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March 09, 2006

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Substandard Issue: Why can't the military give good guns to our troops?

And while we’re on the subject of military rifles, it’s worth mentioning that the U.S. has less than a terrific record on equipping our troops with the latest and best. Consider:

  • The Union Army fought the Civil War with single-shot muzzle-loaders, despite the fact that practical breechloading repeaters were available for almost all of that period.
  • After the war, the Army went with the single-shot Model 1873 .45/70 Springfield, despite the demonstrated superiority of repeaters. General Custer could tell you about this.
  • We stayed with the Model 1873 right up until the Spanish American War in 1898, when we met up with the Mauser, firing smokeless powder. Ooops. Our mistake.
  • Despite the availability of the Mauser, we replaced the Model 1873s with a strange Danish bolt-action called the Krag-Jorgensen. It lasted all of ten years or so.
  • We fought World War I with the Springfield Model 1903, a great rifle, and a flagrant copy of the Mauser. Mauser sued the U.S. Government for patent infringement and won.
  • For the first year of World War II we got by with the Springfield. Then M-1s got to the troops. It was the best rifle of the war for two years until the Germans came up with the MP43—the first assault rifle.
  • Korea was fought with World War II surplus.
    In 1963, the Army began issuing the M-14, an improved (?) M-1. it was obsolete the day it was first issued.
  • The M-16 was our weapon of choice for our excellent adventure in Southeast Asia. Its introduction was a disaster, due to: a) the Army’s alteration of the inventor’s design; b) the use of ball powder instead of the original extruded powder; and c) no cleaning equipment was issued with the rifle, despite the fact that it required frequent and careful cleaning.
  • Despite this, the M-16 has had a 40-year run as our standard infantry weapon, having been tortured into an acceptable state. Why, however, are we still using it, considering that all our other Vietnam-era equipment, from helmets to jet fighters, is stone age compared to what he have today?



It is an interesting question. The cynical side of me wonders if it is not because the areospace and automotive industries has more pull in Washington.

On a related note: The UK has a very similar situation. Their standard service rifle has its own record of malfunctions and expensive redesigns.


ur military, being an arm of our government is inherently inefficient and as always, is run by less then our brightest people. In this administration, anyone in the military who would dare to question the way things are being run, would immediately be gotten rid of. Tom

Bill Lester

"After the war, the Army went with the single-shot Model 1873 .45/70 Springfield, despite the demonstrated superiority of repeaters. General Custer could tell you about this."

The Trapdoor was a weapon of its era. While weapons such as the Spencer repeater did prove their value during the Civil War, once that conflict ended there was little money to equip the Army. There is no way Congress would've authorized the funds needed to outfit the entire military with repeaters. Budgets weren't the cash cows then that they are today. The Trapdoor modification of existing muzzleloaders allowed for a significantly higher rate of fire than anything short of a levergun in 1866. Just ask the Indians on the losing side of the famous Wagon Box Fight. ;)

"Korea was fought with World War II surplus."

Well of course it was, Korea was a surprise to most of the miltary movers and shakers. It was also an era when the Pentagon wrongly assumed conventional warfare was made obsolete by the atomic bomb. Nuke the bad guys and just about anything more lethal than a pointed stick would work for the troops sent to occupy the irradiated enemy's capitol. Nevertheless, many small arms designs were being tested during the Korean War time frame.

"In 1963, the Army began issuing the M-14, an improved (?) M-1. it was obsolete the day it was first issued."


Try to find a single M14 gathering dust on the rack anywhere in the Army or Marine Corps. I can almost guarantee you won't find one, because they're all in the hands of combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This supposedly obsolete rifle's power and long-range capability are in great demand half a century after its birth. Ever hear of the Designated Marksman? He sure doesn't carry an M16A2. In fact it's pretty rare not to see an M14 in news footage or magazine photos at least once or twice a week.

"(The M16's) introduction was a disaster, due to: a) the Army’s alteration of the inventor’s design; b) the use of ball powder instead of the original extruded powder; and c) no cleaning equipment was issued with the rifle, despite the fact that it required frequent and careful cleaning."

And exactly how are any of these things are a fault in the rifle's basic design? I'm not the greatest proponent of any .223 being used as the general-issue military rifle, but the 16 has gotten a bum rap. A very close friend of mine and I spent some range time yesterday, during which we discussed his recent experiences in Iraq. This veteran's opinion of the M16? Keep it clean and it's a reliable weapon. His troops never reported a single malfunction in several fights. The M16/M4's rack-grade accuracy is significantly greater than the Kalashnikovs our enemies use. That gives our fighting men a distinct advantage when engagement ranges can often exceed 200 yards.

IMO the M16 isn't the perfect standard military rifle but it isn't nearly as bad as the armchair pundits like to portray it.

Mike Diehl

This "problem" may be more apparent than real.

The lament about not arming all the Union soldiers with Henries for example is a bit misplaced, considering that it was many times more expensive per rifle and per cartridge, and that manufacturers for the rifle and the cartridge were unique. Sure you might have armed everyone with it. But then you might have had to wait a decade to field an army.

The Krag fired the ".30 US" ... a better cartridge than the .45-70 that preceded it, and as a magazine fed rifle it was definitely better than the contemporary Mauser 1880 (the first one was a single shot bolt). The first decent Mauser (adopted by Spain in 1883 and Prussia in 1884) was available *after* the US went with the .30US. As Dilbert might note, that's the tech-cycle for you.

The M1-Garand was the best military semi-auto ever made. The MP43 was the "wave of the future" but they were rare indeed.

Which takes us to the current standard issue weapon. The complaint seems to be that the US did not arm its soldiers with AK-47s or MP-43 knock-offs. I suppose it seemed like a good idea during the Cold War not to directly copy a communist or Nazi design.

So what I want to know is what procurement choices were available when we went with the M-16? And how much did the fact that the manufacturer was in Illinois affect the decision to stay with it all these years?


This has many selected facts taken out of context, revealing a serious lack of understanding of the reality of the situtations he attempts to describe with one liners. This sounds like it is based on an execrable screed called "Misfire" that made similar charges. Ignorance can truly be bliss when you only have to write columns, and not be responsible for developemnt, production, procurement, or issue of arms while subject to [mis]management by a stingy Congress. Nor can the write have an appreciation for the many innovative attempts to provide better weapons.

O Garcia

The M16 is reliable if you keep it clean. Agreed.

But there's the problem. By clean, that means really clean, and the M16 is hard to clean with standard tools. And, with that direct gas impingement system, it tends to get dirty very quickly.

Some say the M16 would be reliable if it eliminated any one of the two culprits:

-the direct impingement system (replace with a standard piston system)
-the 7-lug bolt (replace with a two-lug bolt)

I agree that the M14 is not obsolete. But it may have been the wrong choice, some now believe the Western Allies shouldn't have gone with the .308 and should have adopted an intermediate cartridge instead. Peter Kokalis once wrote that had the .308 not been introduced, there wouldn't have been a need for the .223 (5.56). One mistake led to another.

But the M14 still serves a purpose. Soldiers who fight in the jungle most of the time favor the M14, ironically for the very same reasons the M14 was eventually ditched in Vietnam: "too powerful for the short distance engagements in the jungle". Filipino soldiers, for example, love the fact that the M14 will not be deterred by heavy brush and small trees to hit the enemy. I know we're not supposed to "brush buck" but that's with deer. When in a shooting fight, you use every trick available. (BTW, the AK's original 7.62 round will also penetrate small trees.)

Even the Soviets realized the assault rifle wasn't enough in some situations. That's why they have the Dragunov SVD. The Dragunov was the original Designated Marksman's Rifle, a rifle more powerful than the standard rifle and intended to extend the range of the squad.

The M14 also makes a fine club if you run out of ammo.

And it is graceful enough to make a good parade rifle, something the M16 isn't.

ranger Nick

Gov't by it's very nature is slow and repressive.

Civil War: Single shot rifles don't waste ammo!

Indian Wars: 55 civilian scouts with spencer repeating rifles held 800 warriors(est.)off for two weeks at Beecher's Island.

Custer had 700 solders with single shot carbines and lost half of them(men) at Little Bighorn.

Spainish American War: US ARMY still using mostly single shot rifles and the spainish army shot them to pieces coming up san juan hill with bolt action mausers.

WW1: Gov't gives our troops something better to fight with, mauser to mauser.

WW2: Gov't really gets scared of the nazi's and issues one great battle rifle. Our fathers had lots of semi and full auto guns to win that one.

Korea: Replay of WW2. New War, New Lessons.

Vietnam: I was there. M16! could not be trusted. Bad powder, barrel pinned on, and got dirty real easy. AK47 was better. Could take abuse and keep firing. Ain't that the name of the game. We soldiers were crying to have M-14's. Modern verson M1 Garand.

First Gulf War: My nephew said M16's all worn out and needed replaced by new type rifles. Sand gummed the enclosed bolt. Must be cleaned 24/7. Still not to be trusted.

2nd Gulf War: Sameo sameo M16. You will notice on the News, more and more US Troops carrying AK47's on patrol in Iraq. Same thing in Vietnam. Lessons not learned.

One last thought, WW1: The Germans had the best hunting rifle, the Americans had the best target rifle, and the Brits had the best battle rifle(10 shooter)!

We still have the best target rifle today. Your right as always Dave, retire that black rifle to history.


Two Words: Lowest Bidder


We forgot to mention one other "fine" weapon: the M1 Carbine.

My grandfather served in Korea and was issued an M1 Carbine. When they became available as surplus he purchased several of them. I asked him once why he liked them. His reply was that he was amazed that something could be so useless.

Currently he has five of these rifles that appear to be in pristine condition; however, I have never managed to fire more than three rounds in any of them without a malfunction of some sort.


There's so much falsehood on this page it makes me sick.

I'll just pick my favorite:

"You will notice on the News, more and more US Troops carrying AK47's on patrol in Iraq. " - That is absulutely B.S. I have NEVER seen a single picture of a US warfitghter carrying an AK47, and even if you COULD (which I doubt) come up with one (that isn't photoshopped) I could find a hundred that depict otherwise.


Just my $.02 worth;
*1903 - Fine sniper weapon for the era. Copy of a Mauser for a good reason.
* Garand - Love it! Only 8 rounds and distinctive 'ping' could cause some heartburn but a damn fine rifle...even today.
*M1 Carbine - best long-barralled .30 caliber pistol ever made. (tongue firmly in cheek)
*M14 - Brought back into service because it was, and is, a damn fine combat rifle. Although I prefer the FAL.
*M16 - Pos: Nice ergonomics, light weight, soldier can carry lots of ammo, innovative design.
Neg: Need lots of ammo to drop enemy when using round designed to kill gophers, innovative design not suited to combat environment.
What I would like to see:
A .30 caliber intermediate round similar to the 7.62X39 in a simple, robust, reliable, accurate package. Oh, wait the Russians already did that. Fine, Kalashnikov's design principles were sound. There is no reason we cannot design and build a better weapon using the same philosophy.

Mike Diehl

Why not go with an intermediate round with some real knock down power. Something like for example the .243 Winchester?

Bill Lester

The M16/M4 with Heckler & Koch's new short gas piston operation coupled with the 6.8mm SPC chambering might be the perfect answer to the few lingering doubts about this small arms family. The H&K mod replaces the original gas system with one more akin to the M1 Garand/M14. No more combustion gases entering (and fouling) the chamber. The 6.8mm cartridge (.277-in, 110 to 115-gr. bullets @ around 2750 to 2800fps from 18" barrels) gives a significant increase in power over the 5.56 NATO. Magazines hold 28 rounds, as opposed to 30 for the issue cartridge.


1. WWI few 1903s mostly M1917 Enfields @ 30.06.
2. WWII M1 fine rifle...8 round w/ching clip exiting...gave enemy warning of no ammo.
3. Korea M1 still fine..expanded enemy understanding of the ching when ammo exhausted. Enemy has fully auto small arms..
4. M14 best rifle...reliable better produced than M1. No absolutely NO foulups. Still best weapon w/20 round mag.
5. M16 worst weapon made. Buffer get dirty or sand and it's history. 20 round mag would take only 17 rounds or jamming would occur. Mattel is swell and thanks to Robert (STRANGE) McNamara. He and his corporate buddies.
Still worst military rifle.
Can't penetrate ANYTHING.....
Kalishnikov best...auto, simple design and very reliable. Steel spring wire as trigger housing group...imagine...

Pistols M1911A1 best. .45 knock on ass.....9mm ask the Germans....

nuff said

ranger Nick


Looks like the majority agree with you on the column. Ditch the black rifle for something else better.

30 cal the best with something smaller in 6.5 maybe. But ditch the black rifle!!!!!!!!!!!!!


So, what's the alternative to the M16? Who has the design for the next generation battle rifle? I do think a US soldier needs a primary weapon that is a little more powerful than the 223. 30 cal minimum!


You understand the winning of battles. Firepower. The Germans had bolt action...we had the M1 Semi auto. Kicked their asses. Korea..we had semiauto..they had burp guns fully auto and massive people....Vietnam...we had M16 that was a "must clean constantly" and they had AK47 with "drop in mud and pick up and fire magazine (30 rds)..also fully automatic.7.62 (30 cal) round.. M16 cut back from fully automatic to 3 rd bursts...reason..save ammo. The same old tired reason for all this crap...worry about "saving" ammo. And the bad guys still have AK47 (production in 1947) still givin' better at 7.63X39. The R&D people have several battle rifles but planning includes the 5.56 round. Why? Guess we have lots and lots of them (see how we saved by going to the 3 rd bursts) Until the Soldiers and Marines on the ground have a say the REMFs will always come up with a rifle the "corporate boys" will make money off of. Remember. FIREPOWER is the winner of the game, not too-small calibre and 3 rd bursts...don't believe it? Example...take a look at the complexity of the M16 trigger group. Rocket science? Nope, but complicated enough to have "specialized" training in order to fix or repair when necessary...

'nuff said


Dang keyboard. Misspelling words and stuff. The AK47 should read 7.62X39mm(30cal). Took 7.62X54 and cut down for "assualt" rifles. Most soldiers don't engage at ranges further than 200 meters unless sniper, etc.

that's 'nuff

O Garcia


I would just like to add that while it's true that some US troops were equipped with M1903's in World War Two, some of that was logistics, and some was by choice. The Army units in the Pacific got 1903's while those in the European theater got priority for Garands (Churchill has a lot to do with that IMO, persuading Roosevelt to deal with Adolf first).

But remember, the MARINES, wherever they were, chose to stay with the Springfield. One thing you can say about Marines, they think for themselves. Col. Jeff Cooper recalls defending their lines at Guadalcanal with 1903's and water cooled 1917 Browning machineguns (talk about World War ONE weaponry). And they did fine.

It was only later that all Army units and Marine units were fitted with Garands.

Remarkably, production of the 1903 in WW2 by companies like Remington, years after it was officially 'replaced', ran in the hundreds of thousands. While some will say it was an imitation of the Mauser, the 1903 was a damn fine rifle, and never knew how to quit either.

If only it was available in left hand.


Josh; I'll take those broken, worthless M1 Carbines off your hands. I'll even pay shipping and FFL fees:)

Everyone Else;
Could I hear an opionion from a serving Infantry NCO about the M16? I've been in the Army 22 years and have never seen these problems. Granted, I'm a tanker and we only use the M16 when we get off the tank to take a dump, so I've only put about 5,000 rounds through them. An infantry person might have more data. When you ask guys who live or die based on how their rifle works, how this rifle works; they tell you it works and nobody trades for an AK (urban legend). Bad units, with poor discipline, have broken and dirty rifles, more often, worn out magazines. Good NCOs checks that their soldiers have cleaned their rifles and put their foot up the a#$ of any who don't. The most common reply when I ask the M16 question of soldiers who have more combat time than me is that "well your [email protected]#$er doesn't work if you don't clean it either, do you want to trade it in?"


Agreed....We need a more potent Rd. I have used all 4 varients of the M16. Right now the soldiers love their M4 rifle. I have never used any of the varients in extream conditions, so i cannot comment on the problems everyone speeks of. I do know this... that if i had a choice i whould be useing anything w/ a larger Rd., just not the AK47......... Why?
Accuracy, our weapons were designed w/ tighter tolerances for that reason. AK47 is a great rifle for laying down fire, but i whould not count on it for shot placement. Yes they have the SVD, but that was enhanced for the sniper. I'm not sure what the next generation of battle rifle will be, but i hope someone up there gives our boys a better Rd. to work with.

ranger nick

we just need a new battle rifle. that's the bottom line. we'll need one if hillary gets elected to defend the country!

Jack Bohm

We should just bring back the M-14 or maybe militarize the Ruger Mini-Thirty. There is a reason why .30cal was used for decades- it actually kills reliably. If not .30cal, why not a .270 sized thing.


I've got no beef with the 5.56x45, and I don't think it's too much to ask for a soldier to maintain his weapon, but I do have a complaint with the gas system and the notorious bolt-over-base stoppages of the stoner design. If you look around, there's a reason that every other country who builds a main-line battle rifle puts a gas piston in it, and no one copies the design of the AR-15. The G-36 from H&K, the SIG 550, the Daewoo K2, the Galil, the Beretta AR-70/90, the Japanese Type 89...these rifles all fall back basically on one or two designs, either the AR-18 (which Armalite held on to after the AR-15 was sold to Colt), or the AK-47. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.


By the way, SIG is making rifles in the US now, any reason why a version of the 550 wouldn't be suitable?

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