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An Operator’s View of M4/M4A1 Carbine (and Tactical AR-15 Carbine) Malfunctions

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By Mike Pannone

June 15, 2009

In the early months of 2006 while I was helping to write and refine the curriculum of the Asymmetric Warfare Group’s Combat Applications Training Course (CATC) I took it upon myself to research performance enhancements and reliability upgrades as an integral part of educating the soldier on how to maximize his M4/M4A1 carbine. The natural extension of that was the research of malfunctions and that has been something I have pursued for 3 years now. After writing and re-writing my malfunction approach for instruction I have come up with what is probably the easiest to teach and simplest classification system yet. I am not and have never been a fan of the “Type” classification because it is giving a “Type” to something that already has a name and falls under a category as well. I am not going to digress on the type classification system other than to say it seems to serve no purpose and I do not advocate nor teach or use it.

Now my approach:

There are three overall categories of malfunctions and one exception. By exception I mean one that does not fall into those 3 groups and has its own specific remedy.

These three groups are:

1.) Simple malfunctions

2.) Complex malfunctions

3.) Catastrophic malfunction

4.) Exception: Stove Pipe. This only requires that the shooter reach up and pull the protruding case out, negating the need for any other action.

A simple malfunction is a failure to fire where the hammer falls with no effect. The reason I call this “simple” is that for whatever reason (magazine not seated, follower stuck or dud round) the remedy is to replicate the loading sequence which is SPORTS or tap-rack-ready and is the most simple and rapid of all the courses of action. If tap-rack succeeds it’s obviously the solution, if not it then becomes the first step in the diagnosis of the problem which will lead us to the next category called complex malfunctions. The most common simple malfunctions are:

• Failure to properly seat magazine

• Inadvertent depressing of magazine release

• Bound magazine follower

• Faulty ammunition

• Failure to completely go into battery

A complex malfunction is one that requires unloading/clearing the rifle and reloading/resuming. A complex malfunction signifies that there has been a break in the cycle of operations and that requires that the rifle be cleared and reloaded.

The most common complex malfunctions are:

• Traditional double feed

• Bolt override double feed

• Bolt override failure to eject

• Charging handle impingement

• Stuck case

A Catastrophic malfunction means that a remedy will require tools and/or replacement parts. Examples are a case separation where a broken shell extractor is needed or a broken gas key. Each of these requires either tools or tools and parts. The problems will not be remedied in any semblance of a timely manner and will render the weapon completely combat ineffective for a substantial period of time.

The specific techniques for clearing malfunctions are, can and should be identified, compared, debated and updated but that is outside the scope of this article. This piece was written to explain how I as a shooter and instructor frame the topic for those that train with me. The concepts I have outlined make classifying malfunctions into the abovementioned categories simple, logical, concise and easy to remember. This format makes the topic especially easy to teach and especially easy for students to understand.

About the Author: Michael Pannone a.k.a Mike Pannone is currently a Senior instructor for both Team VTAC (Viking Tactics) and Mid-Atlantic Training Resources (MATR), and a certified Colt Armorer. He is also a former operational member of U.S. Marine Force Reconnaissance, U.S. Army Special Forces, and specially selected elements of the Joint Special Operations Command. He has participated in stabilization, combat, and high risk protection operations in support of U.S. policies throughout the word as both an active duty military member, and a civilian contractor. During his military career, Mr. Pannone was the Distinguished Honor Graduate of a Level 1 SOTIC held at Ft Bragg. He currently instructs U.S. military, law enforcement (LE), and private citizens around the country as an adjunct instructor with several different organizations. He can be contacted via e-mail at ctts (at) live (dot) com.

Related Articles:

M4/M4A1 Carbine Reliability Issues Part II: Diagnosing the root cause.
(By Mike Pannone)

M4/M4A1 Carbine Reliability Issues: Why They Occur, and Why They’re Our Fault! (By Mike Pannone)

Ruger SR-556 Gas Piston/Op-Rod AR-15 Carbine/Rifle: Ruger Enters the Piston-Driven AR Fray

Tactical Response ‘Fighting Rifle’ Tactical Shooting Course Review (By Chen Lee a.k.a. “SMGLee”)

LaRue Tactical Stealth 16-Inch Upper-Config AR Carbine: Range Report (By Michael Pannone)

Noveske Rifleworks N4 Light Recce Carbine: John Noveske Interview, Part One

Noveske Rifleworks Weapons Packages: CQB Barrel Meets ‘The Krink’

TangoDown ARC Polymer 30-round Magazine for Tactical AR-15 Carbines and SBRs

An Operator’s View of M4/M4A1 Carbine (and Tactical AR-15 Carbine) Malfunctions by
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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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