When The Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 3 of 3

The previous two stories set the stage, for a look at a report drafted for the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences the Army was still pursuing the “best” (an upgraded M16 meeting all Army objectives) instead of the “good” (the M16A2, which was developed and revised to meet Marine objectives). Of course, we all know the spoiler aleady: the Army accepted the Marine M16A2 as is, leaving the report as an orphaned artifact. The report is here: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a168577.pdf

Colt factory shot of the M16A2. The A2 was developed by the USMC, but was manufactured by Colt and FNMI.

This is the third of a three part series. In the first part, Thursday on WeaponsMan.com, the Army contractors noted the specific solutions implemented on the A2 and the problems the Marines solved thereby, but complained that the problems and solutions were too USMC-specific. In the second part, posted yesterday, we discussed just what they thought was wrong about the Marines’ product. In this, third, part, we’ll list the modifications that they suggested in lieu of or in addition to the A2 mods.

Most of the Army’s problems with the A2 related to the burst mechanism, and the sights, especially the complicated rear sight. (This is actually an A3/A4 or M4: note the knobs, left, for removing the carrying handle. The A2 handle was forged as part of the upper receiver.

Reliability

We should note that the Marines’ tests, as reported in this document (p,7), demonstrated significantly lower reliability, and increased fouling in the A2 compared to its older brother. These tests are suspect because the early lot of XM855 used was considered bad ammo, but the M16A1 did outperform the A2.

Thirty Ml6A1 rifles firing 26,010 rounds of M193

Failures to fire – none
Failures to feed – 3 (Not locking magazine in place)

Thirty M16A2 rifles firing 26,010 rounds of XM855

Failures to fire – 52 (27 – bad ammunition) (25 – mechnanical [sic] malfunctions)
Failures to feed – 3 (Improperly loaded magazines)

Those failures to fire that were not attributed to bad ammo were thought to be caused by the A2 trigger system’s Achilles’s heel, the burst trigger mechanism. The A2 performed even worse in a cold weather test, but again, it was with the questionable ammunition, and many of the failures to fire were also laid at the feet of the burst mechanism.

The report has an interesting discussion of the burst mechanism and its rationale in Marine, but not Army, small arms doctrine:

The M16A2 has less combat capability due to the elimination of full automatic fire. Full automatic fire enhances the ability of Army units to clear and defend buildings, to conduct final assaults on enemy positions, to defend against an enemy final assault, to conduct an ambush, to react to an enemy ambush, to engage an enemy helicopter or fast moving vehicle, etc.

While the Marines claim greater accuracy and conservation of ammunition for the 3-round burst control, no data were generated during the test to support these contentions and no supportative [sic] data are known to exist.

Also, it should be noted that room-to-room fighting was conducted with blanks, no close-in firing was conducted, no firing with short time limits was conducted, no firing at aircraft was conducted, etc. In other words, for all of the automatic/burst firing conducted during the test, a semi-automatic mode of fire would have probably resulted in a greater number of target hits.

Finally, to be given very serious consideration, is the fact that the burst control requires nine (9) new parts in the lower receiver, evidently contributing to the large number of weapon malfunctions during testing of the M16A2.

They also took issue with the heavy barrel (“heavy in the wrong place”), the twist rate (preferred 1:9), stock length increased when even the A1 stock was too long for small soldiers, and the fast twist’s incompatibility with the .22 subcaliber system. 

The article includes an extensive comparison of the pros and cons of Marine KD vs. Army Trainfire marksmanship modalities. These training differences result from the different combat envelopes for the rifleman: the Marines need to engage with rifles in the 300-to-800 meter space, because they don’t have the supporting arms that the Army can count on, at least, not in the same quantity. A unit that must fight with just its organic weapons needs to get the very most out of these weapons. The Army of 1986 did not consider a 500 or 600 meter target a primary rifle target, but a crew-served-weapons target.

In the end, the recommendations the contractors made were mostly about the sights. They put their recommendations in a table with the M16A1 and M16A2 stats. Since the latter are probably familiar to most readers, we omit them now to save time, and just show the contract recommendations.

Item Recommended
Front sight (day) Fixed blade, 0.090″
Front sight (night) Luminous dot on each sightguard
Rear Sight (day) single 2mm peep. A single elevation knob marked for 200, 250, 390, 25, 400, 500, 15, 600, 700, and 800 meters. Windage knob at rear. Each click equal to 1 MOA
Rear Sight (night) Two luminous dots on upper portion of receiver (or a single flip- up luminous dot located forward of the carrying handle) are aligned with front dots for shooting at night
Zero Recording Yes
Zero Inspection Yes
25m setting (day and night sights) Yes
Mechanical Zero Yes
250-m battlesight Yes
Firing mode Semi and Auto
Barrel 20″. Slightly heavier than A1 at receiver and mid-barrel. 1:9″ twist
Handguard Same as M16A2 except held in place with a securely fastened ring nut to provide rigidity.
Buttstock Same material as M16A2. Same length as M16A1. Option for adjustable length.

There are several interesting observations to make here. First, the contractors recommended that the Army make changes that would decrease the mechanical accuracy of the proposed M16Ax relative to the Marines’ A2. Specifically, these changes included the wider fixed front sight blade, the 1-MOA adjustments on the rear sight (A2 offers ½-MOA), and arguably the simplification of the rear sight. The trade-off was simplicity and ease of training, instead of superior bullseye performance.

Second, some of the proposals would definitely improve the utility of the firearm, including restoring the short stock, or replacing it with an adjustable one; increasing the barrel diameter towards the chamber rather than the muzzle, thus improving sustained fire accuracy and reliability; reverting to automatic fire from the burst mechanism (which also has side benefits, in improving the trigger’s feel and consistency). The night-sight proposal was truly ingenious.

Third, in some of these road-not-taken proposals, the Army was reverting to the original AR-10 design and rejecting changes that were largely imposed on the AR design by the Army in the previous decade. These include the rigid fastening of the handguard, and the fixed front sight blade.

Finally, these proposals were almost the last gasp of the iron-sighted military rifle. As this  document passed from the contracting officer to file cabinets across the service, without action, special operators were already wringing out scopes and single-point sights, and a few visionaries were already arguing that the day of the iron sight had run its three centuries, and was now at an end. A new generation of optical technology was eliminating the two objections that had kept optics off the rifles of most soldiers: less durability than irons, and slower target acquisition. Many men’s efforts went into winning over the Voices of Experience who still said “no” to anything with a lens, thanks to memories of Uncle Joe’s elk lost because his scope fogged up, or the VC that got away because somebody attached an unauthorized 4×32 Colt scope to the carrying handle of his M16.

70 thoughts on “When The Army Resisted the M16A2, Part 3 of 3

  1. Aesop

    “The Army of 1986 did does not consider a 500 or 600 meter target a primary rifle target, but a crew-served-weapons target.”
    FIFY
    True in spades in 1986, but also pretty much anytime from 1775 to present.

    As I read complaints about the “complicated” rear sight on the A2, I can’t help but look at the rear sights on the M1 Garand on the rack, and the M14 next to it. Sh’yeah, elevation and windage adjustments in the same place: how will average American soldiers ever cope with the stress??

    The only surprise is that there wasn’t a prototype from the Ordnance Board run through testing at Aberdeen at some point proposing wire-guided rifle rounds, to eliminate the stress of aiming entirely.

  2. John Distai

    The discussion in the report about front sight width and training simplification for target leads was pretty interesting. The discussions over why this change was nixed would be enlightening. I like to get bullseyes as much as the next guy, however, that’s not my understanding of what the military does. I thought it was to kill people and break their stuff.

    As I type this, the idea of the recommended front sight post with a very fine luminous line in the centerline of the post seems like it would improve the bullseye performance AND give a good half front sight reference for leads (keep the line on the leading edge of the running person). I assume that the front sights would have to be cast, otherwise I don’t know how you’d cost effectively machine something like that into a part that small. After further reflection, I just realized that the line would have to be on all 4 planes of the sight, making this much more expensive part to create, and the durability of the line would be limited.

    As with many engineering psychology types of evaluations, a consideration of costs, tradeoffs, and other technologies is important. If optics are coming into vogue, then perhaps using resources on optics was a better tradeoff than improving the sights.

    Thanks for your blog, Hognose. I visit daily, and comment nearly daily. I appreciate the content, and the opportunity to briefly exercise my brain before it is shackled and asphyxiated each day at work.

    1. Hognose Post author

      They wanted a fixed front sight with adjustments all on the rear.

      I think the Army just quit fighting the NIH Marine A2. Remember, the Army is big, and many different points of view existed at the time. A lot of soldiers and officers wanted that 800 m penetration improvement. They expected to fight in the desert soon, where long ranges were necessary. And of course, there were still M1 and M 14 diehards at the time!

  3. DSM

    Oh man, I hadn’t thought about those Colt scopes in a long time! We had a dozen or so of those things at one of my units sitting new in the box in a storage locker. They even had NSNs. They worked fine just playing around in training and such, never had an issue really other than an all but impossible cheek weld. I bought one at a gun show almost 20 years ago for my pop’s plinking rifle. It’s Colt marked and it’s a 3×20 that I recall, not 4x but I could be wrong.

    As for night sights, Trijicon had/has a great solution. The front sight had the tritium equipped post spin independently of the base but the same detent locked it in place. There were issued tritium (or maybe just phosphorescent, been a long while) front sights for the M16, per the TOs– I never saw one, but they had the luminescent material on only one surface. The shooter had to sacrifice a precise zero to rotate the sight to face correctly.
    Then there was a story in Leatherneck of an enterprising Marine who stripped down one of the old issued watches and mounted the tritium tubes into an aluminum plate that clamped onto the angled face of the front sight base. It provided a line of dots visible to the shooter. He won some tipe of award as I recall but if anything ever came of it I don’t remember. Seeing as they are not for sale anywhere I’d think not but a very novel idea.

  4. Raoul Duke

    Interesting documents. The M16A2 was the “shiny new awesome rifle” of my youth, in the ’80’s. Shooting them on static ranges was great, but so was shooting an ’03 Springfield. Both were fine target rifles, but were less than optimum as fighting rifles.

    One could look at the burst-fire limiter as a modern revival of the magazine cutoff, at least in concept.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yes, the concept was the same. “Can’t let the soldiers waste ammo by shooting it at the enemy!” When you put it that way, the folly is obvious, but it still attends every technical improvement.

      1. Boat Guy

        The same thought occurred to me – though I kinda like the magazine cutoff on my 03A3’s; I certainly thought the burst “feature” was a detriment on the M16A2.

  5. Al T.

    From a user’s perspective, when we were issued the A2s in 1987, we were some happy grunts. As we had a real honest-to-God Infantry Colonel as BN Commander, we actually shot to 500 yards with the A2s. For those that have not tried this, the “E” silhouette is smaller than the visual width of the front sight, so probably more of a stunt than a useful TTP.

    Our M16A1’s were very tired and we lost a bunch every year when higher maintenance inspected them for things like erosion and bore straightness.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Remanufacture standards on either M16 (and, I think, original manufacture standards) required the rifle to perform to a 7 MOA accuracy standard. Thank God most rifles far exceeded this.

  6. Will

    Hognose, thank you for this series. I really enjoy pulling up weaponsman and finding new historical and technical content like this. Happy New Year!

  7. Cap'n Mike

    It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Army hated the USMC designed rifle improvements.
    I can imagine the howls from the Marines if the Army ACR finalist of 1989 had been adopted and forced on them.
    Much like the M16A2, the ACR was some good and some bad, but wasnt designed for the way they did things.
    Not Invented Here indeed.

    The worst thing about the M16A2 was the burst trigger, and that still is with us today on the M4.
    Looking at US Military small arms development since WW2, there is an obsession with multiple projectiles being fired with one trigger pull, from the SPIW program to duplex ammunition and a bunch of other stuff that didnt work out..

      1. Cap'n Mike

        30 years later and they are finally returning to a consistent, non burst trigger.
        Ironically for this discussion, the M203s pictured in that Marine Corps Handout are mounted on M16A1s.

      2. Al T.

        Interesting read, thanks. I don’t recall a “2mm day time, 7mm nighttime” aperture on either the LAW or AT4, perhaps things have changed in, oh, 30 years or so.

        Couple of fun typos in that .doc, must have had an English major proof read it…. SAW barrel isn’t 40 inches long, lolz…..

        1. Hognose Post author

          That’s only on the A2. There were two different sights on the A1, the second had a much larger aperture for night use.

          1. Kirk

            No, the A1 sight did not have differently-sized apertures on the rear sight; one was for short range, and the other was for long range. The “ghost ring” larger aperture only came in with the A2.

    1. RSR

      I think the 2 round burst w/ 5.56 weapons is actually an extremely good idea — solves both the (most of) “lethality” controversy as well as tremendously increases probability of hits per trigger pull even when compared against two aimed fire shots when considering the very limited target exposure time on a real battlefield…

  8. Kirk

    The whole small arms suite here in the US very badly needs a thorough rethink, rationalization, and documented layout performed, not the least so that the JAG dipshits who keep fucking around with the ROE have something we can shove up their rectal orifices when their fine moral reasonings cripples our efforts out on the ground.

    The root problem, especially for the Army, is that we have moved a long way from the state where small arms are the de facto primary arm of the Infantry. What we’ve turned them into are accessories for the IFV, artillery, and the forward air controller: As such, their small arms have gradually lost their primacy to the radio and the Bradley turret, and morphed into local security tools. This has led, like most such shifts, to a state where we have lost clarity and focus on what we are doing in this area. We need to regain that, in order to assess what the hell we are doing, and how we intend to move forward.

    What is ironic as hell is that the Marines and Army are guilty in this, but on other sides of the coin from each other. The “right answer” isn’t in the neglect of small arms-centric thinking the Army is guilty of, or in the antiquated worship of the individual rifleman seen in the case of the Marines; instead the proper path is probably entirely orthogonal to both.

    In the final analysis, the Army went with the A2 because it couldn’t bring itself to care enough about the issue to do anything about it. The Marines recent adoption of that “accidental solution”, the M4, tells you just how right they got things with the A2 in the first place…

    And, frankly, the “ideal rifle” for our tactics and operational needs hasn’t been built, because we haven’t been thinking clearly about the issue, at all. From the evolutionary way that the M4 has become the standard, a process that hasn’t exactly been driven by any formal pre-thinking, I’m gonna just stand here and point out the delusional thinking going on on all sides.

    1. Aesop

      The Marines recent adoption of that “accidental solution”, the M4, tells you just how right they got things with the A2 in the first place…

      Indeed.
      Thus with the exact same yardstick, we can see that the similar lack of perpetual longevity of the original M-16, M-14, M1 Garand, M1903, Krag, Trapdoor Springfield, and the percussion rifled muskets of the 1860s shows what utter failures those adoptions were as well, none of them lasting much over 30 years either.

      Clearly, the only time anyone ever got it right was the Brown Bess.

      But you’re right about one thing: there hasn’t been any clear thinking about what Army infantry is, does, or needs, for about 50-60 years, beyond the standard answer to any question in Hollywood movie production: “More, bigger, faster.”

      Praytell, how has the “antiquated worship of the individual rifleman seen in the case of the Marines” manifested itself with such clarity to you?
      Which missions has this defect shown them unable to accomplish, and which objectives have they lost in illustration of your thesis?
      Please, show your work, if possible. I’m genuinely curious.

      I’m also wondering how having rifleman who can hit what they’re aiming at is such a crippling detriment to the mission of the infantry. In anyone’s military.

      Just to drag things back, probably far beyond your personal experience or research, one thing you need to understand about the M16A2, the rifle you evidently love to hate so much: the Marines didn’t invent it, they merely fixed it. Had they been given their collective druthers after Vietnam, every M-16 they possessed would have been shipped back to Mattel, and the former M-14s re-issued. (Which would have stood them in good stead for most of this century’s conflicts, were it not for the Ghost of SecDef MacNamara wailing and shrieking “commonality!” down the corridors of the Pentagon, not least of which because we dragged the rest of NATO kicking and screaming away from an entire generation of first-rate 7.62 rifles.)

      But being stuck with MacNamara’s plastic Air Force toy in perpetuity, with both its plusses and minuses, they figured they might as well fix some of its obvious shortcomings once the original issue was getting pretty raggedy and long in the tooth.

      The M-4 now, despite its genesis, is the same thing the A2 was: an accommodation to an unwished for reality by all parties, with a generally unwanted platform that everyone is nevertheless stuck with until further notice.

      Taking it personally won’t change things. But if you’ve grasped that you and everyone else got any version of the M-16 because the brass ultimately doesn’t give a flying shit what the ground troops carry, I think you’ve surrounded the root cause going back to at least 1965.

      1. Cap'n Mike

        I played some of those Target games at the Wilson matches in the 1990s with an M16A2, so im of the opinion that the A2 improvements were not all bad, but if you start talking seriously about guys wishing for their M14s back, you kinda lose credibility Aesop.

        1. Aesop

          I’m telling it like it was, not giving my personal opinion, Cap’n, sorry if that historical reality chaps somewhere.
          The fact was that until the M16A2 arrived, the rifle itself was pretty universally regarded as a makeshift abortion of a longarm by all and sundry from dawn to midnight, useful only in that shitty little jungle war that spawned it, and mainly to people shorter than 5′ tall.
          I swear I’m not making that up, you could look it up.

          1. SemperFi, 0321

            I’m in full agreement with Aesop.
            I went thru Boot Camp with the M-14 in 1972 (barely made Rifle Expert), got issued a M-16A1 at Infantry School and later in 3rdMarDiv, and even though it was a really cool looking space gun, most of us knew the M-14 was what you used to kill shit with. The older NCO’s told us horror stories about VN, and how worthless the M-16 had been. Ours were still the early model with 3 prong flash suppressor and solid rubber buttplate, well used from VN service. I later carried a brand new M-16A1/ M203 in Recon, and in all honesty, missed my M79 for it’s practicality. I did however shoot high expert with the A1, so I can’t fault it’s accuracy. Reliability is another matter, go do some Amphib Ops and tell me how long you kept it unjammed. That’s where an M-14 or AK shines.
            I own both models today (along with most of the other popular assault rifles), and still prefer the A1 over the A2 since I carried one for so many yrs. Last month I put the A2 bbl on a lathe and turned it down to A1 specs, much nicer! Whoever decided to put the bbl on weight fwd was an idiot. But it’s still a Matty Mattel special, no matter how many times you try to improve it.

          1. Aesop

            And which of those tests were done prior to 1983?
            Thought so.

            I’m sorry if offering a credible retelling of opinions extent at the time and place specified (i.e. when the A1 and A2 were initially adopted) offends anyone’s dignity, but what was, was. That’s the difference between actual reality from people who’d been to war with both examples (in history, these are known as primary sources), vs. what people have learned from such bastions of accuracy as Mythbusters.

            You may change those opinions decades after the fact, but you don’t get to re-write them retroactively to suit your prejudices.

    2. Wes Dee

      Is the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies program a reason to be hopeful or is it another acr boondoggle ?

  9. looserounds.com

    I remember when the army had went with the A2. My brother was in the national guard at the time. I was down at the Armory talking wit him one weekend when they “new A2s” showed up for them. Haha it was A2 buttstock . grip and handgaurds. To be placed on their A1s to upgrade them. They used them like that until a few years later when they got real A2s. That were already very worn.

    I never have understood the crying over the A2 site. I like it. But what gets me is, the same guys trusted with multi-million dollar equipment, radios, choppers, tanks. hand held rockets, canon. drones. mortars and the operation of all that and more would be supposedly are stymied by the rear sight on an M16A2..
    Maybe if the rear sight is to complex for a guy to be trained on. Maybe he shouldnt be handed anything..

    the colt semi auto A2 was my very first Ar15 back in the wonderful 80s

    1. Kirk

      I don’t think it was necessarily a question of whether or not we could train someone on that rear sight, but that it was a waste of time to do so. For the vast majority of shooters, that sight is totally superfluous.

      Originally, that sight came from one of the switch-barrel Colt LMG designs, and for the life of me, I don’t know why someone thought it was a good idea to stick it on top of a general-issue assault rifle firing 5.56mm. The money would have been better allocated to a decent set of night sights for the rifle, and maybe just have left that rear sight monstrosity to a DMR role rifle. Probably 99% of the military gets no use whatsoever out of that thing, and would be better off with the A1 sight, instead.

      1. Aesop

        So, you’re saying there’s no training time required for the A1 sight…?
        Or that iron sights at all are a waste of time now, because ACOG/EOTech/etc.?

        1. Kirk

          What I’m saying is that an LMG sight, originally meant to put all the adjustment on the fixed rear sight when changing barrels, is ludicrously over-complicated for what it does on an assault rifle. The story I got for how it even got selected had a lot to do with the Marine officer in charge looking at the Colt LMG, going “Wow, that’s a cool-looking rear sight you’ve got there…”, and bang, Colt gave it to them with the idea that it would better suit the Marine Corps Camp Perry-esque fantasies. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but given the amount of forethought that went into the whole thing, I rather suspect it might actually be so.

          Getting down to it, the A2 was a fiasco from the start; the Marines are now effectively admitting that fact, by virtue of their service-wide adoption of the M4. They go to the M27, and they’ll just be making the rubble bounce over the grave of the A2 configuration. The men who designed that thing had it wrong, period. Virtually nothing from that configuration is of real utility, going forward.

          Root fact is, that rifle configuration was optimized for the unique game that was Marine qualification, and that game had very little to do with actual modern combat. Same-same with the Camp Perry BS that led the Army down the path to the M14–Modern combat marksmanship has very little to do with the whole “Let’s punch holes in paper…” mentality typified by that whole school of shooting. Yes, the skills are transferrable, but in the final analysis, it’s a game, and a game that has very little relevance to the real world. I think you can make a damn good case that the Camp Perry gravel-belly school of marksmanship worship has served the US military very poorly, in that those games warped the entire thrust of post-WWII small arms into a very unrealistic path. It is horrible to have to admit that, but it is true: The intent behind it, that of fostering better marksmanship through civilian competition, got warped out of contact with reality sometime around the turn of the last century, and the influence of that institution has had enormous and inimical effect on many small arms-related issues. Probably the key problem was that the game came to overshadow fidelity to combat reality, and while the pure marksmanship skills fostered aren’t totally irrelevant to things, the reality is that the whole NRA/Camp Perry world has become what the judo/ju-jitsu separation is to Japanese martial grappling. One is a game, the other is an actual combat skill.

          Had the guys with actual WWII combat experience been listened to, instead of ignored? We’d have very likely gone forward with the .280 British cartridge for individual weapons, a variant of the FN FAL firing that cartridge, and kept the venerable .30-06 for a medium MG cartridge. This would have left us in a far better situation for Vietnam, and even what we’re doing in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, our small arms have been designed, procured, and managed in what I can only describe as a fit of absent-mindedness, and we’re having to shoehorn weapons and cartridges into a tactical and operational milieu they were never meant to address. Hell, a very good case could be made that we haven’t really thought any of this crap through, let alone tried to actually develop a coherent train of thought on these matters.

          The last forty years of small arms procurements pretty much prove that, no matter how much we want to pretend it doesn’t. The A2 just typifies the whole gigantic fiasco that is our “program”; damn near nothing that was done between the A2 and the A1 has really been of any real utility, and has instead, actually been detrimental to the system. We got a freshened fleet out of the deal, but that was about it. The A2 should have seen a raft of actual improvements; the era it was part of saw the introduction of nitrided finishes, cold hammer-forged barrels, and a host of other innovations that were implemented by other countries like Canada–And, even implemented on the basic AR-15 design. It ain’t exactly accidental that most of the European sales of the M16 have gone to Colt Canada, vs. Colt, because of that. The Dutch, for example, have specifically stated that they preferred the Colt Canada version of the M16 because of the improved barrels provided with those rifles.

          In a lot of ways, the A2 represented a massive missed opportunity, and the fact that they skipped things like improved coatings, better barrels, and actual integrated night sights for the BS that they did go after just points out the fundamental immaturity and actual disdain for the needs of the combat soldier typified by the people who were behind that program. For the love of God, who the hell carried the M16A1 and looked at the sling setup, and thought “Oh, this is something we need to carry forward…”?

          I can think of about a half-dozen simple improvements to that rifle that should have been looked at, and never were, simply because the childish dimwits who were involved in that whole fiasco were more concerned about playing the paper-punch game at Camp Perry, rather than actually supporting the needs of the combat soldier or Marine.

          Night sights? WTF? Why wasn’t that even addressed? The flippin’ Galil had them, the Valmets had them, and most of the European rifles procured in that era had them, built-in. Yet, these same game-playing children completely ignored that need, and still claimed we “…owned the night…”. Yeah. Right. Sure we did–A good three-quarters of our weapons across the combat arms didn’t have night vision attached, and there was precisely zero interest in providing effective sight aids to either the individual Marine or soldier. For what we spent on that crazy-ass LMG sight to go onto the A2, we could have easily had someone like Trijicon mass-produce a decent set of tritium flip-ups, and that would have vastly increased our effectiveness at night-fighting. Didn’t happen, did it? Did they change the parade-ground sling attachments, to something actually more usable for the combat soldier? Nope. You’d almost think they were getting kick-backs from the 550 cord manufacturers, or something…

          No matter how you look at it, the A2 was a lost opportunity, and one that represents a pretty complete and abject failure of the adult supervision in the military. The fact that it took nearly 30 years to see someone admit to that, by the effective replacement of it by the M4? Ludicrous.

          1. DSM

            The upgrade to the M4 could be reviewed in similar ways as if carried forward the same issues. The M4A1 upgrade addresses some of them but not all.

          2. Aesop

            Okay.
            So legendary apocrypha, coupled with 30 years of innovation in optical sights and night vision driven by economies of scale and Moore’s law as much as anything else, hindsightedly damns the Marines for fixing a Mickey Mouse piece of shit foisted on the entire military because of Robert McNamara, and for turning it into a decent and serviceable rifle for the interim 20+ years from then until the M-4.
            Because reasons?

            I have to ask: were you even of age and paying attention to what was (and wasn’t) available in the early 1980s?
            Hindsight is fabulous, but in the 1980s, practical and widespread night vision was barely in its infancy. The PVS-4 was the newest high-speed low-drag toy, all 4 pounds of it, and was half again the weight of an entire M-16, all by itself, and compared to modern NV, was nothing to write home about. It was also the size of an M-203 sitting on the carrying handle, and about as handy and wieldable as a fire extinguisher up there.

            Trijicon? HA!
            They didn’t even exist until 1981, by which time the M-16A2 was already finalized and in the pre-production pipeline. Prior to that there was essentially nothing to buy, from no one. Their ACOG didn’t exist, nor did it hit the supply pipeline until 1987, by which point the Marine purchase of A2s was likely complete, and the Army’s nearly so.
            And in case it’s news, there were still serving officers and SNCOs in 1980, swear to Christ, who had carried the M1 Garand in combat, including, doubtless, no small number of either the Army’s or Marine’s ordnance and marksmanship senior management and selection boards.

            And lest it escape anyone’s notice, the likelihood of the US adopting wholesale anything from Canada, or, god forbid, Europe, in the generation immediately after we’d dragged their sorry asses out of not one, but two world wars, was right up there around the potential that pigs would fly, and unicorns shitting strawberry-flavored gumdrops would be the new mount for cavalry troops.
            In the 1980s, they were mostly busy whinging that there was even a NATO at all, and that the US still belonged to it, and most of Europe was longingly looking rather desperately to suck up to the Soviets, right up until the Berlin Wall came down. Suffice it to say the official view on their input was that if we wanted anything out of them, we’d squeeze their necks and tell them what to crap out.

            But your disdain for basic rifle marksmanship I find utterly fascinating.
            Especially given that the US service round for the last 50 years is so light and wind-afflicted that harsh language and butterfly farts can and do deflect its trajectory at the terminal end, and the only advantage of the weapons system vs. the primary threat weapon during that time, the AKM series, is that the M-16 – for any enlistee not possessed of a prehensile tail – can be rather simply wrung out to hit enemies carrying the AK beyond ranges where the AK can effectively return fire. So unless one was looking to issue every other grunt an M-60, with the alternates as ammo bearers, the A2 was the only game in town.

            In short, your long-after-the-fact analysis fails to account for the situation then, or now.

            The M4 isn’t a perfect weapon either (as countless bulletproof mud walls can attest). But the increased accuracy from smaller, robust optics has rendered iron sights less necessary than they were in 1982 (though not useless), and made a shorter barrel workable at range. Except for those mud walls.
            TANSTAAFL, with rifles or anything else.

            Currently, more little bullets in a compact package for urban engagements is a thing. It may not be the thing next time, and come that day, as always, we (and more to the point, troops in combat) will be stuck with what they have, until they get what they want. Usually just after the war’s over.

            While I’m sure everyone longs for phased plasma rifles in the 40MW range that hit point-of-aim/point-of-impact to infinity, everyone so far in world history has been constrained by terminal ballistics if they want to actually hit anything.

            But damning the perspicacity of an overdue 1982 rifle improvement begun in 1974 because it didn’t clairvoyantly adopt 2003-2015 hardware or accommodate 21st-century issue gear is just silly. You’re demanding something that’s never been done in history, blessed with the information obtained over two wars and a decade of solid ground combat, when the architects of the original upgrade were already drawing pension and social security checks.

            That’s not a quibble with the M16A2, it’s a gripe about the lack of a DeLorean equipped with Mr. Fusion and a flux capacitor.

          3. Hognose Post author

            I think that, apart from the dumb-ass heavy barrel and the burst selector, which everyone agrees were st00pid, plus the stock, which depends on whether you have orangutan arms, the A2 was generally an improvement. If it had the fixed-blade front sight and the embedded tritium night sights proposed in the paper, it would have been even better. (As I understand it, the adjustable front sight was retained because the travel of the rear sight in elevation was insufficient for zeroing).

            This is not an attack on the USMC, for Christ’s sake. The Marines saw problems and took direct action to solve them, which ought to be commended. That doesn’t mean they discovered every improvement possible.

          4. Aesop

            And just to add to the milleu, the military of the immediate era was such that “thank you for your service” was still pronounced the old-fashioned way, as “baby burner”, and the services across the board were replete with the leftovers of VN-era dope-smokers, McNamara’s 100,000, and the first crop of ghetto shitbirds fleeing the Carter economy by joining the New All-Volunteer Military.
            In the 1975-79 period, there were full-on race riots at bases like Camp Lejeune, and IIRC Ft. Bragg as well.

            The still-hollow military of the dawning 1980s was so happy to have money for anything, that a lot of back-burnered projects like the A2 upgrade were finally funded. After the Carter years, just having rifles and ammo to train was a largely new thing.

          5. Hognose Post author

            The dope smokers were annihilated (not literally, but as a factor in the .mil) by drug testing which came in as early as 81. (It might have come earlier to us in SF than the conventional .mil. We did lose a few support guys to drug tests over the year, but never a member of an operational SFOD that I’m aware of. Us, we had drunks).

          6. Kirk

            Aesop, you are rapidly turning yourself into a joke, here.

            My military career started in 1982. I know better than you what was available then, and I know what we could have done. None of it was done, because the people engaged in the “improvement” program were a bunch of short-sighted idiots, who were more concerned about gamesmanship on the qual range than they were about true combat utility and effectiveness.

            FYI, the corporate antecedent to Trijicon was in business and offering tritium-based sights as of 1981; built-in tritium illuminated sights were standard equipment on Valmet variants of the AK as far back as the late 1960s, and were included on the Galil as standard items during its development in the mid 1970s. Guys were taking the illum capsules out of the tritium-illuminated compasses, and using those as improvised sight aids sometime during the mid-1970s. Hell, when I was an armorer in 1983 (the first time…) there were tritium-lamped nightsights semi-available through the system as supplemental issue items–They weren’t standard, but they were a “thing”, and available if the commander wanted them. I know that for a fact because the idiots over in Charlie company dropped a box full of the things on the floor, broke a bunch, and had to have their arms room decontaminated because of it. Good times, good times…

            Let us also not forget that the Son Tay raiders were basically duct-taping early red-dot sights onto their weapons in the early 1970s; had someone had the interest, that particular development could have been easily brought into the A2 program. The technology was certainly there, already–Hell, the UK was using those same sights on rifles issued for Northern Ireland and elsewhere. That’s where Bull Simons supposedly got the idea, when he was over there with the SAS in the 19-effing-60s… Either that, or he found it in a gun magazine, while prepping for Son Tay. I’ve heard both stories, and one kinda in between, where he was “made aware” of the innovation by one of his SAS contacts. Point is, the technology was out there, was found to be useful, and could have been included with the A2 program, had anyone had the imagination or wit to do so. Just like there was no damn reason we had to wait on the Canucks to basically invent the idea for what we turned into the Picatinny rail, either… Sport shooters were grafting scope rails onto AR-15s back in the early 1980s; I recall seeing one of those at a local range before I left for Basic in 1982. Gentleman had taken a Weaver scope rail, milled off the carry handle, and epoxied/screwed the rail onto the upper receiver. He’d supposedly gotten the idea from somewhere back East; past that, I don’t know.

            So, all these “latter-day innovations” you’re saying weren’t available, back then? Sweetheart, they were: It’s just that nobody cared, inside the circles that were brewing up the A2 for all of us.

            Why it was that none of this innovation was ever really followed up on, or made standard? You tell me; I think it was because the priorities of all concerned in the leadership channels were fubar. I mean, who really cares if Joe can hit shit, after dark? Just Joe, right? Big deal if he gets himself killed because he’s wasting ammo firing it ineffectively…

            None of this was some secret unknown; it was just ignored by the people involved with the A2 project. I can show you DTIC papers going over this crap going back to the 1950s, where the deficiencies in night-sight capability were noted and the recommendations made to fix them. The sad fact is that the people who were involved in producing the A2 didn’t care enough to fix the issue. Similarly, the sling attachment points were another area that was identified back during Vietnam, and again, signally ignored in favor of tricking the rifle out for playing Camp Perry.

            None of this was anything that couldn’t have been addressed or fixed relatively affordably with the update; it’s just that they didn’t care enough about the issues to do so. So, we got the A2, a weapon that is optimized for shooting paper on a range, vs. a real combat weapon.

            Another interesting question might be to ask why it was that the most deficient part of the M16, namely the magazine design, didn’t get any real attention until well after the A2 was fielded. And, most of that attention came thanks to the common sense of the guys at MagPul, the founder of which was a former Marine. It’s only recently that the Marines have finally admitted that the folks at MagPul have produced a superior magazine, but that comes kinda late, and wasn’t a product of genuine military internally-driven effort. When you look at it, the real travesty is that it took until MagPul got going on the issue sometime after 2000 that we really started to see truly improved magazines produced for the M16, something that really should have been addressed by the military itself starting back, oh, say, around 1970? Why has TACOM, an Army entity, been so damn reluctant to acknowledge the efforts by MagPul, and refused to even countenance the idea of replacing their outdated half-ass 30 round design with the continuous curve design pioneered by MagPul? How the hell is it that nobody inside the military system even bothered to consider doing that work, back around the time they decided to type-standardize on the 30 round magazine in the first place?

            Seriously… Anyone defending the small arms procurement system across the board really needs to explain that one to me. MagPul did the work that should have been done thirty-forty damn years ago, and they’re still pretty much dishonored prophets by the official parties, in the Army continuum. The Marines have seen the light, and are now making the M3 P-Mag the preferred standard, for all weapons they’re issuing. And, again… Precisely none of this was addressed by the parties responsible for the A2. Provide real improvements to reliability? Perish the thought; let’s worry about raising the scores for Marine qualification, instead…

            Nothing I’ve pointed out as being deficient in the A2 program was either that hard to have done, or impossible. The only problem was, the people who were on that program cared more about optimizing a rifle for competitions than putting a more effective tool for killing into the hands of the individual soldier and Marine.

            That fact is abundantly clear, now that they’ve all gone to this nearly accidental afterthought of a carbine, that really didn’t have a tremendous amount of thought put into its design. Example: Is the barrel optimized for length? No, it is not–We settled on 14.5 inches not because that’s the ideal length for a 5.56mm barrel, but because that’s the shortest we could make it and still fit a bayonet and the M203. WTF? As design process, that’s a flipping joke, that is.

            Talk about your installed base influencing things past the point of common sense. Classic example, there–And, the ballistics weren’t even really a major thing they were thinking about, because that carbine wasn’t the primary weapon for the infantry, was it? It was just for the ash and trash support troops… As Gomer Pyle would have it, “Surprise, surprise, surprise…”.

            You can’t even begin to make a good case for any of this shit being done to some kind of foresightful, coherent plan. We got into 5.56mm in the first place as an accident, a place-holder that the powers in the system wanted to be just good enough to work in Vietnam and keep them out of Congressional attention after the M14 failed, and not quite good enough to keep the SPIW from being made its replacement. Everything since then? Just more misadventure and accident, with very little real thought put to making things more effective for the guys out on the pointy end of things. The A2 just typifies the whole process of error, a rifle created to make Marine qualification easier. And, I’ll submit, a huge ego trip for the Marine Corps that they’ve only lately recognized as being flawed, because the A2 configuration is not reflective of how we’ve actually been fighting, in either the Corps or the Army.

            The root problem here is not the individual Marine or Army rifleman; the root problem is that the system is incoherent and unable to even articulate what the hell it expects that individual rifleman to be doing, as a component of the Infantry sub-system. If it could do so, then the M4 would have been arrived at via some easily explained and well-documented design process, instead of this “Oh, my God, this thing works so much better than the A2… Get me more, stat!!” half-assery we’ve seen in both services. Let’s not forget that the M4 was never meant to be the basic Infantry weapon; that weapon was seen as something we needed to issue troops out of the direct combat role, and as more of a Personal Defense Weapon than anything else. Now, we’re issuing it as a basic individual weapon, to everyone? How’d that happen?

            My objection to all this is the essentially accidental, unplanned, and highly unprofessional way that all this has happened. We’ve had laundry lists of things about the M16 which were sub-par, going back to Vietnam. One of my old mentors was a small-arms repair warrant officer in Vietnam, and he had a stack of documents he let me go through that detailed all the things that he and others had officially identified as things that needed to be corrected or improved in the weapon–None of which were paid attention to, by anyone. You might think that the various improvements added onto the M16 and M4 after 2000 were things that were suddenly possible because of some imaginary improvement in the technology, but the fact of the matter is, nearly all of that crap was identified and suggested as far back as the 1960s. It just wasn’t implemented, and why that was so is an indictment on the entire system.

            The A2 was a symptom of dysfunction in our small arms development and procurement system, just as the M240 is another. None of the issues with either of those two weapons should have come as a surprise, and the fact that we’re now spending billions to do things like mass-issue what was designed and intended as essentially a PDW to the line infantry, and build M240 receivers out of titanium to lighten the load…? Yeah. We are just so brilliant at this shit, aren’t we?

            And, we still don’t have a decent lightweight all-terrain tripod, or a periscopic sight that the Germans were issuing for their MG teams back in the late 1930s. Two facts which tie into our inability to take control of the battlefield during pure infantry operations in Afghanistan…

            Let’s not even get started on this XM-25 bullshit, either–That weapon is a perfect storm of converging incompetence, piss-poor thought processes, and wishful thinking. If the thing ever does reach mass fielding, I predict that it will turn out to be a disaster. And, meanwhile, the Chinese are happily trundling along, developing and issuing their 30mm grenade launchers that we don’t even have a good answer for, as of yet, or even the idea that we might be facing them in combat.

          7. Hognose Post author

            XM-25 is the residue of the failed OICW boondoggle. Imagine an XM-25 permanently attached to an XM-8 (aka G36). Yes, it was designed by boffins who insisted that this was what soldiers wanted, while bemused soldiers kept wondering, “Wait. When did we ask for this?” The XM-8 failed earlier and much more spectacularly than the grenade launcher (which wasn’t developed enough to fail yet) and gave HK a lot of ideas of things to fix on the G36, most of which they did fix. When some HK fanboy PCS’d or retired the OICW project ended; the XM-25 was an attempt to salvage the sunk development costs.

            They keep insisting it’s what the troops really want, but it has yet to prove useful in combat, and it’s not like there’s no combat to try it out in.

            The initial 30-round mag was continuous curve (although made of aluminum alloy) and had all kinds of problems, largely because of the extreme variation in A1 magwells. So Colt developed the part-straight part-curved mag and patented it.

            M240 was correcting the error of 1958, is all. Yes, almost 60 years ago the US rejected a superior GPMG and adopted the M60.

            US made several mods to both the 240 and 249 that make them inferior to their Belgian source material. One was removing the chromed internals that make the FN home-factory weapons so easy to clean and easy to keep running.

          8. Aesop

            Kirk, your gripe is with the Army side of weapons dev and procurement. What you apparently lack is any appreciation of how comparatively small and short that same function was and is on the Marine side of the universe, especially in the 1975-1980s timeframe. That they even got the A2 approved was a minor miracle, then or now, by Vatican standards of sainthood.

            I can assure you there were no crates of spare tritium vials laying around to experiment with, then or now, and no conga line of manufacturers in 1975 looking to foist their shiny new whizbang toys on the USMC anytime the other side of 1990. Never. Happened.

            Jeezus on a pogo stick, Marine grunts in the fleet were still wearing steel pots and Doron turtle plate body armor from 1955 into the mid/late 1980s because we didn’t have enough PASGT and Kevlar pots to go around to even just the BLTs on deployments. My gear, in arty, wasn’t replaced until ’86. High tech in the FDC was hand-me-down TI calculators surplused by the Army in the 1970s, and standard of performance was with 1940s wooden slide rules and firing fans. So you’re judging decisions made by people operating by design on a budgetary shoestring, pretty much since 1775, using the yardstick of the riches of Solomon, and it’s simply baseless and unwarranted.

            What that breaks down to is that the service with an embarrassment of riches, relative to Marine procurement, stepped on their dicks, pretty much from 1965-1980. Which was the opinion on my side of the house back in the day, too, but lacking your in-house perspective, which is why I can’t speak to that experience. So despite 10 or 50 times the manpower and budget for weapons development and procurement, and incidentally the absolute Pentagon mandate for same, more than twenty years after the shortcomings of the piece were apparent to everyone breathing, all of Big Green’s horses and all of Big Green’s men couldn’t come up with anything better than the USMC-sponsored improvements standardized as the A2, notedly lacking in ultimate perfection as they were, by people who put their pants on one leg at a time, and didn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. And 35 years later you’re still kind of butthurt and ranting over their temerity to do something, rather than the Army’s continued (right up to yesterday) sum total of nothing. (Because, as you’ve noted, we’ve now collectively blundered into the M4 all-service-wide, after the spectacular failure of multiple interim weapons projects that have gone nowhere. Run by whom, BTW?)

            And the A2 was foolish because hitting targets using sights and doctrinal – to this very minute – basic rifle marksmanship is passé, and hitting targets at night for people who can’t hit them in the daytime is so much more important.
            Fair enough.
            Noted.

            But crying “Justice!” at the current adoption of the M4, 30 years after the A2, as if the intervening changes never happened, somehow proves you were right all along?

            All I’ve said was the M16A2 was a pretty good piece. It was an excellent improvement at the time, and it did a damned fine job, given what was there to start with.
            (And to underline the status quo, there was nothing – nothing whatsoever – to prevent Big Green, anytime since 18982, from further tinkering, adopting every one of the changes you’d have liked, and we could have been on the A10 or A20 version now. If they’d ever even cared to make the effort.)

            But at any rate, the A2 is being retired as obsolescent.
            I feel your pain, man. Let it go. If you’ve been walking around with all that bottled inside all this time…just, wow.

          9. Hognose Post author

            Guys, this kind of interservice volley-for-volley is not answering the real question, or addressing the real issue, which is:

            – as far back as the 1950s, US military small arms procurement has led other types of procurement in failing to match the innovation of the private sector. As a result the services field a rifle originally developed by a tiny shop in Hollywood(!) as a private venture, two machine guns developed by a private company in Belgium (!) as a private venture, sniper rifles developed by small cells of SOF shooters working with small businesses… and, finally, the Marines are going all daring and using a rifle that was developed by a German firm as an improvement of the American rifle, based on a small-cell collaboration of a couple of SOF shooters with a couple of execs and engineers from the firm. (It doesn’t end there. Our best artillery has been invented overseas since 1917, pretty much).

            It seems to have been the sixties when we started screwing up airplanes, which was directly due to top-down management, followed by gold-plating; and we still built fantastic ships well into the eighties.

            What is it about US procurement that makes it monicate so terribly?

            My guess is this: uniformity and central management. The A2 revisions (some improvements, some not) happened when a few Marines who knew guns were allowed to freelance the mission. There was no PEO Rifle making eighty-slide decks and obsessing about fonts and background colors. There was no brigadier general who was assistant to the assistant and made sure the staff sub-assistant major was carrying the slide deck and a spare bulb for the projector.

            In other words, the USMC project was not top-down, was not centrally managed, was not all the characteristics that the Pentagon procurement system and the Soviet economy circa 1988 have in common. That’s why it succeeded, in terms of fielding an improved (overall) product to the men, while Aberdeen moonshot after moonshot fizzled: SPIW, OICW, six generations of botched M2HB replacements, etc. etc. (When they finally improved the MG to M2A1, they used a kit developed as a private venture….)

            The procurement system is so upgefuckt that it can’t buy an off-the-shelf pistol, something that approximately 12 million Americans did this year with their own GD money, without building up a project team and planning cell that was bigger than the one planning the invasion of Sicily in 1943. Except, in the end we did take Sicily, so the comparison is size only.

          10. Aesop

            I have no quibble whatsoever with any of that, gentle host.

            Just with the suggestion that the A2 upgrade was tres hooooooooooooorrible because lack of clairvoyance at WTBn @ Quantico, and because the Army Ordnance Corps can’t find its ass with both hands, a map, and a rear-view mirror, since some time after Omar Bradley retired.

            Nor a lot of truck with the idea that marksmanship fundamentals have suddenly become irrelevant because optical sights, instead of iron. (But I could be wrong about that; let’s ask the average recruit how to troubleshoot his optic when he’s hitting wide of the mark, and see how that goes.)

            The idea that the A2, in whole or in part, was even attempted in any way because of Marine Corps marksmanship qualification, is flatly ludicrous on the face. I have it on good authority that Marines have been qualifying just fine on whatever weapon was issued since at least 1903. And as it happens, the issue sights on the M-1 and the M14 were no more nor less complicated than those adopted on the M-16A2, and both ground services seem to have struggled along and qualified on all of them without any notable difficulty with putting dope on the sights, beyond normal operator error by the dope behind the sights.

            The topic under discussion (I thought) was the M16A2.
            As I’ve stated since the outset, it was a notable improvement on a mediocre existing weapons system.

            If someone wants to write the screenplay for Pentagon Wars II, go ahead on. I’ll get some popcorn. But it’d be nice if they’d just stick to historical and demonstrable facts.

            As you’ve suggested, the first step would probably to set a few heads rolling down the corridors of the Pentagon, and turn the process over to end users instead of project officers.

            Which, mirabile dictu, was pretty much how the M16A2 came to be.

  10. comeandmakeit

    I carried the M16a2 in my USMC career. It was fine, About the only gripe could have been better sights like a red dot or a scope.

    Accuracy wise, my boot camp issue was such worn out crap I barely made sharp shooter.

    My first re-qualification weapon was even more worn out barely making marksman. the next two years I had a new weapon and easily made expert.

    The moving to the m4, I don’t really see what the fuss was about. Seems more like a excuse in spending money than any real upgrade.

  11. S

    What if sanity had ruled post WW2?

    Adoption of the MG42 system in .30-06 for the GPMG role.

    Stoner 63 system adopted for infantry small arms, in .280 British. Since the AR180 was shoehorned into bullpup and the AUG may be dragged out of the doghouse again, surely a bullpup variant with parts interchangeability is feasible, for those that need a very short rifle (panzergrenadiers?). Or, just let the EM2 live instead of strangling it at birth, and make a belt-fed Bren LMG its dance partner in .280 as well. Yummy.

    FN 5.7×28 equivalent cartridge developed for pistols, smg/pdw, and a suitable pdw developed. Incorporate MAT49, Hotchkiss Universal, FN P90 ideas. Or, adapt the Browning GP35 to .45 ACP for more capacity, and keep the inherent subsonic .45 for the quiet intimate moments.

    Adopt the Panzerschrek 88 in 1944/45 and bin Bazooka M1.

    Phosphor/tritium night sights standard on all firearms. Continue development of German and US image enhancement, and consider rugged lightweight optics as standard issue alongside monkey level irons as backup for Macnamarians and snowflakes.

    What say ye?

    1. Hognose Post author

      They actually made two (I think) MG42s in .30-06, handbuilt them, and at least one is in the Springfield Armory Museum, unfired.

      Why unfired? The MG 42 is designed around the 7.92 x 57 round, which is typically about 6mm shorter than a .30-06 (7.62 x 63). The engineers who painstakingly reverse engineered the thing never took that into account.

      Re: Panzerschreck. The US developed the 3.5 inch (which is damn near 88 mm, more like 89) “super bazooka” in 1945, but then didn’t produce it until we were fighting T-34s and found the 2.36″ (60 mm) M1 and M9 rocket launchers useless against them.

      1. Kirk

        In my opinion, with which you can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks by adding five bucks and a smile, the real problem with the US ever adopting the MG42 wasn’t the dimensioning or the production, it was in the whole manner in which the US conceived the use of light and medium machineguns in the whole. Even if there had been a mystical translation of the entirety of the Gustloffswerke to Detroit, I don’t think we’d have seen the MG42 ever adopted by the US military. Most of its design features were entirely misunderstood, and indeed, were antiethical to how the US saw the machinegun as being used. To this day, most US practitioners do not understand much at all about how the Germans conceived of using their MGs and teams tactically, and even the Germans have forgotten a lot of what they knew back then.

        So, I think that there is more than a “lost opportunity” at play here; it’s more a fundamental misconception of how combat worked at the mid-century, and a complete inability to see what the Germans were doing.

        Hell, just looking at the exchange ratios alone, we should have empanelled a Blue-ribbon Committee to examine what the hell we got so wrong about combat in WWII, in lieu of the Doolittle Board. By the end of the war, so much of what was actually being done out on the line was not “in the manual” that it’s not even funny, and the post-war memory hole we threw all that into does not reflect well at all on the jobsworthys who wound up running the show. Or, for that matter, the rest of us, who stood by and let it happen.

  12. Kirk

    In an attempt to “un-murder” the quote tree, this is addressed at the Aesop/Hognose responses to my rants further up…

    Aesop, don’t mistake my frustration with what happened with the A2 as an anti-Marine screed, per se. Yeah, I’m frustrated that the opportunity was lost to address a lot of the real problems with the M16 during that recapitalization of the fleet, but I know full well who was more responsible than the Marines: The “program managers” over in the Army. What I’m responding to, subconsciously, is the contention that the A2 represented a real move forward in terms of a combat weapon. About the only things I can think of, feature-wise, along those lines? The new flash-hider. Some of the new furniture–The return to the old-school symmetrical round handguards was a genuine plus, while the pistol grip and the buttstock were just inexplicable, in terms of common sense.

    You’re absolutely right, in that the Marines did the best they could, with the best intentions. The problem is, they shouldn’t have had to, and that goes to what Hognose is talking about when he points out the dysfunction in the system. The M240 is another example–And, while I have to give the Marines and Rangers kudos for having gotten us a better MG than the M60, I also have to point out that they both ignored a lot of evidence that was out there about the issues with those guns in the light infantry role. I actually knew and discussed the issues on that thing with a couple of the involved Ranger junior officers, and what struck me was the parochial approach these guys were taking to the whole thing. No joke–One of the Rangers literally had no idea that the M240 even had a history of use as an LMG by other armies. The weight issues that nearly everyone from the Israelis to the South Africans have commented on was news to him; he’d thought the gun was strictly a coax machinegun that FN had just happened to have made adaptable. Of course, he was also the only guy with that impression, and only a minor participant in the affair, but, still…

    The root problem is, I think, that the US military is uncomfortable with the idea that it is armed at all. The “deep state” in the bureaucracy doesn’t see itself as being an armed force, at all. The people and agencies making up that state see themselves as administrators of a public works project whose end product isn’t soldiers or marines with guns doing things overseas, but whose purpose is to dole out tax dollars to buy cool toys they can have named after politicians, and the main purpose of which is to buy votes from the electorate. LCS? F35? Any of that ring a bell?

    And, the so-called “leaders” we have in the armed forces are perfectly OK with all this. Personally, after the M240 fiasco, I think that should have been taken as a sign the entire “system” needs to be gutted and worn as a hat, while handing the mission off to actually competent parties.

    Like it or not, defend it as much as you like, the entire M16/M4 process is a series of happy accidents that just happened to work out (slightly) in the favor of our combat personnel. The A2 and the M4 themselves are symptoms of a dysfunction that is barely comprehensible in scale and scope, and the machinegun programs? Holy hell… How long have Manroy and some of the other producers been offering fixed headspacing for the M2? Since the 1960s, at least. When did we finally bow to reality, and buy them? Oh, right… Just recently. And, PEO Soldier had the balls to come out and say “Yeah us! Look at our innovation, answering the needs of the combatants!”. WTF. That should have been “Yeah, we’re finally doing the right thing, fifty-odd years after we could have first done it…”.

    If I were a drinking man, just contemplating the bare bones of our small arms procurement process would turn me into a raging alcoholic.

    1. Aesop

      Understood.

      Frankly, the best thing to happen to the military’s weapons acquisition process for small arms has been private users adopting civilian versions of them.
      Unlike military contracts, the invisible hand of capitalism shakes out bad ideas like a terrier killing rats.

      And I think part of what you’re overlooking is that until the A2 came out, no one much cared for the AR platform in the real world, because it had that dead rhinoceros ass taste left in everyone’s mouth. (Older brother, who loaded body bags on several hills around DaNang in ’67, and has now a safe full of toys, still won’t shoot “that sorry-ass piece of shit from Mattel”.)

      The A2 changed a lot of that.

      Then came the M4, and millions of M-4geries, which amped that up on steroids, and gave civilians the Lego rifle: plug anything into it, and play.
      Which has driven metric tons of innovation, and created a private industry base that didn’t exist 30 years ago. And given everyone, including the .mil, shelves worth of new items. Some of them eventually stick, and get adopted.

      If someone would just revoke the 1934 NFA, and we could all buy anything we could afford and tow home, it would probably have the same effect for everything in inventory short of a tank.

      Nota bene that prior to that time, everything in the inventory was available to anybody with the cash.

      Unintended consequences of the NFA, rearing their ugly head.

      1. Kirk

        I agree with you one hundred percent, in regards to the whole “civilian market boosting military procurement” idea. From your mouth to God’s ear, vis-a-vis the abolition of the NFA, as well. I’ve yet to understand just what the hell that whole thing accomplished, given how easy it is to make things of a full-auto nature in your average machine shop; with the way modern tech is proceeding, I don’t think they’re going to be able to keep the cat in the bag for very much longer, anyway.

        What I’d like to see is some real thought going into these issues. My personal suspicion is that if we were able to actually do some comparative testing, we’d discover that our current MG suite ain’t answering the mail as well as the WWII-era MG42/Lafette system did, and a large part of that is due to a combination of training, doctrine, and a really useless general-issue tripod. I would be willing to bet money that a German Gebirgsjager outfit from the period when Germany was trying to conquer the Caucasus would be a much more effective unit/doctrine template than what we’re doing against the Taliban in Afghanistan. And, most of that is due to the handling of the guns, and the tripods–Which basically went everywhere, because without them, even an MG42 off the bipod is only really effective to a fraction of the range that a PKM is off its tripod.

        Most of our problems with small arms are purely conceptual and doctrinal; we believe we can’t use them to good effect, tactically, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when they leave the tripod that adds a good 600m more to the effective range behind in the FOB. Then, they try to engage these targets with the bipod-mounted guns, and burn through tons of ammo to no effect, because they’re spreading the bullets all over the hillsides vs. dumping controlled bursts onto the targets at max range…

        Someone really needs to go back and dig up the information on just what the hell the Germans were doing, update it, and try putting it into effect as a comparison. My guess is that about the time someone starts dumping 1200rpm bursts into the Taliban positions within a few moments of them opening fire, they’re gonna lose a whole lot of enthusiasm for the activity.

        And, I bet damn money that such a modernized system might actually be more effective than the XM-25, especially when coupled with that other favored tool of the WWII German Army, the light mortar.

          1. Kirk

            Which is because “modern” armies don’t understand the point behind the “excessively high rate of fire” that the MG42 has.

            The point of which was to get as many rounds into the beaten zone at max range as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. This ensures that the people standing in that beaten zone get hit before they get the chance to react.

            It’s particularly obvious when you’re not scoring on pop-up targets, and are shooting at real people; you dump a couple of bursts at 1100-1300m into a squad-sized element you’ve spotted moving, and if you’re shooting a gun with a 600rpm rate of fire, a goodly chunk of that squad is going to be able to get to cover before you saturate that beaten zone. At 1200rpm? A lot fewer of those guys get to cover before a bullet finds them.

            This is something that a lot of the “geniuses” we have working these issues have missed; ze Chermans, they did not do zhese tings by accident, ja? They meant to have an MG with that rate of fire, and just for that reason: Kill the most enemy the furthest you can from your lines, period

            Sadly, it would seem that even the Germans have forgotten why the interwar Heer did MG design the way they did…

          2. Aesop

            I suspect you’re onto something there.

            Probably too much experience with Japanese, Korean, and Chinese troops obligingly running in waves into the guns got everyone spoiled.

      2. Joe

        When WILL the Mattel myth die?
        Stop blaming the failings of the Marine designed, (Johnson/Stoner), Colt produced, Ex Ford CEO h
        Good idea fairy globalist mandated AR-15 on a toy company that never made any rifle let alone THAT rifle. The early rifles sucked because of bad ammo, poor QC, no cleaning kits, un chromed chambers and bores combined with the prevailing humid and damp weather conditions in SE Asia.

        1. Hognose Post author

          And the Marines choosing to “improvise, adapt and overcome” the lack of cleaning kits — one shipped with every new rifle, but the Corps naturally packed the rifles off to one warehouse and the accessories to another or something, and the line grunts never got the kits — by telling Marines that the rifle was self-cleaning.

          Little known fact about the rifle’s “failure” in Vietnam — it only failed in some units. Others including some pretty big outfits (173rd Airborne Brigade) had no problems. Units that had problems mostly decided not to conduct operator or maintenance training.

        2. Aesop

          There is no “myth” there.
          The Mattel factory was right by the freeway in Hawthorne, in So Cal.

          Not that far, relatively, from the Armalite shop, but obviously, they weren’t neighbors.

          No one was ever suggesting the toy company actually made the rifle.

          But when we went from a wooden and steel rifle, to one with vast expanses of black plastic, the Mattel moniker was inevitable, and it stuck.

          Not because the weapon was actually made by Mattel, which it wasn’t.
          But because, like most good nicknames, it pisses off people with a stick up their butt.
          That would be, in this case, the entire VN-era PTB at the Five-Sided Puzzle Palace.

          This is why pilots don’t select their own callsigns; they are assigned by their peers as a perpetual hazing.

          Trying to “debunk” a non-existent myth is like Bob Newhart explaining Germans’ inability to grasp American humor:
          “Zese American customs make no sense to us; zis many Curly is completely bald!?
          And zis man Tiny… Gott in himmel! He veighs at least sree hundred pounds!

          1. Hognose Post author

            Actually, I have encountered Vietnam vets who swear their rifle was made by Mattel. Normally guys who went over in 65-67 after being trained on the M14 in the States, before they had a good in-country train-up on the M16. (The quality of which varied from a week of classes and range time to “here’s your rifle, have your fire team leader show you how to work it.”)

          2. Aesop

            Yes, but we’ve previously discussed “McNamara’s Hundred Thousand”, haven’t we? ;)

            And lest we forget, 30-something percent of the population admits to believing Elvis is alive on a UFO.
            Some people are beyond rational explanation, and their opinions on any number of things must simply be written off when they rhetorically wander off into the land of Nonsensia. (Usually in the company of their longtime friend, the memory god Ethanol.)

  13. DSM

    This was also about the same time our friends in England were bringing out their SA80/L85 series which good or bad is another discussion but did incorporate the SUSAT optic as individual issue for their combat arms troopers (all others were mounted with carry handle sights similar to the M16.) The external adjustments were a little goofy to get used to but the ELCAN and its derived sights are quite similar in function. I got to train briefly with them and loved that little sight. The reticle (simple post) could’ve been better but it was quite usable.

    Hindsight always being 20/20 it’s interesting to note that a standardized sight mounting rail and a compact, rugged optic w/ low light aiming ability was already a contemporary of what we were doing on our side of the pond. Those developments didn’t happen in a vacuum and the Marines and Army working on the M16 improvement had to have known about it. The doctrine of the day added to the wars we anticipated having to fight made such things unnecessary. We didn’t have a Picatinny railed M16 variant, officially speaking, for another decade and formal adoption of an ACOG with the SOPMOD kits a few years after that. There were of course both factory and home brew railed upper solutions but the AR didn’t have as big a following nor manufacturer base then.

    The A2 did fix some of the A1’s issues and is a fine rifle. A carbine version almost always made more sense however and at least that is being rectified. Optics have also matured to the point they are more and more the rule instead of the exception.

      1. DSM

        Yes sir, the SUIT, similar but a little different from the SUSAT. It used an inverted post reticle and had the much smaller lenses and magnification of the optics of its day. It wasn’t issued per rifle like its younger SUSAT brother but is important to note that it WAS issued whereas we never formally adopted any type of optic (save for NV) for our M-16s.

  14. Wes Dee

    Do away with the rifle squad as it is and replace it with one built to feed and secure the MG ?

    1. Kirk

      That was the essence of the pre-WWII German ideal. Midway through the war, it started to shift towards a more balanced approach, and the question that might be asked is “Why?”. You can make a case for the reason being that they started running out of those exquisitely trained gunners and squad leaders, or that the evolving enemy threat they faced meant that they couldn’t make the earlier tactics work very well any more.

      Personally, I think that a balanced approach would be a far better way to go, with what amounted to heavier MG teams that were tactical entities on their own, working in close concert with rifle/grenadier teams under an envelope of organic mortar fire for indirect support. As it is, I’m not too impressed with our current MG doctrine, which I think is far too focused on “fire support” vs. “gaining fires superiority”.

      The essence of pre- and early-WWII German tactics with the MG was to maneuver the guns into positions where they could have the most tactical effect, using indirect means. This was in direct opposition to the Allies, who saw the MG as an ancillary support arm for the rifleman. In German practice, the rifleman supported the gun; in Allied practice, the gun supported the rifleman.

      By the end of the war, however, the two schools had somewhat converged; the Germans saw the benefit of dispersed firepower in the squads, and the Allies saw the benefit of integrating a belt-fed medium MG into the squad in order to provide organic fire support. In the final analysis, the end state was about the same, just expressed differently. The Germans, however, were able to inflict a lot more casualties when things were going their way than we were. That MG42 was a devastating weapon, properly employed and supported by properly trained and indoctrinated men–Far more than that M1919A6 could ever be.

        1. Kirk

          Hmmm… How many guns can you afford, and what else do you want in the platoon?

          If you left it to me to try and organize, I’d have four heavy gun teams, with about six men per (gotta lug the ammo and tripod, doncha’ know?), four maneuver teams with specialization in rifles, AT weapons, and grenades (both hand and 30/40mm projected), and a pair of light mortars. The whole thing would run about 48-60 men, be run by a captain with an LT, and include RPV and light transport elements on quads for hauling around the heavy weapons and ammo. Companies would have a minimum of two of these super-heavy platoons, and be run by a major, with significant assets like FO teams to supplement the platoons. The tactics I’d want to run would be more based on maneuvering my weapons and fires assets than maneuvering my riflemen, and would emphasize the indirect approach–When attacking an enemy position, the majority effort would focus on working the gun teams in on their flanks through dead ground than on doing the “hey-diddle-diddle, straight down the middle” thing directly at the positions. The riflemen would have a focus on security and scouting, and only be used on the direct assault when no other option was available to me–And, even then, I’d be using my heavy weapons to shoot them onto the objective behind a wall of metal.

          That’s if I was the guy setting everything up. Economy of manpower, not firepower or munitions. If my leaders ever did a direct frontal assault, they’d better be able to tell me that they had no other option, or that the situation didn’t allow for the time it would take to do effective reconnaissance. I am not a huge believer in a lot of the crap we’re doing these days, in terms of organization and tactics. I do not like the idea of slamming men against objectives, as opposed to maneuvering my weapons in on the flanks to get in the rear and render those objectives entirely untenable for the enemy. Ideally, I’d never be sending my guys up against them directly, but working around the sides and rear, I’d be able to force the enemy to withdraw under fire through kill zones I’d be creating along the natural lines of their withdrawal. Tactics of this nature are things you’d have to have more senior, experienced leaders for, so the 2LT Platoon Leader would likely be a thing of the past. At most, he’d be the deputy leader in a platoon, with a couple of experienced NCOs along for the ride, so that if the Captain running the show gets taken out, that LT has plenty of experienced help to run the show with. I think I’d almost want either a pair of SFC/MSG positions, or some kind of lash-up where we have Infantry Warrant Officers as well.

          Flexibility, firepower, and the indirect approach. Those are my watchwords, and what I want. A bunch of RPV assets would make me super-happy, as well. I really don’t understand why our MG teams don’t have things like semi-automated tripods mounted on tracks, with sensor heads they can move forward like so many little robotic drones to do fires from positions that would be untenable for manned fire. Leave the gunners behind a minor terrain feature, and let them control their fires from remotes run off of disposable encrypted fiber optic lines. For the life of me, I don’t know why the hell we’re not doing this right now–How big a deal would it be to mount up the MG onto something like one of the PackBots, add in some servo-operated T&E equipment and optics, and go to town? The idea that we’re still having Joe the MG gunner sticking his eye behind an optic mounted on top of the feed tray cover makes me want to vomit, to tell you the truth…

          1. Wes Dee

            So all that is required is the British system on steroids married to the deep analytical thought process of the mid WW2 Wehrmacht ?. Im sure the Army has top men on it, what could possible go wrong.

  15. HORSE GUNNER

    QUALIFICATIONS: ZERO/NIL SF/SO training or experience, but 51 months Jump Status in “America’s Guard of Honor”–The 82d Airborne Division, beginning in the era of the Mr James E (“Jimmy”) Carter “Hollow Army”.
    RE: M16A1 Sights: The first combat use of the (experimental) M16A1 was not by the US in Vietnam, but by the British in Malaya and Borneo (now Malaysia) in the early 1960’s during the “Confrontation” with Indonesia. The British regarded the (experimental) M16A1 as a replacement not for the 7.62x51NATO L1A1 “Self-Loading” Rifle (UK copy of FN FAL, in “Inch” pattern), but as a replacement for the 9mmSMG and US M1 Carbine.
    When we trained in UK with British Airborne, we noticed one particular modification to the Rear Sight:
    the Small Aperture (for Zeroing and Long -Range over 300Meter) had been removed, and only the Large Aperture (for Short-Range less than 300Meter) remained. The British regarded the two “Flip-Option” Rear Sight confusing and unnecessary since they never envisioned shooting 5.56NATO more than 200Meters, anyway. The British Zeroed with the sole, remaining Large Aperture.

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