Assault Rifle Shoot-off Delayed

Army tests of rival carbines postponed

Sandbox Shoot-Off m4_small.jpg vs.

hk416_small.jpg xm8_small.jpg

The big dust test of three piston-driven ARs against the M4 carbine are on hold until sample Mk16 SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) can be delivered. They are now expected in December. The test had originally been scheduled to begin last month.

The SCAR sample models, which are still in development, will not be delivered until December, Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, the commander of Program Executive Office Soldier, told Army Times recently. Brown said the tests will begin when all 10 sample models of each weapon are present. The test will feature weapons officials shooting 6,000 rounds though each weapon under sandstorm conditions.

Weapons officials from PEO Soldier scheduled the tests to be performed at Army Test and Evaluation Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., at the request of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in July. Coburn began questioning the Army more than four months ago about its plans to spend $375 million to purchase M4s through fiscal 2009. Lighter and more compact than the M16 rifle, the M4 is more effective for the close confines of urban combat. The Army began fielding the M4 in the mid-1990s.

Coburn questioned the M4’s “long-standing reliability” problems in his original April 12 letter and asked if the Army had considered newer, possibly better weapons available on the commercial market.

The weapons will be exposed to sandstorm-like conditions and then fired. Ten samples of each weapons will each have 6,000 rounds fired through it over the course of the five month test. The Army agreed to conduct the tests after Sen. Coburn threatened to hold up Army Secretary Peter Geren’s confirmation earlier this year.

The weapons going up against the M4 are:

  • Mk 16 SCAR-L by FHN USA
  • HK416 by Heckler & Koch
  • XM8 by Heckler & Koch

Yes, you read that right. The XM8 is in on this, though I don’t expect anything to change regarding that program even if it were to win the competition.

I would have liked to see something from LWRC in on this, too.

What Murdoc would really like is some feedback from readers about this competition. Does it sound valuable? Fair? Should changes be in order if the M4 performs poorly? Will you trust the results?


  1. Thanks for covering this story, Murdoc. This is a great step forward in my opinion. Or maybe it is a great step back to the way we used to do things back when our military procurement system worked. Certainly if you look at history, there have been times, even before the DoD started paying profit on development costs, when the best product didn’t win. Graft and corruption is always possible, but it is made much more difficult when you have an actual weapon being tested in the hands of trained soldiers as opposed to a bunch of PowerPoint slides and a package of proposal lies. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

  2. Surprised these rifles are not included. Robinson XCR Magpul I’m sure there’s more rifles that would qualify for testing but i can’t think of the offhand

  3. Yah, there are a ton of piston-driven options out there. Even Colt has a couple of options (just in case, probably). I don’t know if the Magpul is ready yet, but I haven’t heard anything new out of there for months.

  4. Well lest I become known as the one who was never satisfied… all the above still have the same birth defect 5.56 mm ammo. Further, it’s not just the inadequate caliber of that round … plus it’s inability to be fixed, I bet the magazines are made out of either stamped tin/ aluminum/ or plastic that lacks body in the mag lips area. One of the things that makes the AK function better (besides being loosey goosey) is the tank like reinforcement in the magazine lips. In summary, the round itself is a looser, the gas piston is nice, how stiff are the magazines?

  5. If the M4 makes it past 100 rounds in real ‘sandstorm’ conditions, I will not believe it. The HK’s should out-perform it easily. The SCAR will probably do well although it looks like it weighs a ton. I still believe that the way to get a shorter rifle without sacrificing accuracy and velocity is with a bullpup. I’d love to see the Israeli Tavor and SAR-21 in the test. Apparently Norway just named the HK416 as their new service rifle. I wonder any of their old AG-3’s will be available.

  6. Actually, the SCAR in the picture in Murdoc’s post is a SCAR-H 7.62 model. That’s probably why it looks heavier. If I had to guess, I’d say the logic for not including the XCR or Colt’s entry into the SCAR competition is that the FN SCAR already beat both rifles. (Take RobArm’s complaints about how they were treated for what you will.) Now, to throw some semi-random stuff out there: the husband of one of my classmates (they’re both Majors in the Army) works in acquisition. He’s currently working in night vision; before that, he worked in acquisition for USASOC, and he has some familiarity with the FN SCAR family from that, and from being good friends with the current project manager. He says that the FN SCAR is an excellent rifle/carbine, but that it’s modular capability is a lot more than the Big Army needs. Big Army would do just fine with a fixed barrel, either carbine or rifle length, depending on mission. SDMs, depending on the mission, might be able to use the -H version. But that’s just 18 or so per rifle company. Before he did acquisition, he was an infantry company commander in the 82d Airborne, who’s seen combat in Iraq. And he says if he were going back, he’d take an M4.

  7. HL: Oops. Grabbed the wrong one. Fixed. Thanks. Another thing to note is that the pictures aren’t exactly to scale. I sized the images to fit equally, but they aren’t quite the same. Close, though.

  8. It’s too bad they don’t open the competition up to different ammo choices too. They could shoot at jello men and which ever rifle did the most damage for the least money and best reliability wins. Ammo with some punch tend to do better in both the damage and reliability departments. Well, at least it is a step in the right direction.

  9. I forgot to mention that history does show a whole lot of missteps and missed opportunities in the history of US small arms development, at least as far back as the Model 1898 Krag-Jorgenson. 1890s-adopted the Krag and the underpowered .30-40 Govt round, when Mauser’s designs were available, featuring faster reloading (strippers)and a variety of higher velocity rounds (7×57, 8×57, 7.65 Argentine). The M1903 Springfield was adopted just 5 years later after Spanish troops armed with Mausers in 7×57 showed that the Ordnance Board made a mistake. The M1903 served as the standard service rifle for over 35 years, and the .30-06 lasted well over 50 years. Both good decisions. M1 Garand: a revolution in infantry firepower, firing a proven round. But they did miss two opportunities: the detachable box magazine, and the .276 Pederson round. You can debate the .276, but given that the M-14 was basically a modified M1 with a 20 round detachable box mag, I think the Army goofed there. The M1 was the best infantry rifle of WWII, but imagine how much better it would have been with a 20 round box mag. M-14 and the 7.62 NATO: don’t get me wrong-a good rifle, and a good round. BUT, both strongly failed to take into account the data from WWII. The specs for the new round were basically written so as to exclude any true medium power assault rifle round, when one was avaiable-the .280 Brit, as were two rifles to fire it-the EM-2 and the FAL. The Infantry Board actually preferred the EM-2 in .280, but they were overruled by the Ordnance Board Also in the 1950s: the M-60. It was replaced 40 years later by a version of the machinegun it ‘beat’, the FN MAG-58, in the guise of the M240B. I’ll leave the M-16 and the 5.56 to others.

  10. Oh, I also forgot to mention that my buddy did confirm to me that the XM-8 did fail the ‘give it to the Rangers and let them abuse it’ test rather spectacularly. Nobody can take weapons to the breaking point like the Rangers.

  11. The Israel Tavor seem to be really the best. Its reliable (specially dealing with sand), its very comfy (great ergonomics and very light), it has a long a barrel while still being compact.

  12. If what defense tech is correct about the test: ‘The sand tests will include 10 samples of each weapon through which engineers will fire 6,000 rounds. Each weapon and loaded magazine will be exposed to ‘extreme dust’ for 30 minutes then test fired with 120 rounds, Chyma said. ‘Each weapon will be wiped down and lubricated every 600 rounds with a full cleaning every 1,200 rounds,’ Chyma added. ‘The firing, collection of data and analysis of data is expected to take approximately five months’ The test is basically a public relations move. A real test would involve a larger set of weapons (100 is a nice round number) with differing set ups. 1 group with the well maintained weapons (like what is used in this test) another group with poorly maintained (x2 or x3 number of rounds between cleaning) and a third group of test till failure (no cleaning). Such a test would provide an adequate data set The test as proposed will only say what the Army has said all along, if you maintain your gun well, it should work as well (or poorly) as any other same caliber weapon.

  13. In my experience having data is always good. You might find you don’t have enough to prove anything with statistical signifigance, but even then having data beats the heck out of not having it. Without data all you have is politics.

  14. Nice synapsis of 20th century American military shoulder weapons Heartless Libertarian. I’d like to add 2-more relics to the List. No plastic. Just wood and steel.: 1) The almost was, but didn’t make the cut, Johnson, M-1941, Semi-automatic rifle. It weighed in about the same as the Garand, was chambered for the 30-06 round and actually went up against the Garand in a series of tests between 1939 & 1940. The Garand won out because it was a better weapon, but I happen to believe some politics played an important role in the decision as well. The Johnson was the only recoil operated weapon manufactured in quanity. It utilized a 10-round non-detachable, rotary type magazine BUT a vertical magazine was also available. Quantities of this rifle were used by the Marines for a limited time (Along with the Reising, .45 cal. sub-machine gun. but that’s another story). 2) The Browning automatic rifle [M-1918] (BAR) .30 cal., detachable 20-round box mag., gas operated. It was a very rugged weapon, with a cyclic rate of 600-rounds per minute and fairly low jam rate, but the magazine limited its realistic rate to about 150 RPM. Its biggest limitation was its weight. At 15.5 pounds (sans mag.) Too bad they didn’t come up with a belt fed version. The M-1918A2 model (used throughout WW-II & Korea) had several modifications. The most important were the rate of fire selector (S=safe, A=full auto & F=slowed the cyclic rate to 340-RPM) A bipod and stock rest were also added for prone fire stability and accuracy.

  15. A little history on the M240. FN started with the BAR, added a removable barrel and the feeder mechanism from the MG-43. It’s a tough combination to beat.

  16. Sure, eveyone likes to talk about the one that got away, but in all these cases you’re comparing one gun that worked to another that worked, and often worked very well. Now imagine you’re comparing one wild ass pack of lies in a paper proposal to another wild ass pack of lies in another proposal, and you have to pick the winner. Which steaming pile of crap do you choose then? Once you’ve picked your poison, how many times do you go back to the Army for more money so the contractor can refine their pack of lies into an actual POS weapon that has no stopping power and doesn’t work if so much as one grain of sand hovers nearby, and, by the way, looks and performs nothing like what was proposed? That’s what the Army is faced with in every single competition they hold today.

  17. We used M4s on my last job, didn’t have any problem with them, though if I were choosing……… M4 (or any direct gas operated rifle) wouldn’t have been it. The Spanish ISAF troops in Herat, were using G36 variants which were very nice, got to run a couple magazines worth through one of the standard versions. The XM8 is just a morphed G 36 anyway isn’t it………….and a step child of the OICW program. Some good comments about bullpup (Tavor or whatever) designs also…………the one thing I noticed (in the Stan) more than any other, was how front end heavy and slow handling conventional assault rifles are, once you start strapping on nade launchers, lights/LASERS, and all the other frou frous. A bullpup remains much more ballistically efficient (longer barrel), shorter, handier and balanced when you start covering it with add ons out front towards the muzzle. The other posters who’ve pointed out no matter what rifle they select, as long as it’s hobbled with the 5.56 x 45 round………it’s still hobbled; have an excellent point. And while I’m on the topic of caliber……….if the US is going to screw up (which we’re not going to do) NATO/Western commonality by changing calibers; why not ditch the brass? You know, the kind that makes up 80% of the weight and cost of each cartridge. 6.8 or 7mm caseless, kids……………..that’s the ticket. How much longer is the US going to stick with cased dinosaur (even if it is a hamster sized dinosaur) ammo technology?

  18. Flanker – Costs. The West Germans scrapped the G11 due to costs when the Cold War ended. The costs of a new rifle and new ammo was too much – particularly since no one else was willing to share the development or production economies of scale. Why waste money on new rifles when the same cash could be used for a sexy jet or two?

  19. Bram doesn’t mean cost in the conventional sense of the word. He means the government contractors believe there’s more development money to be made pursuing this holy grail of infantry developments and therefore will continue to drag out the process. That said, it’s true rifles will never attract the funding nor have the political clout of a fighter jet program. That probably helps more than it hurts, however.

  20. Actualy Dfens, I was whining that the DOD and Generals are so willing to spend more on a single fighter than the small arms for an entire Army Division.

  21. What! How can you be whining about that after all the good the 100 built (of 179 total) F-22s that have been under development since the early ’80s are doing in Iraq right now… Oh, ok, I see your point. You should have to work in that POS F-22 program, or better still F-35. You don’t know real suffering yet.

  22. Oh, you mean the planes that got the ‘blue screen of death’ by flying over the international date line on the way to Japan? I would like to see a shoot off between the XCR and the Masada, and then a full comparison between the cost of a new rifle (each) and replacement parts. My money would be on the Masada…but maybe its cause I am still bitter about the time and cost involved with the XCR…

  23. … very softy James sighs and remembers that the Army has been testing and evaluating a replacement for for the M-16 since 1988…. Regardless of how this test works out, there will be no replacement for the M-16.

  24. Can we encourage the arsenals, contractors, and the military to stop using the title ‘assault rifle/weapon’ etc? There are no such things. Weapons are either single shot, semiautomatic, or fully automatic. By using this term, we give the gun control nuts a handle to ban every civilian gun except the ones that chamber BB’s or pellets.

  25. What’s interesting to me is the degree to which armchair buffs diss the M4 and M16 series. There’s also a lot of armchair pontificating in this thread. I’ve used the M4A1 since it was introduced. (The conventional army gets the 3-shot-hobbled M4, I think. Now THAT is bad, but some beancounter says it’s cheaper than teaching Joe fire control?) I’m aware that some units have had problems, but the only problems I’ve had have been due to the ‘el cheapo minority set aside earmark contract’ magazines. Most everybody carefully builds a set of old mags or sucks it up and buys (expensive, heavy) HK mags. One guy carried 20-round mags exclusively (all 20-round mags predate the bad batches). None of the green-follower mags are trustworthy, IMHO. The dies, which have been handed from one fly-by-night contractor to another, are worn and the positions of the feed lips are somewhat random. Now, we have all these little one man shops that want THEIR version of the carbine in the test, when most of them CAN’T MAKE TEN TEST WEAPONS because it overloads their production ability. None of these guys seem to employ mechanical engineers. None of them seem to understand resonance in metals, let alone fluid dynamics which is the source of all ballistics and the root of gas-flow. Instead, we have these things they tinker together as if not only Henry Ford but Eli Whitney were still in the future. Even when you have big companies WITH those resources (HK, FN — weapons design in the US has been stagnant for 20+ years), they often still lay an egg. Witness the XM8. The biggest problem with the M4 is that it is, as one commenter suggested, too modular for a general issue weapon, and as another pointed out, poorly balanced with all the gadgets attached. However, things like an optical sight (which for many years now has been more durable as well as more accurate and faster than iron sights), night vision capability, and IR laser/floodlight are not really optional any more. A clean-sheet design today, by someone as qualified and intelligent as Gene Stoner was, might well be superior to Stoner’s sixty-year-old design. What we’ve got is a lot of craftsmen fiddling with the margins of Stoner’s arm. The Army cannot turn on a dime, and probably won’t replace the Stoner design until such time as there is a weapon which offers a very clear advantage. That’s what it took to replace the Garand action in the M14 with the Stoner/Armalite product in the M16. The advantages were much lighter weight (in which the Ljungman direct-gas action is a factor), vastly improved ergonomics and handling, and, before the Army altered the ammunition, superior reliability and durability. I suspect that few of the people crying about range have ground combat, or even combat arms, experience. The M4 is accurate enough at normal combat ranges (even in Afghanistan). If you have enemy in the open, out of M4 range, they’re probably out of M14 range too, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Infantry units do their serious killin’ with crew-served weapons: machine guns and especially mortars. In open terrain, the riflemen keep your casualty-producing weapons from being flanked by hostile infantrymen. In closed terrain such as narrow canyons or the urban environment, the individual rifles become your casualty producers. That’s why current individual weapons thinking in the Army is biased towards light and compact weapons that can be used indoors. Economists use two terms to describe two different techniques decision-making, ‘maximizing’ and ‘satisficing.’ For a large number of reasons, absent a true, revolutionary breakthrough (AR15, G11), ‘satisficing’ is a better approach than ‘maximizing’ for small arms development. This means going with what’s ‘good enough, right now.’ For this reason the Army is extremely unlikely to change weapons unless something clearly superior comes along — which so far, it hasn’t. (A ‘Maximizing’ approach would go with ‘what is the very best even if it’s only a hair better’). An example of this has already been cited: the Johnson M1941 combat rifle. It’s a great gun (I own one and have for a long time), but it’s easy to see why it didn’t replace the M1. Each has its pros and cons, but at the time Mel Johnson came along with his weapon, the Garand had had four years of teething both in service and in (what’s even more critical) production. The few thousand Johnsons that were made show evidence of a lot of hand work, and even the machine work, you have to wonder how many setups were involved. Around that time, the Red Army was giving up on auto rifle development and going back to general issue of a 19th Century bolt-action rifle. They didn’t have the operation, and above all the manufacturing, sorted out. The technical features of the Russians’ 1938, 1938, and 1940 auto rifles are pretty close to the postwar SKS, SAFN-49 and FAL — tipping bolt, piston-pushrod gas-operation (the Russian weapons use a female piston, the FAL a male piston, but the concept is the same). What killed the Russians trying to make these things work was probably the 7.62 x 54R cartridge. I have some of these weapons in my collection also, and it’s interesting to see how Tokarev, Simonov, Dieudonne Saive all solved similar problems. I’m SF, formerly light weapons, then weapons man, before moving up the food chain, with ground combat experience. FWIW. But a weapons-fielding decision is more than just a combat soldier’s decision. It affects logistics and even accounting. I’m much happier trusting Army officers to make these decisions than legislators, all 535 of whom would sell their mother for a campaign contribution. I won’t join in dissing the USAF for their expensive toys. (I might diss them for their gay new tiger stripes though). The most effective weapon we had was our TACP who could whistle up flying things for us. The most effective were A-10s, strategic bombers, and Apaches. The least effective were European F-16s and, dead last, Marine Harriers. The Harriers do a great airshow though!

  26. Hognose, I cannot agree with you more, especially on the ‘GAY’ Tiger Stripe uniforms we are have rammed down our throats. We have to hang our heads in shame when the features of our new uniform have ‘PDA’ pockets, I can’t make this shit up, sewn into the SECOND inner lining. The uniforms are hot heavy, and made for ‘ease of use and maintenance’, not such pesky things like camouflage, concealment, and deception! TO top, or bottom?, it all off, the boots are a ‘muted, blue-green suede’. ELvis is rolling over in his grave. On the weapons front, my M$ has never failed me, my M-16A2, and M-16 before that all served me admirably. I have used the M-14 in the designated marksman role and have handled, fired just about every NATO, Warsaw Pact weapon. I have never been a big fan of bullpup triggers, just felt a bit heavy and……’ratchety’? I’d like to try out the TAVOR. Basically, keep your weapon clean, shoot straight, follow through, the man makes the difference.