Soldier firing an M4 rifle. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
Now that the Army seems to be moving ahead with plans to take a hard look at the future of the M4 rifle, you can expect that all of the old debates over its stopping power, reliability and overall fitness are going to flare up anew.
I touched on some of those debates with Col. Douglas Tamilio, the Army’s program manager for Soldier Weapons, last week. More recently, I had a very different conversation about the gun with Dean Lockwood, an analyst at Forecast International and got the other side of the story over the gun and the possibility of its replacement.
Lockwood, it’s safe to say, isn’t a huge fan of the Army’s decision to make the M4 its primary battle weapon and says that he welcomes the possibility of the service making a change—even if it’s still some years off. His main problem with the gun isn’t the problems that others say it has with reliability— though there’s that, too—but with the gun’s 5.56 round. Lockwood says that the M4 “is a good weapon for what it was designed for—a lightweight carbine. It replaced the M1 carbine from WWII and Korea. But when you try and pretend that this is a real rifle, like an M1 or an M14 … it’s just not in the same league.”
He sees the choice of the M4, which is a slightly modified M16 with a shorter barrel, as an unimaginative one by a service burned by the failure of the XM8 rifle, which was finally spiked in 2005, leading procurement officers to make the safe choice. “I’ve got to tell you,” Lockwood said, “that as long as they sit there and play patty cake with this idea that they have the 5.56 weapon and have to stick with it, they’re doing a disservice to the guys out there on the front end.”
Col. Tamilio wouldn’t speculate on what kind of caliber rifle the army was looking for, saying that the competition was still in its early stages and that all options were on the table. He did mention that during the “industry day” the Army sponsored for gun manufacturers in November, there were weapons that used 7.62 caliber rounds.
Should the 5.56 round become a thing of the past once the Army chooses its next battle rifle? Lockwood sure thinks so: “A 5.56 round, no matter how you dress it up, no matter how you play with ballistic data, is an over glorified .22. While it has better range and accuracy than the … round of an AK, it is still a weak round.”
There’s an argument put forward by the Army—including Col Tamilio in our talk—that the 7.62 round isn’t for every soldier, and that it might have more punch than some soldiers need, want, or can even handle. Lockwood dismisses this argument, pointing out that soldiers in WWII and Korea handled the M1 without any difficulty, and that today’s bigger, stronger soldiers wouldn’t have any problem with a larger caliber round.