My vacation continues, but I’ve got limited net access and I noticed this opinion-type article in Marine Corps Times about the Marines’ decision to stick with the M16 for the time being. That decision was noted on MO back in March. At the time I wondered what the specific reasons were, and I said that if the Marines were not jumping onto the XM8 bandwagon, that was good enough for me. This latest piece is an op-ed, not a specific press release, but the writer seems to be thinking along the same lines as MO and a large percentage of MO readers.
History is replete with instances of the Marine Corps jumping the gun (pardon the pun) and going with an untried weapon system. Perhaps the most stinging was the 1967 adoption of the M16.
The M14, which the Marines had at the time, proved to be a valuable asset to the Marine rifleman because of the rifle’s durability, functionality and power. Then the Corps decided to forgo the tried-and-true Garand action for the new ‘lighter-weight’ M16. The results of choosing this untested, black plastic ‘Mattel’ rifle were disastrous. Many Marines died at the hands of this rifle, due to the lack of a forward assist. If the weapon jammed, it had to be disassembled, cleaned and lubricated, often under fire.
It also should be known that the M14 was deemed “too heavy” for the average infantryman. An unloaded M14 weighs about 9 pounds. The original M16 was in the neighborhood of 7 pounds. By contrast, today’s M16A4 weighs 8 pounds (without any accessories, mind you). You do the math. And today’s pack as fielded by the individual Marine is the heaviest ever — more than 100 pounds.
Fast-forward to Afghanistan in 2001. Many Special Forces troops chose the venerable M14 over the M16A2/A3, due to the 7.62mm round’s ability to reliably kill targets at longer ranges than the 5.56mm M16A2/A3. Additionally, the M14’s ability to shrug off dust storms and keep running engendered operator confidence.
The biggest drawback of the XM8? The 5.56 round.
One reason to wait is the need for a replacement round for the 5.56mm. Among the possibilities is the 6.8mm SPC round, which has generated much interest in the firearms community as a successor to the 5.56mm service round. It offers 7.62mm punch in a smaller package.
Another possible successor is the 6mm/.223 round. The 6mm/.223 loading is merely a 5.56mm (.223 Rem) case necked up to a 6mm. It uses a 100-grain bullet at approximately 2,600-2,700 feet per second and has a ballistic coefficient similar to a 7.62mm round. The 6mm is the right round for 7.62mm punch in a 5.56mm package.
Let’s face it, the 5.56mm, especially in the M855 (green tip) loading, is lackluster against targets past 100 and 150 meters for the M4 and M16, respectively. There are many instances of infantrymen engaging targets three and four times with the shorter-barreled M4s, whereas the M16 has a slightly lower incidence of follow-up hits to stop attackers.
The Corps should campaign for the XM8 in either a 6.8mm SPC or a 6mm/.223 chambering. A bonus to the 6mm/.223 is that the existing M16 family of weapons would require only a barrel change. The bolt and magazines remain compatible. As for the M249 squad automatic weapon, the links and bolt may be retained, again necessitating only a barrel change.
MO readers seem to prefer the 6.8 SPC, with a small but vocal core of 6.5 Grendel enthusiasts as well. I haven’t heard much about this 6mm/.223 round, and am looking forward to MO readers speaking out about it. The author of this Marine Corps Times article certainly seems to be a fan of it, so let’s hear some numbers and opinions from the MO gun nuts. (That’s you guys.)