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Journal mnmlst's Journal: Thoughts on the M-16 Squirrel Rifle

The post below is a couple of mine from the Slashdot Discussion related to the article - Future Army Battle Uniforms - Wired, Lethal. To view the full article, just check Google, they seem to index all of Slashdot.

The M-16 spokesman here says that it works fine if kept properly lubricated. I NEVER lubricated my M-16 during PGWI because I couldn't. The first (and last) time I did, it became utterly encrusted with sand. There was no escaping the sand in the Arabian deserts as it is a fine powder easily blown into the air or stirred into the air by vehicles and troops moving about. I wiped it down to a "near dry" condition and it was still caked in sand. It was only after a few more days and wipedowns that it finally dried out and quit being covered in sand. From then on, I just wiped it down with a dry cloth every day. Assuming the Marine above is correct, my M-16 was rendered just about useless. Basically, I would have had to begin dousing it in lubricant right when I actually needed it. Hopefully, that would not have been during one of the frequent "shamals" (sandstorms) we endured.

The most egregious design flaw of the M-16 is the reloading arrangement to support semi-automatic fire. A small gas tube taps the barrel near the front sight and carries some of the hot gas from the cartidge's detonation back to a very short tube or "catcher" just above the rotary bolt that houses the firing pin. This means you have crappy, government gunpowder blowing crap right into the most critical part of the weapon. This residue rapidly gums up the area where bullet meets bolt and firing pin. (This area is called the firing chamber.) This problem calls for either frequent lubrication to loosen the deposits or a tolerance for the occasional jam. An old neighbour of mine was fortunate enough to not have his M-16 jam when he found himself three feet from a Viet Cong in the jungles of Viet Nam. In that case, the M-16 beat the Kalashnikov.

Another M-16 design flaw is the weak recoil spring that pushes the bolt back into place to chamber the next round after one is fired. This spring and the earlier-mentioned fouling problem caused the addition of the "forward assist" for the M-16A1. Inevitably, experienced shooters will forget that forward assist at the wrong moment because no other weapon I know of has such a jury-rigged loading process as the M-16. Talk about cruft... The operator's manual for an M-16A1 or the current M-16A2 recommends the forward assist be pushed forward with the heel of the hand following each loading of a fresh magazine's first round. The M-16's predecessors; M-14, M-1 Garand, M1903 Springfield, the Krag- Jorgensen and "Trapdoor Springfields" had no need for such a procedure to be followed in the middle of a firefight.

The Kalashnikov designs use a metal rod to collect the gas from a bullet's detonation to push the bolt back. This small but significant difference from the M-16 means the vast majority of the gunpowder residue never reaches the firing chamber of an AK. This is a huge help in not gumming up a Kalashnikov when it is being used. Another tremendous advantage of the Kalashnikovs on campaign is the small number of parts they have. Having field stripped AK's and M-16's many, many times, an M-16 has about three times as many parts. These parts are typically much smaller and more prone to breakage on the lighter M-16. Some of those parts are not "idiot proofed" either. When it's 3 am and you are running on six hours sleep in the last three nights, the last thing you need is to be sure to put some cotter pin in only from the right as the weapon won't fire if that pin was inserted from the left. Weight has always been the major complaint of Kalashnikov-toting troops. The fewer parts for an AK is a logistical advantage as well. Give me a heavy, but reliable AK any day over a dainty little M-16.

Finally, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, show me the numerous copies of the M-16 made overseas comparable to the Kalashnikov experience. I know for a fact that Israel has a Kalashnikov clone called the "Galil" and the South Africans have a Kalashnikov clone (with improvements) as well. I know of no design that copies the M-16.

In case you suspect I am a shooting incompetent, I can assure you I am not. I began shooting at age six and served as rifle team captain in high school. I shot a perfect score in my final annual qualification before leaving active duty. The soldiers were in awe since most of them think officers can't shoot. Army officers don't wear their marksmanship badges as some sort of gentlemanly statement about being above such mundane concerns. In Viet Nam, a platoon leader normally fired only tracers to mark target areas for his soldiers. If I had been enlisted, I would have been a sniper.

I must respectfully disagree with my Marine Corps fellow traveller here. As a former U.S. Army officer, I wielded an M-16A1 in the first Persian Gulf War. I found my M-16 was okay during peacetime, but had some doubts about it for wartime, due to my copious research beforehand. When the more senior officers traded in their M1911A1 Colt .45 ACP pistols for M-16A1's, I acquired one of those pistols as an addition to my personal armoury. I wanted the .45 with me on the off chance that I got into a firefight and the M-16 jammed.

There is a new controversy going on regarding the M-16 and it's degree of rifling. The M-16A1 has a 1 in 12 inches rate of twist while the M-16A2 has a much tighter 1 in 7 inches rate of twist. Increasing the rate of twist increases the range over which the bullet will travel with stability. This has increased the effective range of the M-16 by quite a bit, at the expense of the degree of impact on soft targets. To exaggerate a bit, the M-16A2 reminds me of some of the older, small-calibre weapons that would fling bullets right through their victims with rather minimal impact. The French had accounts of shooting rebels stoned on hashish in North Africa as many as 17 times before bringing them down. That may have been the old Lebel rifles. My suggestion: try to hit a bone...

I stand by my earlier contention regarding the designs of the M-16 and the AK. The M-16 is designed to foul the firing chamber. The "gas" you described in lieu of the propellant is produced by the rapid burning of the propellant. Your description reads as if all the gas (and propellant) follow the bullet out of the muzzle. Obviously, a little of it must be tapped off to cause the next round to be chambered. Inevitably, some of the unburnt propellant will even "turn the corner" and come back down the gas tube right along with all that hot gas headed for the bolt carrier key. Yes, any rifle will foul quickly when using blank ammunition, but the M-16 fouls more quickly than the AK because as soon as the rotary bolt rotates and begins to retract, the gas pushing it has an opening to vent downwards into the firing chamber. You seem to think the gas disappears somehow once the bolt begins to retract. As for the Kalashnikovs, I have had a few at different times and have disassembled and cleaned them many times. They definitely have FEWER moving parts than an M-16 and those parts are sturdier and less prone to breakage. I just spoke recently with a former Israeli tanker who said most of his fellow troopers preferred the M-4's because they are lighter and handier than the Galil, but they aren't as reliable- his words. Some troops can live with the occasional jam if it saves them from lugging around an extra two pounds everywhere they go. The thing I don't understand about the M-16 design's lack of a gas piston rod is that we used them on the M-1 and M-14. Hardly anyone complains of their reliability.

Actually, my final qualification on active duty was fired using the same Colt-manufactured M-16A1 I carried to Saudi and Iraq, not an ink pen. BTW, I was picky about getting an actual Colt M-16 when I first reported to my unit.

I only implied that the M-16 had not been copied because I was unaware of any other nation having copied it or produced it under licence. Surely you understand that the ones produced under licence overseas may have been produced for other than strictly military reasons. Politicians and businessmen don't necessarily produce ideal military weapons, especially when their nations are not in immediate peril. Apparently, you are much more of the military firearms expert and I respect that. Just because you are anonymous (for now) does not mean you should be so insulting. Perhaps you view these "anti-M-16 posts" as endangering your livelihood?

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Thoughts on the M-16 Squirrel Rifle

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