History of the M16A2 & What Did Stoner Think?

BY Herschel Smith
7 months, 2 weeks ago

This is an interesting and informative video, but I’m not so sure about some of his points.  For example, he seems to be coming from the notion that all combat is ambush style in the jungles of Vietnam and that the only solution for that is fully automatic fire.

In Afghanistan, the Marines were most successful when they carried fewer magazines, conserved ammunition, made well placed shots on target, and did so using superior marksmanship skills compared to the enemy fighters. I’ve documented cases where a mere handful of magazines sufficed for a day and a half or more of combat in Marine engagements.

Logistics is not endless, and the ability of the foot soldier to carry weight on his back is not endless.


Comments

  1. On December 27, 2021 at 2:02 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    Since the invention and widespread adoption of smokeless powder bolt-action center-fire rifles as military long arms during the late 1880s and thereafter, the major nations of the world and their military forces had concentrated upon first identifying and then mastering the fundamentals of marksmanship in the field and the well-aimed rifle shot.

    Such notable battles/engagements as the Battle of Spion Kop on 23-24 January 1900 SW of Ladysmith in the Boer republics of South Africa, and the Battle of San Juan Hill (San Juan Heights), Cuba, on 1 July 1898, during the Spanish-American War, demonstrated the ability of well-armed riflemen using accurate, long-ranged fire to inflict disproportionate casualties upon an opposing force.

    In South Africa, it was Boer irregulars who inflicted outsized causalities upon approaching British Army forces from their positions atop Spion Kop Hill, thus winning the engagement for their side. In Cuba, Spanish regulars inflicted heavy casualties upon the American forces attacking up San Juan Heights, albeit in a losing cause.

    Whereas iron-sighted black-powder rifles had been accurate and reliably lethal to perhaps 250-300 yards, smokeless powder long arms roughly doubled – and sometimes even tripled – that distance.

    In World War One, French Army observers were astounded at U.S. Marine riflemen using aimed fire to take out attacking Germans advancing through the wheat fields toward them at ranges of up to 800 yards.

    The presence and ultimately the dominance of fast-firing field artillery, emplaced water-cooled machine guns, barbed wire, and the use of such new weapons as poisoned gas and aircraft, were seismic chances in the conduct of war as it occurred on the western front. Slaughter on an industrial scale ensued.

    However, the individual rifleman and his rifle was still sacrosanct in most armies of that time. Well-aimed fire was still the order of the day.

    It took World War Two to significantly alter the thinking of the major powers when it came to the virtues of precision riflemanship. Although institutions such as the United States Marine Corps still clung tightly to their ethos as skilled riflemen – “Every Marine is a Rifleman” – others began to notice changes in how land warfare was conducted. In particular, on the Eastern Front in the struggle between the USSR and Germany.

    Astute observers on both sides noticed that massed firepower was often decisive in infantry engagements. In particular, how significant a volume of fire could be brought to bear upon the enemy.

    Submachine guns were already well-established in many armies by this time, and they proved to be extremely effective weapons in the hands of such troops as Soviet tank riders. But SMGs were somewhat limited in range and power since they used pistol cartridges. Many – not all – machine guns were too heavy or bulky for fast-moving mobile operations. Traditional infantry rifles, though hard-hitting, long-ranged and accurate, often did not lay down enough volume of fire to prove decisive.

    Around the same time, observers in three nations – the USSR, Germany and the United States – noticed more-or-less the same thing: The typical range of an infantry engagement was usually 300 yards/meters or less. So, the thinking ran, why equip the typical infantryman with a weapon large-enough and ammunition powerful-enough to engage targets at more than 1,000 yards/meters, when he would seldom be called upon to do so? It was also recognized that the individual infantryman would benefit from a weapon which combined the best attributes of the submachine gun (rapid fire, portability) with those of a traditional infantry rifle (long-range, power, accuracy).

    Thus was born the concept of the assault rifle: An carbine of short overall length, light weight and handiness; capable of select-fire operation using an intermediate cartridge (not as big/powerful as a traditional center-fire rifle round, but bigger and more powerful than a pistol cartridge); such a weapon would be most-effective out to 250-300 yards/meters, the range of most infantry combat – and it would allow the grunt to carry a larger basic ammo load without needing resupply. Unlike an SMG, the assault rifle would fire from a closed and not an open bolt.

    The U.S. developed and fielded the M-1 Carbine and its unique .30-caliber Carbine cartridge, the Russians got as far as designing and fielding the SKS semi-automatic rifle using the intermediate 7.62×39 123-grain FMJ cartridge (the famous AK-47 did not see action during WWII), and the Germans designed/fielded their now-famous FG42 – a transitional weapon which was a hybrid of an automatic rifle like a BAR and a true assault rifle, and finally their superb StG44/MP43 firing 7.92×33 Kurz (Short) ammunition.

    Over the next several decades after the war, virtually all of the major nations of the First World adopted assault rifles in place of traditional battle rifles. In the U.S., the switch occurred during the Vietnam War, when then-Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara terminated the M-14 production program in favor of the Armalite AR15 assault rifle, better known today as the M-16 service rifle.

    Noted firearms trainer and author Kenneth Royce, a.k.a. “Boston” of “Boston’s Gun Bible,” has commented thoughtfully that although he is happy the assault rifle or battle carbine was invented (a weapon he considers the modern equivalent of the Roman short sword), since 1945 the pendulum has swung too-far away from precision rifle fire and marksmanship toward “spray and pray” and simply hosing down the enemy in a mass of sometimes poorly-aimed automatic weapons fire.

    The Vietnam War took this mindset to its extreme: Masses of fire directed to areas of jungle not even confirmed but only suspected to house enemy forces.
    This is the antithesis of positive identification of the target and precision engagement thereof.

    What is often left unsaid in the assault rifles versus battle rifles food-fight are the following points…

    1. Both types of weapon have their place in ground combat and infantry operations. The more tools the foot soldier possesses to accomplish his mission, the better. The trick is knowing when each is appropriate and how to employ it to best effect.

    2. The modern battlefield has grown so lethal to men in the open that since WWI, the trend has been to spread out and/or emplace one’s forces to make concentration of fires upon them more-difficult. The Japanese, during the latter stages of the island-hopping campaign of WWII, garrisoned the bulk of their defensive forces on places like Iwo Jima below ground in a vast network of tunnels, blockhouses and bunkers. U.S. Marines were often fired upon by men they could not even see, or saw only fleetingly.

    3. Where a conflict is fought has a great deal to do with which weapons are appropriate, including the choice of small arms. U.S. and NATO forces arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 armed predominantly with assault rifles, i.e., the American M-16/M-4, the British SA80, Australian Steyr AUG, etc.

    However, upon engaging in mountainous combat in the Hindu Kush, many grunts discovered that they needed at least a few of the old “battle rifles” issued down at the small unit level, in the event that precision long-range fires were needed to engage an adversary beyond the 300 meter/yard effective range of their assault rifles. Which is why all of those heretofore obsolescent M-14s, G3s, etc. were dug out of mothballs, dusted off and sent into action.

    The Indian Army, which patrols the highest military terrain being contested in the world today in the frontiers with Pakistan and the PRC (which are sometimes as high as 15,000+ feet up), discovered the same thing: Their alpine or mountain troops needed greater range, power and precision than assault rifles could give them.

  2. On December 27, 2021 at 7:10 am, Bradlley A Graham said:

    Firepower is not rounds per minute. Firepower is hits per minute.

    Colonel Jeff Cooper

  3. On December 27, 2021 at 7:13 am, Russell G. said:

    @Georgiaboy61 : Those are all excellent points, especially the final ones. And, they give a window into what and why the *.mil keeps going around and around (in circles) for a lot of reasons. Simply put…”Sectional Density” over distance. The battle field specifies distance. So, the distance factor, as you indicate, is (sometimes) where it’s at. If we go back in time to the M96 6.5mm Swede, and then the M95 and M16 7mm Mausers that pervaded South America (and Spain) armament up to the Spanish American conflict in Cuba we see what’s going on. The Krag failed in an uphill turkey shoot for a lot of reasons (the most important of which was actually the magazine feed), one (the other) of which was the projectile and external ballistics. On the other hand the bolt 8mm Mauser in the hands of a relatively larger number of good marksmen fared well in the theater where it was deployed. Then, we have the 6.5mm JAP (0.268…wtf were they doing?) that was derived/contracted from the European thinkers (hint: Carcano/Swedes) and worked so well (over distance and **especially soft tissue**) that they adopted the very same projectile in the top fed LMGs with great success, at the expense of the 7.7mm 31-32 caliber “Americanized” projectile (meaning the Type 99).

    In terms of the open bolt SMGs there are quite a few differences in form/function/battlefields between something like a 9mm KP-31 Suomi and a 7.62mm PPS-43. They both have nasty cycle rates and kill real good at short distances. The “manual of arms”, or instructions given to respective gunners, however, was quite different. KP31 gunners were instructed to only use the “auto” mode in “urgent” situations. The KP31 was one of the first select-fire SMGs (absolutely amazing FCG). Not so with PPS gunners–“spray and pray”. Hand those to Serbian conscripts, give them vodka, and let them go in the snow. PPSs were mass produced to use the 7.62 30 cal Toks because they could use the same equipment to manufacture and rifle the barrels as the Mosins, and unskilled people could rivet them together in a couple of minutes and test fire them out the factory window toward the Germans outside. The KP-31s with SAKO barrels were extremely over-engineered and actually made like watches, and the gunners were issued two rapid swapable barrels that were matched at 1 MOA to the platform’s rear iron sights. (That’s right…1 MOA on a .356 bullet with 5 or so grains of semi smokeless at 100 yards). The squad KP-31s were intended to kill Soviets **working together with longer range Mosin Nagants** and also provide “meat in the pot” for the soldiers that carried them.

    And here get back to full circle today with all of the strange derivations of the same thing…6mm-6.5mm-6.8mms-Whatever mms for longer distances. Spray and pray pills of any size for shorter distances. What becomes more and more obvious is that the damn size of the AR magazine is a more constraining factor to the *.mil than the bullets, external ballistics and battlefield where they are sent.

  4. On December 27, 2021 at 8:28 am, Don Curton said:

    Don’t forget that the basic draftee went from mostly rural boys to mostly urban boys during that time frame. You went from kids who spent their teen years popping off .22 rimfires for fun and shooting larger calibers accurate enough to deer hunt every winter to, well, kids who never ever held a rifle before. Trying to install expert marksmanship in the draftees of the day was getting more difficult, thus the lure of spray and pray. The thinking being if these kids can’t shoot straight, at least they can shoot a lot. Bound to hit something sooner or later.

  5. On December 27, 2021 at 10:42 am, George said:

    A quote from a posse leader in the late 1880s: “get on them sights. getting shot at don’t scare these guys.”
    Only hits count.

  6. On December 27, 2021 at 10:00 pm, Ohio Guy said:

    Thank you for digging this video up Herschel. I always learn something new when the discussion turns to the Armalite weapons. I also enjoy the history associated with other wartime firearms, the charges used, and their progressions and utility as Georgiaboy61 and Russell G. generously pointed out.

  7. On December 27, 2021 at 11:11 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Don Curtom

    Re:”Trying to install expert marksmanship in the draftees of the day was getting more difficult, thus the lure of spray and pray. The thinking being if these kids can’t shoot straight, at least they can shoot a lot. Bound to hit something sooner or later.”

    Undoubtedly, you are right. The quality of conscripts and volunteers joining the military was quite high, vis-a-vis FA use and handling, at the time of WWI. Most Americans came from rural backgrounds, and were already accustomed to using firearms in civilian life. That was also the case in WWII and Korea, but less so as the nation had become more urbanized. By the 1960s, many kids came of age in homes, communities and places in which they’d never been outdoors to any great extent, or even fired a gun, let alone owned one or mastered it’s use.

    The armed services have adapted to this by enhancing their training and also by adapting such innovations as optical sight on long arms, such as the famous Trijicon ACOG and the Aimpoint red-dot optic. But basic skills in this area remain an issue for the modern military, especially since so many recruits are now women. The AMU or Army Marksmanship Unit has also done a great deal to enhance institutional skill and knowledge, as well as its counterparts in the other branches.

    And now that warfare is being automated to such an extent, the ability to drive and operate drones and UAVs is becoming paramount.

  8. On December 28, 2021 at 4:24 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Russell G.

    Thanks for a well-done and informative comment….

    Re: “9mm KP-31 Suomi”

    Didn’t the famous top-scoring sniper of all time, the Finnish Army “White Death” himself, Simo Häyhä, credited with an astounding 500 or so kills during the Winter War, prefer to use one of these submachine guns when he was able to use field-craft to stalk in extra-close to the Germans for his shot(s)?

    Häyhä famously disdained scoped rifles because he felt that they raised his profile too much when he was prone out in the field. So he relied upon the iron sights on his SAKO M/28-30 Mosin-Nagant rifle and that KP-31 Suomi to get the job done. Plus, of course, all of that snow and Finnish terrain and the excellent training Finnish troops received for winter warfare operations.

    Though grievously-wounded during the Winter War – he lost a substantial part of his lower jaw when hit in the face – the tough old woodsman and farmer lived to the old age of 96 years old, finally passing away in 2002.

    The successful Finnish use of the Suomi submachine gun during that war, helped change the tide within the Red Army itself about the heretofore unrecognized utility & benefit of SMGs in the hands of ordinary soldiers.

  9. On December 28, 2021 at 4:36 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    It is also germane to note, vis-a-vis the assault rifle vs. battle rifle debate, that the massed volume of fire implied by the adoption of select-fire assault rifles is contingent upon the substantial logistical tail necessary to supply the large amounts of ammunition such a strategy entails.

    Whereas the professional soldier supplied by an enormous logistical tail and manufacturing base may be able to fight in this manner, “wasting ammunition” as he saying once went, the guerilla, irregular or other less-wealthy fighter may have to adopt a more-disciplined and less-profligate approach to fire, using a precious shot only when it is assured of a hit. Or, for that matter, the professional soldier cut-off and isolated from resupply. “Shoot only when you can see the whites of their eyes, boys!” would seem to be the guiding principle.

  10. On December 28, 2021 at 11:39 am, Johno said:

    Georgiaboy61, re Simo Häyhä, I’m assuming you meant Russkis, not Germans? I am ignorant as to his service after the Finns were compelled by the Soviets to turn against their former comrades, the Germans, who fought as ‘volunteer groups’ alongside the Finns and Swedish volunteers during the ’39/’40 Winter War against the Soviet’s Red Army invaders. Despite being the interim, and eventual overall victors, Stalin’s Commies left about 250,000 bodies behind to fertilize the Finnish soil, and enough battlefield pickup smallarms to outfit the Finns for their Continuation War and for decades later, all for a narrow isthmus of land that Uncle Joe demanded for the Commies.

  11. On December 28, 2021 at 12:08 pm, BAP45 said:

    There is a series of interviews he did and one seems to get the impression that he thought the original version was perfect. And will I would agree that the early rifles were certainly fine rifles and ahead of there time to dismiss any incremental improvements out of hand seems a bit ridiculous. Kept harping on it being light weight and any changes would ruin that, not taking into consideration the changing needs/requirements of the world. Guess that happens with most of us and our creations.

    a very interesting watch as well
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaIU0nCxwGg&list=PLOSc8D2U-Hf6i9FT7ZzVpKZVDBsS6b3Ub

  12. On December 28, 2021 at 8:05 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Johno

    “re Simo Häyhä, I’m assuming you meant Russkis, not Germans?”

    Yes, and any implication I gave otherwise was my error. That’ll teach me to write things well-past my bedtime!

    Yes, Häyhä is famous mostly for what he did during the Winter War against the Red Army and the USSR. Finland – along with Italy – has the perhaps dubious distinction of having to switch sides at least once during WWII.

    The Finns did what they had to do to survive. First, they fought against the USSR alone, and then side-by-side with the Germans against the Reds, and finally, when the war turned against Germany, they switched sides again and helped the Russians.

    I will tell you this, though: The Finns have never forgotten their experience of the Winter War even today. Their Civil Guard troops – who are as I understand it sort of like the National Guard in the U.S.A. – take their oath of service facing the border with Russia. The Finns are a nation of riflemen for that reason alone, amongst others.

  13. On December 28, 2021 at 8:22 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ BAP45

    Regarding Eugene Stoner, he was without a doubt a genius as a firearms designer and engineer. However, that is not to say without occasional biases or flaws in his thinking. In my humble opinion, he was a bit myopic in expecting the U.S. military not to tinker with the ammunition for his rifle at some point along the way, and thereby designing in sufficient robustness and flexibility to handle such deviation from his specified parameters.

    Stoner and his team designed the rifle to function using a specific combination of a 55-grain FMJ .224-caliber projectile, bottleneck rifle case, primer and stick propellant. His new rifles ran like Swiss watches using this ammo – at least if historical reports are accurate: They were accurate, worked to a high degree of reliability, and ran fairly cleanly and without generating too much heat whether in single-shot or select-fire mode.

    However, when the ammunition manufacturers ran short on the specific stick (extruded) propellant and substituted a ball (spherical) powder instead, which burned hotter and had a different pressure curve than the one specified originally, all sorts of problems ensued.

    The fault was not Stoner’s – he did not make the change – but it caught him off-guard I think, and it should not have done so. The military and War Department had changed the 30-06 cartridge without consulting John C. Garand, from a 173-grain slug to the new 150-grain (~152-gr.) FMJ round that became M2 Ball.

    When Garand found out about the proposed change, he was unhappy with it since his rifle had been optimized to work with a heavier bullet, but he adapted to the design change and so did his rifles.

    It does little good to design an infantry rifle which is the military equivalent of an Italian sports car which when it works, performs fabulously, but is down for maintenance so often that it can’t be relied upon to run. Better to make it less-sexy but more-reliable, sort of like a plain-Jane Chevy sedan that starts right up every time and runs, albeit not as well as that sports car.

    In the end, Stoner’s design was properly sorted out and his vision was vindicated. But it was rough-going for a while there in its first years of service in Vietnam….which is probably why so many grunts from that long-ago war hated the “black rifle” so much. Above all, an infantryman’s primary weapon has to go “bang” when he pulls the trigger. If it doesn’t – then all of its other qualities, whatever they may be, fade into relative insignificance.

  14. On December 29, 2021 at 9:19 am, Drake said:

    Same old complete nonsense about never shooting beyond 300 yards in battle. I shot the M16A2 accurately on the Marine KD range at 500 yards. In the (first) Gulf War, every engagement my battalion was involved in was at 500+ yards.

    We had our rear sights cranked to the 500 yard setting except when guarding prisoners up close.

  15. On December 29, 2021 at 9:22 am, Drake said:

    I still say that the AR-18 was Stoner’s answer to the Army. A gas piston that could handle whatever crap ammo the Army came up with. Most other armies agreed and copied the system in their service rifles.

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This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s and was published December 26th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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