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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
For those that say 40 years of small arms development mean nothing. Read on

Newer carbines outperform M4 in dust test

By Matthew Cox - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Dec 17, 2007 14:50:05 EST

The M4 carbine, the weapon soldiers depend on in combat, finished last in a recent “extreme dust test” to demonstrate the M4’s reliability compared to three newer carbines.

Weapons officials at the Army Test and Evaluation Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., exposed Colt Defense LLC’s M4, along with the Heckler & Koch XM8, FNH USA’s Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle and the H&K 416 to sandstorm conditions from late September to late November, firing 6,000 rounds through each test weapon.

When the test was completed, ATEC officials found that the M4 performed “significantly worse” than the other three weapons, sources told Army Times.

Officials tested 10 each of the four carbine models, firing a total of 60,000 rounds per model. Here’s how they ranked, according to the total number of times each model stopped firing:

• XM8: 127 stoppages.

• MK16 SCAR Light: 226 stoppages.

• 416: 233 stoppages.

• M4: 882 stoppages.

the results of the test were “a wake-up call,” but Army officials continue to stand by the current carbine, said Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, commander of Program Executive Office Soldier, the command that is responsible for equipping soldiers.

“We take the results of this test with a great deal of interest and seriousness,” Brown said, expressing his determination to outfit soldiers with the best equipment possible.

The test results did not sway the Army’s faith in the M4, he said.

“Everybody in the Army has high confidence in this weapon,” Brown said.

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.

Army weapons officials agreed to perform the test at the request of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in July. Coburn took up the issue following a Feb. 26 Army Times report on moves by elite Army combat forces to ditch the M4 in favor of carbines they consider more reliable. Coburn is questioning the Army’s plans to spend $375 million to purchase M4s through fiscal 2009.

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

John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, who was traveling, said the senator was reviewing the test results and had yet to discuss it with the Army.

The M4, like its predecessor, the M16, uses a gas tube system, which relies on the gas created when a bullet is fired to cycle the weapon. Some weapons experts maintain the M4’s system of blowing gas directly into the firing mechanism of the weapon spews carbon residue that can lead to fouling and heat that dries up lubrication, causing excessive wear on parts.

The other contenders in the dust test — the XM8, SCAR and 416 — use a piston-style operating system, which relies on a gas-driven piston rod to cycle the weapon during firing. The gas is vented without funneling through the firing mechanism.

The Army’s Delta Force replaced its M4s with the H&K 416 in 2004 after tests revealed that the piston operating system significantly reduces malfunctions while increasing the life of parts. The elite unit collaborated with the German arms maker to develop the new carbine.

U.S. Special Operations Command has also revised its small-arms requirements. In November 2004, SOCom awarded a developmental contract to FN Herstal to develop its new SCAR to replace its weapons from the M16 family.

And from 2002 to 2005, the Army developed the XM8 as a replacement for the Army’s M16 family. The program led to infighting within the service’s weapons community and eventually died after failing to win approval at the Defense Department level.

How they were tested
The recent Aberdeen dust test used 10 sample models of each weapon. Before going into the dust chamber, testers applied a heavy coat of lubrication to each weapon. Each weapon’s muzzle was capped and ejection port cover closed.

Testers exposed the weapons to a heavy dust environment for 30 minutes before firing 120 rounds from each.

The weapons were then put back in the dust chamber for another 30 minutes and fired another 120 rounds. This sequence was repeated until each weapon had fired 600 rounds.

Testers then wiped down each weapon and applied another heavy application of lubrication.

The weapons were put back through the same sequence of 30 minutes in the dust chamber followed by firing 120 rounds from each weapon until another 600 rounds were fired.

Testers then thoroughly cleaned each weapon, re-lubricated each, and began the dusting and fire sequencing again.

This process was repeated until testers fired 6,000 rounds through each weapon.

The dust test exposed the weapons to the same extreme dust and sand conditions that Army weapons officials subjected the M4 and M16 to during a “systems assessment” at Aberdeen last year and again this summer. The results of the second round of ATEC tests showed that the performance of the M4s dramatically improved when testers increased the amount of lubrication used.

Out of the 60,000 rounds fired in the tests earlier in the summer, the 10 M4s tested had 307 stoppages, test results show, far fewer than the 882 in the most recent test.

in the recent tests, the M4 suffered 643 weapon-related stoppages, such as failure to eject or failure to extract fired casings, and 239 magazine-related stoppages.

Colt officials had not seen the test report and would not comment for this story, said James Battaglini, executive vice president for Colt Defense LLC, on Dec. 14.

Army officials are concerned about the gap between the two tests because the “test conditions for test two and three were ostensibly the same,” Brown said.

There were, however, minor differences in the two tests because they were conducted at different times of the year with different test officials, Brown said. Test community officials are analyzing the data to try to explain why the M4 performed worse during this test.

Weapons officials pointed out that these tests were conducted in extreme conditions that did not address “reliability in typical operational conditions,” the test report states.

Despite the last-place showing, Army officials say there is no movement toward replacing the M4.

The Army wants its next soldier weapon to be a true leap ahead, rather than a series of small improvements, Brown said.

“That is what the intent is,” he said, “to give our soldiers the very best and we are not going to rest until we do that.”

Col. Robert Radcliffe, head of the Directorate of Combat Developments for the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga., said the test results will be considered as the Army continues to search for ways to improve soldier weapons.

For now, he said the Army will stick with the M4, because soldier surveys from Iraq and Afghanistan continue to highlight the weapon’s popularity among troops in the combat zone.

“The M4 is performing for them in combat, and it does what they needed to do in combat,” Radcliffe said.
 

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Yeah, I saw that already.

Anyone that remembers operation roving sands will quickly tell you that the sandstorms tied up the '16's pretty well.

That was back when I was ignorant, and believed the stuff about "if you keep it clean it'll work well". Yeah, it was just me ::) :p
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yeah, I saw that already.

Anyone that remembers operation roving sands will quickly tell you that the sandstorms tied up the '16's pretty well.

That was back when I was ignorant, and believed the stuff about "if you keep it clean it'll work well". Yeah, it was just me ::) :p
This is a huge nail in the M16's coffin. There is sure to be backlash on the political front. Still, there are a large number of people I know personally that say the M16/M4 is fine...but then there is always that caveat..."if you keep it clean"
 

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882 stoppages in 60,000 rounds? That is still 1.5% failure in artificially terrible conditions.

Political backlash as a result of this test? I doubt it.
 

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Yeah, but notice some of the fine print.

We were always told to use lube sparingly back then - only oil in key locations. You note they say that they found the M4 does well with lots-o-lube.

OK, so maybe some of my problems were 'current doctrine'. Still, when you see many (not one or two) M16s go down in sandstorm conditions, it doesn't fill you with a sense of the weapons adequacy.

The thing is, the XM8 and the SCAR are nothing more than repackaged AR18 operating systems. The Stoner said that his AR18 was more reliable than his earlier design - the M16. Our Army tested the AR18, and found it to be more reliable than the M16 too - but they'd purchased a bunch of '16's and weren't about to abandon them.

In this light, is it any surprise that the AR18 systems did better?
 

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882 stoppages in 60,000 rounds? That is still 1.5% failure in artificially terrible conditions.

Political backlash as a result of this test? I doubt it.
Put it in this perspective: 882 stoppages in 60,000 rounds = 1 failure for every 68 rounds fired.

That is 1 failure for every 3 mags fired.... and damn close to 1 failure every other mag! That does not inspire confidence...
 

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That test and that article didn't tell me anything that I already didn't know.

ASIDE from my vast internet testing experience I have had actual experience with an M16 in the worst case dust conditions.  Some of you might recall what I had posted to include a picture of what does couse a "worst case dust enviroment".  This reminds me that I need to buy a scanner to scan my pics from the GW, but after 5 minutes "google" work I can find images that will show you these "worst case artificial conditions".

Having been an infantry squad leader w/101st during the GW and Somalia these conditions are frequent.  We've done all kinds of things to protect our fragile M16's and M4's when we knew we would be taking a short flight.  But as you can see that dust and sand will literally find it's way into the crevices of your asshole, the most dustcovered portion of your body.  Now imagine wearing LBV, body armor, k-pot, dragging a ruck in one hand, M16/M4 in the other.  And no, we didn't have those goggles b/c they looked cool on us or we were planning on a little airsofting in between our internet trolling down times.  We had them for a reason. ;D

Now anyone here that was in the military, OR have driven on dusty roads know that unless your have lots of positive air pressure in a enclose vehicle, dust will basically be sucked in.  I now refer you to the Bradley IFV photo.  Crunchies ride in the back.  AFAIK, M2/3's, M113's, Amtracks, Humvees, 2 1/2 ton and 5 ton trucks STILL do not have that high pressure outer thingy-majig.  I know what it looks like in the back after a long road march and it gets pretty f-ing dusty specially when that one retard you had back there forgot to shut either the troop door or the top hatch before they hoped on out and you were the last vehicle with no one behind you to call you on the radio to say, "Hey your troop door is open".

Only from my internet testing experience do I know we HAD toleave our M16/M4's dry while in the desert and it is not designed to do that.  I've never experience where an M4 DI system will foul out a weapon but recently during my last gig as a FA instructor for my station did I had to clean 10 pool M4 (pool as in everybody uses them-not assigned) with 1000's of rounds and no cleaning.  I've never experienced seeing one's these bad with carbon nearly welded into that f-ing little gap between the gas tube and upper.  Also in the bolt carriers.  I broke my nifty $1 dental pick before I resorted to the "harder" tools and that can't be good for things made out of aluminum.  However i will attest that for the most part these pool rifles did ok, BUT the DI system will dry out if not add to make things worse in a desert enviroment.

I'm sure for those who did go to the sand box and attest that the M4 is the best rifle EVARRRR, and never had a problem with theirs.  But I can guarantee your MOS didn't start with "1", or "0" if you were a Marine.  My MOS had two "1's", enough said.  

So did it really take 40 years for the Army and Marines to figure out the M16 platform really didn't perform too well in the desert?  And for anyone who thinks that in an artificial enviroment 1.5% aint bad, just ask yourself if you were in those troops' shoes how would you feel about that then?  Heck 1.5% is higher than the last military pay raise.  

Oh, and it's gonna f-up as soon as a round is chambered and not at round 98 and a half.

Edited to add:

Apparently Slag's arithmetic skills is better than mine.  Good thing I just chase ton..., err, I mean illegal aliens and not an IRS Agent, right?
 

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Your third pic looks like it could have been taken during roving sands. It sucked.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
882 stoppages in 60,000 rounds? That is still 1.5% failure in artificially terrible conditions.

Political backlash as a result of this test? I doubt it.
Put it in this perspective: 882 stoppages in 60,000 rounds = 1 failure for every 68 rounds fired.

That is 1 failure for every 3 mags fired.... and damn close to 1 failure every other mag! That does not inspire confidence...
You know what, slag is exactly right. Just stating a percentage that on the surface seems insignificant means nothing without context.

And in this case 1.5% translates to nearly a failure with every 2 magazines or so. That is your scope and impact in this case and that for sure is a problem
 

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It would be nice to know what the stoppages were: Failure to feed, failure to ezect, magazine jam etc.. One failure every 2/3 mags is not good.
 

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I wonder if they lubed each rifle the same or followed the manufactures specs. Seems like this would be where Militec would shine too. A lube the does not attract dust as much.

Finally, how would the XCR perform? We don't have a dust cover. Do all these others have one?
 

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I can tell you firsthand how aweful it can be over there. When you have to take a baby wipe to your face as soon as you get up to get all the dust out of your eyes...and that it just sitting still. Lets just say that I live about 30 minutes from the beach and hate going, my wife has to drag me there. I would be fine if I never saw sand again. Luckily I get to go back next spring.

As a pilot I actually convoyed more than I flew during the invasion in 2003 and we learned real quick that you have to keep the M16 lubed and clean it out every morning before you head out. When the sand storm is so bad that you tie a rope between 2 parked aircraft to find your way between them, think what it can do to a weapon.

I found that the Beretta M9 actually did OK in this environment, probably because mine was so loose. As long as I kept it lubed and aimed low and right I could hit what I was aiming at everytime.

Not sure how the XCR would do, I think as long as you keep your weapon LUBED just about anything will do OK but I do think that with the piston design you get much less fouling and therefore less stopage.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Finally, how would the XCR perform? We don't have a dust cover. Do all these others have one?
Dust cover check:

XM8 = No
SCAR = No
HK416 = Yes (And it was at the lower end of the performance spectrum)
AR15 = Yes (Lowest performer)

And I think the XCR would do well. When things get sluggish, turn the gas up, and it will overcome more friction that would make the AR15 choke. Also the XCR has very open internals so I believe it would handle foreign matter well.
 

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An interesting observation is that the two best performers were essentially AR18 variants, and the two worst were AR15 variants.

The XCR is, of course, an FNC variant, which is derived from the AK47.

I'd have loved to see how the assorted AK-related guns like the FNC, the SIG550 (the real one), the Galil, and the XCR would have done in the same test conditions. Hmm, then we could have gotten all old-school and checked out M14, FAL, and G3 performance, and maybe even Garand vs. Johnson, and maybe even SVT40, FN49, and G41/43 just for grins.

We'd have had material to debate and kvetch over for years to come. It would have been glorious!
 

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This is an interesting study, it seems difficult to me that they could hold variables in check though. How do they create the sandstorm conditions? Is there any way to have consistent levels in the sandstorm chamber thingy they use? What about magazine/ammo related failures?

I don't disagree with the outcome, I'm just genuinely curious about how such an experiment is conducted.

I'd also love to see how other weapons like sloan mentioned would perform.
 
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