there are less maintenance-intensive options out there for troops who do their work in dusty environments (which is just about everywhere except the arctic and the jungle). But this issue of high rates of fire hasn’t been brought up earlier.

The requirement for the M4 “mean time between stoppage” is 600 rounds. But Tamilio said today it demonstrates “3,600 rounds before stoppage…So that’s a world-class weapon.”

Tamilio said there are some “inconsistencies” between the draft history report and what he read and heard just after the battle. “We talked to the unit sergeant major a year ago and the report is not what I got first hand from him.”

“I truly believe that some of these Soldiers fired so many rounds so quickly that could that happen? Yes,” he added, explaining that he’d done tests with SOCOM where they fired 560 rounds in two minutes before the barrel warped.

“We knew this happened,” Tamilio said. “We interviewed the unit, talked to them and then went on about our business because we didn’t at that time think we had any issues with the M4 in that incident.”

— Christian

…Or is it Bad Fire Discipline and Leadership?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009


We’re still finding out more details on the report that weapons failures plagued the Soldiers defending positions in the battle of Wanat.

I wanted to pass along some thoughts from a very tapped in source of ours who warned me that A) The final report has not been released and that I am basing my take on the “draft” version and B) don’t confuse jams due to recirculated gas with malfunctions resulting from high rates of fire.

My source said that he suspects the NCOs interviewed in the report are probably being “taken to task by their peers” for not enforcing fire discipline. He said this issue could be more of a training and leadership problem rather than a weapons one and added that despite its current unpopularity in the face of new Gucci guns, the M16 family of weapons has served the U.S. military very well “longer than any other rifle.”

Absolutely agree 100 percent.

I’m cautious about blaming the preliminary findings on the M4s operating system and can understand how, like Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder, you can “do it deliberate” by running the gun so hard it can’t take anymore. But another source who was in on the political side of the debate early on last year told me there is a problem with the M4’s system that when it’s operated under high rates of fire, it melts the gas tube, where as the short stroke gas-piston design can run longer on high rates of fire without degrading.

Again, this is a debate with many facets. I’m hoping to talk to an Army small arms official very soon who can help provide the service’s perspective on what might be going on here.

On another note, my tapped in source said that the SCAR has been received with limited enthusiasm by special operators in the field. He says that the SCAR, to him, is a step backward. He’s freaked out by the reciprocating bolt and other features that make it “just nuts, ergonomically.” He did say however that his gouge says that the Mk17 7.62 is a “tack driver” in the precision gas gun role and that the Mk16 is only being used in special circumstances and not as a general patrol rifle.

…his $.02 that I thought I’d pass along.

More TK…

– Christian

Small Arms Failures Contributed to Wanat Debacle

Monday, October 12th, 2009


We’re reporting a pretty hard-hitting story today on the conclusions of an Army official report on the Wanat battle showing that the small arms used in the battle showed significant levels of failure, malfunctioning and jamming “at high cyclic rates of fire.” The weapons include the M4 and SAW.

Defense Tech doesn’t have the final version of the report compiled by the Army Combat Studies Institute at Leavenworth. But we did find a draft version and went through it to find all references to M4s, small arms and the reported malfunctions.

Basically, the most damning conclusions are compiled in the recommendations section of the report. There are a few instanced specified in the report of an M4 fouling, and one where the M4 fouled and the Soldier picked up a SAW and that was jammed up as well.

In one instance, Staff Sgt. Erich Phillips had multiple M4 failures:

Staff Sergeant Phillips poured out fire, as recalled by another Engineer Specialist loading for him, [SSG Phillips] went through three rifles using them until they jammed.

SSG Phillips recalled: My M4 quit firing and would no longer charge when I tried to correct the malfunction. I grabbed the Engineers SAW and tried to fire. It would not fire, so I lifted the feed tray tried clearing it out and tried to fire again. It would not.

As you know, Defense Tech as been at the forefront of the debate over whether a better solution to the current M4 configuration is out there. It’s pretty clear that the gas impingement system is maintenance intensive. And I recall all too well when I confronted PEO Soldier officials with a hypothetical instance very similar to this during a brief I had at the Pentagon on the dust tests conducted on multiple carbine types at Aberdeen. I posited the battle of Fallujah, where Marines and Soldiers were fighting for days on end with barely enough time to eat or sleep. Keeping your weapon clean is arguable as important as eating, some crusty old gunnies and sergeants first class would argue, but if the carbine you’re carrying is so maintenance intensive and you’ve got better options out there that can stand up to more abuse, how can you tell that trooper if his gun jams in that situation it’s all his fault?

Well, it looks like the Wanat battle, at least in part, may have brought up that issue…but has it?

According to the report, the Soldiers had kept their weapons religiously maintained. It looks like the single point of failure might have been the high cyclic rates they were operating under and the M4 just wasn’t able to catch up.

Some GWOT and U.S. Army veterans queried by the author have suggested that this could have been caused by improper weapon cleaning. However, numerous Chosen Few NCOs interviewed for this study have been vehemently adamant in stating that weapons were meticulously and regularly cleaned, and rigorously and routinely inspected by the chain of command. Other GWOT veterans consulted have noted that the high rates of fire sustained during the two hour intense engagement phase at Wanat could possibly have contributed to these failures. However, numerous weapons failed relatively early in the engagement (particularly a number of M-4 rifles and at one SAW at the mortar pit), and in any event the maintenance of cyclic rates of fire was critical to restore fire superiority, and to prevent positions (particularly at OP Topside) from being overrun by determined, numerous, and hard pressed insurgent assaults.

The report goes on to suggest that the PEO Soldier work to find a solution to this problem.

We could go on for hours on this, and I thinks it’s appropriate to do that in a forum like this. I’m digging through my old notes, but I’m pretty sure that “high cyclic rates” were addressed in the dust test, and the M4 came out near the bottom of the pack on that amongst its competitors. The Army keep saying that surveys have shown that 94 percent of Soldiers say they’re satisfied with the M4. But as I replied when confronted with this straw man argument, isn’t it hard to say whether you’re truly satisfied with a weapon unless you have some experience with other options — umm, like the special operations forces do? And what do they prefer? The HK 416 and the SCAR, which are both less maintenance-intensive, gas piston operating systems.

What does this say about the Corps’ program for the Infantry Automatic Rifle? Why replace a good portion of your automatic weapons with one that only has a 30 round magazine? And, I could be wrong on this, but aren’t M4s assigned to straight leg infantry units configured to fire in three-round bursts and semi auto? Only special operators have ones with a full auto switch? If this instance shows anything that a counterinsurgency strategy demonstrates, it’s that small units will likely be confronted with superior numbers of bad guys and will need to pour out the lead when the you-know-what hits the fan. And what about weapons tactics training? There’s a scary line in the report that quotes one of the Soldiers saying he was unprepared for such an Alamo style fight. You’d have thought since Blackhawk Down we’d be teaching how to hold off wave attacks with superior fire.

There are so many more actionable lessons to the drawn from the report, and I encourage DT readers to scour through it again. But kudos to the AP reporter who brought this out and one has to wonder whether the Army will work toward a more rugged solution as it explores options to the M4 this year.

– Christian

Larry Vickers’ Gun

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I’d like to call everyone’s attention to a solid posting from our friends at the Soldier Systems blog on the Daniel Defense so-called DDM4.

I had the good fortune to speak with Larry Vickers, the brains behind the new M4 entry from the Savannah, Ga.-based Daniel Defense at SHOT and I’ve got to say, while the weapon seemed to me from the specs he outlined to be unremarkable, the fact that he’s behind the design speaks volumes to me.

Vickers tried to sell me on their Back Up Iron Sight configuration which gives more eye relief and quicker on target performance, but I’m not a high enough caliber shooter to really evaluate that with any insight.

Video Game — E3 2009 — Attack of the Show

This entry is good to keep in the record since we’re less than a month away from the release of the M4 technical data package that will open the door for competitors of Colt and the entire M4/M16 design to some truly innovative companies just chomping at the bit to deliver an improvement on a fairly old design.


Daniel Defense set out to build the best carbine on the market and they are well on their way. Everything about this rifle meets or exceeds Mil-Spec including such critical items as a 5.56mm chamber, properly staked gas key, as well as a shot peened and Mil-Spec MP tested bolt. Additionally, Daniel Defense has begun to produce hammer forged barrels in house and they have also engineered a number of enhancements into the design such as a flared magazine well, radiused trigger guard, and machines indexing numbers.

Finally, the carbine comes with a Magpul MOE stock and PMAG in addition to a Daniel Defense A2 Style Vertical Grip, Omega X 12.0 FSP, and A1.5 Fixed Rear Sight, all packed in a custom hard case.

Interestingly, the DDM4 was featured on a recent episode of G4TVs Attack of the Show.

The DDM4 section begins at 1:08

The DDM4, a rifle so good it has its own website. Visit www​.ddm4​.com for more information.


– Christian

Army’s ‘Subcompact’ Rifle Search in Doubt

Thursday, March 26th, 2009


From this morning’s headlines at Military​.com…

It could be a perfect fit for cramped cockpits and truck cabs — a weapon potent enough to penetrate body armor, but sporting a bantam package that won’t turn maneuvering in tight spaces into a Houdini act.

Though the Army says it’s interested in putting a so-called “subcompact” carbine into the hands of certain Joes, the effort is likely to get kicked to the curb in favor of a new, full-sized carbine — the victim of withering budgets and the service’s focus on updating the M4.

Late last summer, the Army embarked on an ambitious analysis of the latest weapons the small arms industry had to offer. The effort focused mainly on possible alternatives to the M4 carbine, but its secondary goal was to look at subcompacts, or so-called “personal defense weapons.“

These handy little guns can be anything from a submachine gun to a chopped-down carbine. The Army first announced it was interested in such a weapon in 2007, to give pilots, tankers and truck drivers a little more firepower than the Beretta M9 9mm pistol.

The service’s interest prompted gun makers to gin up a variety of these James Bond-style weapons in multiple calibers and barrel lengths. Gun companies showed off their new designs at an Army industry day in November, but Army weapons officials still have no concrete plans for the effort’s future.

“The subcompact has to serve a lot of different people … it’s much too early to say this is what we are looking for,” Jim Stone, the head of the Soldier Requirement’s Division at Fort Benning, Ga., told Military​.Com recently.

Such a cautious approach has veteran gun makers doubtful that these new, compact weapons will ever make it to formal testing, let alone into Soldier’s hands.

“I see this as an uphill battle,” said C. Reed Knight Jr., owner of Knight’s Armament Company. “The government still doesn’t know what it wants.”


M4 Replacement Initiative Moves Forward (Slowly)

Thursday, December 11th, 2008


I know it’s a bit late, but I got my hands on some material that came out of the mid-November “industry day” held in the DC area to show the Army what’s out there to replace the M4.

You’ll remember that the service has indicated it’s finally willing to explore updated options to its standard-issue service rifle…now the M4. Whether you think the M4 sucks or not, it makes sense that the Army is breaking free of its single-minded love affair with the M16 and its variants.

I missed the industry day (dumb me) but I got a write-up on the meeting from a renowned weapons expert that many of you might know. He did not send this directly to me, I obtained it through other sources, so I’m going to protect its origins and the author.

According to the expert, “19 vendors showed up at the industry day, including Polytech, KAC, Precision Reflex, POF, S&W, FN with SCAR, Superior Tooling, AAI with LSAT, LWRC, Colt Defense, Barrett, Sabre Defense, Armwest, HK, Bushmater/Remington, Robinson Armament, Troy Industries and SIG Sauer.” Army secretary Pete Geren showed up as well, along with key players from PEO Soldier and PEO Soldier Weapons. According to one of my sources, fortunately some congressional staffers from top lawmakers who want to take up this issue also showed, including staffers for Salazar, Hutchison, Sessions and John Warner (though we know he’s retiring soon).

The weapons expert said:

Lots of AR-based systems on display, mostly off the shelf items, many op rod guns and conversions. A few medium caliber (6.5G and 6.8 Rem SPC and 7.62x39mm R) platforms on display and a few 7.62x51mm systems as well. No bullpups (Tavor, AUG or F2000)surprisingly and no XM8. Lots of discussion about op rod upgrades to M4’s versus complete new systems. Little talk that I heard anyway about user convertible (barrel, buttstock, caliber) modular family of weapons but there were one or two such systems there.


Whatchyou Talking About Willis?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

It seems like you all are talking alot about the Magpul/Bushmaster ACR, so I dug up this YouTube video from Future Weapons (I want that guy’s job) and decided to post it here.

As more of you make convincing pitches for M4 replacements, I’ll dig up whatever video I can find and feature it here…