11-21-2009, 08:31 PM #1
- Join Date
- Jan 2009
Army Times: Major revamp possible for M4 carbine
Army wants new barrel, faster fire and 4 other improvements
By Matthew Cox - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Nov 21, 2009 14:46:29 EST
The Army is considering a major redesign of the M4 aimed at making the weapon shoot cleaner and longer — at high rates of fire.
As the Army awaits Defense Department approval of a competition to find a new carbine, weapons officials have identified six fixes intended to address shortcomings in reliability, durability and handling of the Army’s inventory of more than 400,000 M4s.
Army weapons officials presented the proposed changes to Congress on Oct. 30. They are:
• Adding a heavier barrel for better performance during high rates of fire.
• Replacing the direct-impingement gas system with a piston gas system.
• Improving the trigger pull.
• Adding an improved rail system for increased strength.
• Adding ambidextrous controls.
• Adding a round counter to track the total number of bullets fired over the weapon’s lifetime.
The Army is considering upgrades to the M4 at the same time it is poised to begin a competition to replace the weapon, a variant of the Vietnam-era M16 family.
Senior leaders launched the effort to find a new weapon in November 2008, a year after the M4 finished in last place in an Army reliability test involving three other carbines. Then-Army Secretary Pete Geren directed the Army’s Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga., to update the carbine requirement.
That document is now under review at the Army senior staff level, but the service cannot start a competition until the requirement is approved by the DoD’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council.
Even if the Army releases a request for proposal to the small-arms industry before the end of the year, it’s unlikely that the service will complete the competition and select a new carbine before fiscal 2013. And once a new carbine is selected, it will then take years to replace the M4s and M16s in the inventory.
Army weapons officials say they want to give soldiers something better, sooner. While there is no set timeline, the hope is “to have this nailed by [early] January,” said Col. Doug Tamilio, the head of Project Manager Soldier Weapons.
“As we move down this carbine competition path, let’s continue to make substantial improvements to the M4,” Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller said Oct. 27. Fuller commands Program Executive Office Soldier, the command responsible for soldier weapons development.
The Army has made 62 changes to the M4 since it began fielding the weapon in the mid 1990s, weapons officials maintain. The changes have ranged from improved extractor springs to high-tech optics to a more reliable magazine.
But soldiers’ criticisms of the M4’s performance have continued. They were detailed recently in a report on the July 13, 2008, battle at Wanat in Afghanistan.
Enemy Afghan forces with superior numbers and firepower dominated the terrain around the platoon-sized Army outpost at Wanat. Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team eventually fought off the attack, but not before the enemy knocked out the unit’s heavy weapons, killed nine soldiers and wounded another 27.
One staff sergeant described how his M4 failed him early in the battle.
“My M4 quit firing and would no longer charge when I tried to correct the malfunction,” said the soldier, identified as Staff Sgt. Phillips in a draft analysis paper on the battle written by Douglas Cubbison, a military historian at the Army Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Another soldier, Spc. Chris McKaig, experienced problems with his weapon later in the battle, according to the report.
“My weapon was overheating. I had shot about 12 magazines by this point already, and it had only been about a half hour or so into the fight,” McKaig said in the report. “I couldn’t charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down.”
Army weapons officials maintain that the M4 has an approval rating among soldiers of more than 90 percent.
Sgt. Eric Harder, a team leader with B Troop, 3rd squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, said his M4 didn’t have a single stoppage during an Oct. 3 enemy attack on Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan that lasted for more than six hours.
“I shot over 40 mags that day, and I didn’t have one jam,” Harder said during an Army video interview posted on Digital Video & Imagery Distribution’s Web site.
Army officials stress, however, that they are not discounting the alleged weapons problems Phillips and McKaig encountered at Wanat.
Sturdier, heavier barrel
One improvement they are considering for the M4 involves outfitting the weapon with the heavier barrel used on the M4A1, the special operations variant that’s designed to fire on full auto. The standard M4 has a three-round burst setting instead of full auto.
In past Army tests on the standard M4, the barrel eroded and warped after 540 rounds were fired in 2 minutes and 48 seconds. In another test, the barrel burst after 596 rounds were fired in 3 minutes and 39 seconds, weapons officials said.
But the heavier M4A1 barrel was able to shoot 930 rounds in 4 minutes 30 seconds. In that test, the heat shield melted but the barrel appeared undamaged, weapons officials maintain.
While the sustained rate of fire would have to be much lower, the heavier barrel would allow the soldier to fire longer without worrying about heat problems, Tamilio said.
“We have proven it, we have tested it and we already own it,” he said.
The only downside, he said, is there is a weight penalty that would add 5 ounces to the 6.5-pound M4.
One change that might be more challenging involves replacing the M4’s direct-gas system with a piston gas system, officials said. Both systems rely on the gas created when a round is fired to help cycle the weapon.
With a piston system, the gas siphoned from the round pushes a piston rod into the receiver and cycles the weapon. The M4’s direct-gas system uses the gas itself to cycle the weapon. This results in heat and carbon residue being blown back into the chamber, which can lead to malfunctions and parts wear.
The piston gas system performed well in an Army reliability test in November 2007. During the test, the M4 suffered more stoppages than the combined number of jams in the Heckler & Koch XM8; FNH USA’s Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle, or SCAR; and the H&K 416. All three of those weapons use versions of the piston gas system.
Army weapons officials agreed to perform a dust test after a July 2007 request by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Coburn took up the issue after a Feb. 26, 2007, Army Times report on moves by elite Army special operations units to ditch the M4 in favor of carbines they consider more reliable.
U.S. Special Operations Command began fielding the first SCARs to its elite forces this spring. The command decided to move away from the M4 in November 2004, when the command awarded a developmental contract to FN Herstal to develop its SCAR to replace its M4s and older M16s.
Adding a piston system to the M4 would likely require the Army to release a request for proposal since many gun companies offer M4 upper-receiver groups with piston gas systems, Tamilio said.
Tamilio added that the Army might not request a piston gas system in an RFP but instead ask for an easier-to-clean and more reliable weapon and let the industry propose what it wants.
The other changes being considered are an improved trigger to give the shooter a more consistent trigger pull, which many experts say is key to accurate shooting.
Adding a “monolithic” rail design would add strength to the weapon because the upper receiver, hand guard and rail system are forged together out of a single piece of aluminum.
Adding ambidextrous controls such as the selector lever, magazine release and bolt release would make the M4 easier to operate for both right-handed and left-handed shooters.
A round counter, or shock sensor, mounted in the pistol grip would make it much easier to know when parts need replacing, Tamilio said.
Weapons officials use gauges to check for wear, but “it would really be nice to know that this one has shot 4,000 rounds, this one has shot 7,000 rounds and this one has shot 10,000 rounds,” Tamilio said. “We have never been able to do that.”
A special “integrated product team” will evaluate the pros and cons of each of the proposed improvements and decide which options, if any, will give the service the “biggest bang for the buck,” Tamilio said.
The team will be made up of multiple agencies such as the Infantry Center, Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and Program Executive Office Soldier. It will also include soldiers with combat experience and members of the small-arms community.
Representatives from the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force will also get a chance to weigh in on the decision for future improvements to the M4.
11-21-2009, 08:52 PM #2
- Join Date
- Oct 2007
"Replacing the direct-impingement gas system with a piston gas system."
11-21-2009, 09:22 PM #3
11-22-2009, 12:04 AM #4
- Join Date
- Jul 2006
- South Sioux City, NE
Adding a round counter, some ******bag accountant got put on an advisory committee
11-22-2009, 12:32 AM #5
11-22-2009, 12:43 AM #6
- Join Date
- Aug 2007
- Bradenton, Florida
Id be happy just with the new piston...
Screw lefties. They're genetically inferior
11-22-2009, 03:45 AM #7
well it's about freaking time"Friendly Fire, isn't" Hidden Content
11-22-2009, 05:11 AM #8
heavy barrel and a piston conversion hell they could do that stuff at a unit armorer level.
"i got mad and threw it down" seriously? so much for being an Infantry NCO.In the end we're all just chalk lines on the concrete drawn only to be washed away, for the time that I've been given, I am what I am. I'd rather you hate me for everything I am, Than have you love me for being something that Im not
11-22-2009, 10:28 AM #9
11-22-2009, 03:01 PM #10Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity
11-22-2009, 04:34 PM #11
No mention of new magazines? Still going to have some problems.
11-22-2009, 07:50 PM #12
11-22-2009, 07:55 PM #13
Because they're polymer, and we all know polymer mags do not hold up well in combat conditions.
[/sarcasm]Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity
11-22-2009, 08:04 PM #14
11-22-2009, 08:11 PM #15
Forget the M4.....Give me my M16 any day of the week...."Some people are like slinkies - not really good for anything but they bring a smile to your face when pushed down the stairs."
11-22-2009, 08:21 PM #16
But yet they still stick with that huge POS Beretta.Being a good street cop is like coming to work in a wet suit and peeing in your pants. It's a nice warm feeling, but you're the only one who knows anything has happened.
11-22-2009, 10:23 PM #17
11-22-2009, 10:43 PM #18
- Join Date
- Nov 2009
The US Army has been considering this option for a while. Originally, after the XM8 was scrapped, they began to make arrangements for final testing on the HK416. There are so many Colt M4s in circulation and remainder of a contract still in progress, that it just wasn't fiscally feasible. The gas piston system conversion is the best they could do, but it's a HUGE step.
I was part of the original XM8 testing program, and I was really sad to see it get scrapped (and a bit annoyed). I loved that weapon system. Glad they're at least getting with the times and going to a piston system.