Soldier’s letter detailing M4 problems

E-Mail Raises Concerns About Military Rifle

A reader sent me this link about reliability problems with the M4 carbine:

Experts said the weapon has a light modular design and the military considers it a great weapon.

However, in March 2002, Natik, the Army’s main laboratory for developing weapons, found 15 percent of U.S. troops surveyed reported the M-4 jammed.

Also, 20 percent reported double feeding — which is when two rounds of ammunition go in at the same time and cause a jam, the report said.

Though this is not new, the television station is pulling out all the stops to turn this into a full-blown investigative report. Check out the video on the site.

Regarding the percentage of troops who told of problems in the survey, those numbers don’t mean anything without knowing exactly what they mean. 15% of the troops say that the M4 jams? Ever? Or that it jams 15% of the time every time they try to fire it?

That’s a big difference.

That being said, the M16/M4 gas system that vents directly into the action just doesn’t seem to be terribly smart. A number of newer weapons with piston systems are available, and it would be nice to see them get some consideration.

However, even if the reliability issues are resolved to everyones satisfaction, next up will be complaints about the 5.56 ammunition (particularly when fired from the M4’s shorter barrel).

It seems unlikely, but does anyone out there have any opinions on these issues?


  1. It seems unlikely, but does anyone out there have any opinions on these issues?’ Bwahahahaha! You’ve guaranteed yourself some comments on this post. From what I’ve read, I think from here, the Black Hills 77gr ammo the SpecOps guys are using works pretty well in the M4.

  2. The M-16 gas system is terribly outdated, dirty and in need or replacement. As stated by Brass, Gas piston systems should be looked into. this stats a new debate, on what to replec it with, as usall the cult of the .308 and m-14 will chime in and make the claim the the M-14 is the greatest battle field rifle ever. to be honest, it was a damm fine battle rifle, but too damm heavy for general issues to every solder, in this day and age. The M-14 belongs is a special roll as a marksman/Sniper role attached to platoons, not as the main weapon of troops. With that being said. The M-8 design has been tested quit a bit and found to be superior to the M-16 family, even when chambered for teh 5.56 mm round. Couple this with the the new 6.8 SPC or the 6.5 Grendel, and you would have a VERY fine weapon that would meet and exceed all requirements. Other than that, i cant see any weapon system that would be a better choice , reality. Now as for a future technology, who knows. In time handheld directed energy weapons, caseless ammo, or rail/coil guns may replace current arms, but that is a ways down the road.

  3. I am convinced it is futile to complain about the poodle shooter and all it’s birthdefects. This is an analysis I agree with …. from ‘Got this from a former Marine first sergeant – thought you might be interested in his son’s assessment of weapons and enemy tactics in Iraq (the boy is home from his first tour, going back in early 2006, and early re-enlisted for another 4 years.)’ I have no idea why we still use that hunk of junk.

  4. Like any weapon, the M-4 has it’s quirks. I have found it to be a reliable, accurate, and dependable weapon. Keeping it clean, doing proper PM, and learning all that I can about it’s inherent strengths and weaknesses makes me a better rifleman. Now, having said that, If I had my druthers and the ear of the Air Staff, I’d beg for a gas piston, 6.8mm, design, with a 4x ACOG scope, but that’s just an old Air Force SP talking.

  5. Thank God Rumsfeld spent the last 6 years reforming our military. At this rate we should have a new weapon (that probably jams even more frequently) in our soldier’s hands in another 30 years. In the mean time we’ll study the problem and issue development contracts to contractors who lie their asses off about their latest wet deam weapon du jour, and then can not produce. The important thing is, they give good PowerPoint and pay off all the right Congressmen. Oh, and even more importantly, their requirements databases would bring a tear to a glass eye. The biggest F’up of our time is these idiot ‘systems engineering’ requirements Nazis who are hell bent on turning every bit of information required to build anything into a ‘shall’ statement. In the 21st Century with 3D CAD and finite Elements analysis and C++, we’ve got a bunch of dorks running around trying to tag a ‘shall’ statement onto every thing remotely associated with a product. If they had their way, every line on a drawing would have at least 3 associated ‘shall statements’ that need to be verified by test, demonstration, analysis, or inspection. When 3D CAD first came out, we thought it would make the drawing obsolete, and these idiots have turned the drawing into a 10 Gb requirements database full of Byzantine ‘shall statements’ each of which is cunningly cross referenced to thousands of ‘parent requirments’ in myriads of other databases. And you get to pay for this stupidity. Is it any wonder why everything takes so long and costs so much? But when you get paid more to screw up than to produce, what did you think was going to happen? I heard a guy the other day in an elevator complaining about an Air Force mechanic who was so ‘stupid’ he only cleaned the windshield on an airplane when it was dirty. He was so amazed that they didn’t have a specification for what defined ‘dirty’. How could the USAF be so sloppy as to operate like that? I used to wonder what kind of moron you’d have to be to not be able to figure out when a window was dirty by looking at it, but now I know.

  6. I also agree with Jim B. and Chapomatic’s assessment of weapons. My personal experience is that the M-16 family is very unreliable in sand. The M-14 seems to keep working and is a much better (although heavier) rifle. It is beyond belief that we can’t choose and / or design a replacement rifle. We are using an obsolete 40 year-old design! Off the self SAR-21’s would be a huge improvement! As for the cartidge debate, I always thought that a slightly streamlined (we have better powder now, right?) .257 Weatherby Magnum would be a monster in a military rifle. Very fast and flat – This guy thinkf the .243 would be an improvement too:

  7. Looks like the boots on the ground are giving thumbs up to the good old fashioned mechanical weapons: Belt fed machine guns, 45 ACPs, and shot guns. So instead of this high fallutin piston and gas stuff, maybe we need to be looking at a more reliable assault rifle: How’s about lever action carbine, aka, Winchester? Or maybe even a pump gun– Reliability or rate of fire. Take your pick.

  8. Jaymaster – I don’t believe that’s a trade-off we have to make. There are reliable semi/full-auto rifles available (and not just junky AK’s). The G-36, for example, has a reputation for incredible reliability in all conditions. Sig rifles are also known for extreme accuracy and reliability.

  9. Whenever there is talk about getting a new infantry weapon – the first thing said, is that there would be a logistical problem involved in the switch. This is simply not true. (See Walmart for instructions on how to support a logical based. RFID anyone?) The Pentagon should produce a list of acceptable weapons based on a complete critera set designed to produce a minimum requirements goal. (eg. mean failure rate, barrel life…and so on) The page should be no more (self contained with no outside references) then a single page long. With base line testing in all enviornments to take no more then 90 days. Battalion commanders should get to choose which weapons fit his needs. Pick from the list of approved weapons. All the gun makers would have to do is the create weapons that meet a minimum threshold, but like in the real world, they would have to compete for the loyalty of the real consumer, the grunt downrange. In some rare cases it makes sense for the Pentagon to fund R&D efforts and milspec it death. But for items that the civilian market already supports and advances, the Pentagon needs to get out the way. The Ipod was concieved, designed and produced in 2001. With subsequent upgrades comming roughly once a year. If it was a military project, the Ipod would still be in Lrip and the brass would be talking about as the revolutionary 5GB portable data storage unit that could turn the ‘super computer with wings’ F-22 into a flying mass data storage capable of integrating storing the complete battlespace, thereby trippling the warfighters effective firepower resulting in huge cost savings, as the million dollar device would enable to warfigher the ability to overmatch enemy without the need of heavy armored vehicals. The block 10 upgrade, which would double the memory but quadruple the cost, slated to enter service in 2015-18 time frame.

  10. The logistical thing is B.S. We have fewer calibers now than we did in WWII when our supply folks didn’t have computers.

  11. Or barcode readers… I wonder what’s happening to all the money they’re saving me? I’m not seeing it.

  12. How about this solution to the logistics: A better rifle means more dead bad guys which means less dead good guys. Which means more room on transport planes for extra bullets which would otherwise be tied up with coffins and body bags. Of course, the mistake I’m making is to think the people who are in charge care about the grunts. If they did they wouldn’t have issued them a rifle which jammed during Vietnam, and then claimed that it was the user’s fault when it failed and he died as a result.

  13. While I’d be the first to champion a switch over to a gas-piston 6.5mm Grendel there is a chance that the US mil may switch over to something much more radical. A proposal has been made for a new LMG- ‘The objective is a ‘clean slate’ approach that will yield ammunition and weapons that are reproducible in quantity, robust, easy to operate and maintain, and reliable under all conditions, while taking up less volume and weighing 30-40% less than current systems. Each offeror’s proposal, to include proposed designs, should not be restricted by current weapons, weapon mechanisms, ammunition or ammunition handling.‘ Defense Review has an article about AAI Corp’s work in this area- Could be that with the introduction of a light machine gun the mil could go over to a rifle with similar ammunition/design? About time too- surely with the infantryman at the spear point of any conflict a little money could be put into their weapons. We don’t expect the Navy or Air Force to go to war with nearly 50-year old technology, so why are soldier’s treated so badly? Does anyone complain about the cost or logistics of re-training pilots on new fighters or bombers, or re-arming them? More info on future weapons here-

  14. From Bram’s article on the 257 Weatherby: The 100-grain loading at 3600 fps is a great choice for shooting the smaller big game such as southern whitetails and pronghorn antelope so long as the distance exceeds 200 yards; shoot a deer up close with that one and you may take home more burger than chops. Now that’s what I’m talking about. The kind of round you give a guy if you actually care whether or not he comes back in a body bag. It’s like Patton said, ‘ bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.’

  15. With the supposed introduction of the XM-25 grenade launcher for supression fire , doesn’t it make sense to move to a heavier, semi-automatic round for accurate fire? The argument for more rifle rounds is not as strong tomorrow (with the XM-25) as it was in the past. The XM-8/G-36 with optical sight and the 6.5 or 6.8mm round seems to be a good match with the XM-25.

  16. With the supposed introduction of the XM-25 grenade launcher for supression fire , doesn’t it make sense to move to a heavier, semi-automatic round for accurate fire? The argument for more rifle rounds is not as strong tomorrow (with the XM-25) as it was in the past. Does anyone have any idea how much M-4 fire is at full automatic? The XM-8/G-36 with optical sight and the 6.5 or 6.8mm round seems to be a good match with the XM-25.

  17. Dfens – Glad you liked it. The guy actually dropped a Cape Buffalo with one shot from a .25 Cal rifle. Would be nice to have a rifle that can put a Hadji down hard even without a perfect shot. The ability to penetrate Level 3 body armor at 400 yards might also come in handy in the next war. The .50 Cal got thumbs way, way up becuase you don’t have to be perfect. If you hit a leg – the leg comes off.

  18. As much as I like high powered rifle cartridges the 257 WM seems to be a bit on the overpowered side for a general issue combat rifle. The 5.56 works…not well…but it works. The 6.8 hasn’t been able to meet its velocity/power/improvement over 5.56 goals within safe pressures for the AR. The 6.5 does as advertized, giving a considerable range and energy on target advantage over the 5.56 out of essentially the same platform (same sized magazines) with around the same loss of carried ammo as the 6.8 SPC (and alot more versitility in bullet size/dynamics). Biggest improvement in the AR would be replacing the gas tube with what used the be the Leitner-Weiss gas piston (fits in the same space the gas tube took up with minimal overall modifications allowing use of existing spare parts). An M4 in 6.5 grendel, with a gas piston (POF already has one prototyped and working in full auto) and an ACOG will give better reliability, better terminal effects and an effective range of at least 6 or 700 yards, while minimizing change over and retraining by using the same rifles with just an upper swap and new magazines (and even the upper recievers could be recycled/rechambered).

  19. Oh, and unlike the .308 or the .257 WM the 6.5 Grendel is CONTROLLABLE out of a light rifle like an AR on Full Auto

  20. BTW, as Murdoc has chronicled himself, the HK project rifle never became more than the XM-8 before it was shitcanned, for various reasons. According to this thread on THR, the XM-8 had issues with parts melting during torture tests with the Rangers at Ft Benning. Personally, I think a SCAR in 6.5 Grendel would be the way to go. SOCOM has already done most of the needed testing and FN is about ready to start production. The Marines are reportedly interested, although the Army is apparently prioritizing a replacement for the SAW. WRT the double feeds: those are mostly caused by problems with the magazines, not the rifle, usually worn feed lips which don’t hold the rounds securely.

  21. Magazines are without doubt one of the big problem areas with any self feeder. Wasn’t it the Johnson Rifle (yea yea I know it had it’s frailties too) that placed the feeder lips in the receiver of the rifle instead of the magazines themselves? I understand this did a lot to fix the magazine feeder lips problems. If I am right why aren’t we taking those individual pieces of old stuff that worked and incorporating them into new stuff … or was it just ‘Not Invented Here’?

  22. Jim – It’s a case of ‘Don’t Give a Shit Here.’ Here’s my prediction of what will happen with a new rifle now that we have a career spook for a SecDef instead of a Navy Pilot: Absolutely nothing. We will still be using the shit piece M16/M4 ten years from now. We will get into a conflict with an enemy wearing Level 3 or better body armor and the 5.56 will be completely useless. Maybe all our electronic gizmos will win firefights for us.

  23. It’s easy to get caught up in how to fix this or that problem, but fundamentally after 40 years of problems you pretty much have to conclude that it’s time to trash the POS. As far as controlability in full auto mode, if you want to be in control, switch to single shot. Full auto is for spraying bullets. The idea that a gun should be controllable in that mode was one of the basic fallacies that lead to the M16. With a magnum round, you greatly increase the probability of a kill even from what would for the M16 be a superficial wound. You hit someone and tear their arm off, that’s a lot of trauma. A person can easily die from that kind of trauma. You put a little 22 cal hole in their arm and they just keep on coming. If they gave a damn, they’d issue a release saying bring a dozen of your best infantry rifles to whatever base. They’d round up 12 top combat vetrans to test the guns. Issue one of each to each, and let them figure out which few are best. Then they’d send those batches of rifles to units in Iraq and Afghanistan and give them the acid test there. But that’s just what they’d do if they gave a damn.

  24. DoD’s not getting a new rifle to replace the M4 anytime soon. The Infantry Center’s priorities are focused on a replacement for the M249 and a Personal Defense Weapon that’s smaller than a carbine and more maneuverable in tight quarters like a truck. The IC’s not getting feedback from theatre that the M4 is a big problem that needs immediate attention, in addition, their tests and trials of other carbines simply don’t show that there’s anything available that’s significantly better than what we currently use. They’re looking forward to a caseless ammunition weapon as the leap ahead in technology that will offer significant improvement over today’s weapons. Supposedly that’s not too far off (less than 5 years) and would be closer if the idiot PEO in charge of small arms hadn’t decided that throwing ‘sexy’ plastic (no joke on the quotes) on a G36 for $33M was a better idea than further developing caseless weapons. On the posts talking about the XM8 and XM25 form the defunct OICW program — the dod inspector general put out a bunch of reports on that program that really lay into the management of that program. No wonder the Army killed it. Report numbers D-2006-123, D-2006-087, D-2006-004

  25. Question for anyone who might have found found a more indepth link reference the telescoping polymer cased round. Is the case designed to fragmente upon firing and blow out with the gas flow or is it to be extracted mechanically? I’ve never worked with polymer cased rounds (seen some earlier versions used in Europe in a traditional case design, wasn’t impressed). As far as the 6.8 not reaching satisfactory performance in an AR without going overpressure… I believe that was remedied with a powder switch. Regardless I’m in favor of either the 6.8 or 6.5. Both have their supporters who tout certain situational advantages. I have never favored the 5.56 over the last 3 plus decades no matter what incarnation it’s in. A goat is still a goat, even if you stick a jato up it’s butt. Final note to those rediculing the HK ‘sexy design.’ Can I join in ? 🙂 Sheesh that design looked like a cheap rip off of a toy store item or a really bad scifi movie. It definetly wasn’t form following function.

  26. F Ring – Is someone actively working on a new caseless design or just waiting? $33 million well spent would have gone a long way toward updating the G-11 program. Sounds like the biggest problem was not the ammo itself but heat build up – the ejected brass in a normal rifle takes some of the heat with it. I had my doubts about the 4.73mm ammo being powerful enough. Heavier ammo would mean more heat, however. Cool video – those are 3-round bursts that sound like single shots:

  27. I always liked the concept behind the G11. In fact the design would allow you to use a brass cased or polymer cased telescopic round as the next round pushed into the chamber would push the empty case out the bottom. Of course if it stuck…just like with any other would have a really bad jam at a really bad time. Hmm, at least with the rotating chamber you should be able to twist it into ‘load’ position and use a cleaning rod to punch the offending case out….maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all… If you scaled the G11 ammo up so that the projectile is 6.5mm in diameter, the bullet would match the existing high BC projectiles that the 6.5 grendel is currently using. The big question would be then, is there enough oomph in that block of propellent to equal the powder in a grendel case?

  28. They are waiting for someone to complain? Now that’s the way to be proactive. Ironically, people would probably complain a lot more if they thought it would do any good. In the aircraft industry, we typically don’t wait until our guys are getting waxed on a regular basis to build a new airplane – even as bad as things have gotten, we still aren’t that bad.

  29. coolhand77 – The big question would be – how hot will the rifle would get? A round that big is going to create a lot of heat. The barrel will probably look like a motorcycle radiator.

  30. Is someone actively working on a new caseless design or just waiting?’ A group was working the caseless ammo route until the whole XM8 debacle. I’m pretty sure that they have resumed some work on the subject but I don’t know to what extent. I would expect that the next requirement document (the document which RFPs are based on)that we’ll see will not be for what we know as a traditional kinetic energy rifle/carbine.

  31. I read the personal rifle gripes all over the net. As an RVN vet withdiverse weapons experience, I’m puzzled. (I’m a lawyer, I’m always puzzled.) First, look what a good f’g job was done to get the M1014 shotgun to the field. I use one frequently, and it just works great, in many aspects which count. Second, the 5.56 and AR: In ‘nam, everybody who could get one loved the Commando 16 AKA CAR-15: 11.5 or 12 inch barrel, turned a 5.56 NATO into, effectively, a 9mm pistol cartridge… but so what? laugh. It was very light and maneuverable. Guys have psych distortions: We want small but powerful. We need to deal with them out of public view. An AR M4 is just the right size, feels good. What is so f’g difficult about everybody just getting on board, insisting on improving the upper with a gas cylinder (ah, the M1014) and a 6.8 cartridge, and getting on with the real issue… killing enemy soldiers? And lobbying congressmen. Let’s pick a solution, and start a web campaign, and get it overwith.

  32. Yeah, go ahead and lobby Congress. That’s exactly how you got where you are now, by getting politicians involved. Why not get some people involved who know what they’re supposed to do with a weapon? Why not use the capabilities the military already has to move forward? I’ll tell you why not, there’s no big development contract in it. They’s no endless milking of the taxpayer, that’s why not.

  33. Not me Sarge! Alan, You were in a jungle fighting small men wearing light clothing. A short-barreled, lightweight rifle made sense in that situation. And, that was 40 years ago. It made no sense at all in my war – Gulf I – fighting at long distance in the desert with a rifle prone to failures in the sand. In Afganistan it stinks. The Marines have stuck to the longer barreled M16A4 instead of the M4 carbine and anyone in either service who can get their hands on an M-14, uses that instead. We are long overdue for an upgrade.

  34. Just use the G36 or a Sig rifle, the change would not be that dfficult but the taxpayers dolars are better spent on paying people off… im 15 btw