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50 years of complaints about the reliability of the M16

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

  1. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    I own two AK's, an SKS (Soviet not Chinese), an M1 Garand, a National Match M14, two AR's etc., I've had more stoppages with the SKS. This proves nothing. "Shooting a lot is relative", the mean stoppage rate in the Army tests was one stoppage per 166.66, 30 round magazines, as I stated earlier. How often do you burn through this many rounds in a day?


    I've been shooting the M16/M4 family since 1977 when I went to boot camp. I served 8 years, nine months and a few days in the Marine Corps. All of that time but about a year and a half in an Infantry Company. I then did four more in the US Army as a Special Forces Medic (18D). I spent a lot of time deployed and in the field. I have a couple of AR's that I have shot regularly since then. I never remember a stoppage problem at the range, it was virtually non existent. More so in the field or when deployed, but then it was still extremely rare.

    Civilian AR's vary widely in their quality, some brands are more prone to malfunctioning. I don't know that I've ever had a stoppage with my personal AR's.

    My life has depended on my rifle and I was perfectly comfortable with the much maligned M16 series.

    I've had two son's in the Marine Corps, one did eight years, the other four. One went to Iraq and Africa, the other Afghanistan. One was actually involved in one of the ACR evaluations, both rate CAR's so they weren't Fobbits. Neither has ever mentioned any problems with the M16/M4 series rifle. In fact both own AR's.
     
  2. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Well, the military found a 19% stoppage rate, in the field, in combat.

    And they ran their own tests. Here's the results of a test between 3 piston rifles and the M4. The SCAR and the H&K 416 are basically identical to the M4, except that they run on a piston. The XM8 is another animal entirely, but still a piston design.

    http://www.perfectunion.com/vb/ar-15-talk/60549-army-publishes-results-combat-rifle-reliability-tests.html

    http://www.chuckhawks.com/ar_disgrace.htm
     
  3. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    See thats the problem though: If you are running a test to determine a failure rate you are not going to clean or service the weapon during the test because you are trying to see a what point, without maintenance, it is going to fail.
     
  4. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Darn, so many problems here, where to start?

    I guess first with the Chuck Hawks article by Randy Wakeman. Mr. Wakeman, a self proclaimed shooting and firearms expert, has somewhat of a checkered reputation for having axes to grind and for beating dead horses. Where is his experience with military needs and requirements? In his article he first spends a great deal of time bashing the 5.56 NATO round and saying the troops deserve better. Then he sings the praises of rifles that fire that round. If the round is so bad, all weapons firing the round would be unsatisfactory. He really likes the SCAR, and it is a sweet rifle. It is also easily convertible to fire 7.62 x 51 NATO, but they are very expensive and the cost to field them Army wide will be much greater than the $1.8 BILLION dollars the program planned to spend. It does make sense and there are plans to field the 7.62 x 51 NATO version of the weapon for Special Forces personnel.

    Where are you getting this figure? I've searched and cannot find it or just missed it. The CNA study (Center for Naval Analysis) did a survey of actual combat troops, respondents had to have actually fired their weapon at the enemy. In that study only 19% of M4 users reported ever experiencing a stoppage during their deployment, which for Marine Corps Combat troops lasts 7 months (non combat arms 12 months) and the US Army 12 to 15 months (in 2011 cut to 9 months). That's a very good reliability record, remember one single stoppage during a 15 month tour can put you in that category. Of those that did report a stoppage, "82 percent of those that experienced a stoppage said it had little impact on their ability to clear the stoppage and re-engage their target". So the news is even less dire. How did it rate in other areas? Accuracy-94% approval, Range-92%, Rate of Fire 93%, now these ratings and statistics are for the M4, not the full size rifle which is more accurate, with better range and more reliable.

    Then you have the 2007 tests which every one is touting to sell their particular weapon, and to prove the inherent superiority of the gas piston system vs the direct impingement system. Did you know that the M16 service rifle was also included in the tests? It has the same direct impingement system. How many stoppages did it have? 61 stoppages for the full size rifle, the XM8 a total of 127, SCAR a total of 226 and the HK 416 with 233. Where is the inherent weakness in the impingement system vs the gas piston?
    Then there are the postulations by the pundits that the tests were rigged by the Army. The Army tested used M16's and M4's from their armories, how much abuse and how many rounds had they fired? It's not tracked. The competitors used new rifles fresh from the manufacturers. Wanna bet that since they were competing for an almost two billion dollar contract that those rifles hadn't been gone over with a fine toothed comb and had been tweaked to insure maximum performance? But let's put all that aside and look deeper at the data. The M4 did have many more stoppages but not a statistically significant greater stoppage rate than their competitors during the first test.
    M4-98.6% of rounds successfully fired, XM8-99.8%, SCAR-99.6, HK 416-99.7%
    Upon examination, post test it, was discovered that half of the M4's stoppages were related to defective magazines. Bent ears, weak springs and the standard issue magazine at the time of the tests had an issue with the follower tilting. The Army attempted to address this with it's improved STANAG magazine in 2009. Magpul's PMAG (introduced 2007) polymer magazine is an excellent piece of gear, very durable, the younger son was issued these during his Afghanistan deployment, but they have not yet been adopted as the standard magazine. Also most of the M4's stoppages were of the minor type, easily and quickly cleared. Most stoppages that did occur with all rifles were Class I Stoppages that can be resolved within ten seconds. When it came to Class III Stoppages, those requiring an armorer to repair, there is very little variance between the weapons M4-11, XM8-11, HK 416-14 and SCAR-16.
    Headspace loss resulting in the headspace exceeding it's limits was a condition seen in all weapons used in the test. There was no significant difference seen between the different weapons. This resulted in ruptured cartridges and required replacement of the bolt in 1 x M4, 10 x XM8's, 3 x HK 416's and 7 x SCARs, and remember the M4's were used weapons and the others had come directly from the manufacturer.

    For another view to counter-balance the views by the web guru's that you have provided to support your view, would be the following 7 July, 2010 article by two New York Times reporters that travelled to Afghanistan to look into the controversy. They went to Helmand Province, the most dangerous and most active in terms of daily firefights.
     
  5. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    An excerpt from a New York Times article, July 7, 2010, 8:34 am

    Examining the Complaints About American Rifle Reliability

    By C.J. CHIVERS


    An Informal Survey

    Are there limits to such an informal survey?

    Of course. I queried not quite 100 infantrymen in conversations over many months, and we witnessed intensive small-arms engagements on perhaps a dozen different days. For a war fought in varied conditions and terrain, and with more than 90,000 American service members now on the ground, any slice of that size has its limits. But it still bears consideration. The ground covered included some of Afghanistan’s worst for firearms: the agricultural areas of Helmand Province, where weapons are often coated in a fine powdered sand (the troops call it “moon dust”), and where many firefights result in Marines jumping into irrigation canals. This means that rifles are dusty, then often wet and covered in mud. Moreover, some of the firefights lasted a few hours, resulting in several expended magazines for each grunt. I found only one report of a jammed rifle — a mud-coated M-16 that failed to fire one time after a sergeant climbed out of a canal midfight. The sergeant cleared the weapon and chambered a fresh round, and the rifle resumed firing without further hitch.

    Given these conditions, while we can’t draw definitive conclusions about the current performance of the M-4 and M-16 lines, it is nonetheless a jolt to find no accounts of significant weapons failures and then to read blog posts that declare that the weapons are either a disaster or at least widely loathed.

    This is more so given the account of Chief Warrant Officer Joshua S. Smith, the Marine responsible for weapons training and performance in the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, which is engaged in daily fighting in Marja. “We’ve had nil in the way of problems; we’ve had no issues,” he said of the M-4s and M-16s. The battalion has about 350 M-16s and 700 M-4s, he said.

    To be clear, any weapon that does fail in combat because of the normal strains of infantry use — the heat that builds up in extended firing; the intrusion of water, mud, dust or sand; or any other reason — can be a disaster to the grunt and the unit involved. History offers a guide: The experiences of the troops with early M-16s that failed them in Vietnam are some of the most harrowing tales of American war.

    To be equally clear, no sample of 100 or so grunts is enough to settle any longstanding argument. But after years of carrying an M-16 (the A2 version, in the 1980s and 1990s) and years of observing them in the field, often in firefights, I have yet to see a modern M-16 or M-4 fail in the ways described in others’ reports, and I have not found significant reliability complaints from troops using the rifles in trying environments. (Interestingly, two Web sites that closely follow military equipment decisions, www.military.com and www.defensereview.com, reported late last month that the special operations community had dropped its program to replace M-4s with a rifle colloquially known as the SCAR, in part because the SCAR was not living up to its early billing – a common trait among rifles in development – and because it was not regarded as offering an upgrade on the M-4 that was worth the investment.)

    Does that mean that M-4s and M-16s have not failed in combat, and are not still failing?

    No. But it is curious that the Army’s examination of the battle of Wanat, which was part of the fuel on the latest controversy, did not find systematic problems with weapons. And it is hard not to notice, as we have tried to examine the issues, that many of the complaints about M-4 and M-16 reliability are almost impossible to trace because they are either anonymous or do not include essential information, including the unit’s name, and the date and location of the failure. This makes the complaints of the last few years much different from the complaints of the mid-1960s, when the din from the field was such that a near deluge of angry veterans spoke openly of the problems, and the rifle was overhauled, as the early M-16 needed to be. If there are widespread problems with the rifles, then they should be detectable in units in heavy fighting.

    At War, for now, will draw no larger conclusions than this: Whatever the merits of the concerns about the M-4 and the M-16, on the matter of latter-day reliability, the complaints that have boomed on the Web feel out of proportion to what can be documented in the field, and may well be overstated, even hyped. If we’ve got this wrong, or have been looking in the wrong places, help us out (my e-mail address is chivers@nytimes.com). But from what we’ve seen and heard, the energy behind the worries about rifle reliability and the urge to swap out M-4s and M-16s for another rifle might be better expended in finding ways to counter improvised explosive devices, or other actual and readily discernible dangers and disaffections in the Afghan war.

    Note from me: The SCAR-L Mk 16, the 5.56mm version has been dropped for consideration by Special Forces. They are still looking at the SCAR-H Mk 17, the 7.62 x 51 version, and at the Mk 20 a sniper variant.
     
  6. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    The link in post #11.

     
  7. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    There are a number of background issues at play here.

    One is simply a desire by a lot of people to keep the rifle made in the US. Most of the alternatives are both European and far more expensive.
    A new rifle doesn't have to be introduced. The basic M4 is readily converted to a piston system without changing the basic layout. Not that I'd recommend a conversion unit, but just redesign it with a piston from the ground up. Colt has already done this, about ten years too late. Law enforcement is buying them, but they didn't get these out in time for the various tests and trials over the last dozen years.

    http://www.colt.com/ColtMilitary/Products/ColtAdvancedPistonCarbineAPC.aspx
     
  8. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    So I didn't miss it, I have quoted from the study in my previous posts. You are misreading the statistics. Of all M4 users, 19% experienced a malfunction during their deployment a 7 to 15 month period. A single stoppage could place you in that category, out of how many hundreds or even thousands of rounds fired, so it is not 20% of the time it is 20% of soldiers. So lets say we have 100 soldiers and 19 or 19% experience one or more stoppages during their year of deployment. That is a pretty low figure. Then the second part of the statement; "and almost 20% of those said they were “unable to engage the target with that weapon during a significant portion of or the entire firefight after performing immediate or remedial action to clear the stoppage" Well this almost 20% was actually 18%, and this 18% was of the original 19% who reported stoppages, which would give a net of 3.42%. This percentage, again is not that the weapon failed 3.42% of the time it was fired, but that one or more times over the course of the deployment. Of total soldiers that experienced stoppages, "82 percent of those that experienced a stoppage said it had little impact on their ability to clear the stoppage and re-engage their target", I had provided this quote in post #24. You might also like to know that in the same study, both the M9 service pistol (26%) and M249 SAW (30%) both rated significantly higher in the numbers of personnel that experienced stoppages when compared to the M4 (18%).


    Another straw dog. There is no evidence that this is a factor, other than some pundits believe it is. FN (Fabrique Nationale) is the current producer of the M4. Both the M249 SAW and M260 are Belgium designs. Heckler and Koch, maker of the M27 IAR, recently adopted by the Marine Corps, and the oft cited M416, is a German company. Where is the evidence of bias?
     
  9. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    And 20% of those couldn't clear their rifle. So, overall you have a situation where 19% of soldiers had their rifle malfunction and 20% of those (about 5% overall) had their rifle stop completely during a firefight. I don't find that acceptable.

    I think you mean straw man. The tests and trials were done at a time when they were actively looking at possible replacements. The rifle at the time was made by Colt, and they did not offer a piston alternative assuming that the M4 was "good enough" (and cheaper) and that their influence would prevail. It did.

    Colt later lost the contract on a purely cost basis, so now they've come out with a piston version, about 5 or 10 years too late.

    I think the argument largely revolves around whether the rifle in its present form is "good enough." That's a subjective question. My own experience leans heavily to a piston gun, but then I shoot everything from mixed brass reloads to lacquered Privi and Tula ammo. My experience is that with a piston the rifle shoots everything, all the time, clean or dirty, hot or cold. I like that in a rifle. I don't find it a very compelling argument when one says that if you keep your rifle meticulously clean it will work almost all the time.

    The AR is a better rifle than the AK and its variants. The only area where the AK shines is in reliability. We could approach that on the AR platform with a piston design and I think we should go that way.
     
  10. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper

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    Excellent reading. USMCPrice always brings the nuts...My comprehension might have missed something though...Why is the AK so reliable? Not saying the M4 isn't, but there are no discussions on the reliability/issues of the AK on this site...The video on youtube of how poorly the AK can be treated and still fire is impressive. ..Could one leave their AR buried in sand and still expect it to fire reliably like the AK?
    Why is the AR a better gun? Accuracy? Legs? Do guys get up after being hit with the AR round whereas the AK guys drop dead?
     
  11. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    The AK is loose, with robust moving parts. If you look around on YouTube you can find slo-mo videos of AK's in full auto and they look like they should shake apart. The piston system is a part of that reliability, but it's not the only aspect. The trade-off is a loss of accuracy.

    The AR is a much more refined weapon. It's far more accurate. It's not as reliable.

    That accuracy isn't just intrinsic accuracy (as if you bolted it into a rest), it's in the ergonomics. It's much, much easier to hit something with an AR standing up on your hind legs. The AR is lighter, has better balance and a much better trigger.


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGivoWD9OvQ
     
  12. green slime

    green slime Member

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    20% of 19% is not "about 5%". It is 3.8%. USMCPrice has already shown this figure to be 3.42%, because "almost 20%" was in actual fact only 18%. 3.42% is 31.6% less often than you're making it out to be.

    You are being way too loose with numbers, KB.
     
  13. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    OK. "About" 4% of soldiers M4's stopped in the midst of a firefight during their tour and could not be cleared. I wonder how many were shipped home in a box and couldn't participate in the survey?
     
  14. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Indeed. Because them IED's sure do know how to take advantage of those M4's 3.42% chance of blockage over an entire tour.
     
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  15. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    According to
    http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/36/4/841.full
    In Iraq ~60% of casualties were caused by IEDs and another 5% were air casualties
    In Afganistan it was 25% IEDs and 32% Air
    The above were for coalition forces and US forces may have a somewhat different distribution.
    Given the higher number of fatalities in Iraq we're talking about roughly 60% of the fatalites being completly out of the realm of loss due to rifle malfunction. During the period of 1 Jan to 17 September the KIA rate for US forces was ~.35%. That percentage is low enough that one would expect their frequency of stoppages to be about the same as the soldiers mentioned above. So one would expect about 3.5% of 40% of the fatalities to have had a stoppage in combat. In most cases that woldn't be in their final combat however. Without looking up the exact numbers I'm guessing in 2006 there were about 800 combat KIAs that would mean that about 11 had stoppages. So it may have happened that a few were killed because of rifle malfunctions but it suggest that number was in single digits on a yearly basis and that there were likely years in which there were no such casualties. Given the teathing problems that new rifles often have I find it hard to believe that a new rifle would have helped the problem. Furthermore other efforts likely would have saved more lives than putting the money into a new rifle. The new 25mm grenade launcher being a prime example.
     
  16. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I fail to see the logic. 1 in 5 had stoppages in combat and 1 in 5 of those were unable to be cleared. That's a poor record. Furthermore, for many (most?) of those troops that stoppage in combat may represent their only combat. As in most wars, most soldiers never fired their weapon in anger and those that did (the subject of the survey) generally saw few actual stand up fights.

    I haven't suggested a new rifle The AR runs fine with a piston. The ordnance boards have been "tweaking" the rifle since 1962 to make it work with a direct impingement system. The M4 with a shorter barrel and other changes has brought all those problems back, and again we are back to tweaking. The only thing I'm suggesting is that the best "tweak" is a gas piston to completely avoid the issue of carbon and heat being vented into the receiver and chamber.
     
  17. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    No it's not. Or at least it's not without looking at the periods involved. If every time you went into combat there was a 1 in 5 chance of a stoppage and a 1 in 25 chance of not being able to clear it that would be very bad. If on the other hand it was 1 in 5 and 1 in 25 for every 100 fire fights that's not all that bad. If it's for one in 10.000 that's pretty good. In the case mentioned we are talking about a tour I believe. For some reason I can't get to the site but it does say combat troops which leaves me with the impression that we are talking about individuals that saw quite a few fire fights. Furthermore Price has stated that the tests have shown that the other rifles considered performed worse in this regard. When you add to this that most of the stoppages were related to magazine failures and that improved magazines were issued then your case becomes questionable to say the least.
     
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  18. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Not necessarily. Except for cases like Fallujah, most fights are brief affairs anyway. We're talking (mostly) about hit and run fights.

    Below is the link to the actual survey (which I should have looked up earlier). If you go down to figure 6, you'll see a quite different picture of stoppages in country (not just combat). In Figure 6, 48% of users had a stoppage with the M4 and 50% of users had a stoppage with the M16 during their tour.

    More interestingly, when you get down to the summary you learn that the frequency and type of cleaning had little impact on stoppages. Also, the level of training and qualification level had little impact on stoppages. I find that kind of puzzling if we are to believe it's the soldiers fault and not the weapon.

    http://images.military.com/pix/defensetech/cna_m4_study_d0015259_a2.pdf
     
  19. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    That's not what it says. It says that 47% of the soldiers with M4's and 50% of the soldiers with M16's experianced instances of a magazine not emptying but no stoppage.
    I'd suggest this is a magazine issue for the most part and has been addressed previously in the thread.
    Note that the overall satisfaction with the M4 and M16 is greater than with the M9 and M249 as is the reliabilty.

    Note also the effects of attaching with duck tape or zip cord and the use of dry lubricant.
     
  20. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    You stated the case very well LWD.
    I engage a target 100 different times during the 365 days I am in country. I have one stoppage during those 100 engagements and I am on of the 19% (based upon the data I would have 1.4 stoppages in 100 engagements). Kodiac, I did not provide the Class III stoppage data for no reason.


    The class III stoppages, those unable to be cleared, are those you are speaking of here. Based upon the raw test data, I would have a statistically equal chance of having a Class III stoppage with any of the four rifles. Total Class three stoppages from the test: M4-11, XM8-11, HK 416-14 and SCAR-16. In fact the HK 416 had a 21.4% and the SCAR a 31.25% greater number of Class III stoppages. I would not worry about the chances of having a Class III stoppage in any of the four weapons because even the SCAR with 16 Class III stoppages in 60,000 rounds, when subjected to unrealistically harsh dust conditions, is a very reliable weapon.

    Then none of the weapons is acceptable because they all had a similar Class III stoppage rate.

    And they have obviously done a good job because the M16 rifle, used rifles, not new fresh from the manufacturer weapons, suffered only 61 total stoppages in the same test. A significantly lower stoppage rate than the M4 or any of the piston guns.

    and

    You are correct, the M4 was manufactured by Colt at the time of the tests, however you are inferring that the US Army was biases against the other competitors due their not being manufactured/designed in the US. At the time of the tests the three primary weapons systems the soldier used were the rifle/carbine (Colt/US), M249 SAW (FN/Belgium) and the M240 (FN/Belgium). Since then the Marine Corps has adopted the M27 IAR as the fireteam, automatic rifleman's weapon (H&K/Germany). I do not see any indication that a "not invented here" mindset was behind the decision to stay with the M4. since, then Remington was awarded the contract for production, then Colt sued, after dismissal of the suit, FN got the contract.

    You might want to read the survey again, the data you quote was related to magazine failures, not rifle stoppages. In fact the heading says "without a stoppage". The data concerning troops experiencing a stoppage are exactly as presented earlier in this thread.
     

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