Sep 24, 2008

Why We Do NOT Need New Military Rifles

The levels of foolishness reached a new high when I found this gem, written in complete seriousness by a self-important commentator:

Now I really have no room to talk about combat or shooting in general because I am not fighting for my country nor have attended any [organized shooting events] (yet), but it should not be necessary to shoot someone more than once to put them out of the fight.

In my personal opinion I think that the military needs a new rifle.

There has been a push in many circles, military and civilian, to replace the 5.56x45mm cartridge used by the United States and throughout NATO and/or replace the AR15/M16 platform. The intelligence of such an opinion can be summed up by this commentator. At least this guy is honest enough to admit that such a notion is backed by people who do not know any better.

Let's discuss why replacing the M16-series and the 5.56x45mm cartridge makes little sense. We'll begin by looking at the rifle.

The "magic" gas piston. The M16/AR15 utilizes direct gas impingement, meaning that gas pressure is forced down a tube directly into the bolt carrier with no intervening piston. The beauty of this system is that it is simple and light weight. The claimed disadvantage, and a primary claim for replacement, is that fouling is deposited directly into the bolt carrier, thus the common complaint that the M16 "craps where it eats."

This mythical "problem" exists in the minds of undertrained marksmen, usually soldiers who have been inadvertantly taught to destroy firearms under a misguided premise of cleaning them.

All firearms burn propellant. Fouling ("carbon") is destined to build up no matter the design. All gas operated systems utilize gas pressure to operate the mechanism and this fouling will accumulate somewhere. Keep this in mind the next time you maintain a M240 or M249 and inspect the gas regulator and piston.

In my experience this makes the M16/AR15 easier to maintain because the area of build up, directly behind the gas rings on the bolt inside the carrier, can be kept lubricated and the fouling easily wiped off. Many piston designs advise the operator to avoid lubricating that primary area of fouling. Carbon is baked on and must be scraped to remove. Keep the rear of the bolt behind the gas rings in your M16 moistened with CLP or other proper lubricant like you're supposed to and this fouling is easily wiped away.

The misinformed will opine that this isn't possible in a desert environment, yet, as many vets have found out, CLP works just fine in the sand. The key is regular maintenance, something you'll need to do no matter the lubricant choice.

Instead of replacing perfectly-good rifles, a better fix would be to upgrade existing M16A4s with free float tubes. This is a parts-swap utilizing current rifles. Start by outfitting those rifles issued to qualified Squad Designated Marksmen (SDM). The inherent accuracy of rack-grade M16s is sufficient for all but the best Soldier-Marksmen. The problem of holding a zero due to the fact that the hand guard contacts the barrel would be eliminated (funny that those crying for a new rifle never mention this fact, but only a true marksmen would notice such an issue.)

The true ridiculousness of those requesting new rifles is the fact that most of the suggested replacements are chambered in the same cartridge! Replacing the current-issue 5.56mm rifle with another 5.56mm rifle does nothing!

What about the cartridge? Maybe we should go to a 6.Xmm something or other. Failures to stop in the field are a common complaint here.

The sad, unspoken truth is that most members of the military are lousy marksmen. Placement is more important than anything equipment related and a trip to any military range will demonstrate this isn't being sufficiently addressed. DOD personnel, regardless of their branch, rarely have the markmanship chops for cartridge choice to ever matter.

Add in the fact that the logistics of changing chamberings are nightmarish and any sensible person has to wonder what the point is. A more realistic improvement would be to make heavy 5.56mm projectiles standard issue. All our current 5.56 chambered weapons sport 1:7 twists and will stablize them. This gives performance that approaches typical 6.8mm loadings and current ammunition is still useable.

Consider that the Mk262 cartridge launches a 77 grain bullet with a high ballistic coefficient at around 2800 feet per second. The 6.8x43mm SPC starts a 115 grain bullet out at around 2500 fps from the same length of barrel. One can demonstrate that the 6.8 is better and it has merit, however, once the logistical costs and issues and weighed in, it makes no sense to do so just to gain 35 grains of bullet (and lose around 250 fps.)

The only real reasons to change rifles and ammunition are:

  • Create a new contract for a different supplier.
  • Satisfy gun magazines by providing filler content

None of these things improve issue equipment that is already more that satisfactory. Learn how to shoot what you have instead of asking for new toys!

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