US Senator calls for rifle competition

M4 Debate Fires Up

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) sent a letter to the US Army asking for them to hold an open competition to select the best rifle for our soldiers. Here’s part of it:

I am certain that we can all agree that America’s soldiers should have the best technology in their hands. There is nothing more important to a soldier than their rifle, and there is simply no excuse for not providing our soldiers the best weapon — not just a weapon that is –good enough.” Unfortunately, considering the long standing reliability and lethality problems with the M-16 design, of which the M4 is based, I am afraid that our troops in combat might not have the best weapon.

He notes that if the M4 is the best, then that’s great. But let’s make sure we’re doing the right thing. Go read the whole thing at Defense Tech.


  1. First of all, Murdoc, if you’re in full auto mode it is because you want to spray bullets. This is the fundamental misconception that has saddled us with that little girlie gun from beginning to end. If you want to pick a target and put one bullet in it, you go to semi-auto mode, period. What advantage is there in emptying a whole clip into a single target? None. Therefore auto mode is for spraying bullets. Second, the Army will argue that they did hold a competition and the M-4 is the product of that competition. That will be the end of this issue, or the end of the Senator. Any threat to the current military-industrial complex will be met with swift and certain retribution. They have many people whose sole reason to exist on the payroll is to enforce the status quo.

  2. Controled full auto or 3-rnd bursts are useful for urban combat. Training to clear rooms is the only time we were ever instructed to use burst-fire. Dfens – What competition was ever held to select the M-4? As best I can recall, the damn thing just started showing up in greater numbers a few years ago. It looks sexier than the M-16A4 but is an even less reliable and less accurate piece of shit.

  3. The results of a fair, public competition with decent rifles would be pretty humiliating for the Army and Colt.

  4. I don’t know for certain, but most likely they held a competition for the development contract. Usually what they do is hold a competition for the development phase and indicate in the request for proposal that there will be a follow on production contract if they deem the product of the development phase worthy. I’ve never seen a contracting agency not deem the product worthy, although there have been times when they were not able to secure production funds for various political reasons. The development competition may have happened many years ago. The senator might surprise me, but I’ll bet they back him down real quick on this one. They don’t want to let another C-130J happen. That could drive a stake in the heart of the procurement monster the contractors and bureaucrats worked so hard to create.

  5. Little late to post but let’s see. Interested but un-informed reader. I believe I understand that there is a difference between the M-4 / M-16 and some similar rifles like the H&K (can’t recall model number) involving the way the cartridge is fired. The Colt models involve gases going down the barrel and lead to fouling. What is the advantage / disadvantage to either system? I remember reading once a unit leader in Afghanistan jumped off a chopper, fired one round with his M4 and it jammed. Some may say he did not spend enough time cleaning / caring for his rifle but there is only so much time in the day. Is it necessary that the users have to spend more time than really needed to care for the rifle?

  6. Tim, telling a veteran Marine or Soldier that he does not properly maintain his rifle is an invitation for a beating. We spend a lot of time cleaning our rifles everyday because jams are so likely as soon as the rifle is fired a few times or is exposed to the elements. Gas operated rifles use the power of the expanding gas behind the bullet to cycle the bolt through a vent near the end of the barrel. Most of these rifles are designed to have the gas push a piston – the piston in turn pushes the bolt backwards. To save weight on the survival rifle he was designing in the 1950’s, Eugene Stoner did not use a piston in his rifle. He used a cleaner burning powder and let the gas move down a tube to propel the bolt directly. Of course the Army doesn’t use expensive fancy powder in their ammo but still has that direct gas system. I’ve had my own bad experiences with the M-16 – it becomes very unreliable in sand and dust despite daily cleaning and lubricating. And despite all the re-assurances of the brass and politicians. Other than the M-16 family, all of the modern military rifles I can think of – H&K, Sig, Steyr, FN, AK, use a piston system. All of them would beat the M-16/4 in reliability. The H&K G-36, Sig Stg.90, and Steyr Aug would all beat the M-16/4 for real world accuracy as well.

  7. This is an issue that the Army looks at occasionally. Sometimes contractor driven, sometimes driven by advances in technology. Historically, we hunt for a new basic rifle when we fight against a country that has a better one. The latest trials for a new combat rifle resulted in the OICW type rifle being selected for production. But we didn’t have the money. Many of the M-4’s are a compromise between weight and other factors. The capabilities of the M-4 are most severely limited by the user, not the rifle. For such people, buying additional capability is a waste of money. It is also difficult to justify the pressing need for a one-size-fits-all new battle rifle when army, USMC and SOCOM units are rutinely buying whatever they want for ops in Iraq. Consequently, there is a lot of field testing being done. In other words, for those soldiers capable of making use of more advanced rifles, they are available. The Army has already been directed to begin a search for a new standard combat pistol. It may or may not happen, depending on budget fights. Meanwhile, a lot of old 1911’s have been refurbed and sent to the field.

  8. Historically, we hunt for a new basic rifle when we fight against a country that has a better one. We didn’t the last 3 times. This situation is not getting any better and it doesn’t seem to matter who complains or how many get killed in the process. It seems to me our troops exist to serve the weapons rather than the weapons existing to serve the troops. No matter how bad the weapon is, there’s always a huge crowd of people there to justify the POS weapon and blame the troops. It doesn’t matter if it’s an airplane or a rifle. If anything goes wrong, it is the soldier’s fault. He should have accommodated the weapon instead of the weapon accommodating him. It’s not right.

  9. Out of pure speculation and perhaps ignorance, Is there any reason the Ruger Mini-14 is not used in lieu of the M4? I bow to the wisdom of the posters here at this forum and your vast experience/knowledge of the subject. Just curious.

  10. Reliability of course doesn’t even begin to touch on the problem of bullet size. I’ve never really grokked why some people don’t realize that bigger bullets make bigger holes in the enemy. That, to me at least, is an absolute good; and considerations of weight should act as a upper limit to bullet size, not a starting point for design.

  11. I’ve never used one, but I have heard many people say the Mini-14 is a total POS. A SF sniper I served with gave his away becuase he couldn’t hit anything with it.