The Flaws of the M4 Carbine.

The Flaws of the M4 Carbine

Are Troops Really, "Left to fend for themselves after Army was warned of flaws in rifle"?

*Note:(All links are active and will take you to videos or other sources)

Three days ago an article was dropped onto the internets by the Washington Times that rippled through the time space continuum of internet commandos and pajama ninjas.  The article was a series of interviews with former and active high ranking officials, as well as former service members regarding the reliability and efficacy of the longest serving weapon system (rifle or carbine) in US Military history.  We do not need to address that storied history here, however we do need to address the concerns raised in the article and the already common ways they have been addressed and remedied.

Often times during my tactical training throughout the last decade,  I have been schooled on the idea of there being both "software" problems and "hardware problems.  Software problems are those problems with performing a certain skill or operation of a piece of equipment that emanate not from the inherit design of the task or equipment but are the result of "gray matter" malfunctions.  That is to say the user or applicator aka the individual is to blame, not the equipment itself.  E.g. You (your grey matter brain) forget to change the oil in your 1985 Chevy half ton and in doing so run it dry and low all summer.  She over heats and you blow a head gasket.  Was it the fault of the small block 350 engine (a known reliable engine) or was it your fault for not keeping up on the routine maintenance?

Hardware problems are problems that are the direct result of the equipment/tool/machine having a flaw, error or major malfunction that was the result of the equipment itself and at no fault of the user.  

Some of you have stopped reading and already have an idea of where this is going.  That's ok.  Let the more open minded, scientific and rational individuals read on.  

Let's address the major issues raised in the article:

1.)  The M4 carbine requires constant maintenance and cleaning, and will not function in sandy, dusty or dirty conditions.  

Any machine, when pushed to its limits, needs to first be in top working condition and second, properly maintained per the design of the system.  Also, any tool and a firearm is a tool, needs to be used in accordance with the applications it was designed for.  The premise that the M4 requires a, "Jesuit level fanaticism" approach towards cleaning has been proven false, not by myself, but by Pat Rogers former Marine, NYPD and owner of EAG Tactical, and Mike Pannone former US Marine Recon, US Army Special Forces, owner of CTT solutions.  Other experts have proven this fanatical approach to cleaning the weapon as false. 

Pat Rogers has made famous the reliability of the M4 carbine action and weapon system with a gun known by the names of "Rack 14" or "Filthy 14" .  You will see in those articles that a properly LUBRICATED M4 weapon design will run (upwards of 30,000 rounds), in all conditions, without cleaning as long as the bolt and carrier remain lubricated.  
Mike Pannone who I consider one of today's leaders in the "Black Rifle World" has authored numerous articles, books and pieces of work ranging from tactics, training and weapons maintenance.  His articles titled, The Big M4 Myth: Fouling Caused by the Direct Impingement Gas System Makes The M4 Carbine Unreliable , M4/M4A1 Carbine Reliability Issues: Why They Occur and Why They're Our Fault , M4/M4A1 Reliability Issues Part II : Diagnosing the Root Cause , M4/M4A1 Carbine (and AR-15 Carbine) Malfunctions are canonized scripture for any who own a M4 Carbine variant.  These articles have been agreed upon by many in the firearms and military communities as relevant and fact based.  Mike breaks it down, Barney Rubble style, dispelling many of the myths surrounding M4 reliability.  So get your crayons and take some notes.  Read the articles.  Mike eloquently and kindly points out, what one can only conclude is a major "software" problem in the use of the M4.  Pannone Dirt Test Video

The M4 is a somewhat well sealed system and it is quite difficult to introduce dirt into the action unless one is doing so intentionally.  MAC or the Military Arms Channel has an excellent demonstration of the Colt M4 6920 handling copious amounts of dirt in a video titled, AR-15 Reliability Demonstration .  Even with a near impossible to duplicate in real life scenario of dirt being poured into every orifice, the M4 6920 continues to function as well or better than most weapon systems.

You might be saying, "What about all the stories from M16s jamming in Vietnam?".  That was a different weapon.  Since its inception and adoption there has been in the neighborhood of 90 design improvements and changes to the weapon platform.  The initial M16s shipped to Nam were expedited to the war, and had not been completed to manufacturers specifications.  The bores and barrels were not chromed, the ammunition/powder had a myriad of issues and the rifles were not issued with cleaning kits or lubrication.  

2.)  The M4 fails to function during sustained rates of fully automatic fire.
Let us address the concerns regarding "High sustained rates of fire".  The article and other sources mention that after 840 rounds of fully automatic fire, M4 Carbines failed in testing.  Some failed after 1,375 rounds when improved parts were used in the weapon.  Questions regarding these weapons condition, maintenance and lubrication could easily be asked.  

Imagine for a moment firing continuously on full auto and burning through twenty-eight (28) 30 round magazines of 5.56 ammunition.  That is a lot of magazine changes, a lot of firing on full auto.  This is a troubling situation to be in.  The M4 is not a squad operated machine gun, with quick change barrels.  It is not a M240, M249 or M60.  To provide that level of fire suppression or elimination of close contact enemy, would require a different weapon system.  The M4 is not the tool for that job or the situation.  The M4 is an infantrymans individual primary weapon.  It is a rifle.  Could the M1A/M14, the Garand, or any other shoulder fired weapon endure 840 rounds of fully automatic fire?  Is that a function required of any soldiers individual rifle?

Colt Mfg., the primary manufacturer of the M4 Carbine has demonstrated on numerous occasions the ability of the platform to endure issuing tremendous fusillades of firepower as seen in these links: Colt Full Auto Stress Test Until Fail , New York Times Article (See 2 videos) .  I see these tests as success in engineering, not failure.  

3.)  The magazines dent easily and the springs break.

You will see different statistics on this.  Anywhere from 70-80% of M4 variant malfunctions can be attributed to the magazine.  Tilting followers, springs, dented or worn feed lips, all of these lead to problems in feeding the M4.  

Then came the PMAG.  This is an article unto itself.  The PMAG as well as other magazine designs, such as the Lancer Advanced Warfighter, solved these problems.  You can drive dump trucks and Hummers over them, throw them out of planes, blow them up and even shoot holes in them.  There are hundreds of sources to find this information alone.  The magazine problem is solved.  At one point, soldiers begged for these magazines, the military denied them and said they were not approved and not to be used.  

The Magpul PMAG now has a NSN: CAGE- 1LX50 NSN#1005-01-576-5164 and is readily used.  Problem solved, problem stayin' solved!

PMAG In Theater
4.)  The M4 has a kill distance of only 250 meters.

Ok I'll bite.  Larry Vickers, whom I greatly respect, has mentioned this as well.  The M4 Carbine has an effective kill range of about 250-300 meters.  With the current 5.56x45 Nato loads; M885A1 and M855 the M4 combat effective range is limited in part to these distances.  However, ballistics and time on the gun shows that we can score hits at distances greater than the 250 meters quite easily.  One thing is for certain, the M4 is highly accurate.  

There are other configurations of the platform, such as the MK12 and RECCE rifles that, using different barrels, free floated, special triggers, ammunition and bullets (MK262 77 grain Black Hills) that have been highly effective in combat at ranges exceeding these distances in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  There are many examples of the MK12 and RECCE performing quite well at great distances, in the hands of a proper marksman.

MK12 In Afghanistan
The great caliber debate of 7.62 vs. 5.56 vs. 6.8 will never be solved here.  Regardless of the caliber debate, the M4 is a reliable, and effective weapon at the majority of engagement distances.  The whole world is not open and sparse like Afghanistan, where the M4 has been fighting for the past 12 years.   

I challenge anyone who truly believes the M4 is totally ineffective at 500-600 meters to go stand at that distance and let me take ONE shot with my M4 6920 fitted with a standard issue ACOG TA01NSN optic.  I promise to aim for the leg.

The article featured some comments that came from individuals who represented companies who happen to be competing for defense contracts providing the armed forces with alternative weapons to the M4.  To me, this was a biased, and blatant sales pitch on the part of any commentary coming from representatives from other arms makers.  The list of flaws in other rifles and carbines that have competed for military contracts are numerous.  That is not the point of this article however. 

The article also featured high praises for the M4 from some service members, one of my favorites being: “The reality for all armies is that governments cannot afford to purchase a perfect assault rifle. It is simply cost-prohibitive,” said an ArmyGreen Beret who is not authorized to speak on the record. “For its cost, I consider the M4 to be an amazing assault rifle. Between the M16 and M4, I’ve carried weapons from that family for nearly 30 years and would not trade them for any other fielded families of assault rifles.”

The M4 and M16 family of weapons, have been the longest serving primary weapon of the soldier in US military history.  It may not be perfect, but it sure is better than many alternatives and is near perfection in my book and in that of many others.  What you have is a software problem, not a hardware problem.

As the brilliant M4 Armorer and forum leader of, Iraqgunz put it this week regarding this very issue: 

"I think I mentioned this before and I'll do so again.

1. Set up and perform a more aggressive maintenance program.

2. We have better ammo out there so why are we still issuing variants of the M855 trash. Something like the SOST or MK262.

3. Do some serious research into a mid length gas system and see what happens.

4. Use a better lubricant and have soldiers generously lube their weapons.

I personally use Sprinco springs and I would be interested to see what would happen if they were to set up some test guns using the A5 and Sprngco springs."

Thank you for your time.  Please watch my video on this topic and feel free to comment or converse below.    

The Flaws of the M4 Carbine Part II Blog Article - Click Here - 

About the Author: A.A.S NREMT-Paramedic, P.O.S.T. Certified SWAT Paramedic, TCCC/TEMS, Active SRT Member since 2006, 25 years of experience and training with M4/AR-15 variants with tens of thousands of rounds sent down range out of Colt 6933, 6920, MK18 without a hiccup.