Is the M-16 the best weapon we can produce?

In the thread on the state of medical care during the Civil War some discussion on the lethality of some weapons ensued.

It got me to thinking if the M-16 is the best the American military can come up with. Is the evolution of the rifle over?

I understand that different weapons are chosen for different uses. A sniper rifle is better at what it does than an M-16 would be. I’m asking about the basic weapon that most foot soldiers in our army would be carrying.

The M-16 is over 30 years old. Beyond some modifications I think it is still basically the same weapon today that it was 30+ years ago. With all of our computers and technical knowhow today we can’t improve on that design?

Also, how does the M-16 measure up to its counterparts such as the AK-47? In this case I’m asking about both how they compare on paper and how they compare in real world usage. For example, a weapon might sport better statistics on paper but that’s not much use to a foot soldier who’s weapon jams as soon as it gets a bit dirty (I’m not suggesting that this happens to an M-16…it’s just an example).

One would think if the M-16 is superior it would be copied the world over but it seems to be the AK-47 that is ubiquitous outside of the US.

One last thing as an aside. I was reading up on a computer game based on some Tom Clancy novel that is modelled after the United State’s new ‘Land Warrior’ concept. Basically this is an overhaul to the common foot soldier. While not in effect yet the future American foot soldier will have a computer in a thigh pocket, GPS, integrated communications and a bunch of other goodies all designed to make him/her more effective. They mentioned some scope that will allow the soldier to shoot around corners (i.e. he only has to hang his gun around a corner to see what’s there and fire at it). Is this just an add-on to an M-16 or do they have an entirely new weapon in mind?

As far as new weapons go, yes, there is currently a smart infantry weapon under development. Current prototypes look a bit like the hand-held weapons used in the movie Aliens. The weapon would have a computer on board, and fire either .223 or 7.62mm caliber rifle rounds, and I think, 20mm grenade type rounds that would be programmed to detonate at a predetermined distance. The soldier could poke his weapon around the corner of a building, the scope would record the location, distance to the enemy, then the computer would calculate range, etc., then the soldier could fire the projectile and it would detonate right on top (say a height of ten feet) of the enemy, spraying them with shrapnel.

The proliferation of the AK47 worldwide can be attributed to its cheap cost to manufacture, and the tolerances allow the weapon to be manufactured on relatively crude machinery. A lot of the parts used are stamped, vice machined. These relatively sloppy tolerances support its ability to be dropped in the mud and still operate.

In a nutshell, yes; the M-16 is the best we can come up with. It is very accurate, proven in battle, and an over-all great firearm. As BF said, the reason it’s not copied worldwide like the AK-47/AKM series is that the M-16 is rather expensive to make. (Incidentally, the original AK-47 had a milled receiver and hardwood stocks. The AKM – Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizerovanye – introduced the stamped receiver and the laminated stocks. There are so many versions made in so many countries, that I need a manual to list the similarities and differences now.) The M-16 is designed to be used by highly-trained soldiers – soldiers who know how to take care of a firearm and have the discipline to do it. The AK-series is designed to be used by poorly-trained, often uneducated people. Its loose tolerances allow it to function even after it’s been dropped in mud and generally abused.

It’s a different philosophies really. One firearm is designed for highly-trained personnel, and the other is designed for someone who has never picked up a rifle before. Both philosophies work within their intended groups.

The M-16 has undergone many changes over its life. Chromeed barrels make cleaning easier and reduces corrosion problems. Different ammunition also reduced the early fouling problems. The forward-assist plunger was added to close the bolt if it didn’t close by itself (for example, if it were dirty). A brass deflector was built into the upper receiver. The open flash hider was replaced by the closed “birdcage” flash hider, which reduced snagging in foliage and was more effective at hiding the muzzle blast. This was replaced with a closed-bottom birdcage that helps to reduce muzzle climb and reduces dirt kicked up when firing from a prone position. The fully-automatic mode has been replaced by a three-round-burst mode. BF mentions some of the other cool stuff.

So even though the M-16 is about 40 years old, it’s been updated repeatedly. It’s still a formidable weapon in the hands of a trained soldier.

Actually, the basic design of the M16 rifle is over 40 years old, as the army began tests on them in 1958 (the rifle was initially rejected as an issue weapon). Why has it lasted so long? Because it is one of the most effective weapons platforms ever designed for infantry use.

It’s advantages include:

1)Weight. No version of the M16 has ever weighed more than 4kg. This increases a soldier’s mobility and significantly decreases his fatigue. The relatively small size of the round (5.56mm) also contributes, allowing either a reduced payload weight of the same amount of ammunition, or a greater amount of ammunition carried for the same amount of weight compared to weapons like the AK47 or M14.

2)Ease of maintenance. The M16 can be completely disassembled with hand tools that can be kept on or inside the weapon itself. It is very easy to field strip the rifle and clean it, and it only takes about ten minutes to disassemble, clean, and reassemble. The AK47 is not so easy, and actually requires (if memory serves correctly) a 20-ton press to seat the barrel in the receiver. Try lugging THAT in the field.

3)Accuracy. Modern versions of the M16 are capable of engaging targets at ranges of 400 meters and beyond. This is due in large part to the precision maching of the weapon. In most cases, the rifle exceeds the ability of the shooter to place rounds on target. The looser tolerances of the AK47 do not allow this, in most cases.

The main disadvantage of the M16 is that it is somewhat sensitive to the buildup of carbon and to the introduction of outside debris (sand, dirt, etc). Thus, the M16 needs to be cleaned far more often than the AK47. This is also one of the reasons that the AK series is more prevalent around the world. The M16 is a weapon for disciplined soldiers, while any third world peasant can use the AK47 and probably never give a second thought to cleaning or properly maintaining the rifle.

As far as current versions of the “Land Warrior” are concerned, I am less than impressed. The basic weapon system weighs over 17 pounds, without ammunition! Combined with the nightvision, thermal imaging, command and conrol computer, etc, etc, etc that they have stacked on these guys, the end result is laughable. All of the footage I have seen consists of soldiers clumsily, slowly waddling from one place of cover to another. Ask ANY combat vet if being slow and clumsy are two things you can afford under fire.

Maybe when they develop powered body armor it will be a viable concept. Maybe.

This is another one of those “once upon a time” post for which I might become infamous. When I first started soldering I was trained on the M-1 rifle. It was tremendously accurate. A shooter with a good eye and a steady hand ( I had neither, being nearsighted and prone to flinch) could regularly hit a man-sized target at 600 yards. It was heavy, however, and had a hell of a recoil, and only held eight rounds. The .30 cal., high velocity bullet was a man killer at any range. It had no automatic capacity, but was a tremendous weapon for a trained marksman who was able to keep cool. The loading systems involve opening the breech and shoving a clip in the top of the receiver. When the clip was engaged, the breech bolt came forward with quite a bit of force and speed. Everyone whoever dealt with the M-1 chambered his thumb instead of the first cartridge more than once.

Some time in the early 60s the regulars were converted from the M-1 to the M-14, and the M-1s were relegated to the Reserves, the National Guard (the Ohio National Guard had M-1s at Kent State) and the armies of client states. The M-14 was essentially a dolled up M-1. It was marginally lighter, Loaded with a magazine of, IIRC, 20 rounds, was capable of fully automatic fire and had the same superior long range accuracy of the M-1 and its predecessor, the 1903 Springfield. On or two riflemen in each infantry squad were given fully automatic versions and were designated as grenadiers. There was a full/semi selector switch on the full automatic version. The weapon still fired a big bullet with a ready heavy charge, the NATO standard round, which was the British, 303 cal. cartridges that continues to be used for the M-60 machine gun. Because of the heavy cartridge the M-14 had a pronounced tenancy to climb up and to the left when fired on full automatic and so it was tough to hold on target. The great advantages the weapon had over the M-1 were its full automatic capacity and its 20 round magazine and its easy reloading. All of these things were great advantages when laying down final assault and final defensive fires. The weapon’s disadvantages were that it was still big and heavy and carrying enough ammo to feed it was a significant burden.

The M-14 continued to be used through the early days of the US involvement in Vietnam. The First Division and the Marines went into Vietnam with the M-14. As the M-16 became available it became the standard personal weapon for almost all American troops. While the M-16 lacked the long range accuracy of the earlier rifles, studies and common sense said that the range in almost all fire fight was relatively short. For real world combat the lighter M-16 was the superior weapon because of its short length, rapid rate of fire and light recoil. Rather than a .30 cal. Round, the M-16 threw a bullet of slightly more than .22 cal. at a very high velocity. The M-16’s man stopping power was comparable to the .30 cal. round.

The M-16 had its problems early on. Because it did not have a chromed chamber and the cartridge powder was highly corrosive, and because field troops were not as rigorous about cleaning the weapon as they should have been there was an unacceptable level of mischambers and misfires. As noted by Whack-a-Mole, the addition of a device to assist chambering the round, chroming the chamber and better field maintenance shortly fixed the problem. The result was a very good infantry weapon for use by the ordinary trained marksman. It is not a sniping rifle, but it was never designed to be one. It is a weapon that puts out an astounding volume of gun fire in the final assault and defense phases when it is really needed.

If the weapon had a serious fault, it was that it encouraged a tendency to just burn up ammo in the fully automatic setting. I understand that this has lead to a modification that allows only three or five round bursts in fully automatic. In addition the weapon was modified to fit a grenade launcher in addition to the rifle barrel. This replaces the old favorite M-79 grenade launcher, which could fire a canister round that could clear a room in one shot.

The Advanced Combat Rifle (A.C.R.) is better.

It fires a steel needle propelled by plastic explosive, rather than gunpowder. This enables the needle to reach supersonic speeds, & becomes armor-piercing in nature. Reports suggest that it can punch right through the armor on the old US Army APC. (M-116? can’t recall, posting while tired) Lighter ammo, long range, more damage, punches through body armor at least.

We aren’t using it.

The Army brass are too conservative by half.

Every time the movement towards better equipment calls for a new Infantry rifle, old timers fight the idea tooth & claw. It’s been that way throughout the 20th century,was that way in the 19th, will be into the 21st. :rolleyes:

First off…

This was actually noted by Johnny L.A.. No big deal…just giving credit where credit is due. In this thread I’m the uneducated one…

Something along these lines occured to me on the way home. The M-16 is better all-around than the AK-47 yet in real world battles does this make any difference? I’m sure there are some serious marksmen in the ranks of the army but (and I’m guessing here) most probably can’t hit a person at the gun’s 400+ meter effective range. It’s not the fault of the gun…it’s the soldier using it.

In that case so what if the gun has a longer range? If the AK-47 only has an effective range of 300 meters (just guessing again) and most battles are fought under 200 meters then the M-16’s advantage seems largely wasted.

It’s nice to have an enthusiasts gun that can really get the job done in the right hands but it would seem the AK-47’s ability to take punishment and keep working is actually an asset over the M-16’s more detailed care. Which gun would you prefer crawling through a swamp?

Is there any data that shows this one way or the other? I mean, say 5 regular army guys came across 5 Vietnamese regular army guys during the Vietnam War. Everything else being equal (for the sake of argument…no calling in artillery or something) was there always a clear winner (or, as I suspect, did it get real ugly real fast for both sides)?


Better than the M-16 is the C-7.

It’s an M-16 with Canadian designed safety modifications. The Canadian Forces use it for drill and infantry purposes.

First, great post, Spavined Gelding! The M14 and M60 use the 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester, though, NOT the .303 Enfield. The .303’s dimensions are closer to the .30-06.

Second, Bosda…of Tricor, the theoretical ACR is NOT a better weapon system than the M16, because no fully functional production model exists! The current standard issue SS109 ammunition for the M16 is already supersonic (over 3300fps, I believe), and has a steel penetrator core that easily defeats MOST light body armor (flak jackets and helmets) in use by the world’s militaries. In addition, true AP rounds are also available, including some rather exotic saboted tungsten projectiles.

Almost every gun in existence has a bullet that reaches supersonic speeds. Bullets from an M16A3 (the weapon I am most familiar with) hit 945 mph. They won’t go through an APC, but they’ll go through body armor pretty easily.

How big is the needle? It seems unlikely to me that it could do more damage to a human body than a M16 round if it’s as small as the word needle suggests.

I did a online search for Advanced Combat Rifle and came up with this page:

Is that what you’re talking about? It looks pretty cool. :slight_smile:

Whack-a-Mole, I think the greatest advantage to using the M16 is its light weight and its smaller round. This allows soldiers to carry a lot more ammunition, and considering that the shots fired per kill in modern wars is astronomical* that’s a tremendous advantage.

Also, Vietnam War film usually show combatants as being very close. In the military, I was told that most combat takes place at a distance of several hundred yards.

Of course, if the US Military keeps doing peace keeping missions, I would imagine that “normal” combat will be at less than 100 yards.

  • Sadly a quick search of the internet didn’t turn up any numbers to demonstrate this, but the bullets fired to kill ratio in the Vietnam War was unbelievably high, something like 10,000 to 1.

I think that the ACR that Bosda Di’Chi of Tricor is talking about is a different one than the Steyr. AAI developed the ACR that the Army began looking at around 1980. It is basically the same concept, using a caseless round and advanced sighting. The fact that it has been being tested for over 20 years says a lot. It’s not an unwillingness to change just because it’s new. It’s extremely expensive to make, somewhat delicate, and caseless ammo is also very expensive to make due to the difficulty. Caseless ammo also has problems with consistency, especially during varying climatic conditions. As far as the supersonic armor piercing capability, all rifle bullets are supersonic, and armor piercing bullets are made in both 5.56 and 7.62 so there’s no huge advantage here. It’s a fine weapon for special op units perhaps, but not for the individual rifleman, but there are better weapons available to special units that are tailored for each mission for maximum advantage.

The rifle with the 20mm capability that was mentioned is the OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon). Great technology, but also weighty, and expensive with a somewhat delicate sighting system. The OCSW (Objective Crew Served Weapon) uses the same basic technology and concept, but would be used in a support role, rather than an individual setting, so to me, the OICW has possibilities, but would be a logistical nightmare.

For close in jungle fighting, there isn’t really a combat advantage between an M16 and an AK due to the short distances. But in a desert environment and urban settings, I put the advantage on the M16 simply for the accuracy and reliability. Also, a better made weapon lasts a lot longer than a cheap one. This will probably always be a personal preference issue though, as many “old timers” preferred a wooden stock and heavier bullet. Many “modern day kids” who never carried a 14 like the M16. My own dad felt that the M16 was of no use to a grunt for the simple fact that an M14 was vastly better for hand to hand combat. Our grunts were always picking up AK’s and the other guys were always trying to get ahold of M16’s. (The enemy always has cooler weapons than you). Personally, for general purpose, I want the most reliable, accurate weapon that can be easily supported. At the moment, that is the 16, although for close in I’ll take an MP5 variant and for far away I’ll take the 14 or FN FAL.

IIRC, isn’t every soldier who is handed a rifle reminded that their weapon was produced by the lowest bidder?

…That seem to me economically viable, but it also doesn’t mean that the M-16 is, then, the best that can be produced.

It’s more like a Ford Mustang: Most power per buck.

For the heck of it, some info on the M-16:

Some quotes:

Note that the page also includes a number of nifty pictures of several different variants of the M-16.

Here’s one page with info about the AK-47 (for comparison):

Another AK-47 info page, with a bit more meat:

I’d be happy to dig up further information, if anyone wants. I love this stuff.

Basically, the M-16 is currently the best weapon for our purposes, since it’s combat-proven, relatively inexpensive, and familiar. We could replace it with a better weapon, but that would cost more money and a lot more effort to integrate it into our arsenal.

Note that a lot of nations also use the MP-5 submachine gun (and its variants). And for a view of a high-tech alternative, check out H&K’s G36 Weapon System. Looks like something out of Star Wars.

So, yes, there are “better” alternatives… but nothing that’s yet been worth the effort, I suppose.

(I hope I’ve been helpful… it’s 4:30 AM and I have nothing better to do!)

Thanks for the acknowledgement, Whack-a-Mole.

Isn’t it funny that a bunch of Dopers are talking about a rifle by Stoner?

Didn’t Eugene Stoner die recently? Like within the last couple of years?

I’d think very carefully before considering a new weapon.
After moving from the 7.62mm L1Al (we called it the SLR), based on the Belgian FN design, we got stuck with the SA-80. A vast improvement for sure in terms of weight of the rifle, weight of ammo and portability, not to mention the excellent SUSAT sight. But get it off the range and into the field and that’s where the problems start, and it’s not only in extreme heat and cold when the problems arise.

My father was involved in the design work for the M-16A3, and had a few comments:

  • Many of the initial problems the Army had with the M-16 were a direct result of modifications the Army demanded be made to Stoner’s final design, before they’d accept it. Some of the changes included a different gunpowder than was designed, and a different twist to the rifling. The gunpowder issue was pretty serious, as it lead to the heavy fouling experienced in humid climates. Most of the ‘A1’ mods to the M-16 were to undo the changes the Army had made in the first place.

  • Most combat, IRL, takes place under 100m. Capacity to shoot accurately beyond 100m is nice, but is used less than 10% of the time. The vast majority of long-range killing is done by crew-served weapons and artilery.

  • In a close-in fight, handiness and rate of fire count more than accuracy in a weapon.

  • The M-16 isn’t the best we can do, but it’s more than sufficent to our needs.
    ACLU Boy:
    The ‘needles’ you’re asking about are called ‘flechettes’, and can be increadibly deadly, provided their velocity is very high when they reach their victim. Flechettes break-up, tumble, and do all manner of other nasty things once they’ve enterd the body, and flechette wounds are very hard to find and treat, as they leave very small entrance wounds, and most of the bleeding is internal. The problem with flechettes is that they lose velocity very rapidly, and are easly deflected. Now, a shotgun round loaded with flechettes instead of pellets, that’s a ‘room-broom’.

By a strange coincidence I happen to be the lead designer on Ghost Recon, the game you’re referring to. Technically the Land Warrior program is separate from the next-generation infantry rifle program. The video sight that you mention is a part of Land Warrior but can be mounted on a variety of weapons, including the M-16.

Having met with the people running Land Warrior and having seen the gear in action, I have to say that IMHO some parts of it seems very cool and useful and some parts seem questionable. Because of its weight and special training requirements, I find it hard to believe that the video sight will find its way into general use. I would not be surprised if the helmet-mounted HUD were replaced with a hip-mounted PDA. The GPS system and integrated communications are a great idea, but only if the Army can reduces their weight and develop a better power solution.

It does make good fodder for a game, however … .

Too cool.

I was reading up on this game in PC Gamer. It looks amazing!

Ahem…If you need beta testers (wink, wink, nudge, nudge – Mole madly waves his arms)

I’ve always wanted to be involved in game design but I have zero skills in programming and zero skills in art of any sort so that kinda leaves me out of most of it. I know it can be brutal work sometimes but I’m jealous just the same.

Keep up the good work!

For the rest of you warriors and warrior wannabe’s who are curious check out this site for a brief overview and some screen shots of Ghost Recon. If you weren’t into computer gaming before this might change your mind!

Thanks for all the other replies so far…they’ve been helpful and enlightening.

Thanks for the kind words.

It’s not been decided yet whether or not we’ll have an open Beta. If we do it will probably be announced at the Red Storm website. We’re going be be focus testing in the near future, but we’ll do that with small groups at the Red Storm offices, which means that unless you live near the Raleigh/Durham area you won’t be eligible.

(BTW, it doesn’t have to be that brutal. We just had our first optional mini-crunch last night and next week is Alpha. For the last year most of the team has been able to keep to a pretty stable 40-50 hour week.)