Hill Aides to Test M4 Alternatives


Verified SOF
Aug 1, 2007

July 11, 2008
Military.com|by Christian Lowe

In a move that could ruffle the feathers of an Army command that views the Colt Defense-built M4 as the best carbine in the world, a select group of top senate staffers is gathering today to look at what could be the future of the military's standard assault rifle.

About 30 legislative aides have signed up to attend a July 11 demonstration at Marine Corps Base Quantico, just outside Washington, D.C., that will feature weapons from various manufacturers vying to end the reign of the M16 and M4 as the U.S. military's most fielded personal weapon.

The range day is intended to help familiarize key lawmakers with possible alternatives to the M16 and M4 once the exclusive contract with Colt Defense of West Hartford, Conn., ends in the summer of 2009, a senior senate aide told Military.com.

"When you re-compete the M4 it shouldn't just be for the same thing we've been building for the last 20 to 30 years," said the senior senate staffer who requested anonymity because the issue is so sensitive with the Army.

Over the past year the Army has taken fire from M4 critics who say there are better options available to troops, weapons that require less intensive maintenance and fire more lethal rounds. While the Army -- which is responsible for procuring small arms for all the services -- continues to stand by the M4 and M16, a small group of tenacious senators, including Oklahoma Republican James Coburn, have pressed the issue, forcing the service to subject the M4 to rigorous environmental tests and pushing for side-by-side competitions with several M4 alternatives.

"There's no urgent need to improve the M4, it's clearly working better than the M16," the senior senate aide said. "Our concern is that, urgent or not, we really ought to be improving it on par with technological improvements [and] not be wedded to an older weapon just because that's the way we've always been doing it."

While the aide declined to list all the companies participating in the demo, congressional and industry sources say the shoot will feature the standard 5.56mm M4 carbine, the FNH USA-build Mk-17 -- which fires a 7.62mm round -- and a modified "M4-style" rifle that fires a new 6.8mm special purpose cartridge round, among others.

The 6.8mm SPC round was born of a 6-month program launched by the interagency Technical Support Working Group which looked into how an M4 or M16 could be easily modified to fire a round that had better ballistic characteristics than the current arsenal when fired from a short barrel.

According to the TSWG, the so-called "modified upper receiver group" that accommodates the 6.8mm round "can be installed on [government-issued] M4 carbine lower receivers by operators in the field quickly and without tools for an immediate, considerable increase in projectile weight, surface area, and on-target terminal performance."

"The 6.8mm MURG offers improved combat capability and user survivability over comparable 5.56mm platforms," a TSWG statement said.

A consistent criticism of the M4 has been the 5.56 round's perceived lack of stopping power. A 2006 Center for Naval Analyses report conducted for the Army showed 30 percent of Soldiers surveyed wanted a rifle with a more deadly round.

"Across weapons, Soldiers have requested weapons and ammunition with more stopping power/lethality," the report said.

And one special operations Soldier who spoke to Military.com couldn't agree more.

"I know that when I'm shooting at someone I want to be confident that when I hit him, he's going to go down," the Special Forces operator said during a recent interview. "That's why I like the AK and its 7.62 round. It'll drop whatever you're aiming at."

The Army brushes off such criticism, saying lethality is closely tied to marksmanship. If you hit a target in the right place, you'll stop him, Army leaders argue.

The point of the July 11 test shoot is to allow manufacturers to showcase their M4 alternatives before an audience that's becoming more influential on small arms procurement decisions. The senate group tried to hold a similar demo last year, but the Army abruptly pulled out when news reports of the event leaked out, senate sources said.

Participants will have the opportunity to observe the effects of different caliber rounds in ballistic jelly, be shown how to fire each weapon and, of course, there will be some hands-on time as well.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar is heavily involved in the M4 alternative push and wants a competitive process that rewards the kind of innovation that leads to a host of choices when the M4 is re-bid in June of next year.

"Senator Salazar's concern is that the process itself could stifle industry innovation, it can result in lower weapons reliability and it can increase costs," said Salazar spokesman, Matt Lee-Ashley.

"He's going to work through the Army and the Armed Services Committee to make sure that when [the M4] is re-competed next June the process is open, that it's based on performance-based requirements and that it encourages industry innovation."
Interesting times ahead..apparently the 6.8 round is more effective than the 5.56

But if the US convert ....my guess is will the EU have to follow?

While I think we should look at some alternatives to the M-4/ M-16 I have to wonder if this is the way to do it. What if this idea was applied to the selection of the current F-22 when it was competing with the F-23? How is your average Capitol Hill "employee" going to be able to seperate the wheat from the chaff here? Probably the only time they touch a weapon is to do some skeet shooting.

Political grandstanding....
While I think we should look at some alternatives to the M-4/ M-16 I have to wonder if this is the way to do it. What if this idea was applied to the selection of the current F-22 when it was competing with the F-23? How is your average Capitol Hill "employee" going to be able to seperate the wheat from the chaff here? Probably the only time they touch a weapon is to do some skeet shooting.

Political grandstanding....

I'm sure they are grandstanding, but at the same time if thats what is takes to get a better rifle let them have their soap box. Plus I don't think their the ones who are actually deciding which rifles are better, I mean in the long run they are but just like every other high profile gear that comes along they take their que from the experts, after crunching the numbers of course:).
This seems more like a good avenue to have legilators ensuring that no American manufacturer is left out of the running.

Headlines read "Military handing weapons contracts to non U.S. based manufacturers:rolleyes:
Your right 82nd, plus now that I think about it this is perfectly normal. They almost always put on a demo for the big wigs when there is a new piece of gear or a test to see which is better. Got to get that money.
Fuque a bunch of "EU compatability".

I have yet to be re-supplied by any EU source. I have yet to draw any combat ammo, of any kind, from any European source. I have shot some on the flat range here though. The Brit L2A2 5.56 sucks even worse than M855 and the French 5.56 is even worse than that.
On the other hand, I have on occasion dumped off ammo for the Brits and the French and they were happy as kids on Christmas to get it.

I am sick to death with people up the food chain making decisions based on "Oh, deary me, what will the EU think?" instead of what's best for the US and the American trigger-pullers.:mad:

The Soviet bear is long dead and NATO is desperately casting about for relevance (read: "maintaining funding").

Make the change to a short-stroke, gas-piston, 6.8mm rifle/carbine and a SAW in the same caliber. Do it. Do it now.

Give the surplus M855 to the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians. At least I know they can be counted on to pull the trigger now and again.:)

My :2c:, YMMV

ISAF = I Suck At Fighting

Nobody asked why we were using 30.06 during WW2 when our biggest allies were all shooting .303 Enfield.
Why we're thumbing our noses at piston designs like HK's 416 and still fielding direct impingement weapons is beyond me. Then again, I'm just a dumb trigger puller who couldn't understand the switch from the 1911 to the M9.

I expect my lack of understanding is grounded in the fact that out of necessity I view weapon systems from a tactical, end-user perspective as opposed to a commercial, profit-motive driven viewpoint.

The 6.8 SPC would be nice; the 7.62 would be even better. What is clear is that the 5.56 M855 round lacks a certain je ne sais quoi, and Haji doesn't fear it as much as he should. Our fire is more accurate and oftentimes downright impressive, but when the principles of combat marksmanship are applied through a shorter barrel with an anemic round and bullet design due to rules Haji doesn't play by or read, the result is often less than optimal.

In terms of handguns, we desperately need to switch back to the .45ACP. Whether that takes the form of the 1911 pistol or one of the newer designs developed for the JCP program isn't as important to me as the return to a proper fighting caliber. Yes, I know pistols are (normally) secondary weapons, but that doesn't mean that they should be ignored.
Let's not forget that Christian Lowe, AKA "Military.com" has a less then stellar reputation with those in the SOF community. Oh, sorry, forget to mention, Christian Lowe wrote this article. He has a profit motive everytime he writes an article like the one posted here to start this thread.

I find it interesting that he mentions only one operators response and of course we are not given that "operators" name for security purposes. :rolleyes:

It seems the SCAR is not exactly in favor with people in the know, yet Christian Lowe alway's seems to write these articles, well since his profits are dependent on having something to actually read. :cool: