USNI Proceedings Takes Aim at M4 Myths

26 Jul
Bartholomew over at The Firing Line Forum did an excellent job of summarizing an article in the current US Naval Institute Proceedings magazine. I think you’ll find the article and the summary below quite interesting. Many thanks to Bartholomew for letting me re-post his information!
The July 2010 article of the USNI Proceedings magazine includes an extremely interesting article by Kirk Ross (a previous USNI award winner for his historical writing of battles in Afghanistan) called “What really happened at Wanat?”.

Wanat by itself has been a rich source of discussion in Internet gun forums, so I was interested in seeing what new information the author brought to illuminate that battle. I was surprised to find that rather than just address Wanat, the author ended up challenging all kinds of currently held ideas on the M4 and the history behind it.

Here is a short summary of some of the key points I found interesting:

1. In 2006, the Center for Naval Analyses conducted a survey of Afghanistan and Iraq combat veterans (at least 5 engagements) and found the following results:

A. Despite studies by NSWC Crane in the 1990s and the two more recent Extreme Dust Test studies indicating that generously lubricated weapons perform better even in dust, the CNA survey found that soldiers using dry lubes decreased the probability of a stoppage by half.
B. Ironically, the more times a soldier cleaned his weapon during the day, the more likely he was to experience a stoppage.
C. Magazines were the number one complaint cited by the CNA survey participants.
D. Over 1/3 of survey participants had not been issued a cleaning kit for their rifle (these are combat veterans with at least five engagements!)
E. Accessories ziptied, corded or duct taped to an M4 increased stoppages by 2-3 times and more accessories = more stoppages regardless of how they were attached.
F. Soldiers using rebuilt M4s (apparently not a small number) were 3.5 times more likely to have a stoppage.
G. Based on the survey, CNA concluded that stoppages during engagements happened between 6.75-2.37% of the time or less with the M4. Large-impact stoppages (unable to engage the target for a significant portion of the fight) happened between 1.21-0.42%

2. The author also goes into some detail on the infamous Extreme Dust Test pitting the M4 against the SCAR, HK416 and XM8. Some of the new details from that test that I was previously unaware of:

A. The M4s chosen for that test were drawn from Army inventory and competed against brand new rifles from the manufacturers.

B. Six of the ten M4s chosen in the test did not meet the minimum military requirement for cyclic rate of fire (i.e., they were undergassed – not a great thing when the test involves lots of foreign debris).

C. Colt alleges that the ATEC testers were unfamiliar with the M16’s 3-round burst cam and counted 1 and 2 round bursts resulting from the funky camming mechanism as “stoppages” during the course of the test.

D. After this test, Colt conducted a DoD certified testing facility, Stork East-West Technology Corporation, to repeat the Extreme Dust Test with the above factors corrected and MilSpec 810F followed (Colt alleges this was not followed in the first test). In that test, the M4 suffered 111 stoppages over 60,000 rounds.

3. Colt takes off the gloves and flat out calls the writers at Army Times shills for H&K – “Numerous media outlets have blamed the M4 for the death of Soldiers at Wanat, or continue to deride the weapon in favor of the commercial off-the-shelf products of Colt competitors-part of what Colt alleges to be a “concerted media campaign” led by writers at Army Times,, and others to promote the products of German firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch.”

4. Gas pistons – The Army has dismissed gas piston ARs as offering no significant increase in reliability (compared to the 20″ rifle) repeatedly. Colt started offering the Army a gas piston option (the Model 703) as early as the late 1960s. Every comparative assessment since then has reached the same conclusion.

A. “A December 2005 study conducted by the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), for example, which evaluated the HK416 and Colt’s Close Quarters Battle-Receiver (CQB-R), concluded that CQB-R “out performed the HK416 in mechanical reliability.”32 Other reports have rendered similar conclusions about other possible M4 replacements, including the XM8. The Army’s own April 2008 Small Arms Capabilities-Based Assessment, carried out to support “a small arms acquisition strategy through 2015,” did not fault the M4 carbine, but instead called for improvements in ammunition, sights, and optics.33″

5. Everybody agrees the M16 magazine is a problem.

6. Widespread agreement that full-auto and exceeding the 12-15rpm sustained rate of fire seriously degrades reliability.

Overall, regardless of whether you like or hate the M4, there is a lot of information in this article challenging how you think about it. It challenges the wisdom of the gas-piston conversion, it challenges the “latest & greatest” wisdom on weapon maintenance (lots of wet lube) in a dust environment. It challenges the perceived reliability problems of the M4. I’ve got some thoughts about some of the conclusions; but I am still digesting the article at this point.


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