Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

50 years of complaints about the reliability of the M16

Discussion in 'Military History' started by KodiakBeer, Feb 21, 2014.

  1. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    Or the newer M4, if you prefer.

    An article, linked below, talks about the reliability issues of the M4 as if it's a new problem instead of one dating back 50 years to the M16 and revolving around the stupid direct impingement gas system venting dirt and heat into the receiver. Like most journalists he doesn't grasp the issue at all, in fact he gets it ass-backwards when quoting somebody saying the problem is in the gas piston system when the problems stem from the lack of a gas piston system.

    Just about every "improvement" over 50 years revolves around this issue. You can slick up the chamber by chroming it to aid extraction problems due to burnt powder and heat vented into it, you can lighten or strengthen springs, you can change the shape of the extractor, you can fiddle with slug weights and cleaner powders, and you can constantly berate and blame soldiers for not cleaning their weapons properly - All of this ignores the real problem. The AR system, unlike every reliable auto rifle, uses direct impingement. I don't think it would cost any more to use a piston system, but it's as if the military can't admit they've been wrong for 50 years.

    The Video below animates this problem. Adams Arms is just one company among several offering a quick retro-fit fix for the problem for civilian sales, but there are several companies making piston AR's for direct sales to the US military - H&K, Colt, Sig. The problem is that only special operators like the SEALs and Delta can get them.

    Article: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/19/troop-left-to-fend-for-themselves-after-army-was-w/?page=1

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3TVsekcFWo
     
    GRW likes this.
  2. Dave55

    Dave55 Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2011
    Messages:
    1,377
    Likes Received:
    193
    Location:
    Atlanta
    Hey, you left out the 'Forward Assist" :)
     
  3. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2006
    Messages:
    6,260
    Likes Received:
    1,892
    Location:
    Perfidious Albion
    Funny. Was just this minute reading a quite interesting Arrse thread on this & the associated article:
    ARRSE - M4 Rifle Oopsy.
     
  4. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    You'd probably still want that, but yeah, it was added to help overcome the dirt in the receiver and chamber.
     
  5. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    Most of those guys seem to miss the point. It has little to do with full auto except that it accelerates the issues. You can have a semi-auto civilian version and it will still tend to jam after enough rounds are fired. It's just a bad idea to vent burnt powder into the receiver and chamber. When you lube it, especially in a dirty, dusty environment (like a war!), the heat and carbon and accumulated grit tend to turn your wet lube into hardened deposits. If you use a dry lube, then it gets blown out before long and you have no lube.

    In trials against the H&K piston system a few years ago, it was like night and day between the two systems. The piston system just ran and ran and ran.
     
  6. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2009
    Messages:
    4,918
    Likes Received:
    1,908
    Location:
    God's Country
    I hate to disagree, but I certainly do. The M16 rifle is not nearly as bad as is quite frequently made out, when used in it's intended role. It's actually a very good weapon and has served reliably for years once the original, bureaucratic screw ups were fixed.
    -The first problem was that the AR-15 was designed to use IMR 4474 powder (Improved Military Rifle), due to existing stocks of the older, dirtier, standard ball powder, that was used instead for use in the rifle.

    -The Airforce's Curtis LeMay was enamored with the new rifle and pushed for it's adoption. The Army and Marine Corps wanted to go with the M14 service rifle. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara wanted standardization across the services and Lemay and company convinced him to go with the AR-15. For the Airforce's purposes the rifle was fine, for airfield security types and the like it would have served well as it was. The Army and the Marine Corps wanted a chromed bore and chamber to combat fouling and corrosion like their other service rifles, including the M14. The demands placed upon a rifle when used in the field, where they are exposed to the elements, and prone to be used in extended fire fights are much different than for security type personnel (Airforce). So, Kodiac, while the chroming of the bore and chamber were fixes, they were requested up front and are considered necessary even in a service rifle using a gas piston like the M14.

    -The forward assist was also requested by the Army for inclusion in the M16. You can strike it to force the bolt home when a round only partially seats. The M1, M14, and BAR had an operating rod handle that could be struck with the palm of the hand to finish seating a cartridge. On all these weapons including the M16, the first step in immediate action for this type of stoppage was to pull the operating rod handle/(charging handle on the M16) to the rear and release. This would clear the round you were trying to chamber (probably dirty or damaged) and feed a new round. If the next round did not fully seat you could "tap" the operating rod handle to fully seat the bolt and attempt to fire. With the charging handle there was no way to force the bolt into battery, that's where the forward assist comes in. The addition of a forward assist was vetoed by the airforce because it would add $4.50 to the cost of the rifle and needlessly complicate it for no real benefit. No real benefit? I guess not if you're not a frontline combat troop.

    -They also for some reason I still cannot fathom thought the rifle was self-cleaning, told the soldiers this and issued them without cleaning kits!

    -Last but not least, the extractor spring exerted too much force on a jammed cartridge resulting in the lip being torn off. This too was corrected.

    Another problem with the original rifle was the difference in gas pressures between the IMR and ball powder, this is also one of the issues with the push to get away from the rifle and go strictly with the M4 carbine. The ball powder produced more gas pressure and the increased force led to premature failure of certain rifle parts. When using a gas impingement system the size and location of the gas port in relation to the muzzle is crucial. It needs to be tailored to the barrel length and ammunition used. It becomes more critical with the shortened length of the gas tube and barrel in the carbine version. Too little pressure and the action doesn't cycle properly, too much and the rifle beats itself to death. During the GWOT the US Army pushed for the uniform adoption of the M4 across the services, despite the loss of reliability due to the shortened/modified gas system. The Marine Corps wanted to retain the rifle length weapon for most troops, the M4 for support troops and leaders. They tried to decrease the overall length, while retaining the 20" barrel by adopting collapsible stocks and using techniques such as "short stocking" the rifle when involved in MOUT operations. The Army went with the M4, rationalizing the choice by pointing out it was easier to maneuver in vehicle borne patrols, in MOUT operations (the Marine Corps started teaching the short stocking technique for MOUT operations to achieve the same result in urban fighting) and they stressed that most combat in Iraq took place at ranges of 300 meters or less. Then when we began re-deploying to Afghanistan, the Taliban changed tactics and started engaging at ranges in excess of what the M4 was capable of being used effectively. The tactic was much less successful against Marines who retained the rifle version and they also introduced a more round that performed better at extended ranges.
    Despite what Kodiac says, many of the issues with the M-16 variants are related to improper cleaning or employment of the weapon. The rifle was designed to be select fire, semi and auto or 3 round burst, depending upon the variant. Full automatic fire, while all the rage among civilians and Hollywood is really wasteful and ineffective. That's why the A2 had the three round burst mechanism adopted. Unless the weapons user is very well trained and disciplined enough to fire in three to five round bursts, you're just throwing a lot of rounds downrange without getting many hits. The only time you really need to go full auto and fire till the bolt carrier locks back is during final protective fire or when attempting to break contact. Many of the US Army malfunction reports were after extended periods of time blazing away at full auto. You can't even do that with a machine gun which is designed for a heavier volume of fire. BTW, the M249 SAW is actually more prone to jam or malfunction than the service rifle. The Marine Corps is withdrawing it from the rifle squads but retaining it in the company HQ for situations where it is the proper tool for the job. They are replacing it with M27 IAR (Infantry Automatic Rifle). This weapon is designed with a heavier barrel, a gas piston operating system and a bipod. It's intended role is as a support weapon and intended to deliver a heavier, more sustained volume of fire. Why do you think weapons designed to deliver a heavier volume of fire than a rifle or carbine come with bipods and/or tripods? It's because this heavier volume of fire cannot be effectively controlled without the additional stability afforded by them. The rifle and carbine are not intended to fire in the manner they are sometimes being used. Even weapons designed for higher volumes of fire are taught to be fired in bursts, not continuous automatic fire. Yes, if you burn through 30 mags on auto your rifle will break. That's operator error not a weapons flaw.
    Another aspect of this issue that you don't pick up from the printed media is the difference between combat and Combat. Due to the nature of the battlefield today, support troops are often involved in ancillary combat. They do not know their weapons as well, are not as assiduous in their weapons maintenance and are not as well trained in the employment of their weapons. An infantry or Special Operations service member, whose primary function is engaging in direct combat and does so on a regular basis are almost constantly maintaining their weapons. So when the newspaper reports that this soldier had a weapons failure in combat, they don't differentiate. When Jessica Lynch's weapon jammed it was because she didn't clean and maintain it.
    Gas pistons are not a panacea. They can also be an issue. Back when I was a machine gunner, I can remember carrying an extra gas piston in a metal container filled with RBC because no matter how well you maintained your gun, if you got into a sustained gun fight the damn thing would foul with carbon and you'd have to swap it out. I think Bobby (A-58) was a machine gunner also, I'm sure he remembers this.

    Finally, much of this debate is being driven by manufacturers who want to push their product. Does anyone remember the Dragon Skin body armor controversy? All the news reports that the military was not fielding the most effective body armor? Well that was primarily driven by the media and the manufacturer of the product. In the end, with comprehensive testing, the issue body armor with the SAPI/ESAPI trauma plates was determined to be the better system. As the military had said, all along.
     
    Poppy, Victor Gomez, A-58 and 2 others like this.
  7. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2008
    Messages:
    5,627
    Likes Received:
    1,003
    You just got to clean it and take care of it...I don't think it is any more or less prone to malfunctions due to dirt or poor maintenance than either the Garand or M-14; but then I have always kept my Garand and M-14 clean. I actually had more problems with an M-14 than I ever did with my M-16, Bent the Op rod on my M14 (M21) when I was in sniper school causing to lose the ability to fire in the semi auto. I very much like the Black rifle, you just have to take care of it.
     
    USMCPrice likes this.
  8. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    The black rifle runs better with a piston. It's the same rifle with a piston system, except that you aren't venting heat and dirt into the receiver.

    Some competition shooter once said "If your gun doesn't run dirty, it's broke." The M16 family is designed to dirty itself, and then it won't run. It's broke.
     
  9. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2008
    Messages:
    5,627
    Likes Received:
    1,003

    That has never been said about the M16 unless It was by the guy trying to sell a gas piston conversion.
     
  10. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2009
    Messages:
    4,918
    Likes Received:
    1,908
    Location:
    God's Country
    That hasn't been my experience with the rifle, nor the experience of anyone I know. The rifle is extremely reliable, and as I said earlier, gas pistons have their own issues if not kept clean.
     
  11. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    I'm sure you've cleaned enough of them to know how dirty they get. I'm not suggesting they should retrofit the M16 (M4) with an after-market system, or that they should abandon them for a new rifle entirely. What I'd like to see is ordnance simply change the specs in favor of a piston system. Keep the M4, but operate it with a piston so you have the reliability of the AK.

    Look at the litany of complaints from the field in the link below.

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/the-usas-m4-carbine-controversy-03289/
     
  12. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2009
    Messages:
    4,918
    Likes Received:
    1,908
    Location:
    God's Country
    I read the article and most of it was is old news. It was when the US Army decided to issue the M4, Army wide as a replacement for the M16A2/A4 that these tests occurred. The Marine Corps did go with the M4 for support troops, crew served weapons personnel and leaders. They opted to retain the M16A4 as the service rifle instead of the M4 due to it's better reliability and longer range. The greater issue with the M4 has to do with the shortening of the gas tube and relocating and resizing the gas port. That being said, the Army tests showed an average of 5,000 rounds between stoppages. Now stoppages does not mean a catastrophic failure of the rifle, the most common stoppage is failure to feed which can be quickly resolved. I've had this occur before, simply striking the forward assist will correct the problem 95% of the time. It is most often caused by carbon build up on the bolt and bolt carrier group or a weak magazine spring and will probably recur within a short time. I always carried a bottle of LSA or later CLP, in my helmet band for cleaning whenever I had a chance and in case I had to correct this type of stoppage. A drop or two where the bolt enters the bolt carrier, hit the forward assist and it shoots like a new rifle. Now 5,000 rounds is 166.66, 30 round magazines! The soldier who said, "True to fact, cleaning will help. Daily assigned tasks, and nonregular hours in tactical situations do not always warrant the necessary time required for effective cleaning.” is being disingenuous or may be a rear echelon pogue in the 82d because I've never seen an operational tempo where you didn't have time to clean (I'm not saying a detailed, completely stripped down, inspection type cleaning) and/or lube your weapon before you've run 166 magazines through the weapon. We all carried toothbrushes, rags, a small bottle of lubricant, etc. and cleaned whenever we had any downtime at all. Even the much vaunted AK will malfunction if you don't regularly lubricate it, that's why they all come with an oiler bottle.

    Now the Marine Corps did evaluate the HK 416, as did the US Army, the M27 IAR is a variant of the 416. The M27 IAR was adopted by the Marine Corps as a replacement for the M249 SAW. It's intended function is as the automatic rifleman's weapon in the fireteam, and therefore is expected to be capable of a higher, sustained volume of fire, and comes with a heavier barrel and a bipod as a weapon intended for sustained full auto use should. Even so the operator has to be trained and disciplined to fire in bursts, (same same for the M60, M240, etc.) or the weapon will overheat and malfunction. They also evaluated the M16A4 against the HK 416 as the service rifle and decided to retain the A4. My younger son was involved in an evaluation of the ACR out at Camp Pendleton two or three years ago (the ACR is one of the ICC candidates mentioned in the article). It is a development by Bushmaster in collaboration with Magpul (Magpul makes the best magazine out there in my opinion and they are now an issue item). He liked the rifle, it was really user friendly, accurate, rugged, and has immense "cool" factor, but he didn't think it was really any better than the service rifle, except it was cooler. So despite what the articles author is trying to infer, these other weapons have been looked at.

    One of his points actually gets to the crux of the controversy. "an Army-wide fix would cost $1 billion." then adds, "that an army already planning to spend $525 million to re-equip the force with M4s". Now I understand that the difference, $475 million, is not "real" money by Washington standards, it is to an Army that because of budget cuts has recently admitted that its deploying troops to Afghanistan, without, pre-deployment combat training because they don't have the money, and have justified it by saying that they are intended to be advisors and not to be used as combat troops. Since their primary function is as advisors to indigenous forces engaged in combat operations how can anyone with a straight face say they won't be involved in combat. Given a choice between a new rifle and pre-deployment workup training, I'd opt for the additional training every time. What the whole thing boils down to is these manufacturers do have good products, they want their piece of that one billion dollar plus pie and are "stirring the pot" trying to get their product chosen. Is the very marginal improvement worth the additional cost, probably not. That's also why I mentioned the Pinnacle/Dragon Skin controversy in an earlier post, the two situations are similar in many ways. Congress and the press got involved, parents that didn't know any better were scared for their children, public outcry resulted in the military adopting so many new armor fixes that the weight of the protective systems increased so much that casualties actually increased due to increased weight and decreased mobility. Once the uproar died down the military has continually fielded improved systems based upon combat needs and not public opinion. The Interceptor vest with SAPI inserts has evolved into advanced plate carriers that give improved protection to the most vulnerable areas (based upon wound data and not public/congressional opinion) while decreasing the servicemembers load and increasing mobility.
     
  13. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    Yeah, so why not eliminate that carbon build up? It's like having a leaky radiator and arguing that it's not a problem because you can prevent problems by adding water frequently. Why not just fix the leak?
     
  14. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2009
    Messages:
    4,918
    Likes Received:
    1,908
    Location:
    God's Country
    I'll give you another, personal, example of good intentions gone awry. When my older son was in Iraq it was at the height of the war, the insurgents were being beaten so badly when they stood and fought that the use of IED's skyrocketed. There was a mother of another Marine in my sons unit that was from Atlanta and she'd call all the time asking me questions or for advice about different things. She had worked out a deal with a chain store that sold sporting goods to buy a bunch of UnderArmor clothing. I told her don't do that and gave her a list of materials to look for (including wool and cotton, it does get cold in Iraq also) when she was out shopping for the clothing. She laughed and told me that wool and cotton were old school and she hadn't heard of the other materials, UnderArmor was high tech and she'd seen soldiers wearing it in pictures and video, plus it was what other mothers on a Marine Mom's forum recommended. I got kind of angry and told her to do what she wanted, but the Marine Corps had banned UnderArmor's use for combat troops and other personnel that might be exposed to IED's. She went on a rant about how the Marine Corps just wanted them to be miserable and they didn't care if they were suffering from the heat or cold. I again told her to do what she wanted, but I'd rather my son be uncomfortable than dead. She got real quiet, then asked me what I meant. I informed her that an explosion, in addition to blast and fragmentation effects also generated a great deal of heat and flames. UnderArmor was polyester and nylon and like any plastic would melt when exposed to heat and flame. I also told her of a Marine that had recently been injured in a close IED strike. He had not been badly injured by the blast or fragmentation, but the heat had melted his UnderArmor to him, including where it was under his body armor. Now it was questionable if he would survive because he was burned over most of his body. Servicemembers exposed to IED's that would have survived their wounds were dying from the additional burns. Servicemembers that would have otherwise had minor or no wounds were dying from the burns from their melted clothing and if they survived the melted material was making their wounds worse, over a greater percentage of their body, and more disfiguring. I sent her a link and she did listen. It wasn't long after that discussion that they began getting FROG gear clothing (Fire Resistant Operational Gear) and the Army soon followed with it's ACS (Army Combat Shirt) to address the comfort and burn issue.
     
    A-58, belasar and GRW like this.
  15. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2008
    Messages:
    5,627
    Likes Received:
    1,003
    Here is a quote from the same article you referenced KB :

    "Like its predecessor the M16, the M4 also has a reputation as an excellent weapon – if you can maintain it. Failure to maintain the weapon meticulously can lead to jams, especially in sandy or dusty environments."

    and if you read the rest of the article you will notice that it actually praises the M16 platform quite a bit.

    There is even a comparison of the M16 platform with Galil and AK's; the jist of it is that the need for accuracy out weighs the other's benefit of low maintenance. In the near 30 years I have been using the M16 family of weapons the only malfunctions I have ever seen have been due to improper maintenance. I have literally fired hundreds of thousands of rounds (if not a million) through the various iterations / incarnations of the M16 platform and I have never once had a critical failure.
     
  16. green slime

    green slime Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2010
    Messages:
    3,150
    Likes Received:
    583
    Well, that Mom was a bit of a worried ninny.

    Wool is a fantastic material. It breathes, and it continues to provide insulation even when wet, which to my knowledge, most modern polyesters don't. And as you say, it won't melt. It doesn't burn too easily, either.
     
  17. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2003
    Messages:
    20,347
    Likes Received:
    2,777
    Location:
    Stirling, Scotland
    Great discussion, guys. :S!
    I definitely need new specs though; I keep misreading the title as "50 years of complaints about the reliability of MI6". Couldn't figure out why you were talking about rifles at first.
     
    Takao and formerjughead like this.
  18. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    Yes, if you keep adding water to the leaky radiator you'll have few problems... :)

    Yes, and if you add a piston you still have that accuracy, but now have the reliability and low maintenance needs of the AK. See? There's no downside!

    The tube that now carries the gas into the receiver is simply swapped out to a piston. The only other change is a slight modification of the bolt carrier which is now struck by a piston (like every successful self-loader for the last 100 years) instead of just being blown back by gas. The heat and carbon is now vented forward instead of into the receiver.

    What's not to love?

    [​IMG]
     
  19. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2009
    Messages:
    4,918
    Likes Received:
    1,908
    Location:
    God's Country
    I understand how the gas piston works and what modifications are required. I also understand that the gas piston system itself has it's own inherent problems. The heat and carbon are still there, their ill effects are just moved elsewhere. The biggest advantage over the impingement system is that the gasses don't dry out the lubrication on the bolt/bolt carrier. They do however build up on the gas port, gas piston and in the gas cylinder, though not as rapidly, but there is a more detailed breakdown required to clean the piston and cylinder, it is more time consuming, and is harder to clean. Look at the malfunction/stoppage remediation steps for the M14, M60 GPMG, etc. In the M1 with it's modest rate of fire, gas system problems were the cause of very few malfunctions/stoppages, mainly short recoil issues, while most were mechanical failures. Once the M14 came along with it's higher rate of fire and more parts for the gas system, a much higher percentage of problems could be traced back to the gas system. With the M60 machine gun that uses a similar system to the M14 but, is intended to be used in a longer, higher volume of fire role, and 90 percent of the problems with the gun can be gas system or mechanical. A gas piston system is not a panacea.
     
  20. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    6,329
    Likes Received:
    1,709
    Location:
    The Arid Zone
    Note above, that the troops are having a 20% stoppage rate. Do you think an AK in reasonable order would have a 20% stoppage rate?

    I have had a number of rifles with piston systems - AK, FAL, SKS, Garand, M1 Carbine, etc. I shoot a lot. Stoppages of any kind are rare and usually attributable to bad magazines or bad magazine springs - lots of crappy aftermarket mags out there! With good mags it's pretty rare to get a stoppage of any kind with those rifles. In fact, the only stoppages I can recall are with the carbine, which needs a squirt of oil now and again after a heavy day of shooting.

    I've also been shooting AR's since 1979 when I was handed one in boot camp, and on every range session there was one commonality - you or the people around you had stoppages and had to go through the clearance drill. A while back I bought a civilian M4gery. It's fun to shoot, cheap to reload for, has lots of cool accessories. I like it, but you know you are going to get stoppages at the range if you shoot long enough. I didn't really care about that, because it's a range toy for me.

    Despite that, just because I like to tinker, I did eventually buy an aftermarket piston conversion and no more stoppages. None. Ever. I would NOT trust the piston conversion I bought for use in real combat because the op-rod is designed to be light and is exposed under that flimsy composite handguard. I suspect a hard blow there would easily bend the op-rod. However, the versions produced by Sig, Colt, H&K, that are being picked up by special forces are designed with heavier op-rods and with a heavier handguard that further protects it.

    If my life depended on my rifle not stopping, I would want a Piston AR.
     

Share This Page