by David Crane
defrev at gmail dot com
March 20, 2008
DefenseReview was one of the first publications to report on the results of the Fall 2007 M4 Carbine "Extreme Dust Test". We published that story on December 18, 2007. Well, on December 19, 2007, we received two email communications (below) from one of our professional contacts in U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG), who shed some light on an HK416 confiscation program that was already in process as we were reporting the test results. This process, i.e. total HK 416 confiscation from AWG operators, has since been completed, whereby AWG warfighter were forced to turn in all their 416s (HK416s) (approx. 240+ guns, total).
Needless to say, our contact and the rest of the boys in AWG are not happy about this.
Below are the two email communications we received. Both messages have been sanitized for publication, and the second message has been slightly modified for readability. Here:
The AWG is losing its HK416 carbines and they are being replaced by M4s [Colt M4 Carbine] – not M4A1s [Colt M4A1 Carbine], but [just plain ol'] M4s. We’ve already turned in 30 to Lexington Army Depot and will continue to turn in 30 per week until all 240-something HK416s are turned in.
We see this as a huge waste of time and resources, with the end product being a less effective unit. There was a lot of range time and setup time that went into every one of those weapons. And now we’ll have to do the same thing with these M4s.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we were getting M4A1s. Most of us have had M4A1s, and although it isn’t as good as a HK416, it was workable. It was also very easy to get waivers to replace the trigger with a KAC match grade trigger.
With the M4 we do not have that capability. Nobody makes a match grade 3-round burst trigger (nor would it be cost effective). Therefore we cannot put a better trigger in the M4. If we put an aftermarket trigger in the M4 it would give it an auto capability vice a burst capability, thereby changing the “function” or designation of the weapon (which is frowned on). What’s worse is the 3-round burst trigger of the M4 is the most atrocious trigger on the market. It has 3 varying trigger pulls, all of them hard (between 11-14 lb) and the take up is different every 3rd round as well. At least the M4A1 has an 8-11 pound trigger pull that is very consistent, due to its full auto trigger pack. In order replace any functioning component of these weapons we have to file for a waiver (gas piston upper, free-float forend, etc.) and it is very difficult. But the trigger is the most important deficiency. We can’t do much about that burst trigger.
The above message was followed by the following message:
Some of these facts may not be perfectly accurate due to the second-hand nature of all of these conversations and speculations on the motives of others. Apparently when a bill came to the Senate with $375,000,000 going to Colt for the continuation of arming the US Army with the M4, Senator Coburn (R-OK) questioned the bill and took action as much as he could. He asked the Army why they are continuing with the M4 program when he had heard how unreliable it was from US Soldiers and also asked why elite units like Delta and AWG had switched to the HK416 due to reliability. GEN Brown of PEO Soldier defended the M4 with biased rhetoric like, “soldiers like the M4,” and retorted that the US Army had not authorized anybody to use the HK416, and that it must have been illegally developed and purchased.
The truth is that the SMU community did it legally, but not the traditional Army way (the expensive, 5 to 10 year, political Army way). But when some senators (Coburn included) asked the acting Secretary of the Army and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (Gen Cody) why the SMUs have these better weapons and the regular Army is investing $375 Million in the M4, they responded that the SMUs and other SOF units (many SF Groups) were not authorized to purchase the 416s. The Vice COS (Gen Cody) ordered all units (including Delta) to stop using the HK416s due to political backlash. Most units (including the AWG) all but refused and gave every rebuttal possible. Delta fought it because it could technically be considered in their charter – but this wasn’t settled until recently. Two Tier-1 units were the only units allowed to keep their HK416s.
Gen Brown continued to urge Gen Cody to force those units to turn in the HK416s or the Army would face more political backlash for not competitively contracting the Army Carbine. Gen Cody determined that these HK416s weren’t worth the political backlash and ordered AWG and others to turning their HK416s. AWG fought back citing waste of resources, morale, and performance issues, but Gen Cody’s staff eventually gave a direct order to the AWG Commander to turn them in.
David -The important thing to convey to the public and politicians is that the HK416 fires the same rounds, uses the same magazine, and shares the same butt-stock, optics, accessories, and many, many parts as the M4. To stop buying the M4 and contract for the same amount of similarly priced HK416 would not be a major logistical/program overhaul, and would still allow the Army to pursue the future “leap-ahead” weapon technology."
DefenseReview’s Suggestions/Recommendations: Instead of confiscating AWG’s 416s (HK416s) and replacing them with M4s (Colt M4 Carbines), the more intelligent and logical approach would seem to be to allow AWG personnel to keep their 416s, which they seem to like, and also supply them with Colt M4A1 Carbines (which they prefer to the standard Colt M4 Carbine), so that they have both weapons at their disposal, depending on the mission–operations, instruction / training, etc. Or, issue the M4s with kits to convert them to M4A1s (still allowing AWG to keep the 416s, of course).
History lesson [from Military.com]:
Senator Tells Army to Reconsider M4
Military.com | By Christian Lowe | April 30, 2007
The debate over the Army’s choice to purchase hundreds of thousands of M4 carbines for its new brigade combat teams is facing stiff opposition from a small group of senators who say the rifle may be inferior to others already in the field.
In an April 12 letter to acting Army Secretary Pete Geren, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said purchase of the M4 – a shortened version of the Vietnam-era M16 – was based on requirements from the early 1990s and that better, more reliable weapons exist that could give Army troops a more effective weapon.
Coburn asked the Army to hold a "free and open competition" before inking sole-source contracts worth about $375 million to M4 manufacturer, West Hartford, Conn.-based Colt Defense – which just received a $50 million Army contract for M4s on April 20.
"I am concerned with the Army’s plans to procure nearly half a million new rifles outside of any competitive process," Coburn wrote in the mid-April letter obtained by Military.com.
A Geren spokesman said the secretary’s office is putting together a reply to Coburn’s letter, but provided no further details.
Coburn has banded together with a small group of like-minded senators to push the Army into a competition to determine whether the M4 is the best choice to equip newly-forming brigade combat teams, a top Coburn aide said.
The senator’s concerns grew out of media coverage that showed the M4′s design fails in critical situations and that special operations forces prefer other designs.
"Considering the long standing reliability and lethality problems with the M16 design, of which the M4 is based, I am afraid that our troops in combat might not have the best weapon," Coburn wrote. "A number of manufacturers have researched, tested and fielded weapons which, by all accounts, appear to provide significantly improved reliability."
Related Article: Army Won’t Field Rifle Deemed Superior to M4
Special operations forces, including "tier one" units such as the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Development Group – or SEAL Team Six – have used their own funds to purchase the Heckler & Koch-built 416, which uses a gas-piston operating system less susceptible to failure than Colt’s gas-operated design.
"That’s significant, because these guys don’t screw around," the aide said.
In fact, Colt included four different weapons in the competition to build the Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle, or SCAR, none of which used the M4s gas system, the aide said.
In a routine acquisition notice March 23, a U.S. Special Forces battalion based in Okinawa announced that it is buying 84 upper receiver assemblies for the HK416 to modify their M4 carbines. The M4 fires using a system that redirects gas from the expended round to eject it and reload another. The 416 and SCAR use a gas-operated piston that physically pushes the bolt back to eject the round and load another.
Carbon buildup from the M4′s gas system has plagued the rifle for years, resulting in some close calls with Soldiers in combat whose rifles jammed at critical moments.
According to the solicitation for the new upper receiver assemblies, the 416 "allows Soldiers to replace the existing M4 upper receiver with an HK proprietary gas system that does not introduce propellant gases and the associated carbon fouling back into the weapon’s interior. This reduces operator cleaning time, and increases the reliability of the M4 Carbine, particularly in an environment in which sand and dust are prevalent."
Yet the Army has still declined to buy anything other than the M4 for its regular troops, requesting about $100 million in the 2007 wartime supplemental to buy M4s for its Soldiers.
The office in charge of equipping Soldiers said in a March 30 statement the service has no plans to purchase the HK416.
"I am certain we can all agree that America’s Soldiers should have the best technology in their hands," Coburn wrote. "And there is simply no excuse for not providing our soldiers the best weapon – not just a weapon that is ‘good enough.’ "
The Army has not yet responded to Coburn’s letter, but his aide said if the senator doesn’t receive a response to the letter by Monday, Coburn plans to call Geren personally to address the issue.
"Our feeling is once people see the facts on the face of it they’re going to say that this is ridiculous and demand that the Army does it right and competes the contract," the aide said.