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Colt M4 Carbine Finishes Last in Latest U.S. Army Small Arms Reliability Test

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by David Crane
defrev at gmail.com

December 17, 2007

This article was updated on 12/19/07 and 5/15/09.

Ya’ know that Colt M4 Carbine vs. Heckler & Koch (HK) HK416 vs. FN MK16 SCAR-Light (SCAR-L) vs. HK XM8 LAR extreme dust conditions reliability test that the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Center (ATEC) at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Md. was conducting? No? Well, we’ll tell ya’. The U.S. Army just got done conducting a test on all four weapons, and the results are in. Before we go through them, we’ll cut right to the chase: The Colt M4 Carbine came in dead last, with 882 stoppages over 60,000 rounds between ten (10) guns. Not great. But, more on that in a minute.

First, the purpose of this test was to expose the weapons to the same extreme dust and sand conditions/environment to which both the Colt M4/M4A1 Carbine and FN M16 rifle were exposed by U.S. Army weapons testers during a “systems assessment” test at Aberdeen last year and in the summer of this year. Here’s how the four 5.56x45mm NATO (5.56mm NATO)/.223 Rem. infantry rifle / carbines were tested:…

The ATEC team tested ten (10) sample guns of each weapon system (make/model), so 40 guns total were tested. Each (individual) gun/weapon got a heavy dose of lubricant, the muzzle was capped, and the ejection port cover was closed. Then, each weapon was exposed to heavy dust environment (i.e. a dust chamber) for 30 minutes. Then a tester fired 120 rounds through each weapon. Then, back in the dust chamber they went for another 30 minutes of dust bathing, before having to fire another 120 rounds. This process/sequence was repeated until each weapon had fired 600 rounds. Then, all the weapons were wiped down and lubed up again (heavy lubrication), and put back in the dust bath (dust chamber) for 30 minutes, 120 rounds fired through it, up to 600 rounds again.

You get the picture. Well this kept goin’ until each gun (i.e. individual rifle/carbine) had 6,000 rounds through it. 10 guns (individual weapon type) x 6,000 rounds = 60,000 rounds through each weapon type. And, here’s how the test fleshed out, best to worst (most reliable to least reliable):

XM8: 127 stoppages/malfunctions

Mk16 SCAR-L: 226 stoppages/malfunctions

HK416: 233 stoppages/malfunctions

M4 Carbine: 882 stoppages/malfunctions

What’s curious about the M4 Carbine’s performance in this test is the fact that the ten (10) M4 Carbines that were tested to 60,000 (again, 6,000 rounds a piece) during the summer only experienced 307 total malfunctions/stoppages.  In the Fall ’07 test,  643 of the stoppages/malfunctions were weapon-related, and 239 were magazine-related. According to Brig. Gen. Mark Brown of U.S. Army Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier), “test conditions for test two [summer] and three [latest] were ostensibly the same.” So, what was different? Different test officials, and different time of year. That’s pretty much it.

So, what’s the Army planning to do? Well, they sure aren’t planning to ditch the M4 for any one of its three conquerors. According to Col. Robert Radcliffe, Director, Combats, U.S. Army Infantry Center, Ft. Benning, GA, the Army’s going to stick with the M4 Carbine because soldier surveys from the Sandbox (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan) show that U.S. Army combat troops like the weapon (compared to the M16). And, according to Brig. Gen. Brown, the Army’s looking for “leap ahead” / next-generation (a.k.a. next-gen) infantry small arms technology for a replacement weapon, not just minor, incremental improvements/capabilities like the HK 416, FN MK16 SCAR-Light, and HK XM8.

So, you want some (unconfirmed/unverified) inside skinny i.e. rumor on the latest test, something you most likely won’t find anywhere else, even when everyone else starts reporting about this test? Here ya’ go, direct from one of our U.S. military contacts—and we’re quoting:

"1. Because the HK416 and M4 were the only production weapons, the ten HK416 and M4 carbines were all borrowed ‘sight unseen’ and the manufacturers had no idea that they were for a test. The 10 SCARs and 10 XM-8s were all ‘handmade’ and delivered to Aberdeen with pretty much full knowledge of a test. (The SCAR even got some addition help with ‘extra’ lubrication)

2. With the HK416, 117 of the 233 malfunctions were from just one of the 10 weapons.

3. The ‘survey’ that BG Brown and COL Radcliffe are referring to in the article where they cite that the ‘M4 is very popular amongst the soldiers deployed forward in combat,’ was based on the soldiers just getting their M16s replaced by M4s. They were asked if they liked it [compared to the M16] and of course the answer is going to be yes. It is lighter and smaller with all these cool optics and lasers on them. Not to mention that average soldiers have no frame of reference when it comes to small arms, they’re not really weapons experts."

But that’s not all. The real inside skinny is that proposals and design concepts for true “leap-ahead”/next-gen infantry small arms were submitted to the Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP)-ARDEC / Picatinny Arsenal back in 2001 and 2002 by Arm West, LLC, which is headed up by lengendary small arms engineer/designer/developer Jim Sullivan (a.k.a. L. James Sullivan). I have personal knowledge of this, and I was personally involved in Arm West’s proposal for Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) 0400 for “Component Technologies” for the Lightweight Family of Weapons and Ammunition (LFWA) program in late 2002.

I won’t discuss the specifics of the various compenent technologies that were submitted by Arm West. However, they were all viable, i.e. capable of being successfully developed, by the Arm West team (Sullivan and his design/development partner), and most likely far superior to anything any of the competing large small arms manufacturers and defense companies could have possibly come up with and submitted, since none of them (FN Herstal (FNH), Heckler & Koch, Colt Defense, LLC, AAI Corp., ATK, GDATP, etc.) have small arms designers/engineers that can touch Sullivan and/or his partner with regard to skill, knowledge, experience, inventiveness, and downright genius. How do I know this? I just know. Am I biased towards Arm West? Yeah, ‘cause I know they’re, hands down, the best in the world.

But Arm West isn’t a large "established" small arms/firearms company, they’re not a manufacturer, and they’re not in the system, i.e. one of the U.S. Army’s preferred contractors/suppliers, and they’re not a small arms manufacturer. They’re a small infantry small arms design and development firm. So, they get no play, i.e. no government/military funding (awards, etc.), even though they have the best, most experienced, and most prolific small arms designers/developers in-house, the best small arms design concepts, and the most capability of turning those designs into reality, i.e. working prototypes, in the shortest possible amount of time.

Yeah, the U.S. Army is interested in "leap ahead" small arms technology for Big Green / Big Army, provided it comes from one of the inside companies / preferred contractors like FNH USA, Colt Defense, Heckler & Koch, AAI Corp., Alliant Techsystems (ATK) etc. If it comes from a small, outside company like Arm West, well, good luck. That’s just how it is. Messed up as it is, that’s the U.S. military infantry small arms acquisition/procurement system for ya’, folks. It is cabal-like/closed-group, it is fascistic, and it is unforgiving–so you might as well get used to it. No one’s successfully fought this broken small arms procurement/adoption system since Picatinny Arsenal and JSSAP were established. The U.S. Army Infantry Board at Fort Benning isn’t innocent, either, and they’re certainly not helping the situation.

Why the U.S. military can’t award Arm West a small arms development
contract and then contract the actual manufacturing of Arm West’s
superior infantry assault rifle and machine gun designs to a large,
"proven" firearms manufacturer for weapon production is a mystery. That would be the logical solution, and the best
solution for our infantry warfighters, but what’s actually best for our
infantry warfighters doesn’t always appear to be DoD’s and Army brass’s
top priority. The solution I’ve proffered here even addresses the money issue, where Colt Defense, FNH USA, Heckler & Koch, AAI Corp. GDATP, or any large, established company of DoD/Army’s choosing could make money off the production, even though they didn’t actually design the weapons in-house. This happens all the time, where an inventor or small company licenses manufacturing/production rights to a large company. Very common.

Bottom line, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. It would take drastic measures to fix the system like it needs to be fixed, and neither the President nor Congress seems to want to fix it, nor do they seem to understand just how broken and corrupt it is. And the wheels keep turnin’.

Sound slightly similar to the U.S. Army body armor acquisition/procurement situation, perhaps?

Getting back to the recent small arms test and the competing weapons, rumor has it that Heckler & Koch (HK) will be manufacturing the HK 416 5.56mm carbine/subcarbine/SBR (Short-Barreled Rifle)–and possibly also the HK417 (a.k.a. HK 417) 7.62mm carbine/subcarbine/SBR–domestically in the U.S., soon (unconfirmed/unverified). We’ll try to get confirmation on this. That’s good news if it’s true, but it doesn’t look like that’s really going to matter to Big Army. Guess we’ll see. Regardless, elements (i.e. specific units) of the various Armed Forces, including the Army, will most likely continue to procure the HK416 in small numbers.

Editor’s Note: If any of our readers have any more inside knowledge of any of the small arms testing that’s been conducted by the Army, or previous small arms solicitations and procurement programs, we’d be interested in hearing from you. Please contact us at defrev at gmail.com. Thanks.

Addendum (1/04/08): DefenseReview has received a PowerPoint brief on the M4 Carbine Extreme Dust Test.

Colt M4 Carbine Finishes Last in Latest U.S. Army Small Arms Reliability Test 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.