Army Seeks Gun Industry Help On M4 Carbine

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 10 months ago

The U.S. Marine Corps led the way.  At the time I said this:

Recall that I told you “that Rock River Arms, Knights Armament, LaRue Tactical and Daniel Defense isn’t the Colt produced under milspec for the Army and Marine Corps (these are all superior to the Colt M-16 and M-4)?”  And recall that John Jay and I have both discussed Milspec and what it does (and doesn’t) mean?

It should also be pointed out that there are many things that can be tweaked on the Stoner platform (Milspec design) that can make it much more reliable than the Colt.

Fouling in the M4 is not the problem. The problem is weak springs (buffer and extractor), as well as light buffer weights (H vs. H2 or H3). With the abovementioned drop-in parts, the M4 is as reliable as any weapon I have ever fired, and I have fired probably every military-issue assault rifle fielded worldwide in the last 60 years as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant (18B). An additional benefit of the heavier spring/weight combo is that it transmits the energy impulse of the firing cycle to the shoulder over a longer duration, lowering the amount of foot pounds per second and dramatically reducing the perceived recoil. Follow-on shots are easier to make effectively, and much faster, especially at 50 meters and beyond.

I reliably fired 2400 rounds (80 magazines) on a bone dry gun, and I would bet that is a lot more than any soldier or other armed professional will ever come close to firing without any lubrication whatsoever. So, disregard the fouling myth and install a better buffer spring, H2 buffer, enhanced extractor spring and a Crane O-ring (all end user drop-in parts). With normal (read “not excessive”) lubrication and maintenance, properly-built AR-15/M4 type rifles with carbine gas systems will astound you with their reliability and shootability.

The high quality AR-15 manufacturers know all of this and generally make their parts better than Milspec.  But now the Army wants in on the game.

The Army is asking the gun industry to build new components for its soldiers’ primary weapon — the M4 carbine — a move that experts say is a tacit admission that the service has been supplying a flawed rifle that lacks the precision of commercially available guns.

At a recent Capitol Hill hearing, an Army general acknowledged that the M4’s magazine has been responsible for the gun jamming during firefights.

On the federal government’s website, the Army announced a “market survey” for gunmakers to produce a set of enhancements to essentially create a new model — the “M4A1+.” It would include a modular trigger, a new type of rail fitted around a “free floating” barrel and other parts. The upgrade is supposed to improve the rifle’s accuracy and reliability.

The Army last year took the significant step of beginning to convert the basic M4 into the special operations version, the M4A1, with a heavier barrel designed to better withstand the heat of rapid fire.

The Washington Times reported in 2014 on confidential prewar tests that showed the barrel was prone to overheating. The Times also quoted active-duty soldiers who said the M4 is inferior based on their experience in battle. A Green Beret said he takes the extraordinary step of rebuilding his M4A1 on the battlefield by using components from other gunmakers — technically a violation of Army regulations.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, an artillery officer and decorated Vietnam combatant, is one of the M4’s most vocal critics. He also believes the 5.56 mm M855A1 ammunition — an environmentally sensitive, or “green,” round — is wrong for the gun.

Gen. Scales said the Army’s new solicitation is further proof of the carbine’s shortfalls.

“It’s another attempt by the Army to make the M4 look good,” he said. “If the Army wants to improve the M4, fine. But it’s not a weapon suitable for high-intensity, close combat in extremes against an enemy who is basically matching us in weapons performance in a close fight. Everybody knows the weapon has flaws.”

Mr. Scales said the M4’s basic shortfall is that it uses gas, or direct, impingement to extract and expel its shells as opposed to a piston system. A piston firing mechanism is in the prolific AK-47, which runs cleaner and cooler but is considered slightly less accurate.

This article is a complete mess.  It goes from things that we’ve discussed before that should be obvious (such as a floated barrel to avoid interference with [natural frequency] barrel harmonics by fixed points), to old battle philosophy (such as the notion that Solders and Marines today shoot Carbines fully automatic as if they are some sort of area suppression weapon like a SAW – seriously, this is thirty or forty year old battle tactics, the stuff of Vietnam rather than the professionally trained fighters of the twenty first century).

It ends (for me, simply because I couldn’t bring myself to read any more) when that loud mouth, washed up old coot General Scales started begging for the piston system again.  Good grief.  He weighs in against the Eugene Stoner platform for CQB, which is ironically the situation in which it is the best weapon on earth by far.  My message is clear.  Just stop.  The main stream media needs to stop being a day late to the story.  We’ve already worked this one over until it’s bloody.  General Scales needs to go home and stop advocating for whatever armament company he’s working for today.  The Marine Corps and Army need to stop telling the world what they are going to do about non-existent problems with their weapons.  They have diarrhea of the mouth.  Wanat and Kamdesh were not caused by weapons problems.  They were caused by the idiot general who deployed Platoon-size U.S. forces to ensconce themselves in valleys to fight off Battalion-size Taliban forces who had the high ground.

But what does need to happen is with the Marine Corps and Army.  The procedures need to change to allow the armorers the freedom and latitude to arm the men with the weapons they need.  If they want Magpul magazines (with the no-tilt follower), then they should get them instead of the ridiculous Milspec magazines with the follower that binds and sticks (yea, it’s happened to me too).  If a free floated barrel is better (and it is), then change the Military specifications to allow a free floated barrel and replace them all.  If stronger buffer springs are better, then replace them all.  Just go do it.  Adapt, improvise and overcome.  Don’t be bureaucratic pointy-heads.

And something needs to happen with Patriots too.  We should all learn from the intransigence of the Army and Marine Corps.  If there is a better part, buy it.  Test it.  Work your weapons systems.  Learn them.  Practice with them.  Procedures are good insofar as they help you.  If they become a hindrance, defenestrate them.  You control them – they do not control you.

And by the way, around these parts we speak the name of Eugene Stoner with hushed reverence.  Do otherwise at your peril.


Army And Marine Corps On M855 Ammunition

Marines To Get Rifle Makeovers

Blaming The Gun For The Battle Losses

The Reliability Of The Eugene Stoner Design

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  1. On April 27, 2015 at 4:23 am, DAN III said:

    Didn’t the Army recently terminate their “Improved Carbine” program after soliciting manufacturers to develop and spend millions to meet the program specifications ? I believe LWRC Incorporated dropped out after Army changed the specifications for the umpteenth time. LWRCi provided Army with those items Scales is so concerned about. The LWRCi M6 Improved Carbine is a Armalite platform in 5.56mm using a piston gas system with integrated, ambidextrous controls, a spiral fluted barrel to reduce weight and aid in cooling, and a very good 2-stage trigger. Oh, and LWRCi is a 100% American company unlike Beretta, Glock and Heckler & Koch.

    So here we go again with another wasteful solicitation for weapon that needs no improvement beyond what was provided in the Improved Carbine solicitation. Simply improve issued 5.56mm to 77 grain Nosler or Sierra cannelured bullets. Or change ammunition altogether to a different caliber altogether, the 300 Advance Armament Corporation’s 300 Blackout.

  2. On April 27, 2015 at 3:04 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    “So here we go again with another wasteful solicitation for weapon that needs no improvement beyond what was provided in the Improved Carbine solicitation …”

    I would argue – and have already argued – that there was never a need for any “improved carbine solicitation” and the waste of time began with that. A piston would slow the action, cause increased moving parts, and become something else that needs to be cleaned. And having held a rifle with the piston on the front end, the rifle is out of balance (being front end heavy) and unwieldy in CQ. It’s exactly what is NOT needed for CQB.

    With the exception of a few parts changeouts, the Stoner system is perfect for the meme, “rifle is fine.” Leave it alone.

  3. On April 27, 2015 at 8:47 pm, DAN III said:

    The original Armalite was designed for right handed individuals. The IC program introduced the desirable and functional ambidextrous features of a mag release, selector, bolt catch and sling points. This ambidextrous capability should have been addressed decades ago. A much needed improvement without changing the basic design of the platform. “Parts” as you called it. Yet improvement nevertheless.

    I’m holding the 16″ barreled, LWRC offering at this moment. This weapon is not front heavy. It is very balanced actually. Which Armalite piston rifle are you referring to ? Myself, I don’t favor either gas system having used the DI system for years without detriment. They both function well. But one argument for the piston system is it is a cleaner operating system than DI. That I agree with having used both in the Armalite platform. However, how much cleaner is piston to justify it’s introduction in a new, improved issue longarm remains to be seen.

    The Improved Carbine solicitation requested some needed improvements, “parts” primarily in the ambidextrous realm. As far as close quarters battle goes (CQB) I consider that inside of 50 meters, pistol range. The issue infantry long arm needs to reach beyond that to ranges of at least 600 meters. Arguing a long arm’s CQB potential is moot. Troops using unwieldy Garands did just fine 70 years ago, clearing and engaging German defenders in house-to-house combat. CQB if you will.

    There was and still is a need to make improvements in the 50 year old Armalite platform. I outlined the ambidextrous features as a major, yet subtle and inexpensive improvement, on the current platform iteration. The Improved Carbine solicitation was reasonable and in keeping with issues identified by combat troops over the last fifteen years. The solicitation should have been finalized and even small improvements should have been acknowledged and implemented. They were not.

    In a nutshell, retain the Stoner/Armalite platform, implement ambidextrous controls and sling points, reduce the barrel length to 12 inches with 1/8 twist to accomodate the 300 Blackout cartridge. Issued rounds to be 110-125 grain.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  4. On April 27, 2015 at 11:45 pm, Mark Dietzler said:

    I thought the improved extractor spring, insert, and o-ring were already standard equipment on the M-4A1. Heck, you can buy a package of three on amazon from BCM for less than a twenty spot.

    If you are issued an M-4, stick one of these upgraded extractor spring packs in, and you should solve most if not all of your extraction problems.
    Closely examine your issued magazines. If they lips are spread too far, or are cracked, apply hammer therapy to them and hammer them flat, and combat loss them. This is the biggest thing I saw while in uniform, people being issued magazines that were old enough to vote.
    I’m getting tired of people bagging on the M-16/M-4 family, we know all the bugs now, and they are mostly fixed.
    I do believe that the civilian community does have some parts that can help that have been so far forbidden to be put on issued rifles. Things like light mounts, and more modern rails than the Knights Armament one that is issued.

  5. On April 28, 2015 at 4:59 am, DAN III said:


    I had extraction issues with a new, BCM 14.5″ upper. BCM asked if I had the extractor spring upgrade kit installed with the O-ring. “Yes”….O-ring installed I replied. BCM answered back….”Remove the O-ring….”. Yeah, I know. Confused me too. Anyway, took their advise. Removed O-ring. Problem was still there. So much for that.

  6. On April 28, 2015 at 1:43 am, Aguila1952 said:

    Just what is the deal with all the bickering? Is it politics, lobbying? One would think that a professional army would give it’s soldiers the best after decades of experience and if a warrior wants to modify his weapon, it is his responsibility to maintain it, supply it, etc. Just looking for some additional input on why this is still an issue when these problems have been known for so long. Thanks and God bless you guys!

  7. On April 28, 2015 at 9:11 am, IvyMikeCafe said:

    Nice little book from Mike Pannone on the AR platform to keep in your kit. The maintenance section starting pg 41 discusses upgrading the buffer, buffer spring, extractor O-ring, and gas rings. Key is regular PM. I’ve had it on good advice to replace them every 3,000 rounds if you have the time and supply chain to do it.

    Occam’s Razor simple and hard for even a dumbass like me to screw up.


  8. On April 28, 2015 at 10:11 am, Ned Weatherby said:

    Have a friend who bought an old post-ban 16″ Bushmaster to rework. comparing apples to apples, the post ban has an unthreaded barrel, so cork time is longer than a 16 ” with muzzle device, and still longer than the cork time on the M4) For fun, I asked him to shoot the thing with the bolt unlubed and see how far it ran. He’s got over 2000 rds in it with zero maintenance, some times getting it quite hot, and still not a single malfunction. He’s getting pretty tired of the exercise.

    My guess is, if one is getting paid to find problems, or there’s money in it, problems will be discovered.

    One agreement I have with the post concerns potential problems with 855a1(green) ammunition. But the problem I see is firing near proof- load ammunition in every soldier’s gun for every round. At the very least I would want a new, stronger buffer spring, heavier buffer and perhaps even a carrier weight if I was expected to fire that particular fodder daily. Tubb precision has them for around 45 bux – little more than a heavy buffer. And a carrier weight can be removed and placed in your pocket if need be.

    In sum, so many cures for so many problems folks didn’t seen to know they had…

  9. On April 28, 2015 at 4:23 pm, Backwoods Engineer said:

    “At a recent Capitol Hill hearing, an Army general acknowledged that the M4’s magazine has been responsible for the gun jamming during firefights.” Don’t I remember correctly that the Army BANNED Magpul mags that the soldiers were buying because they were better than the crap aluminum magazines, even the ones with the anti-tilt followers? BTW, I have NEVER had a misfeed with a Magpul product that was attributable to the magazine.

  10. On April 28, 2015 at 6:04 pm, TSA_TheSexualAssault said:

    I consider most of the problem with the platform “performance” coming from too-short barrel leading to insufficient velocity. TWENTY INCHES is the correct barrel length for a Stoner Rifle to perform correctly (at nearly the same level as an equal-technology-bullet fired from an M-14/FAL). Little bullet has gotta have muzzle velocity (and terminal velocity) to perform correctly, and short-barrels prohibit this. “Magnum” 5.56 rounds to get short-barrel velocity sounds like a disaster for non-boltie users, and those guys probly will want to carefully tune their handload anyway.
    Short barrel is for a device you carry in a belt holster. SBR makes for pointing and mocking.

  11. On April 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm, DAN III said:

    TSA….I regularly ring steel at 2-300 meters with my 11.5″, 5.56mm Short-Barreled Rifle platform. How do you account for that ? “Pointing & mocking” ? How ludicrous. Would you volunteer to stand downrange as a target at 200 meters so a SBR guy can “mock” you ?

    Gas tube length has everything to do with functioning of the Armalite platform.. There are four gas system length tubes….pistol, carbine, mid-length and rifle. Do yourself and others a favor…do a Internet search for AR gas systems. Then do another search for barrel length. Velocity has nothing to do with proper functioning of a Armalite platform’s action or any other platform for that matter.

  12. On April 29, 2015 at 1:48 am, TSA_TheSexualAssault said:

    You can hit steel, just like I can break paper. Short barrels are plenty accurate. No doubt your weapon cycles well with correct engineering of gas port etc., but the bullet may not be going fast enough at 300-400M to perform against non-practice targets as they might if it was going 300fps faster. Look at reliable fragmentation velocity (2700 fps) and how close it is when a standard cartridge (M855) is fired from a 11.5″ barrel (2700fps muzzle velocity) vs. a 14.5″ barrel (as on a standard M-4, 2900fps mv), or a 20″ barrel as on an M16A2 (3097 fps mv). The terminal ballistic problems alleged with M855 ammo do not exist with 18″+ barrel on the weapon.

    Here’s more data than you need:

    SBR is pretty neat if you are having to get in and out of your armored vehicle with heavy infantry weapons. Much more convenient. I envy your supply and fueling system, range and capacity, and will call for help. For an infantryman or a walking person, a full-length barrel is essential to get full performance from the cartridge.

    “mocked” was a bit much. Trust the physics and get full advantage where you can. Don’t trust fashion.


  13. On April 28, 2015 at 7:57 pm, Jason said:

    Great article and great comments – always learn something when I come here.

  14. On July 25, 2018 at 2:24 pm, archy said:

    ***If they want Magpul magazines (with the no-tilt follower), then they should get them instead of the ridiculous Milspec magazines with the follower that binds and sticks (yea, it’s happened to me too).*** Same thing the Brits found out when they tried to use US-made GI *Nato Standard* magazines in their SA80/L585A1 rifles on Operation Telic in Iraq and in Afghanistan. So they tried Spanish CETME model L magazines made of steel; the followers still binded but the magazine lips didn’t deform. So they went with H&K steel magazines, which went along with the H&K reengineeing and rework of the L85 into the SA80A2, of which configuration two hundred thousand SA80s were re-manufactured into at a cost of £400 each, with an L85A3 upgraded version having been exhibited for the last year. So far as magazines go, in 2010 a million of the plastic Magpul EMAG [two round-counting plastic windows] were purchased by the Ministry of Defence as an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR), with the black-finish H&K stainless mags still finding use in some theatres.

    The Brits appear to have fewer ammunition-related problems, not being tied to US ammunition designed for 20-inch barrelled rifles [L85A2 have a 20.4-inch long barrel, though there are carbine/tank crew shorty variants, most recent of which is designated L22, 12.5″ barrels, also seen by some aviators, Royal Marines and SpecOps spooks]

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You are currently reading "Army Seeks Gun Industry Help On M4 Carbine", entry #13753 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s,Featured,Firearms,Guns and was published April 26th, 2015 by Herschel Smith.

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