When the Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 1 of 3

The M16A2 was adopted by the Marines in 1983, and then by the Army three years later, but all of its development was done, largely on a shoestring, by the Marines.

For example, the finger bump on the A2 pistol grip? The very first prototype was built up by a Marine officer on an A1 grip, using plastic wood or body filler! Most of the modifications to the A2 were aimed at:

  1. Increased practical accuracy;
  2. Increased effective range;
  3. Increased durability; and,
  4. NATO compliance (adopting a NATO round equivalent to the FN SS109 round).

In a brief overview of the service life of the M16 series for American Rifleman in June, 2012, Martin K.A. Morgan encapsulated this history well:

In November 1983, the U.S. Marine Corps adopted a product-improved version of the M16A1 chambered for the 5.56×45 mm NATO round. The new rifle was called the M16A2 and it differed significantly from its predecessor: improved rear sights, a brass deflector, a heavier barrel and 1:7-inch rifling were among the changes. The M16A2 also replaced the M16A1’s “AUTO” selector setting with a “BURST” setting delivering three rounds with every trigger pull. The Army followed the Marine Corps’ adoption of the improved rifle in March 1986 when it ordered 100,176 M16A2 rifles from Colt. In September 1988, the U.S. government placed an initial order for 266,961 M16A2s with Fabrique Nationale’s North American subsidiary, FN Mfg., Inc. of Columbia, S.C. Late the following year, when 57,000 U.S. military personnel conducted the Operation Just Cause invasion of Panama, the M16A2 was used in combat for the first time.

For practical accuracy, the A2 had new sights, with a square front post; for range, a new round with a heavier bullet, and new rifling to match; and for durability, new stocks and handguards and significant metal reinforcement in the lower receiver’s weak areas, the pivot pin bosses and buffer tower.

The rifle was not without controversy in the Army. Indeed, contractors for the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences examined the rifle and concluded that, as their paper’s abstract notes:

[U]se of the M16A2 rifle by the Army would be extremely problematic, a-fact due, in part, to the vast differences between the marksmanship training philosophies of the Army and the Marine Corps.

(The paper is here: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a168577.pdf)

The Army had been researching improvements to the M16A1 for years, but hadn’t actually implemented any. In the foreword to the Army Research Institute paper, the word “problematic” crops up again and one gets the sense that the problem was this solution was Not Invented Here, and moreover, not developed the way the Army wanted to develop one. 

Referring to earlier research, they wrote:

A detailed evaluation of M16Al performance was conducted to determine adequacy, peculiarities, etc. The findings clearly indicated that the M16Al was an adequate combat rifle; however, many shortcomings were identified that should be addressed in a new rifle or any rifle Product Improvement Program (PIP).

They considered that the improvements in the A2, listed below, were suitable only for the peculiar circumstances of Marine Corps service.

The Marine Corps test results stated the following advantages for the PIP [Product Improvement Program -Ed.] rifle:

  • Ease of training (handling and ease of sight movement).
  • Improved safety (no hazard when adjusting elevation on the rear sight even with loaded weapon).
  • Increased effectiveness at long ranges (more hits, better accuracy, and greater penetration).
  • Improved handling characteristics and durability in hand-to-hand close combat.
  • Reduced barrel jump and muzzle climb during automatic and rapid fire.
  • Increased contrast and less glare with square front sight post.
  • Stronger, more durable and improved grasping characteristics of front handguard.
  • Stronger barrel with quicker twist to take advantage of increased effectiveness provided by new ammunition.
  • Improved sighting characteristics providing quick target acquisition for moving targets and better detection of targets in low level light conditions at close ranges, and more accurate long range fire by use of two modified rear sight apertures.
  • Increased ammunition conservation and more effective use of ammunition with burst control device.
  • Conformity to human factors standards by lengthening stock (alleviating bruised eyebrows, noses, and lips).
  • Stronger, more durable stock.
  • Stronger, more durable buttcap which also reduces slipping on the shoulder during firing.
  • More controllable and comfortable pistol grip contoured to the shape of the hand.
  • Improved brass deflector which protects left handed shooters from hot ejected brass casings.
  • Can use NATO type improved ammunition (XM855) which provides improved performance and penetration at long ranges.

The Army evaluators were impressed by that list of solutions, but thought they all traced back to four specific USMC objectives or requirements:

The above list of advantages is very impressive. It appears that the rifle meets the primary requirements stated by the Marines:

  • A sight adjustable to 800 meters.
  • A bullet with better accuracy at 800 meters and the capability to penetrate all known helmets and body armor at ranges of 800 meters.
  • A rifle with more durable plastic parts and barrel which will take a beating during bayonet training and extended field exercises.
  • The replacement of the full automatic capability with a burst mode which fires a maximum of three rounds with each pull of the trigger.

…but they thought that the requirements were too Marine-centric.

The list, however, represents the objective and subjective evaluation of Marine Corps personnel who are emphasizing the most positive aspects of rifle characteristics as they pertain to envisioned Marine Corps requirements.

This is the first of a three part series. In the second part, tomorrow on WeaponsMan.com, the Army contractors damn the A2 with faint praise and list a litany of A1 shortcomings that they believed that the A2 did not resolve. In the third part, the modifications that they suggested in lieu of or in addition to the A2 mods are enumerated.

As it was, the contracting officer’s representative approved the paper in February, 1986. In March, and probably before any of the responsible officers read the paper, the Army went ahead and adopted the M16A2, just the way the Marines had shaken it out.

That makes this paper a time capsule.

47 thoughts on “When the Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 1 of 3

  1. robroysimmons

    A bit of positive sentiment for the A2, our arty battalion got them early 85, previously with the A1 the nut behind the butt was an atrocious shot but with the new rifle I came within a couple points of Marine expert. Which sure beats the pizza box, two sharpshooter classifications on my DD214.

  2. Steven Y.

    Much better sights and a much worse trigger were how it was viewed the first time we took them to the range. Our left handed shooters appreciated not clipping on a plastic brass deflector. It wasn’t until I had one on the repair bench that I formed additional opinions on the modifications.
    That burst cam was a PITA though.

  3. DSM

    Overseas units were a different story of course but my first unit in the mid 90s were still issuing the early Air Force contract M16s. I got my EIC badge with one as well. My service can also be blamed for the conversion kit fiasco that will magically take those original M16s and turn them into A2s but that’s another story.
    Save for needing a new barrel for M855 the A1 was and is still a good rifle. I never had a problem with the sights and at least they stayed pretty solidly locked in place. I will admit preference wise I do like the A2 aperture better than the A1 solely for the larger “0-2” aperture close-in.

  4. Boat Guy

    The A2 rear sight would been enough of an improvement for me, right there. The “three-round burst” feature was a solution in search of a problem IMO.
    My last issue M16 was the A3 – an A2 with full-auto.

  5. Aesop

    I first qualled expert without any difficulty on an old shot-to-shit A1 at Ft. Knox on the Army course of fire (including the shot out centers of the silhouettes), then expert again with a similar exemplar in Marine boot camp; my first A2 was when I moved to the fleet, and qualified with it four subsequent times no lower than high expert (>238/250) each and every time. The A2 was a rifleman’s rifle compared to the A1.

    [U]se of the M16A2 rifle by the Army would be extremely problematic, a-fact due, in part, to the vast differences between the marksmanship training philosophies of the Army and the Marine Corps.

    As in, the Army being taught to generally throw rounds “generally over thataways”, and the Marines by contrast being drilled to put rounds into the center of those targets, each and every time, and up to 200y farther away that the Army thought (I use that word loosely in this context) either necessary or practical.

    By Army principles of marksmanship, the sights on the rifle were an object of wonder and awe, not actually useful to the average troop (nor, generally, anyone else), their mysteries and vagueries being arcana far too advanced with which to waste time by overburdening tender young minds. The thinking seems to have been “If God had intended you to hit anything, He would have issued you a telescopic sight, and taught you how to use it.”

    By contrast, the Marines took offense if you let anything slip outside the center ring of the bullseye, as if you had deliberately shit in the sergeant major’s coffee cup, while he was watching you do it.

    You get what you train for.

    1. Pathfinder

      Glad to see the jarheads haven’t lost any of their holier-than-thou BS.

      I spent my whole career in the Army Infantry and we took rifle quals seriously.

      1. Aesop

        The point, sir, is that your Army management (leadership would be too strong a word) never has, doesn’t, and probably never will, whereas in the Corps, it’s an article of faith down to the lowest private, and in every MOS, not just among 03s.

        Which is why your guys wanted to leave you with a douchey rifle, because they couldn’t see any need for Army Infantry to shoot better, or any farther than you were trained to do, despite generations of Marines routinely doing feats with iron sighted issue rifles at ranges that Army doctrine dictates is the realm of snipers. Or perhaps artillery.

        Call me when the Army even attempts to train anyone – even just the Infantry – for 500 yd shots who isn’t issued a telescopic sight. I won’t be holding my breath.

        That isn’t BS; we are holier than thou.
        Semper fi, Mac.

        1. Pathfinder

          Exactly the reply I thought I would get.

          Kirk had the same exact experience as me when it came to jarheads joining the Army.

          But please, pray continue to believe the propaganda that has been used to brainwash thousands of you since at least WW1.

          There is only one unit that got it’s nickname from the Germans. That is verifiable. The 504th PIR in WW 2.

          “Taken from the following entry found in the diary of a Wehrmacht officer killed at Anzio

          “American parachutists…devils in baggy pants…are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…”

          Yours is made up, just like the myth of the bulldog fountain in the village of Belleau, not Belleau Wood. The village was taken by an Army division.

          As to engaging targets out to 500 meters, we did it regularly during my first tour in Afghanistan. The problem you run into is being able to PID weapons at that distance, even with optics that grunts are issued. So I could care less if you were trained to do it on a KD range with iron sights. If you can’t tell if it’s a Talib with an AK or a farmer with a hoe, you have no business engaging them Things can get upgefuckt when you shoot the wrong people.

          1. Aesop

            I’m sorry a Marine frightened you once. Maybe therapy…a teddy bear…or coloring books…?

            None of the rest of your reply has jack or squat to do with the issue of a douchey subpar rifle being replaced by a vastly superior product-improved example, because your former service’s pitiful ordnance “experts” couldn’t see past the end of their johnsons. But thanks for adding nothing to the topic under discussion but chest beating. This is why people can’t have nice things.
            Someone teaches them to read, hands them a new book, and they eat the covers for the paste.

            As both services train on and issue improved weapons optics now, trying to denigrate far better iron sights adopted over the Army’s stridently pitiful objections thirty-five years ago only underscores that you apparently have no practical knowledge of the weapons systems at the previous time, nor their limitations, being only acquainted far more recently, with greatly dissimilar examples.

            But once again, history rhymes: the Army doesn’t have to worry about teaching the most elementary points of basic rifle marksmanship (beyond “Put the red circle around the target. Squeeze trigger.”) to its minions currently, because it’s still considered too hard for soldiers to grasp or put into practice. Just ask their chain of command.

            So the gist of your contribution is to mutter that “the grapes were probably sour anyways.”

            Well played, sir.

    2. Kirk

      The amazing thing to me was how many of my former Marines (of which we would get spasms of…) would come in talking shit about Army marksmanship training, and then fail to qualify on the Army ranges. The thing that screwed them up, more than anything, was the fact that they had time limits, and the targets were not exactly where they were expected to be.

      They were all superior marksmen to the Army trained guys, in the purer sense of marksmanship; what they were was unable to perform on the Trainfire ranges, which I think provide a more realistic replication of combat conditions than the KD ranges the Marines qualify on. The fact is, we’re not going into combat against cardboard targets at Camp Perry; we’re going up against other human beings who are not going to give you a chance to get yourself situated and get your breathing under control, taking all the time in the world to make the shot.

      If I could be “the guy” in charge of Army marksmanship training, I’d borrow a lot from the Marines in terms of teaching pure shooting skills. But, I’d include a metric ton of actual simulated combat scenarios, and ensure that my qual standards reflected that stuff, rather than the Camp Perry gamesmanship stuff. A mixture of the two mentalities would produce truly superior combat marksmen, because the deficiencies I observed in Marine-trained shooters led me to change my mind about the superiority of their approach. A lot of those guys couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of doing quals as a “come-as-you-are” thing, and without tremendous amounts of preparation and effort. Not to mention, having to do it in full-up Kevlar, LBE, and body armor…

      I do believe the Marines changed the way they ran qualifications, at some point, but all the former Marines I observed up until about 2007 had these issues. And, I recall reading that one seminal posting over on M4carbine.net by that former Marine who got himself shot and paralyzed in Iraq, largely due to the unrealistic training he’d been given. When I first read that, I was like “WTF? Who trained this poor Marine…?”, because most of the issues he identified as leading up to his wounding were things I had the correctives to drummed into my head as a young private by the Vietnam-era guys who trained me–Including some former Marines. Somewhere along the line, whoever was running this young Marine’s training lost the bubble for combat, and only trained him on range-appropriate stuff, not how to stay alive and kill with his tools. I’m assured that correctives have been applied, but an awful lot of the Marines I had show up in my unit as soldiers demonstrated many of these same issues.

      In short, the Marines do (or, did… I’m a bit out of date, in terms of personal experiences…) a really good job on training pure marksmanship; what they don’t do so well is teaching and evaluating combat weapons use, the stuff that actually keeps people alive and killing the enemy. The Army, for all its flaws at marksmanship training and the general lack of emphasis on skill-at-arms, managed to do a somewhat better job–Which, of course, depended on the unit, and who was doing the training. Consistency is emphatically not an Army value, when it comes to training.

      Root

      1. robroysimmons

        You are correct as well, and from what I gather it was from your mouth to the commandant’s ear because it sounds as if their training is the mix as you describe.

      2. John Distai

        It seems that a combination of both KD and Trainfire would be best. However, as I type that, I realize that time, cost, and training schedules are part of the equation. This is an optimization problem with the problem of can we train a batch of people with varied skill levels to some minimum proficiency level with minimal cost. Something would have to give, and most likely, someone smarter than me has considered those things and arrived at their current conclusions.

      3. Aesop

        The amazing thing to me was how many of my former Marines (of which we would get spasms of…) would come in talking shit about Army marksmanship training, and then fail to qualify on the Army ranges. The thing that screwed them up, more than anything, was the fact that they had time limits, and the targets were not exactly where they were expected to be.

        They were all superior marksmen to the Army trained guys, in the purer sense of marksmanship; what they were was unable to perform on the Trainfire ranges, which I think provide a more realistic replication of combat conditions than the KD ranges the Marines qualify on.
        The fact is, we’re not going into combat against cardboard targets at Camp Perry; we’re going up against other human beings who are not going to give you a chance to get yourself situated and get your breathing under control, taking all the time in the world to make the shot.

        Pray, go on. I find the explanation fascinating.

        Let’s compare and contrast Army vs. Marine marksmanship training.
        My experience, from back in the day (1980s, Ft. Knox):
        Army: one position, foxhole standing supported.
        (Currently, three positions: 20 rds prone or foxhole supported, 10 rds prone unsupported, and 10 rds kneeling.)
        Marines: four positions, including two rapid fire changes. No prone until 300 yd rapid fire, and 500 yd slow fire, no supported positions ever.
        (If someone is carting around a foxhole and/or two sandbags in combat, write me care of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not).
        Army: 6 KD-range knockdown targets, all within the BZO range (300m) of the untouched sights, unless there’s a full gale on qual day. 24/40 of those rounds at 150m or less, 32/40 at 200m or less, and only 8 beyond 200m.
        Marines: 3 different targets, at three KD ranges, requiring actually understanding both windage and elevation, and applying it to sights. 25 rds@ 200 yds, 15@300 yds, and 10@50 yds.
        Army: All shots brief pop-up, single or double shot, 40 total.
        Marines: All shots timed, 30 in slow-fire (1/min), 15 of which require two position changes, and two strings of ten shots in 1 minute each, including a programmed position change both times, and a midway magazine change.
        Army scoring: Hit/miss. Expert: 38 or more hits, anywhere on silhouette.
        Marine scoring 0-5 points (0,2,3,4,5 possible). Expert: 225/250, requiring 25 4 pt. and 25 5-pt. dead-center bullseye hits, minimum. (Obviously more bullseyes entitle you to more dropped points elsewhere.)

        What screwed people up, yours, former Marines, or anyone from BFEgypt, is that the pop-up targets Army uses acquire rather rapidly a pumpkin-sized blank hole or holes in the center of mass (because using new targets costs money), which allows a bullseye round to fly straight through without doing anything, scored as a miss. And also allows a shit-shot in the dirt to spray gravel and shrapnel into a missed target, scoring it as a hit, because it fell down. That’s beyond fucktarded, but it’s the Army Way.

        Meanwhile, poor, stupid Marine standards have someone at the little end pulling individual targets (which incidentally eats up most of that “leisurely” slow-fire 1rd/min time allotment, requiring one on the firing line to rapidly acquire and smartly engage even the slow-fire targets in mere seconds, or else run out of time; all unfired rounds from same scored as zeroes), locating a hole (or lack) and giving the exact placement and scoring thereof. There’s no cavernous dead hole in the middle to miss bullseyes, and ricochets aren’t bullet holes, and score zeroes.

        Maxxing the Army course for me involved no challenge beyond not getting a shot-out shitty target (or target set), and staying awake. Getting a foxhole not full of water, or a copperhead, was a close second.
        The Marine course required more shots, made faster, including two strings of rapid fire, multiple position changes, understanding marksmanship and wind, and required rapidly and repeatedly getting into multiple positions, while practicing with every shot, just like in combat, such gamey Camp Perry arcane details as breath control, trigger squeeze, stock weld, sight alignment, sight picture, and so on.

        When last I looked, those exact principles were all more or less codified into the one manual 99.5% or more of the Army’s members from the 1960s-present can be counted on to have never actually read, FM 23-9 (now 3-22.9) M-16 (A1/A2/3/A4 & M4 Carbine) Rifle Marksmanship.

        It’s actually a pretty good book, so much so that the Marines condensed it, and hand it out to everyone. Whereas in my limited experience, the average Army command would have to rape commander’s bookshelves and the base library to find even 50 copies on any active duty base that isn’t named Benning or Bragg. Maybe things have changed in the intervening years, and I defer to more recent firsthand experience.

        1. Kirk

          Nope. Not what was happening, with regards to our former Marines who were trying to qualify on the range with us–I watched most of them, and believe me, I made damn sure they were doing the attempt on lanes that were properly set, with functioning targets.

          What was screwing those guys was the fact that the targets weren’t coming up where they had all the time in the world to make the shot–I watched ’em. They were out there in Kevlar, LBE, and vest, trying to take shots that they were used to doing in shooting jackets and with all the time they needed to get set, and make a shot at a bullseye target they knew was coming up at the 200m line. When it was a mixture of silhouette targets at variable ranges, they simply weren’t making the shot in time, before the target went down.

          Put them over on a KD range? Better shots than the majority of the Army guys. The pop-up Trainfire ranges for qualification really screwed with their heads, because 1.) they were so nervous about qualifying, especially after skunking the first attempt that they couldn’t even think straight, and 2.) because they simply weren’t in the “mode” for really shooting. You lost track of the number of times you’d hear these guys bitching about how they weren’t doing a full two-week prep for qualification, with nothing else going on.

          The Marines have a lot of things right, when it comes to marksmanship. However, comma, they do have their issues and peculiarities. Like, writing little poems to their rifles, which they then publish in Leatherneck

          A guy I knew in the Army SF used to describe himself as a “recovering former Marine”, and also likened his time in the Corps to participating in a religious cult. Somewhere on an old hard drive, I’ve got an epic rant he did about the similarities between Scientology, Hare Krishna, and the USMC. It was hilarious, and about half the former Marines I know who saw it were outraged. The other half ruefully nodded their heads, and said he’d gotten just about everything about the Corps mentality 100% true to life, particularly about the “cult of the rifle”.

          And, the point of me mentioning that was one line of his rant, where he pointed out that, in the Marine Corps, you took one or two weeks out of every year to basically re-run Basic Rifle Marksmanship, and then qualify. In the Army, it was “Hey, we’re gonna go down to the qual range today, get your shit on…”, which he had come to the conclusion was a far more accurate assessment of real-world marksmanship skills than what went on in the Marine Corps. If a guy could pull even a Sharpshooter out of his ass with no real refresher training, and just hitting the range mostly cold, well… Like as not, that soldier probably had his shit together a lot better than a Marine who spent two weeks refreshing his skills, coached by professional trainers, and who then failed to shoot high Expert on his qualification. He went on for some time, snarking about how all the emphasis on Marine marksmanship really didn’t do much to make for better effects in combat, going back to WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I don’t know where he pulled his numbers from, but the ones he had seemed to indicate that the USMC expended more rounds in combat for lesser effects.

          I’m gonna have to go find an enclosure for that hard drive, and see if I can recover that file. It was a truly epic rant by a really eloquent guy, who obviously loved both the Marines, and the Army.

          1. Aesop

            I love both the Marines and the Army.
            But someone’s been pulling your leg. Hard.

            Marine marksmanship training in boot camp is spread over 3 weeks.
            It encompasses maybe 40% (and probably more like 25%) of those waking hours, on 15 of the 21 days.
            Marine re-qual in the fleet is 4 mornings. Period.
            Ain’t nobody who spent two or three weeks “re-doing boot camp marksmanship” unless they were retarded, suffered a TBI after dropping a jet engine on their head, or had a stroke. Or because they were such gold-bricking shitbirds that their unit welcomed getting rid of them for that period of time, due to increased morale and unit efficiency. Or, their unit simply didn’t have anything better for them to do at all, and just wrote them off for the allotted time.

            You drew your weapon, reported to the range, and were done by noon chow, then expected to be back in your unit at afternoon formation for the rest of the day. Personally, I was shooting in the AM, and working in the gun park or motor pool by 1300, and cramming one day’s work into half as many hours.
            In any event, no one was spending multiple weeks, all the live-long day, studying marksmanship and dry-firing. Jerking around at the base PX all afternoon, vastly more likely.

            Also, I re-qualled with the same rifle exactly one time out of five, and the rest were with new weapons, in new duty stations, on both sides of the continent or the other side of the world. The repeat was the one place I spent more than one year, and with the same issued weapon for that entire assignment, rather than someone in the armory juggling weapons assignments around on a whim, year-to-year. Oh, and also issuing your issue weapon to some pistol-packing schlub who didn’t rate a rifle on the TO&E, because they had to qualify annually on the rifle too, thus finger-banging your rifle and all sight settings when it was returned.

            Given that Monday of re-qual was the first time I’d fired any live rounds out of said weapon in most all instances, and that merely for BZO, this is hardly luxury.
            Tuesday was the day to actually get the sight dope on the rifle, Wednesday was a pre-qual dress rehearsal for most (and most officers and SNCOs were expected to qualify/be done by Wednesday and return to their units), and Thursday was for record for everyone else. <160 rounds, total, and some as few as 109. Boot camp was a luxurious 259 or so rounds, of which the last 50 were for final score. (This is why Richard Marcinko could observe, with both truth and precision, that when he stood up Seal Team Six, his 40-80 guys shot up more live ammo in a year than the entire Marine Corps. Doing the math, it ain't that hard. Hell, Tam probably fires more ammo some years than the entire Marine Corps, at least in peacetime.)

            And that “3 weeks” in basic entailed class week, grass dry-fire week, and the same final range week, with one extra day of range fire to get sight dope on for people in most cases new to any kind of weapon. Firing was, in all events, done before lunch, leaving time for such sundries as PT, drill, cleaning, and 200 other things having nothing to do with marksmanship.

            Anyone pretending otherwise is flatly F.O.S., and last I looked, the training schedule for Parris Island MCRD is posted somewhere online for confirmation.

            Army prep, IIRC, consisted of some number of repeated lectures on how best to game the Trainfire course, as with only 40 go/no-go targets at issue, a bullshit spaz-attack richochet kill would be worth more as a percentage towards qualifying than if you slipped a Marine an extra 5 rounds for rapid fire. As far as Big Green – and their drill sergeants – was concerned, once your weapon was BZO’ed at 25m, those scary sight-thingies should probably be TIG-welded in place in perpetuity, lest soldiers think about finger-f**king them. It would be like the Royal Navy letting common sailors play with sextants, or the USAF allowing sergeants to fly airplanes, for chrissakes, and we oughtn’t be having any of that. Dogs and cats living together, total chaos, biblical levels of destruction would surely follow.

            “Grab your gear and head to the range”, if it were only done that way, with new weapons and just 40 rounds, would probably eliminate the entire Army, Marines, or anyone else, from qualifying, were it actually done that way.

            Not least of which because of the penchant for jacktard armory pogues and ordnance officers to insist on f**king with everyone’s sights, or returning them to mechanical zero, or swapping them around, and similar official or ad hoc jackassery, every time they were in their clutches for five minutes, or the idiots simply got bored one day in the armory.

            If you wish to extrapolate the entire Marine Corps based on a few spazzes in proximity to you, go on ahead. As noted, I shot the Army course for expert with the A1, and the Marine course 5 times for expert, once with an A1, and four times with an A2. Neither course was particularly challenging, but the Army course was clearly set up for 80 IQ people, and spent more time telling people how not to shoot themselves in the foot, or the guy next to them, than it spent telling anyone how to hit a target with their issued weapon.
            The Marine approach was rather different.

            And the A2 was a vast improvement, in most – but not all – particulars, over its predecessor. If they’d left the firing selector alone, and not built in a burst select to please some penny-pinching sumbitch supply officer, it would have been damn near perfect.
            It should also be noted that in all cases, I was firing the same VN-surplus 55gr ammo, not the even more accurate 62gr stuff, which was evidently so precious in the 1980s that we weren’t deemed worthy of getting any to train with. Ever.

            And the only time anyone had shooting jackets, by and large, was in boot camp.
            Giving new privates a leg up the first time they qualified was not considered a bad idea. I had one afterwards as well, but I was resourceful, and the main effect was to maintain circulation in my support arm while using a range sling.
            Which is exactly no gamier than the Army issuing supporting sandbags everywhere, at all times, for 75% of the rounds fired.

            The idea of pop-up targets isn’t bad per se, just the Army execution. And having people qual in their actual battle rattle, including gas mask is mostly common sense. (Gas-masked fire is rather silly, since frankly, if NBC weapons have been deployed, hanging about to play with your pop-guns is a foolish sideshow in most cases. Masked fire should be done, but simply as fam-fire, not for record.)
            Considering that in the early 1980s, when I shot the Army course at Ft. Knox, a soft cap, BDU shirt, and Alice harness was essentially the Army’s battle rattle, anyone cock-a-doodle-doing about doing the course now in IBA and K-pot rings a teensie bit hollow.

        2. Pathfinder

          This is in reply to you above.

          LOL, thanks for the laugh.

          You have no clue how the Army trains marksmanship nor do you have any idea how long I served or when. But keep jumping to conclusions.

          And with that, I’m done.

          1. Aesop

            Your experience is extrapolated from your comments.
            How the Army trains marksmanship (in a generous descriptive allowance) I observed at firsthand.

            And Obvious Troll is obvious.
            Walk tall.

          2. looserounds.com

            The co-owner of the website with me, was a Marine Rifleman who was in Iraq, He has a saying about the USMC marksmanship training, I will attempt to repeat it without butchering it up too bad, But he likes to say

            “the USMC is not the best at training rifleman into being the best rifleman in the world , but they are the best and training rifleman into believing they are the best marksman in the world”

            Being an outsider I was a little surprised when he told me that.

            No offense to any of you guys , I am just repeating what I was told by a Marine.

          3. Aesop

            I don’t even want to know what the Coasties are doing. But they’re probably doing it better than the Navy.

            The Navy doesn’t even qualify on rifles. Pistols and shotguns only, thank you very much.

            The Air Force qualifies by shooting 40 rounds at 25m (that isn’t a typo), on torso targets shrunken to supposedly represent 300m. Of course, the rounds fired aren’t shrunken to represent the size of 5.56 holes on shrunken targets. Clever dicks, that bunch. (One wonders why they haven’t gone entirely to using BB guns, or better yet, simply taking recruits’ Call Of Duty scores, and saving the money spent on weapons qual outright.)

            The Army teaches a shooter to hit somewhere on (or in the dirt in front of) a full-body torso sized target at up to 300m. Most (32x/40) of the shots at 200m or less, and of those 14 are at 100m or less, close enough to count fingers on a person’s outstretched hand for anyone with average eyesight on a clear day.

            The Marines teach a shooter to hit the center of a head sized target at 200y (25x), the center of a head or head and shoulders sized target at 300y (15x), and the center of a full-body torso sized target at 500y (10x).

            Then they go to the Table II course.

            The average shooter in any service doesn’t shoot expert.
            But the average experts in each service are of vastly different skill levels.

            I’ll let the reader work out which shooters are better shots at the end of the day, based purely on the required course of fire.
            You can’t gainsay reality, but that won’t stop people from trying.

            Also, the comments of those who may have tallied nothing but pizza boxes in their Marine career attempting to deconstruct the program they undertook, however pithy and clever they sound, don’t strike me as very persuasive without some bona fides to back them up. Because the generations of double-unqs who failed to qualify are somewhere now, and some of them have internet access too.

            But if the USMC marksmanship course of fire isn’t that big a deal, what say we simply standardize it across the services?
            Then all the sour grapes foxes can compare apples to apples.
            Oh, and for those in the Army, or other services, who never learned windage and such, it starts in chapter 5 of FM 3.22-9. Bone up.

            For those who pooh-pooh target ID at 500m, I note it’s rather easier when instead of carrying farm implements, Hadji is popping off a PKM at you from 200m beyond your best shot on your best day, i’n’it?

            I’m sure that never happens to the Army either.

      4. Mark

        I was one of those guys who came from the Marine Corps to the Army for a few years.

        It was different. I thought it would be great if we had a course in which we did the KD course (USMC) which got everyone to understand the effects of wind and light on the target and sight manipulation for different ranges, then transition to the Army qual course, fired from BZO.

        One gets you to know your rifle and how it works with you, and the other is applying all that in a semi-real situation with the targets popping up at different ranges.

        Took me forever to get it in my head that sometimes TWO targets would pop up.

        During that time, I shot DCM 200 yard matches (standing) and got coaching from civilian shooters.

        Returned to the Marine Corps and I went from USMC sharpshooter to expert, due to getting a chance to shoot different styles and techniques and get some coaching from guys who shot a lot.

  6. Russ

    The forging changes and the changes to prevent closing the receivers together on the dust cover were great. Getting rid of that horrible conical front sight post–awesome. Micrometer adjustable sights using only your fingers was the best. The A1 was a pound lighter due to the lighter barrel and I don’t know because I didn’t work in the armory but “bent barrels” seem like made up BS. Max sustained rate of fire stayed the same as the ’03, M1, M14, and M16A1 at about 12-15 rpm. The shorter A1 stock gets a thumbs up. The closed-bottom A2 birdcage as well. So if I were King: A1 trigger, buttstock, and pencil barrel with an A2 everything else.

    1. Sommerbiwak

      The USMC officer LTC(ret) Lutz responsible stated on severaln occasions (on ar15.com and other places) that the thicker barrel end came about because they thought the barrels had been bent while misuising them as pry bars for opening crates, because the gauges were not going through the bore anymore. Actually they hung up on copper residue as an inspection by that same officer with an episcope revealed.

      So he recognized the superfluous barrel front weight for what it is and wanted back to an A1 outer profile, but the bureaucratic process had been too far along already to change it. And thus came the silly M4 profile barrel developed from the M16 A2 barrel…

      the a2 stock length came from a crummy human ergonomics paper. And led to marines not able to shoot their rifles satisfactorily in OIF, because of the armour worn. Hence the USMC developed but not issued A5 buffer system.

      the burst trigger came about as a compromise between army wanting fun switch and marines only wanting semi. so the off the shelf three round burst trigger that colt had developed. A good compromise is one that nobody likes. ;-)

      the nub on the grip was added so that the rifle does not get lost when it is wet. in the surf for example. first prototype hand built by Lutz from epoxy as hognose wrote.

      disclaimer: all iirc and afaik of course.

      1. Daniel E. Watters

        That would be David Lutz, who uses the handle “Coldblue” online. After leaving the USMC, he became VP of Military Operations at Knight’s Armament.

        Dan Shea interviewed him back in the mid-1990s for the defunct Machine Gun News magazine, going over the rationale for many of the M16A2’s features. You may still be able to pick up a copy from the Small Arms Review webstore. In addition, a judicious Google search may be able to pull up some of the AR15.com forum threads where he rehashes the subject.

    2. Matt

      As I understand it, armorers had a drop-through gauge to check if a barrel was bent. A1 barrels would commonly check as having a bend right at the front sight assembly and they figured it resulted from a too thin barrel for bayonet drills/hard use. This resulted in a beefed up barrel profile in the A2. It was shortly after the new standard was set in stone that they figured out it was simply copper fouling accumulating at the gas port that was stopping the gauge.

  7. Torres

    I liked the M-16A1 and shot expert in BCT with a well-worn GM Hydramatic rifle and Colt rifles every time I had to re-qualify with it. The sights were a painful thing but I thought the trigger to be okay.

    I thought the 3-shot burst to be useless.

  8. Ray

    I first handled an A2 in Korea in late ’85 or early ’86. Seemed nice enough. The Marines we were training with seemed equally interested in our Kevlar helmets. Heaven forbid all combat infantry units have the most current equipment!
    Actually, I always thought Big Army treated their combat arms in about the same way the Navy treats the Marines. The infantry units I was in were VERY serious about musketry. When we would be detailed to help on a range or put a REMF through our qualification ranges, I would have sworn under oath those people had never seen a weapon before. The penta-cluster seems to have more important things to do than to actually fight. Go figure.

  9. Sommerbiwak

    On a shoe string budget? Isn’t that the default for the USMC? ;-)

    Except the AAAAAAV and the F-35 of course.

  10. Texas dude

    I have seen very vague references to what the Army came up with as a Product Improved M16; I think it was something like the M16PIP. I read that it was a significant improvement over the M16A1 and didn’t have the flaws of the A2, but apparently the concerns of the USMC rifle team won out. That would be worthy of a blog post. Your SAW write ups were what originally brought me here.

    One of my good friends, gone for a long time from cancer, worked on a program in the mid 80s where the Army experimented with sight upgrades and optics with Basic Training companies. The conclusion was that they significantly enhanced lethality and were easier to train new shooters with quickly, but the upgrades weren’t adopted for another 10 years or more. He had some valuable input to our Patrol Carbine program just before he passed, back when you didn’t have a hundred Internet personalities to tell you how to think.

    The A2s seemed to work as well as anything else, although after six months of banging around the field, the A2’s finish was so worn it looked older than the A1 it replaced, even though they were both Colts. I wonder what was different with the finish; the A2s looked more black in color and the A1s were gray.

    I vaguely recall that most of the Army’s A2s were FN made, as Colt only had the Army contract for a couple of years before they lost it to FN. they worked, but the trigger on the A2 seemed pretty bad compared to the A1. And the sights were stupidly complicated. I am still not sure what exactly they were supposed to do.

    The M4 history gets overwritten frequently as well. It was a COTS design that Colt made for export (Saudis, I think) that was an incremental improvement over the Commando with A2 reinforcements and sights with the ability to accept an M203. Big Army was set to adopt it for Combat Support folks and to replace the M3 SMG for armor crews when the Cold War drawdown killed the program. Special Operations Command rescued it a few years later. Although I could be misremembering most of that, too.

    While people dicker over the minutiae of small arms (myself included) and the “what should have been” stuff, individual small arms arguably haven’t been important in most big wars for over a century and are mainly things to keep the grunts and pogues alike from getting killed until the big guns and heavy maneuver guys can win things. Or at least until you get into a gunfighter war like the last decade and a half.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Before we had M4s in SF we had “M16 Carbines” which were same as early M4s, i.e. with A2 sights and fixed carrying handles. We got the SOPMOD I M4s in 2000-01 and we didn’t get the optics and other stuff in the SOPMOD kit until maybe 30 days before deploying to Afghanistan, but that was because someone was hogging them at Group and we were a remote company.

      You could actually put an M203 on an XM177E2 if you fabbed a bracket, which our guys did, and left the lower handguard off, but there was no real quantity of `177s. The Army bought, and Colt made, only 10,000 of them, and a lot of them stayed behind in Vietnam (or Laos or Cambodia).

    2. Daniel E. Watters

      The Abu Dhabi origins of the M4 carbine is a myth. I blame R. Blake Stevens for inadvertantly creating it.

      The M4 carbine owes its existence to the 9th Infantry Division and the the U.S. Army Development and Employment Agency (ADEA). The ADEA was created in 1983 to explore new concepts, high tech equipment, and innovative tactics under field conditions. Around the same time, the 9ID was selected as the test bed for the High Technology Motorized Division (HTMD) concept in support of their role in the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force.

      In April 1983, the 9ID initiated a Quick Reaction Program for a 5.56mm carbine. It was originally framed in terms of a modified XM177E2 with improved furniture and a 1-7″ twist barrel. The Army’s Armament Research and Development Center (ARDC) reviewed the QRP in June 1983 and noted that the XM177E2 would need additional modifications beyond those cited by the 9ID. ARDC recommended additional commonality with the M16A2, as well as lengthening the barrel to 14.5″. In January 1984, the 9ID revised its QRP and redesignated the proposed 5.56mm carbine as the XM4 Carbine. The Army formally approved the revised QRP in February 1984.

      The XM4 Carbine became a joint Army/Marine Corps program sometime in 1985, but the Army pulled its funding in 1986. The USMC approved the carbine for service use as early as May 1987; however, Congress used the lack of Army interest as one of many excuses to refuse funding for the Corps’ carbine acquisition plans. After multiple years of failing to gain congressional approval, the USMC gave up on the carbine for nearly a decade. The Army stepped back in around 1989, adopting the USMC’s Required Operational Capability document for the carbine. By 1991, there was sufficient funding to support the carbine’s type classification. The initial production contract (DAAA09-93-C-0375) was awarded in 1993.

      1. Kirk

        The other funny thing was that the M4 was originally supposed to be a “support and combat service support” only deal, at the divisional level. The M16A2 was supposed to be the primary infantry arm, and the carbine was supposed to go to non-direct combat roles, like artillery, engineers, and so forth.

        Only thing was, it looked “way cool”, and when they actually showed up, the powers that were glommed onto them, tried them, and the next thing you knew, the supporting branches got “stuck” with the good ol’ M16A2.

        Which just goes to show that the US Army conducts more of its actual weapons procurement by accident than any pre-thought purpose. Every time my Engineer outfit was slated to get the M4s we were supposed to get, on paper, the actual rifles wound up over in one of the Infantry outfits, for some odd reason. I think it was the early 2000s before anyone bothered to admit what was going on, and changed the MTOE and fielding documents. My favorite story about that crap was when we went up to pick up our initial issue of M4 carbines from 2ID PBO, and where we were supposed to be getting something like 800, we got twenty… ‘Cos, don’t you know, the infantry bubbas needed ’em more.

        Similar tales of bypassing the system to get what the troops need can be discerned in the whole “Let’s make the M240 a ground-mount MG for the Infantry…”. That particular fiasco should have seen the entire sorry edifice of our current small arms program torn down to the ground, and started over from fresh. I mean, for the love of God, it should have come to nobody’s surprise that the M60 needed to be replaced, but the small arms system didn’t have even the beginnings of a program to do that, soooo… Here came the Rangers and the Marines, who end-ran the hell out of all those “excess to need” war-stock coax guns from the M1 program…

        Travesty, pure and simple. And, what was amazing to me was that when I talked to some of the young Ranger officers involved, all of them, to a man, were stone-ignorant of all the other militaries around the world who’d issued and used the MAG-58, and found it was too damn heavy for Infantry operations on foot. The weight problems we “discovered” in Afghanistan should not have been a surprise to anyone who paid the least amount of attention to these things, but the US military insists on learning everything for itself, and then treats the information that fate and circumstance beat into our skulls as world-shaking truths and surprises.

        “Learning Organization”, my sweet ass. These fuckers don’t learn a damn thing until you’ve pounded it up their ass with a hammer, and even then, they’re mostly in denial that you’re doing any such thing to them.

        1. Hognose Post author

          But that’s okay. The Army has decided what it really needs in 2017 is more how-you-must-fold-your-socks NCO “schools,” including one that will be a gateway to E8. So soldiers will do PLDC (pull-dick), then pull-dick refresher, then refresher refresher, and onwards. And they’re talking about some kind of college requirement for E7 and E8, because of the noted brilliance college-educated O-1s arrive with.

          1. Kirk

            I’d shitcan all the NCOES schools as presently constituted, replace them with an actual college-level instruction program where you go take a real class on, for example, counseling, get college credit for it, and have to have gotten all that administrivia instruction under your belt before going to an honest-to-God NCO school where you’re going to spend 90% of your time in the field proving you can do shit like run a damn fire team.

            And, Sunny Jim? You can’t hack the Team Leader course? You ain’t wearing the rank of a Sergeant. Can’t pass the Squad Leader course? No SSG for you. Same-same, all the way up the line. If you’re unable to hack the tactical end of the job, as evaluated under field conditions? You ain’t wearing the rank.

            Of course, in my Army, you’d not have your pay necessarily tied to your tactical skills, either–If you’re a motor sergeant maintenance whiz, I’ve got no problem giving you E-7 pay. I just don’t want you wearing SFC rank, when you can’t hack running a platoon under fire in a tactical environment. Decouple the rank from the pay grades, in other words. Except for the combat arms guys, whose bread and butter is doing that stuff.

            99% of the crap we teach right now in NCOES would be far better addressed by turning the course instruction into college classes that can be done during both duty and non-duty hours, and have some actual professionals come in and teach things like the Army Writing Program. There was nothing more maddening to me than to be sitting in ANCOC, and hear the small group instructor we had say “Well, I don’t know much about this, so maybe some of you guys could help the others…?”. The NCO academies copying the officer side bullshit of small group instruction was a crock of shit, from the beginning. The Socratic method is great, for intellectual bullshitting at the university level. For what you’re actually teaching, or trying to teach, at the NCO Academy level? You’re basically creating a situation where the blind are leading the blind through a fucking minefield. Not a good way to do business, and I have no idea who the hell ever thought that was a good idea. Bring in actual, y’know, subject-matter experts who are actually qualified to teach these subjects like the UCMJ, and so forth.

          2. Aesop

            Stop making sense.

            I was voluntold I was going to NCO academy, after holding both NCO rank and a billet two grades above my stripes for 3 years of a 4-year enlistment.

            I was told by the staff that as I had less than a year before the end of my enlistment, I could decline to attend. But I decided it would be a nice break from my unit’s daily games, and stayed. I only finished in the top 10%, but observed after it was over that it would have been a helluva lot handier had the assignment been about 5 minutes after they’d first pinned NCO stripes on me, if not just before.

            Other than a useful chance to practice close-order drill on each other, most of it was a bald attempt to simply do Boot Camp 2.0, and precious little time spent on actual leadership, let alone combat leadership, just management – done equally badly – along with what was then asinine PC b.s regarding the female of the species in uniform, but which would now be correctly noted as merely the camel’s nostril under the tent flap.

            IMHO, NCO training on the Marine side should be done exactly once, to corporals, under the direct and tender tutelage of the Bn or Wing SgtMaj, after handing out the Guidebook For Marine NCOs, and with daily question-and-answer time, and supervised instruction and apprenticeship.

            And rank should be more British, with increases in pay grade, but no increased ranks issued except to those qualified to hold down the jobs. Bad enough to have an E-7 shitbird, but to call such a person a PSG, Gunnery Sergeant, or Chief Petty Officer when they possess no identifiable skills as such, simply sufficient time in service, merely adds insult to injury for subordinates and superiors alike.

  11. Texas dude

    My first SWAT rifle was an M16A2 Carbine…which was basically a an M4 profile barrel on an M16A2 lower (reinforcements) with an M16A2 upper (brass deflector) with M16A1 sights. Made in the mid 90s. Really odd duck, when viewed from a modern standpoint, but absolutely functional, though the small A1 aperture made for slower close range shots. I was happy to trade it out for a straight M4 with a 1913 rail and modern optics, but that was after a few years of use. But Colt had some real oddballs during the late 80s and early 90s when big military contracts were slow.

    Some of our more recent guns have been from Colt Canada, by the serial numbers, and the CHF barrels have seemed to last longer. The American-made Colt monolithic rail Commandos have been disappointing. Reliable, yes, bet some odd QC issues crop up, like canted sights and only 7 barely usable inches of rail space. My Colt monolithic upper is rusting in a supply room somewhere…I’ll turn it in at retirement. We have replaced most of those with superior commercial stuff.

    My understanding (imperfect, though it is) was that the Special Operations community bought a fair number of commercial market Colt Carbines or Commandos in the period between the XM177 and the M4, so there is a lot of odd variation in what graced arms rooms between the 1960s and the 1990s. I have only seen one of the XM-177s in the wild in service, and I think it was an Air National Guard SP GAU-5 during static display when I was a kid. The AD Air Force guys who showed up to augment us in the Heavy Division days could never be bothered to actually bring a weapon.

    I have been in training classes with the paralyzed Marine that Kirk mentioned. He does firearms training as therapy, and shares his story every class. Skill trumps weapons, according to him. He has a point, and I have been humbled to have been out shot by him…although we always gave him grief because he was shooting from a rest…

    M3s were strange in that they were a long term legacy system that stayed around for a half a century with little use and no training or parts. I had one on AD during the late 80s, as they came with being a track crewman, even in a REMFy MI job; I never fired it, unfortunately. Doing the same gig in college on the weekends, I got a brand new M3 issued in bar coded, plastic sealed box in the mid 1990s. It was made in 1945, but had been repackaged at least once. Sadly, other than some Wal Mart ammo we surreptitiously bought and burned into a mesa somewhere, I doubt that thing ever got fired, and probably got crushed at Anniston sometime within a couple years of its first issue, the reserve MI unit going away and all. CMP ought to be selling those.

    1. looserounds.com

      Colt does not use CHF barrels made by colt canada for sales in the US

      D marked and Colt Canada roll marked lowers does not mean CHF barrels.

      I personally love the 6940-44-45 series colt carbines. I use them pretty much exclusively.

  12. 2hotel9

    So, basically, better and more rifleman training would solve all these problems. OK, lets piss away millions upon millions of dollars to, in effect, not fix nuthin’. Yep, that is the DoD way. Just look at the pistol fiasco they are again, still, going through.

  13. Pingback: When the Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 2 of 3 | WeaponsMan

  14. Pingback: When The Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 3 of 3 | WeaponsMan

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