Colorado Springs

Army slow to replace M4 rifle platform

Army slow to replace M4 rifle

COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. - Most soldiers today are equipped with a rifle that uses a platform designed more than 50 years ago.

The M16 was first introduced during the Vietnam War, and it's smaller M4 carbine version joined the ranks in the late 1980's.

Both have been upgraded several times, but still rely on the same air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed assault rifle platform.

When asking during a qualification session at the range at Fort Carson, troops with the 4th Infantry Division's 3-29 Field Artillery Battalion said they liked it.

Platoon Sergeant SFC Adam Bruce explained, "It's easy for a person who hasn't shot before to come in, get trained up on it, someone who's coming right from transitioning from being a civilian coming into the Army."

"It's a pretty well designed weapon all around," added Domenic Pasqualicchio.

Nathaniel Fitch agrees that it's still very accurate and very reliable.

Fitch is a military weapons expert with The Firearm Blog, and has followed the Army's many unsuccessful efforts to replace the M4.

"As far as specific M4 replacements, there have been a couple of false starts, but other than that, there's not really a current m4 replacement that's even really in the prototype stage," he said.

However, enemy body armor is improving, leading army leaders to push for something more lethal.

In a statement to KRDO Newschannel 13, Public Affairs Officer Debi Dawson write, "Recent advancements in threat body armor have caused the Army to look for increased lethality and mobility in a new weapon."

And while the next rifle may be slow to materialize, a new type of bullet known as "cased telescoped" ammunition is much farther along.

Instead of a typical metal housing, it uses plastic.

"It's sort of described as like a beer that the bullet lives inside," explains Fitch, "so it's this cylindrical element that encompasses the whole ammunition.  And it's lighter, it's more compact.  It has a number of advantages."

Fitch describes the CT rounds as "not ready for prime time", but believes they are in a very interesting stage of demonstration.

However, the Army's biggest challenge in developing and purchasing a new rifle may be convincing Congress to give them the funding for it.

The military has a history of expensive yet unproductive projects, from the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships to the Army's Win-T battlefield software network.

Senator John McCain recently criticized military leaders for their unwillingness to reform their purchasing practices.

"This committee (Senate Armed Services Committee) was disappointed that we saw no meaningful action," he said.

But the Army has pledged to do better.

"We understand the stakes.  We have begun to make progress.  And we will not fail," responded Secretary of the Army Mark Esper.

Whatever the course, replacing the M4/M16 rifle will not be a quick one.

According to Dawson, the current schedule has the Next Generation Automatic Rifle being distributed to soldiers in Fiscal Year 2022, with the smaller carbine version being distributed 2-3 years after that.

The good news is the Army's current rifle has withstood the test of both jungle and modern warfare, thanks to both upgrades and the way it adapts to different needs through various attachments.

In the long run, it may not be the bullseye the military hopes for, but in qualified hands it has a proven capability of saving lives or taking lives as needed.

Here are links to all three parts in our special report on soldiers at Fort Carson:

Part 1 - Ready To Deploy

Part 2 - Ready To Fight

Part 3 - Ready To Fire

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