Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Remember the M16 controversy?


Back in the 1960's, when the US Army introduced the M16 rifle, there was enormous controversy about it.



Vietnam-era M16A1



The early models were certainly less than fully reliable. There were reports of US servicemen being found dead on the battlefield in Vietnam with jammed rifles at their sides - even with cleaning rods in their hands as they tried to get them un-jammed. Suffice it to say that many servicemen of that era developed a prejudice against the M16 rifle that has never diminished. (An outstanding two-part article about the experiences and conclusions of a US Marine expert may be found here and here - links are to Adobe Acrobat documents in .PDF format.)

A major historical document about the controversy has become available online. The 'M-16 Rifle Case Study' (link is to a .PDF file) was prepared by Col. Richard R. Hallock of the US Army in 1970. It's over 160 pages long, and goes into the development of US service rifles from the turn of the 20th century through the late 1960's, documenting not only technical information but also the 'power politics' and bureaucratic shenanigans of many players involved. It's an absolutely invaluable resource for the technical military historian.

Highly recommended reading for those interested in the M16 controversy, and as a useful case study in weapons development.

Peter

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The early rifles had no cleaning rods or kits. They did not need to be cleaned according to US Army doctrine.

We all know how well that works.

Gerry

ajdshootist said...

Have never liked the M16/AR15 used the AR10 quite a lot liked it you new you had fired one of those. I had a Valmet M76 in 223/556 now that was a damn good piece of kit never had any jams or any trouble with it
mind you given a choise i would still like an L1A1 any day.

Old NFO said...

Big issue was the 'dirty' powder... Stoner had designed the AR to tight tolerances with 'clean' powder, and it functioned well, but the Army was cheep...

FrankC said...

Was this the "little black rifle" that the VC were advised to not pick up?

MrG's said...

FRom what I have read, Stoner had designed the rifle to work with stick powder, which burns off fast, clean and is more expensive. The ordinance dept for some reason used ball powder which burns much slower and is dirty. During my 6 years in the Army in the 80's and in Desert Storm I used the '16 as my service weapon, I was comfortable with how it shot, and I was confident that it would work when I needed it to. I would use it again if necessary. I own the civilian version and wouldn't trade it for another.

McThag said...

I'm putting my money on mis-cut chambers. More than a couple barrels were found to be out of spec.

Chrome lining the chamber doesn't cure dirty powder problems, but a new dimensioned cutter to account for the thickness of the chrome combined with intense scrutiny to check those dimensions does.

I think that the bad chamber cutting didn't get press because the UAW would have been embarrassed by the slip-shod work they were making at Colt during those days. Couldn't have that shaking the nation's confidence...

Lots of people are reloading with that same "bad" powder that "caused" all the issues back when; with no issues today.

Fr. Frog said...

The powder problem was 2-fold. The change to ball powder raised the port pressures out of spec (leading to violent cycling) and the ball powder had far to much calcium carbonate in it. Lowering the calcium carbonate cured the fouling and buffer redesign cured the cycling issue.

STxRynn said...

I lost an uncle on May 17, 1968 a few km SW of Danang. PFC C S Bryant. Panel 61E - Line 24. I always wondered if the M16 was an issue in his death.

It seems to me that there should have been several courts martial of those involved in lying and covering up that resulted in our young men dying over there needlessly. What an amazing document.

My son is due home from Afghanistan this month. He mentioned the lack of lethality in the M4. Still an issue to this day. You'd hope that the small minded "not-invented-here" mentality would be done by now.